July 2008

PerryScope
Perry Diaz

All in the Family

In an age where just about everything is powered by electrical energy, it is no wonder that the stage has been set for total — or perhaps absolute — control of the Philippines’ energy industry. The ongoing battle for control of Meralco — the country’s largest distributor of electric power — is just the tip of the iceberg. So far the Lopez clan has managed to maintain control of Meralco. The question is: how long can they remain in charge?

The Lopez’s control of Meralco has made them one of the most politically powerful families in the nation. It’s not surprising then that the Arroyo administration is determined to wrest control of Meralco through GSIS President Winston Garcia.

One government agency that plays a pivotal role in the energy “power” play is the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC). It’s official mission is to “promote and protect long-term consumer interests in terms of quality, reliability and reasonable pricing of a sustainable supply of electricity.” It’s objectives are: 1) To promulgate/approve rules, regulations, guidelines and policies; 2) To enforce rules, regulations including issuance of permits and licenses; 3) To resolve cases (rates and other cases) and disputes; 4) To promote consumer interest; and 5) To become a dynamic organization of professional people with the highest degree of technical competence and integrity. With these objectives, whoever is appointed head of the commission would wield immense power in the fast-growing — and very profitable — energy industry.

With the spiraling rates of electricity, public distrust of the government has increased tremendously. A recent poll conducted by IBON Foundation showed that seven out of 10 Filipinos have trouble paying for their electric bills. However, the government has been blaming Meralco for the high rates which was the basis for the aborted takeover by the government. But one of the major reasons why Meralco rates have been going up is because of state-owned Napocor’s alleged overpricing schemes. Not too long ago, Napocor — the country’s largest provider and generator of electric power — awarded two coal supply contracts totaling P1.27 billion to Transpacific Consolidated Resources Inc. (TCRI), a very small company with a paid-up capital of only P62,500. According to a news report, Napocor invited TCRI to bid a coal supply contract worth P319 million. TCRI was awarded the contract. Two weeks later, TCRI was awarded another contract for a whopping P956-million. Although, Napocor claimed that the first contract was awarded through competitive bidding, it’s not clear if the second — and larger — contract was awarded in the same manner as the first.

TCRI was incorporated in Cebu on October 25, 2007 using an address at the business center of Danara Hotel, a small hotel in Quezon City. The incorporators were Leslie Ducut, Ressie Ducut, Lilia Yolanda Tuadles, Wilfredo Tuadles and Lorna Arceo. Four months after TCRI came into existence — and with a zero track record — it bagged the “second biggest contract in Napocor’s coal procurement” history.

Nobody paid too much attention to the TCRI transaction until recently when President Arroyo appointed Zenaida Ducut, her deputy chief presidential legal counsel, to head ERC. Right after her appointment, fireworks flared up from all sectors. Ducut’s appointment was branded as “politically motivated” and perceived to serve Gloria’s political agenda. It is said that whoever controls energy power controls political power.

Aside from being a town mate of Gloria, Zenaida Ducut is a close political ally of Gloria’s son, Congressman Mikey Arroyo. Ducut was a three-term congresswoman of Pampanga’s second district. Termed out in 2004, she was succeeded by Mikey. A lawyer by profession, she practiced law for a while and her biggest client was the reputed “Jueteng King” of the illegal numbers game, Rodolfo “Bong” Pineda. Incidentally, Gloria, Bong and Zenaida all hail from Lubao, Pampanga.

As to Zenaida Ducut’s relationship with Leslie and Ressie Ducut, Zenaida did not only deny that she was related to Leslie and Ressie, she also denied knowing them. Lubao is a small town where virtually everybody knew one another. Since Zenaida served as the second district’s — which included Lubao — representative in Congress for nine years, would it not be fair to presume that she would know Leslie and Ressie? After all, the three of them share the last name “Ducut,” a surname that is not as common as “Garcia” or “Santos.”

With Gloria calling the shots in Malacanang and the powerful — and influential — House Energy Committee dominated by her two sons, committee chairman Mikey and Dato Arroyo, and her brother-in-law Iggy Arroyo, Ducut could become the perfect puppet of the Arroyo family. However, Ducut asserted that she will remain neutral and independent. If she would be able to maintain neutrality and independence, then more power to her. Her first order of business — and first test of her “independence” — should then be to look into the anomalous TCRI contract. Was there overpricing involved in awarding the P1.27 billion contract? And, are the Ducuts only acting as “dummies” for certain people? If so, who were the real people behind TCRI?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

Pastor Berlin: Criminal or Political Prisoner?

On May 27, 2007, Pastor Berlin Guerrero — after a Sunday worship service at the local United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) chapel in Binan, Laguna — was abducted by armed men and whisked away in van. He was the 197th victim of abduction under President Gloria Arroyo’s watch.

Pastor Berlin had a long history of involvement with progressive organizations. In the late 1970s he was the founding chair of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines-Southern Tagalog. He led the campus-based “mosquito press” in attacking the Marcos dictatorship.

At the time of his abduction, Pastor Berlin was involved with Bayan Muna and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), two known leftist organizations. According to police reports, the basis for his abduction and detention was an old warrant for “inciting to sedition” and another for the alleged murder of a certain Noli Yatco in 1990. The only “witness” to the alleged murder, Fernando Hinto, had identified Pastor Berlin from a “marked” group picture. However, during the preliminary investigation before Judge Myrna Lim Verano in 1992, Hinto did not appear in court. According to the transcripts of the proceedings, no proof was presented to link Pastor Berlin to the murder of Yatco. Nevertheless, Judge Verano filed the “information for murder” from which an arrest warrant was issued, an act considered unusual… and anomalous.

Pastor Berlin claimed that he was not aware of the arrest warrant issued against him 16 years ago. It was revealed that the arrest warrant was sent to the wrong address; thus, Pastor Berlin was never served to appear in court. He petitioned Judge Matias Garcia of the Bacoor RTC to order his release from detention and to annul the warrant issued by Judge Verano in 1992 for lack of legal basis. But Judge Garcia ruled the murder charge to proceed.

Pastor Berlin’s case became an international cause celebre and ignited worldwide protests. The Philippines-Canada Task Force on Human Rights issued a statement deploring the “grave abuse of discretion of the local court to deny the motions for his release.” Further, the group said: “The arrest of Pastor Guerrero was illegal and not authorized by a warrant. The warrant that was eventually obtained was not supported by any witness appearing in court when it was issued in 1992. Records of the murder charge expose an utter lack of probable cause.” Consequently, the UCCP and several other organizations petitioned the Supreme Court to dismiss the charges on the grounds of false arrest and lack of evidence.

A year later, Pastor Berlin is still in jail and his case still in limbo. He wrote a letter which was subsequently released by his wife and posted on the Internet. He said: “One year ago, operatives of the Naval Intelligence Security Force (NISF) snatched me away from my family. Terror and shock was written on their faces and of those who witnessed the late afternoon abduction. No warrants were presented by the men in plainclothes. I was handcuffed, blindfolded and subjected to physical and mental torture for more than twelve hours. Finding nothing to convict me of any crime, they turned me over to the Cavite Philippine National Police (PNP) at its headquarters in Imus, Cavite. The Police tried to cover up the abduction by saying the arrest was legal and presented two old warrants of arrest – one was for inciting to sedition and the other for murder. The first one was served to me in 1991 and have posted bail for my freedom. The case did not prosper and there was no court litigation. The arrest warrant for murder issued in 1992 arose from the killing of a union leader in 1990 where I had nothing to do about. It was the PC-INP Investigator who linked me to the case by showing a marked photograph to the alleged lone witness. The RTC Judge who issued the warrant did not personally investigate the witness nor conduct a preliminary investigation. Since I did not receive any subpoena, I was not given a chance to answer the charges.

“I stand pat on the belief that the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo administration is responsible for my abduction, torture and incarceration through its so-called anti-terrorism program now implemented under the Human Security Act of 2007. My case is clearly a counter-insurgency operation which, like any other operation conducted by military elements, have grossly violated my rights as a citizen. And now I ask what has the GMA government done to those who have unlawfully arrested me, tortured me, and caused my family and friends to suffer?

“The recent abduction, torture and four-day involuntary detention of my co-worker UCCP Pastor Rodel Canja, which I vehemently denounce, only proves how stone-hearted the Arroyo Government until now. It has never abandoned its unjust annihilative war against its own people. Its rhetoric of peace and peace talks serve only to mask its beastly character.” Unquote.

Recently, the Supreme Court finally acted on Pastor Berlin’s petition and ordered the Court of Appeals to investigate his abduction and alleged torture. The high court said, “In view of the seriousness of the allegations of the violations of the liberty and dignity of a citizen who is said to be under detention, and in order that this case be acted upon with dispatch, the Court, instead of dismissing this petition outright, hereby resolves to remand the case to the Court of Appeals.”

Pastor Berlin’s prosecution — nay, persecution! — is not a solitary case. Recently, a delegation from the California-Nevada Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, USA arrived in the Philippines to investigate allegations of military abuses. They confirmed that there were indeed human rights violations in the country. The 18-member group said: “We feel that with the government’s counter-insurgency program, Filipinos are again experiencing times reminiscent of the dark days of Martial Law where summary execution, illegal arrests and detention were common occurrences.” They vowed to lobby U.S. Congress to link human rights violations to U.S. military aid to the Philippines. They believed that American taxpayers should not pay for military aid to a government that perpetuates gross human rights abuses.

With the case of Pastor Berlin Guerrero now in the Court of Appeals, he is finally going to have his day in court… albeit belatedly. The question is: will the rule of law prevail? Or will he become another political prisoner whose fate shall be determined by the rule of man.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

What Did Gloria Accomplish During Her US Visit

Now that the dust has settled and the travelers have gone home, a lot of people are wondering what President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had accomplished during her 10-day visit to the land of milk and honey.

Let’s start with her courtesy call to President George Bush last June 24, 2008. The White House and Malacanang had previously announced the talking points, to wit: “a wide range of issues, including counter terrorism, food security and the situation in Myanmar.” Myanmar? How could Gloria help in the situation in Myanmar when her own people are suffering? Makes me wonder what her priorities are.

Upon her return to the Philippines, Malacanang issued a news release saying that President Arroyo’s “working visit” — not an official “state visit” as some media people have erroneously reported — had “further strengthened Philippine relations with a key ally, advanced the interests of Filipinos, and draw new investments into the country.” She just painted the sky blue.

Let’s take a closer look at what Gloria’s spinmeisters said: “The trip to the U.S. reaffirmed the strong ties between our two nations…” Huh? Has the Philippines’ “special relation” with the U.S. ever been weaker before? We need to remember that the U.S. needs the Philippines as an ally more now than ever before because of the war on terrorism and China’ status as the emerging super power in Asia. Who would Uncle Sam rely on but his little brown brothers?

Gloria, in a speech upon her return, also said, “we were able to press for economic aid, food security and stronger military cooperation.” Doesn’t Gloria realize that asking President Bush for economic aid when he is already a lame duck president would probably produce little or no significant result?

After landing at San Francisco airport on June 22, Gloria and her entourage of more than 160 people chartered another plane to bring them to Fresno, California to meet with Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain who was campaigning in Fresno that day. But McCain canceled their meeting and re-scheduled it in Washington, DC later that week. I can understand why McCain canceled their meeting: it would appear inappropriate for an American presidential candidate meeting with a foreign head of state while he is on the campaign trail. That would look like an endorsement from Gloria.

Gloria also requested a meeting with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama in Washington, DC. But in a letter to Gloria, Obama apologized for “being unable to meet with her because of his busy schedule.” However, on June 26, while Gloria and her retinue were in New York City celebrating First Gentleman Mike Arroyo’s birthday, Obama called Gloria and chatted with her for a few minutes. Interestingly, Obama’s wife Michelle was having a meeting with a group of people during that time at the hotel where Gloria was staying. Perhaps Obama didn’t realize that his wife was within “striking distance” from Gloria.

As soon as Gloria’s meeting with McCain was confirmed, Gloria chartered a private plane and flew to Washington, DC. She and McCain met in a lounge at a hotel lobby. Several U.S. and Philippine flags were hastily arranged for “background effect.” What did she accomplish? Ignacio Bunye, Gloria’s spokesman, said that McCain “went down memory lane” and talked about his family’s involvement in the Philippines since 1906. Beyond that? Nothing. Oh well, there’s the photo opportunity which Gloria could include in her scrapbook.

But the most embarrassing moment during her visit was at an event she hosted at the Crystal Ballroom of the five-star Willard Hotel in Washington, DC. She was supposed to confer the Golden Heart Award on six American legislative leaders in recognition of “their untiring efforts to protect the welfare of Filipino-Americans and promote Philippine interests in the U.S. Congress,” an oblique reference to the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill. But only four showed up: Sen. Daniel Akaka, Rep. Bob Filner, Rep. Darrel Issa, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. However, she gave Pelosi her award late in the event because Pelosi arrived two hours late. I am beginning to suspect that Pelosi is learning “Filipino Time” pretty fast.

But what about the other two recipients, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Rep. Mike Honda? For some reason, Reid insisted on receiving the award in private, which Gloria agreed to — at the hotel’s presidential suite. After Reid received the “Golden Heart,” he remarked that he received it for the Filipino-American community who deserved recognition for its efforts in pursuing the passage of the Equity Bill. The bill was overwhelmingly passed by the Senate, 96-1, last April.

Honda did not show up to receive the “Golden Heart.” The word was that he refused to receive such an award because the Equity Bill has not yet been passed by the House of Representatives. Obviously, Honda — who is the point man for the Equity Bill in the House — is frustrated with the failure of the House leadership to calendar the Equity Bill or, more specifically, S.1315, the Veterans Benefits’ Enhancement Act of 2007. If S.1315 will not be calendared for a floor vote by the end of July, it’s dead.

I am not sure whether Gloria’s direct lobbying in the U.S. Congress for S.1315 was appropriate or not. There were reports that certain groups of US-based Filipino veterans were disappointed that Gloria failed to secure a commitment from the House leadership to schedule S.1315 for a floor vote. The Internet is rife with comments that Gloria’s lobbying efforts may have been counterproductive; thus, jeopardizing S.1315. My source in Washington, DC said that Gloria led a large group of Filipino congressmen to the U.S. Congress and went knocking door to door asking American congressmen to support S.1315. Now, that’s tacky.

My source also said that Gloria had an unannounced private meeting with Sen. Barbara Boxer. The meeting was supposedly arranged by Sen. Richard Lugar. It is interesting to note that Boxer is concerned with the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. She had been very vocal about linking military aid to progress in stopping this murderous rampage that has been going on for seven years. So far, more than 900 extrajudicial killings and 180 forced disappearances since Gloria ascended to the presidency in 2001.

So, what did Gloria accomplish during her U.S. visit? In my opinion, nothing. Her extravagant junket clearly demonstrated that her standing in the U.S. has reached a low point. The truth may be too bitter for her to swallow but ignoring it will not help her sail through the final two years of her turbulent stewardship of the nation. Gloria has still a little time left to redeem herself. But would she do it?

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

Crusade Against Jueteng

An old Chinese adage says, “Evil prevails when good men fail to act.” After the People Power Revolution of 1986, the “good men” of the People Power were put out to pasture and the Filipinos reverted to the old ways. Corruption intensified, creeping into all levels of government. For the past two years in a row, the Philippines was labeled as the most corrupt country in Asia. And poverty — notwithstanding a rosy picture painted by President Gloria Arroyo six months ago — is spreading like wild fire. A recent survey showed that seven out of 10 Filipinos cannot afford to buy food nor pay for their electric bill.

Yet, when Filipinos were asked why they’re not doing anything to alleviate their misery, a majority of them said say that they had given up hope. They believe that the Philippines is hopelessly corrupt and the leaders are just out for themselves. Their only hope is to leave their forsaken motherland and start a new life in a foreign land. Indeed, each year more than one million Filipinos leave the Philippines to seek a better life elsewhere. Most Filipinos in particular women with college degrees who couldn’t find work at home were forced to seek jobs abroad as domestic workers, many of them leaving their young children with relatives.

A large majority of poor people turn to jueteng as the only way — if they’re lucky — to break loose from the clutches of poverty. Jueteng provides them with a glimmer of hope that they could have a taste of the “good life” even for just a day. Yes, just a day of “good life” because nobody has ever gotten out of poverty by winning in this game of chance. And like the deadly red tide, the jueteng lords are eating away the poor people’s meager livelihood. It is estimated that the jueteng lords take about P400 million a day. That’s a whopping P15 billion a year.

Recently, Governor Eduardo “Among Ed” Panlilio of Pampanga filed a plunder case against Rodolfo “Bong” Pineda — the reputed “Jueteng King” — before the Office of the Ombudsman. The basis for the complaint was Pineda’s association with deposed President Joseph “Erap” Estrada. According to Gov. Panlilio, “any person who participated with said public officer in the commission of an offense contributing to the crime of plunder shall likewise be punished for such offense.” The documents submitted by Among Ed stated: “Those liable for plunder clearly include those persons, associates, or subordinates, like respondent Bong Pineda, who contributed in former President Joseph Estrada’s accumulation of wealth—according to the Sandiganbayan, as it has been proven during the trial, respondent Bong Pineda collected and delivered on a regular or monthly basis, jueteng-protection money, said the document says.”

Among Ed’s crusade against corruption and jueteng was the reason why he ran for governor of Pampanga. Now that he is the governor, he is faced with opposition from all sides of the political arena. Like the biblical David, Among Ed is battling not just a Goliath but an army of Goliaths — the Vice Governor, the provincial board members, the mayors, and the powerful jueteng empire of Pineda. Pineda has strong ties to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, his town mate and the godmother to his son, Dennis. Dennis is now the mayor of Lubao and his wife is the mayor of Santa Rita.

Among Ed would be considered the underdog should he decide to run for re-election in 2010. His election in 2007 in which he defeated Pineda’s wife Lilia and the incumbent Governor Mark Lapid in a three-way contest was deemed a “miracle.” In 2010, Among Ed needs a bigger miracle because he’d most likely be facing Mikey Arroyo, the heir to Gloria’s “Enchanted Kingdom.”

Indeed, the Goliaths are already working to remove Among Ed from office. Last April 4, 2008, Vice Governor Joseller Guiao and 10 provincial board members filed graft charges against Among Ed. Not long after that, seven Pampanga mayors signed a manifesto in support of the graft charges against Among Ed. Meanwhile, there were talks of an impending recall bid to unseat Among Ed. Among Ed, who had just completed his first year in office last June 30, indicated that if the recall bid is pushed through, he is ready to fight. Could one good man prevail over the ominous forces? Absolutely!

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)