December 2010

AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR
By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star

Easily the biggest event in 2010 in the life of our nation was the ascendancy of President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III (P-Noy). It’s the biggest event of 2010 because his ascendancy had immediately positively transformed our country.

From the deep and dangerous public cynicism of the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) nine-year regime, P-Noy changed our national mood to one of hope and optimism which the reliable survey firms have tracked and confirmed. From a situation where most of us felt excluded in the GMA regime, P-Noy reintegrated us as stakeholders of his government and even treats us as his Bosses.

P-Noy’s inauguration was more than enough to restore investor confidence in the Philippines. The stock market had boomed. Investors are coming to the Philippines to set up shop — P5.4 billion dollars in investments have already poured in. Over 43,000 new jobs have been added. We’ve already overtaken India in the outsourcing game. The image of an honest and straight talking Chief Executive had triggered this transformation. Even if P-Noy had not yet instituted any real reforms, the usually wary investors have placed their bets on the Philippines on the mere trustworthiness of the presidential character.

A good friend of your Chair Wrecker, a friendship dating back to our high school days, had shared how he made a big positive reversal in the stock market. From being down by P300 million before P-Noy became president — he realized a profit of P200 million barely a month after P-Noy became president. That was a P500 million swing for my friend.

Oh, don’t ask me please for information on just how much money he had at play in the local bourse. Don’t even think of asking for my friend’s name. Misfortune had overtaken several folks for having much less in their pockets.

My friend was so overjoyed that he asked me to relay to P-Noy how he had already been handsomely rewarded for supporting his campaign. Not that he supported P-Noy to ask for a position or a concession but he was greatly elated just the same to be so richly rewarded. These days, he shares a pittance of his stock market hoard by treating us to some of the finest feasts that the TLC (Travel and Living Channel) and AFC (Asian Food Channel) would just love to cover.

Before the passing of President Cory C. Aquino catapulted then Senator Noynoy Aquino to center stage in the 2010 presidential election, we Filipinos were somewhat confined to selecting the so-called lesser evil among the top presidential candidates. We had sunk so low in national morale. Hunger stalked our land like it never did before. Going into the 2010 elections, we had very little faith in our leaders and our future already.

The Aquino factor — undeniably the most powerful political brand in the country today — changed all that. Senator Noy offered a clear positive alternative to the electorate. His genuine reluctance to run for president all the more intensified the public clamor. His unassuming, straightforward personality generated public confidence that transparency and truth will be hallmarks of a second Aquino presidency.
When we consider the enormous challenges our country faces from within and without — it’s easy to think that the P-Noy ascendancy was another gift of the Almighty to the Filipino people. To be able to set things right in our country – improve health and education standards, provide jobs that pay living wages, end decades of Communist and Muslim rebellions, and steer clear of a looming US and China conflict — only a Chief Executive occupying the moral and political high ground that P-Noy is on can accomplish the mission.

P-Noy has to aspire to be a great president — not just be a good president. Anything less than a great president with the transformational qualities of Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam, Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Deng Hsiao Ping of China can arrest our country’s slide and set us on the sustainable course to self sufficiency, self reliance and real sovereignty.

It will be impossible for P-Noy to attain that greatness though if his people will not impose a similar standard upon themselves as stakeholders and his Bosses. More than the greatness of Ho Chi Minh, it is the greatness of the Vietnamese people that enabled an Indo-China country like Vietnam to defeat France and the US, one after the other. Filipinos must be willing and able to make similar sacrifices like the Vietnamese if we are to save our country and secure the future of our posterity.

Distraction, more than the discredited Opposition led by GMA, is what will derail P-Noy and us Filipinos from attaining our big goal. Disunity is the greatest distraction of all. It is our disunity that condemned us to become a basket case in Asia when we used to be the second best economy in 1965.

We as a nation must psyche ourselves that poverty, ignorance, exploitation, foreign domination, selfishness and greed are our biggest enemies — not our fellow Filipinos. Only her patriotic sons and daughters can save our motherland but not when they’re busy fighting among themselves.

* * *

Chair Wrecker e-mail and website: macesposo@yahoo.com and www.chairwrecker

Theres The Rub
By Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer

I DON’T know why anyone would imagine that creating a din, or summoning bedlam, can drive demons away. It seems like an open invitation for them to come in and stay. It’s a Chinese practice that has taken root in this country. Every Christmas Eve, the country smells like gunpowder, particularly Metro Manila where denizens unleash their artillery full-force upon the world. Keeping hospitals busy not just with the maimed and wounded but with kids with lung problems unable to breathe.

I do know it’s hard to discourage. Tradition normally is. The yearly sight of kids and adults screaming in pain in hospital beds after having lost their fingers or even hands to the more explosive varieties of firecrackers certainly hasn’t done so. The victims, of course, get to realize they’ve just made demons a permanent part of their lives, bedeviled as they will be forever by the loss of their bodily parts, in some cases preventing them from finding work that involves the use of them. But for the others, well, that just adds to the thrill of it, the risk.

Maybe there’s really something about suicidal behavior that enhances the zest for life. The Spanish unleash bulls in Pamplona during the feast of San Fermin while people run in front of them trying to outrace them. Few have really been gored or trampled to death (only 15 people have died that way since 1910), but every year some 200 to 300 people are injured in the course of it. That obviously hasn’t discouraged it. On the contrary the running of the bulls has become ever more popular, with more and more people joining it.

So tomorrow night, be prepared again for an arcade version of the sights and sounds of war. There won’t be any stopping it, if the last few days are an indication. Last Christmas Day, I saw some kids exploding firecrackers, hardly able to wait for New Year’s Eve to annoy people like me. I’ll just have to wait for the following day, New Year’s Day, or night, when the din subsides and when silence takes over, all the more stunning and luminous by the sheer contrast it strikes with the previous night, to propose a surer way to drive the demons away.

That is the surer way to drive demons away: silence. I’ve always thought the Christmas season was the one time that gave the perfect opportunity to drive away the demons of our lives because of the silence and stillness and stepping back it afforded. It’s the one time of the year that gives us a respite from the noise and clutter of life. Of course, that isn’t always easy with all the parties and gatherings that you’re obliged to go to, with the drinking and merrymaking that go with it. But it does offer moments of introspection, particularly as the year draws to a close, and you start contemplating, or brooding over, creeping age and what you have done with your life over the last year, or years, and what you want to do with it over the next year, or years.

Silent nights are always holy nights. It’s in the quietness and stillness of the season that you drive away, if only for a short burst, the demon of acquisitiveness. Christmas has a way of making people a little more human, whether you are Christian or not, whether you believe or not that an all-powerful deity manifested himself on earth in the most powerless way imaginable, being born in a stable among the animals. It’s the time of year you wonder how much of life’s comforts or luxuries you really need to make you happy: the more you get to have things, the more you only get to lack things and the more you only want to get more things. I say that, of course, about most of us. Some of us, particularly those who lord it over us, may never be able to think that way even on Christmas. Some greed isn’t just bottomless, it is relentless.

It’s in the quietness and stillness of the season that you drive away, if only for a short burst, the demon of selfishness. Fortunately for most of us, we do not need to be shown variously by Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future, particularly the horrific sight of a coffin with ourselves in it, un-mourned, unloved, unattended after a lifetime of screwing others, to discover that there are others in this world, and that there is a joy in such a thing as giving. The season has a way of luring us into that mode, we, Filipinos with our extended families and even more extended friends, more than others.

And it’s in the quietness and stillness of the season, particularly as the season draws to an end, as yet another year draws to a close, that you drive away, if only for a short burst, the demon of mindlessness. Being busy doesn’t naturally mean living life to the full. Half the time it merely means working your ass off, rushing off from one place to another, getting ulcers, risking a heart attack, getting the sensation you’re getting somewhere when you’re really going nowhere. Whoever said a life unexamined is a life unlived knew a thing or two about life. You do not pause to wonder comings and goings, beginnings and endings, the ground you’ve covered and the terrain that stretches out ahead, you might just as well not have lived at all.

Who knows? Maybe in the silence of New Year’s night, deepened by the sorrowful sound of a firecracker or two popping in the distance, lit off by someone who can’t quite let go of the holidays, an idea might explode in your mind. The idea of why the exception cannot be the rule, the respite cannot be reign, the haven cannot be realm, why we cannot be a little more human throughout the year, why we cannot push back the demons of greed and selfishness and mindlessness the rest of the year, maybe even the rest of our lives. Maybe I’m dreaming, but life is about dreams too and hope springs eternal.

Happy New Year everyone.

Editorial
Manila Standard Today

Half a year ago, Benigno Aquino III was sworn in as president of the country, swept into office by a resounding mandate. Despite the relative weakness of his track record in public governance, Filipinos put their trust in him because of his sainted parents and of his promise to bring about genuine change.

Aquino’s inaugural address did not disappoint, either. Its down-to-earth, rallying tone persuaded even those who did not vote for him to give the new President the benefit of the doubt. His pronouncements on recognizing the people as his bosses and doing away with the culture of privilege—best illustrated by politicians’ use of vehicle sirens to exempt them from traffic rules—were received well by the public, who chose not to make a big deal out of the new President’s snub of the Supreme Court Chief Justice that day.

Six months later, Mr. Aquino enjoys nearly the same level of popularity—not because of the stellar way he has conducted his duties, but despite the numerous blunders he and his people have been committing and have been getting away with.

The President, for instance, has failed as a navigator. Filipinos still do not know where he intends to take us by the end of his administration. His first State-of-the-Nation Address was criticized for being glaringly bereft of a blueprint. All we know is that this administration nurses great contempt for the one it replaced. This is not much of a consolation.

And yet, despite the disdain for his immediate predecessor, Mr. Aquino finds himself falling into the same trap. Revenue collection targets remain unmet. The conditional cash transfer or dole program, reviled when it was being implemented by the previous administration, has been doubled in next year’s budget. Officials are appointed not so much on their competence but on their affiliation. The President also has no trouble rewarding his allies with more public funds at their disposal. Where is the change?

Mr. Aquino also appears helpless in containing the tension between the warring factions in his camp. The perception is that these groups’ demands cloud the President’s judgment. His desire to please them, or at least to avoid favoring one over the other, overrides the concern for the good of the nation. Their conflicting agenda have compromised the Chief Executive in several instances.

When officials make a mistake, they find excuses and then offer to resign. The offer is never accepted. Aquino takes the fall and lets the erring officials off with a slap on the wrist.

The President also tends to act like a brat when things do not go his way. Adverse rulings by the Supreme Court embolden him to denigrate this co-equal branch of government. We wonder how he would react to a ruling, adverse or not, on Hacienda Luisita.

Finally, the President says he does not like micro-managing his government. This is good; effective leaders know how to delegate their tasks. What seems to escape Mr. Aquino, however, is that finding the right people to delegate to is crucial to success. By right, we mean those who are competent, independent and honorable —not those who come from the right camp, wherever that may be.

Mr. Aquino’s popularity is unsustainable if he does not make sound and firm decisions. He was, first and foremost, a captivator, inspiring the public to care about their country again. If he does not make serious changes to his leadership, however, all that optimism will go unrealized.

Mr. Aquino has five-and-a-half years to get some real work done. He should begin today.

http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/sectionOpinion.htm?f=2010/december/30/editorial.isx&d=2010/december/30

To the Point
By Emil Jurado
Manila Standard Today

Is anybody really listening to the warning of the Department of Justice and the Philippine National Police against the use of firecrackers for the New Year celebrations?

Just look at the increasing number of injuries and even the loss of lives. Look at the long line of vehicles going to Bocaue, Bulacan.

Don’t the authorities realize that only the peddlers of these firecrackers—most of them smuggled from China—seem to be having a grand time?

***

The New Year’s Eve madness reminds me of my boyhood days in Abra.

Yes, we also enjoyed making noises to greet the New Year in those days, but we did not need the deadly toys that young people nowadays think are necessary for the celebration.

I remember making canons out of bamboo and buying petroleum for that distinct booming sound. We had fun—no injuries, no deaths.

I also remember my toys made of empty cans of condensed milk, with wheels made of bottle crown (tanzan). How enjoyed pulling my toy around! Now I watch my grandson play with his toys and I have to ask him to teach me how to operate them.

I do not believe I missed out on anything.

***

If credit must be given on the passage of the P1.6-trillion national budget for 2011 in record time, it must be to Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad. He worked hard to have both chambers of Congress pass next year’s budget before the end of 2010.

Credit must also be given to House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile who pushed the budget’s approval in record time, together with their respective chairmen on appropriations and finance.

President Aquino claims the budget would go a long way in the administration’s anti-poverty initiatives, with special mention of the conditional cash transfer program.

Aquino, however, should see to it that the dole program is not abused given its many loopholes. Even former President Gloria Arroyo, who originated the program under her administration, is skeptical.

I think the program encourages mendicancy. It originated from the states of Latin America, which are socialists.

***

The President considers the Judiciary his greatest challenge to his program to eradicate graft and corruption.

He must be referring to the Supreme Court ruling saying that Executive Order No. 1 creating the Truth Commission was unconstitutional. The Court said it was in violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

The President is barking up the wrong tree. Who crafted the executive order in the first place, anyway? It was not the Supreme Court; it was his own legal team. Senator Joker Arroyo said that these were of “lesser legal minds.”

These are you challenges, Mr. President. You have utterly incompetent people who draft questionable documents that have put your credibility on the line. The same goes for the proclamation on the amnesty of the soldiers who mounted mutinies against Mrs. Arroyo.

The President should replace his lawyers with more competent ones. Otherwise, his current legal team will create more problems for him.

***

Another challenge for the President is maintaining the trust and confidence he now enjoys from the public.

Leadership is not like a beauty contest. It is the ability to make decisions for the greater good of the greatest number. By this I mean that a President must show political will by doing what must be done even at the risk of being unpopular. It’s lonely up there on the top.

***

Philippine Airlines is now paying 50 percent of the first five months of the long-delayed 16 months overtime, meal and transportation charges of over 400 Customs personnel assigned to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Hopefully, foreign airlines will also do the same. PAL has shown that airlines do have to pay in accordance with two specific provisions of Tariff Customs Code of the Philippine.

These provisions specify that when people or agencies require Customs to work overtime, the latter must be paid with rates mutually agreed upon. That’s the law, and they must be observed.

However, there’s one aspect of this issue that must be looked into by Congress. It’s the fact that foreign airlines had earlier joined in the protest against overtime, an issue which has been elevated before the Supreme Court.

We need a law to settle this issue once and for all. That’s what congressional investigations “in aid of legislation” are for. When foreign airlines join a protest against a specific law, an investigation is in order. Santa Banana, it’s an affront against Philippine laws!

***

I think these are the performers in the Cabinet: Foreign Affairs Secretary Bert Romulo, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Trade and Industry Secretary Gregory Domingo, Health Secretary Enrique Ona, Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, Budget Secretary Butch Abad, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson and Education Secretary Bro. Armin Luistro.

The non-performers are Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo and Undersecretary Rico Puno, presidential legal counsel Ed de Mesa and Social Welfare and Development Secretary Dinky Soliman. They will never make it before the Commission on Appointments anyway.

There are also presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, Ricky Carandang and Sonny Coloma of that three-legged hydra called Communications Group.

http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/insideOpinion.htm?f=2010/december/30/emiljurado.isx&d=2010/december/30

View from Malcolm
By Atty. Harry Roque Jr.
Manila Standard Today

The coming of a new year gives us the chance to review the year that is soon to end. Here is my list of the best and the worst of 2010:

The best:

1. Gloria Arroyo ceased to the President. What good news for those who could not last another day of an Arroyo presidency! While all the malaise of Philippine society persists, it is still a relief that Mrs. Arroyo ceased to be the most powerful official in our land. There were of course last-minute concerns associated with the failure of automated elections and an attempt at a Charter Change that many suspected would morph her into a prime minister. But all these did not happen- not for lack of trying, but simply because the Filipinos would have none of it.

2. Noynoy Aquino became President. Yup, he only comes in as the second-best for 2010. Why? Well, it’s because people hated Arroyo more than they actually liked Aquino. The elections, after the compact flash cards of the precinct count optical scan machines were changed at the absolute last minute, was simply a referendum: Arroyo if you’re a masochist, or Aquino if you want change — full stop. As a last minute and as a reluctant candidate, P-Noy simply stood on a platform of honesty in government. Perhaps, when we find the time and energy to criticize him for anything and everything he has or has not been doing, we should remind ourselves that his only promise was to be an honest President. Let’s judge him on this basis.

3. The 2011 budget was enacted in December 2010. We have forgotten that the primary task of our congressmen is not to make 20 percent from their pork barrel, but primarily to ensure that no public funds is spent without consent of the people. “No taxation without representation” was the battle cry of the English revolution that ushered in modern day representative democracy. And yet, in the nine years of our recent dark ages, an Arroyo-controlled Congress was absolutely remiss in its single most important function. Arroyo liked it when her Congress was remiss because a reenacted budget meant that she had trillions of pesos to spend as she wished.

4. Leila de Lima became Justice Secretary. Who would have thought that this humble, unassuming and quiet election lawyer would be the best Cabinet secretary of the current administration? In her six months in office, she has managed to redeem at least the image of the Justice Department that I knew as a child, having been raised by a State Prosecutor myself. Yes, she has not improved the conviction rate of our National Prosecution Service but she has at least redeemed some of our trust in the department that is synonymous with the rule of law.

The Worst:

1. Arroyo is still powerful. She may no longer be the single most powerful official of the land, but she has made sure that she would remain ever powerful. No, I’m not just talking about her new role as a member of Congress with the most pork. I’m referring to the fact that through a midnight judicial appointment and an ever-loyal Ombudsman, she has granted herself absolute impunity despite a change in administration. Arroyo has refused to quietly vanish into the night. On the contrary, people expect her to make a comeback courtesy of a House of Representatives that she, through her loyal allies, still control. It is a question of when and not if Congress will ram down our throats a constitutional amendment that would make her Prime Minister.

2) Then-Justice Secretary Alberto Agra absolved Zaldy Ampatuan and cousin from culpability in the November 23 Ampatuan massacre. What gall and what nerve this Agra had in attempting to clear the smartest of the Ampatuan clan from the world’s single deadliest attack on journalists. Nena Santos, lawyer for the Mangundadatus, declared on national radio that it was literally because of millions and millions of reasons. For whatever reasons he had, that single decision rightfully made Agra the second most hated person in government, next only to his appointing power.

3) My friend and co-convenor of the Concerned Citizens Movement, Josie Lichauco, died. Lest I forget, 2010 marked the year that one of my closest friends and co-activists moved on to the next life. Pity that Josie never saw P-Noy as President. Yes, she will turn in her grave if she knew who it was that P-Noy brought with him to Malacañang.

Happy New Year, Philippines!

http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/insideOpinion.htm?f=2010/december/30/harryroque.isx&d=2010/december/30

BY REY O. ARCILLA
MALAYA

‘Foreign travels alone do not constitute foreign relations. Relations with other countries may be conducted from home.’

“CHEERS to a New Year and another chance for us to get it right,” so says the queen of talk show hosts, Oprah Winfrey. Very apt.

The Aquino administration has had its teething troubles. It should now start the New Year right.

Some of the things President Noynoy ought to pay attention to:

First, he should strive to be a true leader, one who would not hesitate to rid his government of officials who prove to be inept and unfit for the position they hold. Most importantly, he should not make exceptions of his buddies. If they are true friends who want him to succeed, they should go and not take it against him.

That said, any new appointee to his team must be chosen solely on the bases of their integrity and competence. No more patronage politics. He promised that in his campaign. He is good for only one term; why waste it?

Second, patently illegal acts, those clearly contrary to existing laws committed by his fledgling administration should be rectified forthwith, e.g., the appointment of persons to non-existing undersecretary positions in the Department of Foreign Affairs. Such acts are not consistent with his campaign slogan about trekking the “daang matuwid”.

Third, Noynoy should forget about the Truth Commission. That’s dead in the water. Pursuing it would only dissipate time and resources of the government. If he and his advisers think the Supreme Court will change its earlier decision, I’m afraid they are mistaken. The high court has been and is at serious odds with the Aquino administration on several issues, not to mention the fact that all the justices, bar one, were appointed by the principal reason for the creation of the commission. The majority of these justices have proven time and again their loyalty to Gloria Arroyo. Too bad, but it’s a reality that Noynoy must learn to live with and adjust to. As they say, there are many ways of skinning a cat.

Besides, as I have said a number of times, the proposed commission will not lead to making Arroyo and her cohorts responsible and accountable for their apparent past misdeeds. Hilario Davide Jr.’s appointment as chair also does not augur well for the commission.

As Noynoy himself, I think, has broached, the budget of some P85 million allotted to the commission may be given to the Department of Justice to finance a full-blown investigation by it of the alleged crimes committed by Arroyo and company.

Fourth, Noynoy said during the campaign that foreign travel will be the least of his priorities. But hardly three months into office, he embarked on a couple of unnecessary foreign trips and in the process, even incurred the ire of a very important neighbor.

Noynoy seems to have caught the travel bug rather early. He keeps saying he does not like traveling. Yet, even before 2011 has set in, he is already talking about visiting other countries.

But if he feels he has to and if indeed China, for example, has invited him, I agree he should go. There is no denying China’s growing importance in the pursuit of our national development goals.

Washington? He should go there only if he gets an invitation. But please don’t fish for one. It is demeaning. And the agenda should be substantive enough to justify the cost of going there.

The annual sessions of the UN General Assembly are not summit meetings unless specified in advance by member nations. He really doesn’t have to go there again – unless he wants to address a half-empty chamber – again.

Paying courtesy calls on his Asean counterparts, being the most junior among them, may be done, but not spending two days in each country as he had said. In case the DFA has not informed him yet, Asean leaders making courtesy calls on their counterparts normally stay only for hours, not days.

Noynoy said: “We want a more coherent, more solid bloc. There are so many problems that are common – climate change, human trafficking, protection of our resources, South China Sea, diseases.”

I hope he is not entertaining the notion that by calling on his Asean colleagues he will help hasten the solution to these problems. He should perish the thought.

He also reportedly said that “Asean leaders can talk for two minutes and agree on things which their foreign ministers may take months to decide”. Not true. Not in Asean where consensus is the rule and where the members’ positions on such issues are as diverse as they come.

***

As I have pointed out in the past, none of our now more progressive neighbors reached their present status with their leaders traipsing around the globe. They did their jobs at home, not abroad.

I am not saying that the conduct of foreign relations does not play a crucial role in the development of a nation. It does. But foreign travels alone do not constitute foreign relations. Relations with other countries may be conducted from home.

To be able to that, however, a leader must have a good foreign secretary who will be his and the nation’s point man to the outside world. Sadly, it was one of the sorriest mistakes made by Noynoy at the beginning of his administration. He didn’t appoint one. He retained Arroyo’s.

The reason for Alberto Romulo’s retention as foreign secretary in itself was another sorry mistake, one that Noynoy needn’t have committed if only he had chosen to remember one of his campaign promises – no more political patronage from any source, including his family members.

And now, Noynoy seems to be committing the same mistake Arroyo and Romulo have made, i.e., appointing political ambassadors at the expense of those deserving career foreign service officers who have spent nearly all their professional lives preparing themselves and honing their skills to one day assume the role of an ambassador. No country has ever progressed without a dedicated and truly competent corps of career foreign service officers.

I sincerely hope it is not true what a little bird told me – that Noynoy wants to have the same number at least of political ambassadors Arroyo had. Boy, am I glad I am no longer in the service. I can almost feel the pain and heartache of the career ambassadors-in-waiting. Many of them may be waiting in vain. What a pity!

***

The European Union ambassador, Alistair MacDonald, recently “urged” once again the government and the MILF rebels to resume peace talks soon. Strictly speaking, that’s interference in our domestic affairs. It’s not like we don’t want peace to reign in our troubled South. There are, however, certain matters that our government needs to sort out first with the rebel group.

What if, for instance, we told the EU to sort out its problem with Turkey first before interfering with ours? So, butt out, will you?

Incidentally, I hope the good ambassador sought and was granted permission by the DFA to go to Cotabato – for his own security. After all, wasn’t the EU one of those that issued negative travel advisories against the Philippines recently?

***

Malaysia herself has given us a very valid reason to rid the peace process with the MILF rebels of a third party which I have been advocating since the beginning. It is a purely domestic affair.

We have demanded, as is our right, the replacement of the Malaysian official performing the task of a facilitator, Datuk Othman bin Abdul Razak, for obvious bias in favor of the MILF. But no less than the Malaysian prime minister rejected Noynoy’s request. We should have seized that opportunity to firmly reject Malaysia as facilitator. Sayang! It became patently clear that the Malaysian government, as has been suspected all along, is not a neutral or impartial intermediary.

The government has painted itself into a corner on this one now that the MILF has rejected the holding of informal talks with the government next month unless Razak is retained. There is no way, absolutely no way, the government can back down on its demand without losing face and humiliating itself. To do so would also mean utter defeat even before the start of exploratory talks.

***

There’s a growing hue and cry against a Pacquiao-Mosley fight. Many fight fans, it seems, want a Pacquiao-Marquez re-match.

Could it be Pacquiao is dodging Marquez, just as Mayweather was apparently dodging Pacquiao?

***

Today is the 246th day of the fourth year of Jonas Burgos’ disappearance.

Let us hope 2011 will finally bring a resolution to Jonas’ case and others like his.

***

A happy and prosperous New Year to one and all.

***

Email: roacrosshairs@yahoo.com

Where did this “admit guilt” condition come from?  Is P-Noy having second thoughts about granting amnesty or is he getting pressure from right-wing elements in the military? What if the “rebels” refused to admit guilt, would P-Noy send them back to detention?  — PERRY DIAZ

BY VICTOR REYES
MALAYA

Rebs’ lawyer: Rules makers were more popish than pope

MILITARY and police rebels who will avail themselves of an amnesty grant would have to admit guilt for involvement in the three attempts to overthrow the administration of former President now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo.

The implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the amnesty proclamation issued by President Aquino last month, which were prepared by a committee of the Department of Defense, also showed that the rebels would also have to recant all statements that are contrary to their admission of guilt and participation.

“No application shall likewise be approved without a recantation of all previous statements, if any, that are inconsistent with such express admission of actual involvement/participation and guilt,” the five-page IRR said.

Marines Col. Ariel Querubin, one of the leaders of the February 2006 plot to overthrow the Arroyo government, said the 1995 amnesty granted by the Ramos administration to him and other rebel soldiers involved in the failed coups in the 1980s did not require them to admit guilt.

Querubin said that under the new amnesty proclamation, they thought they would be asked merely to admit their participation in the uprisings in the past administration.

He said it is the court that should establish guilt.

“It (admission of guilt) was not included in the 1995 amnesty. It was just an admission of your participation. The guilt was merely implied,” he said.

Querubin said the problem in admitting the guilt is when their applications are denied.

“It will have no effect unless they will deny it (application). Your case will be prejudiced. If you apply, admit guilt and then all of the sudden, they deny you, you will be prejudice in your case. That will be the only effect,” said Querubin.

Asked if admitting guilt is tantamount to admitting they were wrong in standing up against a government they perceived to be corrupt and which allegedly cheated in the 2004 elections, Querubin said: “If it’s really an offense to rebel against a corrupt government, then I’m guilty.”

The amnesty proclamation, Presidential Proclamation No. 75, was issued on November 24 and has been concurred in by Congress.

Trixie Angeles, lawyer of number of officers qualified for amnesty, said she finds harsh the provision requiring admission of guilt.

“There seems to be a grave abuse of discretion (by the DND) because it is not stated in Proclamation No. 75 that there should be admission of guilt. If the President intended that, it should have been made clear in the legislation itself,” said Angeles.

“By admitting guilt, it means that you are saying that it (actuation) was wrong and by saying that it was wrong, it’s like you are exonerating GMA (Arroyo). For me, it’s not acceptable at the moment,” said Angeles.

On one of her clients, Oakwood mutiny leader Capt. Nicanor Faeldon, she said, “It’s up to Capt. Faeldon to decide if that is acceptable although he already indicated that it’s hard to accept exonerating GMA…By compelling them to admit guilt, it will be appear that GMA is being exonerated.”

Angeles is also representing former Scout Ranger operations officer Maj. Jason Aquino who is linked to the February 2006 plot.

Angeles said Aquino will not be availing himself of the amnesty, citing as among reasons the prohibition on return to service.

ENEMY

Angeles said it is Aquino’s belief that they are being treated by the administration as an enemy. “First of all, they will have to admit guilt and they will be separated from the service even if they are not yet guilty,” she said.

“We are not the enemy. GMA is the common enemy before…Why are they being treated with suspicion and with rejection? There should be no negative effect on the ones that are being given amnesty. It’s supposed to be peace and reconciliation…We are supposed to be on the same side,” she said.

Angeles said that if the other officers and men who will apply for the amnesty will admit their guilt, this would have no bearing on Maj. Aquino when the trial against him before the military tribunal continues.

“It will apply only to their particular cases. It doesn’t mean (it will affect Maj. Aquino’s case)…It will not affect Maj. Aquino or his case. It will not interlock with Jason Aquino so there will be no effect,” said Angeles.

The five-page IRR said, “No application shall be approved without an express admission by the applicant of actual involvement/participation with, in relation or incident to the July 27, 2003 Oakwood Mutiny, the February 2006 Marines Stand-off and/or the November 29, 2007 Peninsula Manila Hotel Incident and that such involvement/participation constituted a violation of the 1987 Constitution, criminal laws and the Articles of War, as indicated in the application form.”

The defense department said the amnesty proclamation also covers all those involved in the two exercises in February 2006, including Army officers and personnel linked to the Feb. 24, 2006 plan to march to Edsa Shrine where they will supposedly withdraw support from Arroyo. The standoff at the Marines headquarters occurred on Feb. 26, 2006.

DND spokesman Eduardo Batac explained: “It (February 2006 Marines standoff) was given as the common name that was adopted in the papers also so that you can identify…It’s just a name to identify that particular incident…If you think that you are involved in that particular incident, then you should apply and check off that particular incident.”

NARRATION

A copy of the IRR, dated December 21, was shown to reporters by a defense official. It was signed by the members of the five-man DND committee headed by Undersecretary Honorio Azcueta, and by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

Attached to the IRR is a copy of a one-page form that would have to be filled up by the military rebels who want to avail themselves of the amnesty.

The application form requires the applicants to state their personal information, including their ranks and assignments, the status of their cases in civilian and military courts, and if they are detained or under custody.

The form also requires the applicant to say what incidents they were involved in, and a narration of his or her involvement or participation.

Above a box where the applicants are required to affix their signature, the applicants are asked to acknowledge that their involvement “constituted a violation of the 1987 Constitution, criminal laws and the Articles of War.”

The IRR says the amnesty grant will extinguish any criminal liability for the acts committed by the military rebels in connection with the three incidents “without prejudice to the grantee’s liability for injuries or damage caused to private individuals.

REINTEGRATION

The grant of amnesty will also result in the restoration of civil and political rights or entitlement that may have been “suspended, lost, or adversely affected by virtue of any executive, administrative or criminal actions or proceedings against the grantee in connection with the subject incidents, including criminal conviction of any form, if any.”

It also provides for the reintegration or reenlistment of technical sergeants or senior police officers and lower ranking personnel upon the approval of their application. “However, they shall not be entitled to back pay during the time they have been discharged or suspended from the service or unable to perform their military or police duties,” it said.

Military and police officers and soldiers and master sergeants, and senior police officers 4 of the PNP are not entitled to remain in the service, or be reintegrated or reinstated.

“All AFP and PNP personnel granted amnesty who are not reintegrated or reinstated shall be entitled to retirement and separation benefits, if qualified under existing laws and regulations, as of the time of their separation, unless they have forfeited such retirement benefits for reasons other that the acts covered by Proclamation No. 75. Those reintegrated or reinstated shall be entitled to their retirement and separation benefit upon their actual retirement,” it added.

After processing, the committee will submit its recommendation to Gazmin for approval. Any decision can be appealed before the President within 10 days from the decision which will be immediately executory even if appealed.

Batac said the IRR will become final upon consultation with Malacañang. He said the DND committee will start accepting applications for amnesty upon publication of the IRR in two national newspapers.

ADVENTURISM

Asked if the 1995 amnesty also called for the admission of guilt, Batac said: “There was nothing specific but the reason why this specific provision was addressed is because there are some personalities that were involved in previous moves like this.”

Batac was referring to Querubin and former Scout Ranger chief Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim.

Querubin and Lim are among officers facing court martial for mutiny.

“This time around, I think the legislators who wanted, who insisted on having this included…wanted to address the recurring military adventurism…The way it sounded, hopefully this will be the last amnesty that will be offered,” Batac said.

On the requirement to recant statements, Batac said this does not necessarily mean that the military rebels would have to take back the issues they raised against the previous administration.

“There is actually no provision here which will require you to specify what statements you made,” said Batac.

The issues raised by the military included corruption in the Arroyo administration and the illegitimacy of her administration brought about by the rigging of the results of the 2004 presidential elections.

Why doesn’t P-Noy use the Department of Justice to prosecute Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as suggested by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile?  Why take another change by issuing a revised executive order that the “Arroyo Court” could shoot down?  Didn’t P-Noy realize by now that the “Arroyo Court” is bent on protecting Gloria?  Wake up, P-Noy! — PERRY DIAZ

BY REGINA BENGCO
MALAYA

JUSTICE Secretary Leila de Lima yesterday said the strongest option to save the Truth Commission is to issue a new executive order that addresses the Supreme Court’s concerns on constitutionality.

De Lima made the statement as President Aquino said the biggest challenge to his six-month-old administration is the difficulty of dealing with the judiciary.

De Lima, in an ambush interview after the signing of the 2011 budget, said the other options are the filing of the motion for reconsideration before the SC and the proposal of presidential assistant on special concerns Magdangal Elma to integrate the Commission’s function with the Presidential Commission on Good Government.

“It all depends on the progress of the motion for reconsideration before the Supreme Court whether other options will be considered at this point. We hope the SC will expeditiously dispose of that MR,” she said.

The motion for reconsideration was filed last week. On December 7, the Supreme Court voted 10-5 declaring Executive Order No. 1 unconstitutional for violating the equal protection clause of the Constitution because it singled out the previous administration.

EO 1 created the Truth Commission which was tasked to investigate anomalies in the nine-year administration of former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo.

De Lima said amending EO 1 is “medyo malabo.”

“How can you amend something that has been declared null and void? So the better option is to just issue a new EO incorporating the objections discussed in the majority option,” she said.

De Lima said Malacañang does not agree with the main argument of the Supreme Court that EO 1 violated the equal protection clause because it was meant to prosecute only the previous Arroyo administration.

“Medyo forced yung argument na iyon,” she said.

She said the High Court’s two other points – whether President Aquino can create a Truth Commission and whether the proposed Commission supplants the power and authority of the Ombudsman and the justice department – did not get the support of a majority of the justices.

“So ang nakalusot lang na argument ng petitioners is the alleged violation of the equal protection clause. Kaya yun din ang focus ng MR na file ng Solicitor General,” she said.

President Aquino, in an ambush interview after the signing of the 2011 budget, said the biggest achievement of his fledgling administration is the renewed enthusiasm and optimism in the Philippines.

“The greatest difficulty has – and it’s not secret – it has to deal with the judiciary,” Aquino said.

He said the SC threw out his Truth Commission without considering that his mother, former president Corazon Aquino, created the Presidential Commission on Good Government and that former presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Arroyo also investigated deals entered into by their predecessors.

“None of them were deemed unconstitutional. Yung sa amin, I think it is in the same vein as what they have done. Sa amin lang yata na-single out as unconstitutional. That will have to be the biggest challenge that we face,” he said.

He said he will announce next week the moves that he will make while the appeal is being heard by the SC.

Aquino also expressed frustration with the Ombudsman in handling the case of now retired Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, former AFP comptroller.

“One of the things that our legal panel had to do was to study most of the transcripts of the case. They’re also particularly keen on studying the evidence that was proffered by the prosecution with the end in view of determining how strong our case was presented. That will chart various options available before us,” he said.

He said the Armed Forces supports his move because they are the offended party.

Garcia was jailed in 2005 for the non-bailable offense of plunder for amassing some P303 million while in active service. He got out of jail on December 18, two days after pleaded guilty to lesser offenses, under a plea bargain agreement entered into with the Ombudsman.

http://www.malaya.com.ph/12282010/news3.html

BY MYLAH REYES ROQUE
VERA Files
Malaya

Isabelita C. Vinuya, 79; Pilar Q. Galang, 80; Maxima R. Dela Cruz,82; Leonor H. Sumawang,79; and Maria L. Quilantang 80, are five women who belong to the group Malaya Lolas who traveled from Mapaniqui in Candaba, Pampanga to Manila to pursue their fight for justice.

Recently, they filed a complaint in Congress to impeach Supreme Court Justice Mariano del Castillo for betrayal of public trust when he plagiarized portions of his decision dismissing their petition seeking justice for having been forced to become comfort women — the term used for sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II.

They accused Del Castillo of plagiarizing a material “for purposes contrary to the intended positions of the original authors.”

Inspired by Rosa Henson, the first Filipina who talked about her experience as a comfort woman, they were among 10 women who flew to Tokyo, Japan in December 2000 to give their testimony before the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal.

The tribunal, headed by international legal experts including the former president of the International War Crimes Tribunal on the Former Yugoslavia, found Japan and Emperor Hirohito guilty of war crimes and crime against humanity.

For Sumawang, it was a vindication of sorts because the tribunal recommended that Japan make a meaningful apology and give compensation to its victims. The tribunal, however, is an NGO-initiative and cannot enforce its recommendations.

The Malaya Lolas petitioned the Supreme Court to compel the Philippine government to represent their cause with the Japanese government but their request was denied in a decision written by Del Castillo using plagiarized quotes. The lolas (grandmothers) sought a reconsideration of the decision on May 31 and July 19, 2010.

For Vinuya, the Supreme Court’s dismissal of their petition was a particularly bitter pill to swallow. As president of Malaya Lolas, her name is in the title of the case (Vinuya v. Executive Secretary, G.R. No. 162230) that has now become synonymous with the plagiarism scandal that has hit the court.

For her, the plagiarism was like a second rape. She said: “Sinabi namin sa mismong Supreme Court, ito pong aming kaso – nangopya na sila, binaluktot pa, ang nangyari po sa amin, para pong nadoble ang sakit namin, na nangyari sa aming buhay, para po kaming nagahasang muli (We told the Supreme Court that in our case, they copied, twisted, what happened to us, which doubled the pain, that happened to our lives; it’s as if we were raped again).”

Despite their age, the women are still agile, their minds sharp. Vinuya, Galang and Quilantang are known to sing of their oral history in an impromptu manner.

Just a few days ago, several lolas gathered for a Christmas party at Mapaniqui’s basketball court and were seen dancing to Totoy Bato’s kapampangan folk songs. Supporters, some even from abroad, sent modest but thoughtful gifts like thick blankets, thermos and kettles.

The wartime ordeal they suffered is still vivid in their minds.

It was Nov. 23, 1944. This was their story.

Central Luzon suffered heavily during the war as it was the base of the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa mga Hapon or Hukbalahap, a guerrilla group initially formed to fight the Japanese troops. At 6:30 a.m., Japanese soldiers were on the hunt for the Huks. They gathered all the men, young and old, at the school courtyard.

Women were forced to watch under the sun as the soldiers tortured the men identified by a “Makapili,” a Filipino who collaborated with the Japanese against the Huks, even as he hid his own identity through a bayong on his head with only slits so that he could see.

One of the most frightful images Galang remembers is that of the father of a fellow lola, Tarcila Sampang, whose private part was cut off, then forced into his mouth.

By 10:30 a.m., 37 men had been bayoneted and shot. Soldiers piled the bodies into the school house which they then torched, along with the residents’ houses made of bamboo and pawid (nipa shingles).

The women were ordered to walk and carry their material possessions to a big, Dutch-inspired mansion they referred to as “Bahay na Pula,” located at neighboring San Ildefonso, Bulacan. During the trek, Galang recalled the soldiers kicked and shoved them. Upon reaching the mansion, the soldiers dragged the women, ranging from 13 to early 20s, into dark rooms and took turns raping them. The soldiers released them only at around 6 p.m. Some of the women were even more unfortunate because they were brought to the Japanese headquarters in San Miguel, Bulacan, where they were imprisoned for at least three months at the “comfort station.”

The “Bahay na Pula” mansion is privately-owned and still stands to this day. Vinuya says they will request that the owners allow them to install a small marker commemorating the events of Nov. 23, 1944.

The Mapaniqui residents denied kinship with the Huks then out of concern for their safety, but they admit with pride now that they were their fathers and brothers.

Last Nov. 23, while the rest of the country remembered the first anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre, Mapaniqui quietly marked the 66th anniversary of its own horror.

Kaisa Ka, an advocacy group that has been helping the lolas, facilitated a dialog with the new barangay leaders and the result, according to Lot dela Cruz, is encouraging.

“This is not only the lolas’ fight; the rest of the community, including the men, should commit to support the lolas’ campaign for formal apology and reparation from Japan because the atrocities are their shared history,” she said.

Every year, on Nov. 23, the lolas gather before a niche marking the site where they buried the remains of all 37 men burned in the school house.

***

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)

http://www.malaya.com.ph/12302010/news6.html

BY AMADO P. MACASAET
MALAYA

Practically killed by a decision of the Supreme Court, anti-money laundering efforts of the Philippines are trying to resurrect themselves with the help of Sen. Sergio Osmena III.

The senator from Cebu filed on Sept. 7, 2010, Senate Bill No. 2484 which seeks to nullify a Supreme Court decision denying the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) the right to get information on accounts suspected to be laundered money without informing the depositors.

In the final explanatory note to the bill, Senator Osmena made it clear: “Bank inquiry by the AMLC, being an indispensable discovery tool in following the money trail to ensure success in tracing proceeds of crime, and identifying and bringing to justice the perpetrators, should be allowed ex-parte by the courts.

“Otherwise, the efforts of the government in stopping the evils of money laundering and its underpinning unlawful activities would be frustrated.”

The AMLC has gone through years of frustration trying to do its job of running after laundered money.

A regional trial court in Manila frustrated the council’s efforts when it ruled that the AMLC cannot file a petition to investigate suspected bank accounts without informing the depositors.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the Manila RTC.

Hope came back when then Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban reversed the ruling of the lower courts.

But, as shown by the records, the second division of the SC reversed the Panganiban ruling a few days after he retired by denying with finality the AMLC’s omnibus motion asking that the case be referred to the en banc.

In a resolution, the SC declared “the AMLC (is) prevented from conducting inquiries into the bank accounts of respondents and disclosing the information obtained therefrom on related proceedings.”

A bank president who did not want to be identified pointed out that the decision of the SC is like the police informing suspected criminals that they are coming to arrest them.

The necessity of ex-parte petitions to examine bank accounts is dictated by the simple fact that when a depositor with suspected accounts is informed in advance of the search, he or she will naturally withdraw the money, another bank official said. The decision of the Supreme Court preventing ex-parte petitions maimed and left useless the existence of the Anti-Money Laundering Council, the same banker said.

A criminal lawyer, who also requested anonymity, pointed out that it was not proper for the Supreme Court’s second division composed of Associate Justices Leonardo Quisumbing, Dante Tinga, Presbiterio Velasco and Alicia Austria Martinez (another member of the division, Antonio Carpio, inhibited) to rule on the case instead of discussing the issue en banc.

Fifteen heads (members of the Court) are better than five, the lawyer alleged.

The ruling denying ex-parte petitions was penned by Justice Dange Tinga on Feb. 14, 2008.

The chronology of events that attended the hopes and frustrations of the AMLC are shown in court records from the regional trial court to the Supreme Court.

It all started on Jan. 12, 2006, when the AMLC applied – ex parte – for an expanded bank inquiry before a Manila regional trial court. The court granted the application on Jan. 12, 2006.

On Jan. 25, 2006, Pantaleon Alvarez, then secretary of transportation and communications in the Arroyo government, filed an urgent motion to stay the enforcement of the court order allowing the inquiry.

(The criminal lawyer told Malaya Business Insight that Alvarez, as a key state official, should have defended the state, not defied it.)

Just three days later, on Jan. 26, a Manila RTC issued an order stopping the enforcement of the inquiry.

The AMLC, through the Office of the Solicitor General, filed an omnibus motion seeking reconsideration of the stay order and striking out of the motion of Alvarez.

On Feb. 13, 2006, the Manila RTC issued an omnibus order granting the motion for reconsideration filed by the OSG.

Alvarez filed an urgent motion on May 10, 2006 seeking to restrain the AMLC from enforcing the omnibus order of May 2, 2006 pending the filing of his motion for reconsideration.

RTC Manila issued an order reminding the parties that the omnibus order is not yet final as the 15-day reglamentary period has not yet lapsed.

Pantaleon Alvarez filed a motion for reconsideration on May 15, 2006, seeking reconsideration of the May 2, order allowing the inquiry.

The Manila RTC issued an order denying the motion for reconsideration of Alvarez. The denial was issued on July 5, 2006.

On July 11, 2006, Alvarez filed an urgent motion and manifestation seeking to restrain the AMLC from conducting the bank inquiry as authorized by a Manila RTC on Jan. 2, 2006.

On July 12, 2006, the Manila RTC granted the motion of Alvarez and prevented the AMLC from proceeding with the inquiry. On July `12, 2006, Alvarez filed a notice of appeal.

The Court of Appeals issued an order directing the Manila RTC to forward to it the records of the case, considering the appeal of Alvarez.

Alvares proceeded to file an urgent ex parte motion for clarification seeking an order to direct the AMLC to refrain from inquiring into the accounts of other respondents, pending his appeal and to disallow the use and disclosure of the documents already obtained in the inquiry.

The motion of Alvarez was granted.

Before Alvarez filed his motion on July 25, 2006, Lilia Cheng, wife of Cheng Yong who was the principal stockholder of Philippine International Air Transport Corp. (Piatco), filed a petition for injunction with a prayer for a temporary restraining order, with the Court of Appeals.

In less than a month, on Sept. 22, 2006, the CA issued a writ of preliminary injunction.

The AMLC, through the OSG, filed a consolidated petition asking for the issuance of a TRO and a writ of preliminary injunction questioning another order of a Manila RTC disallowing the inquiry.

The OSG proceeded to file with the Supreme Court an urgent motion for the issuance of a TRO on Oct. 3, 2006.

On Oct. l6, 2006, the Supreme Court issued a TRO against the July 25 order of the Manila RTC and the Court of Appeals disallowing the inquiry.

On Oct. 13, Chie Justice Panganiban issued a supplemental TRO.

The Chief Justice said in his order “the Court of Appeals must likewise be enjoined from implementing its resolution directing the suspension of the bank inquiry.

On Oct. 12, Alvarez filed an urgent motion with the SC seeking to lift the TRO.

Lilia Cheng also filed a motion similar to that of Alvarez on Oct. 13, 2006.

The SC’s second division denied with finality the motion for reconsideration of AMLC.

That denial practically froze the AMLC in pursuing its job of hunting down the owners of stolen money.