Thursday, April 30, 2009

Baligtad na ang mundo

Now I believe Dona Gloria when she described the country as an “enchanted kingdom”. Truly, baligtad na ang mundo, as the Tagalogs would say.

Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada was arrested because he “perjured” himself in describing Miguelito el Defensor as a liar who tried to convince him to lie about the circumstances of his abduction from the international airport, to prevent him from telling the truth he knew about that sleaze deal called the NBN-ZTE.

A judge of the regional trial court of Manila, the same RTC’s that are the favourite of Don Jose Miguel Arroyo y Tuason, in whose loving care he lodged each of the 43 libel cases accusing almost every independent journalist in these benighted parts, sustained the allegation of Michael Tan Defensor that Jun Lozada perjured, and in the process, caused irreparable damage to the former’s reputation. Defensor wants to defend his “good” name, for the sake of the kids, said he.

That’s all fine and dandy, and well within Defensor’s rights, if only he could honestly say that the regime he serves and the leaders whose orders he religiously follows, are honest.

Prior to his sudden entry into the scene after Lozada was released to the brothers of De La Salle and the nuns, Defensor was last remembered as “Tol”, the senatorial candidate who lost in 2007, principally because people could not banish from their memory his perennial and relished role as gofer of the infamous couple. That plus an advertising campaign that competed with Prospero Pichay’s in its inanity.

But before that, people also remember Defensor as trouble-shooter during the infamous Hello Garci episode of his Dona’s political life, advancing the sonar theory that “it’s her voice, but it was not the president speaking”, after relying on the ultra-sonic hypotheses advanced by one Jonathan Tiongco, now deceased.

Now tell me whose word you would rely upon --- Lozada’s or Defensor’s? Even if you try genetics, you will note that Lozada comes from middle-class entrepreneurial parents schooled in the right values, while everybody who knows something about the mega-deal involving a sprawling golf course turned into a high-end housing venture in Quezon City knows how even Mike’s father is not above prevarication or obfuscation as legal practitioner. Now he is the powerful chair of the justice committee in the House of Pork, from which he serves their Dona fawningly in impeachment complaints. But that’s another story.

What Mike’s children probably should know is that with Jun Lozada’s arrest because of their dad’s complaint, “baligtad na ang mundo”. It ought to be a lesson in values. In the “enchanted kingdom” of their dad’s patroness, good is punished, and evil is rewarded.

Ang tama ay mali, at ang gumagawa ng tama ay parurusahan. Ang mali ay tama, basta’t ikatutuwa ng Donya, at nabibiyayahan ang bumabaluktot. Exalt the evil, condemn the good. That is the new “moral” order, in this reign of Dona Gloria y su esposo, she who is exalted by Catholic bishops of little moral probity, as an “honorary bishop”. (Did you see her picture among red-cloaked princes of the numerous church at the Cebu Cathedral? Didn’t you puke?)

Lozada’s arrest stands in stark contrast to the impunity enjoyed by minions of the current regime, who are not only scot-free, but are laughing all the way to the bank --- Joc-Joc Bolante, who plans to run for congressman of Capiz, Benjamin Abalos, who plans to retrieve Mandaloyon from his own son Ben-hur, Romulo Neri, who now husbands the billions upon billions of workers’ forced security savings, Virgilio Garcillano whose brilliance at electoral magic few can surpass, Lintang Bedol, Jun Paule, Maritess Aytona, Leo San Miguel and many, many others.

How can anyone explain this reversed state of justice to children, Mike Defensor’s kids included? Hindi ba kabaligtaran ng lahat ng tama ito? Ah, but you don’t know the Philippines; you don’t know justice, Philippine-style.

No wonder the FSGO led by the eminent Vicente Paterno could not contain themselves, their Christian values assailed and assaulted, that they asked: “What kind of message do we thus send our people --- that good is punished and evil rewarded? Whistleblowers and witnesses in behalf of truth are hounded and harassed, even as obvious prevaricators and practitioners of corruption are protected, promoted and highly rewarded”.”

So depressing is this state of things in the benighted land that one is wearied even in writing against it. “Nakapapagod na ang ginagawa natin”, I remarked to a man of the cloth who like many in civil society, refuses to be co-opted, so unlike his lord bishops who have sold their souls to Mammon.

But the erudite priest admonished me --- “Bilog and mundo”.

Together we looked up to the heavens, even if it was raining cats and dogs. “Sana nga po”, I replied --- “bilog and mundo”.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Stewed in his own saliva

The whole world is agog over a new strain of infectious swine flu. It began in Mexico, and has since “infected” the US of A and Canada.

Not to be outdone, our Department of Health has intensified, or so they say, measures to protect the country from possible infection by this scourge. Pingkoy Duque and his bevy of epidemiologists faced the cameras last Monday to allay fears. One of his chorus boys tried to be cute. “Don’t worry. It’s easy”, he said (or words to that effect). Pork does not sneeze, nor does it emit saliva. Only live pigs do”. Dr. Tayag was allaying fears spreading through the markets, where scared population has shunned pork.

I did not see Secretary Duque laughing at his subaltern’s “cute” joke. He probably knows why pork is “tumal”. People simply don’t have the money, swine flu or none.

But Duque, under whose department the Bureau of Quarantine operates, might be interested in this unsolicited advice, sent in by a friend who watched that live press conference on ANC:

“Quarantine the Batasan! That’s teeming with infected swine. And now with more congressmen, courtesy of the Supreme Court, the virus of the pork barrel will multiply several times over”, he cries.

* * *

Meanwhile, at the rate she’s dumping every general the minute one retires into our foreign service, we might as well merge the DFA and the DND, and give both portfolios to her alleged presidential candidate, Gilbert Teodoro, who took it upon himself to announce the new ambassadors. Feeling president, eh?

This is not to disparage Alexander Yano’s qualifications. He may well be better-suited at having tea with the Sultan of Brunei, for all we care. Or his vice chief-of-staff, Cardozo Luna, with his impressive academic credentials, is certainly qualified to cool his heels in the cold winds from the Nordsee that buffet Den Haag, as our ambassador to the Netherlands. (Last time I knew, we had a consolidated embassy for the Low Countries --- Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, but maybe Dona Gloria, oozing with E-VAT money, can afford to split it up and have an embassy exclusive to the Netherlands).

But this is becoming automatic. Admiral De Leon is in Canberra, whiling his time away trying to earn another academic degree in an Aussie university. Vidal Querol of the police is in Indonesia. When Efren Abu was to be called to testify in some Senate hearing, he was suddenly announced as an envoi extraordinaire to le BIMP-EAGA, whatever that means nowadays. Roy Cimatu is still ambassador-at-large for Middle East crisis management, and somewhere too is Generoso Senga, and heaven knows who else and wherever else. Of course the DOTC is riddled with ex-generals, and so is clueless Angelo’s Department of Energy. Likewise, the DPWH is under a retired police general, Hermogenes Ebdane. The DOTC has of course been under former PNP Chief Leandro Mendoza for the longest time. The highly sensitive and extremely powerful Presidential Management Staff is headed by former Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, Hermogenes Esperon. And the Executive Secretary, Eduardo Ermita, mismo, is a retired three-star general.

* * *

Now I will let you in on a secret. Sometime last month, PNP Director-General Jesus Versoza (PMA Class 1976) was called to Malacanang. When he was ushered into her royal presence, he was surprised to see Western Police District Chief Boysie Rosales (PMA Class 78) already with the Dona. In no uncertain terms, he was told that royalty wished that Rosales be posthaste promoted to chief of the NCRPO, vice Leopoldo Bataoil, Versoza’s mistah. Bataoil had been in the post of NCRPO head only a few months, and had hoped to retire in that posting. Now they invented a powerless title and position for one who headed NCRPO briefly, but with great promise and professionalism.

Royalty had spoken, and Versoza could not say otherwise. The speculation going around Camp Crame nowadays is that Versoza, who will turn 56 on December 25, 2010, will be saying adieu to his post one year earlier, on or before Christmas Day this year. Then perhaps he will be “justly” rewarded, with a diplomatic posting. May I suggest --- Ambassador to Moscow? His first task --- recover the euro-generals’ confiscated funds?

So who will be his replacement? Who else but new NCRPO chief Boysie Rosales, of the fabled class of 1978? By then, the newly-proclaimed Army Chief, Delfin Bangit, also of Class 78, and former bodyguard and “special ops” henchman of the royals in the stinking palace beside the stinking river, will have consolidated his hold on the Army, in time for his new promotion (March or earlier, 2010) as supremo of all the armed forces. In his stead, his mistah, Romeo Prestoza, also a former bodyguard and factotum in the stinking palace, will be the new Army chief.

Notice how Rosales and his new CPD boys handled the “sig-heil” investigation of Ted Failon and his household, after wife Trina committed suicide? Were they trying to get even because Ted has been true to his calling, denouncing the Keystone Kops and corruption ? Or were they showing their “wares” to the royalty who expects them to be “capable of the worst” in these dangerous times? Rosales and his boys may have gained public notoriety, but then, do they care? All that matters is “his” and “her” approval, ne c’est pas, Herr General Boysie?

“Hail, hail! The gang’s all here”, a jolly pedestrian ditty sings. Now segue into the classics, Handel’s Messiah, “And she shall reign…forever and ever”.

* * *

“Hoisted in his own petard” is what happened to Senator Manuel Villar Jr., the man who would be president of the benighted land. Responding angrily the other Monday (April 20), to what he labelled as the machinations of a kangaroo court of “presidentiables” out for his persecution over the mysteries of that stretch of road called C-5, he repeated several times that “he is not afraid to face (Senator Madrigal’s) accusations”, but not before the Ethics Committee chaired by Senator Panfilo Lacson.

“Sasagutin ko ito…not before the Ethics Committee, but right here, on the floor!”, he thundered before his colleagues. Immediately thereafter, his seconds, Minority Leader Nene Pimentel and Alan Peter Cayetano, created their own hobgoblins and peddled these to the public through a cacophony of eager sympathizers from all sorts of media, broadcast, print and whatever else. They just simply cried “rape” even if no one’s rights had been ravaged, let alone touched.

So, the Ethics Committee decided to go the final “extra” mile, just to prove to all and sundry that they were not being unfair or unjust to respondent Villar, who kept touting his being a presidentiable hounded by fellow presidentiables, as shield against possible malefaction. Last Monday (April 27), Lacson stood on the floor, and concluded his short speech by moving that his committee be discharged of the responsibility to give due course to Senator Jamby Madrigal’s accusations of conflict of interest and unseemly conduct against Villar, and for the same to now become the task of the Committee of the Whole (Senate). In fine, let all his peers hear and judge him, without having to go through the committee level. His motion was carried, with 10 votes versus none. Villar’s 5 abstained, while he himself was nowhere in the Senate.

“Hoisted in his own petard”, European parliamentarians would have perhaps dryly remarked. “Stewed in his own saliva” is more succinct.

And how did the man who would be president react? Tuesday noon, the ABS-CBN crew caught him at the nearby Sofitel, and he said “The Ethics committee is a kangaroo court…and the Committee of the Whole is a bigger kangaroo court”!

Later, perhaps realizing that he hooked his mouth once again (did wife Congresswoman Cynthia upbraid him?), he went to Senate President Enrile and “apologized”.

But as soon as Villar stepped out of Enrile’s office, media asked him to clarify his previous statement about kangaroos in the whole Senate, and he said: “Yung sa kangaroo court I was not referring to the Chairman, to be fair. I was referring to the membership …wala akong duda sa kakayahan ni Senator Enrile na chairman. In fact, iyan lang ang consolation doon. Yun lang ang maganda sa committee of the whole, na somebody like JPE is the one chairing it.”

Wow! Breathtaking! So the Committee of the Whole are all “kangaroos”, save for the Senate President?

“So would you submit yourself (to the investigation of the Committee of the Whole)?” came a follow-up question. “Ay…hindi ko pa alam”, was Villar’s reply.

He ought to be “untouchable” pala. Not yet president, he wants immunity from prosecution, by anyone and everyone.

And Juan Ponce Enrile, the man who could have been president, and has credentials far more than Villar in several lifetimes could hope to achieve, and character far more solid (though he has his share of faults in his long career), calmly stated --- “I have no intention of railroading a case against a fellow senator. Let people be the judge, on how fair and impartial the hearings will be”.

In the end, the Senate under Juan Ponce Enrile wants the whole nation to know that any accusation of wrongdoing must be answered, whether by a cabinet official or bureaucrat facing the independent Senate, or by one of its own. That is as it should be.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Nilaga sa sariling laway

Minsan ay kinausap at hinikayat ng isang kaibigan kong pulitiko ang isang kapwa-kaibigan, upang sumakay na sa “byaheng Malakanyang” ni Manuel Villar. Prangka naman ang kapwa-kaibigan namin. “Hindi ako bilib sa utak niya, sa kakayahan niya”, wika nito. ‘Ni hindi nag-protesta ang kaibigan naming pulitiko. Sambit niya sa kapwa kaibigan --- “si Cynthia (Aguilar, ang ma-lupang maybahay ni Manny na kasalukuyang kinatawan ng Las Pinas) na ang bahala mag-puno noon. Iyon…magaling ang ulo”.

Pero pambihira talaga ang suwerte nitong si Manny Villar. Mula sa isang hindi naman naghihikahos, kundi masasabing “middle-class”, “small-business, na pamilya, napasok siya sa Unibersidad ng Pilipinas kung saan nakilala si Cynthia Aguilar, mula sa angkan na napakaraming mga lupa sa Las Pinas. Noong panahong iyon ay mga asinan at talahiban pa ang mga ito, nguni’t sa malaon at madali, dahil sa pag-lobo ng populasyon, lungsod na lungsod na ito, at saksakan na ng mahal ang lupa rito.

Mula sa negosyong bato’t buhangin (gravel and sand), pumasok ang mag-asawang Villar sa real estate, at doon ay naka-jackpot. Dahil hawak naman ng pamilya ng Aguilar ang pulitika ng Las Pinas, naging congressman si Manny Villar mula 1992. Bumili sila ng bangko, pinalaki, pero bumagsak ang kanilang bangko. Maging ang real estate business ay nanganib dala ng Asian recession ng 1997. Kaya lang, naging Speaker na si Villar, suportado ni Erap noong 1998. Dalawang taon pagkatapos na gawin siyang speaker ni Erap, sumama siya sa dating katunggali sa pagka-Speaker (na tinabla ni Erap) na si Joker Arroyo, at ibinagsak nila si Erap. Parang magic, nahango sa pagkalaki-laking kautangan ang negosyo ng mga Aguilar-Villar. Swerte kaya, o dunong?

Ito ang tinanong ko sa kaibigang hinihikayat ng kapwa namin kaibigang pulitiko na suportahan na si Villar. Binibiro mo, “bangkarote na halos noong 1998, e hindi lang nakabawi, kundi lalo pang yumaman”, sabi ko sa kanya. “Hindi yan nakakamangha --- alam mo naman kung paano ginamit ang kanyang pagiging Speaker, tapos Senate President, para ma-ayos ang kanyang mga problemang pinansyal. Hindi iyan dunong, o galing, kundi pag-abuso sa kapangyarihan”, sagot sa akin ng kaibigang mataas ang pinagdalubhasaan.

Noong Lunes ng hapon, matapos magtalumpati si Senador Ping Lacson upang sagutin ang mga akusasyon nina Nene Pimentel at Alan Cayetano na hindi siya parehas sa paghawak at pagpapatakbo ng Ethics Committee na siyang naatasang mag-imbistiga sa akusasyon ni Jamby Madrigal patungkol sa “conflict of interest” o paggamit ng pwesto o kapangyarihan at impluwensya para sa pansariling interes, tumindig si Manny Villar. Sa tagal ko nang nagmamasid sa Kongreso, tila ngayon ko lang narinig na mag-privilege speech itong si Villar.

At nanggagalaiti sa galit na sinabing hindi siya natatakot na harapin ang isyung inaakusa sa kanya ni Madrigal, ukol sa mahiwagang pagkakalihis ng C-5 Extension, mula sa dating daraanang lupa ni Bro. Mike Velarde ng El Shaddai, na bayad na ng gobyerno sa halagang 1.2 bilyung piso, at ngayon ay dumaan sa mga lupain ng mga korporasyon ni Villar. Bukod sa pagtaas ng halaga ng mga lupang dinaanan, wika nga ni Madrigal, e mataas pa ang pagkaka-bayad ng lupang binili ng gobyerno sa mga Villar. “Handa akong sagutin ito”, ani Villar, nguni’t kinukwestyon niya ang pagiging-biased diumano ng Ethics Committee, na pinamumunuan ni Lacson, at may mga miyembrong sina Dick Gordon, Mar Roxas, Loren Legarda --- na kapwa raw niyang nais ding maging presidente.

Bagama’t “non sequitur” ang ganitong argumento, wika nga ng mga abogado sa salitang Latin --- ibig sabihin, “hindi nangangahulugang tama”, madaling ibenta ang ganitong palpak na argumento sa taong bayan na hindi nakakaintindi ng batas o proseso ng batas.

Pero handa raw siyang sagutin ang mga akusasyon laban sa kanya, “hindi sa Ethics Committee, kundi dito mismo, sa bulwagang ito”. Makailang beses niyang inulit-ulit ang mga katagang iyon.

Isang buong linggong pinag-piyestahan si Lacson ng mga kakampi ni Villar sa media --- mga editor, mga kolumnista, mga komentarista. Bugbog-sarado, wika nga, dahil lahat halos ay ka-kampi ni Villar. “Inaapi si Villar…hindi parehas lumaban si Ping…kinukuyog ng mayoriya si Villar…pinuputikan si Villar kasi nangunguna sa labanan sa pagka-pangulo…” ito ang mga bukambibig at laman ng mga tabloid. Maging mga istoryang tama at patas na isinusulat ng mga Senate reporter ay binabago sa desk ng mga pahayagan, para lamang pabanguhin si Villar at sirain si Lacson.

Kaya siguro nitong nagdaang Lunes, tumayo si Lacson sa bulwagan ng Senado, at hiniling sa isang mosyon na yaman din lang na walang kumpiyansa si Villar na bibigyan niya ito ng “patas na laban” sa Ethics Committee na kanyang pinamumunuan, e buong Senado na lamang ang siyang mag-imbistiga, sa pamumuno ni Senate President Enrile (na hindi naman “presidentiable”). Tutal, wika nga ni Lacson, mismong sa mga bibig ni Villar namutawi noong nagdaang Lunes, na “handa siyang harapin ang isyu, hindi sa Ethics Committee, kundi dito mismo sa bulwagang ito”. At sinang-ayunan si Lacson ng sampu sa kanyang mga kapwa-senador, at walang kumontra. Nag-abstain ang limang ka-alyado ni Villar.

Ilang buwan ding nanahimik si Villar sa mga akusasyon sa kanya ni Madrigal. Ngayon ay kailangan na niyang harapin ang isyu --- sa harap ng lahat ng mga senador. Ito rin naman ang kanyang hiniling noong Lunes nang nagdaang lingo.

“Hoisted in his own petard”, wika sa Ingles. Para i-translate sa angkop na pananalita, “nilaga sa sariling laway” si Senador Manuel Villar.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Padyak for pagpag

In the 56th Berlin International Film Festival, a total of 3,600 shorts films were submitted. The screening jurors, the Berlinale Talent Campus, chose 32 films, and a Filipino-produced, directed, written and filmed six-minuter topped. The title of Ferdinand Dimadura’s opus is “Chicken a la Carte”. Reader Ronald sent it to me.

I will attempt to put in words the story the short film portrays. Read it and weep.

Two young ladies perhaps out for a Halloween “gimik” decide to fill themselves up with fast food first. They see the brightly-lit marquees of McDonalds, KFC, Jollibee and Chowking. They enter one, and look at the brightly-lit overhead menu. One chooses to order a chicken meal, the other one a huge pork chop, with rice, beverage and sidings. They do not clean up their plates. (I hope it was because most fastfood is simply tasteless, and the two girls had better palates, but that is beside the point). They proceed out of the restaurant, and into whatever gimmick the night had in store for them.

Then, the next scene shows a “padyak”, not the kind of commuter contraption Mar Roxas rides in his latest TVC, but a “cargo” padyak. At the steel-fabricated cargo hold was a big polypropylene container. The taga-padyak stops at the closed fastfood eatery, and enters through its service-door. The utility personnel allows him to retrieve the carcasses of everybody’s meal. As he forages into the garbage bins, he segregates choice cuts, such as the little-eaten chicken parts the ladies left on their plates and spoonfuls of left-over pancit, these go into a little green bag. Those which were all bone and some gristle were placed in a plastic polyethylene garbage bag inside the plastic container.

In the “good old days”, all left-overs were put together and became hog swill. We used to call these “kaning-baboy”, remember? But in the urban warrens of Metro Manila and other teeming slums these “glorious” days, there is hardly any “kaning-baboy”.

Nobody tends backyard piggeries any longer, except in the rural areas, where a pig is raised, fed with swill, for the annual fiesta. In the cities, hogs would just compete for space with humans cramped and cooped up in makeshift boxes that pass for habitat. There’s no place for hogs in the fetid slums of the poorest of our poor.

And what used to be fodder for hogs and pets has now become “pagpag”, the daily fare of the poorest of the poor. GMA-7 once featured a day in the life of “pagpag” gatherers using their “padyak” contraptions, and the “pagpag” buyers they purveyed their wares to, by the kilo --- neighborhood carinderias where the left-over chicken would be washed, re-washed, then re-fried, or braised in toyo and suka to become adobong pagpag, or with tomato sauce, into afritadang pagpag, sold with lots of rice to the pagpag-hungry lumpen. Day-in and day-out, menu pour le pauvre jeanne, le masa, interspersed with “nakasasawang” instant noodles.

It’s early morning when the subject pagpag-gatherer reaches his far-off hovel. At the mere sight of his approaching “padyak”, children from the neighbourhood swarm around him, open the plastic container, and feast, drooling with utmost delight, in the “pagpag”. He lets them be, the kind-hearted Christian that he is.

Then, Dimadura’s camera brings us inside his hovel, where a brood of three, born it seemed, in yearly succession, the youngest a baby in his wife’s arms, greet their father happily. The wife opens the little green plastic bag, and starts rationing off the “choice cuts”. A hardly-touched chicken wing goes to one; a half-touched drumstick to another. And then she scrapes off pancit to distribute equally --- “hating kapatid”.

The hungry kids scramble their hands to eat, but tatay stops them, and bids them to first make the sign of the cross. “Huwag kalimutang mag-dasal at magpasalamat”, he seems to be admonishing the kids.

Throughout the portion where pagpag reaches the hovel of the magpa-padyak, a plaintive voice sings these lyrics:

“Let me tell their story / that no one else can hear.
How can someone’s laughter / bring me close to tears?”

“And you’ll never know / ‘coz you’re never there.
After what we’ve seen / Can we close our eyes again?”

“Let me tell their story / you won’t think it’s true.
I have not forgotten / so I’m sharing it with you.”

“For all the things we know / what have we really learned?
Though I close my eyes / the images remain.”

“And their story / begins again…”

The short film ends with the pronouncement that “This is a True Story”, and sure it is, in the benighted land called the Philippines --- our Philippines.

Makes me wonder --- where do the left-overs of Mamou (Gloria’s favourite steak house) and Elberts’s, and the pricey restaurants along Serendra and High Street and the Greenbelts and Glorietta’s go? Or President Erap’s daily bacchanalians? Where would their pagpag go? To the doggie bags of the ultra-rich, who feed their expensive dogs with expensive, imported scrap from Wagyu and Kobe or Prime Angus? Ah…but these “leaders” foray into some lucky districts where the masa live, on their birthdays or an occasional Christmas, to distribute gift bags, not of pagpag surely, but rice and noodles and sardines, une fete veritable pour les miserables.

The cineaste reads a synopsis flashed on the screen at the end of “Chicken a la Carte”, and it reads: “This film is about the hunger and poverty brought by globalization. There are 10,000 people dying everyday due to hunger and malnutrition. This short film shows a forgotten portion of society --- people who live on their refuse to survive.”

“What is inspiring is the hope and spirituality that never left these people”.

Ah…”hope, spirituality” --- such lofty, ethereal ideals. The film depicts a family and a neighbourhood bound by endless hope amidst the gruelling poverty they patiently endure. Ferdinand Dimadura sees inspiration in such.

Pardon me, but after the tears that well are wiped, all I could feel was rage --- rage that this state of things has come to be. Rage that those who allow these to happen and become permanent reality, are not at all affected, and globalization or fair trade or whatever economics they preach, would rather “close their eyes”, as they partake of giant morsels from their pork barrel, or the immoderately greedy choice cuts from the contracts they transact.

Is globalization the main culprit for pagpag-survival and the sub-human toil of our magpa-padyak? Perhaps, viewed from the macro-economic sense, better yet, the international scheme where poor nations have been consigned to servility towards the rich. Yet, there are those, in our neighbourhood even, who despite globalization, have managed to prosper and exile such misery, such grinding poverty into oblivion. This country has not. This country continues to degenerate into the benighted pits.

Or is it the immoderate greed of some, as courageously defined by Jun Lozada, whose coming incarceration for perjury allegedly done to a first-class liar, no one but Cory Aquino and the nuns seem to care about? The immoderate greed of the ruling class.

Where lie the hopes of the “masa”? When will they have a fair, fighting chance? Kailan magkakaroon ng “patas na laban”?

When will they realize that those who dole-out occasionally to them, do so only with feigned charity in their hearts, while gouging out from taxpayer’s money much, much more than they give back for show?

Pagpag. In a larger sense, that is what we have been consigned unto by those who style themselves as leaders of this benighted nation. And we are happy for their tender mercies, for the scraps, for the leavings. How should we survive by dividing amongst ourselves --- pagpag from the tables of the immoderately greedy?

Dagdag na mga walang silbi

Dahil sa desisyon ng Korte Suprema, kung saan binigyan ng pagkilala ang karapatan ng iba pang mga party-list na lapiang lumahok sa halalan ng 2007, madaragdagan na naman ang Kamara de Representantes ng dalawampu’t siyam na mga miyembro. Ito’y nangyari habang pinapanukala sa dalawang kapulungan ng Kongreso ang pagdagdag pa ng miyembro sa mababang kapulungan, ng limapu hanggang sa isang daang bagong mga distrito.

Ang dahilan sa panukala na magdagdag ng kinatawan ay ang pagdami, o paglobo ng populasyon. Wika kasi ng Saligang Batas, dapat ay bawa’t probinsiya ay magkaroon ng tig-isang congressman, o kasing-dami ng kailangan para sa bawa’t 250,000 populasyon. Ang problema, mula noong 1987 kung kalian umiral ang kasalukuyang Saligang Batas, dumami na tayo ng dumami. Ang pangalawang distrito halimbawa ng Lungsod ng Quezon ay may higit sa isang milyong populasyon na, pero iisa ang distrito. Ang Cavite ay may 2.4 milyong populasyon na, nguni’t nananatiling tatlo ang distrito.

Sa ganang Korte Suprema naman, dapat daw ay 55 ang party-list representation, upang tugunan ang tagubilin ng Saligang Batas na 20% ng mababang kapulungan ay naka-reserba para sa mga mararalita at kapus-palad na sektor. At dahil sa higit 230 na ang kasalukuyang miyembro ng Kamara, e di tinaasan, at kinilala sa ganitong pamamaraan maski ang mga partido na wala pang dalawang porsyento ang nakalap na boto noong halalan ng 2007. Hindi rin mawala ang ispekulasyon na ayaw lamang ng Korteng makakalap si Louie Villafuerte at Mikey Arroyo ng inaasam-asam na 197 na boto para maidulog sa kanila ang usapin ng Cha-Cha sa pamamagitan ng constituent assembly ng iisang Kamara.

Ngayon nga naman ay may dagdag na bagong 29 na congressman, e hindi pa nila nakakalap ang 197 na sumusuporta sa cha-cha. Mas magiging mahirap sana. Ang kahinaan ng argumentong ito ay sa 29 na nanalong mga party-list na kinatawan, masasabing tatlo lang ang sertipikadong lalaban sa cha-cha, at siguro’y may apat o lima pang medyo independyente ang paninindigan. Nguni’t ang karamihan sa mga bagong party-list na kinatawan, at partido nilang hindi mo ma-ispelling kung ano ang layon o pakay, ay mga “batang club” ng Malakanyang. Sa madaling salita, nadagdagan pa ang mga kampon ng pro-chacha.

Huwag na muna nating tunghayan ang epekto sa sinusulong na cha-cha. Imbes, ano naman kayang kabutihan ang idudulot sa bayan ng karagdagang mga mambubutas, este, mambabatas? Dagdag gastos, dagdag yabang, dagdag abuso, at dagdag pork barrel.

Sa pork barrel pa lamang, ang kasalukuyang ginugugol sa 236 na mambabatas ay 16.5 bilyones taun-taon. Sa loob ng tatlong taong panunungkulan ng mga ito, umaabot na sa 50 bilyon, pork barrel pa lamang. E ngayong aabot na sila sa 265, e di dagdag 2 bilyon sa isang taon? At kung isusulong ang panukalang dagdagan ang mga distrito dahil sa paglobo ng populasyon, ng 50 pa, e di dagdag na naman, sa pork barrel pa lamang, ng 3.5 bilyon? Suma total, 22 bilyones sa pork barrel taun-taon, o 66 bilyon sa tatlong taon. Diyos ko po!

At para ano? Para magbutas ng silya sa Kamara? Para magpanukala ng mga batas na walang saysay? Para maging tuta, at magpakatuta sa Malakanyang, sinuman ang pangulo? Para magkanda-bingi na tayo sa mga wang-wang ng kanilang mga escort at back-up na sasakyan, kumpleto de-bodyguard na pulis o militar?

Ewan ko, pero parang mabuti pa i-abolish na muna ang mababang kapulungan. Tutal, mabababang uri rin naman ang kanilang asal.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Palawan’s crocs

Once, while en route to the Underground River, part of what was then known as the St. Paul’s Subterranean National Park, the tour guide made mention of the crocodile farm in the suburbs of Puerto Princesa. He gave us the scientific name of the crocs that were multiplying in that park – crocodilus mindorensis. These are really the Philippine variety, he explained, small but vicious, quick to the kill even. I chucked that into my memory stock of “useless trivia”.

As I am not particularly fond of animals, more so reptilians, I found myself more interested in the sparsely found “balayong” trees along the way to Sabang, a community with a white beachfront from where one took a pump boat to reach the world-famous subterranean river. The balayong, endemic to Palawan, looked like a huge cherry tree, with its pink and white flowers in profuse bloom. It was such a wondrous sight, balm enough for a tortuous ride over bumpy roads. I have always had this vision of the Philippine highway system planted throughout with flowering trees of different shades and colours, from the orange flame tree, to the golden shower, to the violet banaba, to the reddish African tulip, and in the case of Palawan, with thousands upon thousands of balayong. When I was with the PTA, I had embarked on that project, until Chavit and Erap’s woes cut my dreams short.

I had also been to the subterranean wonder once by way of a helicopter, and the most beautiful part of the ride was to pass by thousands upon thousands of hectares of lush forest, from Puerto Princesa all the way to the towns of San Vicente and El Nido. Marvellous, I thought, considering what I have seen in my native Agusan, and in Surigao, Lanao, Davao, Zamboanga and Cotabato, where once mighty timber stands were gone. How did the Palawenos do it? That’s another story though.

So let’s get back to the crocs of Palawan, huge, insatiable crocs whose predatory instincts should rank high in Jun Lozada’s vocabulary of the immoderately greedy.

Palawan, you see, is one of the country’s richest provinces. It’s potential is even richer. For as long as the proper environmental safeguards are in place, and these are implemented strictly by guys like Edward Hagedorn, the feisty mayor of Puerto Princesa, the province would most certainly be the next tourism paradise of all Asia. Mining in the southern tip, in Bataraza, is done responsibly. The municipality hosts one of Asia’s most environmentally sound nickel refinery projects, where wide swaths of land from where nickel ore were extracted now transformed into second-growth, high-density forests. The kind of topsoil in most of Palawan suits orchards fine, apart from the ubiquitous rice paddies, with mountain streams overflowing with water, thanks to preserved forests.

But Palawenos drool over the bounty that Malampaya, an oil and gas discovery in the north, now provides the national government and its private partners, led by Royal Dutch Shell.

There is a running battle between the national government and Palawan on how the bounty should be divided. In fact, the issue is now lodged in the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, in an act of compromise or charity, the national government has deigned it proper to release “development” funds sourced from its humongous Malampaya bounty, to local governments. Under some kind of a provisional arrangement, while the high tribunal still decides on the case, Dona Gloria’s government has given Palawan some 2.1 billion pesos, over and above the internal revenue allotments of its towns and provincial government, and over and above the pork barrel moolah of Palawan’s two congressmen.

But instead of giving all of the 2.1 billion to the provincial government, the transactional regime divided it into “hating kapatid” --- 700 million to Gov. Joel Reyes, 700 million each to the disposition of the two congressmen, namely Antonio Alvarez in the north and Abraham Mitra in the south. Except that Mitra has to share his 700 million with Puerto Princesa, the highly-urbanized city led by Hagedorn.

The governor can directly implement projects, either by administration or through the bidding of contracts. He has, with a huge share of the pie going to reclamation and port development in his native Coron island. But the congressmen have to course their project implementation through the Department of Public Works and Highways.

Well, I’ve seen some in the south, and now I know what a crocodilus palawanensis means.

Since roads in this elongated province are in such terrible condition, the obvious “developmental” need is to widen and construct all-weather roads. Fine.

But here’s the catch. Favored contractors are paid in full for projects that are only 20% completed. All the contractors need is a certification from one Mario Soriano, whose item at the DPWH is that of Engineer 3, but who is the project engineer, construction engineer, OIC-Assistant District Engineer’s Office, and chairman of the bids and awards committee, all rolled into one favourite person. Favourite of whom? Secretary Ebdane? Or Rep. Baham Mitra?

In brief, Engineer Soriano awards, implements, supervises, and certifies completion over the road projects funded by the share of the Malampaya bounty. All in. And I’ve seen documents and pictures of hardly touched projects already fully paid for, per vouchers and other papers. Not only roads, but school buildings as well. A culvert is placed, a bridge is certified as completed.

Remember how my friend stumbled into a washed-out bridge in the remote island municipality of San Fernando in Sibuyan Island, which I wrote about sometime in the middle of last year? My friend took photographs of the washed-out portions, and wept…not a single reinforcing bar meshed inside the plaster of cement and gravel. Not even a bamboo reinforcement. No wonder, at the first rush of water from Mt. Giting-Giting, the bridge collapsed, and with it, the people’s money.

Now, in southern Palawan, a favourite DPWH official does his things, at whose behest, Ebdane’s or Mitra’s or whoever else, and it has raised the hackles of Palawan’s concerned citizens. The scuttlebutt is 20% for the contractor, another 20% for the project, and 60% for the political or bureaucratic bosses. At this rate, the bounty from Malampaya will just go into the deep pockets, and to hell with “development”.

The citizens who complained to us in Palawan claim the same things happen, albeit in smaller crocodilian bites, in the whole province. Maybe in the south, it is crocodilus palawanensis that reigns supreme, while in the north and in Puerto, it is crocodilus mindorensis.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Face it

Livid with rage, Manuel Villar sprang to the floor of the Senate and hurled ad hominems against his “tormentors” last Monday. Although he did not mention their names, he raged against a fellow senator, a lady who has been a “defender of human rights” (“tagapagtanggol ng human rights na ang bukang bibig ay puro human rights”), but, “when someone here was accused of murder, she was silent” (noong may inaakusahan na murder ay hindi makakibo”). That of course is a non sequitur, because the alleged case is in fact with the courts, and the DOJ secretary himself was all over the papers implying that a senator was involved in it.

He also raged against the “girl friend” of another senator (“wala akong girl friend na bira ng bira”). He of course was referring to a well-known lady broadcast journalist who has been critical of corruption, in the executive agencies as well as the legislature. Apparently, Senator Villar finds it difficult to distinguish between one’s profession and one’s personal life. Surely, Senator Villar would never be too harsh against those in media who attack and collect, defend and collect. As things stand, his “tormentors” in the Senate do not have the wherewithal (the “billions”) to pay up. He has plenty.

He accuses the Senate Ethics Committee chair, Panfilo Lacson, of irrelevant things like his alleged complicity in “Dacer-Corbito”. And he mentioned something about “BW Resources shares na involved”, and asks if it is not something the Ethics Committee should likewise investigate. In his rage, Villar probably forgot that the same issue of BW Resources had been the subject of a Senate Ethics Committee investigation, when a senator, now deceased, allegedly demanded from Dante Tan millions of shares of the hot stock, yet failed to pay for the same even after the shares were sold for multiples of their value at the time of purchase. Villar, in his rage, probably overlooked the fact that the son of the deceased senator, may his soul rest in peace, has since become another peer of the realm, and is in fact, Villar’s chief second, his vitriolic spokesperson.

But what are the facts of “l’affaire C-5” and Manuel Villar’s alleged involvement in it?

Sometime in September last year, Seantor Lacson inquired about a curious double entry of similar 200 million peso amounts in the budget for the same stretch of road, one described as C-5 and the other described as Carlos P. Garcia, it’s new name. The budget secretary, who Lacson thought was toying with the budget, announced that it was a “congressional insertion”.

An investigation in the Finance Committee followed, where Senator Enrile, its chair, said that the “insertion” was at the instance of then Senate President Villar. Was Lacson the “accuser”, as Senator Cayetano, Villar, Arroyo, Pimentel, et al keep repeating over and over? No. He did not identify Villar. Enrile did in the course of inquiry.

Then, Senator Jamby Madrigal revealed in a privilege speech that the C-5 Road’s original site had been shifted from Paranaque City to the boundary of Las Pinas City. That the original site was one where government had already paid road-right-of-way compensation to Bro. Mike Velarde whose land was to be passed upon, to the tune of 1.2 billion pesos. And that the new site passed lands belonging to the corporations owned by spouses Manuel and Cynthia Villar, who had, per DPWH records, negotiated the sale of his and other lands, at a time when the male Villar was chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and the female Villar was congresswoman of Las Pinas. So Madrigal referred her findings to the Ethics Committee, then chaired by Sen. Pia Cayetano, who had been chair of the committee for more than a year, and had not done anything about other issues pending before her committee.

On November of 2008, a majority of senators decided to replace Villar as Senate President, and in his stead, chose Juan Ponce Enrile. After a month of reorganization, Sen. Ping Lacson was nominated by the majority to chair the Ethics Committee. Lacson, twice on the floor of the Senate, asked the minority to nominate their members. They refused.

The Ethics committee met after the Christmas recess to draft the rules of investigations. The minority refused to participate. People wondered why it was taking too long, but the committee took its time, went through due process step by step, including the publication of its rules in the Official Gazette. All these having been done, with the minority refusing to participate, the first committee hearing to dispose of pending cases before it happened on April 15. There was a case filed by former QC representative Dante Liban against Sen. Dick Gordon, another filed by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago against Sen. Antonio Trillanes. There was also one regarding the executive session of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee where Romulo Neri, witness in the ZTE-NBN investigation, was accompanied by DBM Secretary Rolando Andaya, a breach of the Senate rules. And there was the case against Villar filed by Madrigal.

The minority led by Alan Cayetano and later, Minority Leader Nene Pimentel questioned why some senators signed an order directing Villar to file his response to Madrigal’s complaint, after the Ethics committee’s general counsel certified that the complaint had form and substance. The order was yet to be promulgated after that 15 April hearing, but the minority twisted the facts and charged that Villar was already condemned by the “committee report”. There was no committee report, and lawyers Cayetano and Pimentel knew that. All there was, leaked by Senator Jinggoy Estrada, was a yet-to-be promulgated directive to Villar to respond to Madrigal within five days.

“Apparently, some equate mere determination that the complaint complied with form and substance with already credible evidence that provides substantial cause for the committee to conclude that a violation within its jurisdiction has already been committed”, Lacson said on the Senate floor.

Pimentel and Cayetano claimed that Lacson was being “accuser, judge and executioner”. Cayetano’s colourful tongue even exclaimed “political rub-out”. So on Monday, Lacson rebutted their claim, point by point. And explained that he had exercised a quantum of caution, lest he be accused precisely of unfairness. Lacson even adverted to an earlier action of then Ethics chair in the 12th Congress, Francis Pangilinan, who, acting purely on the complaint of the sworn statement of one Angelo “Ador” Mawanay, “officially informed me (Lacson) that the Committee had already conducted a preliminary discussion…and that I had to file my counter-affidavit in a preliminary inquiry…No meeting was held to tackle the complaint against me. Worse, the Ethics Committee of the 12th Congress did not bother to inform me beforehand that the complaint filed was sufficient in form and substance. Moreover, the Senate Ethic Committee of the 12th Congress did not care to find out if it had jurisdiction in the first place. Why? (Because) the accusations contained therein, never mind that they were as incredible as they were ludicrous, were supposedly committed before (Lacson) took my oath as Senator of the Republic!”.

Lacson then did not ask his minority leader to intervene, nor did he ask any peer to heckle for him. “I did not cry foul. I quietly filed my reply in the best way I knew how…even when it was obvious that lapses were committed against my interest…”, he declared. “Conscious of those lapses, inadvertent or otherwise, committed by some of our colleagues in 2001…I have been very careful not to commit the same (in this instant case)”, Lacson added.

Yet, Villar says he is being unfairly prosecuted simply because he is a presidentiable, and his judges are likewise presidentiables, and calls the Ethics Committee to which his allies were invited to participate, but shunned, as a “kangaroo court”. Oh, for crying out loud.

Last Monday though, he claimed he would answer the accusations. So, why doesn’t he just face the music? Why doesn’t he just submit his response? Why is he assiduously trying to project martyrdom in the altar of politics, when he has time and again said that he “was proud of this C-5 project”. The hypocrisy sucks.

Or is he and his political acolytes in the Senate and beyond, simply invoking their privilege, as a member of the “august body”, to be spared from investigations by an old boy’s club? That they could, and do, as Cayetano inveterately does, investigate executive agencies, but not one of their own, for acts violative of the laws and proper conduct.

Sila pwede, pero tayo-tayo, hindi. Kanya-kanyang takipan? Is that what Cayetano, Pimentel, Arroyo, and Villar are trying to tell their peers in the Senate? Luckily for the people of this benighted land, Ping Lacson is an atypical practitioner of politics.

Dapat, maging “patas ang laban”. Or as the lawyers love to invoke, “Let justice be done, let the truth come out, though the heavens fall”.

Monday, April 20, 2009

What do we do with the crocs?

So many miss the good old days, b4 the crocs came marching in with a terrible vengeance. Readers from all over sent us mail to express their gratitude to friend Dennis Garcia’s contribution, and this space for bringing back memories of the good times.

A reader from San Diego in Southern California misses “such productive years compared to the current state of life among Filipinos”. He last visited the country two years ago, and saw “most people dissatisfied, (with) the looks in their faces showing the grim pain of extreme poverty they suffer (on account of) those alligators in government service”.

“When I was studying in the National University in the early sixties, the crime rate was negligible…people were happy and you could see that”, Soc Punay wrote.

Another reader sent in a longer litany of cost-differences between the now and then. Such as making do with a “baon” of just twenty-five centavos when he was in grade school. And jeepney fare was ten centavos. You could buy a hefty serving of lechon in Sta, Cruz, he swore, for only 50 centavos, good enough for two, with rice, (Wow! That must have been the fifties.)

A reader who finished education at the UST, and now resides in Alberta, Canada, is “pained” to read from the internet, about the “bad news” and the “worst leadership our people have to suffer”. Now, he claims “he loves being a Canadian and know how lucky my family is to be living in one of the top 10 countries of the world”. Yet, the Philippines is still “my home”, he says, and “I pray for societal changes, good governance and good citizenship, where leaders have honesty, integrity and compassion for the poor”.

* * *

Oh well… read this and gnash your teeth again.

A once “small-time” contractor from Batangas has scandalized the people of his small town with his ostentatious flaunting of unexplainable wealth. His hamlet of a town, which used to be just a barrio of Lipa City, once thought that their richest inhabitant was the movie actor Aga Muhlach and his family. The matinee idol bought a few hectares of land in Mataas na Kahoy, and built a modest resthouse, where he, his wife and kids learn the joys of gardening and orchard-tending, amidst the relative cool of this mountain hamlet.

But a few years ago, this small-time contractor became big, very big. He has built a ten-room mansion in Mataas na Kahoy worth a cool 150 million. DPWH insiders are amazed at his ability to get big-ticket road construction projects quite easily. The guy even bought a four-story building in Lipa a year ago and had it renovated fabulously. Two years ago, he acquired another 50 hectares of land in Mataas na Kahoy (eat your heart out, Aga!).

And that’s not all. My informant tells me that the instant billionaire bought a huge property in Los Angeles last year, and months after, another house just across the earlier acquisition. Wow! Sino ang konek n’ya?

Now drool further…this guy drives around in style, with a Mercedes Benz GLK, a Hummer H2, another Mercedes Benz, this time a G55, and a Lincoln Navigator. He sometimes uses a Cadillac Escalade, and also a bullet-proof Chevy Suburban. And he also had his Ford Expedition bullet-proofed. Then again, he also owns an Audi R8, a Porsche Carrera S, a Jaguar XJR, a BMW Z4 M Series, another BMW Z4 Convertible, a Volvo sedan, and another Mercedes Benz, this time a Series S 550.

And since he wants to promote his Mataas na Kahoy as a second Tagaytay, he is now building a hotel beside his mansion, worth 250 million pesos.

For the past several years, the Arroyo administration has spent billions upon billions of the people’s money in computerizing the BIR, the LTO, and the Land Registration Authority. All these agencies have to do is cross-check with each other’s record of property acquisition, motor vehicle acquisition, and the incomes declared with the BIR. And catch crocs, or croc-handlers.

But the more important question people want to know is --- how did this guy get so big? What “croc” in government is he handling? What “croc” in government made him so big? Surely that “croc” is bigger than this Batangueno from Mataas na Kahoy?

* * *

Reader Raffy B though, sends in a suggestion on what to do with crocs:
“Maybe you have read about Northern Territory’s (Australia) plan of culling the crocs in the Darwin area after their deadly attacks on humans the last few days. The plan of the government is to allow hunters to kill the crocs at a fee of maybe $5,000 to shoot these beasts.
“It came to my mind that the Philippines should perhaps also introduce this way of getting rid of the crocs that infest the Pasig River or other areas where they prosper (such as in upper Quezon City, not far from the Payatas dumpsite), or in almost every big city or rich province. I know you know who and where they are. Many would shoot our Philippine “crocs” for much less than the Australian government is contemplating on spending”.

* * *

Over the weekend, I found myself in beautiful Palawan. I did not visit the crocodile farm though. I instead listened to factual “Tales of the Palawan Crocs” from various concerned citizens. More on these in succeeding articles.

Sadyang walang balak lumisan

Malinaw ang mga senyales na talagang walang balak lisanin ng mga Arroyo ang kanilang mahigpit na paghawak sa kapangyarihan. Hanggang sa ngayon ay hindi mamatay-matay ang usaping Cha-Cha sa Kamara. Bagama’t pabago-bago ang mga taktika, at maraming pampa-disimulong mga pagkilos, lumilinaw na ang sadyang nais ay magkaroon ng desisyon ang Korte Suprema na a-pabor sa “constituent assembly” maski hindi sumali ang Senado, basta’t makuha ang sapat na bilang ng mga mambabatas sa mababang kapulungan.

Kung pagsasamahin ang miyembro ng Kamara at ng Senado, ang tatlong ikapat nito ay bumibilang ng 196. Sa ngayon ay tinatayang mayroon na silang 178 na lagda. Labing-walo na lang ang kailangan. Karamihan sa mga mambabatas ay payag sa “Cha-Cha” basta’t hindi ngayon gagawin, kundi pagkatapos ng halalan ng 2010. Marami kasi ang natatakot na magagalit ang sambayanan kung hindi matutuloy ang kinasabikan nang halalan ng 2010. Maging ang simbahan at mga iba’t ibang sector ay pumapayag sa pag-amyenda ng Saligang Batas, basta’t pagkatapos mairaos ang halalan.

Mukhang na-kanal silang lahat sa isang patibong. Pagka’t mukhang ang maitim na balakin ay ituloy ang halalan para sa panguluhan at lahat pa ng ibang mga posisyon na naka-takda sa Mayo ng susunod na taon. Nguni’t ang “papapanaluhin” na pangulo ay papayag na magkaroon ng cha-cha, gamit ang constituent assembly ng bagong mga halal na mambabatas, na siya namang magbabago ng porma ng pamahalaan, kung hindi sa 2010, ay sa loob ng 2011. Sa madaling salita, kung babasbasan ngayong taon ng Korte Suprema ang constituent assembly basta’t may 196 na lagda o boto, itutuloy ito pagkatapos ng halalan ng 2010. At ang Korte naman ay binubuo ng labing-tatlong maka-Gloria, at dalawa na lamang ang matitirang “independyente” sa Oktubre ng taong ito. Kaya’t inaasahang papabor ang Korte sa constituent assembly na isinusulong ni Rep. Louie Villafuerte at Mikey Arroyo.

Magiging “ceremonial” president ang mahahalal sa 2010, habang pipili ang bagong mga mambabatas ng siyang magiging “prime minister”. Sa eksenang ito, tatakbo, at tiyak na mananalo, si Ginang Arroyo bilang mambabatas ng ikalawang-distrito ng Pampanga. Uupo bilang mambabatas, at dahil siya naman ang pumondo sa karamihan ng mga mambabatas, at handang magbuhos na muli ng salapi, sino pa nga ba sa palagay ninyo ang magiging “prime minister”.

Sa ganitong eksena, sino naman ang papayag na maging “ceremonial” na pangulo? Nakalagak sa palasyo, pabiyahe-biyahe lamang, at tanging pagpapasinaya ng mga proyekto ang gagawin? Hulaan ninyo.

Samantala, walang magbibigay ng kontribusyon sa mga kandidato sa panguluhan ng 2010, dahil wala naman silang magiging kapangyarihan kapag malinaw na papalitan ang Saligang Batas at porma ng gobyerno isang taon matapos ang halalan? Kaya’t tanging ang kandidatong mapipisil ni Ginang Arroyo ang siyang may pondo, at dadalhin ng mga buwaya sa Kongreso sa kani-kanilang mga tiket?

Ang galing at mala-henyo ang nag-isip ng plano at mga taktikang ito. At tanging isang gising na sambayanan lamang ang siyang makapipigil sa tagumpay ng ganitong kasamaan.

Kaya lang, magigising pa ba ang sambayanan?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Nakakainggit talaga

Kamakailan ay dinambong ng mga pirata sa Gulf of Aden sa gilid ng Somalia ang isang barko ng Maersk Lines. Imbes na sakupin ang barko, nagprisinta ang kapitang Amerikano na siya na lamang ang dakpin, at ginawa siyang hostage sa isang saradong lifeboat, ng mga pirata. Mismong si Pangulong Obama ay nabahala, at nangyari ito habang siya’y bumibisita sa Europa.

Agad kumilos ang mga Kano, at noong dis-oras ng gabi ng Linggong nagdaan, kumilos ang kanilang pwersa ng “special forces”. Walang kamalay-malay ang mga pirata ng sila’y salakayin at mapatay ang tatlo, habang nabihag ang ika-apat na bantay ng kapitan ng barko. Nasagip ng buhay ang kapitan, at agad ay nailikas ito. Ma-drama, parang sine, nguni’t ligtas ang buhay, at naturuan ng leksyon ang mga pirata.

Samantala, higit sa isang daan pang mga “seamen” ang naka-hostage sa iba’t ibang parte ng mahabang baybayin ng Somalia, na siyang pugad ng mga pirata. Pitumpo sa mga ito ay Pinoy. Hindi ako magtataka kung ni hindi pa alam ng ating pamahalaan ang kabuuan ng kung sinu-sino ang mga Pinoy na naka-hostage at magpasa-hanggang ngayon ay hindi makalaya.

Nakaiiinggit ang ginawa ng Kano. Maaring sabihing dahil ito sa mayaman at makapangyarihan sila, nguni’t hindi pa rin ito dahilan upang mapatawad ang tila kawalang-pansin, at kawalang-lakas ng ating bansa na protektahan ang sariling mga mamamayan na nagkaka-problema sa ibang bansa. Kailan nga lamang ay nagpamalas pa ng pag-asikaso ang kapwa-Kano, maski convicted rapist ang siyang nakasalalay – si Corporal Lance Smith. Una’y hindi pumayag na mabilanggo si Smith sa piitang Pinoy, at sa US Embassy ito kinupkop. Ngayong nagdesisyon ang ating Korte Suprema na labag ang ganito sa Konstitusyon, hindi pa rin sila pumapayag na mapiit si Smith sa ating kulungan, at nakipag-kuntsabahan pa sa pamilya ng diumano’y biktima, at sa tulong ng sarili nating pamahalaan, upang ma-areglo ang kaso. Hindi magtatagal at makalalaya na si Smith, at uuwi sa Estados Unidos, na walang magagawa ang ating mahinang pamahalaan. Nakaka-inggit ang pag-asikaso nila sa kanilang mga mamamayan. Samantalang tayo …. Haaay!

Nangangamatay ang ating mga kauri sa ibang bansa, kung saan labag man sa kalooban ay nagsisilikas dahil sa kawalan ng hanapbuhay at pag-asa sa sariling bayan. At pagdating doon, bahala na sila sa kanilang sarili. Sa dami nila, at sa lawak ng sandaigdigan kung saan bawa’t bansa ay may Pinoy na nagtatrabaho, hindi kayanin ng pamahalaan natin na sila ay bigyan ng maayos na proteksyon. Kapag sumabog ang gulo, kapag nagkaroon ng sakuna, kapag nagka-problema sa batas ng bansang kinalalagyan, o ano pa mang suliranin, bahala na lang ang Panginoong Diyos sa kanilang kasasapitan.

Ang lalaong masakit, kapag nakalaya ang mga na-hostage na mga Pinoy, sa interbyu ay sasabihing magbabalik pa rin sila sa kanilang pakikipagsapalaran sa ibang bansa, bagama’t lulong sa panganib, dahil mas mabuti pa raw ito kaysa mamatay ng dilat sila ng mga kaanak sa gutom at kawalang pag-asa sa sariling bansa.

Kaawa-awa talaga ang bansang mahirap, na ang dugo’t pawis ng sambayanan ay winawaldas ng mga buwayang nagpapasasa sa kanilang hirap, at hindi kanilang pangkalahatang interes ang siyang ina-asikaso. Walang biyayang tinatanggap sa pamahalaan, imbes ay puro pagmamalabis at pang-aabuso. Wala na bang katapusan ang ganitong mapait na katotohanan?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Selective persecution

When you ask the prosecutorial service, headed by the Department of Justice, to determine whether there is probable cause for them to file a criminal case in court against some person or entity, you have to sign your complaint and make it under oath before a prosecutor who will make a certification that he personally examined the affiant and that he is satisfied that he read, understood, and voluntarily executed his affidavit. In the case of the Dacer sisters, they subscribed and swore their respective complaints before the consuls-general of Los Angeles and New York. Whether there is any certification in the jurat made by the consuls-general, we do not know. But Raul Gonzalez deemed that as acceptable legal procedure. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile questioned Gonzalez’ legal short cut.

In the determination of probable cause, the prosecutorial service, whether by an ordinary fiscal or the Department of Justice itself, which according to Raul Gonzalez, is convening a special investigating team, is supposed to cast a wide net, to include all persons who may possibly be linked to the abduction and double murder.

Now let us look at the affidavit of police S/S Cezar Mancao, the contents of which have been made public (assuming that is the same affidavit Gonzalez allegedly keeps in a bank vault). That affidavit was the main basis for the complaint filed by the Dacer sisters against Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson. Mancao, in that supposed affidavit, claims to have overheard a conversation between Lacson and police S/S Michael Ray Aquino inside a car driven by one Sgt. Oximoso, while he sat on the front seat. Accordingly, in that car conversation which Oximoso has denied to have ever happened, Aquino sought permission from Lacson to work on Dacer, because “naiirita na si Bigote sa kanya”.

Under normal legal circumstances, where justice follows the rules of procedure instead of the rules of perfidious whim, the supposed Mancao affidavit would not have probative value unless affirmed by the affiant under oath and before a court of law and corroborated by others. Oximoso has already controverted the supposed Mancao claim. Police S/S Glenn G. Dumlao has not corroborated the same either, nor has Michael Ray Aquino. But, both the Dacer siblings and Raul Gonzalez have deemed Mancao’s claim to be true. Or enough to establish probable cause that will make Senator Panfilo M. Lacson probably guilty of the crime charged, or that would ascertain the truth behind the murders. That after all is what a preliminary investigation, an executive rather than judicial function, is supposed to achieve. It’s intent is to determine probable cause to charge some person or persons in court, their guilt or innocence to be determined in trial by the judicial branch, which is supposed to be independent from the executive.

If that were so, why then did the Dacer sisters single out Panfilo M. Lacson, and why too did Gonzalez order a preliminary investigation, never mind the paucity of legal procedures, singularly against Lacson? The Mancao affidavit clearly identifies a certain “Bigote”, mentioned, not by Lacson, but allegedly by Aquino. Who told Aquino that “naiirita na si Bigote sa kanya (Dacer)”? Not Lacson, if the alleged Mancao affidavit is to be taken at face value. Aquino “knew”, and was “reporting to” Lacson, that “Bigote” was “naiirita”. Did “Bigote” say that to Aquino?
The police officer that he is, a PMA cavalier at that, Aquino would not just “assume” that “Bigote” is “naiirita”. He must have been told so, especially where he suggests to his immediate superior, per the controverted Mancao affidavit, the commission of an illegal and criminal act.

Now let us juxtapose the supposed Mancao affidavit to the hand-written affidavit of Glenn G. Dumlao, dated 12 June 2001, and sworn before a prosecutor on 14 June of the same year. Therein, S/S Dumlao says that when Cezar Mancao found out that Aquino had been using his men and resources under Task Force Luzon of the PAOCTF, he, along with Dumlao, confronted S/S Aquino in his office.

“Noy, ano ba itong special operation na ito?”, asked Mancao (Michael Ray was nicknamed Ninoy by his PMA class of 88). Answered Aquino: “Kwan ‘yan sir, kay Dacer. OK na ‘yan sa Malacanang, pinag-usapan na iyan”. To which Mancao asked, “Cleared ba ito sa boss natin, kay ’71 (which is the code for then PNP Chief Panfilo M. Lacson, now senator of the realm)? Aquino’s reply, according to Dumlao, was “Sila na daw bahala sa kanya.”

Dumlao claims in that June 14, 2001 affidavit that he was tasked by Aquino to do initial surveillance of Dacer’s office at the Manila Hotel as early as January 1999. He did the task perfunctorily, and both he and Aquino forgot the same when he was swamped with more important tasks, such as operating against kidnappers, said Dumlao. His next link to the Dacer-Corbito abduction was when on November 24, 2000, he was tasked by Aquino to conduct a tactical interrogation of “captive” Bubby Dacer. Allegedly unable to extract anything from Dacer regarding the moves of the “opposition” (Dacer was known to be close to former president and Lakas chairman emeritus Fidel Valdez Ramos and Jose Almonte, FVR’s trusted national security adviser), and reporting the same to Aquino, this Col. Dumlao chose to just retrieve the documents Dacer was then carrying. Later, he was instructed by his immediate superior, Col. Mancao, to dispose the documents, saying “delikado ‘yan.” Dumlao proceeded to the La Mesa Dam area, and burned the same. That, according to his June 14 affidavit, was his only participation in l’affaire Dacer avec chauffeur Corbito.

On account of this June 14, 2001 affidavit executed by Dumlao, both police senior superintendents Aquino and Mancao were included by the DOJ in the case filed before the Manila RTC, now currently in the sala of Judge Myra Garcia-Fernandez. The inclusion of Mancao and Aquino as accused in the case was finally ordered by the Supreme Court Second Division in its decision dated October 5, 2005. Despite this, the DOJ, already under the yet to be confirmed by the Commission on Appointments Raul Gonzalez, did not immediately request the extradition of the accused, who were now in the United States.

And then, on May 20, 2003, after almost two years of continued detention in Crame and the ISAFP compound in Aguinaldo, Police S/S. Glenn G. Dumlao, swore before assistant city prosecutor Cesar Glorioso that the contents of his June 14, 2001 affidavit were the product of “threats, intimidation, and physical force to coerce me to concede to their demands…force me to implicate Police S/S Aquino, Mancao, and Sen. Lacson”. In that same affidavit, he mentioned several names of fellow police officers and ISAFP officers under then ISAFP head Victor Corpus, who allegedly harassed and intimidated him. On one occasion, Dumlao was accosted by Corpus to a conference room inside the ISAFP offices, where several high officials and influential personages were in attendance, among others: then DOJ Secretary Hernando B. Perez, then NBI Director Wycoco (now dead), then PNP Chief and now DPWH Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane, and surprisingly, former DILG Sec. Ronaldo Puno, since re-appointed to the same post by GMA.

, “Sige, mag-diretsahan tayo…ayaw namin ng katotohanan. Kung amin ka, dapat total support at i-pin down natin si Ping. Bibigyan ka namin ng magandang buhay at posisyon. Andito lahat ng makakatulong sa ‘yo. Pero kung hindi, magkaka-leche-leche ang buhay mo. Nagkakaintindihan ba tayo?”, Corpus said, as recollected by Dumlao in that May 20, 2003 affidavit.

So, until Glenn G. Dumlao returns and states whether his original June 14, 2001 affidavit was of his true and own free will, and not forced upon him through threats and torture as he stated in his May 20, 2003 affidavit we will not know whether Mancao’s supposed latest affidavit is true or not, per someone more linked to l’affaire Dacer-Corbito than Mancao himself was.

But, since the responsibility of the Department of Justice, as the prosecutorial arm of the Republic of the Philippines, is to find probable cause to charge all and anyone who may have been participants in a gruesome crime, then why does it not exercise due prudence, and include in the preliminary investigation, a certain “Bigote” that Mancao supposedly heard Aquino mention inside Lacson’s car? After all, in the Dumlao affidavit of June 14, 2001, on the basis of which Mancao and Aquino were included by the DOJ in the charge sheet, Aquino allegedly answered Mancao, when he was confronted regarding l’affaire Dacer, that “OK na ‘yan sa Malacanang”? And in the follow-up question of Mancao to Aquino, as to whether “alam ba ito ng boss natin, si ’71?”, the latter allegedly replied, “Sila na daw bahala sa kanya”.

The finger would seem to point to Malacanang and a certain “Bigote”. Whether that “Bigote” in Malacanang did talk to then PNP Chief Lacson or not regarding the plot to abduct Dacer has yet to be ascertained. In any case, it strains all credulity that Aquino, per Mancao’s supposed affidavit as publicly released, would be suggesting to his Chief PNP that “unahin ko na si Dacer, kasi na-iirita na si Bigote sa kanya”, if Lacson had already been made aware of the directive. Did someone in Malacanang tell Lacson that he had directed his subordinate, Michael Ray Aquino, to commit an illegal and criminal act? Then why direct Aquino and not Lacson?

If Raul Gonzalez is true to his responsibility of indicting any and all persons who may have had participation in the commission of a crime, should he not likewise include “Bigote” or whoever else in “Malacanang” in his preliminary investigation?

Now simple common sense would tell us that PNP Chief Panfilo Lacson has theoretically one superior civilian official, and that is the Secretary of DILG. Theoretically, because both the Chief of Staff of the AFP and the PNP Director-General, by chain of command, receive orders directly from the commander-in-chief. Lacson became PNP Chief on 16 November 1999, when the DILG Chief was clean-shaven Ronaldo Puno, who two months or so later, in January 2000, was replaced by Alfredo Lim. At the time of the abduction of Dacer, Lacson’s DILG civilian superior was clean-shaven Alfredo Lim, now the mayor of miserable Manila. If we stretch superior-subordinate relationship much further, again theoretically, Lacson might be given directives by the Executive Secretary. During this whole period, the Executive Secretary was Ronaldo B. Zamora, who has never sported a moustache, except perhaps when he and Miriam were classmates at the UP.

Por eso, quien es “Bigote”, assuming that the alleged Mancao affidavit is real, and the contents therein are true? And assuming further that Dumlao’s affidavit of June 14, 2001, stating that Aquino said “OK na ‘yan sa Malacanang” was the whole truth and nothing but, something that he himself recanted on 20 May, 2003, as having been forced upon him by threats and torture?

Surely, Aquino, who most of us who were in Malacanang almost daily, saw inside the palace far more frequently than Panfilo Lacson, would not accept orders from just about anybody in Malacanang, certainly not from PSG officers, who to my recollection were all clean-shaven likewise? Or from say, then PMS Asec Boying Remulla, also without a moustache? Who then, from Press secretary Dong Puno? Or PLLO Secretary Jimmy Policarpio? Or Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Eki Cardenas? Or myself, who was then a resigned Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs? But all of us did not and do not sport a moustache.

And then again, those of us who were in Malacanang at the time knew an open secret. PNP Chief Panfilo Lacson was “persona non grata” in the palace since June of 2000, because, according to then Executive Secretary Ronny Zamora, who confided to me, “governors and mayors kept complaining to the President that he kept raiding jueteng operations in their jurisdictions”. Lacson was in the “doghouse”, and everyone among us knew that. This PNP Chief would not go slow on jueteng, never mind Chavit Singson’s protestations about the PNP Chief who refused to accept “take” from jueteng.

So, was Lacson the only person who may have directed Aquino to commit such an illegal order against Dacer? But if Lacson could not be made to cooperate on jueteng, which was illegal, would he have cooperated on another illegal order, which is the abduction of an innocent civilian?

Fiat justitiae, ruat coeli. Let justice be done, though the heavens fall. This is not to suggest to the legal eagle of the Royal and Pontifical University of Santo Tomas, one Raul Gonzalez, Secretary of Justice of these benighted parts, that “Bigote” is guilty of any crime. Neither Aquino or Mancao or Dumlao either, who as far as I know, never used “bigote” to describe someone in Malacanang. But in the preliminary investigation leading to the existence of probable cause, should not everyone, remotely or directly mentioned in these affidavits be included?

Or is the DOJ Secretary, mercifully suggested as having lapsus mentis due to age and physical infirmity, simply prosecuting on the basis of selective justice?

To be sure, doubts have been raised in court about the establishment of the corpus delicti. DNA analysis of the bones allegedly of Dacer and Corbito, indicated that these “did not belong to humans”. Only the dental plates of the two “miraculously” survived the fire that allegedly obliterated traces of the bodies. Again, this is not to suggest that Dacer and Corbito are still alive, but rather, that a politically-motivated investigation was made slapdash and surreptitiously, in aid of political persecution, rather than truth.

This bias for selective persecution is further established by the media contortions of one Raul Gonzalez, who “stripteases” layers of disclosures in full public disgust, and now would even suggest that “some powerful persons” are preventing the return of Mancao and Dumlao.

Hoy Raul (to ape Mar’s Hoy Celso), are you saying that the American justice system is like yours in this corrupt regime? Kayang impluwensyahan ng isang hamak na senador ng isang maliit na bansa?

Or, are you suggesting that your government is no longer credible in the US of A, because it is led by “those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent…”

I don’t believe so. It’s just that in countries (other than Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s and perhaps Somalia and Zimbabwe), where justice is dispensed properly, everyone, accuser or accused, is accorded due process under their rules of court and their bill of rights.