Friday, November 7, 2008


**Written November 5, 2008 for the Philippines Graphic

So there’s one more addition to that old game, “where were you when…?”

As CNN announced that Americans had elected Sen. Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America, my victory yell had nurses peeking into the room.

Days before Americans queued for hours, I knew November 4 and 5 would be spent in a hospital. I was ready, psychologically prepared, to lose my left breast. I just had to persuade my bemused surgeon, Dr. Tony Vasquez, to time the mastectomy so that’d I’d have regained full control of my faculties once the US count began.

There certainly was no time to take a break. By around 1 pm, Nov 5 (our time) CNN –in an amazing blend of “Star Wars” technology and old-fashioned, hard-nosed journalism – was announcing Obama’s victory, just as the US Western states were closing their polls.

The night before the elections, my family was pondering: What would happen if enough fearful Americans bit the bait dangled by the McCain-Palin team? What kind of world would we wake up to, if Americans repudiated the man who’d already been acclaimed by the world as the next leader of the earth’s most powerful nation?

Some of us worried and fussed, forecasting what a national daily would state the following day: street parties or riots. A smaller faction waved off such fears. I was part of that group of idealists. As vociferous as we’d been in opposing many of the policies espoused by the US government, we’d always had this firm belief in America – the ideal and the people – and its capacity to summon the good from the wild and wooly depths of its politics.

I’d always believed in Obama since he first grabbed the limelight in his breakthrough Democratic Convention Speech of 2004, where he said there were no red states or blue states, just the United States of America.

His message has not changed. It remains inclusive; it remains rooted in the ethics of hard work instilled by a white grandmother. While it is charged with hope it unflinchingly faces the hard realities of his country, the same country where a white woman could climb the corporate ranks from secretary to vice president and raise and nurture a black child to adulthood, and yet retain some vestiges of fear for his colored brothers.

That Obama – disciplined, calm, with the voice that at once soothes and invigorates – best represents the modern American who does not pretend to ignore the cracks that wind through the body politic but, rather, believes that his or her counterparts from across the aisle are also imbued with the same good will. It was the same noble sense of fairness that belatedly returned to John McCain, the old war horse who’d almost destroyed his reputation trying to pander to his party’s right fringe, best represented by lipstick-wearing pit bulls and Christians so lost in the wilderness they think sharing is synonymous with communism.

As for the rest of the world – that’s us, folks – Obama said the results of the 2008 election should convince all of those who have wondered whether America had permanently switched off the torch of justice and liberty. More than the might of arms, more than the shock and awe and the long arm of rendition, the sight of millions of Americans lining up patiently in schools and churches – many for the first time – highlights what Obama calls the enduring power of American ideals.

After eight very long years of Dubya, we can only pray that Obama is right in saying that the true genius of America is, that America can change.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Practice makes perfect, the saying goes. So I am at a loss about President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Today, the country received another apology from the President, who faces civil unrest over allegations of bribery and corruption in connection with the aborted ZTE national broadband network scandal.

Mrs. Arroyo, who yesterday admitted she knew there was something wrong with the contract before signing it, admitted to not being perfect. But she urged Filipinos to forgive her mistakes since she is a hard-working President with only the good of the people in mind.

She and Bill Clinton must have exchanged recent emails :)

Now everyone who has sought forgiveness knows that the key to absolution is disclosure. Full disclosure. AND good faith. Mrs. Arroyo's mea culpa falls short on both counts.

First, she claims she only knew of revelations of wrongdoing on the eve of the signing of the ZTE contract. And, adds Mrs. Arroyo, she could hardly back out from signing the contract because of the country's negotiations with China.

That is a lie. That is not even a half-truth. It is an outright lie.

Anyone who has followed the Senate inquiry into the ZTE scandal knows that her former economic secretary, that weasel named Romulo Neri, claimed to have told her long before the contract signing of the P200-million bribe offer from then Commission on Election Chair Benjamin Abalos. Neri also told the Senate inquiry that Mrs. Arroyo brushed off his report, telling him not to accept but to approve the project. It was also clear that Neri -- and Finance Secretary Margarito Teves -- had vehemently opposed the deal, because it veered away from Mrs. Arroyo's directive to focus on Build-Operate-Transfer projects and spare the government having to offer guarantees.

If a P200-million bribe offer (as relayed by the recipient of the offer) is not serious enough to merit the President's attention, you wonder what it takes to actually jar her imperious highness. Apparently, only the specter of ouster can do that.

Shortly before Neri appeared in the Senate, Malacanang claimed it had investigated the charge and found it baseless. Who investigated and who were investigated remain puzzles. In the same session where Neri exploded the bribery bombshell. Sen. Pia Cayetano had asked an array of Cabinet officials and line agency executives if they had been questioned or knew anyone who had been questioned about the bribery. Everyone -- and I mean everyone -- said, duh.

The problem here is that President Arroyo believes the story should end with the cancellation of the ZTE contract. That just doesn't wash. The scrapping of a flawed contract does not erase the corruption that accompanied negotiations for that contract. Last I looked, corruption, especially bribery, remain crimes under Philippine laws -- and the overprice here is almost half of the contract's price.

The argument may be made that since the money that changed hands came from the ZTE, it was purely a private enterprise. That, again, is bull. Those advances were given -- and allegedly received --with the promise of contract approval. Guess who were going to foot the bill? Jun Lozada, who tread where Neri refused to go, claims that in one meeting a ZTE executive fretted about the delay despite advances given. Where did the money go?

What makes this mea culpa so objectionable is the series of government actions -- including a bungled abduction -- that show bad faith. The government has pulled out of the Senate hearings; it has filed cases against Lozada. It has also opened an Ombudsman inquiry into the scandal but there's little faith in that office these days, especially since that inquiry has been used as an excuse to evade further Senate scrutiny.

Practice, in the case of Malacanang, has not led to the President and her men cleaning up their act. Every narrow escape has only made this administration more brazen. So sorry, Madame, but you cannot say I'm sorry now for something you had claimed was a phantom conjured by your enemies. There can be no forgiveness when you won't even confess to the sin.



Most of what I post have appeared in the Philippine Graphic. I will try better to be as diligent as the other bloggers but it's darn hard, what with too much stuff on my plate already.

You are welcome to share/pass on/post my rants and raves :) Just give a one-line credit and don't try to pass it off as your own LOL

I may not reply to comments unless they raise a question that ought to be answered. I will reply if someone challenges a post on the basis of fact. I won't if someone disagrees with my opinions and interpretation of events. I also won't even if someone harangues me; I am a true believer of freedom of expression. Besides, if you can dish it out, you gotta know how to take it.

But folks, your freedom ends if I see you libel some other person even someone I do not like. Libel is based on twisting facts; opinions are okay but, please, no curses or cuss words here.

Salamat po!


Dear kuripot daughter of the old rich,

I'm willing to ignore your simpering and posturing. If you want to act like an over aged debutante that's your call. I'm even willing to overlook a level of hubris that dares to place your December 7 meeting with JLo and Romulo Neri in the realm of Pearl Harbor.

But you have no right, absolutely no right, to blackmail Neri into coming out by threatening to drag his personal life into the public eye.

You're mad at Neri's insinuation that you allegedly offered P20 million in patriotic money?

Just tell it as it is. Call Neri a liar if you will but do not attempt to drag him into the muck with your prurient threats. You want to wallow in that sty, be our guest; don't drag others into it.

Bottom line: We do not care about Neri's sexuality. We've never cared about yours, have we?


Jun, some things you've said I believe, with no If's or But's. These mostly center around your abduction (I will not hew to gender-controlled definitions here).

Even before the Senate team unearthed that airport logbook showing the presence of men from the Presidential Security Group, I believed you.

The fact that your story was so fantastic and weird capped the deal.

There is something about this administration's mindset that brings many of their damage control efforts into the realm of the bizarre. That's not because it's particularly stupid, though it can be that, too. It's mostly that monstrous sense of entitlement that says we'll do it any which way because we can.

By the way, have you thanked Sen. Rodolfo Biazon?. Better than other self-serving, grandstanding, twittering opposition senators, he hammered away, using all the military insider knowledge he has, at the already ridiculous tale peddled by the Philippine National Police (PNP).

It actually hurts to say ridiculous because Sonny Razon has been among the few cops I've admired unequivocally; it is hard not to sympathize with him, knowing he was merely dragged into the fray by other more unscrupulous members of Mrs. Arroyo's official and unofficial hatchet men. But that is Sonny's battle; if he likes his current reincarnation as a doormat -- and, increasingly as hatchet man -- he's welcome to all the dirt and slime that sticks to him.

Now, let's get to the harder parts. Do yourself and the nation a favor, Jun. Stop acting to the gallery. Stick to your core story. Do not, for the sake of a good tale, be tempted to censor the more inconvenient parts nor embellish an already riveting narrative with platitudes and coy remarks. The cause your purport to serve is too big, too serious to be cheapened by such antics.

For one thing, there was some intellectual dishonesty in heckling the fashion taste of your opponents in that Harapan episode. It's okay for you to wear camisa chino; it is not okay for you to imply that you are so poor you can't afford a barong tagalog. Everyone knows you racked up huge credit card bills in Hongkong; only the upper middle class and the rich enjoy that kind of credit limit. And you should have been more upfront about the shopping spree instead of waiting for a team of Reuters investigative reporters to confront you about it.

You should have also relayed the P500,000 cash gift from Undersecretary Manuel Gaite early on, when you faced him at the Senate hearing. I know lawyers and other political advisers sometimes pace things for dramatic effect but, Jun, you and I and the rest of the Filipinos who watch you are supposed to be ordinary folk so don't lead us in a song and dance. We have too much of that already from the pols, including the opposition solons that now cosset you.

Don't whine. Don't whine. Don't whine.

We know you face a mob, that's why we're behind you. Do not insult our intelligence by caterwauling about the obvious.

And please, please, enough already about Rizal.

If you are going to quote him, then tell us, too, how a lover of Rizal came to rationalize his position in the power structure where, as you note, kickbacks are as regular a phenomenon as the rising sun.

That said, I salute your courage. But if we are going to treat you with respect, show that you respect us, too.


(Written for the Philippine Graphic)

There are very few indisputable facts in the flood of charges and counter-charges coming out of the latest Senate hearings on the $330-million ZTE-National Broadband Network scandal.

The first is, that Rodolfo Lozada Jr. did not want to appear before the Senate, that he had badgered officials and other allies of the administration to get him out of his predicament;

The second is, that all of the government officials and allies he had approached agreed with him and tried to help him wriggle out of a Senate appearance; and

The third is, that all these maneuvers came to naught.

All other aspects of the riveting tale of this Everyman appear like blobs in a Rorschach test; they mutate according to a viewer's vantage point. Everything is perspective. At the end of his second grueling day before senators, it was Lozada's word against that from more than half-a -dozen officials.

So why are Filipinos, apathetic these past three years to a parade of scandals involving President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's administration, slowly rousing out of their stupor and acknowledging – albeit grudgingly and with pained sighs – that it is time to display anger and outrage beyond surveys and anonymous text messages to radio and television programs?

What has changed since the first round of ZTE exposes – which closed with former National Economic and Development Authority Secretary-General Romulo Neri admitting that a government colleague had offered him a P200-million bribe and that he had relayed the indecent proposal to Mrs. Arroyo?

Same tale
Lozada's narrative with regard to the negotiations involving the ZTE deal basically hews to Neri's tale: a bribe was tendered (and the briber had informed him about it); that at some point in the talks, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo had entered the picture; that serious concern about overpricing had been brushed off.

Oh yes, and let's not forget: that Joey de Venecia III, son of the fallen speaker with the same name, had lobbied hard for the project.

Even though few Filipinos can even imagine what P200 million looks like, even fewer felt the need to take to the streets in protest following Mr. Neri's revelations. It was just another squabble among the greedy rich, they thought.

Today, while there is still a marked wariness toward displays of People Power of the sort that brought down two Presidents, there is also a dogged will being shown to start a more public display of outrage.

At the least, there seems to be a growing consensus, even among an opposition fractured into ideological and political camps, to send a strong message to government: This one we will not sacrifice to the false gods of stability and progress.
Businessmen, normally inured to the quid pro quo that attends transactions with the government, now say they are willing to pay the price of political instability for the sake of Lozada.

What makes this man special? Where was the tipping point?

Lozada, by all accounts including his, is not a saint. As head of the Philippine Forest, Inc., he nudged some lucrative deals toward his family. He took short cuts and liked the social perks that come with public office – nice vehicles and a never-ending round of lunches and dinners in plush surroundings.

Lozada was not a mover and shaker. But he was enough of an insider to have rationalized that every project has a beneficiary who stands with palms open for the fruits of corruption; enough of an insider to admit that 20-percent overpricing is a reasonable deal.

The Left has a word to describe people like Lozada – comprador, glorified clerks and pencil pushers who labor to smoothen the way for their grasping betters.

Some compradors eventually ascend to higher levels; some remain at Lozada's level. Everyone benefits, depending on their willingness to plumb the depths. It's hard to accept at face value Lozada's claim of not ever receiving money, officially or otherwise, for being part of Neri's braintrust. For starters, he admits that Neri often brings him in when the going gets tough; lunches, no matter how scintillating the conversation, just don't wash as payment.

In the case of Lozada, the ZTE case was akin to being trapped between a rock and a hard place.

This much we know by Lozada's own admission: he had no legal role to play in all the pencil pushing and mediating over the ZTE. That itself should alarm people who care about good governance; backrooms – and golf courses – are the conducive to the forging of shady deals.

On the other hand, saints have little chance of bringing down corrupt governments, unless they are saints with a direct line to crooks – and that would make their sainthood suspect. The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos received fatal blows when key insiders – former defense minister Juan Ponce-Enrile and then-deputy AFP chief of staff Fidel V. Ramos -- balked at the growing powers wielded by a parallel chain of command. Neither were angels. Former President Joseph Estrada – convicted of plunder – was ratted on by Chavit Singson, a gambling crony and, by his own admission, an enthusiastic bagman and diverter of funds.

Compared to these lead actors in past political dramas, Lozada is a boy scout.

If people are now more interested in ferreting out the real story of the ZTE deal, it is because they seem to believe some people were so desperate to keep this under wraps that they unleashed brute force on an insider whose loyalties could no longer be guaranteed.

There was basis for that fear. Lozada had met with Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a sworn enemy of the administration. He had, as early as October 2007, talked with the Black and White Movement, even providing members with his own analysis of Neri's refusal to tell all.

It's surprising how someone as garrulous as Lozada could have been privy to all the wheeling and dealing. As he told dzMM on Feb.13, he talked – a lot. "I talked to the entire political spectrum," he said.

Either Lozada was just promiscuous in sharing his dilemma, as would befit a true political naïf (he was friends with both former military intelligence chief Victor Corpus and former Palace chief of staff Michael Defensor, who did not like each other), or he is the best Machiavellian actor this country has seen in years.

He certainly talked to many administration officials: Environment Secretary Lito Atienza, Undersecretary Manuel Gaite, ex-official Defensor. Palace operative Tony Abaya brought him to talk with lawyer Fely Aquino, wife of administration Sen. Joker Arroyo who, after badgering Lozada on being selective, refuses to discuss "a private matter."

The crux of public sympathy for Lozada is not so much his insider knowledge – though scandals are always great entertainment; rather it is dismay over the display of muscle against a presumptive whistle-blower.

Convoluted tale
Government executives who appeared before the Senate hearing paint Lozada as a cunning actor who plays well to the gallery as he peddles damaging half-truths. Atienza insists it was Lozada who sought protection, an appeal he brought to the Philippine National Police.

The PNP, much bloodied in the dramatic hours following Lozada's frantic text to his brother about being abducted, insists they were just giving him protection.

Gaite and lawyer Antonio Bautista say they had advised Lozada that he had few legal options to ignore the Senate subpoena.
Defensor says he offered Lozada his help but asked him to say whatever he wants.

Lozada claims Gaite and Atienza knew his planned schedule to attend a London conference was a mere ploy and that he was just going to cool his feels in Hong Kong before coming home on Feb.7 when, officials felt, the Senate probe would have closed without his participation. Both deny this, claiming it was Lozada who volunteered to fly to London; Atienza says he was surprised to find out Lozada was coming in from Hong Kong. Atienza also says he signed Lozada's travel papers in good faith and did not know the latter lacked a visa to the United Kingdom.

Gaite said he sent Bautista to counsel Lozada. The lawyer, Lozada claims, asked him to sign an affidavit denying any meeting with government officials involved in the ZTE deal. At that point, Lozada balked. His choice was flight, not undertaking lies, he says. Bautista, he notes, pressured him to sign anyway "for the comfort of Malacanang."

"That's a stupid thing to say," Bautista counters. The lawyer says he would not have suggested an affidavit that acknowledges Lozada's concern about overpricing. "Malacanang will kill me for that paragraph," he notes.

Lozada says he never asked for Bautista. The lawyer acknowledges he was sent by Gaite. But he dismisses Lozada's claim, saying: "An attorney-client relationship is not established by contract. It is established as soon as he solicits my opinion." He does admit that Gaite's request for a meeting at Outback was to keep Lozada free from the Senate's clutches – the former PhilForest executive had an arrest warrant. But Bautista claims he told Lozada there was no legal recourse. "I told him I'd arrange for your surrender to the Senate. You will just tell the truth."

More problematic is the debate on whether Lozada was kidnapped or was just doing a Judas on his protectors.
This much is established: On arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), men were on hand to get Lozada. Also present at the tube was NAIA deputy manager for security Angel Atutubo, who did not introduce himself to Lozada. Atutubo had sought VIP treatment and provided special passes to Senior Supt. Paul Mascarinas, deputy chief of Police Special Protection Office and to another man he initially identified as SPO4 Rodolfo Valeroso.

NAIA management took the request very seriously that they took Lozada through inside passages, bypassing Immigration and emerging on the tarmac where he was whisked away by a convoy of vehicles.

Lozada was free and in control the entire time until cops turned him over to the La Salle Brothers, Mascarinas says. He certainly kept his cellular phone and was allowed toilet breaks and left alone on the back seat of their vehicle.

Lozada says the details are accurate but that he was terrified by his armed escorts and on hearing how they were wired into Senate discussions and, more ominously, their suggestion that he stop texting for help as they were getting all his messages. Whether that kind of omnipresent cloak is enough to paralyze one's will to escape may be debatable. But in one 10-hour grilling, senators chipped away at the police tale and discovered the following:

a) That Mascarinas did not know what he was protecting Lozada from and, by his own admission, did not bother to get a full threat assessment;

b) That the SPO4 Valeroso (Atutubo claims he showed a police ID) was not a cop but a retired Army soldier – first name Rodolfo with the rank of Master Sergeant -- on casual hire to the PNP Aviation Security Group; both Atutubo and Mascarinas said they did not double check Valeroso's credentials;

c) That Mascarinas unilaterally overrode Lozada's request to be taken home (too many media people, he said) and ordered the scary joyride on the South Expressway;

d) That Mascarinas peeled off to return to Manila on orders to meet with lawyer Bautista, leaving his ward alone with other escorts;
e) That he ordered the escort convoy to just keep driving south (they reached Los Banos);

f) That he ordered the convoy to bring Lozada to the Outback restaurant in Makati;

g) That at all times he was giving orders and at no time did anyone give credence to Lozada's appeal.

And let's not forget, the PNP had Lozada and his sister, Carmen, sign antedated requests for security.

All in all, it was the strangest case of VIP security operation and various senators – all used to VIP treatment – noted how the protection team treated Lozada more like a suspect than someone befitting their care.

Valeroso did not appear at the Feb. 11 Senate hearing; the police has him at a safehouse. He has been summoned to appear at subsequent hearings; nobody knows if he will.

Meanwhile, men claiming to be from the National Bureau of Investigation raided the office of Lozada, taking away papers. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales told media on Feb. 13 the team was taking notes from the Senate hearing that could help in the investigation and other papers that could help an inquiry into Lozada's alleged anomalies as PhilForest chief. The strange thing is, by afternoon of the same day, the NBI denied conducting the raid. And then senators visiting NAIA discovered logbooks that linked some men from the Presidential Security Group to Lozada's abduction.

And so the mystery deepens. And the people watch and wait.


Not yet. We're still a long way from yet another national soul-wrenching chorus of Bayan Ko.

But there's something in the air, something that wasn't there when the over-aged brats of Magdalo and kindred groups laid siege to the Manila Pen.

It's early days yet. But the outrage, which was missing in the first ZTE episode – cut short by former NEDA chief Romulo Neri's weaseling – now percolates.

Then, people shrugged off what they saw as just another quarrel for the spoils of political warfare. The travails of Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr. have upped the ante and people are finally squirming.

Dirty tricks unleashed in airports are embedded in our collective psyche. With apologies to that once great human rights champion, Joker Arroyo, there are some things you do not mess around with.

It's a bit sad really but then all great lessons of history often come with a certain sadness. Barely a month ago, I wrote of how young Filipinos would rather roll up their sleeves to solve a problem than break out into song and prayers as is their elders' wont. They'd still rather do that. But, as did good men and women when the Nazis were on the ascendance, Filipinos now see what they missed when they looked away as hundreds of activists were murdered or "disappeared" or when they accepted that cheating at the polls is preferable to getting another actor elected to the Presidency: Wait too long and there may be no one around to hear your cries for help. Now, Everyman is faced with the barrel of a gun.

In this sense, it was unseemly for singer Leah Navarro to pronounce herself "giddy" over Lozada's decision to appear at the Senate inquiry into the ZTE national broadband network scandal.

Giddy is doing a tap dance; appalled is what most of us felt on hearing the sordid details of a supposed VIP security operation that looked more like a failed Mafia hit. Giddy is something we would feel should Transparency International and other watchdogs give us a passing grade in the realm of governance. Relief is what we felt at Lozada's Senate star turn; relief that this everyman, by all accounts including his flawed and well-versed in the art of moral compromise, found the courage to face what he had tried to evade for months; relief and horrified fascination as this tearful, bumbling, reluctant hero sketched the depths to which this administration has plumbed in the name of survival.

Navarro is giddy. Her fellow Black and White activist Vince Romano is all brass tacks and pragmatism, as expected of someone who withheld a creed passed on by Lozada – who even then sought anonymity -- so as not to divert attention from the Malacanang gift-giving expose of Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlillo.

Romano notes that all attempts to unseat President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo failed because of the colliding interests of all factions of the broad political opposition. These fissures are still there, perhaps wider as 2010 nears and politicians dream of their turn at the till. Romano points out that you cannot even begin to heal unless you address the cancer. And there lies the rub.

Ousting a corrupt and despotic leader is a right of every people as the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights underscores. Revolutions are not, in the strict sense, short cuts. They take time to wage and often come with messy results; that is why they are seen as a people's last recourse.

But if we are to revolt in the name of democracy then there is no other way but to hew as closely as possible to constitutional change, as we did at EDSA 2. The fact that Mrs. Arroyo has grievously betrayed our trust is no excuse to shortchange ourselves more by anointing leaders outside of constitutional succession terms.

I do not know Vice President Noli de Castro. But he was elected by vast numbers of our people to that post, which comes with the responsibility to take over the Presidency if and when the incumbent Chief Executive can no longer fulfill the duties of that office. Whatever we may think of De Castro's capabilities or lack thereof, we cannot simply sweep away a mandate conferred by the people.

If we can't stomach him then we take our lumps and just give Mrs. Arroyo hell until her term runs out or until she institutes a belated regime of reforms, whichever comes first. We cannot decry corruption and officialdom's penchant for playing fast and loose with the laws of this land and yet do the same in the name of democracy.

Apologies from the laggard

Maybe a blog wasn't such a good idea after all. I am not one of those people who can whip out entries day in, day out. While I am a fairly fast writer, often pounding out epistles on a wing and prayer, I also have too many things on my plate. 
That said, here are some of my latest writings. And I promise to try to write more frequently, even if it sounds like shooting from the hip. :)