Wednesday, December 30, 2009


“Do you want a puppy? A Shi-tzu?”

Two years ago, I wanted one. Badly, but there was none to be had in Bacolod. Then I met Squirt and, later, Bama. Two Labs, plus a graceful askal/terrier named Dinah and a bright but temperamental dachshund called Chokie.

No, we didn’t need another dog.

But there's a young woman with lymphoma needing to raise funds for her chemotherapy, Mate said.

Mia Angela Hulleza wasn’t comfortable begging. She had made and sold beaded gewgaws and colorful t-shirts to help pay for her medical costs. ( )

She also didn’t want to be too attached to material things, Mate added.

That’s how Snowball and Chi-chu (or something that sounds like that) came into our lives.

A month and a half after we got the puppies, Mia came to our Greensville home when Mate interviewed her for the cable television show, Perspectives. A tall, very slim young woman in jeans and sweater, a colorful crochet cap covering the effects of chemotherapy, Mia was ebullient in the face of spreading cancer. She squealed with delight at seeing her two puppies again.

She had lived with cancer since second year in high school. She had gone through the jubilation of remission and the blow of recurrence and metastasis. Since 2007, she and her parents and Dr. Adonis Guancia had battled mightily to turn back cancer, which had hit her lungs. It was more like treading water just to keep from sinking.

Mate used her cable show to urge help for Mia. I wasn’t too sure about singling out a patient. There were too many that needed help and I didn’t have the information needed for an informed judgment. But there was something special about Mia; her spirit refused to give up dreaming – of one day being able to swim in the sea the whole day, of backpacking, of finally going to college and learning more about art – and yet she looked at life’s harsh realities with an unflinching gaze.

Just before Christmas, we got the bad news of Mia landing in the ICU. On a visit to Dr. Guancia, to give some help for child cancer patients, I learned that it was pancreatitis, origin unknown, and that it didn’t look good; that she needed sustained dialysis, and that this just wasn’t only extremely expensive but also dangerous for her ravaged body.

We planned to visit Mia in the hospital but were told that she had gone home. We had planned to drop by when her health could allow for visitors. Early January, we thought.

Tonight, I’ll look up and imagine Mia twirling and dancing amid all those colorful bursts of light. With all her energy finally let loose, there’ll be help in storming the heavens for those coping with cancer, their own or that suffered by their loved ones.

Happy New Year, Mia. Enjoy your freedom.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


“Immediate and relentless pursuit.”

The dictionary defines immediate as “occurring without loss or interval of time or acting or being without the intervention of another object, cause, or agency”. Relentless is “showing or promising no abatement of severity, intensity, strength, or pace.

The phrase quoted above forms part of Proclamation 1946, which President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed in the aftermath of the Maguindanao massacre: 52 dead and counting. The phrase refers to what the government should do against perpetrators of this heinous crime.

Cerge, Jess, quoting Webster shouldn’t even be necessary, given that both of you are alter egos of the President of this benighted Republic. Presumably, among the qualifications for your exalted jobs is an average familiarity with basic words in English, the language of business.

In cases like holdups and armored bank robberies, or ordinary pickpockets -- even in incidents of leakage involving supposed national security documents or silicone bags -- immediate conjures an image a posse of law enforcers, government lawyers and spokesmen racing to the scene of the crime. Immediate means cops storming hideouts, establishing checkpoints and blockades.

Relentless – well, we’re not particularly known for being relentless against crime in high and low places, which partly explains the culture of impunity that blankets the land. About the best example of relentless involves the President’s pals in Maguindanao, whether they’re gifting her with statistically improbable election results or showing the world what happens to people who defy them.

I do not know whether you guys a) do not read the dictionary; b) have not read Proclamation 1946; c) do not take your President seriously; d) know that she doesn’t take her words seriously.

To millions of Filipinos trying to grapple with the unfathomable evil that resulted in the massacre in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao, the words in Proclamation 1946 should come as a balm, a reassurance that justice will be meted out against.

Yet events of yesterday and today are showing that words are truly cheap in this administration, as cheap as lives are getting to be in this land.

Cerge, Jess, I am all for due process and I am not a fan of summary executions or even illegal detention.

But I do not understand why the Presidential Adviser for Mindanao can appear on national television, calmly sitting between two Ampatuans, including the chief suspect in the massacre.

I can understand, Jess, that you want to prevent a tit-for-tat. But what am I supposed to think when you say the Ampatuans reassured you of their cooperation if called to appear before investigators?

“Magco-cooperate sila pag pinatawag sila sa imbestigasyon.
And they will also submit to whatever invitations and investigations extended to them.” The aftermath of the massacre has now become a tea party?

As for you, Cerge, how wonderful to see you so suddenly concerned about human rights.
"We have due process to be observed also, so let us allow the investigators on the ground to come up with [a case] through their investigation," you replied when asked by NUJP vice chair Sonny Fernandez why Shariff Aguak Mayor Aldan Ampatuan Jr. (or Datu Unsay) was still free and not relieved of his post.

People aren’t asking for his head, Cerge. They’re asking for his relief. It's called preventive relief or suspension. Two senior police officers were slapped with that following the massacre. Even petty bureaucrats are meted out preventive relief to ensure impartial investigation of anomalies. And you think a thorough investigation can be had if the kingpin to whom the murderous army of 100 -- including cops, soldiers and para-military forces-- swears fealty, roams free and in command of the local state apparatus?

That’s a glaring a display of double standards of justice. But this is what it’s all about, right, Cerge and Jess? The reason why the Ampatuans of this world have power of life and death over the rest of us is because government, in various ways, granted them this power, or looked away as they amassed weaponry and men, and the wealth needed for a sustained exercise of might.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has just ordered a manhunt for the murderers of an estimated 45 people, including more than a dozen journalists.

From military reports, the perpetrators were led Shariff Aguak Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. and a senior police office, Sr. Inspector Dicay. Their target: the group led by Genalyn Mangadadatu, whose husband Ismail is mayor of Mangadadatu town. The military says they were waylaid, then murdered. No survivors.

The military estimates around a hundred men were involved in this unprecedented act of mayhem. It was no ordinary band of "bandits" behind the carnage. Not even one of the dreaded lost commands. With Ampatuan and Sr. Inspector Dicay were practically the entire security apparatus of Shariff Aguak and, presumably, Ampatuan town.

Mrs. Arroyo is actually ordering the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to chop down a hydra she herself created or, at the least, nurtured.

Warlordism is prevalent in Mindanao and not just among Muslim clans. The Ampatuans and the victim clan, the Mangadadatu are among the most powerful clains in Maguindanao.

An Inquirer.Net report ( states:

"The Ampatuans and Mangudadatus have reigned in Maguindanao politics since 1986 when the revolutionary government of then President Corazon Aquino appointed officers-in-charge to local elective posts of mayors, municipal, provincial and village legislators, as well as governors and their deputies.

The patriarchs of both clans— Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr. and Datu Pua Mangudadatu —were appointed mayors of their respective municipalities, Maganoy (now Shariff Aguak) and Buluan, Maguindanao.

The two men never lost an election and their children have also entered politics and emerged winners, too. Many saw their political careers thrive in the positions they have held, among them, Governor Zaldy Uy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and incumbent Buluan town Vice-Mayor Esmael Toto Mangudadatu, who is now said to be running for Maguindanao governor, the post to be left by Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr. to his son, Andal Jr."

A 2008 report of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism ( on the other hand, says the Ampatuans consolidated power since 2001.

In the previous entry, I reposted a 2007 interview by Mindanews' Carol Arguillas with Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Datu Zaldy Ampatuan. Asked about the glaring absence of any opposition posters, Ampatuan boasts that Maguindanao is "GMA country."

The PCIJ report, by Jaileen Jimeno, casts a harsh light on the seeds of today's carnage. I have posted the link, but would like to highlight the following paragraphs:

Guns, Palace blessing

Andal Ampatuan has four wives and over 30 children, and intermarriages with other political clans have made his political stock stronger. But political analysts trace the clan’s formidable clout to two main factors: guns and the blessings of Malacanang. They even note that no less than the Palace made it legal for the Ampatuans to have hundreds of armed men and women under their employ.

The 1987 Constitution bans private armed groups. In July 2006, however, the Arroyo administration issued Executive Order 546, allowing local officials and the PNP to deputize barangay tanods as “force multipliers” in the fight against insurgents. In practice, the EO allows local officials to convert their private armed groups into legal entities with a fancy name: civilian volunteer organizations (CVO).

Interestingly, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo issued the EO just weeks after a bombing in the Shariff Aguak public market that killed five people. Andal Ampatuan, who has survived several other ambushes, was said to have been the target.

According to a military officer who served for 16 years in ARMM — five of them in Maguindanao — Andal Ampatuan employs about 200 CVO members. The officer adds that Ampatuan’s sons and relatives maintain armed men, supposedly for their protection. (Andal’s eldest son Saudi was killed in a bomb blast in Shariff Aguak 2002.)

“Everybody carries firearms, mga paltik (homemade guns),” says the military officer. “Or (they) either borrow from the military or the PNP, or they buy.”

A soldier who spent five years on assignment in Maguindanao says of the CVOs here: “They support the internal security requirement of the capitol or the municipio.” He adds that while some of the CVOs are paid by the local government in areas where they serve, they are often “borrowed” for personal use by local officials.

And whenever they board the back of spiffy pickups that are staples of Ampatuan convoys, these CVO members typically lug long firearms. At times, the convoys of 20 vehicles or more also begin and end with pickups mounted with big machine guns.

(italics all mine)

With Mrs. Arroyo herself having laid the foundations of today's barbaric landscape, government talk of possible military and police control over Maguindanao till the May 2010 elections raises more fear than hope.


Yesterday's massacre was long waiting to happen. I stumbled on this 2007 interview of ARMM Gov. Datu Zaldy Ampatuan, conducted by Carol Arguillas of MindaNews.

Here is Ampatuan unfiltered: Actually, Maguindanao province is an extension of the home province of Her Excellency, PGMA (President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) which is Pampanga. Here in Maguindanao, considering that we have 20 mayors unopposed, these 20 mayors are allies of the administration, even those areas with opponents – Pagalungan and Talitay – the opponents are all allies of the administration.

Q and A: ARMM Governor Datu Zaldy Ampatuan: "ARMM voters are now politically mature" PDF Print E-mail
by Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews
Tuesday, 15 May 2007 14:25

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao (MindaNews/14 May) – ARMM Governor Datu Zaldy Ampatuan stepped out of the Shariff Aguak Central Elementary School at around 9 this morning only to return through the main gate as former Justice Secretary Simeon Datumanong, a relative who is seeking reelection as representative of the second district of Maguindanao, arrived with his wife to cast their votes.

Across the 27-kilometer stretch of the highway from the boundary of Shariff Kabunsuan to the boundary of Sultan Kudarat province, not a single poster or any campaign paraphernalia of the Genuine Opposition could be seen.

Instead, one sees huge posters and billboards of the father-and-son team, Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr., who is seeking a third term sa governor and his son Datu Sajid Islam Uy Ampatuan, as vice governor

Datu Andal is Datu Zaldy’s father while Datu Sajid is his brother

Several other siblings and relatives are running for other posts within the 22 towns of Maguindanao. Of 22 towns, candidates in 20 towns are unopposed. Only the candidates in Pagalungan and Talitay have opponents but, according to Datu Zaldy, they’re still “pro-administration.”

He answered MindaNews’ queries while waiting for the Datumanongs to finish voting. The answers in Pilipino have been translated to English.

Q: Did the division of Maguindanao into two provinces – Maguindanao and Shariff Kabunsuan help in making the election here rather quiet?

A: Yes, basically the creation of Shariff Kabunsuan province out of the province of Maguindanao is a major thing because first, it has helped in having a smooth election; second, it is easier to develop Maguindanao and Shariff Kabunsuan and third, we can give our brothers a chance to head their own government unit

Q: Have there been reports of untoward incidents in the six provinces of the ARMM?

A. The montoring team as of this morning said there’s a minor problem in Marawi City but voting has reportedly been smooth)

Q. What about Sulu?

A. Maganda rin ang monitoring. Sa Sulu, so far so good

Q. The other areas?

A. None yet but every now and then, there’s a direct communication with the monitoring team.

Q. Sir, in the 2005 ARMM elections, the issue on multiple 2005 registrants had not been resolved then and

A. Actually we have the Comelec to do the proper work and we will give them our trust and confidence to be able to resolve that issue.

Q: So it’s not yet resolved.

A: I think we can ask Comelec. The problem is already with them.

Q: I noticed along the way there has not been a single GO poster. So this is definitely a TU country?

A: Actually, Maguindanao province is an extension of the home province of Her Excellency, PGMA (President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) which is Pampanga. Here in Maguindanao, considering that we have 20 mayors unopposed, these 20 mayors are allies of the administration, even those areas with opponents – Pagalungan and Talitay – the opponents are all allies of the administration.

Q: So this is definitely 12-0 here?

A; Basically ganon ang mangyari pero iba ang sabihin ng 12-0. Ang meaning kasi ng 12-0 sa amin dito is yung first 12 candidates na boto ay in favor of Team Unity yung Opposition makakuha from 13 down to the last.

Q: Can you say the same of the provinces of the ARMM

A: Actually in the other provinces of ARMM -- in Basilan, considering that the opponents are influential – Gerry (Salapuddin) and the wife of Governor (Wahab) Akbar, the two parties are allies of the administration. In Tawi-tawi, Gov Sahali and opponent, Rashidin Matba, in Sulu, we have Gov Benjamin Loong. He is running for reelection against Sakur Tan and Nur Misuari. All of these candidates are supporting the Team Unity ticket of the administration. In Lanao del Sur, all the four candidates there for governor support Team Unity.

Q: So more or less, considering ou have one of the biggest regions in Minda

A: We have 1.3 million voters.

Q: Which can make or unmake the national candidates?

A: Palagay ko hindi gaano pero malaking factor dito sa Mindanao na makakuha ng majority of votes yung ticket ng Team Unity.

Q: But what about those criticisms that within the ARMM, because of the Hello Garci

A: Well we cannot prevent the opinion of the opposition. Considering we are a democratic country, they can campaign. What is important is we can rectify the negative impression that here in the ARMM, there is cheating.

Q: So this election will prove it?

A: Yes. Because the people will speak

Q: You’re saying this is a very crucial election as far as proving that the ARMM is not what as the opposition or critics say is a cheating region?

A: Yes. In fact, one way to show that the people in the ARMM are politically mature enough is that here in Maguindanao, electoral contests used to be very difficult. But because of the good programs that we show our constituents, majority of the towns herein Maguindanao are unopposed.

Q: Sharif is also unopposed?
A: Only one is unopposed – the mayor of Datu Odin Sinsuat. There rest have opponents.


The abduction and murder of around 45 persons, including around a dozen journalists, in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao is a spear thrust in the heart of our fragile democracy.

Let us grieve not just for our media colleagues -- though theirs is an especially tragic fate, to die in the line of duty, serving a profession that more often than not deprives provincial practitioners of a living wage and social benefits.

Let us grieve, too, for the other dead: the wife of a mayor, lawyers, drivers and followers. Let us grieve most for democracy, for election-related violence violates our people's right to an enlightened choice of leaders. Election-related violence prevents people from asking tough questions of prospective leaders; that violence is almost always aimed at subverting a people's free will.

Today's outrage brings this country closer to failed state status, and not just because of the number of persons killed. What is truly chilling about today's tragedy is, that the alleged perpetrators were not just excitable henchmen of a local politician -- in this case, Shariff Aguak Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr.

The perpetrators, according to military reports, included not just the mayor and his men but also practically the entire local police force, para military forces and senior police officials.

One hundred men; that's the equivalent of a company in the military. One hundred men; it's no wonder that journalists who tried to follow up the carnage could not get a word out of anyone.

Anyone includes the top officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Camp Crame.

Even as media was getting the names of those killed, even as the mayor of Mangadadatu told television reporters about how his wife called him to report being waylaid, even as Major General Alfredo Cayton of the 6th Infantry Division and Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner Jr. confirmed that the 21 bodies had been recovered in Ampatuan town at around 4:30 p.m., the Public Information Office of the PNP continued to insist they knew nothing of the incident.

We have heard the usual statement of condemnation from Malacanang. They might as well condemn themselves.

The Ampatuan clan played a major role in the fraud that marred the 2004 elections; the fraud that allowed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo another six years in power; the fraud that many of us chose to ignore because the alternative was another outsider-actor in Malacanang.

Maguindanao was where they tried a shutout of Fernando Poe Jr -- a zero vote. Maguindanao, as the Hello Garci tapes told us, played a big, big role in ensuring Mrs. Arroyo's continued hold in power.

Five years since that election, Ampatuan can strike at will, almost reassured of impunity because, after all, nobody ever got punished for the fraud of 2004. On the contrary, many elections officials and military officers implicated in the fraud reaped promotions and other rewards.

Now we are told the government is about to place the entire Maguindanao under military and police control. God help us all, because with protectors like these, we don't need enemies.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

'Right to Reply' a euphemism for privilege to manage news

It’s probably too much to compare it to “salvage,” that so positive spin on the blackest of arts, but the “Right to Reply” bill that legislators want to foist on Philippine media carries the same penchant for sweetening a truly onerous scheme.

This, after all, is a piece of legislation that presumes guilt rather than innocence. The “Right to Reply” bill also does away with courts as arbiters between those who feel aggrieved and their perceived tormentors.

If the authors of this piece of legislation have their way, any time the media receives a letter from them, demanding the printing, airing or broadcasting of even the most patently self-serving drivel, we are obliged to comply with their wishes.

Why? Because legislators say anyone who feels ignored by news gatherers and gatekeepers has the right to have his or her say when he or she wants to. It is a blanket reward for everyone who’s been portrayed in less than angelic light.

Under this measure, it matters not whether the subject deserves the harsh light of scrutiny. It matters not when a journalist tries to get two, or three, or four sides of an issue. It matters not when journalists print or air quotes from those who represent all these sides.

It only matters that one feels his or her explanations have not been given the weight he or she feels they deserve.

It certainly doesn’t matter if such explanations may be outright lies. But it matters when a news report notes, as all good news reports should, that certain claims are belied by facts -- because then the liar will demand his or her reward.

Are you feeling a bit surreal now? I am. Because the aggrieved doesn’t even have to present a straight-forward attack – innuendo is enough to bring down the wrath of gods who, of course, reserve the right to define the word at a time of their choosing.

I am furious; doubly so, because I am both a reporter and an editor.

As a reporter, I know how hard it is to get news sources to speak, unless it involves them preening over some good deed.

Now, I don’t mind it when they preen over good deeds. All news subjects approach media from a position of self-interest, which is why it is crucial to keep a critical stance even when -- especially when -- interviewing friends and people I may admire.

What I mind is this measure’s presumptuous message -- that a journalist cannot challenge the motives behind or critically examine the results of these supposed good deeds. That is, without being penalized by having to give up precious space and minutes to people who, truth be told, will try to evade our questions for as long a time as they can get away with.

I am not complaining about the hard life of a journalist. The reluctance of news sources to submit to a critical review is understandable.

Access to information – meaning official documents – is crucial to democracy and media groups are right to fight for this. Yet you don’t hear journalists calling for Congress to penalize politicians and bureaucrats who refuse to grant interviews, do you? Because that would be a violation of their freedom of expression; silence is as much a legitimate form of expression as ranting.

Then again, silence as an action has its set of consequences as does ranting. The latter can make you out as a liar or a fool. The former means a waiver on defence on the public stage.

What this measure aims for, however, is to penalize journalists for breaching the code of Omerta surrounding official wrongdoings – especially when he or she has worked hard to craft a fair story, because that is when a journalist provides the greatest impact.

It not only seeks to penalize media; it also seeks to attack the public by drowning them in a sea of garbage, much like what hackers do in a denial of services attack on websites. Both attacks depend on rogue access or entry points. The end result is the same – the public is cut off from important information it seeks.

Shorn of appeals for fairness and objectivity, this is what the measure seeks to do. It is just as onerous as other acts foisted on the nation earlier by Malacañg – which has decreed, for example, that all inquiries into official actions are malicious and treacherous to the interests of the Republic, unless the President says they’re not.

Bottom line: All journalists and those who hold some stake in the media should fight and fight hard in defence of the freedom to pursue the truth and roll this out within the ethical standards of the profession – as defined by the profession and not by a bunch of fat cats.

(The following is a column on the same issue, published in the Philippines Graphic on October 20, 2008.)

Wanting it both ways
Bacolod Representative Monico Puentebella, chief author of the House of Representatives version of the Right to Reply bill, plaintively explains his main motive for pushing the measure. He has long been victimized, says Puentebella, subjected to incessant trials by publicity. It is time he says, for victims of media harassment to say, "Enough!"

I do not doubt Puentebella’s pain. We hail from the same city. I know of the attacks against him; I hear them on radio and on some community cable news channels.

What Puentebella conveniently forgets to say is, most of the "newsmen" engaged in such practices are those whose publications or radio and cable TV programs are subsidized, if not paid in full, by politicians. And Puentebella is one of those politicians.

That’s not to detract from the news pollution foisted on Bacolod residents by the congressman’s political enemies. But it must be stressed that politician "victims" are only too willing to practice the same oppressive tactics so long as they’re not at the receiving end.

I’d be the first to say there is great room for improvement of media ethics. But Puentebella’s right to reply bill and the other version authored by Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. pose greater dangers than solutions. Both bills represent weapons as deadly as the guns used by the murderers of journalists.

They want replies to be published or aired on the same page or program; for the same length of time; within 24 hours (House version) to three days (Senate version). They want replies to be printed or aired word for word. They impose fines of up to P50,000 (Senate bill) and up to P200,000 plus a 30-day jail term in the House counterpart. (Note: since changed)

Any self-respecting media practitioner—and, contrary to what politicians and Malacañang say, most are—automatically chases the subject of a less than flattering news story. Investigative news reporters and their editors are particularly keen to follow this cardinal rule in journalism. In cases where the news breaks late in the day, editors wait till the last minute before deadline to get the side of the party accused. Newspapers have stopped the press or modified later editions to accommodate those replies—when replies are forthcoming.

Many times, they are not. I’ve had news subjects refusing to answer my calls, text messages and fax letters. Local executives have actually banned some reporters from their offices and instructed staff to refuse access. Are reporters to be penalized because officials shy away from accountability?

Puentebella’s patron saint, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, is the best example.

She stonewalled before coming out with that lame "I am sorry" statement in the wake of the "Hello, Garci" scandal.

She pretended to be a denizen of some other planet in the days following Romulo Neri’s ZTE bribery testimony.

Just a few days ago, the organization of foreign correspondents in the country aborted a forum because Mrs. Arroyo demanded they send advance questions—and only questions about the economy. She has walked out of press conferences when reporters insisted on tackling burning political issues.

Is media then supposed to give up political reportage involving the Palace because its big boss disdains to reply to anything but the most obsequious questions?

Particularly distasteful is the thrust to take over media’s job by dictating when and how newsmakers are presented to the public.

So, issue breaks. News subject hides. News organizations are forced to come out without the other side. Then news subject demands same treatment in prominence and length of exposure and then gets to publish or air a self-serving statement—without being subjected to the give and take of an interview.

The last demand is a great recourse for cowards and the guilty. And the equal treatment clause totally ignores the realities of the here and now.

Imagine an expose on yet another tawdry, outrageous Palace deal. The President hides then sends a reply that is nothing more than a one-paragraph denial without details, which then segues into two pages of praise for her economic miracles.

The exposé gets banner treatment. She waits two days to consult with advisers and demands equal treatment. On that same day, something like September 11 happens or a new conflict breaks out in Mindanao that sends tens of thousands of folk fleeing their homes.

Are we supposed to ignore everything we’ve learned in journalism to save our skins? New organizations and media groups should and will challenge this blatantly unconstitutional measure.

Trial by publicity? Let’s not forget how Mrs. Arroyo presented Land Bank scandal whistleblower Acza Ramirez on television as a suspect! And she never apologized. G

Monday, January 26, 2009


The Fed was right. Maybe next time, Andy Murray will learn to wait until he’s got a grand slam trophy in his hands before indulging in fits of braggadocio.
Unlike the top three male seeds at the Australian Open, fourth seed Murray won’t be playing in the quarterfinals. He lost to Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in five sets.
Jeez, the guy’s ranked 14th, ten spots below Murray’s current level.
The Scot (whose game I do like) had pretended at the start of the Australian Open that the only players worth his time and energy were the three ranked higher than him – numero uno Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, current title holder.
The last two had questioned why London bookies had set their hopes on Murray. (The answer: You don’t argue with national sentiments, especially when it's been a seven-decade wait.)
Murray replied with something snotty and sophomoric and circuitous, his cockiness fueled by recent non-grand slam successes, which included victories over all three of his betters.
Nadal (the only guy at the Australian Open who has yet to drop a set) didn’t even bother to respond. He prefers his forehand to do the talking most of the time.
Federer, who survived a five setter with Thomas Berdych, was as acerbic as his gentlemanly demeanor could get. Following that win, the Fed – who didn’t look that winded -- challenged Murray to five sets “any day.”
"He's younger so he's probably not so experienced. In the end it becomes very mental, and I know that this is where my biggest strength always comes into play. That's why I'm always going to favor myself in a fifth set."
Turns out, his quarry was sent scrambling by a more lowly opponent. And I’m waiting to hear what the Joker – him of the slashing wit and the pantomimes – has to say about the departed Scot.

Friday, January 23, 2009


As celebrities go, Michelle Obama’s inaugural outfits weren’t that extravagant. (That’s a relative term, of course. I probably shall spend my entire life without ever wearing a $1000 dress, much less a $6000 ball gown.) Still, I’m curious about the ethical ramifications of fashion in the White House.

Who should pay for the First Lady’s outfits? Half a dozen designers each prepared several clothes and gowns for the First Lady to choose from. Does she return the rest or keep them just in case she feels like wearing one or two more to over affairs?

The First Lady doesn’t get a salary. Does she get a clothing allowance? Michelle isn’t a poor woman and her husband wrote two best-selling books, but given the standards expected of the US First Lady – poor Mrs. Carter was crucified for wearing a gown twice! – I’m sure it’ll be a drain on the pocket, especially since she’s taken a leave from work.

The news reports also confuse me because they cite past criticism over Nancy Reagan’s penchant for “borrowing” gowns – that’s something like movie stars do? Yet they seem to indicate that Michelle’s practice of borrowing jewelry is okay. And, hey, those aren’t all costume jewelry!

The Chicago Sun-Times (,CST-NWS-jewelry22.article ) says: “The Rodkin jewelry isn't cheap; the chandelier earrings Obama wore with her camel-and-black ensemble at the concert are valued at more than $17,000.” Surely, the diamond drop earrings that went with the Jason Wu gown are even more expensive.

News reports say everything worn to the day inaugural and the ball will become part of the permanent collection at the Smithsonian. But not everything the First Lady wears will. If Mrs. Obama makes a practice of um, borrowing jewelry and clothes how will that affect governance when the designers and manufacturers face, say, trade or environment or tax issues?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Street interviews indicated many Filipinos cared more about the fate of dinner on the morrow or the next week than the words of a black man with names reminiscent of a Muslim dictator and terrorism’s turbaned pied piper. But if some of us didn’t get it, Filipino broadcast stations drew on financial and technological resources and manpower to remind viewers and listeners that, whether we like it or not, our fates are twined with those of the 1.8-million tearful folk that filled Washington D.C.’s historic Mall one bright winter day.

If that didn’t quite convince you, the sight of The Manila Bulletin the morning after Barrack Hussein Obama became the 44th President of the United States of America, would.

Enough Obama-mania had reached across the ocean to breathe new life into the staid paper, which devoted its entire front page – normally the repository of press releases from favored politicians -- to the man one other paper had tagged “President of the World.”

There are enough examples -- including many humiliating ones -- to remind peoples around the globe that many of the vagaries of life on earth rest on how the US of A turns. Lately, the scale has been overwhelmingly tilted on the side of painful.

The US, under the leadership of its 43rd president, George W. Bush, bludgeoned even its closest allies and blustered its way across the world stage. It wasn’t enough to drag civil liberties back to the dark ages with White House approval of the use of torture and abduction and indefinite detention without access to lawyers or evidence; Bush and Dick Cheney harangued us to cheer while they sacrificed human rights – including that of their compatriots – on the alter of the anti-terror campaign. As they orchestrated the spread of their unique brand of democracy, Bush and Cheney also trashed lessons on transparency and accountability drummed into us by aid agencies their government controlled. There was little bidding on the lucrative Iraq contracts that went to favored Halliburton and even less punitive action following probes into over-pricing, ghost meals and supplies, reckless exposure of workers to danger, even into the tainted water served to the men and women dubbed as heroes of the war on terror.

Perhaps the most tragic offshoot of Bush’s presidency is, that his excesses actually fanned sympathy for madmen who think nothing of blowing thousands of innocent civilians into smithereens. Simply put, the last eight years gave democracy a bad name. Undoing that damage is Obama’s great challenge, other than having to shake a global economy, prostrate on the altar of excess, back to its feet.

Where giants tread, opportunistic dwarfs follow. Academics and militants will tell you that we owe the US our democracy but also the finer of the black arts that often make a travesty of that noble idea. The latter, and the green light given by Bush to despots – as long as they stayed in his camp – encouraged President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to twitter and simper and sniff at reports of mounting extra-judicial executions, which were met with more killings and threats against complainants and witnesses.

Malacanang has reacted with bravura to the exit of its great, white brother. The US needs us, Philippine officials point out. Love is still in the air.

Even under Obama the US will put its interests first, true. But Mrs. Arroyo’s administration risks embarrassment with its cavalier dismissal of 44th’s ideals. Just in case the Palace folk were too deep into brandy on the day of Obama’s inaugural, here’s what he said: “As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.”

Madame President, FYI. There’s a new kid in town.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Whose right? Who's Right?

"Mafia Fans Hounded Off Facebook" --For one nasty moment, I thought Facebook had cracked down on our Mob It’s actually a very interesting case of how anti-crime advocates harassed supporters of two jailed Italian mafia bosses...
ROME, Italy -- Fans of Mafia supremos Toto Riina and Bernardo Provenzano have been hounded off of Facebook after Italy's anti-Mafia movement spurred thousands of people to infiltrate their pages.
The appearance of Facebook pages glorifying the two jailed former godfathers late last month sparked outrage among the victims of Mafia crimes and politicians.
Some have decided to fight fire with fire.

I peeked into “ gruppo creato per la santificazione di BERNARDO PROVENZANO.” Initially thought it could have been tongue in cheek -- a case of lost in translation -- but Agence France Presse seemed to treat it seriously.
At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, I must say ambivalence is what the article arouses here.
Sure, the fact that the various anti-mafia groups have several thousand members each is gratifying, a sign of the growing resistance to the Mob. In contrast, the fans of the Mafia bosses are in the low hundreds. It the above page was any gauge, they do seem to be rather fringe folk.
But as much as I’d support the anti-Mob activists’ right to rail and rant and post screeds or oratory videos. I do not think their noble intentions excuse issuing threats.
Stormy statements, yes; threatening, no. A big no-no. Shortcuts are the way of the Mob, not of the righteous.
The Italian mafia buckled only partly due to the hunt of the Carabiniere. More decisive was the bravery of judges, many of them martyred, and of citizens who bravely stepped up to testify against the crime lords. Not all the witnesses were Mob insiders turned informants.
AFP quoted an anti-Mob leader (sister of a slain judge) saying the offensive was an alternative to banning the groups, which “would have given them more publicity and they would probably complain of censorship"
What happened, she said, showed that, "This kind of self-policing and internal dialogue is the most effective method. "Civil society has shown itself capable of reacting to those who sing the praises of the godfathers." Who was it who said that, if you start using the enemies’ weapons, you could wind up like them?
Who was it who said that, if you start using the enemies’ weapons, you could wind up like them?

Censorship takes many forms. As the victims of the Mafia know only too well, force often guarantees success of the censorship campaign – the most extreme case being the silence of the dead. But it’s not just government or organized groups like the Mob than can enforce censorship. Social networks in the past have often acted to muzzle outsiders and stifle legitimate dissent. The majority is itself a natural threat and the wielding of its power, however indirectly, always has repercussions for better or worse.
I may sound a bit like a free speech anarchist. Perhaps. Several years back, at a Bangkok conference on child abuse, I got into a tangle with some Amnesty International folk who said no newspaper had any business printing a letter from a self-confessed paedophile that obviously was defending his, er, mentoring of young people. As far as I was concerned, his acts deserved imprisonment; but I wasn’t going to put a gag on him.
Someone said, thoughts are the origins of actions. Hell, how many of us read or watch porn, including simulated force, and feel aroused without in the least being tempted to act this out? The fact that a few do does not make a crackdown legitimate. It’s just another version of blaming the media.
It’s a little bit like what I feel when asked why journalist groups defend even the “dirty” colleagues gunned down by irate subjects of their attacks.
Truth is, it is easy to defend the clean, the brilliant, the righteous. It is when we are called to defend our more problematic brethren that our commitment to a free press, free speech and free expression are most tested.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Good intentions

I’m having a hard time making heads or tails of the Alabang Boys scandal.
If the allegations are true – and if a review of past decisions on anti-narcotics cases bears this out – it would show in graphic terms the breadth and depth of drug cartels’ reach. If, on the other hand, the charges raised by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) officers are baseless, then we may be in for a witch hunt that could last till elections.
Except for the families of the three suspects, who have obvious self-interest at stake (and I won’t begrudge them that), both sides raise the banner of noble causes.
It can tear you apart. I am passionately anti-drugs, having seen too many relatives and friends succumb to narcotics’ evil call. I am also passionately pro-human rights. I rather envy those three young men. Last I looked, even court rulings sometimes aren’t enough to spring suspects from left-leaning or Muslim groups, or anyone considered an enemy of the state. Often, final vindication in the Supreme Court comes after decades of incarceration. Isn’t that the reason for the penalty clause in the Anti-Terror Law and laws providing compensation for miscarriages of justice?
Here then are some questions for all the gentle folk concerned:
1) Since when did prosecutors become so cavalier about the disposition of possibly dangerous criminals? How can State Prosecutor John Resado think it’s okay to ignore a standing mandatory review order, and then let the cops handle the problem of missing suspects should a review overturn prosecutors’ dismissal of a case?
2) Is it SOP for Justice Department officers to ignore the fact that they have a Secretary? Why? Shouldn’t the President just assign someone else with enough energy to oversee everything?
3) How can government lawyers say it’s okay to ignore a Secretary’s resolution (in this case, penned by Simeon Datumanong) because they don’t want to get into trouble? Do they have a paper trail of their attempts to inform their superiors about the lousy, dangerous regulations imposed on them?
4) It’s one thing for Justice Undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor to ask why suspects remain held even with a resolution of dismissal; it’s an altogether different story when he breezily allows his secretary to deliver privately-sourced but public interest-bearing documents without personally establishing legitimacy. Have the inmates taken over the hospital?
5) How come Gonzalez, who has chewed officials and enemies for much, much less, doesn’t have it in his heart to even display displeasure towards Verano -- who engaged in manipulation and misrepresentation at his expense?
6) Guys who stage such creative buy-bust operations can surely do entrapment. Does PDEA really want us to believe it does not have the capability to trace calls? Why didn’t it seek help from other law enforcement agencies? Is there no one you can trust in law enforcement? Is the situation that hopeless?
7) If he can bandy names like Joe Tecson (without really verifying if he had the right man on the other end of the line), why can’t Maj. Ferdinand Marcelino name his mistah would-be briber? The mistah’s civilian identity is no excuse; civilians aren’t exempt from the law. Surely, the righteous Major isn’t telling us he has one standard for the world and another for his mistahs?
I will grant Marcelino his sincerity. And I will grant that there are too many specious and suspicious arguments advanced by the DOJ’s lawyers. But I wonder how scrupulous are law enforcers in ensuring that cases are built up properly.
Here’s unsolicited advice for the young Marine officer: You once turned down the Magdalo because you didn’t believe in short cuts. Well, don’t change. There are many, many forms of corruption and not all involve money. Be as disciplined in casework as you are with your morals.
Prosecutors have a job – to green light a case for trial or throw out an indefensible one. After all, they’re the ones who engage in courtroom skirmishes. Even the best prosecutor cannot salvage a shoddy case. To do the latter with regularity, you would have to be working in a dictatorship where laws are an afterthought. And for god’s sake, stop whining about technicalities. Too many autocrats use that same term for civil liberties.
That said, may the force be always with you. And may you find a government prosecutor equal to your zeal.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

So What?

*Another yearender epistle, actually bits and pieces from two succeeding columns.

It may have been asking too much of US President George W. Bush to hope that two missed shoe-throws at him would prompt a more introspective insight into the hellish debacle he has wrought in Iraq.
Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi committed the deed during what should have been a triumphant Bush victory lap in Iraq. For his gesture, and for calling the American President a dog, al-Zaidi got tortured into apologizing. Given the human rights record in the so-called Green Zone, he’s probably lucky.
The journalist, who has spurred arguments among peers, Muslim or otherwise, may have taken the wrong tack in reminding Bush of the repercussions of his actions in the aftermath of 9/11.
In the context of the times, it was like insisting on a debate with a schoolyard bully whose idea of resolving conflicts is a fist smashed against a face or, better yet, several fists while cohorts hold a victim helpless on the ground. But anything more vigorous could have ended in a spray of bullets and upped the casualty quotient in that part of the world. (I don’t agree with his action; I’d rather reporters report. But he also represents the perpetual dilemma of a journalist: How neutral is neutral when one’s country is going up in flames and the wails of the damned echo night and day?)
In another important sense --that is, if he truly wished a sudden conversion for Bush -- al-Zaidi failed in his mission.
Bush’s response was limited to a quip about the journalist’s shoe size. His forehead crinkling in the manner of the “Mad” magazine guy, Bush gave the verbal equivalent of a finger flip. What was the tantrum all about? he asked reporters.
That is typical of Bush’s rather fragile hold on reality and his perversely unique take on the responsibilities of the US Commander in Chief. For example, Bush likes to claim his invasion of Iraq led to the dismantling of al Qaeda in Iraq. In an interview with ABC News after the show-throwing incident, when reminded by journalist Martha Raddatz that Iraq didn’t have an al Qaeda presence until he invaded the country, the US President replied: “Yeah, that’s right. So what?”
A President who can make light about a) the lies he peddled his people to bully Congress into approving a war, and b) his approving the use of torture (though he doesn’t call it that) for perceived political enemies, will certainly not be impressed by a references to widows and children.
Bush never got the underlying threat of the journalist’s symbolic gesture. But some sectors of the US government are having nightmares imagining a hostile world that takes up shoes against Americans.
There’s very much likelihood for those kinds of antics as there is a potential for the gesture – a joke now in the West – to morph into a more sinister campaign.
Like any other act of desperation by the weak, show-throwing will probably target the innocents. That is, until the madmen in charge of the martyr assemblylines discover the merits of provoking a murderous response from tense soldiers who snap at a hail of leather and canvass.
Bizarre, right? But that’s exactly what to expect as a legacy of Bush’s world. Enemies will always lurk in the bushes. But with Chief Executives like Dubya, you actually open the gates for them bad guys.
We close the year with a prayer for those young American troops in hostile lands. May they have the grace and the humility and wisdom to not press the trigger when resentful hosts start throwing shoes at the US’ imperial soldiers.

Old as Time

*This was written as a column for the yearend issue of The Philippine GRAPHIC

Old as time

Sex and scams; it’s a toss-up which one is the oldest profession.
They were probably hatched by twins with fingers on humankind’s pulse: the illusion of happiness, on the one hand; the illusion of success, on the other. Both promising instant gratification and, both, at times, exacting a grievous toll.
Ponzi scams – where investors buy nothing but promises of hefty returns – have been around since people switched from barter to tender. The illusion is maintained by paying off initial investors from what latter investors put in. The tower of joy crumbles when new investments can no longer meet obligations – and that always happens as sure as the sun shines in the East. Yet the scam thrives in its various forms, sometimes bankrupting populations of entire countries (Albania, for one).
Conventional wisdom is that Ponzi scams lure the poor and desperate, the lonely and the idle and unproductive. Truth is that, Ponzi victims include society’s richest folk. It’s the attraction of easy profit. There is no accounting for greed.
It is the Ponzi credo of “more, more, more” that permeates the bigger scandal that is the US and global financial meltdown. Lack of accountability is the root problem behind the traditional and criminal schemes that imploded worldwide these past months. And it is sometimes difficult to parse between the traditional and the criminal.
Financial bigwigs often cover up their fumbles by falling back on the small print that admonishes investors to keep track of their funds. When the going is good, few people bother to ask where and how.
The $50-billion Ponzi scam presided over by Bernard Madoff – no less than a former chairman of the Nasdaq – was a three-decade, high-flying operation that had a barely-there accounting and compliance arm.
Madoff’s “victims” range from middle class couples to retirees to family trusts to the International Olympic Committee Federation to Japan’s Numura and many major banks and financial funds. Most of them had finance savvy. They were just too enamoured with ROIs to even care about where the hell these were coming from.
Now, one hedge fund manager has committed suicide in the wake of the Madoff scandal and, worse, anti-Semites have found a bone to nibble on.
Which is a tragedy. Sure, Madoff is Jewish but crooks come from all religious and ethnic backgrounds. Many of his clients were Jewish but a big, big number were non-Semites. Their greed had nothing to do with creed. That they blithely accepted huge profits without question is not much different from how the world, media included, jumped up and down as hedge fund managers and all other wunderkinds and wise lions of the marketplace kept chalking up those spectacular profits before the crash.
The rumbles of bigotry -- also long a bane to humankind -- are something to watch out for these days. As much as Barrack Obama’s election to the US Presidency gives us hope for a gentler world, we also have to face reality. When bad times come, the other, the stranger, always becomes a figure of suspicion and mistrust.
Obama himself is a barometer. While the campaign went on, critics accused him of being a Muslim and a liberal or communist and, by implication, a terrorist. Then he appoints as chief of staff the very Jewish Rahm Emanuel, and gets the same amount of grief. And, more recently, his invitation for Rick Warren to give the inaugural prayer has sent screams – from all sides now – rising in decibel.
The quicksand is spreading for hope’s herald. Obama has no time to lose in the task of calming the very troubled waters of his nation and the world. Hatred is almost always an offspring of fear. There are more than enough madmen awaiting this obscene birth. (Send rants and raves to

Turning, turning

Here's one from Bloomberg, on "Obama Team Reviewing ‘Buy American’ Plank in Stimulus"
Jan. 2 (Bloomberg) -- President-elect Barack Obama’s advisers are looking at including a “buy American” provision in the economic-stimulus legislation that the incoming administration has made its first priority.
“We are reviewing the buy American proposal and we are committed to a plan that will save or create 3 million jobs, including jobs in manufacturing,” said Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for Obama’s transition team.

I love Barack but increasingly hear protectionist undertones in his messages. It actually started early in the presidential campaign.
Each country has to watch out for number one. That's not my beef.
But I think the world has not done enough reminding the US government (and its big power allies) that, not too very long ago they told us little people from the third world that nationalism was a dirty thing, a relic and hindrance to progress.
They told us a lot of things, didn't they? And twisted our arms and actually imposed sanctions when we dragged our feet on the path to globalization and liberalization.
Now... we got the US and friends nationalizing banks and other big firms (even as media seems to be burying the fact that many of these scams would never have happened if US regulators didn't allow so many of its rich and famous to launder funds -- read AIG and those offshore insurance havens; ditto for Maadoff-- so much for compliance watchlists).
In the late 90's, Asians heard the sermon: Let your greedy, secretive, ponderous, crony cabals drown in the swirling floods of history! Now, the powerful are saying: Shoot, we can't let them drown; it'll be the end of the world! (Because of globalization, thank you :)
Just a few years back, the developed nations were kicking down the doors of our industries, forcing many to their knees at the altar of "competitiveness." Soon after, our liberal friends were calling for a boycott of Walmart because of its cheap goods from China.
I'm not proposing to turn back the clock. But I do urge all the little folks out there to make some dents in the arrogance of the world's rulers.
It may be futile to dream of an apology Then again, it'll never come if no one demands for one.