Tuesday, November 23, 2010


By Inday Espina-Varona, Bayan Mo iPatrol Mo
(A version posted at 11/23/2010 1:42 PM on abs-cbnnews.com)

Filipinos blanched as newscasts and newspapers displayed the bloated, mutilated bodies unearthed from a hillside in Ampatuan town, Maguinanao. The November 23, 2009 massacre was the most dramatic display of naked power in more than a decade. Fifty eight people murdered; the remains of one victim have not been recovered.

It was a spear thrust into the country’s democratic heart, a symbol of how powerful political clans hold hostage many areas in the Philippine archipelago. Filipinos had steeled themselves against the mounting murders of activists and journalists under the administration of President Gloria Maapagal-Arroyo. The Ampatuan town massacre shook the nation, showed that it was not immune from the kind of barbarity oft seen only in failed states.

It wasn’t just the numbers of persons killed. It wasn’t even the breaching of a Maguindanao taboo on targeting women. It wasn’t just the arrogance that decreed 33 journalists, three lawyers and six hapless commuters be collateral damage in the Ampatuan clan’s feud with the Mangudadatu family.

What was chilling about Nov. 23 was that the alleged perpetrators included the entire local security apparatus: senior police officials, ordinary cops and para-military forces euphemistically called “civilian volunteers.”

The Ampatuan massacre trial features 195 suspects, including 16 police officers and 29 members of the political clan. Over half of the suspects remain at large. Although a Mangudadatu now sits as governor of Maguindanao province, very few residents dare speak out of the massacre or other atrocities that marked the decades-long Ampatuan rule.

Witnesses killed

Impunity carries a very long and very heavy stick in this country.

The Human Rights Watch report,“They Own The People,” opens with a quote from militia member Suwaib Upahm: “In Maguindanao, the word of the Ampatuans was the law. It was either you said “yes” to [them], or you got yourself killed for daring to say “no.”

The group interviewed Upahm in March this year. He claimed to have used a grenade launcher to kill a witness to the massacre. On June 14, 2010, Upahm himself was killed while awaiting world of his enrollment in the government witness protection program.

Reports by rights watchdogs estimate that at least 50 other persons were killed allegedly on the behest of the powerful clan. These included rival local officials, a judge, women and children -- and a friendly weapons supplier, the better to get his wares for free.

The Maguindanao carnage was unique for the number of victims and the boldness of its perpetrators. But as HRW stressed, the November 2009killings were "an atrocity waiting to happen.”

Long before Mrs. Arroyo institutionalized their private army, the Ampatuans were entrenched in politics. They loaned their 2,000 to 5,000 men and provided logistics to give the military a “multiplier force” against Moro secessionist rebels.

This cushy ties increased their political clout. By the time the clan engineered the 2007 shutout of opposition senatorial candidates, 27 sons, grandsons and relatives of its patriarch, Andal, Sr., had already occupied mayoral positions. The old man himself served as governor from 2000 to 2009.

Firepower, in turn, helped consolidate and expand their political power. Troops raided Ampatuan strongholds days following the massacre, and found enough arms and ammunition to equip a brigade.

A report obtained by dzMM and TV Patrol anchor Ted Failon includes half a million rounds of M-16 ammunition.

The 601st Infantry Brigade, then commanded by Col. Leo Cresente Ferrer, also found in just one compound two 81mm mortars, a 60mm mortar, two 90mm and one 57mm recoilless rifles, 4 M-60 machine guns, a caliber .50 Barrett sniper rifle, an Ultimaz light machine gun, an AK-47, a Heckler and Kock light support machine gun and 200 high-powered guns. Ferrer estimated the armaments to be worth P1.4 million.

Gov’t patronage

Most of that arsenal came from the Department of National Defense (DND).A year after discovery of what military officials acknowledged was proof of pilferage of Armed Forces property, none of the suspects -- three soldiers, one officer and two civilian personnel have been charged.

The HRW noted that Mrs. Arroyo had a signed an executive order allowing local government officials “to legally buy an unlimited number of weapons without any obligation to report the type or number purchased.”

While Mrs. Arroyo may have coddled the Ampatuans,she wasn’t the only leader to do so. They have been untouchable for decades. Nor do the Ampatuans have a monopoly on warlordism.

In March 1987, the Washington Post reported that military officials estimated there were 260 private armies, including “communist and Moslem groups, private security forces, religious fanatics and mercenaries loyal to political kingpins.”

That figure excluded the dreaded Marcos-era Civilian Home Defense Force (CHDF), estimated to be 45,000-strong.

Nearly a quarter of a century hence, in May 2010, a commission probing the Ampatuan massacre said there were 107 private armed groups. The commission claimed a crackdown had led to the seizure of 127 firearms, the arrest of 130 members and the whittling down of the number of groups to 35.

The independent Verafiles media group also quotes police as saying there are still 68 private armed groups, 25 of these operation in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). “These private armies are said to carry about 800,000 unaccounted firearms,” the report said.

The militant Bayan Muna notes that most of the 30 murders reported during the last elections were also the handiwork of private armies. The Amnesty International claims the number of private armies increased from 68 in December to 117 in February 2010.

‘Word play?’

President Benigno Simeon Aquino III made a campaign pledged to abolish private armies. But there is a big caveat that comes with this pledge.

“The Aquino administration has been repeatedly called upon to issue an executive order banning all paramilitary and militia forces in the country. But no such directive has been issued to date,” the AI stressed.

The HRW won’t be surprised by the inaction on this issue. In April, according to an abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak report, the rights group bewailed Mr. Aquino’s “narrow” definition of private armies.

"He waxed eloquently about his desire to rid the country of private army. He repeated this a number of times.... Unfortunately, he was playing word games," the news report quoted HRW executive director Kenneth Roth after his dialogue with different presidential candidates.

"When we asked him whether he vows to rid the country of private armies meant that he was going to end reliance on special CAFGUs, the civilian volunteer organizations (CVOs), and police auxiliary units--in other words, the real paramilitary forces that are used as private armies. He said no. Those were all force multipliers in his view," Roth added.

Aquino, he added, singled out "forces that are completely autonomous from government authorized forces." His report was slammed by the Aquino campaign.

But aside from rebel groups – and even then, not always – there are no forces completely independent from state security forces. The Ampatuans are a classic case. Many of the suspects in the killings of journalists are either active or retired cops or soldiers, or CVO members.

In 2005, the situation in Abra, a perennial northern Luzon hotspot, was so bad that then Interior and Local Government Secretary Angelo Reyes had all 529 cops in the province, including the police commander, relieved. Four years after, politicians were still ambushing their rivals.

The official line is that, CVOs are necessary to fight communist and Moro secessionist rebels.

While the country does have some nagging insurgency problems, even United Nation bodies expressed alarm as more than a thousand legal activists were felled by suspected cops and soldiers during the Macapagal-Arroyo administration.

Things were not helped when Mrs. Arroyo described as her “hero” a military officer widely called the “butcher” for leaving a trail of slain activists in his wake.

The Armed Forces insisted that activists were fair game, attributing their killings to encounters with rebels – even when the murders occurred just outside factory gates or in residential neighborhoods. Military officials even claimed at one point – as if to justify the extra-judicial killings – that a party-list group was actually commanding the New People’s Army (NPA). It was seen by many sectors as a joke – but one that exacted bloody instead of laughter.

In the first five months of President Benigno Aquino III's government, 22 activists have been murdered, according to the human rights group Karapatan.

Nobody is calling President Aquino a fascist or a dictator. But there is clear worry, even among centrist forces, that a Chief Executive known for his love of guns could fail --despite his pledge to be the opposite of his much-maligned predecessor -- to wrest control from the lords of fear.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


*Image courtesy by Spanky Enriquez

Sorry, Mr. President. It just had to be said.

I’m not saying you’re crooked. But for one reason or another, your “daang tuwid” is zigging and zagging all over town. This is not simply because some of your people are young and rash and prone to being indiscreet over Twitter. This is not even about your best friend raiding MalacaƱang’s wine cellars or traipsing round town with singers and models.

Personal foibles can be forgiven. The Filipino people can even tolerate some amount of stupidity. But in the administration of a man pledged to uphold his parents’ heroic legacy, a man who promised to be the opposite of his venal, shifty predecessor, there have been too many ethical lapses. There’s no sugar-coating that piece of bad news, Sir.

Cocky friend

First, there was Undersecretary Rico Puno airily dismissing Secretary Jesse Robredo’s directive to explain charges linking the powerful subordinate and then Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Jesus Versoza to jueteng lords. This same bosom buddy volunteered that he’d been approached by jueteng emissaries, only to put on a show of amnesia during a Senate hearing.

Help me understand, Mr. President. How could someone who grimly chucked out Prisco Nilo for sins real and imagined, shrug off these ethical implications?

• That a senior official approached with bribe offers could not even be bothered to write a report or even just jot down the names of those criminals. (Last I looked bribery remained a crime in this country.)

• That a senior official could give his superior the equivalent of a dirty finger and tell the world an order is nothing more than trash paper --because he decides it is so.

This is an official who boasts that you won’t even consider canning him – even as your open, honest face shows nothing but disdain for Robredo, a man acknowledged by peers, civic groups and international organizations for both his integrity and efficiency.


Second, there’s Secretary Sonny Coloma and his non-answers to the puzzle of a Web page with 2 million fans disappearing from Facebook and then having 1.5 million of these names appearing overnight on the official Palace Facebook page.

I know you’ll spot the serious ethical flaws here :
• IT-savvy supporters, Ben Totanes and Betty Abrantes, are requested to transform the BSAIII fan page into your official Facebook campaign page.
• Later, Totanes is ordered like some peon to shut it down.
• When the page lives on in the same spirit of noisy activism that marked its early days, your government contacts Facebook to shut down the former campaign site;
• And then some of your men shanghai over a million souls.

Under any other circumstance outside of the sometimes surreal terrain of Facebook (and Malacanang), that event would be called grand theft. Most of those 2 million folk still like you and admire you, but also valued the BSAIII original page because it upheld freedom of expression.

“Batay sa aking mga narinig galing sa ibang kaibigan na naging kasama namin sa kampanya at may alam sa nangyayari sa MalacaƱang, ang BSAIII ay iniutos ipasara ng Communications team ni P-Noy, at karamihan ng member nito, ini-request sa Facebook na ipalipat sa “Official” Facebook Page nang wala nilang pahintulot. Hindi possible na mag-gain ng 1.4 million members ang “Official” page ni PNoy in 6 days kung walang intervention ang Facebook. Ipinalipat ito,” Totanes told ABS-CBNnews.com

Mr. Coloma has a talent for spouting a lot of hot air while saying nothing at all. Certainly, he’s a master at dodging questions.

"It is clear... that Facebook Management seeks to minimize confusion that may arise from the existence of more than one Official Facebook Fan Page for a public official —in this case, for President Aquino."

"We recognize and honor the contribution of Ben Totanes, Betty Abrantes and all the volunteers who painstakingly established and grew the BSAIII Facebook Fan Page during the last campaign. We will communicate with Facebook Management on how their concerns may be addressed appropriately. We want to continue working with Ben, Betty and all the volunteers in pursuing our common objective to support President Aquino’s good governance and anti-corruption programs and to strengthen the feedback mechanism of the government.”

Did anybody hear an answer? The questions were simple:
• Did you ask Facebook to take down the BSAIII fan page?
• And how did 1.5 million names from the disappeared fan page migrate overnight into Malacanang’s Johnny-come-lately creation?

Last we heard about this fracas was Mae Paner’s announcement that three members of the Communications group would help redress the injustice.

“In their official capacity, Ricky Carandang, Edwin lacierda and Manolo Quezon will help find a way to resolve issue of BSAIII closure and migration."

How this can be done without starting a brawl with the Samar boys of Coloma, I don't know. Though Paner says: “I will believe for now that they are not doing this because they are Balay and the pipol involved are Samar! Addressing this issue i hope leads to a restructuring of the communications team! Sana ang Balay at Samar ay maging iSAMBAHAY!”

Re-invented wheel clunks

And now, the latest tempest, which you will probably also blame on media.

It starts with a shebang on Nov. 15. Journalists, various movers and shakers, including foreign diplomats and business executives are invited to what media reports have called the “launch” of the new website of the Department of Tourism.

The event’s master of ceremony, Undersecretary Vicente Romano of the Black and White movement, is no stranger to new media. He was the one who contacted the creators of the original BSAIII Facebook fan page. He also has an advertising background.

Media, now that the new venture has soured, has been slapped for mistakenly calling it a “launch” when it was just a “preview”. Yet on Nov. 14, the Philippine Information Agency (PIA), which Mr. Coloma also oversees, reported:

Tacloban City -- President Benigno S. Aquino III is scheduled to launch on November 15, "Pilipinas Kay Ganda" as the country's new tourism campaign slogan.

The new slogan will replace the existing slogan "WOW Philippines" in a bid to reinvigorate the country's tourism campaign.

The slogan aims to "reinvigorate our country's tourism campaign and double tourist arrivals within the next three years," said a Malacanang press statement reads.

President Aquino who is now in Japan for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, said the DOT will retire the WOW Philippines slogan and introduce a new ad featuring a new logo, which will hopefully generate renewed interest of foreign visitors to the country.”

The first grumblings involved the change in slogan. Many wondered if foreigners would appreciate the use of Filipino. Others thought it lacked the punch of the old slogan, “WOW Philippines!”

Turns out that was least of the new venture’s woes. Not only was the website riddled with grammatical errors – “Feast your plate”! -- it was also full of factual boo-boos.

Cebu, for instance, was somehow given a write-up worthy of a coastal jungle outpost, complete with tattooed tribesmen.

“Ifugao or Banaue rice terraces” are suddenly sprawled all over the provinces of Kalinga-Apayao, Abra, Benguet and Ifugao.

And the Philippines, by virtue of a miracle cooked up by Romano and company, has turned into one huge bunch of kakanin – “7,107 different flavors that you will want to take home with you.

How can one launch a new slogan on serve this on a plate smeared with unmentionables?

There is a serious lack of work ethic here. How can the Tourism Department launch a “preview” without even a cursory look-see? Never mind professional pride. Where is pride for the Motherland? Did they really invite that crowd to take potshots at their baby?


This penchant for re-inventing the wheel is getting us nowhere, Sir. Everyone knows that gov.ph was created to distinguish OFFICIAL information amid the clangor made by denizens of the Web. Instead of just redesigning the DOT website, your guys had the bright idea of jumping ship and heading off to the unknown dangers of beautifulpilipinas.com.

Now, your government (via some officials you’ve appointed) is not just being pictured as incompetent; it is also being heckled for cheating. After all the flak thrown the Supreme Court’s way, Romano and company learned nothing from that case.

There was a perfectly decent website for years; they couldn’t even be bothered to read that? Because as he tells Ellen Tordesillas, in the rush to deadline, the creators of beutifulpilipinas.com had no choice but to (indiscriminately) LIFT entire paragraphs, bloopers included, from an array of other websites.

This doesn’t just smack of intellectual dishonesty; this also displays poor logic and an amazing contempt for their jobs – and their Bosses, meaning you, Sir, and the millions of taxpayers.

And for the last straw, we see that four months’ worth of work by Campaigns and Grey birthed a copy of Poland’s tourism logo. Those images up there say it all. So okay, your good friend Yoly Ong did not get a centavo for her efforts. So? Friends do not gift you with stink bombs.


All these horrors lead to your doorstep. Sir, I applaud your aptitude for numbers and angles and trajectories. But leaders are not accountants; unless in a dictatorship, they’re not hotshot soldiers.

You are President of 90 million souls, of which ten percent are scattered to the winds in the cause of filial duty. Can we have a little empathy, please? Not too long ago, I sighed with relief at the exit of a woman with the EQ of a hound from hades. I know you listen, as you did in the sorry mess that was the Child House affair. So, please, hear this appeal:

You are the envy of other heads of state because you still have very high popularity and trust ratings. Do not waste those gifts. If you must have friends in government, so be it. But strike some fear in their hearts. Demand that they walk the line and not reel and swivel and crash along like punch-drunk juveniles. That, Sir, was of another era, another discredited president.

You are PNOY, holder of that flaming torch handed down by your parents. In the race to progress, we do not expect you to hold that torch all by your lonesome. That torch is to be passed, from one hand to another. That torch is there to give light to those who cheer, that they may bring some of that back to home.

The last thing you want, Sir, is to have some irresponsible, uncaring apostles drop that torch into the muck of oblivion,.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


First the good news: The Department of Tourism has a new website! Yehey!

Then, more good news: The Department of Tourism is bringing nationalism to a whole new level! Using Filipino! And providing a translation and pronunciation guide!

And even more good news:
The domain name is going to make every lonely heart (or dirty mind) crawl out of the woodwork and make a beeline for the first plane headed for the land of beautifulpilipinas.com!

Did you say alarm bells rang in the Interpol’s porn division or some such unit? No problem. We have a President ready to take potshots at allied governments who dare tar the country’s image. Hah, they won't dare tangle with a guy whose face lights up like the moon when he talks of things that go bang in the night (or day).

What's with all the ranting and raving on Facebook? Come on, lighten up. Otherwise, we’re going to have to listen and quote you. Then that’s going to earn us another lecture from the Prez, who’s not going to be too happy with yet another crisis eating up into his, um, private time.

Guys, aren’t you proud of how fast the DOT got into its digital stride? Why, it’s barely a month since Secretary Bertie Lim announced a P100 million budget for a new media blitz! Now we won’t have to weep with envy every time we hear “Malaysia, Truly Asia” on CNN or BBC, nor will we need to grouch about how Vietnam and even Laos are beating us in the marketing of the true, the good and the beautiful.

Think excitement! Think innovation! Think “new brand” with new website. And think public-private partnership ☺

For all of you muttering about grammar, think Melanie Marquez. On the world stage, it’s long-legged that matters, not the p’s and q’s.

Besides, with the world’s foremost English speakers battered by rough economic seas, it’s not like we need to demand that our DOT website creators have language skills to pass the high school SATs. Koreans come here to study English, for god’s sake; they’re not going to grumble because some DOT writer forgot to align subjects and verbs. And the guys now rolling in money come from the cold, cold side of Europe and need only the promise of Tanduay rhum and lambanog – and beautifulpilipinas haha – and friendly generals -- to start chartering private jets to the Philippines.

You really should be kind to the hard-working, long-suffering idealists in government. So they’re geographically challenged. So what?

Be glad they’ve got enough imagination to transform a Central Visayan island --so bereft of natural resources that it has to import white sand to make fake beaches – into something exotic enough to host the sequel of Apocalypse Now.

Darn, I’d give an arm and a leg to get the guys of beautifulpilipinas.com to wax ecstatic over my home province's “cliffs that tower above crashing surfs, virgin forests, clear rivers, mossy jungles, and cool mountain ridges."

And I’d give a year’s worth of Novenas if they throw in “tattooed tribesmen” living “as they have for centuries”.

And you thought they were dunces, huh? No, this here is the renaissance of Philippine culture.

We shall soon see the godmother of the Tasaday once more declaiming about innocence and noble savages. And if there aren’t any, enough rice wine and the good heart of a certain stylist could rustle up half a dozen of them from Malacanang’s corridors.

Hey, now here’s an idea… let’s have Bertie Lim and Enteng Romano order their bright boys to design a new video game and then let’s have the country’s most famous bachelor play digital hide and seek with long-haired belles and guys in g-strings. That’s going to be some party.

Okay, okay you spoil sports, what’s that about irate tourists demanding their money back?

If Donald Tsang can’t get through the trunkline, some drunken guy with lobster skin isn’t going to succeed. Besides, what are aides for? They can always raid new cellars to humor testy visitors. Or else borrow some weapons from those warehouses and invite play at liberating the Kremlin from Chechen rebels. Might as well put those expensive toys to good use.

See, the good thing about these guys is they sure know how to go the extra mile. That makes it easier, as Lim says, to create a brand that "reflects the hope and optimism being represented by the new administration."

Supreme Court justices borrow boring legal text. At least the creators of beautifulpilipinas.com range wider in their pillage.

Treasure hunters; fancy that. Got to shake my head in admiration. I can see Yamashita rising from the grave. Who can resist showbiz?

Now if we can just get the magicians to come out into the light and take their bows.

Who they? Aaaah, that’s the million-peso question. (*Many thanks to Stella Arnaldo and Reyna Elena and Ka Bibo of Cebu, all Facebook sages, for diverting me from massacres and foresters felled by crossfire.)

Friday, November 12, 2010


“Dear Mr. Jesus, they say that she may die.
Oh I hope the doctors stop the pain.
I know that you could save her
And take her up to the sky where
She will never have to hurt again.”

Allana Blanche Nolan was not a child of mean streets or war zones. She lived in an area known for spacious, old-fashioned apartment homes. The residential compound that carried her family name stands across the street from a Catholic college, beside the city’s most modern hospital. It is surrounded by artists’ hangouts, restaurants and live music joints.

Days are lazy in Bacolod. Folks live at the maximum 30 minutes away from each other. The speaking syle, that drawl, partly stems from a milieu where you can take coffee breaks from work and gather round shady trees in friends’ homes and then go back to work, refreshed. It’s a city where friends call each other to ask what’s up for lunch, because everything is 10 minutes away and a fine dining place comes with the price of some fast-food turo-turo in Manila.

In the past, Bacolod winced whenever its pride – sugar – got linked to blood and sweat and tears. When Joel Abong hit the covers of magazines, and Kahirup Ball references turned into Batang Negros, it was a wake up call, and it took years to recover from the blow.

Allana was not a waif from the farm or the city slums. She was from an upscale family, went to a good school. Her parents hobnobbed with other chic young adults of the city.

But not all was well in Allana’s world. And nobody knew about it. Not her teachers, not her friends, not the neighbors in their compound. If anybody knew, he or she kept mum.

Because by the time the world knew of Allana, it was too late.

She was six; it was Oct. 27.

The cold words on the page of medical reports tell only part of the story: Damaged kidneys, injuries all over her body, a vein in the head that burst. The report folder on her case includes a picture of a belt and a flat iron. The medico legal officer says her genitals showed three old lacerations.

Her parents were 26, 27.I doubt they had ever felt hunger, unless of a type due to deliberate self-neglect or the byproduct of abuse of certain chemicals.

Rachel Esguerra, 26, and Bernard Nolan, 27, brought Allana to the hospital. They have waived their right to further investigation. They have kept mum on the matter. Nor have they tried – so far – to shift blame for the crime.

Allana was laid to rest in a Negros Oriental cemetery. Grieving grandparents placed her in a pink coffin.

Looking at the photo by Aksyon Radyo dyEZHer, I have to : Did they ask themselves, Where did things go wrong? It is a question raised the world over by perfectly decent folk whose children turn out to be monsters.

But that is a peripheral question. The ones that really matter can not be answered: Did she plead for mercy? Did she try to tell anyone?

When she saw classmates hugged by parents, what did she think of?

Did her parents pretend the same loving relationship to the outside world?

How did she feel when kin and neighbors smiled and told her parents how lucky they were to have her?

I cannot shake the image of this lovely child huddling in pain and fear as nights closed in on her. I cannot stop asking: What were her last thoughts as she fell into oblivion?

I do not know. I will never now. I can only take comfort in this song, shared by dyEZ. Sort of take comfort.

Dear Mr. Jesus, it was too late for doctors
To stop Allyana’s pain
A part of me wants to rage,
Didn’t you hear her cries?

But maybe you did; save her, that is
Took her up to the sky
Where she will never have to hurt again.

Maybe you want to save her parents to, by freeing them from the prisons of their souls, that they may talk of what pain they gave their child, and what drove them to this.

Maybe some lessons learned from this could save some child, so he or she doesn’t need the rescue of death. (All photos by Aksyon Radyo dyEZ)