Sunday, July 24, 2011


THE GRAPHIC PAGE comes from the House of Representatives. Do read if you have to pass areas near the Batasang Pambansa Complex. A safe and easy passage, friends!

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Lawyer Romy Capulong said it best: The legal battle to have live coverage of the Ampatuan massacre trial is not just about media coverage; it is about access to justice. Now, the families of the victims (and the accused) can be spared the heavy burden of regular travel to Metro Manila to witness the trial. Hopefully, live coverage will also educate Filipinos on the law and the judicial process in this country.

It is true that many journalists gulped at reading the 15-page Supreme Court decision penned by (just retired) Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales. A cursory read does show daunting challenges. To keep this note brief, I shall not rehash the SC decision; please use the hyperlink.

But in a meeting convened by petitioners immediately after the promulgation, we agreed (on Atty. Capulong’s advice) to hold off filing any clarificatory motion and, instead, explore all avenues via dialogue with the Supreme Court. After all, it IS a unanimous decision; unprecedented and with positive repercussions for the administration of justice in this nation.

The petitioners, thus, proceeded on the presumption of good faith – a view that has been validated by swift (and very level-headed) action from the part of Court Administrator and spokesman, Justice Midas Marquez.

There are still a few issues that need to be clarified. But on the whole, discussions between petitioners and the SC have been very fruitful. Already, media entities are preparing their applications. These will be processed speedily, Marquez says, once the decision becomes final and executory. Hopefully, lawyers for the accused accept the decision. At least one counsel, for suspended ARMM governor Zaldy Ampatuan says they will not file a motion for reconsideration.

From my notes, here are the results of the dialogue between the SC and petitioners:

The SC starts trial live streaming next week on its website and will confer with media groups on improvements needed;

Networks with more than one TV channels can file as a single entity, listing down all platforms available for live coverage;

Networks with more than one channel can shift carriers of the live coverage, so long as there are no breaks, up until promulgation of verdict. (TV to website is not acceptable). Networks should inform viewers at all times where the live coverage can be accessed.

While the decision directs no breaks, unless sanctioned by the judge, news organizations may exercise their discretion should life-and-death and/or earth-shaking news erupt. (There is still the danger of cancellation of license for live coverage but we will have to trust the court’s appreciation of our good faith.)

While live coverage is on-going, crawlers about other news will be allowed, as well as SILENT windows about other events happening. No override of audio will be allowed while proceedings are on-going.

Live coverage on TV and the Web can have windows with graphics to provide viewers with context and greater clarity about proceedings (timelines, for example).

Media entities are allowed to use excerpts of the live coverage for their news reports, which can also occur during breaks.

Brief annotations before and after “scenes” are allowed, as is commentary so long as these are factual and do not violate the rules governing sub judice.

The SC will try its best to provide its own legal expert to annotate points of law. News entities can also have experts during their news breaks – again, subject to rules covering sub judice.

The SC will operate the lone camera in the courtroom, giving focus to the judge, witness on the stand and lawyers of both sides; mics will be provided all five.

The SC will ask lawyers to position themselves so that their profiles and not their backs are shown on-cam. (This is, of course, not binding and they won’t be penalized if, in the heat of the moment, they forget that fine point of coverage.)

The Court will decide on the blurring or blacking out of persons with seucity problems or of children. Justice Marquez is amenable to requesting the Court to provide media at the start of the day’s proceedings with a list covering all possibilities.

The SC will provide still photos of courtroom proceedings for the media, but these will just be higher-reso images of the same angle provided by the audio-visual camera. Photographers will be allowed opportunities for photos at the start and end of each day’s proceedings, on a first-come-first-served basis.

Reporters covering will be allowed to live tweet or post grabs on social networking sites, subject to sub judice rules. The SC will not hold the public’s comments against any media organization and will not monitor individuals. Website live chats covered by the same guideline: Journalists advised to be factual, the public free to comment.

Media entities not covering live can still grab from the SC live footage or purchase from networks doing live coverage and process these for news; the same, for other organizations interested in the proceedings – all subject to the same sub judice rules. They can still apply for recording but prority will be given those that cover live.

Radio stations (often stand-alone) can do live stream on their websites and use the same for their broadcast news packages. Any live coverage on radio will be covered by the SC rules for TV.

The SC will do its best to arrange for a viewing room where tech arrangements will also be set up to fulfill the decision’s mandate for the least disruption to trial proceedings.

Marquez foresees no deadline for applications. As the trial is expected to go on for years, media entities that pass for the moment on live coverage can apply at a latter time.

The petitions for live coverage were filed by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation, GMA Network, Inc., (ABC 5’s senior media officers signed as individuals) relatives of the victims, individual journalists from various media entities, and members of the academe. Government networks were not part of the petition but Presdent Benigno Aquino III has instructed NBN to undertake “gavel-to-gavel” live coverage of the trial.

(INDAY is head of Bayan Mo iPatrol Mo, ABS-CBN's citizen journalism arm. She formerly chaired the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Rape of PH seas continues due to culture of impunity

(Photos by Yvette Lee)

The series of seizures of Philippine black coral and other threatened marine life should not come as a surprise. Half a decade ago, the problem was outright poaching by foreign vessels. That phenomenon continues: Late last month authorities apprehended 122 Vietnamese fishermen onboard vessels flying Philippine flags around Balabac, Palawan.

But poaching, with its potential for diplomatic fallout, can be a costly exercise. So four years ago, the biggest illegal extractors of Philippine marine life – and possibly the biggest consumer group, too – were already laying down the foundations for more cost-effective enterprises. Doing so required setting up layers of corruption.


I wrote an article published on Jan. 17, 2007 that not only tackled poaching, but also the arrangements being done to streamline the harvest and smuggling out of Philippine marine life. It led off:

China, host of the 2008 Olympics, has launched a campaign to highlight its “Green” side but Philippine environmentalists and government officials say poaching activities of its nationals veer toward “organized crime.”

“In Palawan, Tawi-Tawi, Jolo and Basilan, there are Chinese ‘tourists’ spending time in fishing villages, befriending locals and placing orders for endangered aquatic and land animals,” according to Lory Tan, World Wildlife Fund-Philippines executive director.

In between scouting for friendly locals to the actual trapping of wildlife and smuggling these out of the country, are several steps that require an intricate arrangement of “top to bottom” bribes, Tan (said)

And now…

Only last week, Tan (now vice president and chief executive of WWF Philippines) warned about the destruction of Philippine coral reefs.

He said 50 years of nonstop destructive commercial and poorly managed artisanal fishing has left only 5% in excellent condition. Only 1% remains “pristine.”
Another report cited destroyed reefs in an area five times the size of Metro Manila.

Whether you’re harvesting coral or just destroying them in the hunt for other marine life, it’s a lucrative business. The value of just one shipment, believed to have originated from the coast of Cotabato, was pegged at P35 million -- for 196 kilos of sea whips corals, 161 heads of preserved hawksbill and green turtles, 7,300 pieces of seashells and 21,169 pieces of black coral.

Another recent case in Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu province, featured ready-to-export corals and shells, stocked in two shanties and bound for South Korea. Nathaniel Lucero, aquaculturist from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, said the recovered shells and coral are “all endangered species” – nobody is allowed to harvest, much less export, these.

(By the way, Black Coral isn’t always black. Diver and award-winning photographer Yvette Leem who shared the photo above of a live Black Coral Tree, says: “They come in different colors, white, orange (like this one), fluorescent yellow and green. It’s called black coral because when the stems and branches are exposed to the sun and dried, they become shiny especially after being polished,” Lee explains. True black coral is seldom seen in commercial quantities, having fallen victim to decades of pillage. Video clips of the seizures actually show sea fans, Lee adds. The most expensive coral is actually the red kind found in the Mediterranean area.)

Lip service

Back in 2006, scientists were already warning of the great pressures placed on our seas. An article by Katherine Adraneda noted that the World Bank viewed the Philippines as the world’s "center of marine biodiversity" because of its vast species of marine and coastal resources. But the WB report, "Philippine Environment Monitor 2005," also criticized the country for using its coastal resources "in a very inefficient manner”.

Elisea Gozun, former environment secretary and WB consultant, presented the report:

“Gozun said the country’s fishery resources are considered more heavily exploited than elsewhere in the world, and that the country has the most degraded reefs compared to five other Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia...

Plenty of lip service has been paid to marine conservation. Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a diver, even ordered then environment secretary, Angelo Reyes, to convene a task force and come up with a national integrated coastal management plan.

And yet the same administration -- headed by a woman who liked being photographed with the fishes and the big blue sea -- ignored reports of big-scale poaching.

The Arroyo administration even blocked efforts by hard-working sea rangers to apprehend poachers and bring them to justice.

Angelique Songco, head of the Tubbataha Management Office, said that in several cases, Department of Justice Officials in the national capital relieved local prosecutors, replacing them with Manila-based fiscals. Or they ordered a reversal of findings. In one case, a judge halted proceedings mid-trial to allow a plea bargain by the suspects.

TOM lawyer, Gerthie Anda said: "It's the trend; they'll bargain down to the least serious crime, often with advice by government officials."

In one incident I also wrote about, the Department of Foreign Affairs actually tried to intercede for the poachers. (The DFA was then headed by former secretary Alberto Romulo, who was initially asked to stay on by President Benigno Aquino III.)

The December, 26, 2006 story went this way:

They got caught red-handed with 800 live fish, including 300 of the endangered Mameng (Napoleon Wrasse), but 30 Chinese poachers apprehended on December 21 by rangers at the Tubbataha protected marine park, may yet get to walk if the Chinese government has its way.

Chinese diplomats have reportedly demanded the release of the crew, according to sources at the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Chinese, the sources said, even want the Navy to escort the 300-gross ton Hoi Wan out of the area.

The Tubbataha rangers’ appeals for a Navy ship to escort the vessels to Puerto Princesa were ignored. But an officer from the Chinese Embassy suddenly arrived in Puerto Princesa within 24 hours of the report.

An official of the DFA also reportedly called Puerto Princesa to defend the Chinese, calling the arrest irregular and claiming the vessel was merely passing through Philippine waters.

The reason for that became clear a few days later. I got hold of a copy of Chinese Ambassador Li Jinjun’s letter to Romulo, urging the Philippine official to “pay personal attention” to the case.

Li warned the case could jeopardize the attendance of Premier Wen Jiabao in an upcoming summit of Southeast Asian nations and their East Asian partners.

Ambassador Li Jinjun linked the case to a Philippine-China fishery cooperation agreement and the country’s relations with Hong Kong, where tens of thousands of Filipinos work as domestic help.

The envoy said the embassy was in close contact with the Department of Agriculture and the AFP Western Command. Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, the ambassador claimed, had promised “to resolve the issue as soon as possible” if the fishes were released

He urged Romulo to agree to the release of crew and their vessel before it was escorted to Puerto Princesa. “In that case, we are afraid that it may make the situation more complicated and delay the early resolution.”
(Yap did not deny the report or address the issue of Chinese pressure, except to say his office was coordinating with the rangers and WWF.)

Crime pays
Poaching, of course, was happening way before Mrs. Arroyo assumed power. From 1998 to 2006, rangers across the country arrested close to 600 Chinese nationals. There was only one conviction – for 17 poachers nabbed with 54 marine turtles in December 2005.

The crime carries a 12 to 20-year jail sentence. But by the first semester of 2006, President Arroyo had signed a pardon for the Chinese nationals.

At the time I was writing the article, lawyers and government officials were trying to persuade Manila to prevent 30 Chinese poachers from the Hoi Wan from leaving the country following their release from bail. They were definitely candidates for flight, having been caught with 2,000 fishes, compressor equipment, wet suits and ten sampans on their vessel.

We’re still being bullied in the seas around Palawan, but the rape of our wat has also become an efficient criminal enterprise in the years since the WWF warned of “buyers” doing the rounds of coastal towns.

The volume of the recent seizures indicates a long-running operation, complete with half-way warehouses and consolidation centers. That doesn’t happen overnight. In 2007, Tan was already talking about “local managers”.

Senate Environment Committee chairman, Juan Miguel Zubiri has identified financier of black coral-consignee Exequiel Navarro as Olivia Lim Li. He wants authorities to investigate whether Li and her cohorts have become recalcitrant despite previous criminal charges.

Officials had apparently intercepted in 2008 a similar shipment traced back to Li. So it’s not clear why Toto Suansing, Bureau of Customs Deputy Director, claimed: “First time nag-crop up ang name nito”?)

There is another urgent reason to get to the bottom of these coral and marine life smuggling. Years back, a senior National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) official told me that “impunity” could encourage involvement in other dangerous forms of smuggling.

“If they can carry fishes and other animals, they can carry drugs or even arms,” the NBI official warned.

The Philippines has a serious problem with narcotics and terrorism and the provinces cited by Tan are among the weakest links in the government’s law and order campaign. They are also among the poorest, together with some Eastern Visayas provinces where, “sailors on board a Chinese vessel en route to Hong Kong from South America dumped two tons of cocaine off the central Philippine seas in December 2009”. By July of the following year, more than 500 kilos of cocaine had been turned over by fishermen or seized from those attempting to exploit the bonanza.

Here’s the thing: If crime groups are free to harvest, collect and consolidate corals and marine life, what else have they been stuffing into those huge containers?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

TUCP asks, Is Your School Free From Asbestos

The Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP)has issued a warning in the wake of the Department of Education's 2011 launch of “Brigada, Balik-Eskwela,” the community-based project that aims to spruce up public schools before the start of classes next week.

A release by the trade union warned that the hundreds of thousands of volunteers and teachers joining "Brigada" nationwide could be at risk for "possible exposure to asbestos in old schools."

It asked the DepEd "to supplement its Brigada and or Balik-Eskwela program activities with extra pre-cautionary and safety measures to help people deal with the presence of asbestos and asbestos materials and products in the course of their cutting, sanding, scraping, dusting, renovating, and dismantling old classrooms and school-buildings.

"It is not the intent of this call to dampen or defeat the bayanihan-spirited 'Balik-Eskwela' program. We want this program to succeed but, in so doing, we wish everyone to be safe and protected against possible exposure to the deadly and highly-carcinogenic asbestos dust fibers," a statement by the group said.

It pointed out that asbestos dust fibers are also present in old school building materials, especially the ones built in the 1970s.

"When asbestos is disturbed, dust fibers become very friable. And when these invincible dusts are inhaled even in small amount, anyone exposed will likely suffer an incurable mesothelioma cancer and other cancers caused by inhaling asbestos dust fibers. It can take 10 to 40 years before the problem is realized.

For more information and interviews, contact: Alan A. Tanjusay, ALU Policy Advocacy Officer +63.920.669.9187,, +63.2.922.5575 local 122; TUCP-PGEA Compound Maharlika corner Masaya St., UP Village, Diliman, Quezon City.

Monday, May 23, 2011


Defend the freedom of expression! Remain steadfast in seeking justice for
all victims of the Ampatuan massacre!

On April 12, 2011, a special division of the Court of Appeals (CA) issued a
resolution charging Rowena Paraan, secretary general of the National Union
of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), and Monet Salaysay, widow of
Ampatuan massacre victim Napoleon Salaysay, of contempt.

The five justices of the CA who issued the resolution accused the two
respondents of “foisting bias and corruption” against the court for their
statements quoted in a news article where they expressed concerns on the
slow pace of the case.

The two were also charged after they pointed out that Associate Justices
Danton Bueser and Marlene Gonzales-Sison did not inhibit themselves from
deliberations on the pending petition for release of former Autonomous
Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, one of the principal
accused in the case.

Zaldy Ampatuan has a pending petition before the CA special division for the
court to uphold the April 17, 2010 order of former Department of Justice
Secretary Alberto Agra which cleared him from the massacre.

The two CA justices had earlier voluntarily inhibited themselves from a
similar petition filed by Andal Ampatuan Sr., the family patriarch accused
of ordering the killings.

The contempt charges are alarming and may have a chilling effect especially
on those at the forefront in the struggle to find justice for the victims
including the families of the victims and media organizations.

The charges will impact not only against Rowena Paraan and Monet Salaysay
but on the victims' families, media groups and other organizations and
individuals who remain vigilant against continued efforts of the
perpetuators and brains of the massacre to escape culpability.

Having said this, we will not be cowed into surrendering our right to free
expression for we cannot afford to be silent as we monitor the progress of a
case that is crucial not only because it involves the loss of so many of our
colleagues but even more important, because its outcome may well determine
whether we can continue to consider ourselves a democracy, a nation, a

Many Filipinos are disappointed on how the Ampatuan massacre case has
proceeded a year and a half after 58 persons including 32 media workers were
murdered in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao on November 23, 2009.

A survey of the Social Weather Station conducted on May 4 to 7 showed that
more than half (51 percent) of the people are dissatisfied with how the
government is handling the case, up from 46 percent in November last year.

An overwhelming number of people (75 percent) believe the case is proceeding
"too slow," according to the survey.

More than ever, there is a need to remain vigilant on the conduct and
proceedings of the case amid continued reports of threats against the
victims' families and legal maneuvers of the accused.

We call on the special division of the CA to withdraw the order, uphold the
people's freedom of expression and heed the people's demand for a speedy and
impartial trial.

We urge the families of the victims, colleagues and friends to remain
steadfast in ensuring that justice will not be sabotaged.

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
Tel.: (+632) 3767330
Mobile: 0927.920.3652

4/L FSS Bldg. # 89 Sct. Castor corner
Sct. Tuason Street (near T. Morato Ave),
Bgry. Laging Handa,
Quezon City, Philippines
Tel.: (+632) 3767330



My name is Mika Ortega, eldest daughter of Doc Gerry Ortega who was mercilessly gunned down while buying used clothing in an ukay-ukay store in Puerto Princesa. My father was a broadcaster, anti-corruption crusader and environmentalist.

Tomorrow (May 24) is the fourth month anniversary of his murder. We are still awaiting justice. We know it will be a long process, but we trust that the Department of Justice officials will be objective in their evaluation of evidence.

But we have to be vigilant.

Please join us tomorrow as we commemorate the senseless murder of my father. My mother, brother, Fr. Robert Reyes and Gen. Danny Lim will join us as we bike/walk from the Luneta Grandstand to the Department of Justice then the Senate of the Philipines. Below is the timetable of our activity.

8:45 am - Assembly in front of Quirino Grandstand

9:00 am - Depart for the Department of Justice (DOJ)

9:30 am - ETA at the DOJ
Quick Prayer in front of the DOJ, hopefully inside the compound to avoid causing traffic

9:50 am - Depart for the Senate of the Philippines

10:30 am - ETA Senate of the Philippines

Have letters to the Senate President, Sen. Teofisto Guingona and other Senators received by their respective offices.

11:00 am - Visit to Senate Press Office

Should you have questions, please email me back at this address or call/text me at 0917-5971002.

Thank you and good day.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


(Photo from

1) It allows people to choose the number or children they want to have. None or one – or a dozen. That's FREEDOM. That's RESPECT.

2) Not all medical professionals, not all people believe a sperm and egg touching equals life. Those who don't should be allowed options according to their light.

3) I believe those who wish to limit the number of their children do so not because of selfishness but because of love.

4) Life is not a game of Russian Roulette. Children need to be nurtured.

5) I am against abortion.

6) I believe education and access to different family methods WILL reduce cases of abortion.

7) The RH bill goes beyond just birth control.

8) I believe education will give kids the strength "to just say no."

9) We are a multi-cultural and multi-faith country. My faith is not a license to gag and bind everyone else.

10) The RH bill allows medical professionals to exercise their conscience. If God wanted us to be sheep, we would be bleating. He have us free will; we should trust Him more.

11) I do not think God thinks fealty to his Will (however you interpret this) includes playing blind as a woman bleeds her life away on the gurney.

Much as I support the RH bill, I know it barely skims the surface of a troubled sea. I can only hope that implementation will focus as much on RESPONSIBILITY as on rights.

Technical information will not be enough if power dynamics in a relationship are skewed. RH is not just about babies or STD. It is about people's ability to forge wise and free decisions in the realm of sexuality (which is not just about sex).

And in a sense, the Bishops are right. Raising even just two children could be an impossible task if a family is trapped in poverty and injustice. Those who push for the RH bill SHOULD NEVER forget the other factors needed for a full, productive and dignified life.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

American Idol, Top 5: Lilith rules!

“We want you to be you,” was the Zen-like advice dispensed a long time ago by, of all people, Randy Jackson. Whereupon the seers on the theater floor, in the studios and rehearsal halls, proceeded to give contradictory advice to the Idol wannabes.

Those who tried to please ended up floundering (Jacob, Pia, Haley and Lauren, even if the latter’s never made a trip to the bottom three.) The stubborn ones got adulation (and hate mail) as they proudly flew their banners – James, Scotty and Casey, who went out with a performance that ensures him a career in the jazz/blues field.

Tonight, the Top 5 had two chances to show who they are, what they genre they represent; though really now, with music mixed and matched through the decades, conventions have been broken all around. Zucchero sang with Pavarotti; Willie Nelson, Sting, Eric Clapton have jammed with everyone.

James Durbin has ranged wide, from heavy metal rock, to slow rock, to rock that almost feels like country, to anthems of rebellion and love. Whatever he’s done, whatever the stunt or the time period he chooses to lug onstage, Durbin’s real strength is not his high notes. It is the nakedness of his hunger, not just to win, but also to get love from his audience, his peers and everyone with a beating heart.

Tonight he shows that can be a scary thing. The passion that excites audiences can wreak havoc on artists. The downside of adulation is a deep, deep loneliness, especially for someone who is a big baby, handicapped in ways that have made him the butt of jokes, who early on confessed that it is music that takes him to a safe place. Now he is learning that music can also take away (for days and weeks) from the woman who gave him strength in the first place.

With his buddies gone, life bears heavy on James. He rocked “Closer to the Edge” but there was a strain in his tenor. And there were rough patches in “Without You.” But music history shows that it is never just the voice. Great artists have that but they are above all story-tellers able to show the millions that they sweat, they ache, they suffer – just like us. This James does in so emphatic a manner that we actually feel scared for him.

It is this – the capacity to bare heart and soul – that makes him so much more fascinating than the charming country crooner, Scotty.

Not that Scotty paled beside him tonight. In “Gone”, the young man threw caution to the wind and displayed all the tics and winsome awkwardness and zest – and charisma, and the kind of mad courage that separate him and James from the pack. He’s no devil, despite Steven Tyler’s effort to corrupt him; he’s a most charming, talented kid who loves the crowd and delights in pleasing them – as himself.

In “You Are Always in My Mind,” he reminds us of his uncanny ability to spin a song, to phrase it like a fine, fine actor so that we totally get the story and believe in the message. And again, Scotty shows that what he lacks in wit and smarts he more than makes up for with an intuitive genius that bores down to the core of a song.

Jacob Lusk is destined for ouster tomorrow. There was no rhyme or reason to his choices. “No Air” was indulgent and a disaster. While Jason’s funny moves in past weeks were fun, tonight they were embarrassing. He was a caricature.

You watch Sheryl Crow sing sweetly and then get Jacob whining and then eventually staging a tantrum! It is no way to get any baby of any gender. So he belted out the highest note ever, but a note is not a song.

Lauren Alaina, got some mojo back, and her stylist back in “Flat on the Floor.” She also shows potential as a great stylist. But she is just too young and tentative now, and that face just so blank, that once you open your eyes, it is hard to take her seriously – especially when she is singing “Unchained Melody.” It seemed inappropriate for 16 as she pretended adult passion – and Tyler’s unfortunate adjective, “ripe” didn’t help at all.

But Haley – aaaah, an angry Haley is a woman men from Siberia to the Africa would hunger for – and fear. The judges were unfair in the aftermath of “You and I” – after talking of risks!

And then she showed them with “House of the Rising Sun.” Fierce eyes, fierce vocals and moves that were collectively a giant finger up the you-know-whats of the judges. Rebellion has never been so exciting. If American parents suddenly find in the coming days their girls simmering with barely held contempt for the fairy tales unraveling all around them, they can thank Haley. Best of all, she refused to simper at the belated praise and came back with a sweet sarcasm that children of all ages can relate to.

Haley was the best. Jacob the worst. James will get over his slump and storm back stronger next week – or implode. I am betting it won’t be the later as his angel and BFF will be flying to his side.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

IDOL 6: Interpretation is everything

Jacob Lusk brings joy, style, and a lot of vamp into “Oh No Not My Baby.”

Jacob has taken Randy Jackson’s exhortation in the right spirit. While he stays clear of pained-diva territory, he lets his considerable quirkiness shine in a song that also flows along his moral path. If Jacob seems strangely joyful for a song that warns about infidelity, it’s because there is some kind of redemption at the end of this song. (Well, she/he marries him/her. After that is another story :))

Jacob makes a clever choice departing from the usual fire-and-brimstone theatrics or earnest paeans to brotherhood and understanding. He also brings his birthrights (Motown and jazz and soul) into play. Even the outfit says Jacob is finally playing Jacob – shades of blue and a yellow so bright and cheerful I expected Big Bird to come out of the woodwork. (James has drums; Jacob can have the bird.)

He doesn’t do outlandish faces; I think he’s permanently rid of them. He grooves; while scatting he even attempts some moves from Naima, all perfectly in the spirit of this song. But I am not America and they may still dump him at the bottom tomorrow. If that happens, what Jacob can take away from this is the knowledge that he might as well have great fun shaking those “tail feathers.”

Never believe Lauren Alaina when she says, “Where You Lead” (I will Follow).

How do you solve a problem like Lauren? A powerful, nuanced voice; emotional depth that ranges from A to B (with apologies to the late Bette Davis). Lauren’s idea of bold is shaking her shoulders and hips and flouncing like Daddy Nabokov’s brat.

She ain’t Ruth (whither though goest…), that’s for sure. Lauren’s idea of flexing her budding womanhood is dragging some poor guy up the stairs and then gesturing for him to sit like a tame puppy – and then leaving him there as she sashays around and flirts with the audience. Even when she returns, it takes some time before she remembers there is man-she-has-promised-to-follow.

And since when has she started to pick up the late Pia’s pageant gestures? Aw, Lauren, honey, I’d rather have you blowsy and inappropriately lush than transform into a corpse that sings. The whole thing leaves me cold, but then I’m not Steven Tyler.

Not content with having them individually fight for America’s votes, Idol producers have gotten into the habit of, well, letting individuality shine with more songs. Usually with partners. Does it work? Depends if there’s someone you can gel with.

Haley Reinhart & Casey Abrams lose their cool with “I Feel The Earth Move” I love Casey and Haley when they’re cutting loose. Their earlier duets was impressive, drawing on their biggest strengths. Tonight, they look like corny parents in a time warp, the kind of parents you and I would be ashamed of. Wedding-singer parents. This is corn, not cool.

Until it gets to 1:40. Then everything that follows is worth a standing ovation. Talented. Artistic. But still adolescents where full musicality is concerned. A few great seconds but the performance on a whole is schizophrenic mainly because these two have yet to settle who they really want to be.

Millions will come texting for Scotty McCreery’s “You’ve Got a Friend”.

He escaped landing in the bottom three last week -- his country base apparently voting on the basis of faith and ideological fealty rather than actual performance -- but youngster Scotty apparently took the judges’ criticism to heart.

I never really feared for him this week; Carole King may be “pop” but actually fits the mold of folk singer-songwriters, and that’s but a step away from country. Both are story-telling genres and this is Scotty’s strongest suit, when he’s not ruining it by trying to be arch. But he did take a risk with the iconic “You’ve Got A Friend” because he’s been told to try something new, to surprise, and this is a karaoke and sing-along staple.

He didn’t make a new song. But he made an old song sound fresh, changing notes just enough for a rare showcase of his upper registers. He also tempered the brow-raising or, at least, alternated these with furrows of pain.

Randy’s wrong to demand that Scotty hold on longer to those higher notes. The kid’s a troubadour, not a diva. He clearly has some range but is clearly no power singer. Why settle for a poor imitation of Jacob or James when he can be an evolved Scotty?
Considering the regular Scotty has already a lot going for him, the evolved version – showing some subtlety and maturity, and a very fetching light rasp that will make girls young and old cry –scores big-time. Let me put it this way; Carole’s contemporaries, who may prefer James over Scotty, will give the younger man their grudging respect tonight.

“Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" James Durbin asks.

And the answer is we’ll love you for a long time if you stay the way you are. Which is, unpredictable without losing your core musical identity; as tender as you are brash; and with a basic innocence, and truly infectious passion for music, that brings authenticity to whatever spectacle you choose for the night.

When Ryan announced “Carole King” last Friday, it sounded like a curse. The question on everyone’s mind was how the hell is Durbin going to rock Carole?

Tonight, in one of his less flashy performances, he throws down the gauntlet. Forget “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. This is where Durbin shows he has the musical chops to transform pop into “emo rock” (as Randy famously said of David Cook) and thrill even without props and Tyler’s wardrobe discards.

Pitchy at times? After one strum for pitch, James does the entire first verse acapella and nails everything, his voice robust yet sweet.

He then breaks into rock and everything is icing, except James refuses to coast and takes us into a musical journey that is a celebration of a mix of music and talent and sheer delight in the joy of living.

Lauren and Scotty have the unfortunate lack of singing a boring duet right after James. Do not ask me what it was. The only thing I recall is an exchange during the interview with Ryan. “He’s kinda cute,” says the simpering Lauren. “Duh. We’re like brother and sister,” huffs Scotty. Okay, maybe the duh was absent but his face said it all. Not very gentlemanly, Scotty! But that probably earned you the eternal loyalty of the hopeful tweens.

"Hi-De-Ho” showcases Casey Abrams at his best, except for those grunts that are best left to perverts.

Hi de ho, hi de hi/ Gonna get me a piece of the sky/ Gotta find me some o’ that old sweet roll/ A singin’/ Hi de hi de hi de hi de ho…Once I met the devil – he was mighty slick/ Tempted me with worldly goods/ And said you could have your pick/ But when he laid the paper on me/ And he showed me where to sign/ I said, “Thank you very kindly/ but I’m in too great a need of mind.”

It’s Casey-turned-Frank and then flying into blues heaven. He can't strut to save his life but who cares? When Casey jams with the girls, you can see them wanting to throw their talented selves into his not-too-svelte arms. It is a bravura performance that could easily tip into godawful theatrics but is transformed into what real blues ought to be -- fearsome because its shows wickedness at its most delicious.

Jimmy Iovine said Casey loves living on the edge, which probably explains that nervous stomach. A less artistic (read, crazy) singer would have turned this into vaudeville. Casey, with his brilliant reading, turns in a performance that reminds me of Robbie Williams at his cheeky best. And it is the kind of song that suits Casey best because he has character for four guys that we actually forget that his voice is not exceptional. Now, that’s artistry.

Haley Reinhart is “Beautiful” but if she wants to stay on, she has to draw blood from the first note. Randy is right; the first part was good but not crazy good. Tyler is wrong and not just because God hasn’t yet decided to come back as a slim blonde with drop-dead gams.

It’s a performance in two parts. The first part is “matronic”, a chirpy matron’s breakfast ditty. There is nothing wrong with a chirpy matron; millions of men beg to have one. And Haley does get it right; this is a song written for a woman of a certain age. It’s just that chirpy matrons do not win competitions like Idol. And I doubt that Carole King was thinking of chirpy when she penned this.

JLo is right; Haley’s voice IS special. The last part was spectacular . At least, the voice was. But the facial expression and that gesture; what was this, a Disney camp for feminists? There’s time for joyful insouciance but this is a song that, unfortunately, cannot be rid of angst. That she lacks the capacity to show angst in song is Haley’s tragedy, because her quips have shown an intelligence that can meet Casey barb for sardonic barb.

The definition of odd is a duet by James and Jacob. The definition of good sport is the same guys laughing at themselves and their joint nightmare. The definition of chutzpah is taking a ridiculous task like singing duet on "I'm Into Something Good" and storming out thumbing their noses at bad luck and stupid producers. It was great farce and the long applause showed the audience got it. It will earn them more votes, especially since they have the panting horde a direct view of JLo’s gorgeous assets.

From the top: James, Scotty, Casey, Jacob, Haley and Lauren

Who should be in the bottom three: Haley, Lauren and Jacob.
Who could be in the bottom three: Haley, Lauren and Jacob. Maybe Casey, if enough prudes and musical illiterates choose to text for the country kids.
Who should go: Lauren
Who could go: Jacob or Haley. Probably Jacob.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Idol: Top 7 sing current (And James takes it fast, fast forward)

Whatever made Idol’s producers think we want another peek into has-beens? Steven, I love you, cuss words and all, but no, no, I’m sure 101% of your audience is not sorry for having voted this gang of six off.

The song is a disaster, almost mocking the would-be divas and turning Mr. Ladies’ man into a caricature of himself. Rock stars, my foot. No harmonies, voices all forgettable – including the divine Pia who has the misfortune of being made to jerk beside the flying Naima.

I’m not too sure the feature (Idols talking about fellow Idols) worked for everyone. It worked for James, who not only shows he’s a good sport but also displays a good-natured, almost deadpan humor that could smooth over the unease from some of his post-performance posturing . Stephano’s fan base only have more reasons to vote for him – the image of him slooowly baring his bod by the pool is indeed delicious. Lauren is presented as a genuinely nice, if slightly madcap girl, with the gift of laughing (nervously) at herself.

Casey, as he usual, walks a fine line – showing comic flair that should light up some intelligent big screen or boob tube comedy soon. But that wit could prove too sharp for Middle America, and soccer moms probably gasped at that slap he gave James. Haley doesn’t come out too well, a bit too arch and cutting. The feature on Scotty doesn’t offer any surprise. His remarks about the others, however, show the slightest hint of mean; that could tarnish his awshucks image a bit. As for Jacob, I am just praying that “diva” doesn’t do him in.

You have to love Jimmy Iovine, gruffness and bleeped out words included. After last week’s rebellion, he comes back with the wry but proud look of a kung fu master who’s just been bested by his wards.

Tonight he combines hard-nosed industry smarts with genuine caring. It’s funny that he reserves the warmest hugs for the stubborn James and Casey. His exasperation over Stephano actually results in puppy-eyes suddenly becoming a shark. And the frustrated, almost despairing look in his eyes as he talks of young Lauren pulling back actually wants me to be proven wrong about the younger blonde’s pedestrian act.

So, for the real important stuff:

Scotty McCreery sings “Swinging” like a dirty old man. And that’s being kind.

I’ve loved Scotty since those first deep notes rolled out of the young, saner sibling of the Alfred E. Neuman. He’s done a good job giving some spin into those old country hymns. But tonight, the only things I dig are the camel jacket and boots.

Scotty morphs from quirky into slightly scary. I’m itching to do some musical research to understand why James Durbin’s tics go away when he sings while Scotty, who’s perfectly normal if somewhat dopey in real time, becomes a spastic clown. The lyrics of the LeAnn Rimes song and Scotty’s expressions collide in a chilling mix. In more innocent times we’d dismiss the notion of a 17-year old pedophile, but in a world that has turned murky, one song changes poor Scotty into your friendly local pervert.

“There’s a little boy in our neighborhood/ her name is Charlie Johnson, and she’s really looking good/ I had to go to see him, so I called her on the phone/ I walked over to her house…and we were swingin’, yeah now we were swingin/ Yeah lil Charlie she’s as pretty as the angels sing…”

Tomorrow, Charlie will be six feet under and the whodunit ain’t your village priest. That basso in the song’s second half only makes it worse. Instead of the school’s secret psychopath, we get the evil twin of Family Guy Herbert.

James Durbin can send the hordes into “Uprising”. And he rams home the truth – that shamans, not generals, are the force that makes the world go round.

I don’t know what James sniffs; whatever, I want some of it. Anything that can transform a neurologically-challenged kid into a post-apocalypse high priest should be bottled and sold for top dollar.

That outfit deserves a museum. It’s almost what Hitler would have worn had he decided to avenge Germany’s humiliation by straight-on hurling its armies against those of the world powers, instead of making a detour to round-up folk who wouldn’t fight. Garb and performance – it’s a spectacle worthy of Carlos CastaƱeda if he’d chucked the drugs and abandoned the desert for the wild Celtic glens, and then lived long to survive Big Brother and Armageddon.

“Rise up and take the power back, it's time that/ The fat cats had a heart attack, you know that/ Their time is coming to an end, we have to/ Unify and watch our flag ascend, so come on/”

It’s a wise choice because it allows James to alternate between low chants and the High Mass tenor of a renegade seer.

“They will not force us/ They will stop degrading us/ They will not control us/ We will be victorious, so come on”

The Celtic Muse group recognized a brother. They also know how to acknowledge talent. Their dare to transpose upwards paid off. When James hits the chorus, his vocals shimmer with a tempered rage that spirals into piercing yells for blood. And from all corners of the vales and badlands of America, an army of youth (and boomers who yearn for their past) is gearing up for this new pied piper.

The ovation is tremendous, sustained. And James deserves every second of it.

Haley Reinhart sinks while “Rolling in the Deep”

I am still mad at the judges’ disrespect for Haley, which is clear pandering to lowest common denominator -- Lauren’s simpering Lolita. But I frown at hearing Haley announce her choice, an Adele song, remembering how Randy once urged this on Thia, who’s to the far right of Haley in terms of voice and temperament.

Truth is, I love the happy Haley best (Bennie and the Jets). She’s more sardonic than angst-sy, which Adele very much is. (Randy’s right; Thia should have sung Adele.)

My heart sinks as Haley starts out. It’s almost… Disney, mixed with JLo’s schoolmarm mom. (The dress is a downer, too, and not even Haley’s sexy bod can salvage this Ms-Secretary-trying-to-impress outfit, complete with conservative pumps.)

“Finally, I can see you crystal clear, Go ahead and sell me out and a I'll lay your ship bare, See how I'll leave with every piece of you…”

Sorry, I am not buying this. There is no point spinning this into some witty anthem of defiance. Nor can I feel heat when she sings of fire. Also, sitting seems to deprive Haley of air more than prancing around the stage does.

She gets better when the song turns, um, aspirational. "Throw your soul through every open door,/ Count your blessings to find what you look for,/ Turn my sorrow into treasured gold,/You'll pay me back in kind and reap just what you've sown,

There’s a little hint of a sweet yodel and a very short jazzy run and plenty of her trademark growls. But the vamping seems a bit out of place because there’s nothing in the song that calls for (re)wooing some SOB back into your bed.

I liked the vocals; the interpretation is very Haley but not quite in synch with the song. I’m praying Lauren ends up sooo boring that America has no choice but to send her back to the classroom.

Jacob Lusk gets real with “Dance with My Father”. Randy Jackson is dead wrong. But then the guy who egged Pia Toscano to make a fool of herself with “uptempo” probably mistakes bombast for passion. He also underestimates the Idol audience.

After the very early wobble, there is nothing wrong, not a single note wrong, in Jacob’s take on Luther Vandross’ ode. There are a lot of things good and gorgeous with this performance: the hot suit; the choice to sit down and, thus, restrain the tendency to over emote; the sorrow that never trips over into pathos. Jacob’s talent for storytelling coming into full bloom.

"Back when I was a child/ Before life removed all the innocence/ My father would lift me high/ And dance with my mother and me and then/ Spin me around til' I fell asleep/ Then up the stairs he would carry me/ And I knew for sure I was loved/ If I could get another chance/ Another walk, another dance with him/ I'd play a song that would never ever end/ How I'd love, love, love to dance with my father again, ooh
Sometimes I'd listen outside her door/ And I'd hear how my mother cried for him/ I pray for her even more than me/ I pray for her even more than me/ I know I'm praying for much too much/ But could you send back the only man she loved?/ I know you don't do it usually/ But dear Lord she's dying to dance with my father again/ this is all I ever dream"

Jacob does justice to some of Vandross’ best lyrics. He keeps it simple while singing of father and son and wisely reserves the pain – all the more lacerating for his restraint – for the woman in their lives. So, we didn’t get more than a slice of Jacob’s mind-blowing high range. So what? “Lettin go” would have cheapened the song. We got the most important thing: proof that, yes, he IS marketable.

I’ll tell you what will land Jacob in the bottom three. “Diva” (no matter that the kids didn’t seem insulting). And diva-ish whining. You do NOT make excuses, Jacob. Bad, bad form. Once more, it’s the spoken words that do him in. (Please, America, forgive him.)

Casey Abrams and his talent “Makes it Harder Breathe”.

THAT is Maroon 5? Casey ripping into the song during rehearsal turns it into something very different (and more likable). Okay, nobody upends a song like David Cook does, but Casey shows his range very well here. Plus, he brings another instrument to the stage – and rocks the guitar.

There’s not too much hamming (and I doubt Casey will ever give it up). I love the little scat he does; it strangely works with the rock vibe. He marches like a jerky puppet around the stage. I’m not too sure I get the joke but the cult of Casey (as Steven calls it) will probably find it funny.

He has cheek, Casey does. And I like that it’s not offensive, more like high jinks. And there isn’t a man out there who won’t give him props for daring to kiss the goddess herself.

Every gal wants to get “Closer” to Stefano Langone.

Once more, Jimmy drives the wild-card survivor hard. But you see the point. More important, Stefano’s flashing eyes shows he gets it, too.

I don’t think he’ll be in the bottom three tomorrow. This was a confident, foxy, absolutely dangerous Stefano. I hardly remember the vocals. It was good, very good. But seriously, who cares. Tonight was all about the moves. The PACKAGE. That slow dance sent the entire expanded sisterhood in the Espina living room whooping. The cougars have someone to ease the sting of missing Paul. Stephano’s shortness won’t matter at all, not with those abs, shoulders and those biceps. And that unbelievable smile.

Nah, he’s not my type. I like them wild and crazy. That doesn’t mean one can’t appreciate the doggedness and charm of the Italian bantam.

Lauren Alaina must be pushed into believing she’s “Born to Fly.

Terrible dress. So-so song. Beautiful voice. The song doesn’t even take off, though it doesn’t crash either. It’s competent, but with the magic missing. And at this point, even with her front-runner status, Lauren will need an extra dose of pixie dust to scatter across America.

Best to worse: James Durbin, Jacob Lusk, Stephano Langone, Casey Abrams, Haley Reinhart, Lauren Alana, Scotty McCreery.
Who should be in the bottom three: Haley, Lauren, Scotty.
Who could be in the bottom three: Jacob, Haley, Lauren. (Scotty, if enough tweens and cougars move over to Stephano’s camp.)
Who should go home: Scotty
Who could go home: Haley or Jacob

Thursday, March 31, 2011



Pia Toscano finally shows some soul. The dazzling beauty has always been hampered by an overly-controlled demeanor (reacting with nothing but some rearrangement of her hair do while the world whooped at the wrestling antics of Hulk Hogan, Durbin and Seacrest). Her voice is the best in that lot, full and powerful and soaring. The voice is hot – everything else cold, from the ‘couture’ clothes to the by-the-number hand gestures to her spiels in front of the judges and backstage. Perfection can grate. You can only appreciate heaven when you’ve had a taste of hell. And for all that she apes Mariah and Celine, Pia lacks the vulnerable core the two divas display in their power ballads.

Until tonight. Emerging from that wall of blazing sunset, she is stunning in a fitted, sequined gold dress – drop-dead sexy and classy, especially with that walk. (Which makes me suspect that she may be saving the dancing for the latter weeks; she’s got a dancer’s back.) “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” is a tough, tough song. Aside from Elton, Oleta Adams has a stunning version of this ballad. There’s no question of Pia nailing it. But for the first time, she allows a rawness to her voice. “… although I search myself, it’s always someone else I see. I'd just allow a fragment of your life to wander free. But losing everything is like the sun going down on me.” And you believe that bit of anguish is real, the price for the perfection this young princess strives for. This is where song and personality finally gels. For once, I believe she can really win.
Jacob sings it straight! And slays it. The other diva in the group sings another song of angst, “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” and it’s all you can do to stop from rushing the stage and taking the wounded one in your arms.

He’s a serious student, Jacob is, and that Jimmy is one heck of a teacher. Not only does Jacob marshal his gift like the treasure is it (instead of hurling it helter skelter into the winds); he has actually inserted nuance into his song.

Now, nuance and Jacob have never been the best of friends; this is a tremendous achievement. Plus, he has even learned to tame those distracting facial expressions and the kitschy gestures best suited for a cabaret act – and that is probably an even bigger victory. Because it leads to a discovery – this young man is actually handsome and now that he’s done with mugging, you are pulled into those eyes where tears remain unshed. (Oh and I love the touch of red and that blazer’s fit. Getting there, my friend; getting there.)
Casey shows his tender side. And is sexier than ever. Okay, so it’s probably not easy to see a bearded, chubby guy with a nervous ulcer as a diva. But Casey has really behaved as one so far, just as enamored of his talent as Pia and Jacob are and as eager to clobber our heads with this.

The thing Casey has learned since his near-death experience is that while the funnies are a way into a lot of girls’ hearts, every romantic out there wants to see his tender side. For the long run, you do not want some Nirvana-channeling maniac or some lecher who swivels and humps. Tonight, Casey became the man you want to bring home to Mama – and not just because Mama loves Elton.

He uses only a piano for “Your Song” and the slight slouch says he’ll be slowly drawing us in. Gently, gently like a master fisher. There is that single rasp that makes you gasp and then the smile, sweet and sad and proud at the same time, as he croons, “My gift is my song and this one’s for you.” He gives us a little taste of the snarl, now as skillfully trimmed as his hair, and slides into the last line with a serenity that you totally buy. He sings that last word and softly, smoothly glides up the scale and the smile that breaks out is all about joy and nothing about pride, and it tells us Casey’s back.


Hailey Reinhart sizzles with "Bennie and the Jets". Tonight the former bottom dweller was as Casey started out weeks back – loose and sexy, using humor and impish delight rather than pouts and smoldering looks. The latter would have made a disaster of that piano-posturing-ala-fabulous-baker-boys. There is nothing pretentious about Hailey, however, and now that she knows the art of the earpiece and the even greater art of having fun, she simply sizzles.

For once, too, the costume fits the performance. A slim, lace fitted shift with lavender hues that shoot through the light framing her Boticelli hair. Its seeming demureness makes the whole thing wonderfully subversive. This is one very successful mix of contrasts. The lovely alto growls then sails blithely into rock-star levels, before dropping gently back to gal-next-door dulcet tones. It’s bad girl alright, but a mellow bad girl, gently laughing at the antics of peers -- or, in her case, most probably parents – not some rebel hell-bent on nihilism.

From the start of the rockin’ on the piano – “Say, Candy and Ronnie, have you seen them yet/ But they're so spaced out, B-B-B-Bennie and the Jets…”
Hailey is all sinuous grace and laid-back jive. I'm amazed that JLo and company once called her ‘awkward’.

I can imagine Steven slobbering in his seat as many guys were around America. "You sing sexy!" It's just that GP rating that stops Tyler from rushing Hailey on stage. The best thing about Hailey’s appeal is its accessibility – that’s not to be taken as easy. Plus, Hailey’s the kind of sexy that women can like. When so many of us are hyperventilating over the guys, every sister’s vote counts.
James Durbin rips through Saturday Night and it’s more than alright. Now, lessee, what did James have to learn? Little pitch wobbles gone, check. He’s shown he can jive, now he gives a little grease lightning, of the 70s era. Ripped jeans, t-shirt, boots, and what seems to be a modified Mohawk minus the shaving.

Starts from the audience, swaggers down the stairs, leaps, prowls the floor, goes back up, hurls the mike stand, leaps on the piano, jumps down and then flips on his back and gyrates. Whatever disabilities he has, physical mobility and grace aren’t among these. All that, and he's as musical as ever, nary a rough patch as he pierces the stratosphere.

He somehow tamps down the after-performance hamming, so that’s probably a lesson learned. Don’t alienate people by acting too confident; though really, with James, it’s just like a kid let loose in a candy store. And bless him for his faux pax.
Scotty sticks with Country Comforts. It’s a big part of Scotty’s charm that he can make fun of his less-than-astronaut-level brains, though I seriously doubt that's even true, given the canny way he’s transformed challenges into so many brownie points. So, the athletic lad from the Texan mansion read “country” and cantered off with the song, coming out with the guitar, giving another masterfully-phrased performance – he instinctively knows when to speak-sing.

Shoutout to Granny can’t hurt him – and sticking with those verses despite the advice will make everyone from the suburbs onwards loving him. Plus, he’s holding those higher (yeah, it’s relative) notes better, weaving them into the song instead of treating them as levels to reach. And there is a sly, quiet humor there that says Scotty knows the act can be hokey but he’ll give it as much dignity as he can muster. Which is amazing for 17 years old. Which is why everyone from 7 to 70 loves the guy.


Naima Adedapo is Still Standing. I loved that she had the guts to turn Elton’s song into reggae and can’t for my life understand the judges’ objections. But I’m afraid America may agree with them.
Lauren Alaina is no Candle in the Wind. Well, she did bring softness and left some of the brass behind. Nothing wrong with her voice. It’s just that the facial expressions didn’t quite match the song. And the simpering with Ryan… aaah, but she’s 16, for god’s sake. And they screamed for her. She’s not going.
Thia Megia mislays Daniel. What are we to do with Thia? Great voice; she can even get the nuance and emotions right -- much, much better in this department than Lauren. But that face and her movements are just so bland she doesn’t even get off the ground. There is no presence. It’s a pity. If she’s around next week, she should ditch that hair and get a pixie cut.
Stephano Langone and his not-so Tiny Dancer. He’s still beautiful. He opened his eyes tonight. He has a really cute butt. He has good high notes. He has a really cute butt. He needs to enunciate better. He has a really cute butt. He doesn’t quail under the whip. He really has a cute butt.
Paul McDonald wasn’t the Rocket Man. I love Paul and still want him around. But this one fell flat. These kids should listen to Jimmy. They really should.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Wonks chugging coffee by the barrel in Washington and London all-nighters will probably welcome this news: Even geniuses revered down the ages can be taken down a peg or two.

And so they can take heart that while Libyan cities burn, and Egypt’s not-quite-there-yet democracy totters on yet another cliff, and Middle East gazillionaires throw money at their people as fast as they haul the same to jail, a demigod is undergoing a shakedown in the rarefied corridors of science.

Biologists at the University of Sidney say studies they’ve conducted indicate that Charles Darwin -- Lucifer’s son according to Creationists -- was wrong in his theory about invasive species.

That, instead of being absorbed by host communities – as marauding humans are wont to do – amphibian invaders are more likely to establish themselves.

So do, apparently, the Johnnies-come-lately of the digital world where “yesterday” is considered old.

The phrase “a battery of lawyers” may go the way of the dodo if scientists continue to pump up software and hardware.

Already, analysis that took months and millions of dollars a few decades back – we’re talking 1.5 million documents -- can now be had for less than $100,000. That’s probably not too bad a thing. Think the charming “Watson” of Jeopardy fame and you’ll see the merits of interface sans the BO and bad breath of nerds lost in the depth and breadth of libraries.

“Some programs go beyond just finding documents with relevant terms at computer speeds. They can extract relevant concepts — like documents relevant to social protest in the Middle East — even in the absence of specific terms, and deduce patterns of behavior that would have eluded lawyers examining millions of documents.”

Not sure why the article stops at lawyers. The paragraph just cited could as well make journalists an extinct species, too.

Except that, maybe, people are just so darn ornery. They live to embarrass scribes and talking heads and other seers -- even when we do the job fine, thank you, in the era of the breaking news, where forecast coverage waivers tend to last half a day.

Trouble is a relative word. Those of us troubled by clergy threatening fire and brimstone on users of condoms and other aids meant to prevent a life yet to come, should probably take heart that their brethren may be taking greater heat.

Unlike dirty little secrets of the bed, however, secrets of the purse are a little harder to hide in places where the rich and famous like to announce their works of charity.

Which is how the whole of Mexico learned that a huge popsicle-colored church in Pachuca was partly built through donations by Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, described by the New York Times describes as “the executioner” and “commander of the ruthless crime syndicate called the Zetas.”

“Long dependent on gifts, but often less than discriminating about where they come from, the church is grappling with its role as thousands die in turf wars among rich, and sometimes generous, criminals.”

Yeah? Jose Rizal could have told them that.

But the church isn’t the only entity in bed with feral dogs. And it’s not just Wikileaks that’s dragging rot into the light, though it’s a pity that Hilary Clinton forgot Julian Asange’s baby as she praised a lil brave outfit that puts “real news” out there.

Clinton: "Al Jazeera has been the leader in that are literally changing people's minds and attitudes. And like it or hate it, it is really effective. In fact viewership of al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it's real news. You may not agree with it, but you feel like you're getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners."

Gotcha, ma’am.

Al Jazeera airs arguments, in between very dramatic footage that more delicate Western agencies forego. ‘Leaks’ just exposes classified information that everyone can then parse till kingdom come. As opposed to controlling armies that can strafe everyone till kingdom come.

Bodies turn to dust. Words live forever, especially on Google, when “erased” posts from 2007 can come back to haunt its author. And so Charlie’s Libyan papa merits “orange” despite his jets and bombs and little germs cooked up in secret labs while Asange, who can’t even control two gals, gets a big, big red.

Al Jazeera, Leaks – and Jon Stewart. They kinda go together.

Oil-rich Muslim royalty spawned the first. The platinum blonde, who looks like a bastard of some Aryan prince, continues the Aussie tradition of churning out charming thespian rogues. And Stewart, of course, is the equal-opportunity Jewish smartass. The thing they do best is unnerve the powers-that-be though Stewart in the age of Obama is struggling to remain outside of the establishment that loves him.

The venerable NY Times, of course, has slipped a couple of times in the last decade or so, from mistakenly publishing literary fiction on its new pages to falling for tales of weapons of mass destruction,

It’s still a great read but the newspaper has fierce critics. And so its smug story on how the Mideast flare-up is hurting the Russians got an angry reply from the Angry Arab News Service.

Says The Times: “Russia will lose $4 billion because of the unrest in Libya and the subsequent United Nations embargo, Sergei V. Chemezov, the director of the Russian state company in charge of weapons exports…

Over all, unrest in the Middle East has toppled or threatens to topple several governments that are longtime customers of Russian military industries, Mr. Chemezov said, and the total losses could reach $10 billion.”

Fine; after all it’s quoting a Russian not some American redneck or a senile retiree from the Cold War.

But here’s the Angry Arab’s riposte:

“Of course, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and Bahrain purchased far more weapons from US than from Russia. Even Libya:
"Libya also has obtained weaponry from the European defense contractor BAE Systems; the American defense company Raytheon; a branch of Saab of Sweden; and Beretta, the Italian gunsmith, according to Jane’s."

This made me whistle -- until I discovered that pressing “Jane’s” took me back to the Times. So much for blasting propaganda. Everything comes around.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


The very existence of flame-throwers proves that some time, somewhere, someone said to themselves, You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I'm just not close enough to get the job done. -- George Carlin

FIREFIGHTERS are just the opposite. They hate fire. They live to put out fires. Every firefighter's wet dream is a world without flames. Other people flirt with fire. Firefighters go to war, sometimes zigging and zagging through inferno to save people.

Sometimes they die. Those who don't have other dangers to confront.

The Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD) cites studies that show firefighters at risk for various kinds of cancers, more so than most of the population.

IOHSAD executive director Noel Colina said the November, 2006 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine discussed a study of 100,000 firefighters by the University of Cincinnati, which found members of the profession face "greater risk of getting cancer - including testicular, prostate, skin, brain, rectum, stomach and colon cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, multiple myeloma and malignant melanoma."

This was further affirmed in October, 2007 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as it classified occupational exposure as firefighter as Class 2B carcinogen or “possibly carcinogenic to human”. According to the IARC, firefighters are often exposed to toxic combustion products, including benzene and formaldehyde, which are released during fires.

“The study tells us that toxic compounds, aside from being released into the air, can also accumulate on the clothing and equipment of firefighters, which can cause elevated risks of of testicular cancer, prostate cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma,” stated Colina.

The Bureau of Fire Protection of the Philippines had 14,995 personnel nationwide in 2005, according to Colina. These do not include the thousands of volunteer firefighters. The Association of Volunteer Fire Chiefs and Firefighters of the Philippines, Inc., founded in 1987, has 35 volunteer fire brigades with around 1,500 firefighters and paramedics and a complement of around 100 firetrucks, water tankers and rescue units.

I'm actually surprised at how small the number of volunteers seems to be, because they're who we see swarming all over a fire scene while residents wait for the arrival of government units. I'm also not too sure if the Association is a unified body of volunteers. There used to be separate volunteer groups -- by the Federation and Amity; listening to elders discuss the political and philosophical differences of both groups was an interesting past time.

There is no question that cancer is a serious problem among firefighters. It is serious enough for the United States Fire Administration (USFA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to launch a study to examine the potential for increased risk of cancer among firefighters.

The announcement, released April 2010, said:

This multi-year USFA supported NIOSH study will include over 18,000 current and retired career firefighters. The project will improve upon previously published firefighter studies by significantly increasing the number of individuals for whom health data will be analyzed. A larger study provides greater statistical reliability. The study will also improve on past studies by analyzing not only deaths from cancer, but also the incidence of certain cancers that have higher survival rates than others, such as testicular and prostate cancer, as well as deaths from causes other than cancer. This will improve researchers' ability to estimate risk for various cancers and to compare risk of cancer with risks for other causes of death.

Cancers aren't just the only health risks that firefighters face. More common is cardiovascular disease. This problem is alarming enough to have prompted the publication, "Preventing Fire Fighter Fatalities Due to Heart Attacks and Other Cardiovascular Events" by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

"Sudden cardiac death represents the most common cause of a fire fighter fatality," according to the publication. It said a study that spanned 1995 to 2004 showed that sudden cardiac death accounted for 44% (440/1006) of on-duty fire fighter fatalities.

In addition to personal factors that may predispose an individual to coronary artery disease or other cardiovascular diseases, occupational exposures can significantly increase a firefighter's risk, notes the free online encyclopaedia, Wiki.

For instance, carbon monoxide, present in nearly all fire environments, and hydrogen cyanide, formed during the combustion of paper, cotton, plastics, and other substances containing carbon and nitrogen, interfere with the transport of oxygen in the body. Hypoxia can then lead to heart injury. In addition, chronic exposure to particulate matter in smoke is associated with atherosclerosis. Noise exposures may contribute to hypertension and possibly ischemic heart disease. Other factors associated with firefighting, such as stress, heat stress, and heavy physical exertion, also increase the risk of cardiovascular events.

Colina says, "the government, through its appropriate agency, should inform and educate firefighters of the risk they face." (There was nothing though about cardiovascular health in the IOHSAD press release.)

IOHSAD backs the recommendations of the International Myeloma Foundation on cancer prevention among firefighters:

1) Firefighters should have their turnouts professionally cleaned routinely, and to avoid wearing or storing their turnouts in fire station living areas

2) Firefighters should shower as soon as they return from each fire to remove the soot and ash

3) Fire departments review and update guidelines for use of personal protective equipment (PPE)

4) It is advisable for departments to equip fire engines with exhaust removal systems; if not available, avoid idling the engines indoors without adequate ventilation

Whether the BFP can hew to these standards, given the sorry state of equipment of its crews, is anybody's guess. It's hard to imagine close attention being given these serious prescriptions when the biggest headache among firefighters these days is finding high enough ladders for multi-story buildings and/or long enough hoses to reach homes in communities where streets are nothing more than alleys.

(For reference: Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development, 406 Ramagi Building, 1081 Pedro Gil Avenue, Paco 1007, Manila, Philippines, + 63 2 521 1216)

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Malou Mangahas and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) should be congratulated. It is a singular honor, this privilege of sharing with the nation former Armed Forces chief of staff Angelo Reyes’ musings on mortality.

I must admit feeling bewildered, however, by the title, “A warrior comes clean in last battle for honor”. I am afraid it gives the late Mr. Reyes too much credit. And Mr. Reyes already does much of that, starting with the implied claim of having lived – and died – with honor.

I must have been reading dictionaries from Mars. After reading the article and transcript of what will forever stand as Reyes’ last testament, I still don’t get it.

Admitting that something stinks in the Armed Forces (despite the big number of honorable men that serve it) isn't exactly like gifting us with the Hope Diamond. Everyone knows about the stench, including and especially the men on the bloodied fields who make do without the privileges Mr. Reyes' enjoyed.

(Mr. Reyes famously said he was not rapacious, was not an extortionist. What people really wanted was a clear answer as to whether or not he accepted P50 million in pabaon and a monthly allowance of P10 million. What people will remember is Mr. Reyes saying he does not remember accepting. His last testament shows no sign of a reinvigorated memory.)

I appreciate the fact that the Mr. Reyes wanted to accept liability for something. I appreciate that he did not flinch at “giving up something” – his life, as it happens. I appreciate that he admitted not being guiltless.

Mr. Reyes mused:
“Honor, truth, but there must be justice. And justice can be served if laws are applied evenly and well – not favoring the rich and powerful. I hope my case/situation will not be used as something that would bring closure to the issue of military corruption. The fight to reform the system and the entire country must continue; the sad part is that they are selectively targeting individuals and institutions.”

That is hardly an original thought. It is, in fact, the cry heard daily in the hundreds and, sometimes, thousands of posts on Facebook and elsewhere. It is the cry that rises daily from ramshackle eateries and coffee shops, jeepney stops, factories and farmlands.

Millions of Filipinos despair of the filth that chokes off routes to development in this country. Millions wonder if we will ever cleanse the nation’s arteries of this plague. Yet the same millions, even just by speaking out, show a willingness to continue with what sometimes feels like a thankless, hopeless task.

Mr. Reyes could have done the nation a great service. He could have fought the last great fight to show genuine remorse for presuming regularity and accepting a “grossly imperfect system” – which is an understatement.

But coming clean isn’t done by sketching vague WHATs, and barely there HOWs.

Of all people, a general knows that victory must necessarily start with a map with the right information. That is never any guarantee, of course; there are too many volatile factors. But it sure would help clarify the playing field.

Instead, we are left with murky directions, other than what we already know: That the rot did not start nor end with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. And even that he couldn’t relay in clear, concise terms.

So, forgive me for not being impressed.

It may be that we ordinary folk may have a different, erroneous definition of honor.
Maybe, as we have all been told directly or obliquely this past week, we ordinary folk have a missing gene that blocks us from understanding that suicide is a heroic act of saving so many "brave and honorable" – and stunningly wealthy --men and women and the institution they serve.

Maybe there IS something wrong in the genetic makeup of ordinary folk -- including tens of thousands of soldiers who face death daily. Why is it so hard for us to understand that it is to the troops’ interest that they are kept ignorant of how billions of pesos -- meant to sustain them in the trenches and fetid jungle trails and godforsaken hamlets -- ended up in the bank accounts and mansions of a few men and women?

So many men of stratospheric IQs, including former President Fidel V. Ramos, want us to know that truth can be a dangerous thing, that it would be cruel to let a man torn apart by bullets know that these killer ammo originally came from boxes marked “DND” of “AFP” or “PNP”

The soldiers know about conversion. We know about conversion; Fe Zamora wrote a darn good story on it a couple of years back. We know conversion is a shortcut. We know it is sometimes used to save lives and ensure battlefield victories.

Now we all know that conversion gives but crumbs to the troops. Now we know the bulk of conversion proceeds are used to purchase apartments from Donald Trump, mansions in exclusive subdivisions, dozens of shopping trips and god knows how many twirls from a DI.

Unfortunately, all we get from Mr. Reyes are crumbs of the truth. He may have set himself free, but it’s a long road to freedom for the rest of us. Mr. Rabusa has his work cut out. As do the friends who finally convinced him to come clean (though we’d like to also hear an accounting of Rabusa’s wealth).

Mr. Reyes spent a lot of time talking of EDSA 2 and the woes this has visited on him. I hope it gives him some comfort to know that the only reason Jinggoy Estrada ended up playing a prominent role is, because those who supposedly trod the straight and narrow balked from the challenge of helping an institution come clean and confront the rot from within. The coming days, hopefully, will tell us WHY.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


“Extraordinary rendition and irregular rendition describe the abduction and extrajudicial transfer of a person from one nation to another.”

The phrase clearly sports a different meaning from just the legal term “rendition.”

The "extraordinary" kind, much in fashion due to US pressure following 9/11, was/is a method of circumventing other nations’ sensitivities to such problematic concepts as human rights and civil liberties.

It plays this way:
• If the citizens of Nation A frown on torture, but their government will look the other way, as
• Nation B (which may or may not condone torture but doesn’t want a propaganda fallout) kidnaps a suspect (usually under custody of Nation A law enforcers) and,
• Brings him to Nation C, which is known for its enthusiastic – and official -- use of the darker arts.

Whatever information comes out of this caper is shared by all three nations but often on the discretion of Nation B, which also unofficially directs the interrogation.

Ordinary rendition, on the other hand, simply means “a surrender or handing over of persons or property, particularly from one jurisdiction to another.

Wiki adds:
For criminal suspects, extradition is the most common type of rendition. Rendition can also be seen as the act of handing over, after the request for extradition has taken place.

Some countries, especially in the Scandinavian region, will refuse to extradite suspects to countries that a) practice torture or b) impose the death penalty. Simply put, they extend to alleged criminals the same respect they confer on their citizens.

In other countries, including the United States, a suspect sought for extradition can use the host nation’s justice system to contest that same order.

Until recently, I thought the Philippines, in theory, at least, followed the more civilized practices covering aliens who find themselves in trouble – although journalist friends have joked that the worst thing an alien can do is ask Immigration agents to work for his deportation.

Under the radar

Then came the case of 14 Taiwanese nationals nabbed “for an alleged scam to swindle mainlanders out of $20 million.” The cross-border fraud involved, among other things, the use of credit cards. They and their ten Chinese mainland cohorts were arrested in December. There doesn’t seem any question about their involvement in crime – a very lucrative enterprise gauging from their posh rented homes in exclusive villages here.

Very little was known of that affair until Taiwan, frustrated by having its representations brushed off by our officials, decided to recall its representative and announce economic sanctions targeting, unfortunately, an estimated 80,000 Filipino workers.

An story explains the reason for Taiwan’s anger:
“All of those arrested were deported to China, despite protests from Taipei, which said they Taiwanese should have been sent back to the self-governed island to face justice.”

When the story first broke, dzMM anchors Noli de Castro and Ted Failon were having a rare interview with Executive Secretary Jojo Ocho who mentioned the Philippines’ One-China Policy (we officially recognize Beijing but, like many countries, have quasi-diplomatic relations with Taipei). He also claimed that the Taiwanese did not have travel documents and were in the company of mainland Chinese, and so the Bureau of Immigration, which is under the Justice Department, decided to deport them to China.

Someone else repeated the One-China line though this was latter dropped – presumably with officials realizing the consternation in diplomatic circles; the argument morphed into something like this:

According to MalacaƱang spokesman Edwin Lacierda: authorities in the Philippines will not allow the country to become a haven for international crime syndicates. "The crime was committed in China. It is in our best interest to deport them to China," he said.

Omission, commission

How deportation to Taiwan translates into allowing the Philippines to become a haven for crime syndicates isn’t clear to me. I’d normally say something was probably lost in translation, except that Lacierda was speaking in English and not Mandarin.

Besides, that’s not quite what Taiwan is saying. The Journal Online reports:

A statement issued by Taiwan said “the Philippine Government handed over 14 Taiwanese nationals, holding Taiwanese passports, to the People’s Republic of China early in the morning of February 2, 2011. During this act of deportation, the Philippine Government abandoned its own sovereign jurisdiction, violated Section 38 of the Philippine Immigration Act (CA 613) and instead based the deportation on Section 37 of the said act, ignored the due legal process, contradicted the nationality principle of jurisdiction in international law, and made a serious mistake.”

I've read the law and think you could play it both ways. Taiwan can say, he's our national. Some Philippine officials are claiming they came from China and, as Justice Secretary de Lima says, "China issued travel permits."

But what's strange is why the BI -- and the DOJ -- couldn't even be bothered to double-check the Taiwanese's claims.

“Taiwan’s representative to the Philippines said he was not given any opportunity to directly communicate with Philippine officials regarding the issue because they were not informed of the incident.”

“Furthermore, no prior notification of deportation was given to my office, and the deportation itself proceeded secretively at midnight, which shows no due respect to the Government of the Republic of China.”

Later, the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco), our unofficial embassy, said it had forwarded to the Taipe Economic and Cultural Office (Teco, Taiwan’s counterpart) the visas and copies of the 14 Taiwanese’s travel documents.

This was the Teco’s effort to prove the 14 were its nationals. But the Palace, which seems to be in the habit of eyeing all other Chinese entities as little provinces of Beijing (remember the Hongkong fiasco?), brushed off Taipe’s protests and, to add insult to injury, told it to take the problem to Big Brother.

Stealth, bad faith
On the early hours of February 2, the Taiwanese were brought with their Chinese cohorts straight to the tarmac of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), in a convoy escorted by National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agenmts. They did not pass the usual immigration channels. They were flown off on a chartered plane. And the poor Taiwanese officials were inside the airport trying for a last ditch attempt to get their citizens.

I can accept the insistence on original documents. What confounds was the BI’s haste to extradite the Taiwanese to Beijing. The Palace uses the word, “deport,” but when it is used in the context of Beijing demanding this action, it is tantamount to extradition -- minus the normal channels of redress suspects can use.

And because the "extradition" was demanded by a third country, that veers off to rendition territory -- especially because, as we now know, the Taiwanese had already gone to court for a solution. Now the Court of Appeals wants the BI and the DOJ to explain why it should not be cited for contempt in its attempt to preempt judicial action.

After all, the deportation occurred after the CA's Jan 31 issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, ordering the BI “to produce the living body” of petitioners Chen Ho-Yang, Li Yuan Hsing, Tai Yao-Pin, Chen Chia Hsiang, Lee Hsiang Pin and Lin Ying Chang. The petitioners had also filed for a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the deportation order to China.

Guess when the BI was being asked to present the Taiwanese? February 2. This is what is worrisome, that the BI (and the DOJ) seemed to have gone out of their way to appease Beijing, even to the extent of ignoring and actually thwarting the appellate court. As our criminal lawyers say, it is premeditation that turns homicide into murder.

We can talk about technicalities and the legal fine print. But officials of this government that ostensibly walks the "tuwid na daan," seem to forget the basics:

Would WE want our nationals to be treated that way? Or are we so used to not caring that we’ve imposed our standards on other governments?

Secrecy. In the dead of night. Keeping supects’ governments blind. That sounds very much like extraordinary rendition.

The latest word, after blustering that there is nothing to apologize for, is a plan to send an emissary.

"Presently, MECO (Manila Econolic and Cultural Office) is handling the issue. I might be sending an emissary to discuss with them particular issues and to explain why we decided the way we decided," said President Benigno Aquino III in an interview Thursday.

Trying for governance by oido. Unfortunately, some people are tone deaf. And now cafe circles are buzzing with awful speculation: That some guys did not want Taipei to get hold of some embarrassing stuff and so hurried to send off these guys to the mainland. Oh jeez, and you thought stories like these ended with the last President's term. It may NOT be true. It's probably NOT true. But haste and secrecy ALWAYS raise presumption of irregularity.