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.