Sunday, November 14, 2010

‘Faltering judicial system’ hinders Ampatuan massacre case

The New York Times
Published: Nov. 11, 2010

MANILA — Nearly a year after 57 people, including dozens of journalists and media workers, were massacred in the southern Philippines, prosecution of the case has been jeopardized by a ‘‘faltering judicial system,’’ with forensic evidence mishandled, the trial unreasonably delayed and witnesses offered bribes and subjected to violence, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

A report from the New York-based organization said President Benigno S. Aquino III ‘‘must follow through on commitments to ensure justice’’ in the killings that took place on Nov. 23, 2009, in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao Province.

‘‘We are very concerned about this case and that is why we demand demonstrable reforms from President Aquino while he still has the mandate to do so,’’ Shawn Crispin, the New York-based committee’s senior Southeast Asia representative and the author of the report, said in an interview Wednesday.

The killings are believed to be the worst case of political violence in this country’s history and the worst known single attack on journalists in the world, according to watchdog groups.

The victims were on a convoy heading toward the election office in Maguindanao Province to file the candidacy papers of Esmael Mangudadatu, who was to run for governor against the then-incumbent Andal Ampatuan Sr., when they were stopped at a roadblock by gunmen. They were then brought to a grassy hilltop where they were killed and buried.

Nearly 200 defendants, including Mr. Ampatuan and his son, Andal Ampatuan Jr., have been charged in the killings.

Philip Sigfrid Fortun, a lawyer for Mr. Ampatuan Jr., was quoted in the CPJ report as denying that his clients were involved in the murders or that they attempted to bribe families of victims.

The trial of the case began only in September and is expected to take years, if not decades, to complete because there are at least 196 suspects and more than 200 witnesses listed by prosecutors.

Of the 196 suspects in the case, only 66 are in custody while the remaining 130, most of them police officers and members of the Ampatuan militia, are at large. Of the 66 in custody only 19 are actually on trial, although 28 more were arraigned on Wednesday, when they pleaded not guilty.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima acknowledged on Wednesday that “given the number of victims as well as the magnitude of the crime, there are still gaps and deficiencies in case management.” However, she said in an interview, her department “is currently taking serious steps toward speedier and focused proceedings.”

Mr. Crispin said he is encouraged by the arrests of the Ampatuans and four other members of the clan, which ruled Maguindanao province for years and for which Ampatuan town is named. Additionally, Mr. Crispin credited the Aquino government for having implemented certain reforms, such as increasing the budget of the witness protection program. But more reforms need to be introduced to ensure the judicial process in the country is not compromised, he said.

The committee said it found that at least two relatives of the victims had been offered bribes, which they refused, by men who claimed to represent the Ampatuans. It also said that witnesses and their relatives had been harassed and attacked. One potential witness, a reputed member of a militia maintained by the Ampatuans who had given interviews detailing what he said was his role in the killings, was killed in June under ‘‘unclear circumstances,’’ the report said.

Witnesses are crucial in this case because forensic evidence gathered at the massacre site was either mishandled or contaminated, the report said.

That reflects a systemic problem, according to Human Rights Watch, which has also been monitoring the case. ‘‘Here in the Philippines, witness testimony is the most important in cases like this and that is the bigger problem,’’ Elaine Pearson, the group’s deputy director for Asia, said in an interview. ‘‘We need to enhance the capability to gather and handle forensic evidence.’’

Monday, August 09, 2010

The 15th Philippine Congress: Clans keep tight grip on power

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
July 29, 2010 at 9:12 am

MOSTLY the same old names but new faces, first-timers and benchwarmers, veterans and returnees. This is the composition of both the Senate and the House of Representatives of the 15th Congress.

Of the 12 senators elected to a six-year term last May 10, only two are first-time senators (Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Teofisto Guingona III) while seven will serve their second term, and three others are returnees, or had previously served in the Senate.

But even the neophyte senators, who are namesakes of their fathers, are not exactly novatos in politics. Marcos had served as congressman and governor of his home province of Ilocos Norte. Guingona had finished his three-term limit in the House. Both their parents had served as senators. Marcos’s father, the late strongman Ferdinand, ruled as president for 20 years, including 14 under martial law.

Guingona’s father, Teofisto Jr., was handpicked to serve as vice president to former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from 2001 to 2004.

Re-elected to a second six-year term were Senators Pia Cayetano, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Franklin Drilon, Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Ejercito, Manuel “Lito” Lapid and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. Then, too, there are the Senate returnees - Sergio Osmena III, Ralph Recto and Vicente “Tito” Sotto.

Three of the re-elected senators (Defensor-Santiago, Drilon, and Enrile) are, in fact, returnees twice over. Enrile was at the Senate in 1987 to 1992 and in 1995 to 2001. He took a break to serve as congressman representing Cagayan province, and then returned to the Senate in 2004.

In the House of Representatives, there are 95 first-time district congressmen, including former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who took the district represented in the previous Congress by her elder son, Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, and former Senator Rodolfo Biazon, who ran and won in the district that his son, Rozzano Rufino, had represented in the last nine years.

The elder Biazon had reached his two-term limit at the Senate while the younger Biazon ran for the Senate to take his father’s place but lost.


Celebrities from politics and entertainment litter the list of the House members. Apart from former President Arroyo and former Senator Biazon, the flamboyant former First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos and Georgina Perez-de Venecia, wife of five-time Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. are also representatives of Leyte and Pangasinan, respectively.

Not to be left out, boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, congressman of the lone district of Sarangani province, lifted from Frost in a privilege speech on the second session day to spell out his plans in the next three years.

Beauty and star-appeal have been added, too, courtesy of Lucy Torres-Gomez (Leyte) and Jesusa Victoria H. Bautista a.k.a. Lani Mercado-Revilla (Cavite).

Except for Romualdez-Marcos, this is the first time for De Venecia, Pacquiao, Torres-Gomez and Mercado-Revilla to sit in Congress. De Venecia and Mercado-Revilla, however, had always been immersed in politics and public service, if unofficially, through their respective spouses, Speaker De Venecia and Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.

Ahead of the opening of Congress last Monday, Pacquiao, Torres-Gomez and Mercado-Revilla had enrolled in short programs for new legislators conducted by the Development Academy of the Philippines and the University of the Philippine National College of Public Administration and Governance.

Clans still rule

The cast of characters has changed somehow for the party-list groups. Of the 35 party-list representatives who had taken their oath as of July 27, only one of the 16 first-termers had served before in Congress. In addition, 13 party-list representatives are on their second term, and six, on their third and last term.

Politics remains a family affair in many congressional districts where the political clans have held steadfastly on to their seats.

There are 18 House returnees, or members who had previously served in the same districts they now represent. They are retaking their posts from a spouse, son, daughter, or another close relative who had precisely warmed the seat for a term or two to keep political rivals out of their turf.

In lieu of at least 41 representatives who had either reached their three-term limit or ran for another elective position, close relatives had come in as substitute players. That reads as either spouse, mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, or in-law.

At least 33 other members of the 14th Congress had been replaced by their spouse, son or daughter, brother or sister, in-law, or political protégé and surrogate. A few others had run for another position and fielded a relative to take over their congressional seats. An example is Exequiel Javier who had reached his three-term limit as congressman of Antique, and is now governor of the province. His son, Paulo Everardo Javier, took over his House seat.

They might claim to have won the votes but in truth, a good number of the members of Congress belong to political clans that have kept politics and business in their city, town, district, province, or region under tight grip for decades.

Winners, losers

To be sure, a reversal of fortunes, and thus a few changes, had unfolded in the House, albeit in musical chairs fashion. Hitherto in the political minority, the Liberal Party of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III has forged a multi-party coalition and turned majority.

Former President Arroyo has slid down to join her two sons in the House, and together they would play their new role as opposition lawmakers. She now sits as representative of the Pampanga district that her elder son Juan Miguel had occupied for two terms; he now sits as first-term nominee of party-list Ang Galing Pinoy.

Younger son, Diosdado Ignacio, is a second-term solon from Camarines Sur, representing a new congressional district that Congress has had to create to accommodate Arroyo’s budget secretary, Rolando Andaya Jr. whose district Diosdado Ignacio had represented earlier.

Andaya had served for three terms in the first district of Camarines Sur, the same seat that his father and namesake, Rolando Sr., had occupied for three terms from 1987 to 1998.

Apart from Andaya, at least six other former “stars” of the old regime are now simply House members. They are former agriculture secretary Arthur Yap, who ran unopposed as congressman of the third district of Bohol; former presidential spokesman Anthony Golez, representing the lone district of Bacolod City; former presidential legal counsel Sergio Apostol, who reclaimed the second district of Leyte from his wife; former TESDA chief Augusto Syjuco, who replaced his wife to represent the second district of Iloilo; former housing executive Romero Federico Quimbo, Marikina City’s second district; and former agriculture undersecretary Jesus Emmanuel M. Paras, Bukidnon’s first district.

Whether or not they will take on the role of opposition or fiscalizer might also depend in large measure on how far they will go to defend the Arroyo administration from sundry allegations of irregularities and midnight deals.

In truth, while some Arroyo government officials won, a few other big names lost big in the May 10 elections. Among them were former Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who lost to Tomas Apacible in the first congressional district of Batangas; former Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, who was defeated in the mayoralty race in Iloilo City. Gonzalez’s son and namesake, Raul Jr., also lost in his re-election bid as congressman of Iloilo City.

Jailed, died

The quaint casting of characters in the House continues to evolve and amaze still. Even before it could convene last Monday, one member had been arrested and jailed, while another had succumbed to an illness.

Before he could assume his second term as congressman of Ilocos Sur’s first district, Rep. Ronald V. Singson found himself behind bars in Hong Kong for possession of 26.1 grams of cocaine and two tablets of valium when he arrived at the airport on July 11.

An article on Singson’s website described the 41-year-old lawmaker as “a fair-haired boy” of his controversial father, Ilocos Sur Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson and as “a young man who has the distinction of having a father whose daring exploits including that of being the central figure behind the unseating of a President may find no parallel in the future.”

Meanwhile, third-term Cagayan Rep. Florencio L. Vargas, 78, died of leukemia on July 22. He was governor of the province from 1998 to 2001.

Year after year, the House of Representatives has been expanding its membership. From less than 200 legislative districts 10 years ago, the House now has 228 districts, including nine created by the 14th Congress, and a growing roster of party-list representatives.

Thanks to the previous Congress, Cavite politicians now have more positions to fill. From three legislative districts, the province now has seven. The provinces of Agusan del Sur and Camarines Sur have one more each, while Iligan City, Lapu-Lapu City and Navotas now have their own legislative districts.

Parking place

The House has also become a convenient “parking” place for senators, governors, and mayors who have reached their term limits set under the 1987 Constitution. Others are bench-warmers for a parent, brother or sister, son or daughter, in-law, or political patron or protégé. In some instances, two members of a family or leaders of two controlling families in a locality have simply switched positions to make sure their rivals won’t have a chance to get into power.

At least nine of the incumbent congressmen were provincial governors in the previous term.

They are: Angelica Amante-Matba of Agusan del Norte, Ma. Valentina Plaza of Agusan del Sur, Rogelio Espina of Biliran, Joselito Mendoza of Bulacan, Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar, Raul Daza of Northern Samar, Milagrosa Tan of Western Samar, Aurora Cerilles of Zamboanga del Sur and Loreto Ocampos of Misamis Occidental.

Seven members of the previous House of Representatives are now provincial governors. They are: Abraham Mitra of Palawan, Exequiel Javier of Antique, Alfonso Umali Jr. of Oriental Mindoro, Edgar Chatto of Bohol, Paul Daza of Northern Samar, Carmencita Reyes of Marinduque, and Herminia Ramiro of Misamis Occidental.

There are at least six incumbent congressmen who were city or municipal mayors in their previous term. They are: Tobias Tiangco of Navotas, Jerry Trenas of Iloilo City, Feliciano Belmonte Jr. of Quezon City, Joseph Victor Ejercito of San Juan, Sigfrido Tinga of Taguig City and Tomas Osmena of Cebu City.

At least two former congressmen are now mayors: Ma. Laarni Cayetano of Taguig and Del de Guzman of Marikina City. Cayetano defeated former congressman and Supreme Court Associate Justice Dante Tinga, father of Sigfrido Tinga who ruled Taguig City as mayor for three terms before becoming a congressman.

While there is one former senator in the House, the Senate has two former congressmen in its roster: Teofisto Guingona III and Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Their colleagues: Rodolfo Plaza of Agusan del Sur, Rozzano Rufino Biazon of Muntinlupa, Nereus Acosta of Bukidnon, Risa Hontiveros of party-list Akbayan and Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza of Bayan Muna party-list lost in their bid to the Senate.

Also, there are two retired police generals in the House: Romeo M. Acop of Antipolo City’s second district, and Leopoldo N. Bataoil of Pangasinan’s second district. Acop used to be with PNP’s Criminal Investigation Service while Bataoil headed the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO).

All in the family

Seven senators have immediate family members in the House: Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile is the father of Cagayan Rep. Juan Ponce Enrile Jr.; Sen Edgardo Angara is the father of Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara; Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. is the father of Las Pinas City Rep. Mark A. Villar; Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri and Bukidnon Rep. Jose Zubiri III are brothers; Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is a son of Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda R. Marcos; Sen. Jinggoy Estrada is a half-brother of San Juan City Rep. Joseph Victor Ejercito; and, Sen. Ramon Revilla and Cavite Rep. Lani Mercado are a couple.

These do not count yet cousins, in-laws, and other relatives in Congress.

There are also siblings and mother-son tandems in the same legislative body. At the Senate, Alan Peter Cayetano and Pia Cayetano are siblings, while former President Arroyo is with her two sons at the House: Camarines Sur Rep. Dato Arroyo and Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo of party-list Ang Galing Pinoy.

Lanao del Norte’s two districts are now represented by the mother-daughter tandem of Imelda Quibranza-Dimaporo and Fatima Aliah Q. Dimaporo. Two of Cebu’s six districts have the father and son tandem of Pablo P. Garcia and Pablo John F. Garcia.

In Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga Sibugay, three relatives of convicted child rapist and former congressman Romeo Jalosjos are occupying House seats: nephew Frederick Seth Pal Jalosjos and brother Cesar Jalosjos in the first and third districts of Zamboanga del Norte, respectively, and son Romeo Jalosjos Jr. in Zamboanga Sibugay.

Malabon City Rep. Josephine Veronique Lacson-Noel is the wife of An Waray party-list Rep. Florencio “Bem” Noel while Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez is an elder brother of Abante Mindanao party-list Rep. Maximo B. Rodriguez Jr.

President Benigno Aquino III has at least three relatives in the present Congress: Carmen Cojuangco of Pangasinan (wife of second cousin Marcos Cojuangco); Enrique M. Cojuangco of Tarlac (brother of businessman Eduardo Cojuangco who is an estranged first cousin of the President’s late mother); and Tarlac third district’s Jeci Aquino Lapus, a second-degree uncle.

At least three congressmen have immediate family members in the Aquino Cabinet: Batanes Rep. Henedina R. Abad is the wife of Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad; Quezon Rep. Irvin Alcala is a son of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala; and Pasig City Rep. Roman Romulo is a son of Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo.

The secretaries of budget and agriculture had served as congressmen while Romulo was at the Senate from 1987 to 1998. Then President Arroyo tapped him as finance secretary in January 2001, then as executive secretary in May 2001 until he was moved in 2004 to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

—The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), July 2010

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Tony Meloto’s appeals and our challenge to him in the next 100 days

Reprinted from FILIPINO VOICES
July 10, 2010


Tony Meloto’s article today at the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) (titled “The Challenge of a 100 days”) makes one think of how people should act in these 100 days of the Aquino administration. As early as the eighth day though, thousands of people are already starting to complain. Some are questioning the wisdom of the President in appointing people tainted with graft and corruption, while others say, the President is not really serious in creating a new government out of the old and discredited one.

Meloto’s advice for Filipinos is simple—do the little things, be honest and therefore, contribute to nation-building. But, is that really nation-building, in the first place?

We don’t need to tell Filipinos to be honest–most of us are. We don’t need to tell Filipinos to be like this and that because most are already hard-working, patient, and doing their small or little things in their own and simple ways already, Mr. Meloto. It is like we are blaming the rest of the Filipinos for the monumental ills of this country when everyone is really contributing his share towards maintaining the stability of this small republic.

Consider this—70% of the revenues collected by government comes from personal income tax. The 30% or so left are supposed to be the burden of company owners. But, what do these company owners do? They cheat. They don’t give those taxes they are supposed to give to the government.

Some, like Lucio Tan, were able to go scot-free from his 23-billion-peso tax obligation. And there are others. Maybe Mr. Meloto should direct his appeals and pleas to Tan and the rest of those other tax cheats, and not to the ordinary Filipino who religiously pay his taxes despite the very threat in his daily existence.

We pay our taxes, yes, even that stupid VAT. That VAT, by the way, was imposed on us because the previous government stole the monies of the Filipino People.

Those “honorables” and “his” and “her excellencies” and those “technocrats” and “Harvard” and Oxford graduates or graduates of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) were so intelligent and so greedy, they pocketed much of the collected money, therefore, creating that humongous budget deficit. Government needs to plug the hemorrhage and what they think was the best way to do it? Impose higher taxes or some tax measure like VAT to the ordinary Filipino, who did not cheat, nor stole a single cent from the national coffers.

What others stole, the hapless citizentry pays back with his hard-earned money.
Those big loans and budget deficits were not supposed to happen if our government, especially these “honorables” had the decency of not stealing from us and just keeping their promises of austerity and living within their means.

Mr. Meloto, ordinary Filipinos do not cheat their wives—it is those moneyed people who do. What these people do with their stash? They buy luxurious condominium units for their paramours. The money that is supposed to build hundreds of low-cost houses for us, the ordinary Filipino, are being used to purchased luxury items, such as houses and condominiums. And what Mr. Meloto thinks of nation-building? It is bridging gaps.

To build a strong nation, we must learn to engage everyone, bridge gaps that divide, and leverage limited resources by encouraging those who have to give more to those who have less. While we must engage every politician without judgment and without compromise, our cause of nation-building must transcend politics. Politics is for politicians, nation-building is for everyone—from the highest leader of the land to the weakest squatter in the poorest slum. It is for ordinary citizens like me to help provide connectivity to the un-reached, build trust among the wary and give hope to those in despair. In the first 100 days, let us be a people of faith.
It is very easy for Mr. Meloto to say that “in the first 100 days, let us be a people of faith” because he is not as poor and as desperate as many of us. He can still wait for changes. He can still say that nation-building should transcend politics, that it should be apart from politics.

Nation building has always been, and will continue to be political. Apart from culture, there is nothing more that will bind us, Filipinos together than politics. This shared belief in the greatness of this country is always politically-driven.

This is how his social class wants us, ordinary Filipinos, to do—wait patiently while they, the ruling class, fix their acts together. Mr. Meloto, we have waited for decades. The poor has waited for nine long years for change to happen. Actually, even prior to Mrs. Arroyo’s time, the poor has waited and has been patient. Hope started to flicker when Cory Aquino transcended the presidency. That hope lingered for six more years, and nothing substantial happened, no change that would benefit every single poor folk out there.

When you came out to our communities in the late ’90s Mr. Meloto, what you saw are patient and poor Filipinos who hoped for change and received loose change instead. Mr. Meloto, how can we unite the rich and the poor when their interests vary? Will they unite seriously by just giving the poor their houses through the generosity of the rich?

How will engagement happen when the very members of your class, refuse to even see us in our misery? We constantly engage government in our daily lives and we always appeal to the rich and the powerful to help us, since we suffer in poverty due to the inequality they so bestow and reap in this beautiful land.

The reason we are poor is not on our own making, oh no. We are poor because the money that we are supposed to have are not being given to us. Look at our pay slips. The ordinary Filipino worker is the lowest paid among Asian workers. We spend our hard-earned monies trying to pay for those exorbitant Meralco rates, the highest in the region. We buy food stuffs priced higher than what our Asian neighbours pay for. We even pay for higher priced water, which runs abundant deep in our lands but exploited and transformed into a commodity by “intelligent and greedy” technocrats like Babes Singson and Ping de Jesus, who now run our DPWH and DOTC.

Mr. Meloto, be our bridge by asking owners of companies to pay us decent wages, the correct ones.

Mr. Meloto, be our bridge by asking food manufacturers to lower their prices and for giant oil companies to give us what is our due. Lower gasoline and diesel prices and we can save some of our hard-earned monthly wages for the education of our kids.

Meloto’s appeals are just being used by the ruling class, the elites, to manage the raging anger within the breasts of every ordinary Filipino against the ruling order. While we pray, and wait, governments steal, cheat and lie before us.

Meloto’s appeal to those who believed and helped Noynoy Aquino ascend the highest rungs of power is this:

Let us not trivialize the opportunity to start right with our petty politics nor be influenced by ugly cynics who do not see anything good in this country or in this life. Let us be radical optimists and hope-weavers for a change, to give our new leader and our country a chance. It is imperative for those who worked hard for his victory to remain noble and true by not expecting any favors in return for their efforts. Great leaders are often pulled down by followers who demand their share of power. Great chances to do great good are spoiled when nobility is exchanged for the spoils of victory. On the other hand if asked by their leader to do a crucial task, they must also be humble enough to accept. From our new President, let us demand nothing but faith in himself that he can be faithful to his covenant to govern with integrity, courage, and justice.

Mr. Meloto, every poor Pinoy is a cynic, so the poor Pinoy is ugly? I thought you want to be the “bridge” between the poor and the rich? Why describe cynics ugly? Is Patricia Evangelista, for example, ugly? Are those people who demand and hammer out the demands of the people before this new administration, ugly because they don’t believe in your appeal for them to just sit back, relax and have faith that everything will correct itself eventually.

And who, among us, ordinary and poor Filipinos who trooped the polls last May 10, and voted for Noynoy wanted anything from him, except social justice? Meloto’s appeal is for those of his own class who gave their monies to fund Noynoy’s electoral machinery. The appeal fell on deaf ears, as members of Hyatt 10 and others are now occupying positions of power. They were not humble though, Mr. Meloto. They scrambled for and lobbied to be appointed.

It is easy to say, Mr. Meloto, that the least we can demand from our new president is faith.

No, Mr. Meloto, I do not agree.

We, the ordinary Pinoy, demand loyalty to the promises he eloquently delivered in his numerous speeches, particularly that one last June 30. We demand swift action to the ordinary problems we so face.

And Mr. Meloto, it is our right to demand to this new administration things which past dispensations have so long denied us. Mr. Meloto, you can sit in your chair and think of things of how to give houses to a select few of us, but, for us, we cannot do that. We cannot sit idly by and wait while manna falls from the mahogany dinner table in Malacanang. Oh, no.

The elites, the ones you regularly hob-nob, promised change. And we, the ordinary Pinoy, want nothing but demand these elites what they so promised. Lastly, we find Meloto appealing this to us, ordinary Filipinos.

”From every Filipino, let us also demand nothing less than faith in ourselves that we can transform an entire nation—slum after slum, barrio after barrio—by transforming ourselves first. Let us not simply depend on the awesome power of the President and blame everything on him if he fails to deliver. Rather, let us harness the awesome power of the people, united and committed to do good, to help the President deliver.”

Mr. Meloto, where were you in the last couple of decades? We, ordinary Filipinos, have been helping our government for decades. Instead of helping us and correct the ills of our nation, these administrations have been helping themselves. We, the ordinary Pinoy, have always been united in just one cause—SOCIAL JUSTICE.

This term has been inscribed in our charter and repeated so many times in various provisions of the 1987 Constitution. Yet, what do these ruling elites do? They simply don’t know what social justice means! For them, it is as empty as the promises they sow during elections.

We, the ordinary Pinoy, have been paying our taxes, buying those food stuffs and higher prices of gasoline and diesel and trying hard to save money so that we avoid getting our electricity services cut. We follow traffic rules. That wangwang appeal is not for us, but for members of the elite who have one.

We follow the law, and what do we get? Poorly-constructed roads and bridges. Are we supposed to help government do its job of making sure our roads and bridges are at least of local standards?

Not enough money to give free education to our kids. Are we supposed to help our government pay for the “free education” of our kids when we already did that thru payment of VAT and income taxes? How much more, Mr. Meloto?

Inept public service when we go to government agencies to get our passports, our land titles, our birth certificates and even the death certificates of our kin. When we ask for police assistance, no one goes and attends to our needs because of lack of police personnel. Are we supposed to just pray and wait for all these things to come when we, ordinary citizens, have been paying government religiously for all our lives, for them to just do their work and give us the things we so rightly deserve?
No, Mr. Meloto.

We have waited all these years. Who do we blame but ourselves eventually when the dust settles down and after six years, we find ourselves still under extreme conditions? When all are finished blaming Arroyo for all these miseries and we find Aquino responsible for exacerbating our condition, who do we blame but ourselves for being cynics?

I was once a revolutionary optimist, Mr. Meloto. I have been so faithful and patient. Are you saying that we, ordinary Pinoys, are supposed to wait for the ruling class to have an epiphany just for our sake? No, Mr. Meloto. Like other “public servants” before him, Noynoy Aquino will not get our praise when we see that he bungles his job like others before him. We will definitely blame him if the social conditions continue the way they are right now. Blame ourselves for the erring ways of the elite? No, Mr. Meloto, we will not fall to this friar-inspired pathological trap you want us to fall into.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Aggravator and aggrandizer


April 23, 2010

Instead of turning a bad thing into a good thing, acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra did exactly the opposite: he turned what was already a bad thing into something worse.

From the way he keeps smiling at the cameras, he looks as if he’s gained something from the whole wretched mess. But it’s certainly not the improvement of his public image or that of the government he serves. The widespread public cynicism over the capacity of the so-called justice system to do justice to those who’ve been aggrieved, as expressed in various ways by those familiar with the role of the Ampatuans in the so-called victory of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2004 and of her candidates for the Senate in 2007, is now universal. (The results of a survey on which government agency the public trusts the least should be interesting.)

Agra has also succeeded in creating a firestorm of outrage directed not only against himself, but also against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. If Agra’s boss thought that only her henchman would attract the lightning bolts of criticism and protest over the order to drop two of the Ampatuans from multiple murder charges in connection with the November 23 massacre of 57 people, she has another think coming. Expect Agra’s caper to add to the continuing slide of Arroyo’s already subterranean approval ratings, although she cares about that about as much as a tarantula cares about its prey.

But what’s ironic is that some Filipinos did give the justice system the benefit of the doubt last November, and many of those Filipinos were journalists and media practitioners. If they didn’t they wouldn’t have gone to the justice system for redress, but to the streets or elsewhere straightaway.

In the first place it was journalists who helped the government get the facts about the massacre right — the police were contaminating the crime scene by handling the bodies every which way, so there was little help from that direction — by sending fact-finding teams to Maguindanao almost immediately after that terrible event.

Despite their maddening experience with official indifference and incompetence, and, in some cases, partisanship for the suspects in the arrest and prosecution of the killers of journalists since 2001, some journalist groups also fielded private prosecutors to help government prosecutors do their jobs. These groups have also worked with government prosecutors by providing whatever information they could so a credible case could be assembled against the people accused of involvement in the murders.

Some journalist and media advocacy groups even assumed such government tasks as providing immediate humanitarian aid and scholarships for the families and children of the survivors. Through their lawyers and by providing funds to fly the relatives to Manila so they can attend hearings, the same groups are still helping in the prosecution of the alleged murderers of the 32 journalists killed.

The way the country’s leading journalists have comported themselves during the many scandals and crises the Arroyo government has generated suggests that the Philippine press — or at least the better part of it — is not so much into undermining the government, but in trying to make things work as they should. Their relationship to the government only seems adversarial; in reality they recognize the crucial role of government in the shaping of the country’s present and future. It’s not the press but the Arroyo government and such of its minions as Agra who have been recalcitrant in implementing the country’s laws, for example, or in finding creative ways around them, and in concealing what they’re doing from the media and the public.

The same attitude has been evident in past administrations. All governments lie and try to conceal wrongdoing. But the officials of no other administration in memory has been as deliberately non-transparent, non-accountable, blithely abusive of power, contemptuous of public opinion, and hostile to the press as Arroyo and her officials.

Although the administration is crawling with similar creatures, Arroyo election lawyer Agra is a near-perfect example of non-accountability and smug indifference to public opinion.

Interviewed by the print and broadcast media, Agra betrayed the most minimal understanding of official accountability to the citizenry he’s supposed to serve. To questions from the media meant to solicit an explanation for his order to drop the multiple murder charges against Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan, the most Agra could say was that it was his prerogative to review the recommendations of DOJ prosecutors.

He used the word “prerogative” so often it was obvious it was both his excuse and his conceit. It wasn’t the public’s reaction he was concerned with, but Malacanang’s. He repeatedly said it was Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s opinion that mattered to him; it apparently never occurred to him that public opinion weighs heaviest on public officials in societies that claim to be democratic.

But having reached the limits of their patience, their outrage relentlessly aggravated not only by such acts as Agra’s but also by his indifference to the public and its demand for justice, the citizenry could justly argue that what obtains in the Philippines is not a democracy but a plutocracy, the self-serving minions of which eagerly pander to the whims of those who rule it so they may themselves enter the exclusive circles of the powerful. Agra probably has millions of reasons for acting the way he did, and for practically telling the entire country and all Filipinos that their opinions about anything don’t matter in the least. But none of those millions have anything to do with legality, and least of all with justice. (BusinessWorld)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Lacson: Dismissal of rebellion case, first of many to exculpate the Ampatuans from complicity in the Ampatuan massacre

Posted by Patricio Mangubat
March 30, 2010

As what this writer wrote several posts ago, the Maguindanao massacre case will be dismissed before the Holy week and attempts at formally closing the case will happen after this period, or on the second week of April. Now, it happened. Though Malacanang wants to lead efforts to appeal for reconsideration, just to appease rising public anger, the palace ruse fell by the wayside. Evidently, the dismissal of the case was actually brought by Arroyo herself when she declared martial law and charged the Ampatuans with rebellion.

The question remains--what happens then to the other case, that of multiple murder?

Atty. Alex Lacson is the first to articulate the question that lingers in the minds of many--since the rebellion case was dismissed, what happens now to the pieces of evidence recovered by the military? Will the prosecution still use them as additional evidence in the multiple murder case? Or will the court then just dump these pieces of evidence?

Lacson believes that this dismissal is just the first of many attempts by this administration to assist their strongest political ally in Mindanao. As we know, the Ampatuans know of many secrets about the Arroyos particularly that so-called Hello Garci operations.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Int’l Solidarity Mission’s report: 23 recommendations on the 23 Nov massacre

Sunday, 24 January 2010 23:26

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/24 January 2010) – “Massacre in the Phillippines: International Solidarity Mission Rapid Assessment Report” listed 23 recommendations on four areas of concern in the aftermath of the November 23 massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao: addressing the massacre and the long prevailing culture of impunity for the murders of media personnel in the Philippines; support for the families of victims; government and judicial issues; and the security of journalists working in the Philippines.

Some of the recommendations are being implemented already such as trauma-counselling and legal support for the media victims’ families.

The recommendations were made by international media organizations – International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), International News Safety Institute (INSI), International Media Support (IMS), Union Network International (UNI), Thai Journalists Association (TJA) and Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) whose representatives visited Mindanao and Manila on December 5 to 11.

The recommendations also took into account the findings of an independent fact-finding report prepared by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), news organisation Mindanews, and members of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ), immediately after the massacre.

It also called on the international community to monitor developments in the Philippines to ensure that the massacre is properly investigated, that the perpetrators are punished and that such atrocities against journalists and media workers can never happen again.

The following are the recommendations. A copy of the full report is available at

Support for families of the victims

1. Families of the victims must be provided with trauma counselling and further follow-up support.

2. Families must be provided with legal support to pursue the prosecution of perpetrators, given the likelihood of protracted delays in the justice system. They must also be given support in bringing pressure on the Arroyo Government to pursue its own procedures.

3. Other areas of legal assistance may be required in terms of the ongoing welfare of the families and this should also be made available as needed.

4. The families of all victims must be given immediate financial support as well as follow-up assistance to help generate a sustainable income and assistance in finding employment in cases where the victim was the sole breadwinner for the family.

5. The mission welcomes the NUJP’s intention to extend its scholarship program for the children of slain journalists - now running for five years - to address the needs of at least 75 children and dependents of the massacre victims.

6. A safety assessment must be undertaken for each of the victims’ families and appropriate measures taken to ensure their ongoing security. This is urgently required during the gathering of evidence and the lead-up and subsequent trial.

Military and Police

7. A full investigation is required into the actions of General Cayton, then Commander of the 6th Infantry Division, immediately preceding the massacre.

8. A full investigation is required into reports that several members of the Philippine National Police were involved in the massacre. The Government must take all necessary steps to remove corrupt police and ensure all police in Maguindanao act in accordance with their responsibility
to protect and serve citizens. Any police found to work with ruling clans and warlords must be stripped of their positions and punished.

9. The Government must instigate immediately a thorough investigation and overhaul of structures covering local government, the military and police to redress the failure
of authority and accountability in the administration of Maguindanao province (and other provinces across the Philippines) and ensure that law and order is respected.

10. The Government must immediately provide training for its military and police to ensure that those responsible for the safety and security of citizens, including media personnel, are aware of their obligations under United Nations Resolution 1738. The resolution “condemns intentional attacks against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel, as such, in situations of armed conflict, and calls upon all parties to put an end to such practices.”

Investigation and Prosecution

11. The Government and local authorities must undertake all necessary measures to fully investigate the massacre and to ensure all evidence is properly preserved and available.
12. The Government and local authorities must provide all necessary measures for the protection and safety of witnesses, investigators, prosecutors, lawyers and judges throughout the investigation and trial process.

13. The Government must ensure that observers and human rights groups have full and open access to legal proceedings to ensure an open and transparent investigation and trial.

14. The Government must ensure that families of the victims are given access to all relevant documentation regarding the massacre, the investigation and resulting legal proceedings.

15. The Government should ensure that sufficient resources are made available to prosecutors and the judiciary to guarantee a speedy and effective trial of those accused of this massacre. It may be necessary to establish a special tribunal for this purpose.
Martial Law

16. The Government is urged not to reimpose martial law in light of concerns it could be restored in the lead-up to the May 10 elections with a consequent risk of human rights abuses. The mission therefore urges the Government to use due legal process without the resort to brute force that could undermine any prosecutions.


17. The Government is responsible for providing effective, adequate and ongoing compensation to the families of all victims.

Journalism in the Philippines

18. The Government must take measures to protect media personnel who witnessed the events of November 23, including the provision of a safe haven during the investigation and legal process.

19. Journalists working in Mindanao must be provided with trauma counselling.

20. Support is needed to assist the NUJP to establish a regional safety office in Mindanao (working with the NUJP’s Manila-based Safety Office) before the May 2010 elections, in order to provide safety training and support for journalists covering the campaign. The office would
also seek to monitor the effect of the massacre on reportage in the region as well as ongoing threats to journalists’ safety.

21. Support is further needed to assist the NUJP and other organisations to revise safety procedures for journalists and media houses across the country. Complementing this, assistance is required to upgrade the skills of current safety trainers and to train more locally based trainers who can work with media at the local level across the country, most efficiently through NUJP local chapters.

22. The Government must ensure a safe environment in which media across the country can report fairly and critically on the conduct of the campaign for the May 10 elections.
International obligations and actions

23. The Government is urged to acknowledge and act on its commitments under International Obligations and Actions to ensure protection and safety for media personnel as citizens working in the public interest.

Relevant international instruments including the Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and the 2006 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1738 must be respected.

The report, dated December 2009, was launched in Koronadal City on January 23, 2010 in the presence of the media victims’ families.

The launching of the mission report was also the launching date for the newly-organized “Justice Now!” organization of the families of media victims. (MindaNews)

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Bong Revilla: 'Show only one Hollywood movie a month'

Sunday, January 3, 2010

By Noel Vera

"Hollywood movies? Did someone say Hollywood movies?"

"We should show only one Hollywood movie a month."

It's a hot topic of discussion among online Filipinos. For the record, I'm not a big fan of Revilla Jr.'s movies on the whole but I do sympathize with his sentiments.

Hollywood has always had a powerful influence on world cinema but its latest serious attempt to conquer foreign markets is actually quite recent--around the '90s or so, or about the time when Governor Schwarzenegger's movie career was at its height (Coincidence? I think not; Sylvester Stallone's films also did well internationally around this time). Hollywood's global push helped destroy the once-robust Hong Kong film, and brought both South Korea and Mexico to their knees (South Korea has since recovered, partly by imposing quotas).

France has long survived by subsidizing its film production and, during trade conferences, championing cultural diversity over open-market distribution of films (In other words, it kept speaking out against Hollywood imperialism). Of the commercially successful cinemas of the world, only India does not impose quotas--and that mainly because its cinema is so successful (it produces eight hundred films a year to Hollywood's 200 plus films) it doesn't need to protect itself.

Mainland China is an interesting case all its own. Not as commercially successful as India, it is nevertheless such an economic powerhouse, with a market larger than any American studio executive's wet-dream fantasy (and I'm sure they can fantasize) it can lay down strict quota rules and pretty much get away with doing so, just because no one can force it to do otherwise. China is in every way in an enviable position, but it's a position few other countries can emulate.

But India (and China in its own fashion) seem to be the exceptions that prove the rule. Trend seems to be, if you want a successful local cinema you needed to restrict the number of Hollywood films screening in your local cinemas. That, or you provide your production outfits with assistance of some kind, the way France does--anything to level the playing field.

I've actually suggested this very action on an online forum, in Some five years later that discussion seem more relevant than ever, and recent arguments to and fro on the issue sound suspiciously familiar. One online forum poster at one point asked "if we ban Hollywood films, what are we to do next? How do we get our next Harry Potter, or Iron Man 2?"

That was too tempting to let pass. "Then," I responded, "we're left with the works of relatively new filmmakers like Lav Diaz, Raya Martin, John Torres, Brillante Mendoza, Sherad Anthony Sanchez, Rico Ilarde, Dennis Marasigan, Auraeus Solito, Richard Somes, Veronica Velasco. We're left with the works of established directors such as Raymond Red, Laurice Guillen, Chito Rono, Maryo J. delos Reyes, Joey Reyes, Gil Portes, Joyce Bernal, Marilou Diaza-Abaya, and (hopefully, someday) new work from masters like Mike de Leon, Celso Ad. Castillo, Mario O'Hara.

"What a terrible situation!"