Monday, December 04, 2006

Subic Rape Case: Round 1 Victory

Justice has been served for Nicole and the rest of the accused with the verdict of Makati City Regional Trial Court judge Benjamin Pozon. With the “guilty” verdict slapped against Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, it is proven that our justice system works, and that anyone who violates the law will be meted out the appropriate punishment.

But this can also be seen as a “first-round” victory, with the issue of where Lance Corporal Smith will serve his penal term the next round to be fought. Under Article V, Section 10 of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which says, “The confinement or detention by Philippine authorities of United States personnel shall be carried out in facilities agreed on by appropriate Philippine and United States authorities. United States personnel serving sentences in the Philippines shall have the right to visits and material assistance”.

It can be said that the Guilty verdict served justice to Nicole personally. But justice to the Filipino people will be attained if the guilty party is imprisoned in the same facility as any ordinary Filipino would be detained if he is convicted of the same crime. If Juan Dela Cruz will be incarcerated in the Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa if he is convicted of rape, then Daniel Smith should serve time in the Bilibid for his crime of rape.

In the aftermath of the conclusion of this trial, it is appropriate for the Legislative Oversight Committee on the Visiting Forces Agreement (LOVFA) to meet once again and discuss a possible review of the VFA in order to come up with proposals to the Executive Department on how to refine the agreement to address the concerns brought about by the Subic Rape Case.

One issue is the matter of custody of the accused while undergoing trial. The Philippines should have a stronger position in acquiring custody of the accused. Under the present provisions of the VFA custody of US personnel who have violated Philippine laws immediately reside with the United States. Immediate custody should be with the Philippines with the United States having the option to request for custody to be transferred to them.

Another is the issue of detention particularly after conviction. Those who have committed violations of Philippine laws should have equal treatment. If a Filipino convict goes to the National Penitentiary, then so should any foreigner who violates our laws. What we only need to guarantee to the Americans is the safeguarding of their citizens’ human rights.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Creeping Politicization of the Military

My Privilege SPeech on the Creeping Politicization of the Military:

Mr. Speaker, my dear colleagues,
Section 5, paragraph 3 of Article XVI of the 1987 Philippine Constitution says:
“Professionalism in the armed forces and adequate remuneration and benefits of its members shall be a prime concern of the State. The armed forces shall be insulated from partisan politics.
No member of the military shall engage, directly or indirectly, in any partisan political activity, except to vote. “
So many times by so many persons, this provision of our nation’s charter have been invoked as the chastity belt of the military to protect the institution from being seduced by partisan political groups who would want nothing more than having the Armed Forces by their side and embrace their ideology.
The appeal of having the military sympathetic to a particular political ideology or organization stems from the fact that with the might of guns, such ideology or organization is guaranteed dominance in the landscape of Philippine politics.
In order to avoid that situation, the framers of the Constitution included the above-quoted provision in order to set into stone a policy that sought to protect not just the military from political opportunists but more so to protect the people from a politicized military which may veer away from its given mandate and align itself partisan interests.
Section 3 of Article II of the Constitution provides for the primary role of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in very clear terms:
“Civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military. The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the State. Its goal is to secure the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national territory.”
The Constitution does not provide any other role for the Armed Forces except to secure the sovereignty of the State and integrity of the national territory. It does not have a role in policy formulation or societal change. Such roles are dangerous if combined with the force of arms in an organization where its direction is heavily dependent on the leadership of one or a few members.
A practical example is the method by which President Arroyo came into power in 2001. With the decision of then AFP Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes together with his four service commanders, the entire AFP was committed behind the assumption into the Presidency of then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Another instance is the events of February 2006 where it is rumored that the crucial decision of AFP Chief of Staff Generoso Senga to stay within the Chain of Command was the key to the failure of the movement to withdraw support.
Of course, the classic example, the one that paved the way for the military’s intervention in politics and governance, is the February 1986 withdrawal of support by then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and then AFP Vice Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos.
The danger of a politicized military is evident not only in the aforementioned extraordinary changes in the country’s political leadership, but even in the course of elections. The controversies of the 2004 elections exemplify the hazards of a politicized military taking part in a process in a manner above and beyond what the Constitution allows them to.
While some would contend that there was no military intervention in the 2004 elections, the fact remains that the prospect of the AFP taking part in elections beyond voting is enough to cause concern that former Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz time and again professed the desire to insulate the military from politics. Eventually, his rhetoric became policy with the agreement between the Comelec and the Defense Department signed on October 12, 2006.
Former AFP Chief of Staff Generoso Senga, who may be said to have bore the brunt of the intensity of the political controversies from the time the Garci Tapes issue surfaced, started and ended his term as Chief of Staff with a call to the military, the politicians and the public to keep the Armed Forces away from politics.
When General Senga assumed command, the President even reminded him, “General Senga, I expect you to keep the Armed Forces of the Philippines within the Constitution and not to allow any partisan quarters to undermine the Chain of Command.”
To this, he replied, “Our entire organization must be insulated from politics.”
A few months before his retirement, General Senga even issued his Five-Point Guidelines to the AFP entitled, “The Role of the AFP in These Trying Times”. The guidelines stated:
“1) Strict adherence to the supremacy of civilian authority over the military.
2) That the AFP’s constitutional mandate as protector of the people and the State is not a license to risk leadership of the government from public officials on the basis of perceived imperfections of governance.
3) As professional soldiers, we do not enjoy an unrestrained license to engage in partisan politics or publicly speak our minds against the government without having to face the serious accountability for our unauthorized actions.
4) The Supreme Court had set the distinct parameters when it ruled that certain liberties of persons in the military service - including the freedom of speech - maybe circumscribed by the rules of military discipline.
5). The military personnel are not regarded as a potent political force to be used by the politicians in the furtherance of their vested interest.”
In support of this, then Army Chief, now AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon said, “As mandated, we must remain apolitical.”
It appears that there should be no debate that the military must be insulated from politics as prescribed in the Constitution. In other words, the AFP is expected to be apolitical.
What drove me to stand up for this discourse is a statement to the contrary which was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer and attributed to Fr. Jose Romeo Intengan, SJ.
The article quoted Fr. Intengan as saying, “The problem of the AFP is lack of political knowledge. The military must be political, but it must not take political sides.”
In the spirit of the free market of ideas under which we live, this may be passed off as just another idea being offered to the public. Indeed we are free to express our own beliefs in any forum, even in media, as long as it is not in furtherance of crime or rebellion.
Many have expressed their ideas, some with value, some hare-brained, but most just fall into the category of personal opinion.
What is alarming with what Fr. Intengan stated is that it is being offered as a lecture / seminar to our soldiers in military camps. Under the guise of a national security seminar, the officers and men of the AFP are undergoing indoctrination into the ideology of the political party to which Fr. Intengan belongs to.
Lifting a quote from the Inquirer interview with Fr. Intengan, he said, “The military is prey to political patronage because of the whole climate of a dysfunctional liberal democracy. Our purpose is to see the military out of that system.”
He goes on to say that, “A decisive movement away from liberal democracy to social democracy” is needed.
These seminars, which have been conducted and are being conducted among members of the AFP even within the military camps are being presented as seminars on national security awareness and is endorsed by the National Security Adviser.
What is unclear is by what authority these seminars are being conducted among the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. A reading of the materials being distributed undeniably proves that these seminars are political in nature. In fact, the quote of Fr. Intengan is crystal clear---they aim to politicize the AFP, with the objective of convincing them that social democracy is the way to go.
The National Security Adviser is not a part of the Chain of Command, therefore it cannot simply come in and conduct seminars for the Armed Forces. Authority and permission from the Secretary of National Defense and the AFP Chief of Staff is required before anyone can present to the members of the military, much more if political ideologies and concepts are involved.
One need only to go back during the time when the political opposition wanted to conduct dialogues with the men in uniform, in furtherance of their Constitutional mandate as elected representatives of the people and policy makers. Even they had to seek permission of the Defense Department and comply with rules and procedures governing such activities.
Back then, Presidential Chief of Staff Michael Defensor said, “We are for that dialogue, but the Terms of Reference must be drafted first. The dialogue should not be used to promote their propaganda.”
Presidential spokesperson Sec. Ignacio Bunye even cited Gen. Senga’s Five-Point Guideline when he said, “This clearly delineates the role of the military as professional soldiers committed to the chain of command and the Constitution. This is a fitting reminder also to politicians and civil society who wish to entice our soldiers to engage in partisan politics.”
Obviously, the seminars being conducted are aimed at enticing the military to engage in partisan politics and a certain political ideology.
If members of Congress, who wished to conduct dialogues with the military, were required to comply with Terms of Reference to be imposed prior to meeting with the soldiers, what more Fr. Intengan of the Center for Strategic Studies?
About this we ask, does he have the express approval of the concerned authorities to conduct seminars and distribute reference materials of a clearly partisan political nature to the members of the Armed Forces? If so, what are the terms of reference? Is this a special treatment given to his particular political affiliation or can all parties now conduct their own seminars, in the interest of balance?
Because of only one ideology is peddled to our soldiers, it is no longer an awareness or educational campaign. It is purely indoctrination.
One of the booklets being distributed is entitled, “Armed Forces of the Philippines: Defender of the Nation, Guardian of Democracy, and Servant of the People”. I don’t think anyone here will disagree with the title. Indeed, the AFP has that role. But what is written inside the booklet?
For one, it demonizes politicians through sweeping general statements. Without citing specifics or references, the booklet presents politicians as conniving with forces out to bring down the state.
Allow me to read:
“The appalling situation of the Philippine political system is worsened by collusion of intimidated or opportunistic politicians, with anti-democratic forces of the extreme right but especially with the Marxist-Leninist extreme left. This collusion involves politicians in power or vying for power, from the level of barangay to that of national-level elected office. This collusion with the Marxist-Leninist extreme left is particularly widespread in the Reaffirmist groups such as the CPP, the NPA and the NDF. In the course of this collusion these politicians provide the CPP-NPA-NDF forces with votes for the latter’s candidates for national office (including party list candidacies) and local office, legal cover for their personnel, organizations and activities, and financial and logistical support such as firearms and ammunition, motor vehicles, rice and other foodstuff, medicine, communication equipment, audiovisual and printed campaign material, computers, office rental and the like.”
With sweeping statements such as these presented to the political virgins in the military, the image of politicians as in collusion with enemies of the state will easily come to their minds. Never mind if specific examples of such collusions backed up with hard evidence is presented. The propaganda will most likely seep into the psyche of the men in uniform, their innate bias against enemies of the state borne out of training being exploited to turn them against politicians in general.
Even the Lakas-NUCD, the party in power, has not been spared. The party started by former President Ramos is blamed by Fr. Intengan for the resurgence of the CPP-NPA-NDF:
“At the inception of the Ramos administration there were already effective and growing social democratic mass organizations that were competing with increasing success with Marxist-Leninist organizations for control or influence among various sectors of the population, especially among the basic masses (peasants and fisherfolk, urban and rural workers). The Ramos administration tried to put up its own network of Christian and Muslim Democrat mass organizations, and marginalized the social democratic mass organizations, instead of assisting them together with the Christian and Muslim Democrats, and encouraging them to cooperate. When the administration effort to build the Christian and Muslim Democrat mass organizations reaped scant success because of lack of sustained attention, effort, and funding, the resultant was a relative weakening of the broad democratic mass movement, leaving a vacuum that the CPP-NPA-NDF could fill once they recovered from their setbacks.”
Institutions of our democracy are not spared from being tainted by the paper being distributed to the military. Congress and the Comelec has likewise been dragged into the supposed strengthening of the CPP-NPA-NDF:
“..perhaps because of flaws in the formulation of the law, but certainly because of faulty implementation by the Commission on Elections, RA 7941, known for short as the Party List Law, became the entry point for membership in the House of Representatives of persons who militantly support the CPP-NPA-NDF.
This has come about in part because the COMELEC did not bother to consult and take seriously the findings of government intelligence agencies concerning suspicious groups among those applying for Comelec recognition as groups entitled to present candidacies in the party list elections.
From this failure of Comelec has resulted the strange but deadly phenomenon of CPP-NPA-NDF partisans or allies getting elected to public office using the threat of the actual use of physical violence by the NPA, and once elected, using government funds in the tens and millions of pesos each year to support the politico-military effort of the CPP-NPA-NDF.”
These statements erode the confidence of AFP in our democratic and Constitutional institutions, especially since it is made to appear that the problem that the AFP has to deal with is brought about by these institutions, in this particular case the Comelec.
This gets a bit more ticklish in that the Comelec is the institution tasked to manage the process of leadership and political change in the country. With the military having the force of arms, and the Messianic complex already permeating the ranks of the soldiers, losing faith in the Comelec and the electoral process is a dangerous prospect.
The paper practically tarnishes the images of other political parties and ideologies, and even those of the democratic institutions. Then it presents its own ideology as the savior of the country.
A direct quote from the paper reads:
“It is the firm conviction of the author of this paper that a decisive movement away from liberal democracy and toward social democracy is essential for the social revolution that Philippine society needs.”
Another quote:
“It is evident to the author of this paper that for satisfying the people’s hunger and slaking their thirst for justice and the common good, for peaceful, productive and meaningful lives in conditions of frugal comfort, the Philippines has to move toward social democracy.”
It is undeniable that these materials being presented to our soldiers in seminars conducted in the military camps are partisan and political in nature. The furtherance of a single ideology while vilifying others is plain indoctrination. These are acts violative of the Constitution which provides for an apolitical armed forces.
While discussions of these ideologies may have a place in a democracy, having a focused discussion among members of the military is courting our soldiers to cross the line from being neutral and non-partisan to taking political sides. It is absurd to think that our soldiers can be taught to be political yet not take sides.
The manner in which the seminar materials are written betrays its real intention, which is to recruit our soldiers to a particular political ideology.
These seminars, allegedly endorsed by the National Security Adviser, runs counter to what many government officials, from all sides of the political fence, the military, the academe, civil society, political analysts, media and ordinary citizen have accepted and believe in—that the AFP must be apolitical.
It is for this reason that I, as Vice-Chairman of the Committee on National Defense, call on the House of Representatives, through the Committee on national Defense, to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, into the conduct of these “national security awareness seminars” being conducted among our soldiers, to determine if these activities have the appropriate authority to be conducted, and find out if the contents of these seminars are in conjunction with established policies and direction of the national government, the defense department and the AFP.
It is hope that the House leadership takes cognizance of this concern and give it a priority since it appears that as are all naively telling each other that the AFP must be apolitical, a group is silently creeping and stealing the minds of the Defenders of the Nation, Guardians of Democracy and Servants of the People.
Thank you very much.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Secretary Avelino Cruz Sacrificed at the Altar of Politics

The untimely resignation of Secretary Avelino Cruz from the Department of National Defense portfolio will put into uncertainty the reform program which he effectively implemented in the DND-AFP, setting back the drive towards enhancing professionalism in the Armed Forces. It is one resignation that the administration will definitely hurt from, with the loss of a reliable adviser to the President and an effective head of an agency that is often at the forefront of controversy and difficult challenges.

Although at this point, people can only speculate the reasons behind the resignation, the recent statements of senior administration officials indicate that Secretary Cruz’s position regarding Charter Change appear to have earned the castigation by fellow cabinet officials, putting pressure on him to resign.

It is sad that in spite of having performed exceptionally as a Defense Department chief, Secretary Cruz is sacrificed at the altar of politics by his own colleagues in the administration.

This now puts into question if Secretary Cruz’s plans and efforts to insulate the military from politics will come into fruition. Will his departure from the department due to politics pave the way for politics to permeate the military come the 2007 elections?

Will it also pave the way for politicians who are lusting for the post of Secretary of National Defense to start jockeying for the position? What about the reforms that Secretary Cruz initiated? Will it be carried on by his successor?

These questions are being asked not just by the usual political observers and analysts. Most especially, it is being asked by the soldiers, who have been through a lot of intrigues and tugs of war in the intense political bickering that this country faced in the past year.

It is imperative that when President Arroyo chooses a replacement for Secretary Cruz, she will pick someone who has not been tainted by politics, one who does not have a political agenda and political baggage, and someone who has unquestionable credibility in the soldiers’ eyes and untarnished integrity.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

An All-Nighter

Its exactly 11:52 PM on the Session Hall Clock. We are doing a marathon session in order to pass the budget of the National Government, starting from 10:00 AM this morning up to God knows what time.

SOme agencies have it easy, some don't. Others spend only less than two minutes on deck, others take hours. The questions range from the foolish to the extremely important. Some of the Congressmen are still wide awake, while some are dozing off in their seats. Some are in the lounge having coffee or snacks, while others are already at home snug in their beds.

It seeems that it will become another all-nighter, a session that goes from one day in the calendar to the next. This usually happens during the plenary debates for the budget, although the two recent impeachment proceedings beat the record for the longest sessions held. When I was a neophyte during my first term, I usually brought a stash of snacks during sessions like these, which I wholeheartedly shared with my seatmates.

Right now, the budget of the Ombudsman is being taken up, with the Minority Leader asking the sponsor to name the top five agencies with the most number of cases filed against them combined with public perception. According to the Ombudsman, the top agency is the Bureau of Customs, followed by the Bureau of Internal Revenue, then (not in order) by the Department of Public Works and Highways, Bureau of Immigration and one other agency I failed to get (I'm typing this live as the debates are ongoing).

As we debate on what the government should spend on and how much it will spend, most people are now in a state of bliss in dreamland, not knowing that major decisions affecting their lives and even their futures are being made by tired, half-awake and (at least for a day) overworked men and women. One might wonder if the wisdom of the decisions are not sacrificed under these conditions which are not exactly ideal.

Some people say that they "sleep on a decision", meaning they make the decisions in the morning after, when they have taken a restful shut-eye, to make sure that their decisions are not rushed or flawed.

But in this case, we do have to make this decision in the middle of the night, for we go on recess tomorrow, and will not be back after two weeks. The National Budget has already been reenacted twice due to delays, and failure to act on this one again might cause another reenactment for 2007.

So, just as other important decisions that OCngress has made, most likely we will do it again like a thief in the night, under the coverness of darkness, while everyone is fast asleep.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Metro Manila Billboards - Unsightly Signs of Danger

I delivered a privilege speech last Monday, October 2, the first working day after the typhoon which ravaged Metro Manila:

Mr. Speaker, Colleagues:

As we hold our sessions today, a significant part of our country is still suffering the effects of typhoon Milenyo. The headline of the Philippine Daily Inquirer says, “Millions Still Have No Power, Water.” My family and I are included in those millions, as well as a big number of my constituents.

IN 1995, the last time that a typhoon directly hit Metro Manila, the roof of my house was blown away, exposing my home to the ravages of wind and water. This time around, though my roof is still intact, the felled trees, and downed utility posts cut off the basic necessities such as light and water. For several hours after Milenyo had left the Metro, I was even cut off from the outside world due to the blockage of roads leading out of my residence.

The wrath of typhoon Milenyo, which had winds of up to 165 kilometers per hour, surely reminded us of the power of Nature, of which even the technological advances of man have proven to be no match against.

Even with the latest technologies and techniques in construction, infrastructure was still damaged, from houses to utility poles, buildings to billboards. If there is one thing that is similar between locals of Metro Manila and the residents of the provinces usually hit by typhoons, it is that both are helpless against the onslaught of high wind and heavy rain.

But in Metro Manila, what makes strong typhoons more lethal are the various man-made structures that turn into missiles and projectiles that could kill if they hit a person. A piece of GI sheet peeled off from a roof…a piece of lumber…shattered glass…downed power lines….a gigantic outdoor advertising billboard. These pose real dangers to the people already cowering in fear of the typhoon’s wind and rain.

We can already say that Metro Manila is not just a concrete jungle but a billboard jungle as well. With the advent of large format printing, outdoor advertising was taken to new heights, literally and figuratively. There is even one billboard along EDSA which was touted as the largest billboard in the world, complete with a flashy publicity stunt. Another billboard was even used as a launch pad by former NCRPO Chief Vidal Querol when he zip-lined from one side of the Pasig river to the other.

Companies and products which wanted to catch the attention of the public, most especially those using the thoroughfares, took advantage of the ability to print their advertisements on a larger than life scale, even larger than a four story building.

Anyone who has experienced flying out of and into Metro Manila is treated to the competition for dominance of the skyline between the skyscrapers of the mega city and the billboards around the Metro. As the airplanes land in the Manila International and Domestic Airports, one can cannot help but wonder if the billboards along South Superhighway do not distract the pilots or impede their approach.

Some would think that these giant structures are sturdy enough not to pose a danger to the public. But typhoon Milenyo proved to us that the steel trusses of the giant billboards are no match to the power of Nature.

I use the South Superhighway in my daily commute. Everyday I pass that stretch, I wonder how these monstrosities would stand up to the test of the elements and forces of nature.

Now I don’t have to wonder at all. 25 billboards were felled by typhoon Milenyo in the stretch of South Superhighway from Villamor Air Base to Susana Heights alone. 25 giant billboards. Most of it fell in the jurisdiction of Paranaque and Muntinlupa.

One billboard fell across power lines, cutting off electrical service to a wide area, and caused heavy traffic along the service road and South Superhighway itself. Another one, with its tarpaulin advertisement still spread over the frame in spite of the typhoon, fell right on top of a residential community where the houses are of light materials. By the grace of God, the houses were not crushed due to a utility post and a house that was made of cement. Otherwise, it would have been a human tragedy.

Other billboards around Metro Manila were not spared. One billboard even killed an unfortunate driver of a car which was crushed along EDSA. Other billboards caused damage to property which as of now is unclear as to who will shoulder the liability.

It is understandable that the outdoor advertisers association would downplay the dangers of oversized billboards. A Mr. Carlo Llave, president of the Outdoor Advertisers Association of the Philippines said, "The population of billboards in Metro Manila is 2,500. Less than 40 fell. If we talk percentages, that's still a good number".

I am appalled at the insensitivity and irresponsibility of that statement.

I wonder if Mr. Llave can face the family of Felipe Gumapon, the ill-fated driver who was killed by a billboard, and tell them that the billboard which snuffed the life out of Felipe is just 0.04% of the billboards in Metro Manila, a good number in terms of percentages?

One billboard that falls down and kills one person is one billboard too many. One billboard that causes damage to other people’s property and disruption of daily living is one billboard too many. Talking in percentages only serve to mislead the people and cover up the obvious lack of wisdom on putting up giant billboards.

A PCIJ report in November of 2004 revealed that a single ad account for a giant electronic billboard “can mean revenues of up to P445,000 a month”. A modestly sized billboard (30’ x 50’) in my district located in an inner road of the city costs P30,000 a month. What about those along main thoroughfares such as the North and South Luzon Tollways or EDSA? Perhaps such income of these billboard operators is enough motivation to set aside sensitivity for public safety.

After typhoon Milenyo left the piles of twisted metal that were once billboards, it cannot be denied that giant billboards pose a danger to the public. It is about time that government does something about it. The Metro Manila Development Authority has been wanting to address this concern but is hampered by legal technicalities and existing law.

The MMDA even has a Metro Manila Council Resolution which required advertisers to secure clearance from the MMDA prior to the erection of billboards. But Chairman Bayani Fernando himself said he never issued any clearance because none were applied for. The billboard owners all went direct to the local government units, which readily gave permits.

The proliferation of oversized billboards in Metro Manila cannot go unacted upon especially in the aftermath of typhoon Milenyo. The situation of the MMDA vis-à-vis the local government units gives reason for us to pass a law on billboards.

. There are many proposals that have been forwarded in the wake of typhoon Milenyo, all that is needed is to consolidate all of these and craft legislation that would address the concern.

Suggestions such as prescribing a limit to the sizes of billboards or the establishment of buffer zones around the structures are worthy to be considered. Even the imposition of higher taxes or penalties for violations should be looked into. The outright ban is a bit extreme, although not entirely uncalled for.

While we contemplate on the appropriate measure that should be undertaken, government can initiate immediate steps to address this matter. Billboards which stand on government owned property should be the first to go. Whether to remove them outright or replace them with smaller sized billboards is within the power of government.

One example is the giant billboard erected in the property of the Bureau of Food and Drug in Muntinlupa City. Another is across the said billboard, right beside the building of Pedro Diaz High School, within the school’s compound.

Government needs to act on this now. To say that regulating outdoor advertising is bad for business is to neglect the welfare of the greater majority of citizens. To do nothing after seeing how the gigantic billboards could cause damage to property, injury and loss of life to people and disruption of our way of life is to fall short of our responsibility as public servants.

In view of this, I am calling on the House of Representatives to task the Special Committee on Metro Manila Development to look into the devastation brought about by the toppling of billboards during the visit of typhoon Milenyo, consider the proposed measures to formulate a policy and recommend the legislation needed to be filed to deal with this matter.

Thank you very much.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

One Night in Bangkok...

I couldn't sleep last night, after coming home from a dinner celebrating my borther-in-law's promotion. He's just 28 but he was promoted ahead of others more senior in age and experience than him, making him AVP of the bank he worls for.

Perhaps it was the coffee I drank or probably the anticipation for the next day's work that kept me up. Whichever it was, it was depriving me of rest. So I turned on the television, and scanned through the cable channels.

A thought ran through my mind, wondering in amazement at how television has changed in the past decade. I thought back to the time when my wife and I stayed up late watching over our eldest son, born in 1990. Back then, there was no cable TV and the local channels stayed on only up to around midnight. Beyond that hour, it seemed the world was dead.

It was during those sleepless nights taking care of our baby that I watched the unfolding of the first Gulf War, when the Americans kicked Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait which he invaded. I'm proud to say I caught it live when Bernard Shaw of CNN declared to the world that "the skies over Baghdad have been illuminated".

Only one local channel stayed up beyond midnight back then, airing the CNN coverage of Gulf War 1. And that was my entertainment while I held my baby's milk bottle, which he eagerly sucked on for nourishment. Now, that baby is already 15 years old, ready to take on the world. Time flies....

Anyway, going back to my channel surfing, I scanned towards the direction of one of my favorite channels (aside from Discovery, National Geographic and Jack TV)---CNN. As I switched to that institution of world news coverage, images of soldiers clad in fatigues and riding on a Hummer flashed on the screen....could this be IT? WHether by anticipation or just a failure of instant recognition, I thought I saw Philippine Marines out in the streets doing maneuvers. Flashbacks of the Marine Stand-off enter my head....

After a few moments, although the soldiers had skin as brown as mine and the camouflage looked eeringly similar to the Philippine Marines', I realized that this was not happening in the Philippines. OF course, the realization was helped by the big bold letters on the screen identifying the event as happening in Bangkok, Thailand...

With the same excitement I had when I witnessed other historical events in my young lifetime, any semblance of sleepiness left me and I watched the unfolding coup happen, once again amazed at the wonders of present day technology in news coverage. As I was sitting there in my chair, a government was actually being overrun right before my eyes.

Then as those events in Bangkok was happening, the screen was split, to show audiences the ongoing General Assembly at the United Nations in New York City. At the same time that the Thai troops were maneuvering in their tanks and hummer vehicles, US President George W. Bush was about to take the podium to address the assembly of nations. Wow! This beats MTV anytime!

The audio then cut off from the news anchors' commentaries about the Thai coup to the speech of President Bush. I switch to BBC, more interested in the developments in Thailand. Only muted images in a Picture-In Picture was there, with BBC giving preferential treatment to the strongest leader on Earth. I change to another inernational news channel, Bloomberg, Bush is also The Man there. SO I went back to CNN and just listened to his speech about terrorism while watching the smaller screen showing the video from Bangkok.

I stayed awake up to around 4:00 AM, until I realized I had to leave the house later that morning at 7:00 AM. I needed some shut-eye. SO I turned on the TV and went to sleep, still in amazed at what the Thai have once again done.

The coup is the 18th since World War II, and the first since 1992. Thailand has the reputation of changing governments through military intervention, with the Philippines seemingly wanting to play second fiddle. OF course, we became the model for People Power, which has been copied by many countries over the years.

Back here in the Philippines, proponents of CHarter Change say that a shift to a parliamentary system is a guarantee that coups and military intervention will no longer happen to us. They try to sell the idea of a Utopia under a new sytem of government where the decisions on the destiny of the country are confined to a specific group of people who will choose the nation's leader among themselves. Only God knows how good we are on that one....

Parliamentary system is a guarantee against coups? But doessn't Thailand have a parliamentary government? Thailand, touted as the "twin" of the Philippines, seems to be saddled with the same condition as the PHilippines---a politically involved military.

I believe that the system of government is irrelevant to whether there will coups or not. The basic reason why the military will take the initiative against a government is when the government itself fails to get the confidence of the people and the military. Prime Minister Thaksin SHinawatra was beset by issues concerning corruption and legitimacy (the elections he called for were invalidated by the Thai court). The issues against his government were becoming more and more intolerable, especially since the issues were far from being resolved. His hold over his partymates, which translated to a hold of Parliament (it's a game of numbers), ensured their stay in power in spite of those issues.

But not for long. Thaksin and his political allies may have the political power, but they obviously do not have the military might on their side. The self-preservation afforded by the system of government crumbled in the face of the rolling tanks, even with a constitutional provision which tags coups as treason, therefore punishable under their law. The military simply abolished the constitution and dissolved parliament. That's that.

SO if there is one lesson that we FIlipinos (especially the politicians) should learn about this recent Thai expereience, it is this---- we may fool some people some of the time, but we cannot fool all the people all of the time. The Cha-Cha proponents may fool a few people with their idea that a change in the system of government will eradicate coups, but many people, especially the military, know that a change in government without a change in the hearts and minds of those running the government, will still provide the reason for elements in the AFP to take the initiative on behalf of the people.

Now if only they could learn from the Thai military how to do it....

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


In the wake of the expose by a so-called terrorism and security expert regarding the failure of airport security to prevent him from smuggling bomb components on board a flight from Davao to Manila and back, the country’s anti-terrorism efforts still continue to show weaknesses that could be exploited by terrorists.

Anti-terrorism activities are not limited to filtering passengers in the hope of preventing a terrorist to get on board an aircraft, an activity wherein our airport security has shown to have a weakness. There are three dimensions to anti-terrorism --- prevention, apprehension and information. With particular reference to this expose by the security expert, it appears that the anti-terrorism efforts of the government have failed.

Failure in the prevention aspect was proven by the successful smuggling of the bomb components on board an aircraft. In the apprehension aspect, one week after the expose, authorities have yet to apprehend the individual who carried out the act. Even if there is a claim that his experiment was conducted upon the initiative of an influential and well-placed government official, the fact remains that there was no coordination with airport and police authorities, therefore they should have immediately conducted operations to trace him and apprehend him. As they say in tagalog, “sa presinto na lang siya magpaliwanag”.

But what the authorities have to show for themselves after this incident are a lot of excuses and a faceless name. In the aftermath of the September 11 World Trade Center attacks and the London bus and train bombings, authorities immediately came out with pictures of the suspects, taken from surveillance cameras placed in the terminals. This vital piece of information and evidence is an important lead in the investigation of terrorist acts, both in capturing suspects, identifying their network of cells and monitoring their activities.

The security expert said he conducted the tests on August 14. By mentioning this date, the authorities could have reviewed the tapes of their security cameras and verified the identities of all the passengers on the specified flight on that day, and by a process of elimination, they would have been able to confirm if the expert really did board that flight or not. They would have seen if he really was thoroughly checked or if there was laxity on the part of the airport security personnel.

But the inability of the authorities to do these post-incident activities show that they have also failed in the investigative and apprehension aspect of anti-terrorism.

They might dispute this by saying that they just withheld the information so as not to jeopardize their operations. Assuming that they were able to identify the expert but were just withholding the information, then they would have failed in the third aspect, which is informing the public.

A vital part of anti-terrorism is giving the public a sense of security and confidence that the government can protect them and are competent to shield the people from terrorist attacks. So far, the authorities, with all their excuses, have only added to the anxiety of the people over their safety.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Blast From the Past

Last Friday, during my People's Time in my district office, I received a surprise visitor from the past.

Alex, a batch mate of mine from elementary to high school in Malate Catholic School, came to my office to seek my assistance. He is not a resident or of my district but he decided to go to me instead of the congressman where he lived since he felt that being a long-time schoolmate, I would readily receive him. In spite of that, he told me that he still had a slight apprehension in going to me since I might not give him the time or opportunity to talk to him.

Alex is the son of Aling Cita, who was the janitress in our school. I remember her fondly, patiently cleaning up after the mess we made during recess. She stayed with us in the school premises whenever the school bus was late in bringing us home, making sure that the resident "mu-mu" wouldn;t bother us while we waited for our ride home. In our social studies classes, she was always included in the "persons in your neighborhood" topic, earning a space in the test items that we had.

"Who maintains cleanliness and orderliness in the school?", the question in the quarterly test asks. All the way through elementary and on to high school we would encounter that question. SOmetimes, we would use ALing Cita as the subject of our sentences during English class.

Yes, she was a benevolent presence in the school, very much like a mother to all of us students. Everyone was kind to her, even the school. IN fact, the school took in her son as a scholar, belonging to our batch, Batch 86.

Looking back, I never knew Alex that well. ALthough we were in the same batch, we belonged to different sections. I knew that he was Aling Cita's son but I never hung out with him or belonged in the same "barkada" with him. We were practically strangers.

Maybe that's why when he came to my office, it did not register to me who he was, in spite of the fact that in my appointment schedule, his name was there. As is my practice, everyone who wants to meet with me, whether he is the president of a company or a tricycle driver, is given his time to speak to me personally.

So it was that when he entered my office, I proceeded to settle into the "how can I help you" mode. His first words were, "hindi mo na ba ako natatandaan?" My mind started racing, searching all memory banks for the picture of where and when I met him. I came up blank.

"Anak ako ni ALing Cita, yung janitress noon sa Malate", was his humble follow through. Instantly, with a flash, my brain pulls out the picture of Aling Cita, the kind, gentle "manang" who kept our toilets clean and corridors polished.

"Oo! Naalala na kita!". Actually, I still couldn't find a picture in my mind how he looked like back then. Then I proceeded. After the initial niceties and recollections of days past in Malate, I asked again what I could do for him.

He said that he needed help with employment. He said he's been out of a job for a couple of months now, and with two children to feed and educate, his situation was desperate. He thought about going to me after he met another batchmate of ours who suggested to him to visit me.

I could see that he was in dire straights. He wouldn't come to visit me in Muntinlupa all the way from Pasig unless he really needed someone to help him. At this moment, he saw hope in me that I might be able to help him.

That's why it was doubly difficult to see him there in my office. Because as things would have it, a legislator's office is the least capable office to provide employment. FIrst of all, there is a limit to how many staff one can take. Second, whatever allocated positions are there are usually filled up already.

UNlike local government units, we do not have a Public Employment Office which has the mandate of looking for jobs for the populace. A congressman's duty and responsibility is to legislate.

Some say that as congressman, I could influence local businesses to hire our recommendees and that there are positions allocated for us, as a form of PR by the companies. But the truth is it isn't like that. We have no influence whatsoever. Unless of course, if I use my position to exert pressure (very slight pressure) on them. But I don't do that.

But it pained me to see him in that situation. Although as I said, I wasn't really close to him back in elementary of high school, the fact that we grew up together gave me a more personal involvement in his plight.

His situation is representative of the situation of a lot of our countrymen, fighting a daily survival in a world that is abundant but at the same time selfish. Sometimes it seems life is unfair, that while some lavishly splurge their riches, others can only dream of the next meal.

It is doubly frustrating and discouraging on my part---I am in a position of power yet I am powerless to immediately provide a solution to Alex's problem. Yes, I could temporarily alleviate his situation if I give him several hundred pesos to get past the next couple of days. But where will that bring him afterwards? Back to where he is now.

ONe of the most difficult emotional and mental stresses of this job is having all the problems that beset this nation--poverty, divisiveness, conflict, etc.--- dumped on your lap yet solutions are beyond your reach. In the whole scheme of things, solutions to these problems do not come from one direction or source. Most often, collaboration, coordination and cooperation among several entitities are needed in order to formulate the answers to our problems? But sad to say, unity, or the lack of it, is one of the problems itself!

Going back to Alex, I had to do something for him. I then remembered a friend of mine who owned a maintenance firm (janitorial services) in Pasig. It would be a favor I would be asking, so employment woudl be guaranteed. It would be in Pasig, so his cost for going to work will be minimized.

But I had my apprehension about that particular option. Taking that job would mean Alex will end up a janitor. A janitress' son ending up as a janitor. Somehow, it did not seem right to me .
I had to look for another option....

Monday, August 28, 2006

Manic Monday...Not!

Some people dread Mondays because it is the start of the work week. For many, it is usually the start of their busy work-week schedule, a day that is plagued by the weekend hangover. But there's work, work, work to be done...

It's 4:00 PM and I am in my office. I just turned on the monitor which gives me the real-time goings on in the session hall downstairs. The National Anthem has just been played. A member of COngress delivers her carefully prepared prayer, an appeal to the Almighty for wisdom in the performance of our duties.

Then the majority floor leader moves to dispense with the Calling of the Roll. A motion to approve the journal of the previous objections, motion is carried..then a motion to read the Reference of Business for the Day. The Secretary General reads the list of bills and resolutions which are then referred to the appropriate committee.

After the reference of business, the Majority FLoor leader moves to suspend the session. Session suspended. It is now 4:10 PM , and all I can hear over the monitor are some light banter and someone laughing his heart out at some joke that somebody probably cracked.

Another busy day at the office....

The "Abas" Arguement

Debates are meant as a means of winning your opponent over to your side, or at least have your opponent acknowledge your position on a particular issue without resorting to bashing each other's heads or twisting arms to make one submit. It is a tool of civilized society, in order to settle matters with the power of words, instead of weapons.

These verbal jousts are are tests to the skills of the participants and the soundness of their ideas. The weaker argument usually ends up in submission, with the proponent agreeing to the opponent.

BUt there are times when one side of the debate resorts to an argument that is impossible to tear down, even with the soundest logic, mastery of words and skill in delivery. Once confronted with this argument, one cannot help but simply give up in frustration and leave the debate empty handed.

This is known as the "Abas" Argument.

No, it is not named after some crafty debater who excelled in every forum he participated in. Neither is it some unique principle that could solve all the mysteries of life. It isn't a mystical power wielded by a debater which provided him the answers to all questions.

Simply, it is the "Abasta!" method of arguing.

I must admit my weakness in not knowing how to translate that in English. My best would be to liken it to the lingo of the youth when they use this retort in an exchange: "Whatever!"

You can never win against the Abas Argument....even if you present an idea backed up with facts, figures and the kitchen sink, the simple reply would be : "Abasta! I don't believe you and your idea is unacceptable!"

----"But the documentary evidence shows that you accepted the payment! It has your signature on it verified by handwriting experts!"

----"Abasta! That's not my signature!"

Many times in my work I have encountered the Abas Argument. The amazing thing about the Abas Argument is that even if technically, the user has lost the debate due to the inability to offer a logical and established argument, he simply just maintains that air of "I am right and I win" attitude and he comes out the winner.

You simply cannot win over the Abas Argument. You disagree?

Abasta! I am right, you are wrong!

It's 2:00 AM..

It's 2:00 AM. I am fully awake although I did not drink any coffee. I am fully fired up, pumping with adrenaline just as I would if I had done my time in the treadmill (that's why some do not recommend exercising in the evening, since it boosts the adrenaline in your system, keeping you in a high state of alertness).

I have just concluded answering my e-mail and reading the blogs of various personalities, capping a four-hour straight marathon in front of my computer. I have been reading, absorbing and answering the reactions the impeachment vote last wed-thu, particularly the position that i took during that vote...well, I think I've explained myself enough.

A question that comes to my mind after all that mental exercise is, is there a point to answering all these emails? Am I just wasting my time giving a detailed response to each and every email to me? Actually, I can simply send back an acknowledgment (" thank you for writing, I will ponder on what you said...") and therefore disqualify any comment that I don;t respond to messages sent to me.

But that would be a disservice to the public. As a public official, I do have that obligation to respond. And respond substantially. The public deserves, and it actually it's their right, to be answered by government officials.

That is the reason why in spite of the demise of two impeachment complaints, people are still seeking answers to the questions brought about by the Garci Tapes...they were never answered. Not then, not now.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Second Impeachment Complaint...part 3

After the vote in the Committee on Justice hearing on the second Impeachment Complaint against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, it was then that I began to contemplate on the vote in the plenary.

Prior to the decision of the Committee on Justice, I was still hoping against hope that a fair and unhindered presentation of the complaint and the evidence supporting it was going to be allowed. I was banking on the belief that since COngress is a deliberative body, congressmen will listen to reason and instead of putting up legal technicalities as obstacles to the truth, they will stretch the limits of rules in order to assist the Truth to come out, before making an objective, rational and intelligent decision on how to vote.

I would like to think that I am an idealist. I shudder at every moment in my politician's life when I stop and ponder if I am losing my idealism and start becoming a pragmatist. I still believd in the process and I still had faith in the Institution that is the House of Representatives.

But as things turned out, the impeachment complaint was not going to see the light of day. It was then that I began to question the process and the wisdom of pursuing an objective that will never be achieved.

I am one who believes that while we stand firm in the principles and causes we fight for, we should also be flexible enough to adapt to the situations we face in the pursuit of those principles and causes. The US Marines have a motto to remind the troops how to perform under fire, even under the most dire conditions..."IMPROVISE, ADAPT adn OVERCOME."

The question was: "should we pursue impeachment even if it does not have a chance at all to survive? What will its dismissal do to the opposition's objectives and goals?" It was time for strategic rather than emotional and sentimental thinking.

After much contemplation, I arrived at the conclusion that under the prevailing process in the House, the impeachment complaint's fate was already sealed by the overwhelming number of the Majority. I knew that no amount of reasoning or argument can change that.

With that, I decided to abstain from voting, and I even prepared my explanation of vote:

Mr. Speaker, colleagues:

“These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgments in your courts” – Zechariah 8:16

For the second time in the 13th Congress, we are called upon to exercise our duties as Representatives of the People and decide on a matter that will have great consequence to our nation. We are asked to decide whether or not the President of the Republic of the Philippinesshall be brought to trial by the Senate for offenses prescribed by the Constitution as a basis for impeaching the Chief Executive.

Exactly 350 days ago, I, along with 50 other members of this House, voted to reject the report of the Committee on Justice dismissing the impeachment complaint against the President not as voices of defiance against a force in power, but rather as a chorused appeal to our colleagues in behalf of Truth, for the opportunity to present our case and for the President to clear her name in a transparent process that would have lain to rest any question about her presidency.

I have no regrets in standing for what I believed in, and I maintain that it was worth the fight. Ultimately, the judge of whether we did right or wrong in last year’s impeachment will not be our fellow man but God Almighty.

It is a sad note that even before this year’s complaint saw the light of day in the Committee on Justice, it was already sentenced to its doomed fate. It is ironic that with the same vigor that the death penalty was abolished in this Chamber in the name of justice, the people’s complaint was summarily executed in cold blood, its eventual death decided on before the first bang of the gavel.

The rhetoric by those who proclaimed the death even before the initial examination speaks of verbal creativity. Indeed the play with words are worthy of emulation, if only for the display of literary prowess. I doubt, however, if it reflects any value for fairness and balance in the process.

I am a believer in Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Of his five essentials for victory, the first says, “He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.” This is further explained by Chang Yu, one of the acknowledged commentators on the Art of War, “If he can fight, he advances and takes the offensive; if he cannot fight, he retreats and remains on the defensive. He will invariably conquer who knows whether it is right to take the offensive or the defensive.”

A tactical retreat should not be equated to the abandonment of a cause. It is merely a selection of the battlefield where one will fight, a lesson not lost on General MacArthur, who, if he had chosen to stay and fight the Japanese, could have died a hero but never see the victory at the end of the war.

The conditions prevailing last year are different from conditions prevailing this year. That is not to say that questions about the Truth have already been answered, partially or wholly. It is just that there are less elements that favor a successful impeachment.

On hindsight, my knee-jerk reaction to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the PhilippinesJuly 9, 2006 statement on the impeachment process may have been misplaced. My first reaction was that of dismay at what I believed was a political decision by a body that was supposed to provide a moral guide for the policy makers.

Now I am inclined to agree with their statement, that indeed, the process does not lend justice to the noble cause of the search for truth.

While I no longer favor the pursuit of impeachment at this time for reasons of strategy and not of substance, I cannot be counted with those who agree with this committee report. I find the process not in conformity to my ideal manner of how to let the Truth come out.

I believe that it requires extra effort on everyone’s part for Truth to reveal itself, and any resistance, however miniscule, will surely hinder its exposition.

I enjoy competitive sports. But if I feel that a game is fixed, or rigged to go in favor of a particular side, I lose interest in participating in it. I would rather not allow myself to be subjected to such an insult and just wait for the next game.

The impeachment is not the be-all and end-all of the search for Truth. The cause is greater than the process and I believe that there are other methods and opportunities to continue the fight for righteousness in government.

I do not wish to participate in this particular process, therefore, I abstain.
But as I was listening to the interpellations prior to the voting, I couldn't help but be dismayed at how the debate was proceeding. It was disappointing to hear none of the expected gentlemanly debate that is contemplated by Robert's Rules of Order or even the Rules of the House of Representatives.

It was bad enough that the spirit of giving the minority the chance to present its case and possibly, just possibly, convince other congressmen of their cause was abandoned. It was made worse by the arrogant manner of interpellation by some members of the majority.

This was not the idealist's preference of a truly "Honorable" House of Representatives and Impeachment Proceedings.

It was then that another decision was made...that of NON-PARTICIPATION.

I did not wish to participate in a process that did not conform to what I believed should be the way a COnstitutional process is conducted by a COnstitutional institution. Even a vote of Abstention would have lent credence to something that I objected to.

The Second Impeachment Complaint...part two

As far as the majority in the House is concerned, the second impeachment complaint was doomed from the start. If compared to a boxing match, it was a fight not to be decided on how good the fighter fights, but on whose side the referee and the judges are on.

I do not think even Manny Pacquiao would enter the ring if he knew that even if he landed all his punches, the judges will not give him points but instead award it to his opponent. Or even if he knocks down the opponent the referee will not count. Most likely he will just choose not to fight and wait for the next match.

The obvious result of the failed second impeachment is the further weakening of the opposition. The administration now has the bragging rights to claim a second victory over a threat to the presidency of PGMA, further strengthening her hold especially among the players in the political field. This is most especially true considering the forthcoming elections in 2007. Having emerged the victor in this latest political skirmish, candidates in the coming elections will have second thoughts going against a now-deeply entrenched president whose use of resources to gain political allies has already been mastered as a science.

It would have been a different scenario if, like the first impeachment, the prospects of convincing members of Congress to support the impeachment were real and greater. But long before the second impeachment complaint was filed, it was already clear that the previous number of 51 was not going to be reached. And neither were there any of the pro-GMA congressmen who even indicated a change of heart.

On hindsight, the wisdom of pursuing the second impeachment complaint now comes to test. With the knowledge of the eventual fate of the complaint, was it to the benefit of the over-all cause of the opposition for it to be led to its pre-determined death?

There is always a reward of glory in making a desperate, last stand against all odds. That’s the appeal of Custer’s last stand. The Alamo. Gregorio Del Pilar’s Tirad Pass. But in the pursuit of victory in a war, do all battles need to be won?

General Douglas MacArthur was humbled by his retreat from the Philippines, decimated by the advancing Japanese troops. He scampered away without the pomp and circumstance worthy of the general that he was. He slipped out the back door, in a submarine that took him to the rear lines where he planned for his return.

And return he did, with a fresh plan, forged determination and clear objective. If he had chosen to make a last stand in the face of the Japanese advance, he would most likely had inspired his men to fight to the death. HE would have either been captured or killed along with his men. If that had happened, there is no doubt that he would have been lionized as a hero.

A dead hero. One who can never fight again.

A military saying goes, “better to retreat today and live to fight another day”. Another says, “a living soldier is better than a dead hero.”

Sun Tzu, in his much acclaimed writings of military doctrine, The Art of War, said, “Victory goes to the one who knows when to fight and when not to fight.”

Choosing the battles you fight is one of the accepted military tactics and strategies. It also holds true even in the stock market or foreign exchange trading…you have to know when to sell and when not to sell. It especially holds true in politics. Even in Impeachment.

And so it goes back tot eh impeachment complaint…was it beneficial to bring the opposition to an eventual political loss? What are the gains of the exercise? Did it add to the number of the opposition or did it just make the opposition angrier? Frustrated? Discouraged?

Did it add to the number of idealists or did it contribute to the ranks of pragmatists?

These are questions that I hope the opposition will ponder on now, in the period going into the 2007 elections. It is during this lull in the battle that plans should now be made to ensure victory in next year’s elections. Lessons from the past will serve the opposition well during this period, as well as the visions for the future.

The Second Impeachment...part one

The victory was decisive--- 173 votes cast to junk the impeachment complaint, 32 votes to uphold it, and 1 abstention. True, there is no doubt that the second impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was dead.

In fact, as one administration congressman put it, it was a “cadaver of a complaint”, dead on arrival at the footsteps of the House of Representatives. You have to hand it to this congressman. He displayed such flair and mastery of the language as to how he described the complaint—“lifeless complaint for impeachment”…. “What we heard from its endorsers were funeral orations”….“classic case of suicide”…“complaint killed itself”…he seems to have a fetish for death, savoring every moment whenever he relates the impeachment to loss of life. I wouldn’t be surprised if he experiences orgasm at the very thought of the “cadaver of a complaint”.

Even before the first bang of the gavel, the second impeachment complaint was doomed to the fate of the complaint filed in 2005. Statements from administration stalwarts prior to the hearings of the Committee on Justice shamelessly proclaimed the eventual dismissal of the complaint. The reason why it became a “cadaver of a complaint” was that its life was stifled by those who were supposed to be entrusted by the Constitution to give it an opportunity to at least gasp for breath and say its last words.

Even the death convict is given that opportunity before his life is extinguished.

It was a foregone conclusion. Perhaps that is the reason why the interpellations prior to the voting deteriorated to the character of a street corner debate amongst drunks instead of an exchange between “distinguished” and “honorable” gentlemen. The arrogance of the sponsors of the committee report was not unnoticeable even to the general public, which was revealed to me when one of my constituents asked, “sir, bakit ho kung magsalita at sumagot yung mga matatandang congressman na yan ay parang walang kinatandaan?”.

The majority did not see the need for any debate. They did not want to listen to what the endorsers of the impeachment have to say. The only arsenal of the minority in this arena is the spirit, logic and reason of their arguments in favor of the impeachment.

In a democracy, it is true that the majority rules. As it has been said repeatedly by the anti-impeachment personalities, it is a “numbers game”, that as long as you have the numbers, you win the game. But the true essence of democracy is not a simple headcount. The true spirit of democracy is allowing your opponent to speak and for you to LISTEN to and CONSIDER what he has to say. While you uphold the principles and advocacies you believe in, you still open yourself to be convinced by the other side.

In that ideal situation, ideas prevail instead of personalities. Reason is given a chance over stubborn bull-headedness. It ensures that what is upheld is the IDEA that is supported by the most number of people, not the PERSON supported by the most number of allies.

The mockery and high-handedness these veteran legislators displayed against the young members of congress struggling in their fight for principles betrayed their callousness and pride. They have outlived their idealism and miserably failed to present themselves as sources of inspiration and guidance to the younger generation of leaders. It is a pity that instead of being looked up to by the youth, these old timers now represent what the new generation seeks to reform. Instead of being guides and partners to the young, they serve as the tormentors.

To be continued...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The AFP Chief of Staff 's 5-Point Guidline

AFP Chief of Staff General Generoso Senga’s five-point guideline on the role of the military is directed not only to the men in uniform but also to all politicians, both from the administration and the opposition. His guidelines could not come at a more appropriate time, when those opposing the administration would like to see the AFP take a pivotal role in political change just as in EDSA 1 and 2 and those who defend the administration are still bristling with the pre-emption of a withdrawal of support by elements of the military.

The AFP is now caught in a tug of war between political power groups jostling for the support of the men in uniform. Both parties are guilty of politicizing the AFP, one side encouraging the soldiers to take part in regime change and the other using the military in defending itself against political issues requiring political solutions.

The guidelines of General Senga should be clear to all soldiers and politicians that the AFP is not to be used a political tool. They should remain a neutral force in terms of politics but biased towards defending the Constitution and democracy.

But while their mission is to defend democracy, at the same time, they are not afforded the same freedoms that ordinary citizens enjoy. Among their limitations are the prohibition to participate in partisan politics and the freedom of speech. On the other hand, they are bound by the principles of civilian supremacy over the military and the chain of command.

This means that AFP should recognize that all duly elected officials of the government, whether pro-administration or anti-administration, are part of the civilian authority that governs over the whole nation, including the military organization. The military should respond to these leaders in a manner consistent with the AFP’s mandate, limitations and Constitutional rights and privileges. The political differences among politicians should not affect how the AFP relates to all parties concerned. There should be no anti/pro-administration or anti/pro-opposition.

However, politicians should also realize that the principle of civilian supremacy over the military is not a license for any civilian official, much a more a politician, to short circuit the chain of command. It does not mean that any civilian official can give orders to any soldier and expect them to be obeyed. It also does not mean that any civilian official can go ahead and talk about matters of state to any officer or soldier and hold them accountable for any statement they may make. In fact, unless the subject mater is personal in nature, the soldier is not obligated to discuss with anyone unless authorized by his superior. Thus, any dialogue with the soldiers even by elected officials must be covered with appropriate authorization from the military hierarchy.

Starting at 37

Today I start my blog. Why today? Well, for one thing, now is the only time that I got myself to actually sit down and type, although I've been wanting to join the blog community for quite some time now. My busy schedule just got in the way. ...nope, to be honest about it, it's just procastination. Some wise person came up with a very good saying---"You only have time for things that you really want to do".

We often say that we want to do, or even need to do things (such as exercise) but because of busy schedules, we are unable to. But somehow, we have time to wake up late and lie around in bed till mid-morning, watch television for hours on end, or stroll in the mall. But the hard reality is that we can make time for things that we really want to do. If we don't put it in our schedules, then it only means we don't have it in our priority list.

Anyway, another good reason for me to start this is that I just had my birthday yesterday. One good practice to start something is to attach significance to it. Much like the new year's resolutions that people make at the start of the year. Many wait one full year to make a resolution, but the fact is that we can resolve to change or initiate something anytime of the year.

For me, my birthday is a good reason to start my blog. I've been on this earth for 37 years now. Another year has passed, subtracting from the time allocated to me by God to be significant on earth. Looking back to those 37 years, have I really been significant?

I guess so. I married the woman I love, I fathered three wonderful sons with a fourth due in a several months, and am able to provide for their needs. I believe that is the most significant thing that anyone is expected to do during his life on earth. Rear a family and provide for them. All else is just an option.