Monday, December 17, 2007

The Cheaper Medicines Bill...Will it do what we want it to do?

n the 13th Congress, the Cheaper Medicines Bill failed to be passed into a law because before congressmen could vote on it for the Third and final Reading, the sessions of the 13th Congress drew to a close and both the Senate and the House of Representatives adjourned. People were disappointed because after the long wait and the series of public hearings and debates, the bill did not make the deadline in order for it to become a law of the land.

In the present 14th Congress, there is reason to rejoice because we are only in the first six months of its three year life span and yet the Cheaper Medicines Bill is already passed in the Senate and ready for Second Reading votation in the House of Representatives. TO be more specific, the congressmen are now in the period of Individual Amendments, after having gone through First Reading, public hearings, Sponsorship on the plenary floor, period of Debates and Interpellation, and period of Committee Amendments.

After the period COmmittee Amendments, where the authors and sponsors incorporate changes to the bill brought about by the interpellation and debates after spnsorship on the floor, the proposed amendments by individual legislators are taken up and considered. There are some debates conducted, with the proponent of individual amendments justifying their proposals.

This is the period where we are in now. After the Period of Individual Amendments, there will be voting on Second Reading, which is a reading of the bill with all the amendments incorporated. After that, then the final version will be voted on by the members of the House for the final Third Reading.

After all the hype and waiting, everyone is eager to have a Cheaper Medicines Law (the final name of the law, however, will most likely be changed since the name "Cheaper Medicines Law sounds..well, cheap. It gives a connotation that the quality is low). But as the cliche goes, it's so close but so far away.

The period of Individual Amendments is turning out to be a stumbling block to the bill's immediate passage. It is a period where one particular congressman's individual amendments, which he seems to have at almost every page, eat up the time since a congressman with an individual amendment is given the time to propose his amendment and explain his proposal. With congress having only three days left before it goes on Christmas break, the next time it can be taken up will be after January 21 when Congress resumes its sessions. The previous two weeks were already spent taking up his numerous proposed amendments and at this time, he is still not yet done.

There is already talk among congressmen that the bill should be railroaded and the congressman with the numerous proposed amendments should just be overwhelmed by the majority through a legislative steamroller.

I understand the concern of the congressmen about the delays. The 13th Congress was plagued by it and got blamed for the suffering that our people endured for each day that they had to swallow the bitter pill of overpriced medicines.

Imagine this...There are about 7.76 million Filipinos who suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure). That is one out of every five adults. High blood pressure is the fifth leading cause of death in the Philippines. Every year, an average of 300,000 Filipnos are lost to this disease. It strikes in all social classes, whether rich or poor.

Norvasc, a medicine for hypertension, is sold in the Philippines by a multinational pharmaceutical company for P41.41 per 5-mg tablet. In India and Pakistan, the same drug, manufactured by the same company, is priced at around P5.77 per 5-mg tablet. Plendil,also for hypertension, is priced in the Philippines at P21.82 per tablet while it costs only P2.69 in India.

Another comparison is the asthma medicine Ventolin. An inhalor costs P315.00 here while in India, it costs only P126.78. Other emdicines also show the same disparity. Ponstan, a common painkiller, costs only P3.22 in India but costs P24.92 per pill in the Philippines. Bactrim 400, priced at P17.75 per tablet in the Philippines, can be bought for only P1 in Pakistan and P0.69 in India.

The government, through the Philippine INternational Trading COrporation, is trying to help make medicines affordable by doing direct importation of medicines from other countries and injecting them into the market. But this approach cannot be done for all medicines.

What makes the prices of other medicines high, specially the medicines from the multinational companies, are the patents that they have on the formula of these medicines. Because how our Intellectual Property Law is worded, the companies holding the patents of these medicines have exclusive rights to the use of the formula and therefore, can dictate the when other companies can produce the same medicine or how much it is going to be sold.

The proposed Cheaper Medicines bill attempts to provide the legal environment similar to what India or Pakistan have which enables them to lower the price of medicines. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives versions do this approach, except that the House version incorporates the creation of a Drug Price Regulation Board, which, the authors and the sponsors say, will play an active role in making medicines cheaper since it will be given the powers to fix a maximum retail price for the medication people take.

But before we run out and join the rallies calling for the immediate passage of the bill without further amendments, or support the move to railroad it in the face of the questions being raised, let me ask this question...if passed in its present form, will the bill result in the immediate lowering of prices? This has been what the public is expecting all this time. That once passed into law, prices will immediately go down.

Each day that the bill is delayed in its passage into law, is a day that we add to the suffering of our people. It goes to follow then, that once passed into law, each day that the law is delayed in its implementation, it is a day added to the suffering of our countrymen. Right?

So why is it then, that the bill proposes to suspend the powers of the Drug Price Regulatory Board for a period of one year from the time the law is passed before it can exercise its powers to regulate prices?

Why not let the Board exercise its powers immediately after the law is passed so that the people can immediately enjoy the benefits of the law? This provision is found in the bill:

"SECTION 46. Exercise of the Power of the Board - The power of the Board under Section 17 (a) 1 to regulate the retail prices of drugs or medicines listed under Section 18 shall be exercised after a period of twelve months from the effectivity of this Act."

This 12-month period only gives the pharmaceutical companies one full year to impose overpricing on the people. This provision does not benefit the people, but instead it provides a shelter for the pharmaceutical companies to extend life to their current huge profit margins.

If the bill is passed without this provision being amendmended, we cannot expect prices to immediately go down after the passage of the law. We will still have to wait AT LEAST one year before prices are fixed by the Board.

Yes, AT LEAST one year. I said AT LEAST because there is another provision in the bill which gives a loophole for prices to continue in their elevated state. This provision, found in Section 17 (a) 3, reads:

"3. No retailer shall sell drugs or medicines at a retail price exceeding the maximum retail price fixed by the Board: Provided, That, until the maximum retail price of drugs or medicines subject to price regulation is fixed by the Board, no manufacturer, importer, trader, distributor, wholesaler, or retailer of such drug or medicine shall sell the same at a retail price exceeding the price prevailing immediately before the effectivity of this Act."

At first glance, it might be said that there's nothing wrong with the provision, that in fact, it is beneficial to the consumers since it specifically provides for the maximum retail price. But a closer look will show that this provides a mechanism where the prices of medicines can remain at the current high levels for an indefinite period of time.

First, the provision states that the current prevailing price, which we all know is already overpriced, shall be the maximum retail price after the effectivity of the law. This means a status quo, or a no-change policy. In other words, the law does not mandate that prices be lowered.

Second, the provision does not give a specific time frame for the Board to fix a new maximum retail price for medicines. It says, "until the maximum retail price of drugs or medicines subject to price regulation is fixed by the Board". The time that the Board fixes the maximum retail price may come in one month, one year, or one decade.

The Board is composed of only seven individuals. If the pharmaceutical companies attempted to influence congresssmen from passing the bill, which was not even passed by the 13th congress, what more the members of a 7-man board which would be granted absolute power to fix the prices of medicines?

Why not let the law state a specific time frame to set the maximum retail price for medicines? This provision, taken in tandem with the provision on the effectivity of the powers of the Board, will give so much leeway for the pharmaceutical companies to keep imposing on us the high prices of their medicines.

I believe that these provisions negate the expectations of the people with regard to the Cheaper Medicines bill. We try to rush the passage of the bill, claiming that our people need it now, and yet the bill, when passed into law, suddenly steps on the brake and gives the pharmaceutical companies additional time to continue their overpricing ways.

These issues are the subject of my individual amendments to the bill. I have been waiting in line for the Individual Amendments for two weeks now.

My first amendment seeks to amend the provision in Section 17 (a) 3. I propose that the section be amended to provide a specific time frame, anywhere from three to six months, for the board to set the maximum retail prices for medicines. I further propose to amend the same provision by adding a mandate to set the maximum retail price to a level LOWER than the prevailing price at the time of the effectivity of the law, not to simply allow the current price levels to continue.

My second amendment seeks to delete the entire Section 46, or the provision that suspends the powers of the board for a period of one year after the passage of the law. I propose that the powers be exercised immediately after the passage of the law.

Unfortunately, I am not sure if my amendments will see the light of day. The delays caused by the numerous proposed amendments by the other congressman, who has been tagged by some as working for the benefit of the pharma companies, is providing a reason for the House of Representatives to railroad the bill. Since I am lined up to propose my amendments after that congressman, a railroading of the bill will not only run over that congressman's amendments but also mine.

It is also unfortunate that the public perception now is that anyone rising to question the bill is working in behalf of the pharma companies. In everyone's desire to rush passage of the bill, some finer points are being overlooked.

Today we start the last three session days of the year. This could mean the passage of the bill in its present form or the further delay which will definitely add to the people's frustration in Congress. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Monday, November 19, 2007


The cell-phone detonated bomb which exploded in the House of Representatives killing four persons including a congressman and injuring several others provides a concrete example of one of the justifications for the passage of House Bill No. 92 which provides for the registration of SIM cards whether pre-paid or post-paid.

Under the bill, all SIM cards issued by telecommunications companies to their subscribers must be registered and included in a database of cell phone subscribers. To implement the registration, it is proposed that every time a SIM pack is purchased, the person buying the SIM shall present a valid ID as proof of identity and address. The data shall be included in the database of subscribers of the telecommunications companies and the National Telecommunications Commission.

The system is already in place and is already applicable to post-paid subscribers. All that needs to be done is to include the pre-paid subscribers in the process. It is not an entirely new procedure that will require a total rehabilitation of existing systems and procedures, but merely an expansion of coverage.

SIM card registration will make it possible for authorities to address the issue of cell phones being used to commit crime such as kidnapping, blackmail, and even bombings. It will enable authorities to have a lead in investigating crimes using cell phones and track down the perpetrators of such crimes. Although it will not be the ultimate solution to crimes, registration will at least make it more difficult for the commission of crimes using cell phones.

The proposal will also make it easier to monitor the real number of subscribers of the telecommunications companies and ensure that the right revenues are collected by government since the issuance of receipts can be matched against the registered subscribers.

While some quarters raise the issue of privacy as an argument against the proposal, the registration of SIM cards is consistent with the constitution which provides authority of the State over natural resources such as airwaves and radio frequencies. The use of such resources is a privilege given by the State, not a right of the people. That’s why telecommunications companies, broadcast companies and even users of radio telecommunications need to get a franchise or license from the NTC before operating.

Registration will not violate the privacy of communications since the content of the conversations using the cell phones will not be revealed nor does the proposal intend or authorize the eavesdropping of cell phone conversations.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Words are not enough to express the condemnation that the bombing of the House of Representatives deserves. With one member of the House killed, two more congresspersons wounded, one congressional staff killed and several injured, this despicable act of treachery is not only an attack on these citizens but an attack against the Filipino People.

The House of Representatives being the People’s House, no matter what personal motive the bomber had, the fact is that his action was a desecration of an institution of democracy, where the people’s aspirations, desires, convictions and principles are espoused and advocated, not by the language of violence and force but with the wisdom and passion of words.

The silencing of a member of the House of Representatives is a deprivation of his constituents a voice in Congress. The injury of innocent Congressional employees, all doing their part in serving the People, is an affront to those who have made serving the public not just a career but almost a vocation.

In the wake of this attack, the Filipino People should be one in condemning this. With no political, socio-economic, religious or ideological boundaries separating us, we must be in unison in standing against this heinous act.

It is therefore of utmost importance that the authorities do its best in investigating this incident in order for the culprits to be pinpointed and brought to justice. The investigators should not be careless and should look into all angles, validating and testing each angle until they are eliminated one by one through a scientific, logical and forensic method and not by mere opinion.

This early, investigators seem to be stressing the theory that the bombing might be an attack directed at a particular person. While there may be some reason to consider that theory, the investigation should start at a wider perspective in order not to miss any other possible reason for the bombing which may be supported by evidence.

Let not the incomplete investigation into the Glorietta 2 bombing be repeated in this case. Last October, PNP Chief Gen. Avelino Razon, citing intelligence reports, gave a warning that after the Muslim holy period of Ramadan, terrorists were planning attacks both in the provinces and Metro Manila. One week later, the Glorietta 2 explosion occurred and in spite of the PNP Crime Lab’s findings of RDX, a substance which comprises C-4, they simply dropped the angle and aggressively pursued the accident theory.

I share in the grief of those who perished in this tragedy in Batasan and join others in offering prayers for the souls of those whose lives were snuffed out and the speedy recovery of the injured. Instead of cowering in fear, we should stand up in outrage and vigorously pursue the culprits and bring them before the bar of justice.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

RDX : The Unturned Stone

RDX : The Unturned Stone
Privilege Speech of Cong. Ruffy Biazon
November 6, 2007

Mr. Speaker, Ladies and Gentlemen of this House,

I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege on a firm belief that when government agencies, fail, it is the duty of this House to stand up for the people and demand accountability from those agencies.

In this case, I refer to the investigation of the October 19 Glorietta 2 explosion by the Philippine National Police. So far, the public has been treated to press release after press release by the PNP but an official report is still nowhere in the horizon. The problem with press releases is that they are never final. It is always subject to changes, depending on how the public reacts to the release; media statements may be said to be misquoted, misunderstood or outright denied; and newspaper clippings cannot be used as evidence in court.

I do not wish to interfere with the PNP’s investigation, and would like to wait for the official report of their investigation into the blast which killed 11 people, injured more than a hundred others, not to mention the millions in economic loss.

There are those who would like to believe, even before the PNP comes out with its official conclusion, that the explosion in Glorietta was an accident. Actually, their voiced out opinions comes across as not just an expression of a belief, but rather, it comes across as wishful thinking.

Last week, the Executive Secretary expressed his relief that a terror attack had been ruled out , although the PNP up to now, still does not have a final report and keeps on saying that the terror angle is not yet ruled out.

The Executive Secretary said that the country’s economy would be “gravely affected” had the explosion been attributed to a terrorist attack. He was quoted as saying, “It will affect our economy, our standing in the world community, our international investors, mabuti na lang at hindi talaga mga terorista iyan.”
Again, this statement was made while the investigation was still going on and the PNP was making statements that the terror angle was still not categorically ruled out.

Now comes the statement of the U.S. ambassador. In today’s issue of the Inquirer, the ambassador was reported to have cautioned those who say the blast was not an accident “should realize what a terror attack in Metro Manila would mean to the country.”

Although she said that an accident in the heart of a city “is never a good thing," she also said, "But it is much better than having it to be a bomb. If there was a bombing at a shopping mall in the middle of Metro Manila, I want you to think about the kind of travel advisory America would have to put out and the devastating impact that would have on business."

Again, these statements were made before the PNP has come out with its final and official conclusion.

Given these pre-emptive statements by two very important personalities, I wouldn’t blame the PNP if they get a feeling that they will be doing the country a great favor if their final report says that the blast was an accidental explosion. After all, they would be saving the country from “economic tragedy”.

I fully understand the concern of the Executive Secretary and the US Ambassador about the effect on our country if it comes out that the Glorietta explosion was a terrorist attack.

Reading between the lines of their statements, do they mean to say that it is justifiable to cover up a terrorist attack since it will save the country from economic disaster?

To give those statements even before the PNP comes out with an official conclusion is irresponsible. It is an invitation for the PNP to come out with a desired and directed conclusion by providing a moral justification.
I chose to step into the picture at this time because I am worried that if we continue to allow the PNP to conduct the investigation the way it is doing now, the final report will only be tainted with doubt, and the PNP accused of doing either an incompetent or biased investigation. Worse, the PNP might even come out as having deliberately directed the investigation towards a conclusion that isn’t beyond reasonable doubt.

Over the past couple of weeks, the PNP has been trying to convince the people that what happened in Glorietta 2 was an accidental gas explosion. I say “trying to convince the people” because day after day, they have been simply issuing press statements asserting the theory of the gas explosion without even explaining how it could have been set off. Up to now, they are still in the process of looking into, or looking for, the process by which the supposedly accidental blast occurred.

In other words, they first came up with the end result and then searched for the process by which it could have happened. The problem with this method is that investigators will have the tendency to look for evidence to support their theory instead of objectively gathering evidence and eventually arrive a conclusion.

This is contrary to what the President directed the PNP to do in a statement she made immediately after the blast. In the website of the Office of the President, a news article quoted the President as ordering the PNP "to get to the bottom of things and to leave no stone unturned."

But instead of “leaving no stone unturned”, the PNP chose to ignore the findings of its own forensic team, adopt a preferred conclusion then looked for ways and means to support that conclusion.

While this representation concedes that the PNP has the mandate and capability to investigate the blast and make a conclusion, my experience in inquiries and investigations as a member of this House for six years and as a senate technical staff member for seven years gives me enough credentials to determine when investigations leave some stones unturned. Actually, anyone with common sense can tell that in this investigation, the PNP left at least one stone unturned.


The stone I am referring to is actually a white, crystalline powder known as RDX, which stands for Royal Demolition eXplosive. It is also known as cyclonite, hexogen or Cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine. Its chemical formula is C3H6N6O6. The chemical name for RDX is 1,3,5-trinitro-1,3,5-triazine. It is a substance that is very explosive.

According to the United States Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, “RDX is used as an explosive and is also used in combination with other ingredients in explosives. Its odor and taste are unknown. It is a synthetic product that does not occur naturally in the environment. It creates fumes when it is burned with other substances.”

The United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), an agency of the U.S. government mandated to enforce laws o explosives, among others, includes RDX in its list of Explosive Materials.

United States Federal Law classifies RDX as a military explosive, subject to regulation by federal law. Title 22, Chapter 39, Sub-chapter III, Section 2778 of the United States Code, or the Control of Arms Exports and Imports mandates the presidential control of exports and imports of defense articles and the designation of the United States Munitions List.

The said law provides the authority for the International Traffic in Arms Regulations which includes the United States Munitions List, where RDX is listed as a Category V Military Explosive . IN fact, C4, a military explosive, is 91% RDX.
RDX is not produced commercially in the United States. Production in the United States is limited to Army ammunition plants such as Holston Army ammunition plant in Kingsport, Tennessee, which has been operating at 10-20% capacity. Several Army ammunition plants, such as Louisiana (Shreveport, Louisiana), Lone Star (Texarkana, Texas), Iowa (Middletown, Iowa), and Milan (Milan, Tennessee), also handle and package RDX.

PNP Crime Lab Finds RDX in Blast Site

So when Chief Insp. Grace Eustaquio, head of the PNP Crime Laboratory Chemistry Division reported directly to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the rest of the National Security Council that traces of RDX were found in the Glorietta 2 blast site, the theory of an intentional explosion had enough basis.

Chief Inspector Eustaquio, upon questioning by the members of the NSC stressed that, “It (RDX) is the main component of C4 and is a high explosive. As such, the extent of damage it can cause is really tremendous.” Senior Supt. Albert Ferro of the PNP Bomb Data Center said that from 2005 and 2006 information, “we can presume those [explosives] are of military ordnance components. We presume that those explosives could be of that origin.”

Initial on-site assessment by the PNP combined with the findings of the PNP Crime Lab even prompted the Chief of the PNP, Director General Avelino Razon to make an initial observation that the blast may have been caused by a bomb.

Director General Razon may not have been out of line when he initially suspected that a bomb may have caused the blast. After all, one week before the Glorietta 2 explosion, the Chief of the Philippine National Police issued a statement citing intelligence reports that terrorists were planning to launch attacks after the period of Ramadan ended. General Razon even placed Metro Manila on red alert and ordered the increase in security measures in malls and other public places and ironically, the conduct of information drives on with “emphasis on the ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ during bomb threat situations to preempt terrorist activities.”

Even National Security Adviser, who has immense clout over the government’s intelligence operations, said that the terror group Abu Sayyaf may have had a hand in the explosion.

Because of what the PNP reported to the National Security Council regarding its initial findings, the President was prompted to make a call for legislators to pass “legislation that would make the illegal possession of explosives a non-bailable offense.” Bounties were even put up in exchange for information leading to the apprehension of the suspects. The President offered 2 Million Pesos, Makati Mayor Jojo Binay put up 1 Million Pesos and our colleague, Rep. Iggy Arroyo put up another 1 Million Pesos.

The findings of RDX in the blast site should have been enough to sustain an investigation into the bombing angle. It was physical evidence that was gathered by a competent authority, and the PNP was confident enough to report it to the National Security Council.


But what is puzzling was the sudden turn-around that the PNP did with regard to the angle of an explosion that was deliberately set off. Without any logical reason, the PNP simply ignored the findings of RDX in the site and went on to pursue a theory which at that time still had not enough evidence to support it.

Only one evidence is needed to adequately support a continued investigation of the bomb theory--- the presence of a bomb device, component or residue. And RDX is a bomb residue.

Two days after the first National Security Council meeting where the PNP told the NSC that RDX was found in the blast site, they suddenly offered the theory of an accidental gas explosion. Without offering an acceptable explanation regarding the presence of RDX in Glorietta 2, the PNP dropped the bomb theory like a hot potato and suddenly turned their eyes toward the accidental blast proposition, and later on showing extraordinary efforts in trying to prove it.

It is worthy to note that up to this very day, the PNP has not refuted, debunked or written off as a mistake the findings of the PNP Crime Lab of the presence of RDX in Glorietta 2. But in order to downplay the presence the explosive substance, the PNP hierarchy, including the DILG secretary, told the public that RDX can be found in everyday consumer products such as deodorants, aerosols and toothpaste.

But the PNP has never proven that RDX is found in aerosols and deodorants. Assuming, without admitting that RDX is indeed found in such everyday consumer products, they have also never sufficiently proven that the RDX found in the blast site came from a deodorant. They can’t even point to a particular brand of aerosol, deodorant or hair spray which contains RDX.

It is simply an unfounded conclusion based on a fallacy.


Contrary to what the authorities claim, RDX is not found in consumer products such as deodorants, aerosols or toothpaste. I just don’t know whether the claim was out of ignorance, incompetence or a deliberate attempt to mislead, but dropping the investigation into the bomb angle on the basis of this claim is preposterous.

Last October 14, an explosion ripped through a theater in Ludhiana in India. The initial findings of investigators led them to believe that the explosion was caused by a bomb laced with RDX to make it more powerful. At the early stages of the investigation, they said that RDX may have been used “to give more charge to the explosive material so that the flying splinters could cover more areas to cause injuries.”

Just like the initial assessment of Director General Razon, the physical damage caused by the explosion led authorities to suspect a bomb.

Later on, the investigators found traces of RDX which led them to further investigate the bombing angle . Why? Because RDX is an explosive substance. When found in a blast site, it is highly indicative of an intentional explosion.

In other countries, when RDX is found, it is investigated further to determine with certainty the reason for its presence in the site. Here in the Philippines, it is dismissed with a claim that it is negligible because it is found in deodorants.

But as earlier pointed out, RDX is an explosive substance. 99.99% of my research findings reveal that RDX is defined as an explosive and used as an explosive. The only other non-explosive use that I found for RDX is that of rat poison.

My research revealed that RDX is harmful to humans, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined that it is a “possible human carcinogen”. In one study, RDX caused tumors in mice.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry of the U.S. Department of Health, “RDX can cause seizures (a problem of the nervous system) in humans and animals when large amounts are inhaled or eaten… Nausea and vomiting have also been seen.”

Health agencies in the United States also recommend regulated exposure of RDX to humans. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has recommended an exposure limit of 1.5 milligrams RDX per cubic meter of air (1.5 mg/m³) for a 10-hour workday, 40-hour workweek. The NIOSH short-term exposure limit, which is the highest level of RDX that they recommend workers be exposed to for 15 minutes, is 3 mg/m³.

The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) also recommends an exposure limit of 1.5 mg/m³ in workplace air for an 8-hour workday, 40-hour workweek.

In fact, the release of RDX into the environment has been investigated by US government agencies, particularly in areas where there are RDX manufacturing plants, military bases and ammunition testing grounds.
There is no information available to support the claim that RDX can be found in aerosols, deodorants or any other consumer product.

In fact, our own Bureau of Food and Drugs say that they have not approved of any consumer product such as deodorants, aerosols or toothpastes which contain RDX since there are absolutely no products which have RDX as ingredients. Even if there are, it would not be approved for consumption by the public because information available says that RDX is a toxic substance.

If indeed, there are products being sold locally which contain RDX, then that will be a matter for another investigation because how can we allow a substance that has been established as toxic to humans be an ingredient in a consumer product?


Perhaps in an attempt to further downplay or explain the presence of RDX, the PNP tried to suggest that RDX could be found in diesel, methane or the combination of both .

It is another preposterous claim since even a high school chemistry student can say that’s impossible. RDX is a compound containing nitrates while diesel and methane are hydrocarbons. The molecular formula of RDX is C3H6N6O6 , while methane is CH4 and diesel is C12H23. How can the two have RDX in them?

Even a combined or separate combustion of both methane and diesel will not produce RDX. According to my research, the most common method of RDX manufacture used is the continuous Bachmann process. The Bachmann process involves reacting hexamine with nitric acid, ammonium nitrate, glacial acetic acid, and acetic anhydride. The crude product is filtered and recrystallized to form RDX. Nowhere are methane and / or diesel used to create RDX.


What do the foreign investigators say about the PNP Crime Lab’s findings?
Nothing. Not because they did not find RDX, but because they did not look for it. Their investigation did not touch on the findings of the PNP Crime Lab. As far as the US investigators’ negative findings, Director General Razon himself explained the answer---the US investigators swabbed the areas outside the blast zone, instead of ground zero, where the PNP investigators took their samples.

In an October 22 news article, Dir. Gen. Razon was quoted as saying:
"The [US] tests are negative because when the US experts arrived at the blast site, they swabbed the exterior portions or the portions that were not directly at the center, or at the seat, of the explosion. That's why it tested negative.

But when the PNP Crime Laboratory personnel conducted their swabs, it was in the general vicinity of the seat of the explosion. That is the explanation why the swabbing of US experts showed negative results for RDX."
Still the PNP Chief upheld the findings of the PNP Crime Lab when he said that the reported traces of RDX “still stands”

But we wonder, what is the opinion of the foreign investigators about the traces of RDX found in the blast site? While they have provided answers to the diesel tank explosion theory, we do not hear them dismissing RDX as being found in consumer products just as the PNP claims.

In fact even the Australians, which the PNP is fond of quoting relative to the gas blast theory, asked the Philippines to pursue the bomb theory .


I rose today to bring to the attention of this House the unanswered questions about the Glorietta 2 blast and to present the reasons why this House should prod the PNP to follow what the President ordered them to do---to leave no stone unturned.

There are only three possible explanations about the blast:

1. It was an accidental explosion brought about by the confluence of different conditions existing in the site;
2. It was an intentional explosion set off by a terrorist;
3. It was an intentional explosion set off by persons connected to the military or government, as suggested by a senator.

It is the duty and obligation of the mandated authorities, in this case, the PNP, to eliminate the possibilities based on material evidence, established procedures, and scientific processes. Only after each possibility is tested and eliminated can a conclusion be arrived at.

The innocent lives lost in the Glorietta 2 bombing deserve justice. If the explosion was an act of terrorism, we must pursue the terrorists and punish them to the full extent of the law. If the perpetrators came from other groups, such as those theorized by other personalities, then let them be answerable and be punished. If it was indeed an accident, then let us go after those who are liable for negligence.

But we cannot, should not, let the PNP proceed with even one stone unturned. The presence of RDX is one such stone, which seems to have been successfully relegated by the PNP to the wayside.

The burning question is why did the PNP not pursue the RDX / C4 / bomb theory? Why did they dismiss the RDX findings with an unfounded excuse such as RDX being an ingredient of deodorants or cosmetics? Why did they not conduct scientific tests to disprove the bomb theory?

While I acknowledge the possibility of an accidental gas blast, why was this theory obviously given preference early on in the investigation?

Is it incompetence or deliberate dismissal of a valuable piece of evidence?

Is it an innocent oversight or a malicious cover up?

These are questions that beg for answers. And the answers must come before any conclusion is drawn up by the PNP investigation. If not, the results will only be placed under a cloud of doubt and suspicion and justice would not have been served.
Therefore, I am calling on the House of Representatives to conduct an inquiry, which may also serve as a basis for legislation, into the manner in which the PNP conducted its investigation, of an incident which has security implications due to the presence of a military type explosive substance. I move that this speech be referred to the Committee on National Defense and Security in order for the truth behind the explosions to be revealed.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, Thank you distinguished colleagues.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Statements coming from the Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and US Ambassador Kristie Kenney seem to be pointing the police investigation into the Glorietta 2 explosion towards a conclusion that is more of a desired outcome rather than a factual result.

The Philippine National Police, although already leaning towards the accidental blast theory, is still saying that they have not ruled out all angles, including a terror attack. They are still in the process of investigating the incident and have not come out with a final report.

This makes the statements of the Executive Secretary and the US Ambassador pre-emptive and inappropriate. At worst, given that the police are in the middle of an investigation, it may be said to be irresponsible.

Last week, Executive Secretary Ermita said that he was relieved that a terror attack had been ruled out, although that time until now, the PNP still does not have a final report. He said that the country’s economy would be “graveley affected” had the explosion been attributed to a terrorist attack. He was quoted as saying, “It will affect our economy, our standing in the world community, our international investors, mabuti na lang at hindi talaga mga terorista iyan.” Again, this statement was made while the investigation was still going on and the PNP was making statements that the terror angle was still not categorically ruled out.

Today, Ambassador Kenney was reported to have cautioned those who say the blast was not an accident “should realize what a terror attack in Metro Manila would mean to the country.”

Although she said that an accident in the heart of a city “is never a good thing," she also said, "But it is much better than having it to be a bomb. If there was a bombing at a shopping mall in the middle of Metro Manila, I want you to think about the kind of travel advisory America would have to put out and the devastating impact that would have on business."

The ambassador’s concern is very much appreciated by her statement gives one a feeling that the Philippines has no choice but to say it is an accidental explosion otherwise, America will cut us off from the world with a travel advisory. Whatever happened to the war against terror?

Given these pre-emptive statements by two very important personalities, I wouldn’t blame the PNP if they get a feeling that they will be doing the country a great favor if their final report says that the blast was an accidental explosion. After all, they would be saving the country from what the two officials portray as an economic tragedy.

These statements issued while there is an ongoing investigation may affect its outcome. The statements provide a “moral justification” in directing the investigation towards a more desirable conclusion and may be misconstrued as encouraging a cover up. It puts pressure on the investigators to pursue one angle instead of exploring all angles then systematically and scientifically eliminating the impossible and coming up with the truth.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


“The PNP’s conclusion that the Glorietta 2 explosion was an accident may be the result of a sloppy investigation or a product of a desired conclusion.” This was the reaction of Muntinlupa City Congressman Ruffy Biazon to latest news reports saying that the PNP has made a conclusion that the blast at the Makati mall was caused by an explosion of the septic tank due to the combination of methane and diesel fumes in the basement.

PNP Chief Director General Avelino Razon cites the “preponderance of evidence” leading to the conclusion that it was an accidental explosion. But Biazon, Senior Vice Chair of the Committee on National Defense and Security asserts that the preponderance of evidence is in the favor of a deliberate explosion.

“Up to this time, the PNP has not satisfactorily explained the presence of RDX found by their own technicians in the blast site. Weeks after the findings were reported to the President in a meeting of the National Security Council, they have not disputed the report but have actually upheld it. But they try to explain the presence of RDX by saying that it is a substance found in deodorants and cosmetics”, Biazon noted.

“But I challenge them to produce a deodorant or cosmetic brand that contains RDX in order to prove their assertion that it is commonly found in consumer products”, Biazon said. He added that the explanation that RDX can be found in aerosols can only be proven by hard evidence, “not just the say so of the PNP”.

“I find it very difficult to accept that RDX is found in consumer products such as deodorants and aerosols because all information we have gathered indicate that RDX is an explosive substance capable of doing harm not just by the explosion it creates but even by the mere prolonged exposure to humans. So how can it be an ingredient in a consumer product?”, Biazon asked.

“In fact, RDX is classified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as a “possible human carcinogen” based on the agency’s laboratory testing. The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says that RDX can cause seizures in humans and is considered a hazardous substance”, the congressman revealed.

Biazon pointed out that in the United States Munitions List, RDX is listed as a Category V explosive, subject to regulation by the United States Federal Law in 18 U.S. Code Chapter 40, the law on the Importation, Manufacture, Distribution and Storage of Explosive Materials. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms comes up with the U.S. Munitions List which they use to implement laws against illegal use and possession of firearms and explosives, according to the three-term congressman.

Congressman Biazon also disputed the theory proposed by the PNP that the RDX could be found in diesel or methane or the combination of both. “That’s a crazy proposition”, Biazon opined. “Even a high school chemistry student can say that’s impossible. RDX is a compound containing nitrates while diesel and methane are hydrocarbons. How can the two have RDX in them?”, said Biazon. He also added that RDX is not found in nature.

“It is clear that the findings of RDX in the Glorietta 2 blast site points to the high probability of the presence of a bomb in the mall. I am wondering why the PNP is ignoring the evidence and insists that it was an accident”, Biazon opined.

The congressman observed that even the accidental explosion theory as presented by the PNP is not convincing. “The PNP has not explained how the accident happened. Yes, accidental methane gas explosions do happen, but how did it happen in this particular case? In order for them to convince the public, they should present scientific evidence to show how the explosion was triggered. Until now, all they are presenting are the elements of a possible accidental explosion. They have not presented the process by which that supposed accidental explosion happened”, Biazon pointed out.

But for Congressman Biazon, the most critical piece of evidence is the RDX. “The RDX is a nagging question that needs to be answered satisfactorily. It points to the strong suspicion of an explosion deliberately set off. It could have even been the trigger to the explosion of the diesel or septic tanks”, he averred.

“To set the RDX aside with a simple unfounded explanation such as its presence in deodorants is unacceptable. If the PNP is unable to conduct a thorough investigation into this, I will pursue a investigation in congress. It will be an injustice to the innocent people who died if we do not have a proper closure on this incident”, Biazon concluded.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

My son, the Candidate.

Last October 29, in the barangay elections, my sixteen year old son made me proud...even though he lost his first bid to seek his peers' support for an elected position.

He had never run for any elected position, not even for class officer. I had never pressured him into doing so, even though I must admit there were times when I was tempted to tell him, "when I was young, I was always a class officer." And of course, I won't deny that deep inside, I would like to see him serve the people just like his father and grandfather.

But it is my child-raising philosophy to let my children make guided decisions, instead of me doing the decisions for them. Just like what my father did to us when he was raising us, so would I like to do the same with my own children.

So it was when the chairman of our barangay, who was running for re-election, extended an invitation for my son to run in the barangay elections. At first, my understanding was that he was being invited to run for kagawad. I requested the barangay chairman to give my son time to think about it.

I had my apprehensions about letting him run in the elections because I preferred that he concentrate on his studies. The distraction of the experiences of being a teenager, such as the experience of having his first infatuation (yes, he already has a special female friend), is enough distraction as it is, much more if he enters politics. But believing in the philosophy of guided independence, I let him make the decision.

One of the reasons I allowed him to make a decision was an experience he had during an outreach activity that their class did about a week before the invitation was relayed to us. His class went on an outreach activity at a juvenile detention center, where they interacted with the teenage inmates who had committed crimes.

He had a one-on-one interaction with a 17-year old inmate named Carlo (ironically his namesake). The kid was jailed for snatching, a crime which he said he committed because of peer pressure. He was not an out of school youth, and although belonging to a poor family, his parents had some livelihood enough to get by on a day to day basis.

By my son's story to me when he got home, the two Carlos seemed to have had an in-depth interaction because my son not only learned about the biographical information about the teenage inmate, but also his thoughts. Like two buddies who share their life experiences because of their trust for each other, they exchanged details about their personal lives during that brief encounter. My son related to me how the other Carlo told him that it is good that he (my son) was able to stay off smoking because for him (the other Carlo), smoking paved the way for him to do drugs. He told my son how good it felt for him to pour out his thoughts and emotions on someone else because in detention, he and the other teenage inmates had to put up a show of how tough they were in order to avoid being trampled on by other inmates.

As my son related to me this experience, I saw that it had a profound effect on him. Most especially when he said he wanted to go back to the juvenile facility someday to check on his new friend. He expressed his desire to be able to help out others who were in circumstances that were not as blessed as his.

At that moment, I looked at my son not as a kid, but someone who had taken on a maturity beyond his age. A proud moment for a father.

I told him that if he felt that he can do something to ease other people's lives, he can join me in my constituent service activities. If he wanted to help, there are many in my district that he could help by simply volunteering his time whenever I undertake projects in my district. For the first time in the years I have been congressman, he expressed a sincere desire to join me in my activities. Another moment of pride.

That's why when the invitation to join the barangay as a Sangguniang Kabataan official came, I allowed him to make a conscious, personal decision whether to join or not. Here was a moment where he can put into action the words that he said, and take charge of his life in a direction that he believes in.

First, he asked what is expected of a sangguniang kabataan member. I gave him a short explanation and gave him a copy of the Local Government Code, where the legal duties and responsibilities of an SK member is embodied by law.

After a couple of days, he gave me his answer----yes, he's interested.

I relayed the decision to the barangay chairman who then explained that the position reserved for Carlo was that of SK Chairman. I had to step on the brakes and say, "wait, I have to get back to my son on that".

I went back to my son and explained to him the situation. I told him the difference between an SK kagawad and an SK chairman, especially the greater responsibility that a chairman has. After some thought, he accepted.

So with my son agreeing to the proposition, we prepared for the campaign. Although it was only a nine day campaign, we were way behind the ideal schedule in preparing for a campaign. In addition to the offer being late, I was also saddled with the preparations for our candidates in the other barangays. In fact, I was even unable to accompany my own son when he filed his certificate of candidacy because I was preoccupied with my official duties tending to other barangays.

While the other candidate had more time to prepare, we proceeded with my son's candidacy because I saw it as an opportunity. Win or lose, I believed that my son will learn something from this experience. I knew that it will help mould his character, refine his maturity and provide direction in his life. For us, it wasn't a matter of winning or nothing. If we succeeded, it will be a lesson in humility. If we failed, it will be lesson in grace.

The campaign gave me a new perspective about who my son is. For the past years of his life, I knew him as my child, a kid who enjoyed computer games, had a wicked sense of humor that sometimes even the immature kid in me couldn't get, a "kuya" who couldn't get enough of teasing his younger brothers and a budding teenager learning about puppy love for the first time.

But now I found out he was a compassionate individual, a responsible team leader, a willing servant, a critical thinker. I observed that he was serious about duties and responsibilities, he was eager to learn new things, ready to sacrifice for his peers, knows how to acknowledge his own weaknesses and other peoples' strengths, courageous to face the odds, has concern for justice, equality and fairness, and gives a premium to righteousness.

In the short span of time, I was given a glimpse of my child growing up into a man. He may still be an adolescent physically developing into manhood, but I can definitely say he has shown the virtues one can only find in a true gentleman.

During one forum where the opposing candidates faced the public and present their platforms, Carlo and his team was were eclipsed by the other team's candidates when they performed a "sabayang-bigkas" type of presentation, more appropriate for a Linggo ng Wika presentation than a candidates' forum. It cannot be denied that they performed really well, and with much practice, perfected the timing of their memorized lines.

On the other hand, Carlo and his team each stood up as individuals and extemporaneously presented their platforms of government, what they stood for and their personal principles and beliefs.

The other team had more applause, not only because they brought more supporters but because even our camp appreciated their performance. But I appreciated more Carlo's group not just because he is my son, but because their group was able to keep their cool in the face of the "shock and awe" performance and maintain composure and focus during their own presentation. They showed that anyone can memorize lines but not everyone can think on their feet. The communicated well using their own words and were able to show more about themselves as individuals than than any choreographed presentation can ever do.

During those times of unrehearsed and spontaneous speeches, it was revealed to me how my son thinks, how he observes and how he analyzes. Somehow, it gave me a feeling of calm that when I release my son to the world in the future, he will never be lost and he will never be taken for a ride by others.

He was diligent and sincere during his campaign. While before he would complain when we walk long distances when we go malling or during trips, this time he knew that the tiring, house to house campaign was essential for the team's success. He showed that he can endure difficult situations not just for his own survival but those of others.

In these person to person campaigns, my son learned to come out of his shell and talk to strangers. For others, it is a natural ability. For people like Carlo, it takes effort to do it. I should now how difficult it is. For Carlo inherited this shyness from me, which took some time for me to shed off.

In the end, Carlo lost to his opponent. By six votes. He is an unfortunate victim of circumstance. Eleven of his sure voters went on vacation either abroad or in the province because of the long holiday. It was a tight contest, but as we had accepted early on, only God can determine its outcome. As long as we gave it our best, we are secure in the knowledge that if it was meant for Carlo, God would have caused it to happen.

From the beginning, we had prepared Carlo for any eventuality. We wanted him to have the right attitude and reaction no matter what the result was. To rejoice in victory gallantly but in humility and to accept defeat graciously and without grudges.

And in the face of his loss, to my eyes, Carlo is a winner. During the voting, he and his opponent crossed paths. He extended his hand to shake hers, but unfortunately, she apparently did not see his outstretched hand. His hand ended up hanging in mid air. But still, Carlo did not take it against her, giving her the benefit of the doubt that she did not see it.

When the counting was over and we finally knew he lost, I called him up to tell him the news. He and his team played badminton while the canvassing was going on, perhaps to take their minds away from the tension.

Carlo's first reaction was to ask for his opponent's number in order to congratulate her. This he did immediately and even offered his cooperation in projects of the new Sangguniang Kabataan.

The second thing he did was to call his mother and ask how she was doing in the face of our loss. In an attempt to console him, I told him that we can look into the results to see if we can still do something (some of his votes went to the space provided for "kagawad" instead of "chairman"). In response, he said, "Papa, I do not want any cheating just to make me win".

But the most admirable about all this is how he handled defeat. He showed maturity in what was a painful loss for many of us. Being a parent, I can't help but be saddened for my son. My wife was troubled with how he would take it. In the end, he showed us the stuff he was made of, and beyond the joy that I could have felt had he won, I felt pride, happiness and fulfillment in how he handled his loss.

In my book, he is a winner!

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Officials claiming that RDX is a harmless substance that may be found in deodorants, cosmetics and aerosols are either not doing enough research or deliberately misleading the public as to the cause of the explosion in Glorietta 2 which killed 11 people and injured dozens of others. This puts into question the credibility of the report that the PNP is preparing in an attempt to shed light on the cause of the explosion.

The latest theory that the PNP is presenting is that the explosion was an industrial accident, caused by the explosive ignition of methane and diesel fumes in the mall’s basement. In order for this theory to hold, the traces of RDX found by the PNP must be ignored. But how can you ignore such a finding?

In the investigation of an explosion in a theater in Ludhiana, India last October 14 where six people were killed, police concluded that the explosion was caused by RDX when they found traces of the substance in the blast site. In this country, traces of a known explosive substance are explained as possibly coming from deodorant.

DILG Secretary Ronaldo Puno tried to downplay the traces of RDX in the blast site by claiming that RDX is a substance found in ordinary items such as deodorant, aerosols and even cosmetics. With the wonderful world wide web at my fingertips, I did some research in teh comfort of my computer chair. My research yielded nothing about RDX being used in such everyday consumer products. All I came up with in my research is that RDX is an explosive substance used in military applications. How did traces of it end up in a mall?

In fact, the very name of the substance is indicative of its nature and use. “RDX stands for Royal Demolition Explosive or Research Department Explosive. How can that be used in deodorants and cosmetics? Would you put something named Royal Demolition Explosive under your armpit? My guess is you won't.

Besides, deodorant is supposed to prevent "putok", not cause it, right?

The impossibility of RDX being used in consumer products is supported by the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s classification of RDX as a “possible human carcinogen”. Likewise, the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says that RDX can cause seizures in humans and is considered a hazardous substance.

Scientific research and testing of RDX on rabbits and rats resulted in reproductive effects. Thus, the researchers recommended that human females of childbearing age be protected from exposure to RDX. What company will use it as a component of lip stick?

The attempt to downplay the traces of RDX in the Glorietta 2 blast site leads one to suspect that the authorities are trying to lead the public into believing a theory that the explosion was not deliberate, that it was just an accident. They even say that RDX is not an explosive, contrary to information provided in websites of U.S. government agencies which describe RDX as a type of explosive. Why is this so?

I find it hard to believe that the experts in the PNP don’t know what RDX is. They are experts. They should know what it is. Unless, of course, if they are doing this deliberately.

In spite of all the information I have gathered that RDX cannot possibly be a component of consumer products, I am willing to swallow my pride and publicly apologize if the PNP can present a deodorant, cosmetic or aerosol that which has RDX as an ingredient. In the meantime, they better get their act together and give us the real story behind this incident.

Friday, October 05, 2007

PGMA's Administrative Order 197

On September 25, 2007, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed Administrative Order No. 197, to wit:

Adminstrative Order No. 197

WHEREAS, there is a need to address security concerns,

NOW, THEREFORE I, GLORIA M. ARROYO, President of the Philippines, by the powers vested in me by law, do hereby order:

1. The Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) shall work closely with the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC) subcommittee on killings and disappearances for speedy action on cases and effective reforms to avoid abuses, with regular reports to the Commander-in-Chief through the Executive Secretary as PHRC chair, and in consultation with the Court Administrator, invited as PHRC subcommittee observer.

2. The DND/AFP shall draft legislation in consultation with the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office and Congress allies for safeguards against disclosure of military secrets and undue interference in military operations inimical to national security.

3. The DND/AFP shall accelerate the recruitment, training, equipping and deployment of CAFGUs in place of transferred troops as well as investigate and, if necessary, stop and punish schemes to fraudulently collect salaries through "ghost" CAFGUs.

4. The DND/AFP, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, DEpartment of Interior and Local Government shall work with Local Government Units to fast-track local peace initiatives, especially local ceasefires, particularly in Bohol, Butuan and other priority areas for peace assemblies; and to work with the Union of Local Authorities, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and other sectoral and civil society groups in advocating with Congress to concur soonest with the amnesty proclamation.

5. The DND/AFP shall report to the Commander in Chief and inform the troops and the public and media the implementation of the recommendations of the Davide and Feliciano Commissions, and what further measures will still be done.

Done this 25th day of September 2007 in the City of Manila.

By the President

Executive Secretary

Media reports labeled Administrative Order No. 197 as a "gag order" on the Department of Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, something that would prevent the defense and military personnel from testifying in hearings by the Legislature.

After reading the Administrative Order over and over again, I have come to the conclusion that the description of A.O. 197 as a "gag order" is inaccurate. By itself, A.O. 197 does not order the DND/AFP to shut up. In fact, items 1, 4 and 5 specifically orders the DND/AFP to share information with the public and certain offices regarding its operations, activities and policies.

I have consistently taken a stand against Executive Order No. 464 and other issuances that are designed to evade inquiries and investigations by the Legislature. But from an objective point of view, I fail to see A.O. 197 as a "gag order".

What has probably been seen as a "gag order" is item no. 2 in the said A.O., which instructed the DND/AFP to come up with a bill which will "safeguard(s) against disclosure of military secrets and undue interference in military operations inimical to national security".

The phrase "safeguards against disclosure of military secrets and undue interference in military operations inimical to national security" indeed smacks of an attempt to ensure that no information is shared by the defense and military establishment. It seems to be a security blanket that will insulate the DND/AFP from the prying inquiries by the Senate or the House of Representatives, or any individual or institution, for that matter.

But if we take into account the first part of the paragraph which says, "The DND/AFP shall draft leegislation in consultation with the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office and Congress allies" it becomes evident that the A.O. merely instructs the DND/AFP to cooperate with the legislative department to draft a proposed legislation which will prescribe the policy and procedure for the protection of critical defense and security information under a legal environment of a law.

Contrary to the thesis that it is a gag order, I believe it is even a positive step towards cooperation between the military and the Legislature, in that the A.O directs the DND/AFP to work with the Congress to draft legislation on security of critical information.

This is positive in the sense that it will institutionalize through legislation the policy on security of information rather than it being subject to the whims, caprices and agenda of the Executive Department, as what is happening now. In addition, Legislation is a multi-party and deliberative process, so the input of both the opposition and the administration will be considered.

In the crafting of the proposed legislation, a provision for the creation of a multi-party, joint oversight committee on intelligence and security may even be included, to ensure that the law that will be enacted will not be abused by the defense and military establishment.

The United States, the country which gives the highest premium on military, intelligence and information security, has laws which provide for oversight functions by the U.S. Legislature. Defense, military and intelligence agencies are required to report to the oversight committees in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, following the principle of accountability. So it must be for the Philippines.

Although a positive angle is seen with the directive of A.O. 197, there is one disturbing aspect to it---as worded, it seems to politicize the defense/military establishment. This politicization is brought about by a single word in the paragraph of item no.2--the word "allies".

The paragraph reads in part, "The DND/AFP shall draft legislation in consultation with the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office and Congress allies".

The word "allies" connotes that among members of the Legislature, there are senators or congressmen that the DND/AFP should consider as "foes", which is the opposite of "allies"; and that the DND/AFP should reserve consultations with these "foes" in drafting the proposed bill.

The inculcation into the mindset of the DND/AFP that there are "allies" and there are "foes" in the Legislature runs contrary to the constitutional provision that the AFP must be apolitical, because they are being dragged into the fray of political dynamics within the Legislature and between the Legislative and the Executive branches.

The DND/AFP should deal with the Senate and the House as an institution, not singling out individual members or groups within either body and classifying them as "allies" or foes".

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Vacancy in Comelec is a Golden Opportunity

The resignation of former Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos ushers in the chance for the Commission on Elections to go on a new direction towards redeeming its credibility as the Administrator of elections and Guardian of the Vote. It is therefore important that this golden opportunity should not be put to waste by ensuring that the next chairman of the Comelec will have an impeccable service record, an unassailable character and reputation and integrity beyond reproach.

The controversies that have hounded the past two elections have dragged the down the people’s trust in the Comelec and tarnished its reputation as an institution. With the presidential elections coming in 2010, it is imperative that the replacement of former Chairman Benjamin Abalos will have the right combination of qualities and qualifications to lead the Comelec in the conduct of a peaceful, honest, orderly and most of all, credible elections.

The replacement of former Chairman Abalos should have the following qualities in order to achieve such a goal, aside from the basic qualifications prescribed by the law and the Constitution:

1. A proven track record in previous positions held.

2. Must not have any political debts to pay nor any political favors to give.

3. Should not have been involved in any controversy, whether political or legal.

4. A reputation that is untarnished and a character marked by integrity.

5. The ability to make sound and firm decisions that are not easily swayed by external persuasions.

Beyond these qualities, the most important of all is that the post of Comelec chair must not be filled by a politician, which is the anti-thesis of what the head of the Commission on Elections should be. The poll body’s chair should not be one who has been tainted by political agenda, influence and methodology of doing things. Once a politician, always a politician. And the Comelec is not the place for a politician to serve.

The vacancy in the chairmanship of the Comelec is a golden opportunity. But it only becomes golden if the right person is appointed to the position.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


If you're wondering why I have a somber look in this picture, it's because this was taken at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It is prohibited to smile in this historic site, since the Cambodians consider this almost a sacred site, a reminder of the times when evil ruled in Cambodia and a despotic leader thought that eradicating a quarter of his country's population, mostly intellectuals, professionals, government officials, students and even children, would usher in a new era for this beautiful and fertile land.

That was during the regime of the Khmer Rouge, led by the infamous Pol Pot. This facility, which used to be a school, became one of the prisons and torture centers of the Khmer Rouge, under the operational command of the S-21, the unit which oversaw this center and
three others around the country. This particular facility housed at least 1,500 prisoners at any one time, with inmates given some of the most inhuman treatments ever known to man.

Many of the inmates who suffered and died here were buried in mass graves which later on became known as the "Killing Fields" (a movie was made from the story of the Khmer Rouge genocide). The Vietnamese army, which invaded Cambodia in 1979 and ousted the Khmer Rouge, discovered the bodies of the tortured prisoners shackled on metal beds.

Visiting the facility now, you get a heavy, eerie feeling as you enter one of the rooms, which have on display the actual beds used by the prisoners.

There were displays of the mug shots of the prisoners, which ranged from children all the way to old ,men and women. The Khmer Rouge meticulously kept records of their prisoners and numbered each one of them, as seen in the mug shots.

The people in the photographs had a variety of expressions, from plain, blank stares to expressions of fear to those of defiance. Indeed, my visit to this monument to man's capacity for evil against his fellow man is a one that gave me a fresh perspective about our country.

With no offense meant to the gentle and friendly Cambodian people, I had a renewed faith in the Philippines and a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the country that we have.

I am thankful that we did not experience the kind of terror that Cambodians experienced in the hands of their fellow countrymen. True, we had and still have some abuse of rights and even involuntary disappearances, but it did not and does not come anywhere near to the savagery inflicted by Pol Pot to the people he was supposed to lead.

Despite all the complaints that we now have in our country (the corruption, the political instability and the rising prices), we are still a lot better off than the Cambodians. My impression of Phnom Penh, their capital, is that it is still way behind our capital, Manila (including the Greater Metro Manila) in terms of infrastructure development. I think even our provincial cities like Dumaguete or Pagadian is ahead in development.

But it might be unfair to compare Cambodia to the Philippines in such terms, since they have gone through a long period of conflict which ended relatively recently only. Up to the mid-90's, they were still in a brutal conflict which stunted their growth as a country.

Behind as they are in terms of economy and infrastructure, I would say they are ahead in terms of character as a nation. While in the Philippines we are constantly on the guard for fellow Filipinos who will take the first opportunity to fool us, cheat us or steal from us, money changers in Phnom Penh operate on open tables in the street corner, without even the protection of a security guard. Yes, they're just there on the street corner with the money lying on the table in front of them.

In the market, a stall owner selling semi-precious stones lays out on top of the counter almost half of her inventory, even turning her back to the customer once in a while, unmindful of the fact that the customer browsing her wares may just pocket one of the items she is selling.

It may be stupidity for us, especially because here we look at the next person as a potential criminal, but I think to them, it is the naivete that is borne of trust--trust that is not broken by her own countrymen. The different travel guides I researched before going to Cambodia all said the same thing---Cambodians are generally honest.

And I experienced it myself. The stall owner of the jewellry stall (it was in a Divisoria-style market called the Russian Market) pointed out to me which of the items were fake and which were genuine. To me, everything looked the same and she could have easily fooled me into believing that everything was genuine (I've expereinced that here in the Philippines).

I took a Tuk-Tuk (tricycle in the Philippines) from the King's Palace to the National Museum. Unlike Bangkok where the Tuk-Tuk drivers try to mulct you with their outrageous fares and forcibly bring you to the expensive jewellry shops (where they get a commission from items bought by their unwitting victims), this driver told me that I could pay him whatever I wanted. I was prepared to haggle to death, but when he told me that when I first asked about the fare, I was caught by surprise.

When we got to the National Museum, I told him I will next go the to Central Market after my visit to the museum. He said he'd wait for me. I wanted to pay him (just to show my good faith that I will not do a 1-2-3 on him, since he had already driven me to the museum from another place), but he said, I can just pay him after my whole itinerary.

As I entered the museum, the naughty Filipino in me thought, "hey, I can go out the other gate and he wouldn't know..I can get a free ride!". But my conscience got the best of me, so of course, after my visit to the museum, I went out the way I came in. He was taking a nap in his Tuk-Tuk and I even had to wake him up.

At least I felt good at the end of that excursion.

That trip to Cambodia, which was just three days after I came back from a trip to Australia, gave me a new perspective towards our country. I am thankful for the blessings that our country has. I am grateful that we didn't have to endure genocide or years of civil war and strife. I am glad that we have the numerous malls and countless entertainment centers around our developed cities.

But I am envious that as a nation, we have yet to earn the admiration of the world for our honesty and integrity. IF there's one thing we should work on as nation, I believe that more than the economic and material prosperity, it should be our character, in order for us to earn the respect of our fellowman.

God bless the Cambodians.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Anyone for Wiretapping?

The following is a letter to the editor of Atty. Leonard De Vera, Chair of Equal Justice for All (E-JUST)published in the several newspapers last Sept. 1, 2007:

Lost in the midst of the “Garci tapes” controversy is an anomalous situation in Republic Act 4200, (Anti-Wiretapping Act).

The law is good in that it protects against illegal intrusion into people’s right to privacy of conversation. The law is bad in that it bans all kinds of wiretaps unless authorized by a written order issued by a judge.

Consider this dreadful situation: Your child is kidnapped. You receive a telephone call from the kidnapper who lets you hear your child’s crying voice. He demands ransom money. He instructs you not to call the police. He calls you in 30 minutes to know if you have raised the money and gives directions of where, when and how the ransom will be delivered by you.

Since it is impossible to go to court to get a written order within 30 minutes, you wiretap your phone. You record the kidnapper’s voice and ransom instructions. Because of the recorded conversation, the police are able to investigate and arrest the kidnapper.

Who goes to jail? The kidnapper? No. You go to jail.

All because RA 4200 absolutely bans the use of illegally wiretapped evidence in a court of law or in any criminal, civil or administrative proceedings.

The prosecutor cannot introduce the wiretapped voice of the kidnapper as evidence to prove the identity of, and instructions given, by the kidnapper. Lawyers love to call this, “the fruit of the poisonous tree.” Therefore, inadmissible evidence. The kidnapper is set free.

The kidnapper turns the tables on you. He sues you for violation of RA 4200 because you had wiretapped him without a written court order. You, the victim of the crime, go to jail.

RA 4200 admits of no exception to wiretapped conversations. The only legal use of wiretapping is when authorized in writing by a judge who must first interview you to see if his order to wiretap is justified.

RA 4200 must be amended to admit of some exceptions such as the one just described.

Chair, Equal Justice For All (EJUST)
Unit Penthouse B, Windsor Tower
163 Legazpi St., Legazpi Village
Makati City 1229

Atty. De Vera's proposed amendment is embodied in a bill I filed in Congress, but received no attention from the House. I felt redeemed that someone has the same view that I have of Republic Act 4200, The ANti-Wiretapping Law, which I believe needs to be amended.

Unfortunately, the issue has been drowned by the political issues that dominated the discussion about wiretapping,e specially because of the circumstances which brought the issue forward in the first place---cheating in the 2004 elections.

Indeed, those involved in the issue, especially those perceived to have committed wrong-doing, had to defend themselves, just as those who believed that the truth should come out had to do everything to expose the story behind the highly controversial 2004 elections.

It seems that the 2004 elections controversy may have been set aside with the closure of the 13th Congress, although closure has not been attained by those who believe that the Hello Garci tapes can reveal more that what has already been revealed in the hearings.

Once again in the 14th Congress, the tapes say "hello" to us. It has never really said "goodbye", just "see you later". That's how it is with the Truth. It will never lay to rest unless it is out in the open. The Bible, in the Book of John, it is written, "The truth shall set you free." So it is, with truth, that it shall set itself free.

But I am not blind to political reality. I know that at this time, while there is still a need to validate the evidence about the issues hounding the 2004 elections and the Hello Garci tapes, the people already know the truth about it and need no further revelations. The results of the 2007 elections, however tainted it may be, still indicated the people's sentiment. So it may be time for us to look towards other objectives.

One is the amendment of the wiretapping law. While the political ends were not achieved by the Hello Garci hearings last congress, I would say that those who lost the political battle won the moral battle. It is now time to perform attain legal victory, which will benefit everyone, from all sectors, all beliefs and all affiliations.

To me, this should be the primary goal of the resumption of the Hello Garci hearings. To learn from the mistakes of the past in order to avoid them in the future. To amend the law and attune it to the needs of the present.

To express my appreciation to Atty. De Vera for his timely observation, I sent him this letter:

Dear Atty. De Vera,

My warmest felicitations to a citizen who has shown his patriotism and vigilance as a Filipino!

I would like to commend you for the insight you have shared in your letter to the editor of the Philippine Daily Inquirer which was published on September 1, wherein you suggested the amendment of Republic Act 4200 to enable victims of crime to conduct wiretapping without need of a court order.

I am happy to inform you that in the 14th Congress, I filed House Bill No. 58 which seeks to amend R.A. 4200 and allow persons who are victims of kidnapping to perform wiretapping of suspects to aid in the early solution of the crime, just as you proposed.

The proposal is one of several amendments to the wiretapping law which were borne of the Hello Garci hearings in the previous Congress. I filed it as House Bill No. 5313 in the 13th Congress even before the hearings were terminated, belying the claims that no legislation was produced as a result of those hearings. Unfortunately, it was buried under the political noise at that time.

With the wiretapping hearings reopened recently, I believe that the Legislature should proceed with it with the objective of updating an old law that has ceased to be relevant to the times. With the advent of new technologies and new reasons to conduct legal wiretapping, we should look beyond or even set aside the political dimension of the issue and pass legislation that would provide us an up-to-date legal environment for recording conversations.

I hope that you can be one with us in this legislative endeavor.

Thank you very much and may God bless you!

Yours truly,

Ruffy Biazon

Thursday, August 23, 2007


The following is a privilege speech I delivered during the Plenary Session of the House of Representatives on 22 AUgust 2007. I took photos of the event, one of which is shown here.

Yesterday morning, I attended the military honors given to the 15 gallant Marines who were brought to the Philippine Marine Headquarters in Fort Bonifacio. With their families solemnly walking behind the hearses, their brother Marines lined the avenue leading from the PMC HQ all the way to the gymnasium where funeral services were held. It was a stirring sight, all those Marines standing at attention on the sides of the road in their crisp uniforms holding snappy salutes to honor their fallen comrade with the Marine Drum and Bugle Team sounding out the funeral march.

None of the honored dead were related to me. Nor were any of them my constituents in my district. In fact, I did not even know them personally. But having grown up inside that very camp, having been used to the sight of the Marine dress blue, “malunggay” camouflage fatigues, or the chants that they chorus while doing their road run, and most of all, being a son of a red-blooded Marine, I cannot help but have a sense of affinity with the brotherhood of The Few, The Proud, The Philippine Marines.

My own father spent half of his 35-year military career in Mindanao. From time to time, he brought me along with him in his assignments, in the company of the gallant warriors from the sea, their discipline and bravery earning my admiration and hero-worship.

Many times I am asked, having grown up amongst Marines and having a father who served in that esteemed organization, why I did not join the military and follow my father’s footsteps. To that question, my answer is that I did not join because I do not want my family to experience the same fear and anxiety that my mother, my siblings and myself felt while my father was out on assignment, not knowing whether he will come home alive or in a casket.

As I observed the grieving families of the slain soldiers, I could only say a prayer of thanks to the Almighty for sparing our family from such sorrow, and an appeal for these families to be given the guidance and strength to bear their loss and accept their loved ones’ fates. Needless to say, I felt the grief of their loss, the anguish in the hearts and the pain of an unexpected death of a loved one. After all, we all belong to the Marine family.

But more than that, as a member of this House of Representatives, I grieved for the loss of our country’s fine young men, who joined the Armed Forces of the Philippines on their volition, knowing that one day, the supreme sacrifice will be asked of them. So early in their careers, they gave up what many of us will hold on to for self-centered reasons.

And such sacrifice was also given by their families, who lent their sons, brothers, fathers, and husbands to their country, accepting the reality that one day Death will take them away, and whatever the government can give back to them as an obligation and gesture of appreciation, they can only accept without asking for more.

As I viewed each of the fallen heroes now forever silent in their caskets, I noticed that except for two in their early 30’s, all of them were in their 20’s. Young as I still am, I am even old enough to be their “kuya”.

I heard and read commentaries that the loss of these 15 brave Marines was a waste of lives. Perhaps those who say that look at it in terms of the passing of these soldiers at such young ages. Indeed, with the long career ahead of them, they could have gone up the ladder of success if their lives were not snuffed out early.

Or perhaps they see it as a waste because someone may have been at fault in sending them into harm’s way, unwittingly sealing their fate in the hands of the enemy.

Indeed, as we mourn the deaths of these Marines and those who were killed several weeks ago, we must determine the command responsibility of those who may have committed lapses or errors and hold them accountable, if any. Without immediately assuming anyone’s fault or guilt, the government must provide answers to the questions their families are asking.

But allow me to raise an objection to the view that the lives lost were wasted. I do not want to demean the sacrifice of these young men by saying that it was all for nought. Whether their deaths were the result of a tragic mistake or it was an unavoidable tragedy, one thing is clear---these men stuck to their oaths and gave their lives for this country. The reasons for them being sent into the hinterlands of Basilan only to die there may or may not be righteous, but their personal conviction to uphold their oath to defend this country to the death is enough to earn honor; that they are willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice so that democracy may flourish and the enemies of the state be defeated is an accomplishment in itself that sets them apart from the rest of the Filipinos.

They may have passed on to eternity in the sunrise of their lives, but they have proven without a doubt that they have lived relevant lives in such a short span of time. I would dare say that with their act of selflessness, they have fulfilled much more than anyone in this House of Representatives, myself included.

Let us not call their lives a waste. Their deaths may have been unnecessary, but it was also the crest of their relevance on this world. The sign at the entrance of the Libingan ng mga Bayani puts it more aptly--- “I do not know the dignity of his birth, but I do know the glory of his death.”

Ours is a volunteer Armed Forces. When Filipino men sign up for the privilege of wearing the uniform of the AFP, much more the Philippine Marines, they know that the danger of them perishing in the performance of their duty was clear and present. As they took their oaths, the unspoken portion of what they swore was the acceptance of the fact that part of their duty was to die for us and this country.

And for this, the nation owes them its gratitude. They deserve to be honored.

As I mingled among the Marines who viewed their fallen comrades, I could not help but try to read the thoughts that were hounding their minds. Some seemed to think, “will I end up this way?”. Some intently looked at the disfigured faces of their comrades in the caskets. Some whispered prayers for the dead. While some showed determined faces, seemingly wanting to go out into the field for retribution.

But whatever thoughts they had, one thing is definite, we must provide a reason for them to fight and possibly die for their country. We cannot order them into battle with the thought that their lives will just to go to waste. We must acknowledge that as soldiers, their lives are not a waste. We must let them know that when called upon to give the ultimate sacrifice, the country will be generous in heaping gratitude and acknowledgment for their selfless offering.

But lest I be misunderstood, allow me to say that while I call for the country to give premium to the lives and the sacrifice of these soldiers, let me be quick to add that the government should not drag its feet in determining if the loss of lives of these valiant soldiers could have been avoided. And if so, who are those responsible and what sanction or penalty they must be meted.

As we give our soldiers the reason to fight, so too, must we give them an assurance that we give value to their lives and will do everything to preserve it, just as they will do anything to preserve our way of life.

Soon we will be tackling the budget of the national government. Among those that will be presented will be the requirements of the Armed Forces in fulfilling their duty.

It need not be said that the AFP needs a boost in terms of the equipment and compensation. That is the usual concern.

But what we also need to give priority when we consider their budget is the amount of resources that we will appropriate for the support of our troops in the frontlines.

For their frontline operations, there is a need to provide for adequate medical support such as field hospitals, supplies for treatment of battlefield wounds, plasma expanders, pain killers, medevac facilities, training for combat paramedics, and other means of saving lives of soldiers who are wounded in combat.

If we believe that the life of one soldier is valuable, then we must make efforts to preserve it, considering the fact that we send him into harm’s way.

And if he is called upon to give the ultimate sacrifice, we must also ensure that those he leaves behind will benefit from the nation’s gratitude.

This afternoon, I was a guest in a television program where families of those recently killed in Basilan was interviewed. I had the privilege of chatting with a cousin of one of the 15 Marines. She revealed to me that she is a widow, that her husband also served in the AFP but was killed in action some ten years ago. What concerned her now is the livelihood of the family of the Marine killed in action.

She personally sought my help in addressing the difficulty that she, as a widow of a fallen AFP soldier, is experiencing. She said that as of the moment, she only receives half of the salary of her slain husband as a benefit. With the children that were left behind by her husband, she could not make both ends meet.

She also requested if such benefit could be made tax exempt or at least the amount of what the government takes could be lessened to help them cope.

To me, her request was not baseless, nor was it unreasonable. Granting it could be a way of expressing this nation’s gratitude for our soldiers who sacrifice everything for our way of life.

If we expect our soldiers to live a Spartan life and die for us, then let us do our part and make their sacrifice worth it for them.

Before I end, please allow me to give honor and dignity to these fallen Marines by letting their names resound in this august hall:


Allow me to close with a passage that was read during the military honors ceremony for the fallen Marines:

It is the SOLDIER, not the reporter, who gave us freedom of the press;

It is the SOLDIER, not the poet, who gave us freedom of speech;

It is the SOLDIER, not the politicians, who ensure that we live freely and peacefully;

It is the SOLDIER who salutes the Flag, who serves beneath the Flag and whose coffin is eventually draped by the Flag.

We salute our brother-Marines whose lives they risk to protect our right to live…

Let us pray for our fallen Marine Heroes who gave up their lives for our beloved country.