Wednesday, December 23, 2009
In order for our nation to have a firm foundation, we must build up Filipino families. We must enable them to be productive, literate and strong. We must empower them with livelihood, education and health.
But more importantly, the Filipino family should be built up with spiritual, moral and traditional values coupled with a deep sense of patriotism and citizenship.
Charity is not the only thing that begins at home. Everything begins at home. We must be able to raise good fathers and mothers, good husbands and wives, and good sons and daughters in order for us to raise good citizens.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Danny Lim is faring well in the surveys, and although he is not yet in the top 12, he is within striking distance, way above other candidates whom the Comelec has allowed to proceed with their candidacies. He has an ongoing internet campaign which rivals those of the more monied candidates with an online following which definitely covers the entire country, even beyond.
As a top leader of the Magdalo, which has proven its ability to launch a nationwide campaign and propel a candidate to the Senate, he has an established network on the ground, rivaling other more established political parties.
To me, the decision by the Comelec to disqualify Danny Lim to run for Senator on the gorunds that he is a nuisance candidate because he supposedly does not have the ability to campaign for the senate is a contradiction to democracy. While it is indeed a responsibility of the Comelec to ensure that only the qualified and the serious candidates are included in the list that the people will choose from, it is also their duty to uphold the constitutional right of citizens to vote and be voted upon.
Clearly, BGen. Danny Lim is not a nuisance candidate. He may be irritating to an administration which is sensitive to criticism and calls for reform, but he is definitely worthy to present himself to the electorate and be voted upon.
Saturday, December 05, 2009
“ Article VII, Section 18 - The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion. In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he may, for a period not exceeding sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law.”
The president is then mandated to submit a report to the Congress which may revoke the declaration or suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.
In the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao, the basis of the declaration cannot be helped but be questioned. As provided for in the Constitution, the president may declaration of martial law only in the case of invasion or rebellion.
Under the said provision, where does the Maguindanao situation fall under? Invasion? By who? Is it a rebellion? Is the provincial government of Maguindanao led by the Ampatuans taking up arms against the government?
While I would like to support government initiatives which will ensure the maintenance of law and order in Maguindano following the Ampatuan Massacre, I do not see the reasons that would justify a declaration of martial law as prescribed in the Constitution. Considering the current atmosphere of peace and order, there is not even enough reasons to call out the Armed Forces because there is no lawless violence going on in Maguindanao.
The Congress should reject this declaration because it has no firm basis to stand on and it will open up the avenue for those who have previously expressed their proposal for a no-elections scenario to pursue their plans. If martial law is allowed to go on in Maguindanao, trouble can easily be created in other parts of the country and the expansion of the coverage of martial law can immediately be justified.
With elections just around the corner, and recent talks of No-El scenarios still ringing in our ears, the imposition of Martial Law in Maguindanao under circumstances which do not require it should really be met with skepticism.
Friday, December 04, 2009
I was invited as Guest of Honor and speaker during the anniversary of an academic institution not too long ago. After the ceremonies and the photo opportunities that usually follow such engagements, I was invited to join the college's officials and faculty for lunch.
It was a good opportunity to get to know the people better and establish linkages. Over lunch, I chatted with several of them who were seated near me. It was a bit difficult, owing to the level of noise in the room, what with everyone talking all at the same time. I had to strain a little to understand the person I was talking to.
One of those I was chatting with was a dean of one of the colleges, who was once connected with a well known NGO doing work around the world. She told me prior to settling down in the college, her work with the NGO brought her to countries like Somalia, Ethiopia, East Timor and other places experiencing extreme poverty and conflict.
I was impressed with her experience. A distinguished looking lady who did serious work not just for the Philippines but the world! And now a dean of a college!
To continue the chat, I told her that my father recently visited Ethiopia and he gave descriptions on how terrible poverty is in that country. He said that going out of the hotel which was supposed to be located in the business district of that country's capital, beggars lined the sidewalks shoulder to shoulder. So many people mired in poverty and hunger.
Of course she had experienced it first hand and knew exactly Ethiopia's situation. She concurred with the story and she said, "The biggest problem of Ethiopia is Mass Starvation."
Maybe it was the way she said it or the noise in the room. Or maybe it was me. But for a moment, I had to pause for what seemed to be an eternity of awkwardness as I processed what I think I heard.
Did she say what i think she said was the problem of Ethiopia? I was trying to keep a poker face as my mind raced in the speed of light, thinking of an appropriate response. Should I ask if people are now going blind or growing hair on their palms? Is it the result of a weakening belief in Church teachings? Moral decay?
The suddenly, I realized...oh, MASS STARVATION! Whew!
The lessons of the story is....1) listen carefully to the one you are conversing with and 2) think before you talk.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
The administration is now struggling to to rein in it's members and prevent and exodus to other parties and it will do anything to keep it's members at bay within the party.
The threat of sudden resolutions of election cases, as well as administrative and criminal cases of elected officials who are members of Lakas is the Sword of Damocles that the administration has over their members.
The case of Gov. Jonjon Mendoza may be seen both as a punishment to him for leaving Lakas and a warning to others who may be planning or contemplating a move out of the administration party.
But in the end, the practice may result in Lakas only being left with members of who have pending electoral. administrative or criminal cases.
Monday, November 30, 2009
President Arroyo should either resign or go on leave if she pursues her desire to run for the 2nd Congressional District of Pampanga. Of course, her counsel Atty Romy Macalintal will argue that there is no legal impediment for her to seek another elective post. That is a well known fact. The law does not compel her to vacate her post either by resignation or going on leave. I won’t even go into a discussion on delicadeza. We all know what the answer to that issue.
But I offer other reasons why she should give the post of president to someone else who can take full charge in a full time capacity the role of leading this nation during the elections.
The Maguindanao Massacre was definitely a politically motivated incident, one that is expected to have repercussions all the way to election day. It may even have spill over effects to neighboring provinces and spread throughout ARMM. In fact, one of the president’s allies is even proposing that martial law be imposed in that part of Mindanao to ensure peace and order.
Being a presidential election, other hotspots are expected in other parts of the country, hence the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police will surely be on their toes in maintaining peace and order during the elections. This is the reason why I had earlier proposed that the Armed Forces Chief of Staff be extended beyond his retirement date of March 10, 2010, just so that the AFP will not have a change in leadership in the middle of the campaign period.
Being the Commander in Chief, the president should be full time in overseeing the enforcement of laws and measures to maintain peace and order during the elections. The president should not be sidelined by the concerns of her campaign for another elective post, a local one at that. We should not gamble with the president merely allowing an underling (especially the current acting Secretary of Defense Bert Gonzales) to carry out her instructions as she campaigns. Someone should take over the responsibility and accountability during that time.
Another matter which necessitates the full time attention of the President is the implementation of the first automated elections in the country. IT will be best for the country not to have a president distracted and preoccupied with a candidacy in the local elections while this historic venture into uncharted waters is being experienced by the country.
The president’s legal eagles and political pundits will simply repeat their script to defend the president’s decision to run---that there is no legal impediment to her candidacy. And it would be foolish for people to expect delicadeza to prevail. So if she wants to run, let her run.
But what I would like to raise at this point is the duty of the Office of the President ( the position, not the person) to ensure that the elections will be clean, credible and peaceful. She cannot do that full time if she will be a candidate for a local position in 2010. So if she wants to run, then she should turn over in accordance to legal processes the reins of power to someone who is not running for office and can perform the job full time.
Of course that would be the Vice President.
God bless the Philippines!
Friday, November 27, 2009
People are saying this was something unimaginable, that no one expected it and no one could have foreseen the carnage. Well, it turns out that those premises were wrong. Someone did see it coming.
Someone saw it coming and warned the government. He warned Malacañang. And the warnings went unheeded.
About three months ago, August 28, 2009 to be exact, the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security and the Committee on Peace, Unification and Reconciliation conducted a joint public hearing on the peace process in Zamboanga City. One of those invited to be a resource person was the Vice-Governor of North Cotabato Manny Piñol. Vice Governor Piñol is one of the most respected officials whose opinion matters when the Mindanao situation is discussed.
In his statement to the Committee, Vice Governor Piñol revealed that he had warned Malacañang about the potential for the outbreak of hostilities between the MAngudadatus and the Ampatuans in relation to the 2010 elections. It was a warning which was explicit and clear. But in spite of that, it was ignored.
Following is the statement of Vice Governor Piñol lifted from the transcript of that hearing :
MR. PIÑOL : Government must be clear and straightforward with the MILF on what it can and cannot give. Government peace negotiators must get out of the box of the international standards and methodologies for conflict resolution and look at the Mindanao conflict as a problem we cannot and should not compare to the Northern Ireland or Darfur conflicts.
We were amused by the idea of Tony Blair negotiating peace in Mindanao. We were appalled by the suggestion that Manny Pacquiao could bring peace to Mindanao.
This shows how shallow and superficial the appreciation of some of our leaders of the problems in Mindanao. There should be no generic solution to the Mindanao conflict given the fact that problems have different complexions depending on the political, social and economic conditions of a specific area.
Take, for example, Maguindanao. What is the cause of the conflict in Maguindanao right now? It is a feud between the Ampatuans, a big political family and the MILF. And mind you, I have already forewarned Malacañang of an impending bigger trouble come 2010 elections because the Ampatuans are facing another big family, the Mangudadatus, and the Ampatuans are being backed by the military, the government. And that Sends the Mangudadatus towards the MILF orbit and this could spell trouble for Maguindanao in 2010.
I have already warned the GRP panel about this and I have forwarded this message to Chairman Rafael Seguis of the GRP panel.
The statements of Vice Governor Piñol were quite clear. The government was warned. If the warnings were heeded and the government stepped in by disabling the private armed groups in the area, we probably wouldn’t be mourning the deaths of 57 innocent people.
On whose hands have their blood spilled?
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
This act of violence, occurring at the beginning of the election season, may be a preview to the level of violence that may happen once the heat of the campaign period begins. With the culture of clan wars and blood debts prevailing in that part of the country, it is not unlikely that retaliatory attacks will occur between warring sides unless the government steps in to enforce the law and ensure peace and order.
At this early stage, the government should step in, with the imposition of localized emergency rule a feasible option. Now is the time for the PNP, assisted by the AFP, to implement its mandate of controlling the proliferation of illegal firearms and dismantle private armed groups. The PNP is now aggressively pursuing individuals with expired firearms licenses, but perhaps it is about time it flexes its muscles against the real threats to peace and order and political stability, the private armies.
As an additional measure, the government should show that there is justice in this country by actively pursuing the perpetrators and deal with them to the fullest extent of the law. The enforcement of laws against illegal firearms and private armed groups in response to this act of violence should also be accompanied with efforts to bring justice to the victims. It is one way to lessen the need for the side of the victims to take matters in their own hands and resort to street justice.
In light of the impact of this massacre in the political scenario in Maguindanao and probably even the entire ARMM, the government should now consider holding the elections in that part of the country earlier than the rest. It has been the experience in past elections that the national polls are effected by what goes on in that portion of Mindanao.
If elections were held there earlier, the PNP and AFP will be able to focus on what appears to be the hottest of the election hotspots during the elections. The level of violence at this early stage is almost sure to escalate. Early polls will also ensure that the conduct and result of the national elections will be insulated from whatever happens in that region.
Lastly, this election related event in Mindanao further boosts the basis for my proposal way back in April of this year that the term of Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Victor Ibrado be extended until the end of President Arroyo’s term. If General Ibrado’s term as AFP Chief of Staff is not extended, he will retire on March 10, 2010, which is right in the middle of the campaign period. With the tense situation in Mindanao, it might be best for the AFP not to change leaders midstream.
Monday, November 16, 2009
The National Security Advsier has exhibited partisanship, actively espousing his own political ideology even among the ranks of the AFP, which is mandated by the constitution to be non-partisan, non-political. A few years ago, he conducted seminars among soldiers encouraging them to initiate political change contrary to the policies of the AFP and DND which prescribe soldiers to be insulated from politics. In those seminars, he advocated his personal political ideology and in a not-so-subtle approach, try to convince the soldiers that the current political system needs to be replaced and the ones to take the initiative should be the armed forces. On pressure from this representation, he was forced to stop the seminars which was deemed by the DND as unauthorized.
It is also troubling to note that Norberto Gonzales also recently proposed an extra constitutional transition government, which intended to prevent the conduct of the 2010 elections. With the national and local elections coming, there is great danger that Norberto Gonzales may use it as an opportunity to further his political agenda with the Department of Defense and the Armed Forces as his tools.
These are enough for us to see the appointment of Norberto Gonzales as risky not just to the professionalism and neutrality of the AFP, but also to the constitutional processes.
To top it off, he has exhibited a hostile attitude to the constitutionally mandated oversight institutions. He purposely avoided attending budget hearings of his agency, not giving respect to the House and Senate. As
A more acceptable person should be named as permanent replacement as soon as possible. Otherwise, the AFP will suffer in morale and may affect the professionalism of our soldiers.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
I wrote to the editors requesting that my side be printed, especially since they publicly raised questions to me. I don't know if my reply will see print in their paper, so I will also post it in the web:
Manila Standard Today
This is regarding your editorial published on October 21, 2009, where questions were posed to this representation regarding a comment on the recent robbery in Greenbelt 5. Since the questions posed were publicly directed towards me, I am hoping that this reply will merit print in your newspaper in the interest of fairness and transparency.
Before I proceed to answering the questions posed by the editorial, please allow me to make some corrections to the write-up, which I think is necessary in order to ensure that only facts make its way to the public’s attention.
First of all, the editorial was incorrect when it said that I “felt compelled to comment on the daytime robbery”. I did not issue a press statement nor did I seek out the press to give a comment on the robbery. It was the media reporter who sought me out for my comment.
Second, the editorial was also incorrect when it said that I proposed there should only be one authorized supplier of uniforms for the police. My comment was that there should be a regulation of manufacturers of uniforms and that only suppliers who are contracted by the PNP to supply uniforms with the specified design, color and material should be allowed to manufacture the same. Manufacture of similar or the same material, design and color should be prohibited.
Third, the editorial was once again incorrect when it said that I proposed secret tags sewn into the uniforms. I made no such proposal, although I did have in mind that the designs should be exclusive and no other material should be manufactured which resemble the design for the PNP.
Fourth, the editorial also erred when it said that I supported a bill filed by a colleague which proposed to impose stiffer penalties on unauthorized use of police uniforms. The focus of my proposal is on the manufacturers and suppliers of those uniforms.
As to the questions, following are my answers:
The first question was how will changing the current uniforms prevent those who are already so inclined to create new counterfeit uniforms? Changing the current uniforms will automatically render all the counterfeit uniforms currently in circulation ineffective since there will be a new way to identify genuine police personnel.
As to the production of new counterfeits, that is where the proposed new regulations on the importation, manufacture, distribution, or sale of the new uniforms or textile material of the uniforms come in. While it is really difficult to prevent criminal intent (even currency, which has enough security measures and regulations are still counterfeited), we should de everything and anything we can to make it difficult, if not costly, to the perpetrators.
The second question, which asks how secret would a secret tag be, is irrelevant because I did not propose a secret tag in the first place. I would like to point out, however, that the uniforms of the US Army and the US Marines have distinct markings embedded in the design to easily identify counterfeit uniforms from the genuine.
The last question, which asks if I really think that determined criminals will be deterred by stiffer penalties for wearing fake uniforms is also irrelevant because that was not the subject of my proposal. My proposal pertains to the unauthorized importation, manufacture, distribution, and sale of police uniforms or textile materials for the uniforms, including those with similar designs or material.
As a matter of additional information, it might interest you to know that such a proposal is not even a unique proposal and I do not claim originality for it. In other countries, similar restrictions and regulations are imposed. I already mentioned above the measures adopted by the US Army and US Marines.
In Canada, there is even a federal law prohibiting the sale of uniforms issued to members of the Canadian armed forces, penalizing soldiers who sell their uniforms to surplus shops or civilians. They are required to return old uniforms to the government for proper disposal. Uniform designs are copyrighted in order to provide additional protection of their integrity under the law.
Finally, the editorial said that if there was anything that I proved, it was that the mouth moves faster than the brain. I couldn’t agree more.
Lone District, Muntinlupa City
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Flood warning systems should be installed along the paths of water released from dams in order to alert the people regarding oncoming floods. A flood warning system composed of a loud siren activated by the operators of the dam everytime they release water should be placed at regular intervals along the areas determined to be affected by the sudden volume of water.
While currently there is a system in place wherein dam operators give notice to the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Councils (PDCC) and Municipal Disaster Coordinating Councils (MDCC) prior to releasing water, it is obvious that it is insufficient or even ineffective. It is clear that the information does not reach the grassroots, owing to failures along the channels of communication or the lack of time for thorough dissemination.
A common account of the people who fell victim to the recent floods in northern Luzon is that they did not get warnings about the release of water from the dams.
In other countries, very loud sirens similar to air raid sirens used in World War II are installed along the channels where flood waters flow and warn people residing on or near those areas whenever there is a threat of rivers, creeks or waterways overflowing to dangerous levels.The flood warning systems should be operated and controlled by the dam operators so that the warnings will be activated instantly whenever needed. While warnings should still be communicated in the traditional manner, that is, through communication with PDCCs and MDCCs, an alarm audible to the residents of an affected area is still a method which will guarantee that there is timely and adequate warning down to the grassroots.
Sunday, October 04, 2009
As far as I’m concerned, the last one was about earthquake preparedness. In fact, I remember the government campaigning only about earthquake preparedness. They even conducted numerous earthquake drills in schools, communities, government offices, etc.
There has been an annual earthquake drill conducted all over Metro Manila, especially after some scientists warned of the inevitability of The Big One hitting the country’s capital region.
Students were trained to do the DUCK, COVER and HOLD, a simple earthquake survival procedure and the drills were even dramatically covered by media.
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing such preparations ( in fact, we should be more alarmed if it’s not being done), there seems to be a gap in the disaster preparedness that the government is doing.
Earthquakes, killer ones at that, are somehow a rare occurrence in our country, even though the Philippines is in the Pacific Rim of Fire. Unlike Los Angeles and Japan where quakes have been so common people tend to ignore the smaller temblors, quakes happen so infrequently here that people tend to be complacent. Hence, the regular drills are quite welcome.
But what is glaringly obvious now, after typhoon Ondoy deluged Metro Manila, is that the concerned government agencies have failed to prepare us for a calamity which actually happens every year---flooding.
Recent years have seen heavy rains which brought about flooding and landslides in various parts of the country ---Ginsaugon, Southern Leyte (Feb. 2006), Milenyo (July 2006), Frank (June 2008) and the Northern Mindanao flooding in January 2009. There were many other cases of unprecedented extreme flooding which were brought about by exceptionally high rainfall.
But in spite of these recurring extreme weather disturbances and its relative predictability (after all, we expect the heavy rains during a particular season of the year), don’t you wonder why there is no awareness campaign on flood safety conducted by our disaster agencies? (or should it be disastrous agencies?).
No one seems to have really taken seriously preparations against a flood calamity which visits us seasonally every year. This is emphasized by the fact that Anthony Golez, spokesperson for the NDCC, when asked pointblank during in an interview on TV if the governemnt was caught flatfooted, used an analogy to earthquakes, saying, "we were preparing for an intensity 7 and what hit us was an intensity 8". This shows that unlike other countries such as the United States which has a Flood Severity Category system, the Philippines does not have a system of measuring flood severity. Mr. Golez had to use an earthquake scale to refer to a flood.
For example, in the same manner that we have been taught to duck, cover and hold, has there been an education campaign on the dangers of wading into rushing flood waters? Have we been taught that rapidly flowing flood waters may contain debris and other objects which could hit a person in the water and cause injury or death?
Have we been informed that knee-deep rushing water could knock down a person and carry him with the waves? Were we taught to position ourselves feet first into the current in case you do get swept away by rushing floodwaters?
Are vehicle owners taught that six inches of flood water is enough to cause you to lose control of the vehicle so therefore, driving into rising waters should be avoided? These and many other information on what to do or not to do before, during and after a flood have not been taught to us. In spite of the fact that we experience flooding every year and that climate change and global warming is causing extreme weather patterns.
Typhoon Ondoy just deluged Metro Manila and Typhoon Pepeng was not far behind. Still, no one in the NDCC or other agencies raised these helpful information that are important for people’s survival.
Here are some measures you can take with regard to risk of extreme flooding (taken from a guide made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States, slightly modified ):
What You Can Do Before a Flood:
• When there is a warning of an approaching storm, you should be aware of potential flood hazards.
• Have an evacuation plan in place BEFORE flooding occurs. Flooded roads may cut
deep. Remember–just six inches of rapidly flowing water can knock you off your feet.
• Know your flood risk and the elevation above which flooding occurs. Do streams or rivers near you flood easily? If so, be prepared to move to a safe place. Know your evacuation routes.
• Find out if you are located in a high, medium, or low flood risk area.
• Develop an evacuation plan. Everyone in your family should know where to go if they have to leave.
• Discuss flood plans with your family. Everyone should know what to do in case all family members are not together. Discussing flood plans ahead of time helps reduce fear and anxiety and lets everyone know how to respond.
• Determine if the roads you normally travel to reach your home or job will be flooded during a storm. If so, look for alternative routes to use during flooding.
• Have a professional install check-valves in plumbing to prevent flood waters from backing up into the drains of your home (if you know that your home is in a flood prone area).
• Keep your automobile fueled; if electric power is cut off, gas stations may not be able to operate pumps for days.
• Store drinking water in food-grade containers. Water service may be interrupted.
• Keep a stock of food requiring little cooking and no refrigeration; electric power may be interrupted.
• Keep first-aid supplies and prescription medicines on hand
What You Can Do During the Flood:
• If advised to evacuate, do so immediately! Families should use only one vehicle to avoid getting separated and reduce traffic jams. Move to a safe area before access is cut off by flood water. Continue monitoring reports in the radio, television or internet for information concerning the flooding.
• Don’t drive if you don't have to.
• Get out of areas subject to flooding. This includes dips, low spots, underpasses, canyons, washes, etc. Do not attempt to cross flowing streams.
• Never try to walk, swim, drive, or play in flood water. You may not be able to see how fast the flood water is moving or see holes or submerged debris.
• Do not camp or park your vehicle along streams and washes, particularly during threatening conditions.
• Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers.
• Do not attempt to drive through a flooded road. The depth of water is not always obvious. The road bed may be washed out under the water, and you could be stranded or trapped.
• Do not drive around a barricade. Barricades are there for your protection. Turn around and go another way!
• If the vehicle stalls, leave it immediately and move to higher ground. Rapidly rising water may engulf the vehicle and its occupants, sweeping them away. Vehicles can be swept away by as little as two feet of water.
• Children should NEVER play around high water, storm drains, viaducts, or canals. It is very easy to be swept away by fast-moving water.
• If you come upon a flowing stream where water is above your ankles, STOP! Turn around and go another way. Climb to higher ground. If it is moving swiftly, even water six inches deep can knock you off your feet. Many people are swept away wading through flood waters, resulting in injury or death.
What You Can Do After the Flood:
• Get necessary medical care at the nearest hospital. The government or Red Cross can help by providing shelters, food, water, and first aid, as well as helping you meet your immediate disaster-caused needs.
• Do not visit disaster areas. Your presence might hamper rescue and other emergency operations.
• If the power is out, use flashlights, not candles.
• Use flashlights, not lanterns, torches, or matches, to examine buildings. Flammables may be inside.
• Report broken utility lines to appropriate authorities.
• Boil drinking water before using. Wells should be pumped out and the water tested for purity before drinking. If in doubt, call your local public health authority.
• If fresh or canned food has come in contact with flood waters, throw it out.
• Take steps to reduce your risk of future floods. Make sure to follow local building codes and ordinances when rebuilding, and use flood-resistant materials and techniques to protect yourself and your property from future flood damage.
For an example of how the government should be preparing us (which it is not doing now) check out this brochure :
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
A few days ago I wrote about how uplifted I was at the outpouring generosity of people who extended helping hands to the victims of typhoon Ondoy. I wrote about the heroism of those who gave even their own lives for others. My eyes moisten when I tell and re-tell the stories of generosity, bravery and sacrifice rising above the misery brought about by the floodwaters of Ondoy.
But it seems that even optimism sometimes gets defeated and discouragement prevails. My eyes still get moist but it’s not because of stories of victory over adversity but because of situations and incidents that drain away all positive energy in me.
Earlier, I wrote about how the best in people are brought out in times like these. I did not mention it before but I’m saying it now, situations like this also bring out the worst in people.
Like our enterprising countrymen who saw the opportunity to earn during this crisis by ferrying people aboard bancas and other improvised floating devices and charging a fee. My constituents tell me that they are charged Fifty Pesos (P 50 ) per head for that ferry service traveling a distance that they used to pay Fifteen Pesos (P 15) for. It’s sad that in this time of need, there are those who take advantage of the situation.
Another instance where the dark side of people come out is seen during the distribution of relief goods. There are those who get more than their share, often resorting to lying, stealing or bullying. People who line up more than once, or in instances where pre-distributed stubs are given out, insist that they just lost their stub and demand to be given relief or swipe the goods straight from the delivery trucks.
An incident happened in one of the evacuation centers here involving a well-known NGO. As the group of the NGO arrived to hand out relief goods, they were met by an eager throng of people all wanting to get the packs of relief goods. The staff of the NGO tried to impose order and told the people to line up to receive the goods. But the people refused to fall in line, and started pushing towards the NGO staff and the relief packs.
The crowd grew more impatient and rowdy and the situation became tense. The NGO staff decided to leave without distributing the goods.
In another incident, two evacuees got into an argument about the relief goods. Tempers grew hot and eventually they had a fight. After a couple of minutes, one walked away and the other had to be carried away straight to the hospital. He was stabbed. Over relief goods.
One would think that such behavior is due to the depressing situation the people are in in the evacuation centers. But even on the other side of the fence—those who give the relief—there are people who show their dark streaks. Workers who, instead of distributing stubs fairly, either choose only those close to them or worse, hoard it for themselves; or pilferages of donated goods by those entrusted with them…these are things that just leave you wondering how people can be so numb to the plight of others while unjustly helping themselves to the goods which were not meant for them.
But as one who has the official and moral responsibility to look after welfare of my constituents, my heartache is most deep when I go home at the end of day, eat a hot meal, take a shower and drop myself on my comfortable bed and then think of the hardship that thousands of my constituents are suffering that moment.
I try to console myself thinking that I was able to make their lives a little bearable, but any consolation immediately crumbles as I remember many more who have yet to receive any assistance.
My constituents are more than just statistics of evacuees to me. Neither are they just votes to go after come election time. Having spent almost nine years as their representative in Congress, I know many of them by name or recognize their faces. I have developed a relationship with my constituents through constant and regular interaction with them through my projects and dialogues. Many of them had me as their wedding sponsor, godfather to their child’s baptism, invited me to their birthday parties and family reunions.
Nowadays my cellphone beeps every few minutes as I receive messages pleading for the delivery of relief goods to my hungry, thirsty and tired constituents. My email and Facebook accounts are no different, with messages calling, crying for help.
It really is a depressing situation. I have tried to put up a brave front and try to focus on the positive. But one can only do so much to avoid giving in. The feeling is not far removed from a situation that we sometimes experience as parents. Imagine this—you have four children all of whom are hungry. But you can only afford to buy food for three. The agony of such a dilemma is the same as the agony now.
What makes it worse and more painful is that not all people know and understand the situation I and others like me are in. What most people only know is that we have the responsibility to respond and any shortcoming is unconscionable. Suspicions about politicians doing relief operations only for votes, accusations of government officials holding back on resources or being choosy on who to give relief to add to the heartache. But it’s part of the job, so all one can do is swallow and continue the work.
Focus on the good. That’s what I keep telling myself. Just focus on the good and do your job well. But once in a while, I think I’m entitled loosen the pressure valve. This job has its fulfilling moments. But it also has heartaches. It is an emotional rollercoaster ride, but thank God, it always ends with hope. Because I end the day with a prayer.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
But in the aftermath of Ondoy, there's a new game in town--the Blame Claim Game.
And just like all the previous "innovative" ideas that he presented in performing his job as Chairman of the MMDA, Bayani Fernando, Presidential aspirant, is introducing this new game.
He tries to assume responsibility of the Ondoy tragedy by asking people to blame him ( http://www.youtube.com/wat
But I think it is ridiculous for Chairman Fernando to call attention to himself by claiming the blame for the disastrous flood brought about by Ondoy. This calamity brought about by Ondoy is much bigger than him and he does not enjoy singular responsibility for the any failure of government in the face of the typhoon.
Although it is true that his many years in the MMDA only resulted in the failure to address the perennial flood problem of Metro Manila.
BUt it is more ridiculous for him to make a pitch for his presidential campaign by saying that if there is no leadership with political will (using his campaign line), this will happen again and again. It is ridiculous because he already had his chance to use his much-publicized political will for so many years in the MMDA but he still failed. In fact, he's saying now that he is to blame!
But more than just ridiculous but already insulting is his refusal to resign his post in spite of claiming the blame for the tragedy. He should be informed of what the Premier of Taiwan did in the aftermath of Typhoon Morakot. Because of public dissatisfaction of how the government bungled the response to Morakot, President Ma Ying-jeou along with a couple of cabinet ministers resigned. (http://online.wsj.com/arti
Now if Chairman wants to talk about political will, he should take a lesson first from the Taiwanese.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Usually, I reserve my Sundays for my family, taking the time to play with them, have lunch or dinner, or go to the mall. But yesterday, inspite of being a Sunday, I left the house while they were still sleeping and when I got home ( which was actually Monday already), they are already in dreamland.
Eight out of the nine barnagays in my district were under water. People traveled the streets in bancas, making the scene similar to Venice, except that instead of gondolas, people were riding in fishing bancas. Around 1,900 families, or an estimate of 10,000 persons, were living in evacuation centers with little food and dismal sanitary conditions. More people were trapped in their homes, finding shelter on the roof instead of under.
But it was a great day. Why?
Well, it was great because in spite of the gloomy weather, disastrous conditions and me being torn from my usual routine with my family, it was a day that Filipinos showed their best qualities and virtues that made everyday people extraordinary heroes.
I refuse to acknowledge the sorrow and pain brought about by the loss of life and property during the storm. I refuse to give in to the anger at incompetence and neglect which led to delayed disaster response and failure to prepare. I do not want to highlight that which is depressing but rather encourage everyone with what is inspiring.
Yesterday was good because of the various stories of good Samaritans, people who extended their hands to help a fellow human being. Like those soldiers and CAFGU who gave up their lives in order for others to live. Or that video I saw in Youtube and Facebook, where a man jumped from a roof into swirling waters which had cars floating and bumping against each other in order to reach a woman in danger. Or the people who opened their homes to strangers who were stranded by the rising flood waters. There are so many stories during the attack of Ondoy that makes you proud to be a Filipino, proud to be human.
My own experience with these heroes compel me to praise them and give them honor.
Since my district was badly devastated and thousands of my constituents were suffering, my father and I immediately activated our relief operations and assembled relief packs for those in the evacuation centers. Using funds available to our offices, we purchased foodstuffs for distribution to the victims of the typhoon and floods.
Realizing that the people needed many more items other than food, and that our available resources were already depleted, I sent out a call for donations through my Facebook account and text messages to friends.
Admittedly, I wasn’t really expecting much, especially that other groups like the Red Cross and the NGOs of the big media networks were already receiving donations. Add to that the fact that people have low regard and trust for politicians, I was actually expecting to receive responses from friends.
But I was pleasantly surprised to find out that by lunch time that day, donations were coming in not just from friends, but from complete strangers. They said they simply heard the call for donations and felt they had to respond. Actually, it is the good nature of these people which led them to give.
I instructed my staff to give acknowledgment receipts to those donate, but they were puzzled why others did not even bother to wait for the receipts. Still, others even refused to identify themselves.
But I owe it to those people who went out of their comfort zones and gave for others. I will make sure that those who gave will be recognized, not just in the interest of giving them due recognition but also for transparency. After all, it is they who should be given credit. I was just a conduit.
In fact, even those who did not come to my office to donate something specific, as long as they are diligent taxpayers, they have already done their part because a majority of the funds we used to prepare relief goods were funds allocated to our office by the government. We are mere administrators of those funds.
As we went around the evacuation centers, my concern that we will run out of goods to deliver was eased. With each passing hour, more contributions came in. For a while, I was worried that our staff would be overwhelmed. My family members were already lending their hands. But that concern too, was allayed because volunteer workers started coming in.
People who were not even part of my district gave and came, simply because they wanted to be of help to their fellowman. People of such character are heroes in my book.
Am proud to have known these people. I am even prouder to serve them. It was a great day yesterday, September 27, 2009. No amount of destruction, death and deluge will take that away. In the coming days, while there is much work to be done, I will continue to be inspired by these good people. Heroes, really.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
1. Their pedestrian sidewalks are wide.
2. They have tree-lined streets.
3. They have well-maintained and landscaping in center islands.
4. They don’t have ridiculously colored “roadside furniture” (pink fences and pink toilets), as MMDA calls theirs.
5. There are trash bins at almost every corner.
6. They have many parks with lush greenery and tall trees scattered around the city.
7. They don’t have traffic enforcers but somehow the flow of vehicles is continuous.
8. They don’t have maniacal bus and jeepney drivers clogging their roadways.
9. Even with the millions of motorcycles on the road, there isn’t a single one with a modified muffler to make the motorcycle noisier.
10. Even with the millions of motorcycles on the road, the air is much more breathable than Metro Manila.
10 Things I Observed as a Pedestrian in ho Chi Minh City
1. Motorcycle riders in Ho Chi Minh City, young or old, man or woman, are skilled at avoiding pedestrians.
2. Pedestrian sidewalks serve as alternate routes in case of traffic congestion.
3. A motorcycle can be used to deliver furniture, big boxes, flower arrangements and even a huge glass panes. No need for delivery trucks.
4. A family of four can fit comfortably on a motorbike. And it is allowed by the law, as long as the children are below 7 years old.
5. Few people use the pedestrian sidewalks walking to their destination. Motorcycles are the main mode of mobility. Even on sidewalks.
6. Even construction workers have their own motorcycles to go to work.
7. There is valet parking at some establishments. The valets are skilled not only in driving but also Tetris..that’s how they park the motorcycles.
8. The traffic lights are just a suggestion.
9. If you want to teach your child about how blood cells flow in the body, let them observe the flow of motorcycle traffic in the streets of HCMC. It’s pretty much like that.
10. There are many sidewalk eateries. But they all use kiddie size tables and chairs.
It was a Sunday and my wife and I agreed that she could stay in bed longer while I go out for a photo safari in the streets of Ho Chi Minh.
I donned my most comfortable shoes, put a spare battery, memory cards, Vietnamese money in small denominations, cellphone and a small map in my multi-pocket cargo pants. I stepped out of the hotel around 7:00 AM, expecting to take photos of the empty streets.
But the moment I got out of the front driveway of the hotel, I realized that I was wrong. Early Sunday morning in Ho Chi Minh does not equate with empty streets. It was more like business as usual, meaning that the streets are still populated by the continuous flow of motorcycles. I guess taking a photo of an empty HCMC street is out of the question.
I walked towards the direction I plotted out in my map. Good thing I earned my orienteering badge when I was a Boy Scout. My first target was the Saigon Opera House which was just about a hundred meters away from our hotel. In our hotel room, there were a couple of old photographs of the Opera House taken several decades ago. I wanted to do some comparisons.
When I got to the building, there was a set up for what seemed to be a concert. Chairs were lined up like a theater in front of the main entrance, and a sound system set up with massive speakers was ready for the performance. There was no one else around except the sound technician, who apparently likes Kenny G. One of the jazz musician’s top hits in the 80’s was playing over and over again. The song filled the whole square, to the delight of no one in particular except the technician.
After spending several minutes and more than a dozen frames, I continued my walk. I passed what seemed to be a main avenue of the city with small parks in the center island. I came to a rotunda which I took a video of two days ago, amused at how the throngs of motorcycles weaved in and out of the rotunda in what seemed to be chaos, but at the same time an exercise of concerted riding skills of the riders.
The rotunda is just a stone’s throw away from the People’s Committee Building, which I think is the City Hall. Beautiful architecture, European inspired. A statue of Ho Chi Minh stands in a park in front of the building, depicting the Vietnamese leader with a young child in his protective arms. Typical propaganda material.
I took more than a few photos, including a self-portrait using my point and shoot held my extended arms. I had my bulky digital SLR for my more “artistic” shots while I used my digital point and shoot for my typical “tourist” shots. One more benefit with the point and shoot is that it has video capabilities.
My next destination was the Reunification Palace which was several blocks away. It was a pleasurable walk, however, because of the many sights and sounds I encountered along the way. As a photographer, it is always interesting to see the daily life of a foreign city, especially the areas outside the usual tourist routes. I took delight in watching Ho Chi Minh City life go by.
After several blocks and minutes, I heard loud music playing, the kind which I usually hear playing in Chinese variety shows on cable TV back home. I then notice that there was an increasing number of people on red shirts moving about. Being used to public gatherings, I sensed that there was something going on up ahead. Perhaps a political mass action? That would be an excellent photo subject. My pace became faster.
Nearing a corner, I saw that a park was up ahead, one with big trees and lush greenery. More people in red. I then noticed that there was writing on their shirts. I strain to read it. I forget what was written as I do this write up, but when I read it, I guessed it to be some local bank.
I arrived at the park where a stage was set up, and some children were performing a dance in front of about four hundred people in red shirts and more people who I presumed were regular park goers. I couldn’t make out what were written in the streamers and other posters but from what I saw onstage, this seemed to be some promotional event of an insurance company. I walked around in the park taking some photos before continuing with my itinerary.
It turns out that the Reunification Palace was across the park. I walked to towards the building which was in the middle of a huge piece of land surrounded by tall fences. I could see the “palace” but to me, it didn’t look like a palace, or at least as what I expected it to be. Having seen the palaces in Bangkok, Thailand and Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I was expecting the same. The Reunification Palace looked to me like a huge embassy. I took some pictures and didn’t bother to go in. I did notice, however that there were some military relics scattered around the grounds.
I walked on to my next destination, the War Remnants Museum. That was actually my main destination, having been keenly interested in the Vietnam War even when I was a kid. It was about four more blocks away. Again, it wasn’t a boring walk, since there were sights to see along the way.
After a about 10 minutes, I arrived at the museum. I stood at the corner outside the museum compound to rest and watch the intersection. Somehow, Ho Chi Minh intersections has become somewhat of entertaining for me. Watching people cross the street and the motorcycles dodge each other through the intersections amused me.
Then a guy sitting on his motorcycle (he wasn’t riding, just sitting there) said, “Hello!…Hello!….War Museum there!”, pointing to the building. I smiled at him. Thn he said, “You can cross now”. I looked left and right and saw motorcycles coming toward the intersection without seeming to slow down. “You can cross now”, he repeated.
Is he trying to amuse himself by luring me to cross the street and see me get run over by a motorcycle? Or is he genuinely trying to help me. Well, I remembered the advice of other people people who have survived the streets of HCMC. “Walk…and they will swerve around you…”
So I took the step of faith…got off the sidewalk and fixed my eyes on the opposite corner, walking in a steady stride. After a few seconds, I got to the other side…like Jesus walking on water.
I entered the gate of the museum, paid the entrance and felt like a kid in a toy store as I walked among the war relics there…reminders of a war where a poor nation of farmers beat a super power of the world. Of course, I took photos left and right.
After walking around the displays outside the building, I entered the museum proper where there were more displays of weapons, bombs, ammunition, clothing and photos of the war.
I entered a room where a sign was displayed beside the entrance: “The Scars of War”. In the simple display cases in the room, photographs of the ravages of war were displayed. Most sobering were those of the effects of the Americans’ use of Agent Orange, an example of chemical warfare.
The high rate of birth defects among the people of Vietnam which were exposed to Agent Orange was shocking. Most of all, the photos of Vietnamese with grotesque deformities was truly moving. The photos of the devastated forests, farms and landscape were compelling. One will understand why there is pain among Vietnamese when they remember the effects of America’s intrusion into their lives more than four decades ago.
Makes you think about America’s war on terror and their presence in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I spent quite some time in the museum. My previous interest in the Vietnam War was now sobered by the perspective coming from the Vietnamese people. Yesterday I had seen how they were forced to go underground for their safety and protection, now I had seen how they had suffered during and after the war. Truly, this experience will be one of those which will be forever etched in my memory and serve as a lesson on man’s ability to be cruel and to be steadfast.
With more than just photos in my cameras to bring home with me, but more importantly lessons for my mind and soul, I began my walk back to the hotel.
I passed a different route, going through another park which was obviously a Sunday destination for many citizens of Ho Chi Minh City. I was headed for the Notre Dame Cathedral, located just after the park from the museum.
As I was going through the park, I noticed that more than a few times, groups of people, mostly young, sitting on the grass in the park, seemed to be looking at me as I passed by. I could sense that they were looking at me with interest, not a few times giggling as they looked at me.
I began to get conscious, thinking of the reason why. I could think of a few:
1. My fly must have been open. But no, I checked, it was closed.
2. They must be thinking how silly of me to carry two cameras, one hanging on my neck, the other in my hands.
3. They must be wondering how this Asian became so big. I did not see a single overweight Vietnamese man, while I am “American size”.
4. They might have been wondering why I was sweating it out walking instead of riding a motorcycle.
5. They might have wanted me to take their photo.
I arrived at the cathedral. By this time, the sun was already shining high in the sky, so I kind of rushed myself in taking photos. Besides, I had to get back to the hotel to join my wife for lunch. After a few minutes, I continued my walk back to the hotel.
It was around 10:30 in the morning and I had been walking for more than three hours. I don’t know how far it was, but I’m pretty sure, it was enough to count as exercise. Along the way, I was able to take in Ho Chi Minh City more than what I could have if I had taken a cab to the places I went to.
Friday, August 28, 2009
I am often the subject of interviews by students from schools in the district I represent, and I always cheerfully grant their request for a parley. Usually, the students are assigned to interview a public official and many times they end up having the same subject--me. I never turn down a request for an appointment with students, whom I believe should be given every opportunity to be inspired by their elders.
Well, that makes me feel old, being referred to as an "elder". But I am still within the parameters of being under the coverage of the term "Youth", which spans the range of 40 years old and below. I am in the last months of being part of the Youth, although I always say that I am forever a teenager at heart and soul.
In these interviews, I am often the one who is inspired, admiring the young students' energy, drive, inquisitive minds and confident dispositions. They always seem ready and eager to face the harsh and cruel world, believing that they have learned more than enough in the few years that they have existed in this world.
Recently, I had another round of these interviews. In a well-known private school, a fourth year high school teacher assigned her students to interview a public official of the city and several groups of students chose to interview me. They had various ways of getting to me, from cold calls to my office to tracing friends or relatives who had personal connections to me. As always, I reserved exclusive time for them, even scheduling them as my last appointment so that we will have time to extend if needed.
The interviews went well and the students did not even seem intimidated by the fact that they were speaking to a Member of the House of Representatives.
I was proud of them. Except for one thing...
Towards the end of the interview of the first group, I gave them some parting words and exhorted them for their accomplishment. I told them, "Talagang ang Kabataan ay Pag-asa ng Bayan (Truly, the Youth is the Fair Hope of Our Motherland)".
The teenage boys and girls said,"Wow! That's a great quote! Can we use it exclusively in our project?" I then realized that they thought the quote was an original one from me.
So I asked them, "Do you know who said that?". They had no reply but looked at me with interested and curious eyes, waiting for me to answer my own question.
After a brief moment of silence, I told them that it was our National Hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal who said it. "Oh. We didn't know that", they said. After a few more pleasantries, they said goodbye.
Actually, I was surprised that they didn't know Rizal's famous quotation. I had to find out if the youth were really not aware of this or if it was just this group who seemed to be clueless to Rizal's exhortation of the youth.
I did the same thing to the next three groups who interviewed me. Sadly, just like the first group, they were not familiar with the quote. Before I was surprised, this time I was disturbed.
When I got home, I talked to my eldest son who is now 18 and in first year college. I ask him, "Who said this---ang kabataan ay ang pag-asa ng bayan?". He looked at me and said, "You?"
"No", I said.
I shake my head.
We definitely have a problem here.
Eventually, I told him it was Jose Rizal who said it and continued with a lecture in history and nationalism.
What's wrong with the youth? With all the potential that they have, do they even realize at this stage the role that they are going to play in the coming years?
Of course, we do see young people who are politically aware and active, marching in the streets and shouting slogans. We see young persons challenging authorities and facing policemen with shields and truncheons. We see students speak with passion and even anger at the powers that be. But how many of our youth are as aware and involved as they are? Besides, is that the only image of the youth that we want to see?
But the more relevant question is how did the youth come to where they are? Because it is definitely not the fault of those students why they don't know who said the quote. It is the fault of their elders because they failed to convey the message to the young.
The schools are institutions of learning therefore they are at fault. While learning about Rizal and the lessons of his thoughts is not part of the Three R's of basic education, it is part of the basic learnings of being a Filipino. Emphasis should be given on those lessons.
At first, I thought it was just the school of the students who interviewed me which was at fault. But my own son, who went to another school, also was not able to answer. So it is not an isolated case limited to one school.
In fact, the schools are not alone. Learning begins at home and the parents have the primary responsibility of teaching their children. Not just in reading, writing and arithmetic. But more so in character, nationalism and faith.
I stand guilty for my son's ignorance about Jose Rizal's quote. I have taught this quote thousands of times among the students in my district and yet under my very own roof, my son lived unaware of the legacy of wisdom left by our national hero. I accept the blame.
But more than teaching them the what and the who, it is our responsibility as elders to explain to the youth the Why.... Why are they the hope of the nation? We must be able to explain this to them to know their purpose as Filipinos, motivate them to live in the right direction, and fulfill their role as the hope of our nation.
Now comes the hard part..being an example to the youth. Because the youth are impressionable and look up to their elders as role models, it is vital that not only do we talk the talk, but we walk the walk. They may be young, but they are observant and critical. The value of our lessons will be lost if they do not see consistency between what we say and what we do.
The youth, indeed, is the fair hope of the motherland. But they cannot do it alone. They need the guidance of the elders to steer them in the right direction. Are the elders up to it? They were once young and were, themselves, the fair hope of the motherland. How did they fare?