Thursday, July 29, 2010

Last Blog Entry..

This is my last entry in this Blogspot blog.

I am consolidating everything into one blog for easier maintenance. But I will leave this blog here so that anybody visiting it may view my previous entries.

From now on, please visit my NEW BLOG LOCATION for the latest entries.

Thank you very much!

Ruffy Biazon

WI-Fi in the Sky

Everyone who has ever ridden on a plane knows the drill. As soon as you board the plane, the flight attendants instruct the passengers to turn off cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices such as MP3 players and video games until the “fasten your seatbelt” sign is turned off. But cellphones may not be used at any time. Upon landing, passengers are once again instructed repeatedly to only use their cell phones once inside the terminal building.

Of course, there are always some hard-headed passengers who simply ignore these instructions, to the irritation of the flight crew and the horror of some passenger who’s afraid that the electronic device will cause the plane to crash (like my ten year old son). During the last campaign, when I was able to ring up my frequent flyer miles due to the daily provincial sorties, I got used to other passengers continuing with their cell phone conversations even while the plane was about to take off and the beeps of incoming messages as they turned on their mobile units as soon as the plane’s wheels touched the ground.

You can’t blame the flight attendants if sometimes their reminder about keeping electronic devices off while in the plane already sounds like a teacher berating a noisy student. After all, it is already an established safety procedure.

But during our last trip to the United States last month, I was pleasantly surprised that one airline, instead of instructing you to turn off your cell phone and make you feel like you will be in a coffin cut off from the world for the duration of the flight, encourages you to use your wi-fi enabled device and connect to the world (and part with your hard earned money).

Delta Airlines (are you paying attention, Delta?) has wi-fi enabled flights letting you connect to the internet while flying thousands of feet above the ground. Surfing in the clouds! I was so thrilled with the idea, I became the fool who parted with his $10 just to be able to go online and post a status in my Facebook and Twitter and share with anyone who cared that I was up in the high levels of the earth’s atmosphere while surfing the net.

Although the thought crossed my mind that it was a waste of money, I tried to convince myself that the three hour flight would have been boring if I didn’t purchase a connection.

They were also lenient in their rules, allowing the use of cellphones even while the plane was taxiing to its take off position, and allowing the use again as the aircraft taxied to the terminal after landing.

So, it’s not that dangerous to use cellphones after all. I guess the airlines here in the Philippines just want to be extra careful. One time, on a flight to Cebu, I gently reminded my wife (emphasis on gently) to turn off her cellphone because we were already taxiing to the runway for take off. I told her it was a safety rule.

She did turn off her cell immediately. After which she told me, “if these were really that dangerous, then why don’t the terrorists just ride the plane and turn their cellphones on?”

She was kidding, of course. But it did get me thinking.

During that mile-high wi-fi experience, I got to surfing about electronic devices on board airplanes. One site said that the Federal Communications Commission of the United States banned the use of cellphones on bard aircraft back in 1991 because there was a suspicion that the signals interfered with aircraft navigation and communications equipment. The Federal Aviation Administration agrees with the FCC and imposed the regulation on commercial aircraft.

Another site tells of an interview with a pilot over ABC News where in the pilot said that the rule for electronic devices to be turned off is meant to ensure that the passengers’ attention are exclusively fixed on the flight crew as they give the safety briefing before the plane takes off. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Some say that the suspicion that the electronic devices cause harm to the planes equipment has not yet been proven by tests, but it was decided that prudence dictates that it would be better to err on the side of safety. Hence, the ban stays, although various airlines have adopted various rules as to when the cell units should be turned off and when it may be turned on.

As for me, being an avid viewer of Air Crash Investigations in National Geographic Channel, I’d rather not risk my cell phone causing anything that would make the plane I’m riding in get in trouble so I’m obedient when it comes to instructions to turn off electronic devices. And if you’re sitting beside me, you will get a verbal reminder from me if you are not convinced by my accusing glare.

But if I fly Delta, I will happily get my credit card and iPad out and surf in the sky.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Noynoy Aquino Did Not Become a Hostaged President

Politics is a realm that neither political analysts nor fortune tellers can accurately predict the outcome. The reality is that the outcomes are determined by the interests of the politicians which they hold dearly to themselves as a poker player would his cards. Anlaysts can only do an educated speculation, fortune tellers can only do blind guesses.

Politicians’ interests and game plans may change as the seasons do, depending on the situations during a particular time, or the convenience at that moment. That makes them unpredictable, which is sometimes a necessity in the cut-throat world that they move around in.

I am happy to admit that one analysis I made while in the thick of the campaign of the last national and local elections did not materialize into reality. Yes, I’m happy that it did not materialize. That analysis, which I posted in my blog ( Noynoy Aquino Could Be a Hostaged President), pictured a scenario where both chambers of the Philippine Congress are dominated by opponents of Aquino, with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo heading the House of Representatives and Manny Villar leading the Senate.

The basis of that analysis is the fact that both politicians had a good number of allies (at that time, at least) that should have been enough for them to take hold of the helm in their respective chambers. That, combined with the usual expectation for politicians of such stature to crave for the post of top banana and the craving to get back at political opponents, served as the foundation of the analysis.

But to my surprise, neither seemed to have exerted effort not exhibited the desire to make life difficult for the new president. Perhaps the overwhelming mandate and the people’s high trust and confidence in President Aquino was enough to dissuade them. Or they lost their allies to political expediency, each of them characteristically looking out for their own interests. Or, uncharacteristically for politicians, they both lost the desire for power and the need to get back at their rival.

I am thankful to Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Sen. Manny Villar for not acting like typical traditional politicians. Ordinarily, one would expect a typical trapo to use the situation to get back at the opponent who defeated him or do everything to use the position to protect herself.

Whatever it is, I am just glad that President Noynoy Aquino enjoys the goodwill and support of both chambers. Both Houses have super majorities that support the President, led by personalities who have expressed cooperation, if not complete support, to the new administration.

Indeed, President Aquino is a blessed man. Not just because he won the Presidency in a relatively easy manner (considering that he decided to run just 5 months before the campaign began), but because as he begins his term of office, he has a high trust rating from his constituency and the support of the two chambers of Congress.

I pray that those around him will not waste this golden opportunity for the Philippines to be great again.

Monday, July 26, 2010

It's Everybody's Concern

It’s turning out to be one of the most awaited events of the year. Media networks are all geared up for their coverage, the internet is buzzing with chatter about what might and might not happen, and people are eagerly anticipating what’s in store for them in the coming years.

Some attendees probably prepared their wardrobe weeks in advance, more concerned with what they will wear to the occasion rather than the substance of the proceedings. Indeed, the event has been likened to a movie industry awards night, with reporters and photographers waiting along the sidelines of the red carpet jostling to throw the question “Who are you wearing?” (a question about who designed the outfit) and capture a photo worthy of a spread in the papers.

Even the ordinary Filipino seems to be more interested, compared to years past. I was surprised to read some Twitter messages from students and working people alike expressing their disappointment that a holiday was not declared making it impossible for them to watch the event. Quite unlike previously when either the people were indifferent or even questioned why a holiday had to be declared.

I remember a story told to me years back by one of my dad’s staff. She was rushing to work when a friend asked her why she had to go to the office even if a holiday was declared. My dad’s staff said, “I’m going to the SONA”. The friend said, “Ok, I’ll go with you”. She said, “I’m sorry you can’t. It’s by invitation only.” The friend, flabbergasted, said, “By invitation only? What kind of sauna is that?”

There was a time when people could care little what the SONA was all about, content with only reading about it in the papers the following day. Not only when reports began to give extra focus on who wore what made by whom did the masa take enough interest in news about the SONA, perhaps due to the Filipinos’ fondness of celebrities.

But now, with the overwhelming confidence in President Aquino’s leadership, it seems that the people’s interest in what he has to say about the country’s state and what he intends to do about stems from genuine concern.

Technology has also made it easier to monitor the SONA, with social networks in the internet serving as public information tools. Increased accessibility through wireless broadband and live streaming has given those with access to those facilities the ability to view the proceedings live over the internet. Of course, those who are still dreaming of such connectivity have the old reliable transistor radio to rely on.

The SONAs of the past president has always been a show and tell spectacle, not unlike those presented by celebrity storytellers to kindergarten students. Whether they just wanted to show their powerpoint skills or they thought that the people could be mesmerized by the show, it basically led people to take the SONA as just an entertaining event rather than a government’s presentation of what is in store for them.

But it seems with the new President’s first SONA, the people genuinely want to hear what he plans to do for the country. With the overwhelming and unquestionable mandate that he has, much is now demanded from him.

After listening to the SONA, the people should not be left with a feeling of having just been treated to an interesting report from the President. More than just having their eyes opened to anomalies of the previous administration and presented with a smart program of government, the SONA should give the people a feeling of ownership of the challenges faced by President Aquino. The fight for the country’s future is not the President’s alone. It is a shared responsibility between all who would like to see this country move forward.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Book of Eli - More Than Just an Excellent Movie

WARNING! Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you don't want to find out the ending of the movie!

My Saturday afternoon was free, there was no place to go. The kids had their cousins sleeping over so I had no place to squeeze in and play with them. I couldn’t do Facebook and Twitter lest I be called an addict (but you can call me in denial). So what else was there to do?

I declared Saturday afternoon as movie time. After all, there are quite a number of good movies these days and with the various sources available (legit DVD, pirated DVD, online sources, relatives and friends) it’s easy to choose which one to watch.

Of course, being the “macho man” that I am, I have preference for action films. And being a self-styled movie critic, I also choose movies based on who directed the film. And the Hollywood fan in me does not pass the chance to watch movies starring actors and actresses that I adore.

So among the available choices that afternoon, I chose a movie which had a trailer that teased my desire for an adrenaline rush, directors who had already proven to me that they are worth the money that producers pay them to make a film and a lead actor who ranks on top of my all-time Hollywood favorites.

My chosen movie for that Saturday afternoon was The Book of Eli, directed by the Hughes Brothers with Denzel Washington as the lead character.

The trailer that I had seen months before gave me an idea that the movie’s setting was post-apocaloyptic, very much like Mel Gibson’s Mad Max series and last year’s The Road, which I have yet to watch. To me, post-apocalypse movies tend to have similar looks and storylines. The protagonist is usually plunged into a conflict with the desolate and cruel environment as well the deranged and despicable character that live in it. There is usually a journey involved which is made exciting by fights, gunfire and explosions.

But in this case, aside from the actor starring in it, the scenes in the preview and the title of the movie gave me an inkling that somehow there will be a lesson learned here, not just the adrenaline of blood-squirting action and foul language in the script.

The title, Book of Eli, immediately gave me the impression that the Bible has something to do with it. Eli is the shortened version of the name Elijah. In American culture, those who named their sons Elijah are usually those who come from the Bible Belt (the Southern part of the US) and those familiar with the prophet. Being a Bible-reader/believer myself, not to mention a Denzel Washington fan, I had an immediate interest in the movie.

The story revolves around Eli (played by Denzel Washington) who was a survivor of an event which led to the destruction of civilized life as we know it. The land was destroyed, anarchy reigned and cannibals roamed the countryside. It was the period after an event which may have been Armageddon itself. Not only did it destroy man’s home, it destroyed humanity itself. Violence ruled, and every person lived only for survival.

Eli, who was living in the East Coast of the US, one day receives a message presumably from God. The voice told him to bring the book west, and that a path would be laid out before him, that he would be led to a place where the book would be safe, and that he would be protected anyone or anything that would be in his way. During a conversation with one of the characters, he described the encounter with the voice : “I was just moving from place to place,trying to stay alive.And then one day I heard this voice.I don't know how to explain it, it's like it was coming from inside me. But I could hear it clear as day. Clear as I can hear you talking to me now.”

That basically describes how those who have had the faith to hear the word of God get the message from God. Nowadays, whenever someone says, “God told me to do this”, that person is greeted with either patronizing looks or ridiculing snickers. Often, that person is tagged as having loose screws.

But a person who is in the appropriate level of faith and has a clear idea of God’s will and purpose will be able to hear the Word of God, as clear as one can hear another person talk. How do you know what God’s will and purpose is? Simple. Just read the Bible.

And that’s what Eli has been doing. He told Solara that he’s been reading the Bible everyday. In the past thirty years that he’s been wandering, he’s been reading the book in his possession everyday. Reading it revealed to him God’s will and purpose and it filled his faith, faith which gave him direction to where he was suppose to go. In a conversation with Solara, this was what he had to say about faith:

Solara: You know, you say you've been walking for thirty years, right?
Eli: Right.
Solara: Have you ever thought that maybe you were lost?
Eli: Nope.
Solara: Well, how do you know that you're walking in the right direction?
Eli: I walk by faith, not by sight.
Solara: [sighs] What does that mean?
Eli: It means that you know something thing even if you don't know something.
Solara: That doesn't make any sense.
Eli: It doesn't have to make sense. It's faith, it's faith.
And he’s right. Faith doesn’t need to be rationalized, otherwise, it is not faith at all.

So as he journeyed for thirty years on the way to where he was told the book should be brought, it is assumed that he learned his survival skills as he went along. In one of the early scenes of the movie, he encounters people called Hi-Jackers, who apparently prey on travelers, not only to ransack their belongings but also to eat them.

Eli was lured by their bait, a woman pretending to need his help on the side of the road. Being the good natured man that he was, Eli was drawn by the bait and it was then that he was encountered by the gang. He tried to evade but was forced into a fight with them, one man against many. In the end, they all end up dead, with him fulfilling his warning to the leader , “Touch me with that hand again and you’re not getting it back”. Eli cut off his hand with one swoop of his bolo.

Thirty years is a long time to endure to reach your goal. Yet Eli continued in his journey fraught with danger and death in order to fulfill his mission. It takes great faith to embark on a journey with no end in sight. That was what the Israelites did when they fled Egypt. Through the leadership of Moses, they walked for forty years through the desert until reaching the Promised Land. They almost lost faith but because of their leaders’ belief in what lay ahead, they avoided falling into self-destruction. Of course, had they been more faithful to God, their journey should have just been forty days.

In many instances, we are impatient with what we seek. Many times people have prayed to God and wanted results overnight. But God does not work within the time limit we prescribe. Our impatience usually gets the best of us, as exemplified by the cliché, “haste makes waste”. We must understand that sometimes what we desire comes to us delayed because the timing is not right.

One of the reasons that our desires are delayed is that we have yet to be prepared for what we ask. For instance, we don’t get a high paying job immediately after we graduate because we still have to build up experience in the practical world.

In Eli’s case, he did not reach his destination immediately but his long journey prepared him for the challenge that he was to face in the fulfillment of his duty. His fighting skills were honed roaming the ravaged land and encountering various obstacles and dangers. While stayed true to his objective of reaching the west coast, he didn’t know that someday he would encounter someone who was determined to take the book for himself and do everything and anything to get it.

But his long journey prepared him for destiny crossing paths with Carnegie, a character who knew the relevance of the book that Eli was carrying. Carnegie was the leader of a band of violent bikers ruling over a small town. He had control of everything, including one of the most precious resources, water.

But he wanted more, and he believed that the book is the key to gaining power. He even had gangs of bikers going around the countryside looking for the book. One time he was asked by one of his lackeys why they were being sent out just for a “f*#king book”.

Carnegie answered, “IT'S NOT A F*#KIN' BOOK! IT'S A WEAPON. A weapon aimed right at the hearts and minds of the weak and the desperate. It will give us control of them. If we want to rule more than one small, fuckin' town, we have to have it. People will come from all over, they'll do exactly what I tell 'em if the words are from the book. It's happened before and it'll happen again. All we need is that book.”

Indeed, the power of the Words in the Bible has been proven. It motivates people, it drives revolutions and it has conquered countries, shaped civilization. A weapon, indeed. But just like any weapon, if not used properly in the way it is meant to be, it can also bring misery to people. Carnegie’s desire to use for his personal agenda is not fiction. We have seen many times when those claiming to be working in God’s name using his Words have in fact been working for their own vested interests. The Bible itself warns us about those kinds of people.

But one of the important messages in the movie regarding the Bible and the Word of God is that the power one gets from it is not in the mere possession of the Book. As Carnegie found out in the end after he was able to get the Book from Eli through force, violence and intimidation, the book is no different from any other pocketbook or magazine if the heart of the one reading it is not in the right disposition. To the evil, the truth in it may be distorted for evil purposes, and to those who lack faith, it is but a mere collection of words and stories that mean nothing.

When Eli and Solara were besieged by Carnegie and his gang, Solara ended up being hostaged by Carnegie and by threatening to kill her, he was able to get Eli to surrender the book. Carnegie then shoots Eli and goes back to his den.

Back home, he is unable to open the locked book, and has to enlist the help of one they call “the Engineer” who then picks the lock and open it. To his surprise and anguish, it turns out that the Bible is a Braille version of the book. It is then that the moviegoer is led to the conclusion that Eli was blind, in spite of having been able to go through his 30 year journey and overcome all the obstacles and challenges.

The worst thing for Carnegie is that the only one who could possibly read it is his blind lover Claudia but whom he has been maltreating over the years. HE asks her to read it for him, but she realizes that she doesn’t have to. With his wounded leg becoming gangrenous, it won’t be long before he kicks the bucket. She mocks him, saying, “You sacrificed so much for that book. So many men. More than you can spare. And now, all the people who were afraid to speak your name, they're downstairs, tearing up the bar right now, did you know that? And there's nobody to stop them. And you're feverish. I can't imagine what it must feels like, to have something so close, that you worked so hard for, and it might as well be a million miles away.”

Indeed, many have Bibles in their possession yet they either do not read it or they do not comprehend what it is all about. They are blind and ignorant to the message of Truth in the Bible because they lack the necessary attitude and faith needed to understand what is being conveyed.

But the most relevant and striking message is in the end. With the Book in Carnegie’s hands, the moviegoer would think that Eli had already failed his mission. He goes on the West Coast in spite of a bullet wound in his belly and reaches the destination---the island prison of Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay, which apparently has been turned into a secure repository of culture and literature. He is able to gain entry into the heavily guarded fortress-library by saying that he has the King James Bible with him.

The curator welcomes him and says that the Bible is the only book they do not have since the apocalypse happened. Eli then asks the curator to get some paper (“lots of ‘em”) and instructs him to write down everything he will say, word for word. He then starts to recite the New King James Version of the Bible beginning with Genesis, Chapter 1, Verse 1. “In the beginning God created the heaven and earth…”

The message is that the Word of God should not just remain on paper and be one of our possessions as we go through this life. It must be taken in and given a place in our hearts, because only then will it bear fruit in our lives. Paper and ink may be erased or destroyed, but words committed to our memory and its meanings and purposes embedded in our hearts will never be lost nor destroyed.

The Word becomes living when we pass it on to another, not just by the physical transfer of possession by inheritance or gifts, but by teaching others about its wisdom and truth. And by teaching, it is not just by dictation or repetition but more effectively by living it through our daily lives.

Eli says this so profoundly when he told Solara, “In all these years I've been carrying it and reading it every day, I got so caught up in keeping it safe that I forgot to live by what I learned from it. To do more for others than you do for yourself.”

In the final analysis, Eli is us and we are all Elis. We are called to bring the word to where it is safe--- in the hearts of our fellow man. We are called not to keep the Word in a bookshelf to gather dust but to pass it on. But before we embark on that mission, we must put the Word in our hearts and live by it. Otherwise, we might end up like Carnegie, living our lives chasing after the wisdom of the Word until we exhaust our last breath.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Get the Balance Right

Last week, my wife and I agreed to take the kids out of town for a vacation before they go back to school because for them, summer was spent just in the house while their parents were out campaigning. It was pretty much a boring summer for them, and there wasn’t much quality time between us.

In fact, over the last nine years, I must admit that work pretty much came in the way of being a father and husband, although I did manage to squeeze in some quality time every now and then. But that’s just shouldn’t be just a matter of “squeezing in” family time. There should be a time for work responsibilities and time for family responsibilities.

We decided to go to Albay, to a resort in Misibis Bay. The place is relatively new, they just opened last year. I never even knew there was such a resort. My wife and I are a curious pair, always wanting to try something new instead of repeating an experience over and over again and falling into a routine. I guess that’s one of the secrets of our staying together for twenty years now, even though we started out married life at quite a young age.

Along with us came my sister in law and her family, my brother in law and two of their cousins. We scheduled our departure for June 9, because I wanted to attend the proclamation of Sen. Noynoy Aquino. At that time, the end of the canvassing was estimated to be on June 8. But the canvassing was extended one more day so the proclamation was rescheduled to June 9. My dad wanted me to attend, suggesting that I reschedule our trip. Pia Hontiveros, a friend from the ANC (ABS-CBN News Channel) said that I shouldn’t miss this historic event.

Indeed, I did want to attend Noynoy’s proclamation. It was really a historic event and so far, in my three terms of being a congressman, there have been many historic events that I was part of, events that someday I’m going to tell my grand children how their grandpa was right there as those events were happening. I wanted this one to be one of those stories. And I also wanted to be there to take photographs of the event.

But I already made a promise to my family that we will leave on that day. And God knows how many times in the past nine years that I set aside a commitment to my family just to be able to be at an event as history unfolds or to do an important job in line of duty. Perhaps to me those events are something to forever remember as a chapter in our country’s history, but my family’s disappointment will be something that will haunt me until the day I die. I don’t want that.

And so I would miss the proclamation at Batasang Pambansa. I would get on a plane with my family and spend precious moments with them that will last a lifetime of memories, much more valuable than any historical event in the country.

The plane ride to Legaspi City took about just an hour, although for me, it was an hour spent well. There is nothing compared to having your children depend their life on you. One of my sons, afraid of flying because of watching too much National Geographic Channel’s Air Crash Investigation, clung to my arms the whole flight, asking me to pray before we took off. It’s such a good feeling to have your children rely on you, although you will also have to train them to be self-sufficient and survive on their own. You just have to get the balance right.

The approach to Legaspi City airport was spectacular, with the majestic Mayon dominating the horizon. As we descended to land, the children were treated to seeing the volcano with a perfect cone spewing smoke. It was a clear day, and the clouds had not yet formed on top of the Mayon and she showed us her full glory.

]Since we were a big group, we were picked up by the hotel’s coaster and we traveled for another hour to get to Misibis Bay. Along the way, the kids were treated to the beautiful scenery of Albay’s countryside. It was an educational trip for them, their questions about what they see around them answered right then and there.
One nice experience for them was crossing a wide channel to get to the island of Cagraray where Misibis Bay is. There was no bridge but there was a roll-on/roll-off barge. The coaster was driven onto the barge’s platform and when it got to the other side, it just drove off onto the road. The kids were excited about the experience. My son, used to seeing the LCT’s and LCM’s in his video game, asked me if this RO/RO barge was the same as those used in World War II.

Not long after, we arrived at the resort, greeted by several dancers dancing to what sounded like tribal music. Welcome drinks soothed our parched throats and the well done landscaping and architecture already beckoned us to romp and play.

After checking in to our rooms and settling down, the kids were more than eager to go out and swim in the pool. The cold rooms and television were unsuccessful in enticing them to stay indoors. They completely ignored those and preferred the warm water of the swimming pool under the heat of the sun. I’m glad though, because back home, they’re indoors most of the time. There should be time for them to stay indoors and time to go outdoors. You must get the balance right.

I joined my kids in the pool, playing with them as a father should. I particularly wanted to stay with my youngest son, who at three years old, spent his entire life with a father who had to give his time to his constituents. This was an opportunity for some bonding time.

As I played with the kids in the pool, all the worries and cares of this world were quickly set aside. For a while, I left all troubles behind and life became simple again. Whether it was in this resort or in another place, it doesn’t matter as long as you are with your family enjoying the company, life becomes wonderful. For a while I became not just a father but a kid as well.

In the pool, there were inflatables for the children to play with. There was a scaled down version of a banana boat, that favorite ride of beach goers. But it was a bit too large for the kids, and they had difficulty getting on it. I decided to use it, to amuse the kids. But the funny thing is, once I get on top of it, I had difficulty staying on it.

Somehow, it was difficult for me to balance because of my weight which makes it top-heavy once I’m riding it. So I kept on falling over and over again, which made the kids laugh. Oh well, that makes their day, so I gladly got on and fell off over and over again.

Of course, I really tried to stay on it for my personal satisfaction but I really never was able to. I was always off-balance. For you to stay on top of it, you must get the balance right.

Later in the day, we went to the beach where there was an on-the-water playground for the kids and watersports for the adults. Now was the time for grown up activities. We rode Hobie Cats, small sailing catamarans that sliced through the waters with swiftness and speed that matched even motorized bancas. It had a capacity of four people, and rode really close to the water. We took off with such speed that in a few minutes we were already in the middle of Misibis Bay in deep blue water.

It was my first time on a wind-powered vessel, and it was a great experience. I had always wondered how people could write a song about sailing, but riding the Hobie Cat, I could really related to Christopher Cross’ song “Sailing”. In fact, I almost immediately sang the song in my head as we were cruising through the waters of Misibis bay, with no sound except the splashing of the waves, flapping of the sails, and the whistle of the wind. Initially, there was some kind of weird feeling about the absence of noise from an engine while we were speeding through the choppy waters. But later on, it became a peaceful experience to be out there in the vast expanse of water which you can easily touch while the breath of God filled the sail to give you speed.

Before one gets used to it, the Hobie Cat is a bit awkward to ride because it could tip over if the weight was not easily distributed and the wind blows the sail hard. But after a while, you get the hang of it and it becomes a such a wonderful experience. You just have to get the balance right.

When we got back to shore, other activities awaited us. I just had to try wind surfing. I’ve seen others do it before and I thought to myself, if they can do it, why can’t I? The instructor gave me the pointers on how to do it and I patiently waited for the lecture to finish. Deep inside I kept saying, “Alright, alright, enough with the talk, let’s go into action!”.

But it turns out that it’s not that easy to do. Just to get on the board and balance was tough enough, add to that the act of pulling the mast upright and catching the wind to make yourself move on the water. I fell down so many times it was starting to look like lessons on how to fall on water instead of how to wind surf.

As I fell into the water and got up to re-mount the board, I kept on scraping my knees on the sand and on the board itself. It wasn’t long before it was beginning to hurt due to the exposed raw skin. But I kept on doing it, because I was determined to see myself move across the water and claim to have been able to wind surf.

After almost an hour of trying, I was able to finally do it. Although the speed was not impressive, I was able to go a distance and turn to go the opposite direction. Yes! I can finally claim to have wind surfed. All I needed was to get the balance right.

Carpe Diem. Seize the day. That was our motto during our vacation. The following day was another opportunity to experience what life has to offer in terms of excitement. We started it with scuba diving, which was a much awaited activity.

]We were brought out into the bay about a kilometer off-shore to dive. A couple of us were certified divers, some had already done introductory dives (such as myself) while others were first timers. This was going to be an introductory dive, meaning we will just dive not more than twenty feet. Or at least that was the idea.

The most basic thing to remember in this kind of dive is never to hold your breath. Just breathe regularly, as you would do on land. Next is to equalize, which means to relieve the pressure on your ears as you go deeper. It is done by pressing your nostrils closed while slightly blowing air into them. It’s pretty much like blowing your nose if you have colds but in this case, you don’t let the air out. You will then feel the pressure in your ears being relieved.

You must be conscious about equalizing because if you don’t it could cause injury to your ear drums or cause discomfort. You just need to get the balance of pressure right so that you will enjoy the experience.

And enjoy the experience we did. I spent a lot of time scanning the ocean floor and admiring the underwater sea life, although it didn’t have as much color, vibrance, variety and quantity as other areas I’ve been too. I was told that dynamite and cyanide fishing in these areas were stopped only recently, so marine life had yet to fully recover. So sad, really.

Lunch was served on the beach, set up by the resort management for the guests. After a hearty meal, it was back to the watersports. That day, however, aside from the Hobie Cats, kayaks and windsurfing, a jet ski and banana boat were available.

Of course, the jet ski was irresistible. The speed, the wind and sea spray in your face and the rush of momentary flight as you cut across the waves is an intense experience that gives you and adrenaline high. It didn’t take long before my seven year old son saw the thrill and wanted a part in the action.

So it was that he rode tandem with me, and we cruised a distance from the shore. It was his first time to ride a jet ski and he asked if it was difficult to handle. I told him it was quite easy, not so much different from riding a bike. I told him that you just need to get the balance right.

And soon enough, he was enjoying it and asked for more speed. The longer we rode the jet ski, the more he wanted to go faster. He particularly liked the part where the jet ski jumps as it hit the waves. But for me, what I enjoyed more than the ride itself was my son holding on to me tightly in an embrace that I hoped would last forever.

We would not let the day pass without riding the banana boat. Together with my in-laws and their cousins, we got on the five-seater banana boat, hungry for the excitement. We were towed by a twin-engined speed boat which promised a wild ride.

As we were towed out to sea, the waves made the banana boat jump up and down along the waves, making it difficult to stay on top. I pulled myself to a low profile, trying to keep my center of gravity low. As the speed increased, the excitement we felt increased as well, highlighted by my sister-in-law’s screams which was a mixture of delight and fear.

We slowed down as the speedboat slowed to do a turn. Then a funny thing happened. As we rounded what was actually a slow and safe turn, we got off balanced and we all fell into the water in what felt like slow motion. It was a ridiculous way to fall off the banana boat, during a slow turn. Simply because we didn’t get the balance right.

After getting back on the banana boat, we got ready for our second run. This time, we tried to go for the thrill of speed. The speed boat gradually picked speed, creating a larger wake behind it. This made our banana boat buck wildly, very much like a wild stallion being broken in a rodeo. The five of us were bouncing up and down on the inflatable banana boat which threatened to kick us off into the water.

It didn’t take long until we all completely lost hold of the banana boat and fell into the water. But this time, it wasn’t a harmless and ridiculous fall. As I hit the water, I hit an oncoming wave, and with the speed we were going and the angle that I fell, it felt like slamming onto a concrete floor.

I got the wind knocked out of me and my left chest felt like it was caved in. There was pain in and around my ribs and for a while, I couldn’t talk. After several seconds, I realized we were all quiet unlike the first fall when we were all laughing and talking. This time, it seemed we were all stunned by the impact of the fall. My sister in law had the same experience as me and we both had chest pain.

We did another round but in a more cautious pace. Were then brought back to shore where we still continued with other activities. In fact, later in the day, we rode All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV) on rugged trails up and down mountainous terrain. It seemed that no injury could stop us from having fun.

We had many other activities during this trip, which was only a three day break, including the time to travel to and from home. We would have wanted to stay longer what with all the fun we were experiencing, not to mention the quality time of playing together as a family.

But it was time to go back to the business of living life, which is actually a balance between work and play, spending and saving, resting and moving, and time to be alone and time with others. There is a purpose for us not to be excessive in one or lacking in the other. It makes us well-rounded and, of course, well-balanced.

As Depeche Mode said their song, we just need to get the balance right.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

June 4, 2010- A Significant Day in the House of Representatives

To the average Filipino on the street, June 4, 2010 was supposed to be just another day that will uneventfully pass just as the previous one and those before it have done in that person’s lifetime. In fact, for most of our countrymen, that day was nothing different from any other day, even including June 12, Independence Day, or July 4, Fil-AM Friendship Day or June 20, Father’s Day. To a big majority of Filipinos, everyday is the same, a day to survive the challenge of day-to-day existence.

But to those who have cared enough to take action for quite a number of years now, June 4 was a special day. It was the day that they had been waiting for since the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines was given life by the people’s voice in the plebiscite that institutionalized our country’s charter. It was supposed to be the day that the Freedom of Information Bill, mandated by the Constitution, was to finally become a law that would guarantee the people’s right to know how its government serves its constituents. After more than a decade of lobbying, June 4 was supposed to be Victory Day.

To me, June 4 was of special significance because it is the last session day that I will attend, my last day at work as a legislator. Although my term officially ends on June 30, I still intend to earn my pay by working for the welfare of my constituents until that day. But for me the work done in the committee hearings and plenary sessions is the essence of being a lawmaker.

After nine years as a member of the House of Representatives, I wanted the last day of session to be not just a day that would cap my three terms in routine fashion, but a day that would close with the passage of an important piece of legislation. I was eager to end the day with a vote ratifying the FOI Bill.

For the Secretariat of the House of Representatives, they prepared for this last day. For the first time in the history of the House, they prepared a special program for the closing session to honor the members of the House for the work that they have done in the Chamber. They intended to present to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd term members mementos of their membership in the House and compiled bounds of their legislative performance in a ceremony that certainly necessitated much preparation on their part.

It was just one day, but it had different meanings for different people. Actually, everyday is like that. What may be an insignificant, ordinary day for one is in fact, a special, life-changing or even historical day for some. It really just depends on what point for view we are coming from.

And so it was that June 4, 2010 was a significant day in the House of Representatives. While elsewhere in the country, anniversaries were celebrated, eulogies were being delivered, babies were being born, employees were punching out after their shifts, someone just lost his job…the session hall of Batasang Pambansa, the People’s House, was gradually getting filled with people attending the last session day of the 14th Congress.

The proponents, advocates and supporters of the Freedom of Information Bill filled sections of the gallery wanting to be personally present the minute that the vote of ratification institutionalizes this landmark piece of legislation. Many of them labored long and hard just for the bill to reach this day and they waited with anticipation for the proceedings to begin.

Actually, what was left was just a routine step of the process of passing a bill into law---ratification. The bill had already passed through the three readings of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. It had also passed through bicameral conference. The Senate had ratified it, so the only thing left was the ratification by the House. Ratification was a simple ayes and nays vote of the House, the members not even required or expected to explain their votes. After that, it could be considered institutionalized as law. But in all its routine nature, it was a special piece of legislation.

The rest of the gallery was filled by employees of the House Secretariat, after having been directed to attend the ceremony to honor the Members of the House. Of course, also in the hall were the usual observers of the proceedings of the House, congressional staff and probably some curious citizens who happened to have time to spare to watch the proceedings.

But what promised to be a “special routine session” turned out to be quite an emotional one, with contrasting sentiments that pulled me in opposite directions.

The Members of the House were more psychologically prepared for the Honor Ceremony in the closing session. I would compare it to the emotions one had during high school graduation, the bittersweet feeling of wanting to move on in life while at the same time hanging on to the memories of good times spent with friends.

The honor that was to be given by the Secretariat also had its significance, since they were the people who served as our backbone during our work in Congress, and they were the ones who can truly make an objective judgment on how each and every congressman performed as a legislator.

Late by almost and hour, the session as finally resumed (it was just suspended in the previous session day) and the motion to ratify the Freedom of Information was immediately made by the Majority Floor Leader. As immediate as the motion was filed, the quorum was also immediately questioned.

Just by looking around the hall, it was difficult to make a judgment if indeed there were enough warm bodies present to constitute a quorum. When I entered the hall, there seemed to be not enough legislators on board. But with Malacanang joining the call for the passage of the bill, I did not expect that there would be a problem in the bill’s ratification. Nevertheless, congressmen began trickling in not long after the session was underway.

The session was suspended in order to resolve the issue that was raised. In this line of work, the adage “the squeaky wheel gets oiled” sometimes best describes this kind of situation. Many times in the past, when the quorum question is raised during a debate on a very important bill, the issue is settled after a little discussion with the one who raised the question during suspension.

After about thirty minutes of suspension, the session was resumed and the roll was called. Obviously, the quorum question was not resolved so the names of the members of congress were called one by one, with the secretariat staff ticking off the names in their list. At the end of the roll call, the Secretary General reported to the Speaker that 128 members of the House responded to the call. With that, the Speaker declared that with 128 members, there is no quorum and therefore, according to the rules, the House cannot conduct legislative business and would have to adjourn.

As expected, this ruling was met with vehement objections and impassioned pleadings from the proponents and supporters of the bill. Legislators pushing for the bill alternately took the floor questioning the results of the roll call and calling on the speaker to use a particular provision in the rules allowing the House to arrest the members who are absent. Understandably, emotions ran high and a bitter exchange threatened to mar the proceedings.

In the end, the Speaker stood pat in his ruling and adjourned the last session of the 14th Congress. What was intended to be a “special routine closing” and parting of friends now turned into a highly polarized legislative battle among peers. Definitely not what was envisioned as a last day of work for this Congress.

Naturally and rightfully so, those supporting the bill felt betrayed and cheated, and cast judgment on the House for failing to pass such an important measure. As I was doing live tweets of the proceedings over Twitter, I could see the numerous reactions of people online castigating the House most especially the Speaker. All the frustrations were posted and perhaps if not for the facility of the internet, people might have gone out to the streets to vent their anger.

The session had been adjourned but the honor ceremony still had to be undertaken. Actually, many had begun to think that it might not be appropriate anymore to have the ceremony. I felt it would not be taken well by the public who had just been treated to disappointment by the very House that would now give distinction to its members.

After quite a while of lingering, the Deputy Secretary General for Committee Affairs went on the public address system to inform everyone that the leadership of the House had decided to forego the honor ceremony, in deference to what the public might construe as the congressmen giving themselves a pat on the back after the emotional, divisive and controversial adjournment.

Her voice was cracking and straining under what seems to be a failed effort to hide her emotions. Clearly, she was distressed with what was happening. She went on to say that although the House leadership already made that decision, they in the Secretariat tried to convince the leadership to proceed with the ceremony. After all, she said, this ceremony, the first time held in the House’s colorful history, was initiated and prepared by the Secretariat to give due honor and recognition to the members of the House whom they had worked with on many important accomplishments of the institution. She pointed out that being first hand spectators to the performance of the legislators, they would like to proceed with the presentation of mementos and plaques of appreciation.

Indeed, while there are many highlighted occasions that the House had not displayed the righteousness that the people expect and deserve, there are many more unnoticed moments of low profile accomplishments that only the secretariat were witnesses to. They wanted to give due recognition to these accomplishments by way of the honor ceremony.

And so it was that under the contemptuous glare of the public, the House proceeded to honor its members. It basically consisted calling out the 1st-term, 2nd-term and 3rd-term members of the House in front of the hall and presenting them with plaques of appreciation and book-bound volumes of each legislator’s performance record (bills filed, laws passed, speeches delivered and transcripts of interpellations) and a CD version of the same. For the graduating congressmen, a Congressional medal was also presented in honor of completing the whole three terms in the House.

For me, it was a well appreciated gesture on the part of the Secretariat. What they presented was a symbol of the acknowledgment of the work I had done these past nine years. The mementos and volumes they gave me were things that I can present to other people to show that the mandate given to me by my constituents were not wasted and this was incontrovertible proof that I had earned the pay that people granted me the privilege to receive.

Indeed June 4 seemed to be an ordinary day. For some, it was. For others, it was a day that the House of Representatives failed the people. For me, it was the final day of a special period in my life when I had the privilege of being able to directly contribute to the welfare of this nation. Sad to say though, that by this final act of the House, the last thing in the people’s mind would be that the 14th Congress betrayed them.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


What’s the exact number of registered voters in the country in the May 10, 2010 elections? Initial canvass reports in the Senatorial Canvass showed 153,902,003 Filipino voters. The Canvassing and Consolidation Server (CCS) in the Presidential and Vice Presidential Canvass indicated that there are 256,733,195 registered voters.

Which of the two is the correct number? Actually, both are wrong.

Without even checking references, one would immediately know that both figures are incorrect because it is common knowledge that the Philippine population is just about 89 million. Since these figures are supposed to be system generated (meaning that they are automatically produced by the program of the Consolidation and Canvassing Server), these can be called defects of the product supplied by Smartmatic. Or in a more benign-sounding techie terminology, these are “glitches”.

Photo at left shows the Report No 1 of the National Canvass Report for Senator, certified by three Comelec Commissioners indicating the wrong number of registered voters in the Philippines. Photo at right is the close up of the document. The error in the CCS of the Presidential/Vice Presidential Canvass was the subject of discussion between Senate President Enrile and Smartmatic officer Cesar Flores during the first day of canvassing.

The “glitches” did not go unnoticed, though. In the senatorial canvass, representatives of the candidates, not having outgrown the habit of closely scrutinizing canvass documents during old, manual system where errors were aplenty, went over the system-generated report (which is supposed to be reliable because of less human intervention) and discovered the incorrect entry.

Comelec and Smartmatic officials apologized for the glitch, promising to correct it. Most of those in the canvassing teams of the candidates brushed it off, although when it was reported to me by my staff, I took a little bit more serious note of it. This was during the morning session of the canvassing.

When the Board of Canvassers (BOC) printed out the afternoon report, the first thing my staff did was to check if the error was corrected. It was not. It was then that I decided I had to go to the PICC to personally check on the documents and inquire about the process. At that time, I didn’t know it was a system generated report.

At the PICC, I was able to talk to Cesar Flores and I conveyed to him my support for an automated election. I then queried him about the reports that are being generated, particularly the reports per province as they are received by the BOC, because there are no reports being generated. The BOC simply reports out the consolidated tally, without us knowing the breakdown of results per province, unlike in the old system where you know the results that come in per province and you can cross check it with your field reports.

After our short chat, I was informed by my staff that the afternoon report was not corrected. It still contained the error in registered voters. I was also able to talk to a Comelec technical person who told me the Canvass Reports are system generated and that they will look into the error. After getting non-responsive answers to my questions, I left my staff to monitor the canvassing further.

When it was revealed through a report by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile that a similar error was found in the CCS of the Presidential / Vice Presidential Canvass Board, red flags were raised in my head. Two separate systems, one error. But the curious thing is that while the nature of the errors were the same, the outcomes were different.

Of course, when both errors were discovered, the logical thing to do was to correct them. Not only was it logical, it was imperative. So the CCS in the Senatorial Canvass was corrected and the registered voters in the CCS of the Presidential /Vice Presidential Canvass was adjusted.

Most people settled down after those assuring actions were made. But wait, hold your horses!

In the canvass of the senatorial race, which has the same voting constituency as the President and Vice President, the figure that was indicated in the Total Registered Voters field after the correction was 51, 317, 073. Below is an image of the document, National Canvass Report No. 3 indicating the new number of registered voters which was used all the way through to Report No. 8.

But as revealed in the discussion during the first day of canvass for President and vice President, the figure that Smartmatic and Comelec used in correcting the erroneous entry in the number of registered voters is 51,292,465. I remember Senator Enrile asking what figure they used to change the wrong entry and if they were sure with the number as I was listening to the proceedings in the radio. True enough, those figures are the ones reported in the news.

With the two Consolidation and Canvassing Servers once again having differing numbers of registered voters, I decided to check which one was accurate. Where else will I turn to but the Commission on Elections? So I visited their website and clicked on the page where the registered voters were indicated.

Lo and behold, a figure different from both numbers appears in the website of the Comelec itself. In their tally, there are 50,723,733 registered voters in the Philippines as January 2010. To my knowledge, the last day of registration was October 31, 2009 per Comelec Resolution No. 8585, so this should be the correct figure. There couldn’t have been additional voters between January 2010 and February 9, 2010 when the campaign period started. Besides, this is the Comelec’s website, which should be updated with the latest data considering the importance of their work now.

Image of the Comelec website indicating a figure for registered voters different from both the CCS from the Senatorial Canvass and the CCS from the Presidential / Vice Presidential Canvass.

I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt. After all, it might be that the COmelec website was not updated. So I did a double checking using a document I knew to be reliable (or it should be, unless it, too, is faulty). I referred to the Certificate of Canvass in my District, Muntinlupa City.

I checked the registered voters in Mutninlupa as indicated in the Certificate of Canvass for that city, certified by the City Board of Canvassers. It indicated that Muntinlupa City’s registered voters totaled to 291,333, as shown in the image below:

I cross-checked it with the figure in the Comelec website and they matched:

This shows that the data on the Comelec appears to be the correct data since the information pertaining to Muntinlupa City’s voting population is the same with the information contained in the Certificate of Canvass for the same city.

The question now is how come the information in the two Consolidation and Canvassing Servers are not only different from the information in the Comelec website but even different from each other?

It appears that three official sources have their own data with regard to the total number of voting population that the Philippines has. Smartmatic downplays the error in the Presidential and Vice Presidential Canvass as “innocent glitches”. But the fact that it happened also in the Senatorial canvass gives it a more than just an “innocent glitch” flavor. In addition, the error in the Presidential / Vice Presidential Canvass was discovered ahead of the one in the Senatorial Canvass which was even included in the first two reports signed by the Comelec Commissioners. That negligence caused the Comelec Commissioners to affix their seal of approval on something that was erroneous on something as basic as the total registered voters. In the case of the CCS for President and Vice President, the error was found out only after the Senate President did his official task of initializing the server.

Let me clarify though, that even if it does not take a genius to figure out how this error could be used for cheating, I am not saying that these observations are enough to suspect cheating. I am not looking at this as an indication of fraud but rather as an indication of sloppy work on the part of the supplier of the system.

But as the explanation was given that the program mistakenly added the voting population of each level of the reporting (from PCOS to Municipal Board to Provincial Board to National Board, etc.) the layman in me has enough common sense to question that it would take major programming “error” to mistakenly put into the program an instruction to add a mathematical formula (either addition or multiplication) in a field that is supposed to be static.

The so-called IT experts of Smartmatic and (those who worship them) want us to believe and take in hook line and sinker all that they say. I would want to, but I only believe something after it has passed scrutiny using my educated and ignorant questions. So far, some of their answers to questions have only bred more questions (like Mr. Flores’ explanation about the wrong date stamps on ERs being caused by clocks resetting while in transit. I countered that if a clock is reset, it is reset to a default “beginning of time” such as 01/01/1900 and not just resetting to a few days or few months back from the correct time. But that’s another story…)

Once more, with feeling…I am not complaining that I was cheated. I am not accusing anyone of cheating. But I do say that there’s enough to accuse someone of sloppy work. Sloppy work that the Filipino people are going to pay more than 7 Billion Pesos for.

Some people would probably ask, what should we do then? Well, I say we tell those who are responsible that they have sloppy work and tell them that right in their faces. Then we find ways to penalize them. Because if we take a lackadaisical attitude towards this negligence (or much worse, if we take their side and even defend their errors), it will surely come back and thumb its nose in our faces again in 2013.

Monday, May 24, 2010

I'm Still for Automation in 2013

We just concluded another session of the hearing in Congress regarding the 2010 Elections. Incidentally, the hearing is entitled, “The May 10, 2010 Automated Elections : An Assessment “.

This means that the hearing is convened not just as a venue for those complaining about alleged election fraud. It also serves to see how the Automated Election System, Smartmatic and Comelec performed in the recent elections. That’s why I’m participating in the hearing, not to complain, but to do an assessment coming from the point of view of a candidate and policy maker.

As I was going out of the hearing room, I was asked by a reporter, “Sir, do you still think that we should automate the elections in 2013?” My immediate answer is “Yes, I think we should still automate the elections in 2013!”

The reporter seemed to have been expecting a different answer. “Sir, aren’t you concerned that with all of the allegations coming out in this hearing, there will be cheating again in 2013?” She added that with the critical questions I’ve been asking it seemed that I was against automation.

“I want automated elections”, I said. “With the manual system, I already know there’s cheating and it’s difficult to control that because at every step of the way, there is human intervention. And that’s the dangerous part, human intervention.” I went further to tell her that all we need to do with the Automated Election System is to put into place additional safeguards and correct its flaws in order to become more reliable and secure. If we can design it in such a way that there is least opportunity for human intervention, it would be good for us.

I further reminded the reporter that at this time, all we are listening to are allegations of fraud which have yet to be pursued through the legal processes and proven as actually having occurred. “We should look at these hearings as an opportunity to answer questions that could either clarify issues or improve the system.”

I believe the best time to do the evaluation is immediately after the elections where the interest and desire to look into the issues are still high. If we let months pass by, it will surely be relegated to the dustbin of our memories and remain unresolved, only to be pulled out again as an issue that needs to be addressed at the last minute before the next elections.

I would like to see automated elections in this country succeed. That is why I’m asking my questions during these hearings because I want it to be implemented in the next elections. I don’t want to give naysayers a reason to say that the system is a hopelessly flawed system and therefore, the justification to go back to the manual method.

With only about a month left in my term, I would like to be able to do my part as a policy maker, an overseer of the people’s interest in Congress, and earn my pay by doing my duty up to the very last day. This is not about whining after a defeat. It is about doing my sworn duty and contributing to the security of the next generation’s future.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

In the Philippines, There Are No Victims of Cheating, Just Sore Losers

At the risk of sounding too redundant and defensive, I would like to once again categorically state that I have long accepted the fact that I did not make it to the circle of winning senators in the recently concluded elections and that I have not filed any protest case to question the results. I want to make that clear in order to preclude any judgment on what I write in this article.

There has never been an election in the Philippines where there isn’t anyone who cries “I’ve been cheated” after losing their electoral race. Immediately after the proclamations, or sometimes even before, you will hear candidates howl in protest against what they claim are votes that have been stolen from them. Some engage in mass action, some use the media, while others take legal action and file electoral protests in the courts, the Comelec or the electoral tribunals.

Indeed, these accusations of cheating has become as regular as the elections itself that Filipinos, with our brilliance in satire and sarcasm, came up with a cliché---“In Philippine elections there are no losers…just the winners and the cheated”. Perhaps many would agree to that statement, fueled by the seemingly inherent disdain for politicians.

With that kind of attitude towards losing politicians, we can take the cliché even further. We can even say that in the Philippines, there are no victims of cheating…just sore losers. After all, that’s how we look at those claiming that they’ve been cheated—sore losers.

But there lies the contradiction. While we look down upon those who claim to have been cheated, we also believe as truth that in the Philippines, there are politicians who get to where they are because of cheating. The disdain that people have of politicians who claim to have been cheated is the same disdain that people have of politicians who are generally seen as cheaters, liars and stealers.

So in a society where people generally believe that politicians cheat and yet dismiss as sore losers those who claim to have been cheated, where will a victim of cheating get justice? We might as well abolish the mechanism of filing election protests.

Even the Comelec, which is mandated to ensure clean and honest elections, easily dismiss those who claim to have been cheated. The most recent example is the 2010 elections where we see claims of fraud and cheating being treated lightly, even with ridicule, by Comelec officials. Instead of lending at least a listening ear, they greet the complaints with sarcastic tongues.

We seem to have been pushed to callousness in our attitudes towards election cheating to the point that while we accept as reality that there are cheaters in our midst, we do not care enough to act on eradicating it.

After the experience of my father with Dagdag-Bawas in 1995 and Hello Garci in 2004, I can empathize with those who cry foul during elections, although I am certain that not all have real basis to make the claim. But there are those who do have experienced the injustice of having been victimized. After all the money spent and the sweat, tears and sometimes even blood that they have shed, losing candidates do have a right to cry for justice if they feel aggravated. Of course, that right is accompanied by the obligation and responsibility to justify their claim.

Automation of the counting seems to be our placebo, with the quick reporting of results lulling us into the belief that cheating has been eradicated in the country. We must remember that the PCOS machines did not wipe away from this earth those whose objectives are to be able to make the elections have a predetermined outcome and benefit from that ability, whether to earn money or win a position. The PCOS machine did not drive away the evil mind which will use its creativity to attain its ends.

Let me state for the record that I am all for automation. I was one of those who supported and pushed for the passage of the automation law and am grateful to have been part of the Congress which passed it.

Cheating in elections has always been driven by the intentions of men, not the abilities of the system. The manual system or the automated system are just neutral tools to be used to achieve the goal of recording the votes. It is the human hand behind the tool which will determine if it will be a tool for evil or righteousness.

While I am not casting doubt on the integrity of the Commisison on Elections’ present commissioners and officials, let us not forget that history has shown us that evil intent knows no boundaries and may penetrate even the high levels of leadership. It is up to us whether we allow that to prosper or not. As another cliché goes, all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.

In conclusion, let me restate that I have moved on as far as my candidacy is concerned. In fact, I am looking forward to the future and will prepare for the next challenge by looking back to the past to review where I made mistakes in order to learn from them.

It is in the same vein that I am hoping we are not overwhelmed by the euphoria of the quick election results and lulled into a sense of security that henceforth, cheating has been rendered extinct.

Now is the time for us to thoroughly review this automated election system. Every observation of a flaw, whether real or perceived, should be looked into. Complaints of cheating using the system, whether believable or not, should be given the benefit of close scrutiny and not mere dismissal. Because if we fail to ensure that this system is cured of any flaw, then we will all be guilty of passing on a legacy of flawed elections to the next generation.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


A curious thing was revealed during the inquiry conducted by the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms. When Smartmatic was asked why there are election returns which bear dates different from the date of the election, they responded by saying that this is a negligible error in that one can still determine the activities of the PCOS machines since the audit logs will show the time frame that it was active.

Simply put, Smartmatic is saying that as long as the audit logs show that the PCOS machine was active only during an twelve-hour period corresponding to the official voting and counting schedule of the elections, there is nothing to be concerned about the election returns having a wrong date and time stamp.

The Smartmatic official’s reply merited not only a terse but a harsh retort from an obviously irritated chairman of the committee Congressman Teddy Locsin Jr., who pointed out that the official’s answer was “ridiculous”. He observed that the erroneous dates on the ER is a breach of security for the election returns. I totally agree.

Logically, the importance of the date stamp on the election returns cannot be downplayed. It is supposed to be the proof that the ballots were read and counted on election day, May 10, 2010. In the old, manual system, the dates manually written determines whether a document is credible or not. In an automated system, it should not be any different. The machine should correctly and faithfully record date and time of the activities of the machine.

Smartmatic tried to downplay the presentation of ERs with wrong dates by saying that with more than 80,000 machines being deployed from their warehouse in Cabuyao where the dates of the machines are supposed to be programmed, there is bound to be a certain percentage which will have errors. What percentage they deem allowable and how many they have actually found to have wrong dates, they did not reveal.

To me, it is an unacceptable excuse. It speaks of poor quality control and security on their part. Setting the correct time in the internal clock of each PCOS machine is an act that should be part of standard operating procedures especially in quality control for such expensive and high-tech equipment. It is expected that it is part of their S.O.P. for the clocks to be programmed in the correct setting before the units are sent to the different jurisdictions.

What makes it really unacceptable is that the law, Republic Act 9369, commonly known as the Automated Elections Law, prescribes that the election returns “shall also show the date of the election” (Section 32). In Section 2 of the law, where terms are defined, Election Return is defined as “a document in electronic and printed form directly produced by the counting machine, showing the date of the election…”

In the election return churned out by the PCOS machine, the only space provided for the manual entry of information are spaces for the signatures of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) and the pollwatchers. There is no space for manual entry of the date because the intention is for the machine to automatically put a date and time stamp on the document, supposedly as an added measure of security against fraud.

In my own district there were seven election returns with wrong dates. I won overwhelmingly in my district, placing first among all the senatorial candidates (yes, including all the actors), and my father also won in all precincts. But I do not hesitate to question the performance of Smartmatic particularly on the issue of the wrong date/time stamps. I can perfectly understand the outburst of Cong. Teddy Locsin against the Smartmatic officials, especially since he personally pushed hard for the automated elections.

But such negligence should not be tolerated. Smartmatic should be sanctioned for this irresponsible act which now jeopardizes the credibility of the automated election system and possibly even its results. It would be unfortunate if it comes out that Smartmatic may not be smart after all.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The 13th Place

With the senatorial count winding up, people I meet ask me this question, “Can the Comelec proclaim 13 senators instead of 12, owing to the vacancy that Sen. Aquino will leave behind as he assumes the Presidency?”. It is a valid question, one that I myself asked in the middle of the campaign as I was writing an analysis of a post election scenario (Noynoy Aquino Could be a Hostaged President, March 18, 2010).

I am not a lawyer, but in my 9 years as a congressman and previous 8 years as a senior legislative officer in the Senate, I have already learned how to research on laws and come up with my own opinions on some legal matters. So when that question came to my mind months back, I did some readings and study on previous cases of the same circumstance.

First of all, what does the law say?

Of course, the basic law of the land prescribes what we should do. Article VI, Sec. 9 of the Philippine Constitution says, “In case of vacancy in the Senate or in the House of Representatives, a special election may be called to fill such vacancy in the manner prescribed by law, but the Senator or Member of the House of Representatives thus elected shall serve only for the unexpired term.”

This means that the position that Sen. Noynoy Aquino will leave behind when he assumes the Presidency on June 30, 2010 may only be filled by complying with laws which prescribe how to elect a senator to fill the vacancy. To meet this requirement of the Constitution, the 8th Congress passed Republic Act No. 6645 which prescribes “The Manner of Filling a Vacancy in the Congress of the Philippines”.

RA 6645 provides that in case of a vacancy in either the House of Representatives or the Senate, the Comelec shall hold a special election to fill the vacancy “upon receipt of a resolution of the Senate or the House of Representatives, as the case may be, certifying to the existence of such vacancy and calling for a special election”.

The Senate of the 14th Congress could not have passed a resolution to declare a vacancy and call for an election to fill the same because the vacancy will only occur on June 30, 2010 when Sen. Aquino will assume the presidency or 51 days after the elections. The call for a special election to fill a vacancy should be done before the elections. And of course, the Senate has to certify to the existence of an actual vacancy.

For the May 10, 2010 Elections, the Comelec cannot simply proclaim the 13th placer as a winner because there is no call for a special election to fill the vacancy to be left by Sen. Aquino. In fact, it is quite clear that the election for senators is only for the regular elections to fill vacancies arising from the constitutionally scheduled end of terms of 12 incumbent senators. The ballot itself is proof this, since in the space provided for the names of the candidates for senators, it is written “Vote for not more than 12”.

RA 6645 requires that the Comelec announce the special election to fill a vacancy and properly inform the public about such a special election. Congress even further refined the law with the passage of Republic Act No. 7166.

RA 7166, amending RA 6645, says, “In case a permanent vacancy shall occur in the Senate or House of Representatives at least one (1) year before the expiration of the term, the Commission shall call and hold a special election to fill the vacancy not earlier than sixty (60) days nor longer than ninety (90) days after the occurrence of the vacancy. However, in case of such vacancy in the Senate, the special election shall be held simultaneously with the succeeding regular election.”

This means that for the vacancy created by Sen. Aquino’s assumption of the presidency, it will be filled through a special election to be held simultaneously with the elections in 2013. The Comelec cannot fill the vacancy using the results of the May 10, 2010 elections because the requirements are impossible to meet:

1. The Senate has to certify to the vacancy and call for a special election to fill the vacancy. But the Senate could not certify to a vacancy and call for a special election on May 10, 2010 because there was no vacancy. It will only occur on June 30, 2010.
2. The Comelec could not call for a special election because there was no resolution from the Senate. It has no mandate to proclaim the 13th placer as a winner.
3. The law provides that a special election to fill the vacancy shall only be held simultaneously with the next regular election which is in 2013.

It is therefore quite clear that the vacancy to be left behind by soon-to-be President Benigno Aquino III may only be filled in the 2013 elections, provided that all the requirements are met.

I have no problem if my fellow SLAMAT LORRRD candidate Risa Hontiveros lands in the 13th spot and is proclaimed as the 13th winning senator, if there is no legal impediment. I would be happy for her. But even if it was I in 13th place under the same circumstances, I would still acknowledge that the law will prevent me from assuming office.

So right now, it would be best to remind the Senate of the 15th Congress to pass the resolution certifying to a vacancy and calling for the Comelec to set a special election to fill the same simultaneous with the May 2013 senatorial elections.

By then, the battlecry will be “13 sa 2013!”


I inadvertently forgot that there will be barangay elections in October 2010, unless the Congress decides to set it on another date. The provision of RA 7166 which provides "in case of such vacancy in the Senate, the special election shall be held simultaneously with the succeeding regular election” makes it possible to have a special election for to fill Sen. Aquino's vacancy. But the law still requires that the Senate certify such vacancy and call for a special election to complete the 24-seat chamber.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

I Am Fine

It’s a unique situation I’m in now---not really a winner, but not necessarily a loser. I’m tempted to concede, but with five million votes still to be counted in the parallerl count and the official canvassing just starting, it’s also difficult to hang up the gloves now. I guess it won’t be taken as un-statesman for me to just ride out the storm. Besides, I had already made up my mind long ago that whatever the outcome is, it is the Will of God which will prevail. I have faith in Him in that the Bible says, “his plans are to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Win or lose, God has something good for me.

I consider myself blessed that during this time, aside from my wife and immediate family, there are those who show their concern for me and make me feel that I am not alone to face this challenge. Their encouraging and comforting words soothe my soul, and provide the cushion to dull the blow of an unsuccessful venture. Their mere company is enough to drive the spirits of sadness and depression away, and replace them with hope and cheerfulness.

I can feel the concern and sympathy of those around me. I know that relatives who immediately make their presence felt for me, even without them saying so, are there to offer a crying shoulder (literally and figuratively). Indeed, it is really during times like this that one understands the value of family. As I have said before, we should give priority for our families because when we are in dire straights or on our last breath, it will always be our family who will be there beside us.

It is also during these times that sincere and reliable friends come to the rescue. I am heartened by the numerous text messages, emails, Facebook comments and Inbox messages that I receive from friends encouraging me about the count and expressing their confidence in me. The simple “How are you?” does wonders to lift my spirits. Their comforting words and rousing exhortations fuel my desire to stand up and face this challenge instead of slink into a corner and wallow in self-pity.

But I have always been one to look at the brighter side of things. I have managed to downplay the final outcome of this contest and focus on the new things that I have learned, the experiences I underwent, and the friendships that I have established in the course of this journey to the august halls of the Senate.

Whether I do get to enter the Upper Chamber as a member or remain in the sidelines and watch the few who are given the privilege to be part of the Senate perform (or not perform) their duties, I will forever treasure the experience of being a Senatorial candidate trying to earn the trust of the nation.

In the months that we went around the country, I met thousands of our countrymen who received us with such generosity and warmth, reaffirming my belief that Filipinos are a good-natured people. I marveled at the beautiful countryside and each place I visited beckoned me to stay longer, even convincing me to say, “I could live here!”.

But I also saw the poverty in the countryside, the devastation of natural resources and the abuse of those who were given the trust to lead but eventually failed their own people. The more I witnessed, the more determined I became to pitch in and do my part to help achieve change.

The grueling campaign, which was a drain not only on the financial resources but also in physical strength as well as the emotions, would have driven the faint at heart to quit. But for me, the saving grace and the pillar of strength came from the staff and support group who endured with the candidates the emotional strain and the physical fatigue. A candidate is only as good as his staff and support are, and without them the battle can easily be lost.

With the indulgence and understanding of others, I am proud to say that my staff is the best. What they lack in numbers, they make up for in performance. Their dedication is matched by their abilities and I am happy and honored to have worked with them all these years and hopefully, in the many years to come.

But it would be unfair and self-serving of me to only give credit to my staff. The SLAMAT LORRRD team of Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, the group of young men and women who were given the designation as sherpas to the senatorial candidates, were a crucial and vital component of the whole campaign. Without them, it would have meant the collapse and failure of the Liberal Party’s senatorial campaign.

These sprightly, dependable, patient and hard working sherpas ensured that our movements during sorties were on time and in the right direction; they cued us when to get on stage and how long we could speak; they handed bottles of water to us to quench our thirst and avoid dehydration; they arranged media interviews and room reservations. In short, they made life easier.

In previous senatorial campaigns the candidate guides were called shepherds. I think the term sherpas used this election fits the functions they performed for us. They did not merely show the way, they sometimes carried the load for the candidates.

I will always look back to the 2010 campaign with fondness as an experience that enriched my life and increased my friendships. I find comfort in the fact that I gained the trust of millions of my countrymen and somehow touched the lives of some and moved them to take action.

The gratitude I have for those who spent their money and gave their time to campaign for me, without asking for anything in return, is one that I will forever hold. The people who covered me with prayer, crying to the heavens for my protection and provision, they have a spot in my special people list. All of them are my heroes, my lifeline, my safety net.

But above everyone else, this campaign has proven that I am blessed with a wife who performs the roles of my staff, the sherpas, the supporters and the prayer shields. She is all of those rolled into one, a precious blessing from Heaven. The best thing about it is that she isn’t there for me just during the elections. She is there for me for the rest of my life.

My children are gifts from God. One glance at them and the concerns of this campaign are set aside. They're my sanctuaries, the embrace of their small arms are like walls of protection for me against the cruelty of this world. I take comfort and inspiration from my eldest son Carlo, who displayed composure, grace and steadfastness in facing disappointment when he experienced his own electoral defeat years back.

So as this campaign winds up, and the count places me in a precarious standing, all I need to do is remind myself of the good things I have and I gained and the anxiety of the outcome fades away. And with a smile on my face, I can truly say, “I am fine.”

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Ruffy Biazon Thanks Iglesia ni Cristo

It is with humility and honor that I thank the Iglesia ni Cristo for including me in their list of endorsed candidates for the 2010 National and Local Elections. The endorsement, which I view as a gesture of trust and confidence by the INC, will surely help boost my candidacy and bring electoral victory closer to reality.

While an endorsement by the INC is usually seen as a valuable means to gain more support from the electorate, it is actually a vestment of a responsibility to serve this country in the highest moral, ethical and professional standards. It is not a mere tool to get more votes, but it is a challenge to perform one’s duty as a public official not only with efficiency but also with compassion especially to the less privileged.

Because of this endorsement by the INC, I have a sense of obligation to do my duty not only to those who endorsed me, but to all the Filipino people if I am elected into office. The Oath of Office I will take will be a commitment to my countrymen and God, especially because the mandate from the People is a mandate from God.