Tuesday, February 28, 2006

US allots $4M for continuous operations in Leyte

By Ding Cervantes
The Philippine Star

CLARK FIELD, Pampanga — The US military is spending some $4 million for its continuing operations in Saint Bernard town in Southern Leyte as they will stay in the area to help resettle families displaced by mudslides.

In an interview with The Star, US military spokesman Marine Capt. Burrel Parmer said the US military is not yet abandoning its work in Barangay Guinsaugon after rescue and recovery operations have ceased.

"A transition team composed of US military personnel will remain there to help the Philippine government, the Red Cross, and other agencies relocate families now housed in three public school buildings," he said.

According to Parmer, the goal of the US transition team is the resettlement of families now staying in public school buildings.

"Classes remain suspended there because the classrooms are being used by the evacuees. The governor is looking for a relocation site for them," he added.

Parmer said, however, that other US personnel who were directly involved in rescue and recovery operations left the area yesterday, although the USS Harper and USS Essex remained docked off the coast of Southern Leyte as of yesterday.

Since Feb. 18, the US military had been involved in disaster operations in Guinsaugon, with some 300 to 600 US military personnel directly involved in "ground operations."

Parmer said the US government sent some $4 million to the military soon after the disaster in Southern Leyte. Part of the funds were used for supplies needed at the site, including food, bottled water, medicines, blankets, body bags, and other items.

The $4 million, Parmer explained, was apart from the $245,000 allocated by the US military for various civic, medical, dental and veterinary projects lined up in Jolo, Sulu where the Balikatan exercises are being held until March 5.

The $4 million was allocated for the entire duration of US military assistance operations in Guinsaugon.

Earlier, Parmer said the US military will continue its operations in the disaster area "for as long as the Philippine government wants us to."

He said US soldiers recovered "less than 20 bodies" at the mudslide area but rescued nine Taiwanese rescue volunteers and evacuated some 152 others during heavy rains that threatened to trigger another mudslide during the search and rescue operations.

POS and PHS launch Flora Filipina Expo

By Diana Uy, Manila Standard

The Philippine Orchid Society (POS) and Philippine Horticultural Society (PHS), in time for their 60th and 30th anniversaries respectively, is staging its first Flora Filipina Expo until March 5, at Clamshell 1 in Intramuros.

In a bid to boost the morale of the horticultural industry, the two societies, with the blessings of the Department of Tourism, has decided to unite for a festival of ornamental plants showcasing the very best of the Philippines in the horticultural arena.

“The Flora Filipina Expo is envisioned to be a major Philippine tourism event that will create awareness among horticulture enthusiasts from all over the world and invite them to visit our islands and see our wide collection of plant and flower species,” says Department of Tourism Secretary Ace Durano in a press statement.

Through the expo, the first-ever collaboration between POS and PHS, DoT hopes to place the Philippines on the map of floriculture tourism.

With support from the private sectors, government and the locales, the expo aims to follow suit with the Floriade and Chelsea shows of Europe; TPIE of Florida; Tokyo Orchid Grand Prix and Okinawa Plant Shows of Japan, and the annual and garden shows of Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore.

According to studies, the total world consumption of ornamental plants, including cutflowers, is $73 billion.

The world export of ornamental plants, and flowers for this year is expected to reach $10 billion. And among the major suppliers include Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan.

The Philippines supplies only 0.02 percent of the demand for ornamental plants. Worse, the Philippines is a net importer of ornamental plants and flowers.

The Philippines can actually compete when it comes to rare species and variety of ornamental plants, according to Kelvin Manlubay.

“Philippines has a wealth of plants to offer the world,” says Manlubay, “We have the highest demand when it comes to potted ornamental and foliage trade.”

Some of the rare species that can actually be found in the country include the waling-waling (vanda sanderiana), which is the “Queen of the Philippine Orchids,” vanda luzonica (it’s original habitat in Zambales was destroyed during the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo), and black orchid (trichoglottis brachiata).

Currently there are 27,000 species of ornamental plants and still growing.

“We’ve been importing a lot of ornamental plants before but now we can export because we are now producing a lot of new hybrids from the plants we have acquired before such as euphorbias, hibiscus, aglaonema, alucasia, etc.,” stresses Manlubay.

Once the expo is in full bloom, it is expected to have a domino effect in the Philippine economy such as a boost in the foreign exchange, livelihood for people or more job opportunities, among others.

Examples of these countries that are investing on the industry and are earning billions of dollars include Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan and China, who practically rebuilt the entire city of Kunming to launch its floriculture industry.

Among the many reasons that it took this long for the country to embark on a big event such as this is the misguided view and also the lack of interest for some Filipinos.

“People seem to think that horticulture is only for the elite few,” observes self-confessed orchids and ornamental lover and POS board of director/adviser, Atty. Hernando Perez, “When in fact in many countries it’s creating jobs...”

Enthusiasts themselves have a problem sustaining the hobby.

“Most of us stay not for the profit but for the flowers and plants,” Perez emphasizes.

Through the expo and with the DOT behind it, POS and PHS expect to attract more foreigners and tourists alike not only to the plants but also to the people and culture of this country.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

SC denies government appeal on sanitary landfill

By Jose Rodel Clapano
The Philippine Star

The Supreme Court (SC) has denied with finality the government’s motion for reconsideration for its ruling last Dec. 13 ordering the government to permanently close the sanitary landfill in San Mateo, Rizal.

In a one-page en banc resolution, the SC said the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) did not present any substantial arguments "to warrant the reversal of the questioned decision."

The SC did not give weight to the government’s contention that the sanitary landfill did not contravene any of the country’s environmental policies.

In the motion for reconsideration, the OSG argued that the sanitary landfill "is not a dumpsite, which is an environmental hazard."

It said a sanitary landfill, as defined under Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, is a "waste disposal site designed, constructed, operated and maintained in a manner that exerts engineering control over significant potential environmental impacts arising from the development and operation of the facility."

The OSG cited a recent report of the International Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Association that the modern sanitary landfill method of waste disposal is an integral part of any successful solid waste management system.

In its Dec. 13 ruling penned by Associate Justice Minita Chico-Nazario, the SC unanimously declared unconstitutional Proclamation No. 635 signed by former President Fidel Ramos on Aug. 28, 1995 setting aside 71.6 hectares of the Marikina watershed reservation area for the sanitary landfill to address the garbage crisis in Metro Manila.

The SC said residents of Rizal would remain uneasy unless the sanitary landfill is not permanently closed.

Despite strong objections from Rizal residents and government agencies such as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Laguna Lake Development Authority, the Kilosbayan headed by former Sen. Jovito Salonga, and the Pintong Bocaue multipurpose cooperative, Ramos issued Proclamation No. 635.

Ramos tasked the Metro Manila Development Authority to oversee the operations of the sanitary landfill.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Danger signs of landslides

By Tonette Orejas, Inquirer

WATCHING out for signs of a landslide can save lives.

Standing objects like trees, posts, poles and fences that tilt give hints of ground movement and the possible loosening of soil and rocks, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).

Cracks on mountain slopes and loose deposits indicate that these are not stable areas and are prone to bigger landslides, Phivolcs chief Renato Solidum said.

Solidum asked people to stay away from steep slopes traversed by streams and creeks that can funnel the soil and other debris downstream.

He also asked people to look out for road cuts, which indicate that the soil underneath is weak.

In the case of the killer landslides in St. Bernard town, Southern Leyte province, Solidum said heavy rainfall in the area -- 480 millimeters from Feb. 1 to 16 compared with the monthly average of 137 mm -- most likely triggered the disaster.

"There had been so much rain in the area and water added to the weight of the soil," Solidum said.

The presence in the area of a fault zone that generates earthquakes was a contributory factor, he said.

A volcano, Mt. Kabalian, lies in St. Bernard but this has been inactive and the tremors there on Friday could not have been caused by volcanic activity, according to Solidum.

Install rain gauges

Geologist Arnulfo Cabantog of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the department of Environment and Natural Resources earlier asked landslide-prone upland villages in the Central Luzon areas of the Sierra Madre and Zambales mountain ranges to install improvised rain gauges because very few of these instruments had been installed by the weather bureau.

Rain gauges are used to measure the amount of rainfall in a particular area. The level of water trapped in a container at certain hours can help upland villagers know if heavy rains had fallen in the area.

Cabantog said the measurements were bases to guard against landslides and flash floods.

The provinces of Aurora, Nueva Ecija, Bulacan and Tarlac in Central Luzon, and the mountainous villages in Quezon were hit by landslides and floods in November and December 2004. The disaster left more than 1,000 dead and about 5,000 families homeless.

PVC pipe

The improvised rain gauges, according to Cabantog, could use PVC pipes that are four inches in diameter. The top should be open to catch the rainfall while the bottom should be well sealed to prevent dripping.

This, he said, should be placed in an open space in a common area such as a school, barangay hall or chapel.

A ruler should come in handy to measure the water level. When the level reaches 100 mm, or 10 centimeters in less than five hours, Cabantog said this should be taken as a sign by residents to evacuate to safer ground.

Village officials should designate a person to measure the rainfall regularly and a team to share the information with the other villagers.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration considers rains in an area heavy if gauges measure 7.5 mm an hour. In Japan, Cabantog said, 200 mm of rainfall was the standard warning for possible landslides.

Residents must also consider the number of days rains have drenched an area. If the mountain soil was saturated for days, as happened during the four successive typhoons in 2004, another rainfall could trigger a landslide.

Residents should also watch out for damming at the peaks of hills and mountains. A sign to watch out for is when there's little water flowing in a river even when it is raining, Cabantog said.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

U.S. Military Sends Team to Philippine Landslide Site

The U.S. military's joint task force overseeing a military exercise is sending a survey team to the landslide site in Southern Leyte on Saturday to assess humanitarian situation, reported the Philippine Daily Inquirer on its website.

"We don't want to give help that they don't need," Captain Burrell Parmer, Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder military exercise) public information officer, was quoted as saying by the local newspaper.

The task force's team of engineers and medical personnel will take off from the Clark former US airforce base, 50 kilometers north of Manila, aboard a KC-130 cargo plane, said the report.

Parmer did not say how many members are in the team but said it is staffed with "adequate people with the right skills" from the U.S. Army, Marine, Air Force, and Navy, according to the report.

But the landslide in Southern Leyte is not expected to affect the schedule of Balikatan 2006, which is due to start on Feb. 20 in the provinces of Sulu, southern Philippines, Cebu in central Philippines and in the region of Luzon, mainly the Subic Bay former U.S. navy base.

A United States Embassy spokesman said earlier the U.S. navy could send a warship to the coast of Southern Leyte to assist the rescue operation for hundreds, if not thousands, of villagers buried by a landslide Friday.

More than 5,000 U.S. troops are participating in the Balikatan exercise. (Source: Xinhua)

Back to nature in Subic Bay

By Ross Harper-Alonso, Daily Tribune Contributor

If you finish work early on a Friday afternoon, pack the family and overnight bags into the car and head north to Subic Bay. In just a little more than two hours, you’ll find yourself surrounded by unspoiled forests, crystal seas and seascape. Recreational attractions and ecotourism not only engage the senses and force us to see this former American naval base with new eyes, they also bring a feeling of relief that there’s a continuous effort to develop and preserve it on a long-term basis.

According to written history, “during 1900, the General Board of the Navy made a thorough study of the naval base building program, including the newly acquired overseas possessions. For the Philippines, they believed that the US fleet could be easily bottled up in either Manila Bay or Subic Bay. They reached a unanimous decision recommending Guimaras Island South of Manila as the most suitable site for the main American naval base in the Philippines. Many top naval officers, including Admiral of the Navy Dewey and Admiral George C. Remey, Commander of the Asiatic Station, disagreed. They thought Subic Bay held the greatest potential. The Navy called for another study and Remey was appointed as the senior member. Not surprisingly, this board, after examining [Guimaras Island] and Olongapo, fixed upon the latter as the most suitable and practicable place.”


Camayan Wharf

Today, bomb shelters, bunkers and other remnants of the past are either abandoned, cloaked in vines or turned into visitors’ lodgings and places of business. The Camayan Wharf, however, had to be salvaged and rehabilitated.

“The previous resort was a virtual ecological nightmare. People who trooped to the cove left trails of destruction behind,” recalls Tet Capus, manager of the Camayan Beach Resort. “The coral and marine life suffered when they allowed soap and shampoo to flow into the sea when they rinsed off at the outdoor showers. Septic tanks overflowed and contaminated the water. Garbage and leftover food were not properly disposed creating even more serious sanitation problems.”

Because of all the damage it was causing, the Marine Exploration Inc. took over the resort two years ago and opened the environmentally-friendly Camayan Beach Resort.

“Since we are a subsidiary of Ocean Adventure, our goal goes beyond providing guests with excellent service and accommodations. It’s equally important to educate people to respect the animals and their habitat,” Tet points out. “It hasn’t always been easy, but I think we’ve made quite a lot of progress. My entire staff and I came from Ocean Adventure so the advocacy to care for the environment is still very strong,” he adds with pride.

The resort blends well with its natural surroundings where management co exists peacefully with nature. Lush exotic plants and shady trees give it a relaxed and homey feel. The 24-room hotel looks out to the clear waters of the China Sea and has a good view of the Zambales mountain ranges. Bamboo and nipa cabanas line the long stretch of beach where guests can find their own little private space if they walk further down.


Tiger Safari

Mary Ann Pangilinan has the kind of job that could make anyone a tad envious or constantly on guard. She is one of the dedicated park guides at the Zoobic Safari. A private owned wildlife sanctuary five minutes from Camayan Wharf, its 20.4 hectares is home to nine adult tigers, 13 cubs, snakes, ostriches, bear cats, birds and countless rescued animals.

“You have to truly love animals to work here,” she smiles. “They’re like our children. We feed them, clean up after them and protect them from being hurt since visitors not only come in close contact with the animals, but also get the chance to actually handle some of them.”

Needless to say, this is not your average zoo or amusement park. There can be no greater adventure than riding the Safari Ride and getting a glimpse of how tigers behave in the wild. Visitors have to understand, however, that none of them are trained to do song and dance numbers for anyone. Moreover, they are not pets no matter how tame they may seem.

“There are people who come here with different expectations,” Mary Ann explains. “They complain when the tigers are not active or when the staff remind them about the rules and regulations. We try extremely hard to institute awareness regarding the protection and conservation of our wildlife and ecosystem, but oftentimes it becomes very difficult if parents themselves refuse to listen and educate their children.”

To fully appreciate the amazing encounters the Zoobic Safari has to offer, read up some more and discover what the whole family can expect from a visit. Remember the zoo guides are responsible for both your safety and that of the animals. Please respect them and their wards.

Japan ODA loans to RP slow down

By Roderick T. dela Cruz - Manila Standard

Infrastructure investments of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) in the Philippines have tended to slow down due to government’s efforts to reduce its fiscal deficit.

Data showed that the latest Philippine project approved by JBIC was the P3 billion Arterial Road Bypass Project in Central Luzon signed on March 30, 2004.

Worse, the ongoing loan portfolio cleanup between the Philippines and Japan has resulted in the cancellation of previously approved projects such as the Phase 5 of the Metro Manila Interchange Construction Project.

JBIC, the financing arm of the Japanese government providing long-term, low-interest loans to developing countries, accounts for more than two-thirds of the official development assistance (ODA) projects of the Philippines.

Former Cabinet secretaries Benjamin Diokno and Cielito Habito have noted a decline in the government’s infrastructure investment, as a share of the gross domestic product (GDP), over the past few years.

They said such decline in infrastructure spending takes its toll on the country’s competitiveness as an investment destination in East Asia.

From November 1971 to March 2004, JBIC has approved 263 loans, most of which were for infrastructure development amounting to a total of ¥2.001 trillion (approximately P1 trillion).

The Philippine owes JBIC about P475 billion as of 2004.

The 41.931 million yen (around P21 billion) Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway project, signed in September 2001, represents the country’s largest ODA loan from JBIC, followed by the ¥40.4 billion (P20 billion) loan for the Calaca 2 Coal-Fired Thermal Power Plant Project signed in September 1987.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The National Situation

The National Situation
7 Feb. 2006, Manila Polo Club

By: Randy David
University of the Philippines

Good evening. Thank you for inviting me to
speak at this very interesting gathering. I am
happy to share this podium with former Sen. Gregorio Honasan.

I am quite certain that we were all brought
here tonight by more or less the same
circumstances and the same concerns. We have the
money to buy newspapers and watch the evening
news, and we have the time to reflect on the
information they report. It is almost natural
for us to worry about the direction our country
is taking. We worry for our families, and we
worry especially for the future of our children.

Unfortunately, the rest of our people, trapped
in the rigors of daily survival, are usually
unable to think beyond the next meal. They are
the thousands that line up every day, rain or
shine, outside TV stations, for the rare chance
to be chosen as contestants for the "Pera o
Bayong" portion of noontime game shows. They
were the faces of the hungry and the desperate at
the Ultra stampede last Saturday morning. They
too often gripe about the callousness of the
leadership of our country. But they do not have
the luxury of worrying about politics. And even
when they do, they feel powerless to influence
the course of events. They wait for elections,
and for the largesse it brings, and that about
sums up their political involvement.

Those who have the time to worry about politics
-- like many of us here tonight -- are basically
of two types: (a) those who ask in exasperation
when all this political bickering would end; and
(b) those who ask in exasperation when this presidency would end.

All over the country, forums like this are
being organized by thoughtful citizens. They ask
more or less the same questions: How will this
stalemate end? Whom can we trust? If she goes,
who will replace her? How do we solve our most
basic problems? How much time do we need to
reform our political system? Is there hope for
the country? These are important questions: they
belong to the realm of politics. But I will also
hasten to say that politics is not the only
attitude we can take towards the world.

Be that as it may, the forum tonight deals
with politics. I want to begin by defining the
function of politics in society. Politics is
society's way of producing collectively-binding
decisions. The important phrase here is
"collectively-binding decisions" ­ decisions made
in the name of all of us, and therefore bind all
of us. Such decisions can be as innocuous as
changing the name of a provincial hospital or as
momentous as declaring war against another
country. They can be as high-profile as signing
a peace accord with local insurgents, or as
low-profile as floating new dollar-denominated
bonds in the international bond market to cover
maturing obligations and budget deficits. They
are of different levels of importance, but, when
made by government, they all equally bind us.

Politics is, in the first instance, the process
by which a nation or a community determines who
shall be entrusted with the making of such
decisions. There are at least two ways of
ensuring that decisions made in the name of the
whole nation are honored by every citizen of a country.

The first is by making sure that such decisions
are made only by persons or agencies that have a
clear mandate or the authority to make them. The
second is by making sure that such decisions are made in accordance with law.

Authority means legitimate power. Obviously,
not all power is legitimate. Usurpers may
exercise power, but their power is not
legitimate, and so it is resisted. Tyrants
assume power on the basis of force, and while
they may, for a while, coerce people into
submission, their power will always remain
unstable. Public officials elected fraudulently
may exercise power, but their power will
eventually be challenged. Legitimacy is crucial
to the operation of a system because it is
precisely what assures compliance with collective decisions.

Systems, of course, operate on the basis of a
presumption of legitimacy and regularity. That is
why, when there is a challenge to legitimacy and
regularity, the system has to act to dispel all
doubts. Illegitimate power has a corrosive
effect on the system, and no matter how much it
may try to buy support, or fortify the throne of
bayonets on which it sits, it will always be opposed.

The point I want to stress is that whatever the
form of politics may be in a society, its main
objective is the same ­ how to ensure that
decisions made by the rulers are collectively-binding.

When rulers are perceived to have mandates
enveloped in doubt, the political system heats
up. Time that should be spent in governance --
in defining collective goals, in implementing
these goals and mobilizing public participation
towards their attainment ­ is instead squandered
in endless political communication. Unable to
legitimize their rule by established means,
tyrants find themselves resorting to other means
to secure their hold on power. They may do this
by acts of selective remuneration, or by acts of
calibrated coercion. They may survive in the
short-term but only at great cost to the existing institutional order.

Keeping these thoughts in mind, I want to
examine the roots of the present political
crisis. I will argue that at the center of the
current crisis is the whole question of
presidential legitimacy that our institutional
order has failed to resolve up to this time.

Let's go back a bit and review what happened.

The doubts began to surface as early as May or
June 2004, as the legislators from the
administration and the opposition parties went
through the rituals of a national canvassing
process. The opposition repeatedly questioned
the authenticity of the certificates of canvass
or CoCs from some disputed provinces. In at
least 15 provinces they demanded that the boxes
containing the supporting statements of votes or
SoVs be opened to determine if the figures
matched those on the CoCs. The objections were
duly "noted", but not one ballot box was allowed
to be opened. The administration side argued
that canvassing was a ministerial task, and that
the proper venue for electoral protests involving
the presidency and the vice presidency was the
Supreme Court acting as Presidential Electoral Tribunal.

If this scene has a déjà vu ring to it, it is
because the use of a controlled majority to
override objections is very much reminiscent of
the railroaded canvassing process at the Batasang
Pambansa in the 1986 snap election. Like Cory's
supporters in 1986, FPJ's followers in 2004 saw
the futility of getting a reasonable hearing
inside Congress and demanded that the protest be
brought before the parliament of the
streets. The tide of mass protests led directly
to Edsa. That was how Cory Aquino became
president 20 years ago. To his credit, the late
FPJ dissuaded his followers from protesting in
the streets. He brought his complaint to the
Supreme Court, and paid the amount needed to
re-open the ballot boxes. Unfortunately he died
before even the first election return could be
counted. The justices promptly dismissed the
protest upon his death. There was only a
symbolic legal closure, but the political
question of who really won in the 2004 election remained unanswered.

By nature, political issues have a shelf life
of only a few months. After the Supreme Court
denied Susan Roces's petition to continue FPJ's
protest, the issue was buried and almost
forgotten. But five months later, in June 2005,
the issue of legitimacy returned with vengeance
following the public circulation of the Hello
Garci conversations ­ if only as cell phone
ringbones at first. Malacanang was caught
totally unprepared. This showed in Press
Secretary and Presidential Spokesman Ignacio
Bunye's initial attempt at a cover-up that was so
clumsy and full of contradictions it was instantly disowned by the Palace.

The Garci Tapes contained more than a hundred
conversations between a Comelec official who
sounded very much like Commissioner Virgilio
Garcillano and an assortment of politicians and
political brokers. About 10 of these
conversations were between Garcillano and someone
with the inimitable voice of Gloria
Macapagal-Arroyo. These conversations are
revealing and damning. They indicate the
existence of a conspiracy to manipulate the
results of the election in the vote-rich
provinces of Southern Mindanao. They strongly
suggest that Mrs. Arroyo herself seemed to have
full knowledge of the elaborate scheme to pad her
votes and shave those of her closest rival,
Fernando Poe Jr. Resourceful journalists have
scrutinized the content of these conversations,
marking out the names, places, and events
mentioned in the tapes, and establishing their
factual basis. The conclusion, as one Newsbreak
article so cogently put it, was: The shoe fits.

The first reaction from Malacanang was to
dismiss these conversations as clever
fabrications. Various agencies of government
tried to stop the spread of the tapes by
threatening people with charges for violation of
the Anti-Wiretapping Law. Yet on June 27, 2005,
bowing to public pressure, Mrs. Arroyo came out
on national television to apologize for what she
called a "lapse in judgment" ­ for calling a
Comelec official while the canvassing was going
on. Her intention, she claimed, was not to cheat
but only to protect her votes. She said nothing
more about the tapes. In subsequent interviews
she evaded all questions about these wiretapped,
saying she was ready to face any impeachment
charge that would be filed against her.

The story of these tapes remains open. The man
who initially confessed to having taken them out
of the ISAFP, T. Sgt Vidal Doble, returned to the
custody of his unit in the ISAFP, and has since
denied having anything to do with the
tapes. While ISAFP is widely believed to have
performed the wiretap, no one has come out to
tell the full story. To this day, the ISAFP
insists it has no capability to wiretap cell phone conversations.

The central character in the wiretapped
conversations ­ Commissioner Garcillano ­ went
missing shortly after the scandal broke
out. Five months later, he reappeared,
accompanied by armed men who later turned out to
be local policemen. The police offered him
sanctuary while he waited to face the House
committees that were investigating him. The
account he gave in the House was one of studied
evasiveness. He admitted talking to GMA
once. This was not unusual, he said, because
other politicians, including those from the
opposition, also talked to him. But he could not
recall if the conversations caught in the Garci
tapes actually took place. He wasn't even sure
if that was his voice. He emphatically
maintained that he did not cheat for anyone,
least of all for the president. He went into
hiding, he said, because he felt that his life
was in danger. The investigation could squeeze
nothing from this foxy operator, who seemed to
feel at home in the company of the nation's politicians.

This is the first issue. It was so powerful it
brought out the first massive demonstrations
against Mrs. Arroyo. It triggered the
resignation of key members of her Cabinet, as
well as the withdrawal of support from key allies
like former president Aquino and Senate President
Franklin Drilon, as well as a section of the
influential Makati Business Club.

The start of the impeachment proceedings in
September brought the issue back to the legal
arena, where Mrs. Arroyo maintained a firm grip
on the loyalty of her congressional allies. The
impeachment complaints, as we all know, were
killed at the committee level, using
technicalities and parliamentary maneuvers that
relied on the power of the majority vote. The
substantive charges against Mrs. Arroyo were
never taken up. Again, only a symbolic closure
was achieved, and so the issue remains politically alive.

The second issue revolves around the partisan
involvement of key officials of the military in
the 2004 election. This is being investigated by
the committee of Sen. Rodolfo Biazon. The
purpose is clear-cut: To get to the bottom of the
wiretapping and the involvement of some generals
in the election in Mindanao. The investigation
opened with the revealing testimonies of Gen.
Gudane and Col. Balutan, both of whom were
sanctioned by the AFP for appearing before the
Senate without authority from their
superiors. The committee has hit a blank
wall. Military officials, citing EO 464 which
bars top government officials from appearing in
any congressional investigation without prior
permission from the president, have declined to
appear before any legislative hearing.

The third issue is the use of public funds to
finance the presidential campaign of Mrs.
Arroyo. Even during the campaign, the funding
for the PhilHealth cards that Mrs. Arroyo was
distributing in the course of her provincial
sorties had come under question. So too the
improper utilization of the Road Users Tax for
the emergency employment of street sweepers in
every barangay of the country just before the
2004 election. But the one investigation that
has yielded the most scandalous findings on the
misuse of public money for the presidential
campaign of Mrs. Arroyo is the hearing on the
so-called Fertilizer Fund being conducted by the
committee of Senator Jun Magsaysay. The P728
million fund is part of the almost P3 billion
fund of the so-called GMA ­ Ginintuang Masaganang
Ani -- program. A significant portion of this
money appears to have been sourced from the
confiscated Marcos Swiss bank deposits. The
seized Marcos assets had been previously
earmarked by law for the agrarian reform
program. Except for the portion of 8 billion
pesos set aside for victims of human rights
violations, the rest of the Marcos money
amounting to about P27 billion appears to have
vanished into thin air sometime between 2004 and
2005. The admission made by Budget Secretary Neri
and officials from the Commission on Audit so
angered former Senator Jovito Salonga that last
January 30, he felt compelled to write Mrs.
Arroyo a letter. In that letter, Sen. Salonga
told Mrs. Arroyo: "We who do not seek any favor
from you are constrained to conclude that to
remain in power, you (1) prejudiced the welfare
of our poor, landless farmers and (2) ignored the
sacrifices of many persons who devoted all their
God-given resources in terms of time, energy,
effort and the little knowledge and talent so
they might help recover the more than 680 million
dollars from the Swiss Marcos deposits."

The one person who is expected to shed light on
the nature of the Fertilizer Fund, its sources
and its mode of disbursement, is former
Agriculture Usec. Jocelyn "Joc-joc" Bolante, a
known friend and associate of First Gentleman
Mike Arroyo. But, taking his cue from
Commissioner Garcillano, Bolante has also made himself scarce.

These three issues lie at the center of the current political crisis.

In stable societies, political questions like
these ­ that challenge the basic legitimacy of
the sitting president ­ are ultimately resolved
by election, or by acts of Congress or
Parliament, or they are referred back to the
legal and judicial system for further
investigation, prosecution, and
adjudication. But in young societies like ours ­
where the institutional spheres are not yet fully
differentiated ­ legal institutions and
government agencies tend to be heavily
contaminated by partisan politics. This
compromises their independence. Instead of being
able to put an orderly closure to unresolved
political questions, these institutions are
dragged into the political arena and lose their
credibility. Consequently, legal issues are
re-politicized, and the whole process repeats
itself, leaving in its wake the debris of institutional wreckage.

Take a look at some of the major institutional
casualties in this unending political crisis
since Mrs. Arroyo succeeded to the presidency in 2001:

1. First there is the Supreme Court. Members
of the Court came to the Edsa Shrine at noontime
of Jan. 20, 2001 to administer the oath of office
to GMA, even before there was any clear
determination that a vacancy had occurred in the
office of the president. Without signing a
formal letter of resignation, Erap left
Malacanang at around 2:30 p.m. He later claimed
that he had not resigned but only taken a leave
of absence. A few weeks later, the same SC had
to adjudicate a case challenging the legality of
Mrs. Arroyo's assumption of the presidency. The
justices unanimously upheld the legality of Mrs.
Arroyo's accession to the presidency, but they
could not agree on the reasons. Many of the
justices were severely skeptical and critical of
the use of people power to effect a change in
government. The majority decision ruled that
Erap had resigned "constructively" ­ a novel
concept that could not be easily explained to a perplexed public.

If it was quick to state its position on what
was clearly a very dynamic situation in January
2001, the Supreme Court seemed extremely hesitant
to intervene in 2005 when members of the House
committee investigating the impeachment charges
could not agree on the correct interpretation of
the phrase "impeachment proceeding" as found in
the 1987 Constitution. What constitutes an
impeachment proceeding? When is it deemed
initiated? If three impeachment complaints are
filed against the same public official for more
or less the same reasons within hours of one
another, would taking them up on the same day be
construed as initiating three separate
impeachment proceedings, and is therefore
prohibited? Twice, a lawyer asked the Supreme
Court to disallow the ruling coalition's absurd
interpretation of the constitutional provision
barring the initiation of impeachment proceedings
against the same public official more than once a
year. The Court said the question was
premature. Then it said nothing more on the
issue after the defective Lozano impeachment complaint was thrown out.

By the same token, the SC has so far failed to
rule on the constitutionality of the so-called
Calibrated Preventive Response policy (CPR) of
dealing with protest demonstrations, and of the
gag order contained in Executive Order 464.

2. Second, there is, of course, the Comelec
itself ­ the one legal institution that the Cory
Aquino government in the post-Marcos years tried
very hard to rebuild so that its neutral and
professional character may be preserved. A
credible Comelec is the linchpin of a
representative democracy. Mrs. Arroyo has done
much to erode the Comelec's credibility by
appointing to it individuals of unsavory
reputation, not the least of whom is Atty
Virgilio Garcillano himself. The man had worked
his way up the Comelec bureaucracy, and gained a
reputation as somebody who has mastered the
electoral terrain of Mindanao. But another image
consistently stuck to him ­ that of architect of
"dagdag-bawas." Thus, when he was appointed to
the Comelec as one of the commissioners barely 3
months before the 2004 election, no less than
former Comelec Chairman Christian Monsod appealed
to the president to withdraw his
appointment. The same plea was made by a victim
of dagdag-bawas ­ Senator Nene Pimentel. But
Mrs. Arroyo would not be dissuaded. She was such
a firm believer in Garcillano's capabilities.

3. The third is the Armed Forces of the
Philippines. Outside of Marcos, no other
president perhaps has so brazenly enlisted the
services of key officials of the AFP for partisan
purposes than Mrs. Arroyo. Again, the Garci
Tapes are very incriminating. In one
conversation, Garci was complaining that the
cheating operations in some towns were very
crudely done because the ones who were assigned
to perform these tasks were inexperienced
soldiers. Several names of high-ranking officers
were mentioned in the tapes. By a strange
coincidence, except for Gudane who retired,
almost all of them were subsequently appointed to cushy positions in the AFP.

4. The fourth is the Ombudsman. This is a
constitutional office that is invested with the
power to initiate investigations and to prosecute
erring public officials. When the SC ruled that
the Comelec computerization project was illegal
and ordered Comelec to recover the money it had
paid, it also directed the Ombudsman to
investigate the culpability of the Commissioners
and to prosecute them. This has not happened, as
far as I know. The Ombudsman could also have
initiated the investigation of ISAFP's
(Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the
Philippines) involvement in wiretapping. It
could have looked as well into the use of public
funds like the Road Users Tax and the Fertilizer
Fund for the election campaign of the
president. We have not seen any such
initiative. One wonders if the people at the
center of all these controversies know something
we don't when they bravely challenge their
accusers to sue them in court and file the necessary charges.

Somebody ­ I think it is Sen. Kiko Pangilinan ­
recently filed a bill calling for the creation of
a powerful office of an American-style
Independent Counsel, that would have the
authority to mobilize agencies and offices of
government to put together a case against
accountable public officials. Maybe if we can
find enough Kenneth Starrs in our midst who would
not be deterred by the powerful, there might be a
reason for this bill. But I am not certain if
this is the right answer to the dysfunctionality of our institutions.

Let me re-state my basic thesis here. THE CRUX
OF THE PRESENT CRISIS consists in the fact that
the institutions in the political and the legal
systems of our society have failed to arrive at a
reasonable closure of the issues thrust upon
them. The crisis of legitimacy of Ms Arroyo has
led to a questioning of all her decisions and
actions. Her stonewalling on a number of
important questions ­ the use of gag orders and
of diversionary tactics like charter change ­ has
led to a generalized crisis of credibility. This
has spawned more issues than the political system
can handle at any given time without
overheating. It is interesting that the economy
seems to be faring well in comparison. The
crisis of the political system may remain
isolated for a time, but it may eventually engulf
the whole system. It is difficult to say how
long the system can bear the pressure from one of its parts.

What seems clear at this point is that:

- More and more people are demanding
either an end to all bickering or the outright removal of Mrs. Arroyo.

- More and more people are losing faith
in the system's capacity to resolve political
questions within the bounds of the Constitution.

- More and more people are disenchanted
not only with the present administration but also
with the political opposition. They are turning
to the Armed Forces and asking them to intervene.

Having gone through two people power upheavals,
our people are not unfamiliar with extra-legal
solutions involving both military and people
power interventions. They see people power as
the Filipino way of compensating for the
inadequacies of our institutions, even as they
are fully aware of the many problems it spawns.

WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

What is to be done or how we should respond to
the crisis is a function of how we look at the
situation. The Catholic Bishops Conference of
the Philippines (CBCP) explains the crisis as the
result of the erosion of our moral values. The
bishops are calling for a renewal of our public
life. This is a long-term process, and one can
understand why our religious leaders have couched
the problem in specifically moral terms, even as
they are conscious of not overstepping the bounds
of their authority. The bishops insist that the
solution can come from the relentless pursuit of
the truth by the community as a whole.

My own view is quite different from that of the
bishops. Like them, I believe that our public
values have changed. But, unlike them, I believe
that they have changed not necessarily for the
worse. On the contrary, I believe that the
crisis in our political life arises precisely
from the growing refusal of many ordinary
Filipinos from all classes to tolerate patronage,
fraud, political bossism, corruption, and
misgovernance of our public life. The ruling
classes of our country ­ the ones who are used to
cynical wheeling and dealing, to corruption, to
intimidation, and the exploitation of mass
ignorance and dependence ­ are beginning to
discover that they can no longer rule in the old
way. Every election year they find that they have
to cheat harder in order to get elected.

Politicians like Ms. Arroyo cannot seem to
understand why cheating in elections has become
so suddenly wrong, or why taking kickbacks from
government contracts and pork barrel projects is
suddenly frowned upon. They wake up one morning,
and they discover to their dismay that our people
are demanding better government. On more than
one occasion, Mrs. Arroyo candidly lamented the
degeneration of our political system. It has
become such, she said, that one cannot embark on
a political career and expect to emerge from it
with clean hands. "He who is without sin," she
says quoting from the Bible, "cast the first stone."

Mrs. Arroyo must have been so blinded by
ambition that she failed to read what the
placards of the young people who trooped to Edsa
in January 2001 were saying: Good
government. Accountable government. Competent
government. They did not go to Edsa because they
loved GMA; they went to Edsa because they thought
they deserved a president they could admire, one
who could properly discharge the responsibilities
of a young aspiring modern nation in a complex world.

In their attempt to appease the public, the old
dying class led by GMA, FVR, and Jose de Venecia
are offering to change the form of government,
little realizing that the people have moved one
notch higher. They now demand a replacement of
the whole political class itself. Only now, I
think, are the politicians beginning to realize
that the public is not just seeking to change the
form of government, or just to overthrow Gloria
Macapagal Arroyo and replace her with the
Opposition. Filipinos want a whole new set of
leaders, imbued with a whole new set of values
and capabilities. They want a new nation
equipped for survival in a globalized world they are just starting to discover.

Am I painting a fictional image of Filipino
consciousness? I do not think so. If our
political values had not improved, we would not
have this crisis. We would allow the politicians
to talk it over among themselves, to strike a
modus vivendi (what trapos call a "win-win"
solution) that would benefit every individual
politician in the country. The rest of us,
ordinary citizens, would all retreat into our
homes and perhaps amuse ourselves by their
antics. But no, more and more of us are
staunchly refusing to let our country to be run
by the same breed of cynical politicians.

Our people are better educated today. They are
more connected to the outside world. They know
how other societies work. They have seen more of
the world than the generation of their
parents. And, let us not forget, you cannot send
out more than 10% of your mature population to
live and work in other societies, and expect them
to remain unchanged in the way they think of the
responsibilities of government. What they bring
home from abroad are not just remittances; they
usually bring back with them a new consciousness
of what societies can be like when they are better run.

Politics is basically an arena of
communication. Our political system today is
more complex: it is no longer dominated by
traditional political parties. There are new
voices that are making themselves heard ­ from
the social movements, the non-government
organizations, people's organization, etc. Edsa
I and Edsa II are symptomatic of the emergence of
an educated population that no longer feels bound
by traditional political rules. If we look
closely, we may see Edsa I and II as
manifestations of a middle class political
impatience never seen before in our
country. These events are guided by a vision of
modernity that however needs to be enriched by social justice.

How to bring this vision about is the big
question. I believe that as a long-range vision,
it is not necessarily hitched to any political project.

All over the country, people are meeting and
talking in forums like this. The vision of a new
nation is taking shape in these meetings. We are
already living in a post-Gloria era. Gloria is
history. The reign of the trapos is coming to an end.

How Mrs. Arroyo will eventually go and when, is
probably only a small footnote now in these
discussions. Whether it is by a snap election,
or by people power in combination with a military
mutiny ­ is perhaps no longer the important
question. The question that people are asking
is: Who will replace her? But, I do not take
that to mean a simple search for alternative
faces. I take that to mean: What kind of agenda
for national renewal will bring us forward? What
are our basic and urgent tasks as a people? If
we take care of the agenda, I believe the right faces will come forward.

I would like to end by advancing four basic
tasks that I have heard repeatedly in various fora:

First, to end the scourge of absolute poverty
once and for all, no matter what it takes. The
stampede of the poor in Ultra is only a grim
reminder of this unjust reality we must all help to end.

Second, to educate everyone of our people,
especially the young, in order to equip them for
living in a highly competitive world.

Third, to rebuild the physical infrastructure
of our country, and to protect its environment from long-term damage.

And lastly, to create stable institutions
appropriate to a complex and modern society -- in
a climate of freedom, tolerance, and openness.

If we remain focused and committed to such an
agenda of necessary transformation, I have every
reason to believe that the search for new leaders
will take care of itself. The quest for change
will spawn new political formations and new political parties.

Having said that, I will hasten to add that it
would be a mistake to think that one needs to be
a politician to be able to contribute to the realization of these urgent tasks.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

EDITORYAL - Maraming walang trabaho

Ang Pilipino STAR Ngayon

AYON sa National Statistics Office (NSO) tinatayang nasa 2.6 milyong Pinoy ang walang trabaho. At patuloy na lumalaki ang bilang sapagkat araw-araw ay marami ang nawawalan ng trabaho. Ayon sa Katipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) tinatayang 350 katao ang naile-laid off sa kanilang trabaho araw-araw. Kaya ang tantiya ng Kadamay, hindi lamang 2.6 ang walang trabaho ngayon kundi 4.8 million. Pinagbatayan ng Kadamay ang pag-aaral na sinagawa ng Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research.

Maaaring may katotohanan ang sinabi ng Kadamay na baka umabot sa 4.8 million ang walang trabaho. Isang magandang halimbawa na maraming walang trabaho sa kasalukuyan ay ang pagdagsa ng mga tao para sumali sa mga game shows sa telebisyon. Maraming pumipila sa mga programang may game portion kung saan malalaking pera ang maaaring panalunan. Dahil sa kawalan ng trabaho marami ang nakikipagsapalaran sa mga game of chance. Baka nga naman makatsamba. Baka nga naman makasuwerte.

Bukod sa maraming walang trabaho, marami rin ang walang sariling bahay at lupa. Kaya naman kapag ang papremyo ay milyong piso at may kasama pang bahay at lupa, marami ang humahangos para pumila. Hindi na nila iniintindi kung mainit ang panahon o bumabagyo, ang gusto nila’y makasali sa game show at baka palaring manalo. Kapag nanalo, tapos na ang kanilang paghihirap at maliligtasan na ang kalbaryo.

Ang katotohanan ay nakita nang dumagsa ang libong tao sa ULTRA noong Sabado para makasali sa game show ng Wowowee. Tiyak na marami sa mga dumagsa roon ang walang trabaho o kung mayroon man nagbabakasali pa ring makatsamba. Hindi napigilan ang mga taong nagnanais na makasali sa game show. Sino ba naman ang hindi maglalaway sa P1 milyon, house and lot, passenger jeepney at marami pang iba.

Nagiba ang harang na bakal dahil sa bigat nang magtulakan ang mga taong gustong makapasok sa loob at makakuha ng tiket. Dahil palusong, marami ang natumba at nagsimula na ang trahedya. Nang matapos ang kaguluhan, nakalatag na ang mga bangkay. Naging kalunus-lunos ang iyakan.

Marami ang nagsabi na kaya sila naroon ay nagbabakasakaling manalo sapagkat wala silang trabaho at bahay. May nagsabing hirap na hirap sila sa buhay at umaasang mananalo sa gameshow.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Sounding Board : A parliamentary system?

By Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J.
Inquirer

WHAT WILL THE PARLIAMENTARY SYSTEM look like if the Senate blockade is broken through? Let us take a quick look. My comments will be based on the draft being debated by the Committee on Constitutional Amendments of the House of Representatives.

In a nutshell, the picture the draft paints is of a chief executive much stronger than the current President; a Parliament that can be dissolved by the prime minister; and a weaker Supreme Court.

The prominent figures in the proposed system are the Parliament, the prime minister, the Cabinet and a powerless president.

The desired Parliament will be unicameral. This is no surprise. The popular mantra says that two houses of equal strength breed gridlocks.

Parliament will be composed of as many members as the law will provide; and as in the current House, 20 percent of its members will be party-list representatives. What this means is that the party-list system remains tentative and experimental. Expect a thickly populated Parliament, however. The total number of its members can mean that it will be more expensive to maintain than the present bicameral Congress.

The term of members of Parliament (MPs) will be five years, with no limit on reelection. In case parliament is dissolved, the new members will serve only for the unexpired term of their predecessors.

The sessions, the legislative procedure, and the limitations and disqualifications are the same as in the current Congress. Ironically, as in the 1973 version, the prime minister can veto bills passed by his or her creator and lord, the Parliament.

There will be a "question hour" where the prime minister and ministers can be grilled and roasted to taste. This should take care of the gag rule in EO 464.

The MPs elect the prime minister from among themselves and may oust the prime minister by a no-confidence vote. The ouster takes effect when a new prime minister is elected.

There will also be an Electoral Tribunal, which will be the sole judge of election contests, a Committee on Impeachment which will act as the prosecutor in impeachments, and a Commission on Appointments. The Parliament will be the sole judge of impeachments.

The Cabinet members will be chosen from Parliament.

What of the president? He is the head of state, largely ceremonial, and is more like a grandfather figure or the Queen of England. He must be at least 50 years old. He is elected by Parliament from among themselves, or from outside if no one among the MPs is queenly enough. He has a term of five years but he may be removed by impeachment. Upon being elected president, he must resign from the Parliament and from his political party. It is hoped that thus he will be able to reign serenely.

As with all new constitutions, there will be Transitory Provisions. What are the highlights?

Once the new constitution is ratified, the Senate and the House will be joined in a forced wedlock to form the Interim Parliament. The term of the members will last until June 30, 2007 except for the current senators who were elected in 2004. The latter will stay until June 30, 2010. The vice president will likewise become a member of the Interim Parliament until June 30, 2010. However, in the plebiscite for the ratification of the new Constitution, the people will have the option to postpone all elections until the second Monday of May 2010. Then it will be No-El redivivus.

How will the current President fit? Nicely, hand in iron glove. "From the ratification of the foregoing Amendments to June 30, 2010, the incumbent President shall continue to exercise the same powers as she has now, except those she will delegate to the Prime Minister who shall serve as chief operating officer of the government, conformably with the parliamentary system."

But that does not say it all about the incumbent President. While the provision says that the incumbent President will have all the powers she has now, in fact she will have more, because some of the limitations on her powers today will be removed.

To start with, the limitations on the commander-in-chief powers carefully elaborated in the 1987 Constitution will be removed. In effect, the proposal will resurrect the vast powers exercised by President Marcos, which powers were upheld by the martial law Court and overruled by the 1987 Constitution.

Next, the prohibition of the appointment of the President's spouse and close relatives to key government positions will be removed.

Gone, too, will be the prohibition of appointments two months immediately preceding an election.

Likewise, gone will be the need for the Monetary Board's concurrence before the President can contract or guarantee foreign loans.

The appointing authority will also be enhanced by the proposal that the confirmation of promotions in the military will be required only for the ranks of brigadier general and commodore. The President then will be able to appoint colonels and naval captains without need of confirmation.

The President's treaty powers will also be enhanced by the removal of the prohibition of the presence of foreign military forces.

And when she calls a special session, she will be able to specify what subjects the Parliament may take up.

The Chief Executive will also have greater leeway in the handling of public funds because, in the use of discretionary funds and leftovers from special funds, there are no constitutional rules.

Can she be removed by a no-confidence vote? Parliament can try. But she will have the power to dissolve Parliament. And the Supreme Court is being stripped of the power to determine whether she has gravely abused her discretion. Long live a strong Republic!

Gloria: A wakeup call to fight poverty

Stampede probers find security lapses

PRESIDENT Arroyo yesterday said the stampede Saturday in Pasig, which killed 74 people among thousands who flocked to the Philsports arena (formerly ULTRA) for a popular TV show that is giving away cash and prizes, should serve as a wakeup call for everyone to work together in addressing poverty.

"The extent and implications of this tragedy have struck and shocked the whole nation. As we grieve with the families of the victims, let us not forget the compelling circumstances that led to this tragedy. Let us commit ourselves to end despair and raise hope, by joining hands and working together to fight abject poverty," she said.

Arroyo assured the victims and their relatives that justice would be served and those responsible for the incident would be made to pay for their "negligence or misdeeds."

"We must all work together to make sure that such a meaningless tragedy never happens again," she added.

A body asked to investigate the stampede started its probe yesterday and initially found lapses in security measures on the part of the ABS-CBN network which airs the noontime show "Wowowee."

The first anniversary show was cancelled following the stampede that occurred around 6 a.m.

Aside from the 74 fatalities, around 400 were injured.

Authorities estimated the crowd at 25,000 to 30,000. The Philsports has a seating capacity of around 10,000.

Witnesses said chaos broke out when a barricade collapsed as people were being let into the stadium, causing guards to panic and slam shut the gate as the crowd pressed forward.

Director Vidal Querol, Metro Manila police chief, said once people began stumbling on the slope, "they fell like dominoes."

Thousands of fans, most of them poor and from the provinces, had camped out for days for a chance at the show’s usual jackpot of P1 million and special prizes of a car and a house and lot

Senate minority leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said the tragedy reflects the desperation of the great masses of Filipinos to reap instant fortune and escape from grinding poverty.

"The loss of lives and the injuries sustained by scores of others clearly belie the administration’s claim that the economy is in good shape. People would not risk being crushed to death if times were good," he said.

Pimentel said the tragedy should remind government that poverty cannot be licked for as long as scarce resources intended for economic development and job-generating enterprises are dissipated through corrupt practices, and mismanagement.

Rep. Edcel Lagman said "grinding poverty" drives millions to hitch their fortune to chance.

"The long queues of eager participants waiting to join television game shows manifest a culture of luck as balm for want and despair. The death of scores of expectant winners… is a timely and grim reminder for government to prioritize poverty alleviation and sustainable human development," he said.

Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez said poverty and the Filipinos’ love for game shows are some of the main reasons why people flocked to Philsports.

"Alam naman natin kung ano ang hatak din ng popularity ng entertainment. They would try to get in to see their favorite entertainers," he said.

"Poverty, yes, it was a strong factor as there was lot at stake for the people that would make it inside ULTRA as they would be given a chance to win millions but it is just one of the many factors," he said.

He also said that the tragedy would have been prevented with better crowd control.

Arroyo ordered the interior department and the PNP to review the protocol on crowd control and on coordination with local government units and event organizers.

She also ordered the social welfare department to identify and assist the families affected by the stampede as she appealed "for coordinated and unified support from the private sector to get these families back on their feet."

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said it was unfair to blame the administration for the incident or even for the poverty that may have driven some people to take their chances in the prizes offered by a TV program.

"Maidagdag ko, ibig sabihin kunwari dun sa kaguluhan sa Nazareno (feast of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila). Pagka-nagkagulo dun at marami namatay, you will blame the government because of the poverty?" he said.

Presidential adviser for political affairs Gabriel Claudio said some groups are dragging government in the tragedy further their personal agenda.

"It is the height of callousness and irresponsibility to try to politicize this tragedy. Napakalayo ng gobyerno sa sirkumstansya ng pangyayari sa ULTRA. The accusation is completely irrational. Government critics should not take advantage of this tragedy to advance their political agenda. It’s simply indecent," he said.

Claudio appealed for the unity that Filipinos showed when they supported and prayed for boxer Manny Pacquiao in his fight last month with Mexican Erik Morales in Las Vegas.

"Let us use the same unity to help those who lost their loved ones as well as those who were injured, and together let us fortify our resolve and capabilities to ensure that no such tragedy befalls our countrymen again," he said.

Marius Corpuz, interior undersecretary for peace and order, said the fact-finding body was not intended to find whatever criminal liability ABS-CBN may have but rather to come up with remedial measures to avoid similar incidents.

"Hindi kami ang magpi-pinpoint, it will be the DOJ. We will not say anything na ito kailangang idemanda criminally. We will just submit our findings to the DOJ and, of course, together with the remedial measures that we think should be done to avoid a repetition of the incident. I cannot speculate at this time kung ano and what kind of offense, much more the penalty," he said.

One of Corpuz’s observations was that it was the first time that the "LRP entrance gate " of Philsports arena was used to accommodate people. It was meant to be a vehicular entrance or exit.

"So now as to why they decided to use that for pedestrian entrance, that’s what we have to ask them kasi ang sabi nung taga-ULTRA ang nag-decide nun ay yung taga ABS-CBN," Corpuz said.

Second,ABS-CBN show organizers failed to invite representatives from the PNP or the Metro Manila Development Authority during three coordinating conferences with the arena’s management, the last of which was held Friday night, he said.

Corpuz said since the ABS-CBN management and Philsports officials met without the PNP, it was agreed upon that the TV network would be in charge on the perimeter security, while Philsports would be responsible for security inside.

Third, Corpuz said the main stadium, which was to be used as the main show venue, was already packed with at least 6,500 people or at least three fourths of its total capacity even as the main gates were supposed to be opened at around 6 a.m. Saturday.

Fourth, Corpuz said the ABS-CBN organizers should have decided to look for another venue other than the ULTRA since the main stadium has a seating capacity of 9,000, the open bleacher section can accommodate another 8,000, while a lower bleacher section of Ultra can seat another 2,000.

Chief Supt. Oscar Valenzuela, chief of the Eastern Police District, said no further coordination was made with the Pasig City police after a show staff handed over a request for police assistance.

Rene Luspo, ABS-CBN assistant vice president for security, was the first resource person to be grilled by members of the fact-finding board at the DILG main conference room in Quezon City.

Luspo said the LRP gate, which was on Capt. Javier street, was the "most logical" entrance because it leads to the open bleacher section even if it has a 30-degree downward slope with an entrance measuring between 10 and 12 feet wide.

"It is the most logical entrance since there was no other gate to be used," he said.

Luspo said he expected about 25,000 to show up, based on the average 5,000 people coming to watch the show live Mondays to Saturdays.

He said the "overspill crowd" or those who were outside the steel barricades they had set up started to push their way in for fear that they might not be accommodated.

He said those inside the steel barricades had been there for the past days. They were mostly women, elderly, and those carrying children.

He said he deployed 12 guards at the entrance gates where the stampede occurred.

Luspo said he assumed that since Senior Supt. Raul Medina, Pasig City police chief, deployed 83 policemen, 50 district mobile force men, 25 traffic enforcers, 20 barangay tanod, and a number rescue teams, the police should know how to react in situations like a stampede.

"If you are facing a siksikan crowd, we can see the results, but we cannot really see how it started," Luspo said.

Luspo said they had requested the Pasig government to allow them to use an open space at the Capitol site where they could accommodate 10,000 people, but it was turned down because Pasig authorities feared the crowd could not be controlled.

The Pasig government later on agreed that the Capitol site open space could be used as a parking area. He said that as early as Monday (January 30) he visited the area where he said some 1,000 people had already gathered.

He said the crowd increased by the day until it reached 10,000 Friday evening when they had the emergency meeting with Ultra officials.

He said they deployed 107 ABS-CBN security personnel as early as Thursday night –23 along Captain Javier street, 77 along St. Martin street, four inside Ultra, and the rest at the perimeter.

Ultra management said they placed six male and female guards at the Capt. Javier street entrance to frisk studio guests.

Luspo said he did not have a written copy of his contingency plan.

"The planning doesn’t have to be in writing most of the time. We just sit down consider options, and decide," Luspo said.

He said the ABS-CBN guards were in charge of crowd control outside and led people to the proper entrance gates.

He said he was not personally present at the Captain Javier entrance but was at the St. Martin side "because in my assessment it was more critical because of the wide opening."

He said they tried to persuade people to calm down and explained the limited seating capacity, but their pleas apparently fell on deaf ears.

He said ABS-CBN and ULTRA officials agreed to open the gates at 5 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. but the Ultra guards were not yet prepared to open the gates as they were still holding a briefing.

"The idea was to relieve the pressure pero hindi pa nagbukas ng maaga kasi they (ULTRA) were not able to post their guards," he said.

Next to take the testify was Marilou Almaden, Wowowee production manager, who said the crowd began to swell at past midnight Saturday.

She said they tried to urge the crowd not be rowdy because 40 of those who could be accommodated would have a chance to win P5,000 cash raffle prizes.

She said that during the emergency meeting Friday night, she requested Ultra management to open the gates an hour earlier or at 5 a.m.

But between 3 and 4 a.m., the crowd grew bigger.

Almaden said they considered transferring the show to the Araneta Coliseum but there was no time to complete preparations. – Jocelyn Montemayor, Raymond Africa, Francis Cueto (Malaya) and Reuters

Distorted values is the real tragedy

By Jeannette I. Andrade, Manila Times Reporter

THE real tragedy in the stampede in Pasig City on Saturday is that Filipinos suffer from a serious distortion of values, a psychiatrist said Sunday.

Dr. Gilda Salangad, a psychiatrist of 23 years, blamed moral degradation for the Philsports (formerly Ultra) Arena stampede which killed 72 people and injured hundreds who were queuing up for the first anniversary of a noontime game show that promised millions worth of prizes.

Salangad told The Manila Times in an interview that TV programs, such as Wowowee, whet the appetite of the Filipino for get-rich-quick schemes.

Salangad, who worked at the National Center for Mental Health for seven years, said there is a tendency for such programs to play up the people’s fantasies for easy money. An estimated 30,000 followers of Wowowee, mostly from poor communities in and around Metro Manila, had lined up for the chance to win cash prizes being offered by the program.

“Normally, we are supposed to work hard for what we want. The reality of the situation is you have to work because in the real world, we don’t always get what we want immediately,” Sa­langad said.

She added the Filipino mindset is for “instant gratification, where we tend to allow our instinct to obtain a nice feeling immediately without having to work.”

“It boils down to the pleasure principle. All of us, through our development, would want to release things which would keep us tense. It is instinctive for us to find pleasurable things to relieve difficulty and pain.

“What we naturally ascribe to is the reward principle where we are aware that we have to work hard to get what we want or need. This is where emotional quotient [EQ] comes in,” Salangad said.

If a person’s EQ is high, he knows how to delay gratification, she said. “They know that if they work hard enough they can attain the reward they expect.”

The prevalent mentality, she claimed, is “getting so much for so little” and “what I can get without really trying or doing anything.”

Asked what could have been running in the minds of Wowowee fanatics and staff who wanted the show to go on despite the tragedy, Salangad replied, “Talagang sa maraming tao, business must go on despite everything. There is callousness to the plight of others. Ang mentality: Nangyari sa iyo, wala akong pakialam. Hindi naman ako apektado [Whatever happens to you, I don’t care because I am not affected]. This is the loss of the sense of social obligation which redounds to the deteriorating value systems.”

About 5,000 fans, evidently not put off by the tragedy, continued to wait in the stadium for the show to start.

“Sayang naman ang pagod natin [Our efforts would have been for naught],” one of the fans said. “Wala kaming pamasahe. Hindi kami makauwi [We do not have money. We cannot go home],” lamented another.

Salangad said the prevailing attitude of “to each his own” or “dog eat dog.” “The kind of values we have, masyado nang kani-kaniya ang attitude ng tao ngayon,” she emphasized.

She attributed the mindset to technology. “The nature of movies we see, television programs, they show that you can just trample on other people’s rights to make money.”

She said that values have changed drastically. “People get to be callous just to gratify their needs even if others get hurt in the process.”

If anybody could be tapped to remedy the situation, she said, these are the priests. “Where are our priests? I want to hear the bishops talk now. They should be the first there but where are they now?” she said.

“There’s something seriously wrong here. We need to reevaluate our values and reassess our values system,” Salangad said. “While it is true that times are hard, our values should not be forgotten and must be preserved.”

Sunday, February 05, 2006

GOOD NEWS ABOUT THE PHILIPPINES

This E-Bulletin: Good News About The Philippines will henceforth be issued
by the Press and Information Section of the Philippine Embassy in
Washington, DC once every two weeks to update its electronic subscribers on
the positive developments in the country.

Campaign Against Graft and Corruption

Tony Kwok, government anti-graft adviser, said the conviction rate of the
Office of Ombudsman grew from 6% in 2002 to 13% in 2003, 24% in 2004, and to
40% in 2005.

Kwok said that there were 55 convictions in 2005, including 22 very senior
officials who can rightfully be called "big fish," and who were meted with
maximum penalties ranging from 10 to 20 years to life imprisonment.

Philippine Economy

Reuters poll showed the Philippine economy grew by 5.0 percent in the fourth
quarter from a year before due to better-than-expected farm output and
healthy consumer spending supported by remittances from overseas workers.

Balance of Payments

The Philippines posted a balance of payments (BoP) surplus of $2.407 billion
last year, topping expectations in a reversal of the previous year's $280
million deficit.

Higher foreign investments, remittances by overseas Filipino workers, and
government borrowing helped boost the country's dollar surplus last year to
its highest since 2000.

Addressing The Budget Deficit

The Finance Department reported that the 2005 budget deficit was almost 20
percent lower than target and that it represented about 2.8 percent of the
estimated Gross Domestic Product, a big improvement from 3.9 percent of GDP
the previous year.

Higher revenues and cost-cutting measures allowed the government to trim its
2005 budget deficit to P146.5 billion, which is lower than 2004 gap of P187
billion.

Bank Lending

Commercial bank lending improved in November due to better business
sentiment and economic conditions, with the banks' outstanding loans growing
2.1 percent year on year to P1.6 trillon as of end November, from a 1.3
percent rise in October.

Domestic Employment

The National Government is confident the unemployment rate in the
Philippines will decline in 2006, its optimism is hinged upon the bullish
outlook for the agriculture sector.

NEDA Director General Augusto Santos said this year will not be an El Nino
year, so farm output should be back to normal.

Likewise, call center jobs are expected to grow by 60 percent this year,
while the property sector is also experiencing a boom fueled by strong
inflow from overseas Filipino workers and call centers demanding more office
space.

Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW)


Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas said the European Union's expansion is
not going to affect the growing demand for overseas Filipino workers there,
reiterating that despite EU's expansion plan which now include Turkey,
Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria, DOLE statistics shows clearly that the
deployment of skilled, documented land-based OFWs in the continent rose to
55,116 in 2004 from only 3,683 in 1984.

Mariner's Home

President Arroyo inaugurated the newly completed six-story Mariner's Home
in Malate, Manila, a joint project of the all Japan Seamen's Union (JSU) and
the Associated Marine Officers and Seamen's Union of the Philippines
(AMOSUP), which will cater to thousands of Filipino seafarers working on
Japanese-owned, operated and managed vessels.

Foreign Direct Investments (FDI)


Net Inflows of foreign direct investments (FDI) in the first 10 months of
2005 totaled 863 million dollars, up 64.4 percent from the year-ago level of
525 million. In October alone, net FDIs amounted to 102 million dollars,
double the level recorded in the same month in 2004.

The Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) approved the registration of
11 projects totaling P307 million in the first 10 days of the year. Biggest
projects were those of economic zone developer Jovima Management and
Development to operate a P115-million seven-story building and, a
P79.7-million four-story building.

Business/Investment

Nestle Philippines, Inc. is investing this year another P2.5 billion in its
facilities in the country, following its export sales which hit a record of
$100 million last year.
· United States-based Lane Archive Technologies Corp., an
international movement storage provider, would operate a business process
out-sourcing business in the Philippines this year as part of its expansion
program. The company is now finalizing its plans and would start operations
before the end of this year.


· ePLDT, the premier information communication technology (ICT)
company in the country, has partnered with Japan-based Nippon Telegraph and
Telephone Corp in implementing security solution for businesses now using
instant messaging (IM). Ray C. Espinosa, ePLDT president and CEO, said "This
partnership allows us to work side by side with a global leader in
strengthening the Philippines' ICT industries."


· Universal Robina Corporation is budgeting $60 million (P5.3
billion) to expand its Philippine and Vietnamese plants following the
outselling of coke by its C2 tea drink.


Tourism

The Department of Tourism is off to a good start for 2006 as the biggest
delegation of Russian tourists arrived as early as the first week of January
to spend a half-month long vacation in the Philippines.

Officials have launched a campaign to promote so-called medical tourism in
the Philippines in an effort to grab a slice of the multibillion-dollar
industry and make the Philippines the "new hub of wellness and medical care
in Asia."

The country's taipans are at the forefront of a business aimed at hitting
the private sector's "singko-singko" goal or "5-5-5-5" target which means to
invest $5 billion to bring in 5 million tourists that would generate $5
billion in revenues and 5 million jobs in 5 years. Marketing whiz Samie Lim
said the country's billionaires were buying new planes and ships, erecting
new malls and hotels, and building world-class resorts and casinos,
confident that tourism would be the next big thing in the Philippine
economy.

Tourism Secretary Ace Durano and Korean Assistant Minister Byoung-soo Lim
signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on tourism cooperation to
strengthen friendly relations and establish greater cooperation between the
Philippines and South Korea.

Call Center/Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)


President Arroyo inaugurated The Resource Group (TRG) Philippines, a new
global business process outsourcing (BPO) player at the Ortigas Center in
Pasig City that offers new employment opportunities for Filipino jobseekers.
TRG has 850 workstations and is set to hire 2,500 new employees in the first
quarter of 2006 for its Ortigas offices, and another 8,000 workers by April
this year when its main facility in Makati City starts operations.

· German industrial group Siemens Inc. launched its first customer
call center in the Philippines, which would cater primarily to
English-speaking global customers, investing 250 million pesos in the
450-seat call center which is expected to employ 700 people by the year's
end.


Cyber City Teleservices Limited (CCTL), the country's largest call center
and outsourcing company, has gone to Zamboanga City in search of call center
agents to complement its expansion program in the Philippines.

· India, the world's top provider of business process outsourcing
(BPO) offered to assist the Philippines in boosting its chances of landing
more outsourced jobs.


RP Internet

· The cost of dial-up and broadband Internet services is going down
fast in the Philippines, with the cost of an unlimited Internet dial-up
account bundled with phone service only P840 a month and the cheapest dial
up access only P160 monthly.


Agriculture

Some 30,000 tobacco farmers in the Ilocos region are expected to benefit
from a multi-line joint agribusiness project that will use village factories
to process locally grown hog, poultry, dried mangoes, banana chips/crackers
and vegetables and which will be funded with P300 million by the National
Tobacco Administration (NTA) who will put up a plant to produce line quality
products that are competitive and affordable and already have sure local and
foreign markets.

Fisheries

Fishery posted the highest growth of 6.47 percent last year among all the
sub-sectors of agriculture, leading the crops sub-sector which had an
increase of only 0.48 percent, livestock with 2.04 percent; and poultry with
a growth of 1.41 percent.
Botica ng Bayan (BnB)


The Health Department disclosed there are now 5,800 Botika ng Barangay (BnB)
operating in various parts of the country and 1,600 more are to be opened by
March or April as the government steps up its program to ensure the
availability of low-priced, quality drugs to the people.

Physicians For Peace (PFP)


Filipino-American physicians under a group called Physicians For Peace
(PFP), a United States-based nonprofit organization, came home to the
Philippines to bring free medical services to far-flung provinces. Using the
Coast Guard's BRP Pampanga, the group, composed of 10 foreign and 25
Filipino doctors, sailed to Palawan to provide medical services and health
education which include conducting general surgery and eye operation.

Food For School Program

President Arroyo directed the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to
immediately release P500 million to the Department of Education to fund the
"food for school" program.

PNP Modernization Program

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered the release of P1 billion to the
Philippine National Police (PNP) to fund the hiring of 15,000 additional
policemen and the purchase of 1,500 patrol cars and 5,000 brand new handguns
to give a new push to the PNP modernization program. She also vowed to raise
PNP salaries as well as provide 1,000 scholarships to PNP children who died
or were wounded in the line of duty.

Military Housing

President Arroyo vowed to release P1.5 billion for the construction of more
low-cost housing units for soldiers.

Speaker Jose de Venecia launched a major housing program for 2,200 members
of the elite Scout Rangers at their camp in San Miguel, Bulacan, a first key
housing project for members of the Armed Forces, which will occupy a
50-hectare property with all the amenities, including schools, churches, and
markets.

Infrastructure Development

· President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo approved the proposal to expand
the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport terminal in Angeles City since,
at present, it could not accommodate the influx of passengers going to
various destinations in Asia.


· People's Republic of China Ambassador to the Philippines Li Jin-jun
said he will encourage commercial airlines, including low-cost carriers
(LCCs), in Mainland China to look into the possibility of flying to the
Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA).


North Rail Project


· Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Li Jin-jun said the
construction of the China-funded North Rail project, which will provide
efficient transport service for passengers and goods between Metro Manila
and Central and Northern Luzon, particularly between Clark, Fort Bonifacio,
Subic Naval Base and Poro Point, will start last week of February this year,
adding that immediately after clearing operation and resettlement of
squatter families, the Chinese firm will build Phase I of the $503 million
North rail project.


Defense Cooperation

The Philippines and Korea agreed to widen their defense cooperation through
informal exchanges between their Armed Forces, which will include exchanges
in intelligence and logistics. Expanding the exchange of officers as well as
skills and expertise in terms of national disaster management is also
considered.

The Philippines will host next month a high level defense and security
meeting with South Korea to explore ways to enhance exchanges of military
personnel and cooperation in times of natural disasters or calamities.

China's security cooperation with the Philippines poses no threat to the
Asia-Pacific region, said Li Jinjun, Beijing's ambassador to Manila, after
giving equipment to the Philippines to help fight communist rebels. He said
China was not expecting any extra political or diplomatic concessions from
the Philippines in exchange for some US$1.2 million worth of bulldozers and
graders, and that more heavy equipments would be arriving soon as China
tries to raise the level of defense and military cooperation with the
Philippines.



Foreign Relations

· Philippine Ambassador to Brasilia Teresita V.G. Barsana reported to
the Department of Foreign Affairs that President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva
has informed her of Brazil's strong interest in Asia and the need for
increased official exchanges between Brazil and the Philippines particularly
in the field of trade and investment. President Lula was "happy to note
that the volume of trade between the Philippines and Brazil is increasing,
with each country accounting for half the share of the US$500 million
bilateral trade in 2005."


Interfaith Dialogue

Top political leaders of the Centrist Democrat International (CDI) formally
established in Manila the CDI Asia-Pacific organization that could be a
catalyst for regional economic and political integration. President Arroyo,
main guest of honor during the meeting, said she took the lead in holding
the interfaith dialogue in the country with the quest for permanent peace in
Mindanao uppermost in her mind.

MILF

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front renewed efforts to help authorities
capture the leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group and the Jemaah
Islamiah network in Mindanao, coinciding with the start of anti-terror
training between US and Filipino troops. The MILF said it is helping the
government track down Khadafy Janjalani, whose group is blamed for the spate
of kidnappings and bombings in Mindanao and Manila in the past years.

Peace Talks With MILF

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Datuk Othman Abd. Razak, newly
appointed adviser of Malaysian Prime Minister Dato Seri Abdullah Ahmad
Badawi, underscored the need to fast track the government-Moro Islamic
Liberation Front (MILF) peace talks. During their meeting, the resumption
of the peace talks in Kuala Lumpur was discussed in some details taking note
that both the GRP and the MILF have given full commitment to the peace
process. Both sides are very optimistic that an agreement on the issue of
ancestral domain can be achieved sooner than expected and this may well lead
to the Final Peace Agreement.

Mohaqher Iqbal, a member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) central
committee, said peace talks with the Philippine government are largely a
done deal, adding his group is confident that an agreement on an ancestral
homeland for four million Muslims in the south may be signed within the
first six months of this year.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Get Real : Teaching citizens to fight corruption

By Solita Collas-Monsod, Inquirer

NO longer can anyone plead ignorance or helplessness or hopelessness as an excuse for not taking an active role in the fight against corruption. An “Anti-Graft Guidebook” has just come out, written by Sofronio B. Ursal and published by Good Governance Books, Quezon City (E-mail: governancebooks@yahoo.com). And it is a must-read for all of us, whether legislator, government bureaucrat, or ordinary citizen -- because just the act of reading the book is an empowering experience.

The author is someone I’ve admired for a long time. Although I may have met him only once or twice, I know him by reputation as a man of integrity and competence, whether in government (50 years) or in civil society. On the issue of corruption, he knows whereof he speaks: he served with distinction as a commissioner of the Commission on Audit, and after his retirement from that position, he has kept active in the fight against corruption through his directorships in Transparency International-Philippines, the Philippine Society for Public Administration, Sinag ng Bayan Foundation and other anti-corruption groups.

Why is reading the “Anti-Graft Guidebook” an empowering experience? The titles of the eight chapters (all well-researched and discussed exhaustively) give us a clue: “Understanding Graft,” “The Role of Government Agency Heads,’ “Basic Graft Prevention Tools,” “Experimental Typology of Graft” (classifying graft, rules of thumb as to preventability of graft), “Survey of Philippine Anti-Graft Laws,” “Profile of Anti-Graft Agencies,” “Citizen’s Remedies Against Official Abuses,” and “The Remedy in Extremis.” By the time one finishes reading it, one is not only raring to go graft-busting, one is provided with all the legal weapons to do so. Essentially, he has done all our homework -- enough for us to draw our own conclusions and apply them—and even then, he makes it easy: those of us who want to put our money where our mouth are told what buttons we can push to break the “cycle” of graft. There is also a primer on how organizations can be accredited as a corruption-prevention unit by the Office of the Ombudsman.

The chapter on the typology of graft is particularly instructive. Here, Ursua classifies the graft by mode (administrative, policy, arbitration and political graft), by branch of service and rank of officer (career, non-career; lowest to highest), and by preventability (EP -- Easily Preventable, P -- Preventable, HP -- Hardly Preventable, and NP -- Not Preventable). The good news is that graft among the clerical and sub-professional workers in the career service is EP, while among the professional/technical up to division chief it is EP to P. Still as one goes up the ranks, it becomes harder to prevent graft. Ursal’s matrix indicates that among the Career Executive Service, policy and political graft may be P, but administrative graft goes from P-HP and arbitration graft is HP-NP. By the time you get to heads of agency and members of the judiciary, the graft, where applicable, is classified HP-NP.

The really bad news is that graft by government officials in the non-career service, i.e., impeachable officials, executive officials, and officials of Cabinet, is considered by Ursal to be either HP-NP, or totally NP. Which is why it is so important for the appointing power (the President) to choose people not only with competence but also with integrity, and why even then, her choices should be scrutinized closely by the Commission on Appointments. Unfortunately, historical experience tells us that the President’s choices and the vetting by the Commission on Appointments are, more often than not, politically motivated. No wonder there is so much corruption.

After surveying the anti-graft laws of the country (and listing them), it is clear that there are more than enough of them—in terms of quantity, if not quality. Ursal, however, suggests one more: a Whistleblower Law, similar to that of the United States, that will protect government employees denouncing anomalies committed within their agencies (he uses Acsa Ramirez and General Gudani as examples of employees penalized for whistle-blowing).

He also lists some very urgently needed amendments to existing laws. For example, the provisions in the revenue laws authorizing tax assessors to reduce their own tax assessments or to grant compromise settlements should be changed. These open up graft-prone situations where tax assessments are initially set unreasonably high and then reduced after “negotiations.” Also, there is need to amend the Ombudsman’s Act so as to authorize the Ombudsman to have access to and examine bank records in connection with anti-graft cases pending before his office, without need of a court order.

The most relevant portion for the ordinary citizen is the chapter on “Citizens’ Remedies Against Official Abuses.” It turns out that there are so many venues for filing complaints against a government official or employee. And there are so many grounds for filing administrative charges (at least seven) as well as criminal complaints. Ursal describes the procedures involved and tells us how to go about it. He exhorts us to fight back corruption by invoking our rights under the law instead of folding our arms and relying on people in government agencies to rediscover their sense of morality and those in anti-graft agencies to prosecute crooked officials.

Let’s do it.