Saturday, September 6, 2008

Too Much To Bear

The fighting in Mindanao, the debate over the bungled Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, and yes, the highest inflation rate in 14 years of 12.5% are hugging the headlines, along with the extended presence of ‘visiting’ American troops in Zamboanga.

So it is understandable that the tragic sinking of MV Princess of the Stars nearly three months ago is not on the top of our minds of late.

But there is movement on the ground with salvage work on the ship wreck due to commence in several weeks at a cost of some P350-M to the owner, Sulpicio Lines. The Cebu-based shipping firm has recently reported that it has extended berreavement and other financial aid to more than 500 or is it 600 families of the dead and missing, many of whose remains are still entombed inside MV Princess of the Stars, once the lead vessel in Sulpicio’s fleet of inter-island passenger and cargo vessels.

It’s previously been reported that Sulpicio ships carry up to 40% of the commercial cargo ( including motor vehicles) to and from the Visayas, and Mindanao, making it a truly vital cog in the supply chain, as businessman call it.

The government has been trying to project acute awareness of this reality, attempting to balance the still highly emotional issue of the recent tragedy with the economic imperatives.

It is no surprise then that a key lieutenant of President Arroyo, her former Assumption schoolmate Elena Bautista, already undersecretary for maritime affairs, has just taken over the helm of the Maritime Industry Authority.

The MARINA, in turn has laid down a strict time-bound schedule for Sulpicio Lines to comply with stringent maritime safty standards, including retraining of its sea-going personnel, and upgraded insurance coverage.

To be fair, Sulpicio Lines appears to have shed its earlier bad handling of the crisis which including claiming the incident “was an act of God” and its seeming all-out ’sue everyone” legal tactic.

Government itself is not blameless in the affair with the negligence of key agencies in both the micro and macro sense (the inadequate seaworthiness certifications, the ‘white elephant’ maritime emergency communications system, and PAGASA’s failure to procure properly-budgeted weather tracking nd forecasting systems).

There is also the matter of the ticking environmental time bomb, given Del Monte Philippines’ highly toxic cargo of the Israeli-manufactured endosulfan pesticide which, if it leaks together with some 200,000 liter of bunker fuel still in the overturned ship, could wreak untold harm to the rich fishing waters of the Visayas.

But still, public perception, and blame-selection remains decidedly against Sulpicio even as the firm itself is reportedly struggling to literally stay afloat, operationally and financially.

Its competitors are even suspect of adding fuel to the fire by nudging negatively-slanted news and opinion reportage.

The Department of Justice’s Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) has also been ‘eager’ to stay in the news, prodding victims’ relatives to pursue damage, and criminal cases against SLI.

This writer has confirmed that the legally-required conduct of indigency certification tests for all litigants getting pro bono PAO legal aid has been waived.

Both houses of Congress are also not done yet with their inquiries “in aid of legislation” and there is, of course, a pending Board of Marine Inquiry recommendation for Sulpicio’s franchise, its Certificate of Public Convenience (CPC) to be revoked.

So given these very dire circumstances, what does lie ahead for Sulpicio Lines?

It almost seems too much to bear that last Thursday, Sulpicio’s MV Cotabato Princess rammed the Iloilo pier after reportedly being pished by heavy currents.

Friday, August 22, 2008

GRP Wages War As SC Ponders On BJE MoA

Make no mistake about it: war is in progress in Mindanao as the Supreme Court is deliberating on the fate of the Bangsamoro ancestral domain agreement that has been initialed but which now will no longer be signed in its present for as far as the Arroyo government is concerned.

Overnight reports from the battlefront in Maguindao are saying at least 30 Moro rebels were slain and government forces captured one MILF camp. The Air Force sent in fighter jets from as far as Basa Air Base in Pampanga, President Arroyo’s home province, to pummel MILF positions with rockets and drop 500-pound bombs.

The Italian-made S-211’s are rarely called into action and used often only for training flights. But this time. they are being paired with missile-firing attack helicopters in the conduct of the biggest bombardments in Mindanao in nearly ten years.

The operations yesterday coincided with the Supreme Court’s latest full bench (en banc) session on the MoA-AD with indications emerging after the 9-hour hearing that the high tribunal will rule that the petitions questioning the initialed agreement’s constitutionality as “moot”

Here are the main points raised by the justices yesterday:

Chief Justice Reynato Puno: There are certain presidential actions that are vested with the President as Commander-in-Chief which necessarily do not require consultation with the people. As President, part of that power is to forge peace agreements “to restore order” in the country.

“Why should the President consult the people with respect to the parameters of power?” Such parameters “are already set in the Constitution.” Aside from judicial remedy, the public may still reject a presidential action by exercising its sovereign right. This is the “political solution” which may satisfy or cure assumptions that lack of consultations invalidates presidential action.

Chief Justice Reynato Puno gave the Office of the Solicitor General until Tuesday to answer the opposition to its motion to dismiss the petitions against the MOA-AD.

Justice Arturo Brion: The initialing of the contract “simply reflects” the intention of the parties and that the absence of signature means “effectively there is no MOA.” As such, “the government has not given its consent to the MOA.,” Since there is no perfected contract in the first place, “then there is no case.” Whether there is “justiciable case that is ripe for judicial determination.”

Justice Antonio Nachura: “There is no MOA in the first place” since it was only initialed and not signed.

Justice Ruben Reyes: Under the provision of contracts, the MOA-AD has no legal significance “with the absence of signature” and thus, “not yet a perfected document.” The initialing of the MOA-AD may simply mean that the parties “have initialed a true and correct copy” and not necessarily the final contract because the one who initialed the document on behalf of government “has no authority.” “So it is not a contract, not an agreement (yet).” “What is the value of this document? It is not signed. There is no basis, there is nothing anymore to prohibit.” “With the absence of the signature of the people who are authorized to sign, it is not yet a perfected document.” When the document was initialed, it was only an authentication of the pages of the document.

Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales: President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has no authority to delegate the creation of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE). Even if the President had the authority to create the BJE, “the executive could not bind Congress.”

Associate Justice Antonio Carpio: “On the basis of that document, you (referring to chief negotiator Rodolfo Garcia) do not carry the full power of the President. Your authority is only based on the document?” “[In] the last two plebiscites, the subject matter was ARMM [Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao], right? And ARMM, the Organic Act of ARMM does not provide that the ARMM will have its internal police, security force, its own courts, its own Comelec, correct?” “So can that [1989 and 2001 plebiscite] be considered consultation? Will that consultation apply now in the BJE [Bangsamoro Juridical Entity] concept?”

Responding to the argument by Dean Pacifico Agabin, lawyer for Senator Manuel “Mar” Roxas, one of the intervenors, that the executive could not commit to the MILF the amendment of the Constitution to conform with the agreement, Justice Antonio Carpio asked: “There is that clause under the MOA, correct?” “Yes,” said Agabin during Friday’s oral arguments at the Supreme Court that is trying to determine the constitutionality of the MOA-AD. “Then the MOA is unconstitutional on that ground,” said Carpio who also cited a television interview by an MILF leader who said that the Constitution needed to be amended to conform with the MOA. Carpio said the MILF wanted this provision to be included in the MOA because “the MILF did not want to be bound by our Constitution.”

Justice Arturo Brion: “It is a consensus that the MOA will be signed but the government has not yet given anyone the authority to sign the MOA. Since wala pang [there is no] go-signal from the government to sign the MOA, even if it has been signed, it will not be binding.”

Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco questioned why the MILF was not included as respondent in the petitions filed by the petitioners against the MOA-AD. Velasco said that all parties to the controversy should have been included so that they would all be bound by the Supreme Court’s decision.

Associate Justice Adolf Azcuna: Since there had been three plebiscites conducted in 1979, 1989, and 2001 for North Cotabato’s inclusion to ARMM, it could be considered a consultation. “How many participated in the three plebiscites for inclusion in the ARMM? Don’t you think that is enough consultation done by the government regarding the inclusion? They have been consulted three times, they said yes but are overwhelmed by the rest of the province.”

From the foregoing points, it appears abundantly clear what the fate of the petitions will be.

How the events in Mindanao will play out is an altogether harder question to answer.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Expected SC Decision: Bangsamoro Deal A Political Question

The Supreme Court sits as a full bench today and at bar is the controversy that has caused much consternation, and bloodshed, these past three weeks: the constitutionality of that plan to set up a separate sovereign entity within the Philippines:the MILF-Bangsamoro Juridical Entity.

Four days ago in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Fathe Joquin Bernas of the Society of Jesus and one of the framers of the 1986 Constitution wrote what you midfielder believes is the most accurate analysis of how that Supreme Court will rule today, if it does decide to: the high tribunal will rule that the issue at bar is a political question that is beyond its authority to act on.

This non-lawyer agrees. Father Bernas also reiterates what has already been widely reported and analyzed: since the MoA-AD was simply been initialed and not signed it is not in force and there is no action yet by the executive that can be declared unconstitutional:

Here is Father Bernas’s view in full, with due and full credit to the PDI:

“Sounding Board : That ‘piece of paper’ or Relax ‘lang’!

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

Posted date: August 18, 2008

MANILA, Philippines - Preliminarily, let me say a word about the full-page ad for the MOA which appeared at least twice in the Bulletin and the Star. I am embarrassed that some think it was mine. But the only thing that was mine in that ad was the quotation of what I had said to an Inquirer reporter. However, I am not complaining because, as Cito Beltran remarked about the naughty trick, even the devil can quote Scripture!

Now, about that “piece of paper.”

Some proposals in it are being attacked by many as unconstitutional. But what I know about Constitutional Law is that the issue of unconstitutionality can come up only after something has been done which can result or has resulted in deprivation of a constitutional right. Has this happened? Or, as lawyers would put it, is there an “actual case”?

The MOA is not a done deal. Whether the framers knew it or not, the MOA was nothing more than an elaborate collection of the “wish-list” of those who want to revise the Organic Act of Muslim Mindanao and even the Constitution. In other words, it is an ambitious list of proposals for the amendment of the Organic Act and even of the Constitution.

But amendment proposals cannot be illegal and much less unconstitutional. If that were so, no law or constitutional provision could be amended. We might as well delete Article XVII of the Constitution on Amendments and Revision! Article XVII is there because the Constitution is not written in stone.

What I have learned from jurisprudence is that the only amendment that is not allowed is one which violates the principle of jus cogens. Jus cogens, or peremptory norm of international law, means “a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of States as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted.”

Any proposal which is not contrary to jus cogens, no matter how stupid or even potentially harmful, cannot be dismissed by the Court—because the Court does not have the power to do so. The matter is what is called a “political question”; that is, a question which, under the Constitution, can be resolved only by Congress or the Executive or the sovereign people.

What then can the Supreme Court do about the petition to prohibit the government from signing the MOA? We are back to separation of powers. I can only repeat what the Supreme Court said earlier about a similar problem:

“The doctrine of separation of powers calls for the departments being left alone to discharge their duties and as they see fit. The judiciary as Justice Laurel emphatically asserted ‘will neither direct nor restrain executive [or legislative] action . . .’ The legislative and executive branches are not bound to seek its advice as to what to do or not to do. Judicial inquiry has to be postponed in the meanwhile. It is a prerequisite that something had by then been accomplished or performed by either branch before a court may come into the picture. At such a time, it may pass on the validity of what was done but only ‘when . . . properly challenged in an appropriate legal proceeding.’”

What the Court said about the 1972 Constitutional Convention can be applied mutatis mutandis to the sponsors of the MOA. “More specifically, as long as any proposed amendment is still unacted on by it, there is no room for the interposition of judicial oversight.”

But if the MOA is signed, should the Court declare as unconstitutional proposals in it which are incompatible with the present Constitution? To answer that question we must ask what commitment the administration would make if the MOA is signed. It would commit nothing more than that the Arroyo administration will exercise “best efforts” to achieve the changes. It may be a foolish commitment, but folly and unconstitutionality are not the same.

The President has not disowned the MOA. Can the President, under her oath to “preserve and defend” the Constitution, sponsor proposals that will result in amending the Constitution? The duty of the President under her oath is a total package which includes not just to “preserve and defend its Constitution” but also to “execute its laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate [herself] to the service of the nation.” Better execution of the laws, doing justice to every man without exception and consecrating herself to the service of the nation may require sponsoring a needed amendment of the Constitution. To paraphrase the words of a man we all know, the Constitution is made for man and not man for the Constitution.

Whether or not the ARMM Organic Act should be amended to accommodate more territory than presently included in it and whether or not the ARMM or a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) should be given powers that presently are not allowed by the Constitution are not for the Court to decide. These are “political questions” which should be addressed by a constituent assembly, whether Congress or a Constitutional Convention, and ultimately by the people in their sovereign capacity.

The MOA is being linked by critics to the extension of term limits for the President. Although extension of term limits is not on the face of the MOA, it is not impossible that the desire to extend the term of the President may have lurked in the secret minds of the framers of the MOA. But again even that will have to come out of the secret mind and go through a constituent assembly and a plebiscite.”E

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pausing For Peace, Chasing Out Rogues

The guns have fallen silent during the past 48 hours in Lanao.

Everyone down south and here in Manila are taking stock and pausing for peace as political and civil society leaders across the board denounced the murderous rampage of Moro rebels at the start of the week.

After putting the military on war footing for any further trouble, President Arroyo is pursuing wider consultations on the embattled peace process with a meeting tomorrow of the broad-based Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council.

This is finally a step in the right, and wise, direction for Mrs. Arroyo, with even members of the political opposition being invited to attend the meeting which will coincide with the second, and possibly decisive, full bench session of the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the MoA-AD.

That widely disputed agreement, which the MILF insists is already “binding” although it has only been initialed, has come under intense question because it proposes to carve a sovereign Bangsamoro State within an expanded Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with treaty-making powers, separate armed forces, electoral, and other prerogatives of a separate nation.

For the first time since the eruption of public uproar and the violence, Malacanang yesterday struck what sounded a contrite tone, and restated its commitment to peace:

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza: “We’re very sorry and we’re very saddened by this. I compare this (the talks) to a shattered glass. It would be very difficult to put the pieces together. But we have not changed our policy. In Mindanao, there is no alternative but peace.”

The other voices:

Kolambugan Lanao mayor Beltran Lumaque:”They killed innocent, defenseless civilians. People are traumatised. We need food, medicines. We want the soldiers here.”

Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno said the objective is to push these MILF groups out of the areas where they can wreak havoc. He estimated their forces to number about a hundred and are not supported by MILF leaders who still believe in the peace process.

Lanao del Norte Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo said the attacks on civilians had changed the way people looked at the MILF.

“Muslims and Christians alike condemn the terrorist acts of the MILF,” Dimaporo said.

“I’m sure that their inhuman acts in Lanao del Norte have eroded the respect for the cause of the MILF even from those who help the MILF.”

ARMM Gov. Zaldy Uy Ampatuan said dialogue between the Moro people, including the MILF, and Christian leaders was needed at this time.

Beverly Selim-Musni, InPeace Mindanao convenor:“We are asking the government and the MILF to give primacy to the peace process in order to resolve issues.”

The chair of the Oro chamber of commerce and industry Rodolfo Menes called on officials not to issue statements that could inflame the situation.

“Let us be circumspect on this thing and not exacerbate the situation by saying irresponsible side comments. There must be a steadfast solution to this situation,” Menes said.

The chair of the Philippine Islamic Council and Center for Moderate Muslims, Professor Taha Basman: “(We) condemn the raging war in Mindanao, the burning of churches and the mounting destruction of heavy collateral damage inflicted on innocent civilian sectors (of society)—Muslims and Christians alike,” he said.

Northern Mindanao Ulama’s League officer Sultan Nas Natangcop: “I believe this (the violence) is just a temporary situation. I liken this to being stricken with the colds, which can be immediately cured. In fact, [life in] Iligan and Marawi are already beginning to normalize.”

Maguindanao Rep. Didagen Dilangalen: “Civilians were the ones killed. It’s really atrocious,”

“The life of a Muslim is no more than the life of a Christian.”

Anak Mindanao party-list Rep. Mujiv Hataman: The killings in Kauswagan and Kolambugan in Lanao del Norte are against the rules of war in Islam.

“Do not kill an old man, a woman or a child. Do not injure date palms and do not cut down fruit trees. Do not slaughter any sheep or cows or camels except for food.”

“Do not burn houses and places of worship such as churches, temples and monasteries. Leave priests and monks alone and do not molest them. These are the rules of war in Islam.”

US Ambassador Kristie Kenney said the United States and the Philippines were “friends for life” when asked if Washington would freeze assistance in the wake of the attacks.

“We’re not going to walk away just because there have been a few bad days,” Kenney said, adding she was hopeful the two sides could return to the negotiating table.

President Arroyo ordered massive relief operations for thousands of people displaced by the violence.. Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral and Health Secretary Francisco Duque will personally oversee “intervention measures” and Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, chairman of the National Disaster Coordinating Council, will “trigger the release of funds for relief and rehabilitation of affected families and other victims.”

The Toll: 38 dead, including three soldiers, while dozens of others were injured and nearly 10,000 displaced.

This is where things stand at the moment and At Midfield humbly joins in the call for peace.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Will GMA Declare A State of Emergency?

There is much trepidation as I write this post, asking if President Arroyo will declare a state of emergency in the wake of the spate of attacks in at least four towns in Lanao that are all being blamed on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or supposed ‘lost commands’.

The death count has reached at least 28 dead with a lieutenant colonel among the military’s casualties and fleeing civilians reportedly being hacked to death with machetes and left dead on the roads for hours. Even drug stores were targeted in the burning of businesses and homes during the Moro attacks.

The Red Cross is still counting just how many thousands have fled their homes in the 4 Lanao towns even as the attackers reportedly withdrew overnight to their camps in Lanao Sur as the military, put on war footing by the president yesterday, said it was conducting pursuit operations.

The picture that clearly emerges is one of a grave emergency, so will this be the basis for such a move by Malacanang?

Will the President’s allies in Congress call for her to exercise emergency powers after having already called out our troops “to defend every inch” of Philippine territory?

During her national broadcast yesterday ahead of chairing an emergency session of the National Security Council, Mrs. Arroyo carefully prefaced her directive to the military with the phrase “as your Commander in Chief” while AFP Chief of Staff Alexander Yano was in battle fatigues as he himself announced that start of offensives against the Moro rebels.

Sadly even as the situation may indeed call for such moves, today or in the days to come, an emergency declaration will be fraught with danger for civil rights and all those in between.

We watch and wait.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The 3 Possible SC Decisions on the BJE

The Supreme Court still has another hearing date (August 22) set on the petitions questioning the legality of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain between the Arroyo administration and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

While other issues may still surface that could change the direction of the likely SC decision, a close review of the remarks made by the justices at last Friday’s 5-hour-long point to one of three possible decisions that the high tribunal will hand down:

First: The High Court will lift the TRO and toss out the petitions as premature given that the agreement has not been signed and that no actually illegal act has been committed, thus allowing the signing of the MoA-AD to proceed but with a caveat that it be immediately renegotiated;

Second: The Supreme Court will replace the TRO with a preliminary injunction stopping the MoA-AD altogether;

Third: The Court will toss the issue back to the Executive Department effectively removing the TRO on the ground that it is a political question, allowing the MoA to be signed after renegotiations.

Consider the following observations made by at least 11 of the Justices in the course of the 5-hour-long oral arguments:

Justice Antonio Carpio:

1) Several provisions of the MoD-AD clash with the Philippine Constitution and that implementing them would require amendments to the Charter;

2) The Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) to be formed would in effect govern all of Mindanao and Palawan, as well as the “lumad” [indigenous peoples] in Mindanao and their ancestral lands;

3) “There are obviously several provisions of the MOA that contradict the Constitution.BJE is not the state; ”

4) With the MOA-AD defining the “Bangsamoro people” as all indigenous people of Mindanao, without reference to religion, it would encompass even the Christians and the lumad. If the MOA pushes through, the ancestral domain of all lumad in Mindanao are now part of the BJE. If they want to leave, they can but they have to leave behind their ancestral domain;”

5) The MOA-AD refered to land and natural resources possessed by the Bangsamoro people from time immemorial to the present. If the lumad were included, then “you’re talking of the entire Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan. In short, ancestral domain will now be the entire Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan;”

6) could the lumad be included in the Bangsamoro people without consultation.

Justice Adolf Azcuna:

1) The MOA-AD “on its face is patently illegal under our present laws;”

2) Can the negotiating parties agree to change existing laws?;

3) Even a simple change, such as adding a crescent moon on the Philippine flag, can only be could done if there is an enabling law;

4) “Fr. Joaquin Bernas may be right. The MOA is just a scrap of paper.”

Justice Renato Corona:

1) The parties questioning the agreement appeared to be afraid of nothing because without the signatures, the document did not legally exist;

2) Many concerns are being raised even if the document itself has yet to be signed. “You’re giving me the impression this is mere fear of the unknown. How can you fear something that does not exist.”

Associate Justices Conchita Carpio-Morales and Arturo Brion:

1) The government and the MILF should go back to the negotiating table;

2) Granting a “state within a state” in the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) may not be possible under the Constitution.

Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales:

1) The Arroyo government may have to go back to the negotiating table to ensure that the provisions in the MOA-AD are consistent with the supreme law of the land;

2) If the MILF refuses to renegotiate, that is when the MOA-AD can be considered void.

Associate Justices Renato Corona and Ruben Reyes:

1) It is premature to judicially review the MOA-AD since it hasn’t even been signed in the first place;

2) Corona: The petitioners have a “fear of the unknown;”

3) Reyes: The power to approve constitutional amendments belongs to Congress, not the executive branch.

Justice Consuelo Ynares Santiago:

1)The petitions may be premature, considering that the MOA-AD has yet to be signed.

Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro:

1)The MOA-AD is different from federalism because the BJE is allowed to enter into agreements with foreign nations.

Chief Justice Reynato Puno:

1) The Constitution only allows autonomy, not secession;

2) The Constitution also gives the president the power to review the MOA-A;

3) On the signature page of the MOA-AD, Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo was designated as a witness and not as an endorser;

4) The MOA-AD is “not a done agreement” yet; 5) Nothing in the document says it is final.


Just hours ahead of the issuance on the SC TRO last August 4, the MILF through it web site, said the MoA-AD would be signed on August 25. Let’s see whether that ‘deadline’ will be met.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Federal Republic of the Philippines: Pimentel’s Blueprint

We are marking a long weekend so this is opportune to take a closer look into Senate Resolution # 10, Senator Aquilino Pimentel’s Blueprint for the Federal Republic of the Philippines (FRP).

Resisting any premature comment, here first are the main points:

* The FRP will have a 425-Member unicameral Federal Congress with the legislature headquartered in Bohol
* The declared National Territory encompasses the areas to which the Philippine has pending and unresolved historical claims, meaning the Spratlys and Sabah.
* GMA is mandated to step down in 2010 and is prohibited from seeking election in the new government.

Read on:

* The 63-page annex of SR 10 contains 154 proposed revisions of the Constitution.
* Only two articles, the Bill of Rights and Citizenship, are untouched.
* Federal House of Representatives will have 75 senators and not more than 350 congressmen, or a total of 425 members.
* Rationale:

1. “Whereas, the highly centralized system of government has brought about a spotty development of the nation where preferential treatment has been given to localities whose officials are friendly with or have easy access to an incumbent administration;

2. Whereas, this lopsided arrangement has spawned a host of problems including massive nationwide poverty to runaway insurgencies and rebellions that feed on the societal inequalities in the nation;

3. Whereas, creating eleven States out of the Republic would establish 11 centers of finance and development in the archipelago as follows:

* The 11 Federal States:

1. The State of Northern Luzon;

2. The State of Central Luzon;

3. The State of Southern Tagalog;

4. The State of Bicol;

5. The State of Minparom;

6. The State of Eastern Visayas;

7. The State of Central Visayas;

8. The State of Western Visayas;

9. The State of Northern Mindanao;

10. The State of Southern Mindanao; and

11. The State of BangsaMoro”

* GMA’s Term Limit:

“Unless the incumbent President is removed from office, dies, or resigns, the Incumbent shall serve until 2010, the year her constitutional term of office ends. She is, however, not qualified to run again for office under the Constitution.”

SR10 does not have any proposal to switch from the presidential to the parliamentary form of government.

* Longer term limits:

SR10 extends the term limits for members of the House of Representatives, by setting four years, instead of the present three years, as the length of one term, and allowing a maximum of three consecutive terms.

Under SR10, provincial, city, and municipal officials, and also the governor and vice governor of the proposed new states, would all get up to three terms of four years each, longer than at present. Senators would stay within their present limit of two terms of six years each.

* The State of Bangsamoro:

SR10’s proposed State of Bangsamoro only includes the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Shariff Kabunsuan, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, with capital at Marawi City. The areas that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is bargaining for overlap with portions of SR10’s proposed States of Northern Mindanao and Southern Mindanao.

* SR10’s proposed State of Northern Mindanao (capital at Cagayan de Oro City):

Covers the provinces of Zamboanga del Norte, Misamis Occidental, Camiguin, Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon, Agusan del Norte, Dinagat Island, Surigao del Norte, Lanao del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboangay Sibugay, and all cities, municipalities and villages therein.

* SR10’s proposed State of Southern Mindanao (capital at Davao City) :

Covers the provinces of Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Sur, Compostela Valley, Davao, Davao Oriental, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato, Sarangani, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and all local entities therein.

SR10 seeks to transfer major portions of national government operations to the Visayas and Mindanao. It would keep Manila as the seat of the Executive Branch, but proposes to transfer the Legislative Branch to Tagbilaran City. It would require the Supreme Court to transfer to Cagayan de Oro City within 10 years.

* The Seat of the unicameral Federal Congress:

The Federal Congress shall hold office and its sessions in the City of Tagbilaran in the State of Central Visayas. Congress may authorize its committees to hold public hearings in aid of legislation or conduct investigations in furtherance of its oversight functions in any part of the Republic.

How the Constituent Assembly will vote:

“NOW, THEREFORE, Be it resolved as it is hereby resolved by the Senate with the House of Representatives concurring, upon a vote of three-fourths of all the Members of both Houses voting separately, to convene Congress into a constituent assembly pursuant to Section 1, paragraph 1 of Article XVll of the Constitution, and revise the Constitution for the purpose of adopting a federal system of government that will create 11 States, constitute Metro-Manila as the Federal Administrative Region, and convert the nation into the Federal Republic of the Philippines.”

Key Revisions Proposed in SR 10:

Revision No. 1.

Section 1. Article 1. National Territory.

The scope of the national territory is hereby revised by adding a new paragraph as follows: The national territory shall likewise include all islands occupied or claimed by the Republic out of historic title, by discovery or other means recognized under international law and its exclusive economic zone as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Revenues and Taxes

(2) All revenues and taxes collected by the local government units or by national government agencies in accordance with the Local Government Code of 1991, Republic Act No. 7160, shall be divided in the following manner: twenty percent (20%) shall accrue to the Federal Government and eighty percent

(80%) to the States. (3) Of the share accruing to the States, thirty percent (30%) shall pertain to the

State concerned and seventy percent (70%) shall be apportioned among the provinces, cities, municipalities and barangay according to the formula stated in the Local Government Code of 1991.

Revision No. 2.

New Section. Article XIV. Utilization of Local Resources.

States may pursue local development in the utilization of mineral, marine and aquatic, forest and other natural resources. They may engage in local and international trade and commerce to attain self sufficiency and progress within their respective territories subject to the limitations imposed by the Constitution.

Revision No. 3.

New Section. Article XIV. Small-Scale Utilization and Development of Natural Resources.

The right of citizens to engage in the small-scale utilization and development of natural resources, as well as cooperative fish farming, with priority to the right of the subsistence fishermen and fish workers in rivers, lakes, bays, and lagoons as provided in the Local Government Code of 1991 shall not be abridged.

(Note: Senators Rodolfo Biazon and Panfilo Lacson have withdrawn their signatures from the resolution.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Triggering A Crisis: The BJE Land Grab

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is back from the Games and so it is most likely that as she scans the ’sunrise news and opinion summary’ prepared by the Office of the Press Secretary the chief executive will confirm what she already has a sinking feeling of: a maelstrom has erupted over the piecemeal revelations about the details of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity Deal.
Of course chief palace spokesma, Secretary Jesus Dureza, erstwhile pointman for the Mindanao peace negotiations has facetisoudly dismissed the criticisms about the MoA-AD as “noise..”
“The President has approved the way forward and there’s no question about it. If she has the political will to do it she has to muster political will in spite of all these noises.”
It may be that indeed there is political will, but is there a mandate from the Filipino people to proceed with what highly respected news analyst Amando Doronila calls a “begotiated land grab:
“If the MOA had not been revealed in time, no one would have had the slightest idea that the area awarded by the memorandum to the expanded homeland represented the biggest negotiated land grab of national territory to a separatist group in the country’s history.”
Doronila further says:
“The unrest unleashed by the MOA over the territorial grab, the grant of sweeping powers that have the main elements of a sovereign state outside the compass of the Philippine Constitution has undermined the capacity of the Arroyo administration to deliver a peace pact.”
Former constitutional commissioner, Father Joaquin Bernas, for his part, has finally weighed in with a deeper insight beyond the earlier report remark of his that the MoA-AD was “just a piece of paper.”
Now Bernas properly chastises the government of the day from failing to directly mention the fundamental law, the Constitution, in the MoA-AD:
Toward the end of the document I find this passage: “Any provisions of the MOA on Ancestral Domain requiring amendments to the existing legal framework shall come into force upon the signing of a comprehensive compact and upon effecting the necessary changes to the legal framework with due regard to non derogation of prior agreements and within the stipulated timeframe contained in the comprehensive compact.”
The paragraph is highly loaded and will need a lot of exegesis. I take it that the “legal framework” referred to are the existing Organic Act and the 1987 Constitution, but for some reason the document is reluctant to even mention the Constitution. Which is being given greater weight, the “legal framework” or the “comprehensive compact” or the “prior agreements”?
Add to what Malacanang calls “noises” , two senators, the Liberal Party’s presdent and presumptive standard bearer in the 2010 elections, Senator Mar Roxas and former senate president Franklin Drilon are both asking that they be allowed to participate in Friday’s oral arguments at the Supreme Court’s en banc session.
The two gentlemen are denouncing the MoA-AD as a “dangerous precedent” (Drilon) and “traitorous product of coercion and deceit” (Roxas).
In the meantime, yesterday the MILF attacked and briefly took over Tipo-tipo Basilan before being forces to withdraw.
But this was clearly an ominous sign of the rebels’ readiness to open up another front line in the worsening situation, with the flashpoint in Midsayap, North Cotabato still smouldering.
There is now undeniably a refugee crisis that is developing with the civilian evacuees rising to some 130,000.
Now tell us, is this simply “noise”?

Trigerring A Cris

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Bangsamoro Juridical Entity MoA: High Crime?

With the fighting having erupted over the weekend in North Cotabato, the need for a resolution of the constitutionality of the disputed, and TRO’d, Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain between the Arroyo Regime and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has taken on a truly urgent nature.

Four days from now the Supreme Court will convene in full to hear the oral arguments of the petitioners against the MoA-AD led by local officials of North Cotabato and Zamboanga City (possibly joined by Senator Roxas who is filing a motion to intervene today) and the reply from government as represented by Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera, armed presumably with the inputs from the negotiating panel of Malacanang, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales, and presidential legal adviser Sergio Apostol.

Last week legal eagles like retired Justice Isagani Cruz and Dean Raul Pangalangan also detailed their reservations against the MoA-AD.

I do not know if the two gentlemen will be asked by the Supreme Court to submit briefs and appear as amicus curiae on the 15th of August but we do pray their views will also get factored into the raging national debate.

This writer is not a lawyer. But I am a Filipino and a taxpayer so I hope I am equally entitled to say how I feel.

I think Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is about to commit or may have already committed treason against the Republic.

May I also now share here the points related to me by former U.P. College of Law dean and former undersecretary of foreign affairs Merlin Magallona yesterday. His points:

“1. The MoA-AD, as drafted and initialed by the members of the Philippine side and concurred to by their MILF counterparts and a Malaysian government representative standing as ‘mediator’ is in complete derogation of constitutionalism;

2. The Executive, acting through the Peace Panel, is way in gross trespass of the separation of powers;

3. Acts executed against the provisions of mandatory and prohibitory laws are void except when the law itself authorizes their validity;

4. Power and authority in the MoA-AD are way out of constitutional limitations with the Executive having exercised authority not defined by the fundamental law;

5. The MoA-AD was initiated by foreign interests;

6.The Bangsamoro Juridical Entity is not a person in law and has no juridical capacity to act;

7. The MoA-AD involves the abdication of sovereign powers;

8. The sovereignty question is not a matter for a plebiscite as it in itself is a question of constitutionality;

9. The plan is premised on the Bangsamoro’s ‘reversion’ to a supposed sovereign state antedating the Republic;

10. Charter change being mentioned as necessary for the MoA to be implemented seeks, in reality, to remove the nationality requirement in the exploitation of natural resources.

The ten points laid down, its was also noted in this writer’s extended interview that it may be that the quid pro qu in the proposed peace pact with the MILF is not simply the issue of ancestral domain, but actually control of the reputed huge reservoir of natural gas deep in the Cotabato Liguasan marsh plus the territorial waters within the expanse of the expanded ARMM that will constitute the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity.


Monday, August 4, 2008

The ‘GRP’-MILF Draft MoA: Designed To Fail?

The Supreme Court, as the headlines this morning announce, issued a temporary restraining order on that Bangsamoro ancestral domain agreement between the Arroyo government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

But as this writer reported at and in my main blog at, the MILF ’scooped’ the Supreme Court TRO hours before it came out by announcing a later date, August 25, for the signing of the agreement.

A close reading of the subsequent details in the converging stories wil show that the Supreme Court set the oral arguments for the case filed by the local officials of North Cotabato and Zamboanga City for the 15th of the months, a full ten days before the MILF’s adjusted date.

This ‘coincidence’ clearly allocates a full ten days more before the de facto deadline of August 25, breathing space enough for both the Supreme Court to either junk or allow the agreement (an extreme likelihood) and for the government of the day to ‘calm the fears of and win over’ the MoA’s oppositors.

A ‘cooling down period’, in a manner of speaking, right?

But as Makati congressman and lawyer-journalist Teodoro Locsin clearly puts it: “It is the formal and voluntary dismemberment of the Republic,”

Mon Casiple, Executive Director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform (IPER) elaborates:“Based on the few precious details available, the scope of authority of the BJE seems to approximate–if not the same as–the authority of a local state in a federal state system. If so, what is going to be signed on August 5 will be beyond the autonomy mandated by the 1987 constitution.

The constitution speaks of a national state territory including all those mentioned in the agreement. It also speaks of a unified armed forces and police force. Further, it specifically defines autonomy as the only possible framework for Muslim Mindanao and prohibits any delegation of state authority outside of the constitution.

Article XII, Section 2 also stipulates that, “All lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum, and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, fisheries, forests or timber, wildlife, flora and fauna, and other natural resources are owned by the State. With the exception of agricultural lands, all other natural resources shall not be alienated. The exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources shall be under the full control and supervision of the State.”

The political question that arises on August 5 is: Where did the President and her negotiators got their authority to promise what they cannot give?’

“If what they are thinking of doing is to change the 1987 constitution in order to shift the Philippine state from its current unitary system (albeit recognizing local autonomy) to a federal state system with local states, then they are putting the cart before the horse. They should do this before negotiating on a federal framework for the peace process.

Otherwise, they open themselves to the charge of treason based on the dismemberment of the Philippine State and to accusation of acceding to an agreement in bad faith–when they do not have the constitutional mandate for their negotiating position and their signature on the eventual agreement.”

Finally, the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s John Nery gives us a very clear reading:

‘”… my impression after two readings of the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s copy of the draft MOA is that the basic framework is actually not the government’s, but the MILF’s.”

And behind all these, could there be method in the mafness now unfolding, could it be that the agreement was designed to be un-implementable?

Is it doomed to fail, as least within the remaining lifespan of the current administration?

This, in my view, can be gleaned from the indicative time line for the establishment of the so-called Bsangsamoro Juridical Entity which Manolo Quezon (MLQ3) posted in his Daily Dose last night, with the graphics from Mon Casiple as reportedly prepared by a member of the GRP team.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The ‘Bangsamoro Juridical Entity’: Road To A Republic’s Dismemberment

With 20 months left in her ‘disputed’ presidency and eager to eave a ‘historical legacy’ Filipinos will remember and supposedlt derive lasting benefits from Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyob is embarking on a bold but totally dangerous path that could prove fatal to the Republic: the establishment, the carving out of what is being called a ‘Bangsamoro Juridical Entity.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer in a bylined report written by Fe Zamora reports:

“Bangsomoro to get own state

Gov’t, MILF to sign ancestral domain pact Tuesday

By Fe Zamora
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: August 02, 2008

PRACTICALLY A NEW STATE WITH “A DEFINED TERRITORY” and “a system of governance suitable and acceptable to [the Bangsamoro] as a distinct dominant people” will be established in Mindanao under the proposed Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on Ancestral Domain between the Philippine government and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Under the proposed agreement, which is scheduled to be signed on Tuesday, the planned Bangsamoro homeland will have its own “basic law,” its own police and internal security force, and its own system of banking and finance, civil service, education and legislative and electoral institutions, as well as full authority to develop and dispose of minerals and other natural resources within its territory.

Copies of the draft MOA were distributed to retired generals during a forum on July 24 in Camp Aguinaldo, where Hermogenes Esperon, President Macapagal-Arroyo’s adviser on the peace process, was the guest of honor. The Inquirer obtained a copy.

But Inquirer sources privy to the peace process said the proposed agreement with the MILF would require amending the Constitution.

They said its provisions on territory and governance would require amendments to the “existing legal framework” and a plebiscite in areas to be included as part of the Bangsamoro homeland.

The proposed homeland will be governed by the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE), which will have authority to send trade missions to and enter into economic cooperation agreements with other countries provided it does not include aggression against the Philippine government, and send representatives to the Association of Southeast Nations as well as agencies of the United Nations.

Described as a “landmark deal,” the proposed MOA will pave the way for the crafting of a “comprehensive compact” seen to finally end the 40-year, on-and-off Moro armed struggle in Mindanao.

The conflict has left 120,000 dead despite the signing of a peace agreement between the government and another separatist group, the Moro National Liberation Front, in 1996.

Ultimate objective

According to the proposed MOA, the “ultimate objective of entrenching the Bangsamoro homeland as a territorial space” is to “secure [the Bangsamoro’s] identity and posterity, protect their property rights and resources, as well as establish a system of governance suitable and acceptable to them as a distinct dominant people.”

The proposed homeland will include the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Sulu, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan and Marawi City); the municipalities of Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangkal in Lanao del Norte; and hundreds of barangays in the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato, which voted to become part of the ARMM in 2001.

The proposed MOA also provides for the inclusion of the Bangsamoro’s “ancestral domain” in Mindanao, Palawan and Sulu.


“Ancestral domain” and “ancestral land” are defined in the proposed agreement as land “held under claim of ownership, occupied or possessed, by themselves or through the ancestors of the Bangsamoro people, communally or individually since time immemorial continuously to the present, except when prevented by war, civil disturbance, force majeure or other forms of possible usurpation or displacement by force, deceit, stealth or as a consequence of a government project or any other voluntary dealings entered into by the government and private individuals, corporate entities or institutions.”

“The ‘Bangsamoro homeland’ and ‘historic territory’ refer to the land mass as well as the maritime, terrestrial, fluvial and alluvial domains, and the aerial domain, the atmospheric space above it, embracing the Mindanao-Sulu-Palawan region,” according to the proposed agreement.

It also states: “It is the birthright of all Moros and all indigenous peoples of Mindanao to identify themselves and be accepted as ’Bangsamoro.’ The ‘Bangsamoro people’ refers to those who are natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and its adjacent islands including Palawan and the Sulu archipelago at the time of conquest or colonization of their descendants, whether mixed or of full native blood. Spouses and their descendants are classified as Bangsamoro. The freedom of choice of the indigenous people shall be respected.”

Shared authority

Per the proposed agreement, the government — referred to in the document as the “Central Government” — and the BJE are to exercise “shared authority and responsibility” over the Bangsamoro homeland.

The details of the structure of shared governance will be defined in the “comprehensive compact.”

A multinational third party will be jointly invited by the government and the BJE to observe and monitor the actual implementation of the “comprehensive compact.”

The other salient points of the proposed MOA are:

Internal waters extending to 15 kilometers from the coastline belong to the BJE. Waters beyond the 15-km limit belong to both the government and the BJE.

The government and the BJE will share all natural resources such as gas, hydrocarbon, petroleum, etc.

The BJE has the sole power to revoke or grant forest concessions and enact agrarian laws, and to explore or obtain minerals, oil, natural gas, petroleum, etc. within its territory.

Stalled peace talks

Peace negotiations between the government and the MILF have been stalled on the contentious issue of ancestral domain since December 2007.

Only on July 25, informal talks aimed at getting the peace negotiations back on track broke down in Kuala Lumpur, with the MILF panel accusing the other side of trying to “undo” provisions in the “breakthrough” agreement forged on July 16.

The MILF said the meeting had been intended to finalize the text of the draft agreement on ancestral domain, but that the government panel led by retired general Rodolfo Garcia wanted certain settled issues reopened.

Stumbling blocks hurdled

But both Garcia and Press Secretary Jesus Dureza, himself a peace negotiator with the separatist rebels for more than 10 years, expressed optimism that the stumbling blocks would be hurdled and the peace process would go forward.

Indeed, on July 27, the government and MILF panels led by Garcia and Mohagher Iqbal, respectively, initialed the final draft of the agreement on ancestral domain, according to Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.

“This will lead to the signing of the MOA on ancestral domain on Aug. 5,” Ermita said.”

This story breaking out on a Sunday will likely catch by surpise even the critics of the government of the day so I’ll delay any extended analysis until I am able pending consult more knowledgeable sources but this early it is abundantly clear to this writer that:

1) Palawan is being included in the Bangsamoro entity;

2) That entity is being given its own ‘basic law’, meaning a constitution;

3) It will be allowed to set up its own armed forces with delineated territorial limits.

This is a de facto separation of that southern section of what the governments touts as “a strong republic.

Absent any law on the introduction of a fderal system and absent any amendment of the 1986 Constitution, GMA is embarking on a path to dismember the Republic of the Philippines.

Postscripts to An Encounter With Mar Roxas


Blogger ‘marocharim’ was also and encounter and I missed his exchange with Senator Mar about Dark Knight and Mar’s responses were gems given the duality or multi-faced ‘balimbing’ character of many Filipino politicians:

“I’m not a very political blogger (and if that was a lie, let lightning strike me), and I sort of got confused with all that had to do with my question about E-VAT. My theory is that a lot of politicians can answer a VAT question unfazed. So I decided to ask the Senator a “cute” question (as Ma’am Noemi puts it)…

Sir, you watched The Dark Knight, right? Who would you want to have dinner with: Joker, Two-Face, or Batman?

Now let me just say that this is not a profound philosophical question, I just wanted to know his answer…

I’d really like to talk to Two-Face and ask… “What happened to you?”

Marochim also reports this important angle that I missed:

“It was also the launch of, which is a virtual form of EDSA where you can speak your mind about issues like VAT.”

Excerpted from

Second Postscript:

A quick peek at that site at 4:10 am Manila time today the 2nd of August shows 39 rally participants, about two-thirds a bus-load so the govrrnment will not yet be fielding its own ‘virtual’ anti civil disturbance unit’ much less shout virtual ‘destabilization.

At this very early phase of this look like a potentially ground-shifting e-nnovation to the blogswarm mechanism. But note who is portrayed in the slightly bigger avatar among the rally ‘participants.

An Encounter With Mar Roxas

Further to my earlier post, the encounter with Filipino bloggers Senator Mar Roxas had yesterday gave me the distinct sense that this was a different Mar from the one this writer met, and had the honor to work with, when he was secretary of trade and industry serving President Arroyo in the immediate post EDSA 2 years.

Here was a man still cautious with his words but certainly more certain about his conviction that reforms must come now and be made to grow deep roots if the Philippines is to get out of the ecomic, and political, morass it is stuck in.

Here was a Mar Roxas ready to seek the highest office of the land wearing not rose-colored glasses but with eyes that have seen and continues to see the mass povery that stalks the land, even as there are Filipinos who can afford to buy, and drive Benzes and gas-guzzling Ford Expeditions for 3 to 5M a pop.

Truly “a statement about the wide gap between rich and poor Filipinos.” which he said makes him ask “just what does GMA have to show for the yearly national budget of one trillion pesos her government has spent since 2001 since she first took power?”

Through the more that two hours he spent yesterday with the bloggers, Mar showed himself to be a ‘listening’ politician, taking notes as he heard how Filipinos are harnessing blogging to share information and distill their aspirations as a people, regardless of where the politicians are taking Philippine society.

To be sure Mar will have to bring his message out more and he apparently recognizes the awesome power of new media.

Mar is launching his own blog. His handlers promise the blog will try to remain current and responsive with Mar himself, time permitting, doing the actual posts along with special contributors who reflect his thinking and positions on issues.

And as Mar, we hope, learned from yesterday’s session, he will come under closer scutiny once he joins blogosphere with his eye on 2010.

(Among those present at the session with Senator Mar were contributors from and ScoutAreaOnline (represented by senior writer Paolo Florenda) plus personalities like Ellen Tordesillas, Manuel Quezon III, Ricky Carandang, Noemi Dado, Gail Villanueva, Lester Cavestany, and the-jester-in-exile.)

Friday, August 1, 2008

Mar Roxas Asks: What Do We Have To Show For P7-Trillion?

Wasn’t able to stay for dinner with the other bloggers presumptive presidential candidate Mar Roxas had last night at Annabel’s in Quezon City.

But the initial 90 minutes with the good senator over peanuts, kropek and light beverages was enough for him to share with us his take on where the Philippines has been these past 7 years with Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at the helm and his take views on recent events.

Am still chewing on my notes so am sharing these initial bullets:

* Mar asks what the government of the day has to show for the 7 trllion pesos it has spent these last 7 years( give or take ’systems losses from graft and the generous 500,000-a-pop ‘gifts’ to palace visitors);
* Mar proposes the establishment of a ‘People’s Fund’ within the national budget where there will be a clear itemization of moneys to be allocated, and spent, on contingent events;
* Mar will vigorously pursue his call for E-VAT’s reform;
* Mar questions the wisdom of Romulo Neri’s selection as ’super secretary’ and points out the it is not the mandate of the Social Security System to be lumped among the government’s so-called pro-poor agencies.
* Mar points out the the SSS is the pension fun of its 24-million-plus private sector employee members and Neri’s legal responsibility, assuming he understands it, is to make that pension fund grow;
* Mar understands that Filipinos are looking for change they can believe in (my paraphrase);
* Mar believes the next 20 months can and should devoted to lay down the blueprint for the reforms necessary all within the framework of the Constitution.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


The fire threatening to gut the Court of Appeals appears to have become a bigger conflagration.

Now the so-called 'mystery man' has come out.

Mr. Francis Roa De Borja confirms he spoke to Justice Jose Sabio. De Borja makes no categorical denial he had offered the justice a P10-bribe in exchange for Sabio to inhibit himself in the court's deliberations on the temporary restraining order stopping the Securities and Exchange Commission order to halt the MERALCO board elections.

But he reveals a disturbing twist: He claims Justice Sabio told him the government had also offered him "blandishments" to favor Winston Garcia and the GSIS, including elevation to the Supreme Court.

Garcia has issued a quick denial on the matter.

But taking the scandal in the context of an earlier June 28 Philippine Daily Inquirer piece written by Gerry Lirio:

The bigger equally disturbing picture that emerges is that two divisions of the Court of Appeals had actually been jostling with each other to decide on the case and that early on presiding justice Conrado Vasquez's intervention was sought by his colleagues.

The insightful PDI report says, in part, "

“The decision issued by the 8th Division of the Court of Appeals last week is not likely to settle the controversy between the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) over the election recently of the utility’s directors.

On the contrary, the decision has reportedly triggered an internal protest by justices belonging to another appellate court division, who claimed jurisdiction over the case and questioned why it was “hurriedly” removed from their sala, according to documents obtained by the Philippine Daily Inquirer Sunday.

The 8th Division on July 23 had voided the order issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) stopping and invalidating the Meralco elections on May 27, which was won by nominees of the Lopez family which controls the company.

The order, released to the press the following day, was signed by the division’s head, Justice Bienvenido Reyes, and its two members—ponente Justice Vicente Roxas and Justice Apolinario Bruselas Jr.

The GSIS, led by its president and general manager Winston Garcia, had challenged the Lopez family’s leadership of Meralco and sought the SEC’s intervention. Garcia demanded the validation of all the 4,483 Meralco proxies before voting could be allowed.

In its decision, however, the 8th Division ruled that the SEC had no jurisdiction over the case filed by the GSIS against Meralco, and that a regional trial court was the proper venue for controversies over elections in corporations.

The decision triggered scathing remarks from Justice Myrna Dimaranan Vidal, a member of the Special 9th Division, who said the 8th Division was not the proper body to rule on the GSIS-Meralco row.

In a letter to Presiding Justice Conrado Vasquez Jr. dated July 24, Vidal questioned the decision of the Reyes-led division. How could the 8th Division issue an order “much to her regret and consternation” when it was the 9th that had been hearing the complaint of alleged irregularities in the Meralco election, she said.

It was also the 9th Division that issued the temporary restraining order (TRO) on the SEC order to Meralco on May 30, she said.

Her “deepest regret,” she wrote, was that she had already signed a similar decision for the 9th Division, but the three justices of the 8th Division did not even bother to inform her “as a judicial courtesy at least” of her “hurried” removal from the case.

Aside from Vidal, the other members of the 9th Division are Justice Jose Sabio, chair, and, curiously, Roxas, who was also the ponente of the case.

“Under what basis was the case suddenly transferred to the 8th Division, and why was it that neither the undersigned nor the acting chair, Justice Sabio, of the Special 9th Division were not consulted thereof? And foremost, what happened to the decision which the undersigned signed after devoting her precious time and effort in carefully and laboriously examining the voluminous records of the case?” Vidal asked.

Sabio is expected to write a similar letter to Vasquez, according to CA sources.

Sabio’s division was called a special division because it was the result of the reorganization of the 23-division, 64-justice appellate court.

Available records do not show that either Reyes or Bruselas heard the arguments in the case, a source in the court claimed.

Even before the 8th Division promulgated its decision, both Reyes and Roxas were at a loss as to their jurisdiction over the GSIS-Meralco conflict. They wrote separate letters asking Vasquez to settle the issue.

Roxas sent his letter to Vasquez on July 21 while Reyes sent his on July 22, a day before the ruling was promulgated.

Vasquez replied in a letter dated July 24, saying he initially had doubts about his authority in the matter, but in as much as both Reyes and Roxas had sought his legal opinion, he was constrained to express that he “sincerely believed” that it was the Special 9th Division which issued the TRO and had been hearing the case that should rule on the case.

“With this opinion, it is sincerely hoped that the present predicament/controversy will be laid to rest, and whomsoever is dissatisfied with its outcome may elevate the matter to the Supreme Court, for final disposition,” he said in the letter, a copy of which was seen by the Inquirer.”

Justice Vasquez apparently failed to sort out his cooleagues' squabble in time,

The scandal that has broken out is rocking the Court of Appeals to its very foundations and the onus is on the Supreme Court now to sort out this thoroughly sordid mess.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Lopez-Arroyo Faceoff

The images speak for themselves with current Lopez clan patriarch Oscar Lopez now appearing to have taken off his gloves, directly comparing the rule of GMA to FM.

When martial was declared, as forewarned by the Philippines Free Press, then Lopez clan head Geny Lopez was thrown into jail and the Lopez media assets were seized along with MERALCO.

Quoted here, in full, is the 1971 Philippines Free Press report with the publication then under the editorship of Teodoro Locsin, Sr. that recorded for history the earlier face-off the Lopezes had with the government of the day 37 years ago.

“January 23, 1971

Political War and Martial Law?

FIRST, it was the Catholic Church that the Marcos Administration speaking through its propaganda organ, Government Report, accused of being “the single biggest obstacle to progress in the country,” just because the Catholic hierarchy would not cooperate with Malacañang in its plan to make the visiting Pope Paul VI a kid of PRO for the social welfare projects of the First Lady.

Then, it was the turn of the private press to be accused of standing between the government and the best interests of the people—by blackmailing poor President Marcos, or trying to, anyway, into going against those interests.

Then it was the turn of Meralco, or, to be precise, Eugenio Lopez, Sr., Eugenio Lopez, Jr., and, because of his relationship with them, Vice-Pres. Fernando Lopez, to be accused of “undermining the best interests of the nation.”

Who’s next?

In a speech before the first national convention of the Philippine Congress of Trade Unions, President Marcos accused “the powers who are in control of some of the media” of trying to blackmail him into betraying the public trust.

“You cannot perhaps know the pressures that the President is subjected to,” he said, “the coercion, the intimidation. Some time ago, I received a message which indicated the sickness of our society—to the effect that if I did not approve a certain favor I would be attacked in the newspapers. My immediate reaction was: go right ahead and attack me. That is your privilege but I am going to judge these questionable transactions on the basis of their merits, not on anything else. I have decided, I said, that in 1973 I’ll retire from politics. That is my wish, that is my hope, and nobody is going to intimidate me in any way.”

President Marcos pleaded for help from the “great mass of our people” while promising to do all he could to better their lives.

Then, last Wednesday night, after government forces shot to death four and seriously injured or caused serious injury to many during what started as a peaceful demonstration of students and jeepney drivers, President Marcos warned that he might be forced to use his powers to declare martial law and suspend the writ of habeas corpus if present disorders worsened while lashing out at “a particular pressure group” which he accused of inciting them to further passion.” The President said there were reports that the “pressure group” was financing the jeepney strikers as well as inciting them to violence.

On the other hand, he said, “I do not wish to believe this report,” and on the other, he said, “it is written and signed by responsible agents of our government.”

(Was it the same “responsible agents of our government” that told Malacañang that it was the American Central Intelligence Agency that was behind the recent troubles of the FREE PRESS and the President, in the first case, instigating the labor dispute—so a high Malacañang personage told the FREE PRESS editor—and, in the second case, planting Dovie Beams to smear the President and afterward oust him from the power as it did the corrupt Egyptian ruler Farouk?)

President Marcos went on:

“For and in behalf of the Filipino people, I appeal for sobriety. I beg on my bended knees that no man or group of men seek to inflame our people. Violence will not solve our problems. It will not solve our problems. It will not in any way help our country, it will not resolve any conflict.

He said that “this government under my leadership will never utilize the power, the latent, capable power that is in its hands to destroy any legitimate strike, nor to deprive the people of their liberties.”

“This should not be taken as a sign of weakness,” he said.

“There have been some talk about the President becoming soft and weak, supine and submitting and humiliating himself before the drivers.

“I do not look at it this way,” he said. “I look at it as a consultation with the people from whom my power comes. I consult with them because it is necessary that they know what the consequences are of their actions.

“I have not grown weak,” he said. “Rather, I have grown cautious and prudent because if violence continues, if there should be massive sabotage, if theirs should be terrorism, if there is assassination, I will have no other alternative but to utilize the extraordinary powers granted me by our Constitution.

“These powers are the power to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus under which any man can be arrested and detained for any length of time; and the power to declare any part or the whole of the Philippines under martial law.

“These powers I do not wish to utilize, and it is for this reason that I appeal to our people tonight.

“I do not do so for myself,” he said. “I do not say, ‘do not criticize me.’ I welcome criticism. But such things like ‘let us kill Marcos,’ or ‘let us fight in the hills,’ ‘mount a revolution’ is not going to help anyone, not even the press. . . .

“Yesterday there was a gathering of publishers called by a pressure group and they demanded that there be a pooled editorial to call Marcos all kinds of names.

“Now how will that help our people? How will it help solve our conflict? The pooled editorial is supposed to incite and inflame the people to further passion.

“I do not say anything except to appeal to them. Let the fight be between us, but do not involve our people. If the pressure groups have been hurt because I say that I will no longer compromise with them and I will stand for the welfare of our people, if in the past there had been compromises, now I will no longer allow it.

“I will not tolerate it. It is about time that we did this, and it is about time the President took the lead. I am taking the lead now.

“However much you may try to humiliate me, I will not knuckle down. I will stand by the people. But I appeal to you, please don’t bring down the house in flames. Please do not use violence to attain your end.”

The next day, Vice-Pres. Fernando Lopez resigned from the cabinet of President Marcos in which he held the post of Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources. (Under him the department earned the designation by the FREE PRESS of “Government Department of the Year 1970.”) The Vice-President said that he had tendered his resignation as early as December last year and that he had gone to President Marcos to reiterate his offer of resignation.

The President accepted the Vice-President’s resignation from his cabinet.

Here is President Marcos’s letter accepting the Lopez resignation:

“It is with deep regret that I received your offer to resign from your position as Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources. It is with even deeper regret that, in view of developments over the recent past, I must now accept your resignation.

“I assure you there is nothing personal in my acceptance of your resignation. You and I have been in the best relations. But your position in the cabinet has now become untenable in view of your relationship with the financial and political interests that I have identified as constituting a pressure group intent upon the destruction of my development program.

“I have given you more responsibility and invested your office with more prestige than any Vice-President notwithstanding the fact that the media controlled by the Lopez interests were vicious and malicious in their attacks against my person—with the obvious aim of discrediting the government in the eyes of the people, and thus undermining the best interests of the nation.

“While you were a member of my cabinet, the Lopez interests, specifically Mr. Eugenio Lopez, Sr., and Mr. Eugenio Lopez, Jr., were engaged in fomenting unrest and inciting the already militant and impassioned groups who advocate anarchy and assassination. The media controlled by the Lopez interests are still engaged in this, have in fact intensified their campaign against me, notwithstanding the fact that you once assured me of continued amity and cooperation.

“I have begged for unity in the political leadership, knowing that this is demanded by the times and expected by our people. However, the Lopezes have seen fit to make an issue of my refusal to approve their project for the establishment of a lubricating oil factory, a petrochemical complex, the purchase of the Caltex, and the use of the Laguna de Bay development project for reclamation of areas to be utilized for an industrial complex. There are many and varied favors, concessions and privileges which I am expected to extend to this group, but which I have not.

“As I have previously said, the pressure group I have identified is intent upon maligning my Administration and, by means of propaganda and various maneuvers, has sought to undermine public confidence in the government under my stewardship. These designs of this pressure group, according to very reliable information, took a particularly insidious form in the incitement and support it provided to the elements which participated in the violent demonstrations yesterday.

“It is now obvious that this pressure group is not unwilling to employ the most despicable means, including crime and anarchy, to achieve its ends. From our long association, you know, of course, that I have been tolerant of this and other pressure groups in the past—indeed, so tolerant as to give many people the impression that I have succumbed to their devices and manipulations.

“I assure you that I have not succumbed to them. I had merely endeavored to remain as calm, at the same time watchful, as the great responsibilities of my office required.

“You assure me that you cannot continue in your position as Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources while the shadow of doubt and suspicion hangs over you in view of your relationship to one of the pressure groups I have spoken of. I am glad that you realize the difficult and untenable position you are in. While I would have wanted you to continue as a member of my cabinet, I feel on the other hand that the events that will follow and the decisions that I will have to make from here on, possibly affecting the interests and personal fortunes of the pressure groups I have mentioned, could cause personal embarrassment for both of us, and the only way to avoid such embarrassment would be to accept your resignation.

“Finally, I wish to thank you for the assistance you have given my Administration.”

Eugenio Lopez, Jr., president of the Philippine Petroleum Corporation, a subsidiary of the Meralco Securities Corporation, said, in so many words, that President Marcos was lying when he said that he, Lopez, Jr., and his father had been exerting pressure on him, the President, particularly in the case of the lubricating oil refinery in Sucat, Muntinglupa, Rizal.

As reported by the Manila Chronicle:

“The PPC president said that the PPC had been duly granted authority to construct and operate a lubricating oil refinery by the Board of Investment on September 8, 1969, in a letter signed by then BOI Chairman Cesar Virata.

“The MSC applied to the BOI for authority to construct and operate a lubricating oil refinery on May 2, 1969, in response to a publication on April 9, 1969, of the second Investment Priorities Plan.

“The Central Bank of the Philippines, after ascertaining the economic viability of the project, approved PPC’s request to proceed with the acquisition of necessary foreign loans to finance the project.

“One of two unsuccessful applicants who applied for the authority to construct and operate a lubricating oil refinery questioned the BOI award to PPC.

“The National Economic Council conducted hearings on PPC’s application, after which it confirmed and approved PPC’s application on its merits.

“Lopez, Jr., said that on August 18, 1970, the Laguna Lake Development Authority in a letter signed by its general manager, advised the PPC that the area whereon PPC wished to construct the refinery ‘will be reclaimed by the Authority, and the Authority’s Board has approved a resolution for this purpose.’ The letter, he said, further stated that the PPC ‘may locate, install and operate your lubricating oil refinery on the land which will be reclaimed by the Authority.’

“Based on this letter, PPC purchased in October last year the necessary land on the lake front wherein the reclamation would be undertaken, he said.

“The memorandum-agreement to that effect, he also said, was signed between the LLDA and the PPC on Sept. 1, 1970. The two parties agreed that up to 24 hectares of land at Barrio Sucat, Muntinglupa, would be reclaimed for the PPC plant’s site.

“He said that prior to undertaking reclamation of the proposed site of the refinery, the Laguna Lake Development Authority coursed an implementation letter to the President of the Philippines. The letter was routed through the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Presidential Economic Staff and the Malacañang Legal Staff.

“All of these offices favorably endorsed approval of the order, Lopez, Jr., said.

“In other words, he said, it was only the approval of President Marcos for the Laguna Lake Development Authority to proceed with the reclamation of the proposed site of the oil lubricating refinery that was being awaited.

“Considerable expense has been made in various works preparatory to the construction of the refinery, it was learned.

“According to Lopez, Jr., the lubricating oil refinery when in full operation will not only earn dollars but will also allow the Philippines to net foreign exchange savings of up to $13 million annually or up to $35,000 a day.

“The Export-Import Bank of Washington, D.C., on December 30 last year approved financing for the PPC refinery in the amount of $15.5 million, Lopez, Jr., said.

“Also on January 5, 1970, the International Finance Corporation, an affiliate of the World Bank, approved financing for the construction of the PPC refinery in the same amount of $6.2 million and on the basis of the merit of the project agreed to purchase equity in the refinery in the amount of $1.8 million thereby providing financing totaling $8 million, Lopez, Jr., added.”


Leaders of the striking jeepney drivers said that “there was no truth to President Marcos’s charge that the demonstration which turned violent later in the day was financially supported by Vice-Pres. Fernando Lopez and his brother.”

One of the leaders said:

“I boil when people ask me about this report. There is no truth to that charge.”

Another leader of the striking jeepney drivers said:

“The Lopez brothers have not helped the striking drivers and the same is true with the members of the so-called vested interest group.”

One of the leaders of the student activists, Chito Sta. Romana of the Movement for a Democratic Philippines, said that his group did not know of anyone belonging to “the so-called pressure group responsible for Wednesday’s rally.”

Raul Manglapus, president of the Christian Social Movement, said the Filipino people “are waiting for the President to muster for himself the courage to take firm steps to restore popular confidence in his leadership. . . Our country is fast moving into a state of anarchy, disintegration and despair. Most of this condition comes from a deep and rampant popular distrust in the word and in the action of the President.”

Nacionalista Rep. Antonio M. Diaz from Zambales said the greatest single factor plaguing the nation today is “loss of confidence in the leadership in all branches of government,” and, he went on, “unless faith in our leadership is restored, the anger of our people cannot be assuaged.”

Liberal Rep. Ramon V. Mitra from Palawan said:

“By using violence against unarmed citizens ventilating the ills and problems of present-day society, the Marcos Administration is stifling the voice of the people crying for much-needed reforms.”

The national president of the Malayang Pagkakaisa ng Kabataang Pilipino (MPKP), Ruben D. Torres, denounced the “renewed threat of President Marcos to impose martial law and suspend the writ of habeas corpus.”

Nacionalista Speaker Jose B. Laurel, Jr., said:

“The Constitution is specific. It allows the President to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or to place the country or any part thereof under martial law only in cases of ‘invasion, insurrection, or rebellion, or imminent danger thereof, when the public safety requires it.’ I do not think any of these circumstances exist at the moment.”

Nacionalista Sen. Jose Diokno proposed that President Marcos and all other elected national officials resign and another election be held in June to determine whether the people still have confidence in them.

Liberal Rep. Jose B. Lingad from Pampanga said that President Marcos should prove his patriotism by resigning from office or at least taking a leave of absence, the people having lost confidence in him.

“If Marcos went through with his threat to lift the writ of habeas corpus or declare martial law,” Lingad went on, “Congress might as well close shop.”

Must the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus be suspended, enabling the President to send to prison or otherwise detain anyone indefinitely? Must 38 million Filipinos be placed—by declaring martial law—under a military dictatorship headed by Ferdinand Marcos?

The demonstrations held so far in the Philippines against the government and the violence that has marked some of them are nothing compared with the violent expressions of protest in the United States. President Nixon has yet to speak of the possibility of suspending the writ of habeas corpus or imposing martial law on the America people. If he were to do so, is there any doubt he would be impeached and ousted from office? Why does President Marcos keep talking of the possibility of suspending the writ or imposing martial law on us? The solution for the problem of social unrest in the Philippines is not suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or the imposition of a military dictatorship on the Filipino people but reform. Regain the confidence of the people. Stop corruption and the waste of the nation’s resources in senseless extravagance. Set a moral example. Be a true President of the Filipino people. Is that too difficult to do?

Must the writ be suspended?

Must there be martial law? “

Court of Appeals Scandal: The Fairest Justice Money Can Buy?

The Court of Appeals (CA) is in crisis. It is holding an emergency session today over the revelation of a bribery attempt in the still simmering GSIS-MERALCO war and the sensational incident at the recent stockholders meeting of the Philippines' largest power distributor.

The GSIS, wielding its 33 percent share of the utility, tried but failed to engineer a management revamp over what the none-too-tactful Winston Garcia claimed was MERALCO bad management which he says "is the cause of high electricity rates."

The Securities and Exchange Commission hastily issued an order to stop the stockholders meeting but MERALCO simply ignore it.

And so the legal battle shifted to the Court of Appeals, the latest episode of which saw the CA voiding the SEC order.

Now the Philippine Daily Inquirer banner story reveals:

"By his own account, a Court of Appeals justice was offered P10 million to inhibit himself from a case that Manila Electric Co. had filed to stop an attempted takeover by the Government Service Insurance System.

The offer was made to him on July 1 through a Makati businessman, Justice Jose Sabio Jr. said in a letter dated July 26 to Presiding Justice Conrado Vasquez Jr., a copy of which was obtained by the Philippine Daily Inquirer Wednesday afternoon.

In an interview Wednesday morning, Sabio said he would hold nothing back in the court’s en banc session scheduled Thursday to discuss the issue of the Meralco case.

Asked if he had informed Presiding Justice Conrado Vasquez about any bribery offer made to him in relation to the case, Sabio replied: “Everything, all details, will be discussed. I can just say, no holds barred. If I’m asked to detail everything, I will. I’ll be honest.”

Sabio and Justice Myrna Dimaranan-Vidal of the appellate court’s former 9th Division had protested the issuance of the decision on the Meralco petition on July 23.

In that decision, the court voided the order of the Securities and Exchange Commission stopping the hotly contested May 27 election of the Meralco board, over which the power firm retained control.

Sabio and Vidal described the circumstances surrounding the decision as “fishy,” adding that they had heard the oral arguments on the case but were not among those who signed the decision.

Those who did sign the decision were Justice Vicente Roxas, the designated ponente, and Justices Bienvenido Reyes and Antonio Bruselas. The three make up the 8th Division, to which Roxas was transferred from the 9th Division, when the case was pending.

According to Sabio, the businessman, whom he has known for some time, requested an urgent meeting and waited to see him until his law classes ended at 8 p.m. on July 1.

“It turned out that he was brokering for Meralco,” Sabio said."

This scandal comes just a day after the remark of Mr. Oscar Lopez that "it is as if Marcos had not left," and that the government's target "is not really MERALCO but ABS-CBN."

Coffee shop talk around Manila is describing the statement of Lopez as just short of a declaration of war against President Arroyo who has 20 months left in her term.

The Court of Appeals becoming embroiled in the controversy adds the dimension of how the integrity of judiciary is perceived to have been damaged in recent years over politically-colored appointments and of decisions being written not by judges and justices but by the verr law firms of powerful litigants.

The situation is such that the quality of court decisions has even been described as "the fairest justice money can buy" with the alleged practices reaching all the way up to the Court of Appeals.

Now the cover has been blown.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Mindanao: The Government's Carrot VS The MILF's Stick

Rushing to catch President Arroyo's State of the Nation Address this afternoon, Philippine government negotiators (according to late Sunday night news dispatches from Kuala Lumpur from both the Associated Press and Reuters) appear to have resuscitated the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Recently retired armed forces chief of staff Hermogenes Esperon, now the presidential adviser on the peace process announced that government negotiator Rodolfo Garcia signed an agreement with his Moro Islamic Liberation Front counterpart, Mohagher Iqbal, setting the signing early next month of a key accord on ancestral domain.

Earlier late last Friday, the MILF walked out of the peace talks after Manila reportedly hedged on the timetable in the wake of strongly negative reactions to the planned expansion of the autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao.

Now the news reports are saying the expanded ARMM will include 712 villages, subject to the agreement of residents in a plebiscite.

At the weekend, disturbing reports confirmed that MILF forces "went on a rampage in Cotabato, burning 10 houses, wounding three soldiers and causing scores of people to flee.

The military said the rebels "attacked Aleosan town in Cotabato on Saturday, setting fire to 10 houses and firing at the soldiers who rushed to the scene, wounding three of them. A military spokesman said "sporadic fighting raged for most of the day and soldiers were still in defensive positions yesterday."

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. warned the MILF yesterday that hostilities could break out if it fails to control its members.“It’s incumbent upon them … to rein in their people…to prevent the outbreak of hostilities,” Teodoro said.

The MILF decision to stage an attack in Cotabato clearly shows they will not hesitate to restart hostilities while the government has been pressured to flip its hand and offer the ancestral land 'carrot' to rescue the talks in time for the SONA.

These developments bear close scrutiny as the government may have blinked ahead of the August 11 ARMM election, which Manila has also offered to postpone.

The linkage of the postponement at this sensitive point in the government-MILF peace talks is clear.

The matter of expanding the ARMM without amending the organic la,w and the new commitment of an earlier time frame for the plebiscite introduce legal and political issues that government critics are certain to examine in detail in the coming days.

For now, government simply wants to make sure the 'hope for peace' component in GMA's SONA is not disturbed. It will worry about the new issues later.