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.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Filipino ‘TNTs’ In Sabah: Diplomatic Bargaining Chips

The real reason for the intensified expulsion of undocumented Filipinos (TNT’s or Tago-Ng-Tago) in the disputed territory of Sabah, which has been under formal Malaysia control since 1963, has finally been admitted in a tangential way by Malacanang.

A report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer quotes presidential alter ego or ‘little president’ Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita as saying, “you can’t disregard the Sabah issue, but we can’t connect all these issues at once. Otherwise the goodwill that we have with the other country will be lost.”

Mr. Ermita made the remark in the context of the latest round of talks between Manila and Kuala Lumpur (actually the 5th RP-Malaysia Working Group on Migrant Workers held against the backdrop of the expulsion of the latest batch of Filipinos from Sabah.

Ermita was careful to say that the dialogue was held “under an atmosphere of common understanding of the need to solve an immediate problem.”

So here, the Philippine official has let the cat out of the bag: the current concern is the manner the Filipino TNTs are being expelled, most after being jailed for months on end.

By that remark, Ermita reveals that Manila is maintaining its policy of putting the Sabah claim of the Philippines in the back-burner, while Malaysia is using the deportations to nudge the Philippines to take action.

This is all too apparent given the conflict reports last week about the heirs of Sultan Jamalul Kiram The First allegedly relinquishing their claim to the territory and denials from other members of the sultanate.

What cannot be denied is that Malaysia has through the year continue to pay the sultanate ‘rent’ on the ‘perpetual lease’ which, as far as the claimants are concerned, has long expired.

Last reports put the annual payment at over P70,000.

So what has really emerged is that the Filipino illegals in Sabah variously estimated at a low of 200,000 to a high of 400,000 or 500,00 are the diplomatic bargaining chips in the long drawn out territorial dispute.

As for the expelled Filipinos, many of them originally from Sulu, they simply will ‘cool their heels’ and venture back to Sabah because “there are no jobs in our home towns, our families no longer want us and while we are discriminated against and even jailed in Sabah we will risk going back because here you cannot eat shame.”

Indeed this human drama will continue with the Philippine government not really willing, much less able, to face the issue squarely.

Both the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives have frozen action of the new Baselines Law. Apparently, low on their list of priorities is the reintegration of our compatriots in Sabah.

If this is not deplorable, and tragic, nothing else is:Filipinos abandoned by their own government and society

Last Supper With The Street Children

The 12 children in the painting are real people the painter, Joey Velasco, discovered in poor areas of Metro Manila and Quezon City.

After treating them to meals, Velasco took their pictures and retreated to his room to start working on the painting.

Velasco said, the children, aged 4-14, reveal a story of a greater hunger than a plate of rice could satisfy.

He said, ”It was they who touched my soul. Through them, God spoke to me and moved me to paint their stories and tell others about their lives.”

The young girl standing at the extreme left, where Judas appears in the da Vinci painting, is 10-year-old Nene.

Velasco met her at the Manila North Cemetery, where she and her family lived as squatters among the graves.

Onse, 9, sits at the table, his plate cleaned to the last crumb, he listens to Jesus to feed his other hungers.

The child, who scavenges with a push cart, has a father addicted to drugs and a mother who works as a strip dancer.

Itok, another scavenger who at 11 is the family breadwinner, sits at the right hand of Jesus.

According to Velasco, Itok spent time in jail after being caught in a number of robberies.

Another child in the painting does not live in Quezon City.

Velasco placed a small Sudanese boy under the table eating the fallen scraps with the cats.

The artist explained, “The skinny child is not one of the hungry kids who roam our busy streets at night. He is “an imaginary symbolic figure” who in the past “had satisfied himself with unnecessary food, (but) now finds himself under the table seeking spiritual crumbs.”

The children featured in the painting are no longer in the areas where Velasco originally found them.

Through his partnership with Gawad Kalinga, an organization dedicated to sheltering the homeless, the 12 children and their families now have homes at Romeo Cabrera Village in Quezon City.

The children’s stories are featured in the book “They Have Jesus: The Stories of the Children of the ‘Hapag.’”

Note: This piece was emailed to At Midfield by Danny Gagelonia, my Kuya

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Voyage of the Dead

It is a full two weeks since the ill-star MV Princess of the Stars fell on its side and ended bottom up some 100 meters from the shoreline of San Fernando, Romblon after being allowed to mistakenly sail into the eye of Typhoon Frank.

The vessel was carrying more than 850 souls en route to Cebu and while it nearly did reach port, its final stopover has become the unintended tomb of the Princess’s passengers and crew.

But in a somewhat macabre show, we are witnessing officials now quibbling over just how much it would cost either the government, Sulpicio Lines, or the boat’s insurers to refloat or tow the ‘Princess before anything is done to extract the highly toxic pesticide, all 10 metric tons of it, from the ship’s bowels plus the vessel’s 250,000 liters of bunker diesel fuel.

Extra care must be taken, we are told, to prevent any further loss of life.

But this writer cannot but ask, how about the dead? Just when and how do we take care of the now heavily decomposing remains of the once vibrantly alive passengers and crew?

Don’t they themselves deserve to be attended to with dispatch so they can be given proper, respectful burials?

How much longer do their mortal remains have to suffer the indignity of being entombed in a ghost ship?

When will the voyage of the dead end?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Hapless Victims Caught Between Finger-Pointers And Pontius Pilates

The immeasurable grief of the families of the dead and missing in the sinking of MV Princess of the Stars is being compounded further with the finger-pointers and modern-day Pontius Pilates now grabbing the media spotlight.

Sulpicio Lines is suing PAGASA for “its erroneous typhoon forecasts” and blaming multinational firm Del Monte for “not disclosing the highly toxic nature of it ‘rush’ shipment of endosulfan. The Department of Agriculture is taking the cudgels for its attached agency, the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority for allowing the continued importation and use of the internationally-banned pesticide.

The FPA says Sulpicio is to blame if the 10 metric tons of endosulfan poisons the waters of Sibuyan Sea and triggers massive fish kills and other dark events.

On its part the Justice Department’s Public Attorneys Office whose boss was refused entry by Sulpicio Lines security guards is threatening to issue a writ of replivin attaching the assets of the shipping company.

All these statements are making headlines as congressional inquiries are being called even while the official Board of Marine Inquiry into the tragedy is still progress.

Quite a circus indeed as the relatives of the victims are left in limbo over the fate of their kin and if relief, and justice, will ever come their way.