Friday, November 12, 2010

The next on the rack: "After 100 years. . .What Next?" by Salvador H.Laurel

This November 29, 2010 marks two momentous events: the 82th birth anniversary of the late Dr. Salvador “Doy” Laurel, Former Vice President of the Republic of the Philippines and the launch of his book, “After 100 Years…WHAT NEXT,” the last on the rack. Ceremonies will be held on November 29, 2010 at 5:00 p.m. at the Turf Room, Manila Polo Club, Makati City.

Here’s a glimpse on “After 100 Years…WHAT NEXT,” culled from the Prologue written by Celia Diaz Laurel:

Doy wrote “After 100 Years…WHAT NEXT” in 1999 after his term as Chairman of the Philippine Centennial Commission came to an end.

The gestation of this book – WHAT NEXT – was however interrupted by the making of two other books “China Update ...2000”,published on September 2000 and “Through Ordeal And Turmoil” which was published in 2002.

A scrupulous critic of his own works he had scribbled many marginal notes on the manuscript which he laid on his desk ready for printing.
Everything came to a halt when he was suddenly taken ill and had to be flown to Stanford, California for treatment. After two months of countless tests he was finally diagnosed to have lymphoma and chemotherapy was prescribed.

June 2003 to January of 2004 were painful and agonizing months for Doy and for those who loved him who stood by him as he bravely fought his last battle. He was lucid to the end. His concern for his country was always foremost in his mind.

He took to scribbling little notes on his yellow pad while he was still able to write. One of them read:

"I am reminded not only of the awesome and humbling reality that all you have is your faith in God and your fighting spirit and the love of family and friends, and the continuing concern of what is happening to our country."

The next time I saw the book was after Doy’s final trip home. I remember dreading to enter our room alone – without him. As I entered our anteroom I felt strongly drawn to his desk. It was as neat as always, but there – sitting in the center of the desktop – was the manuscript of WHAT NEXT – where he had left it.

I sat on his chair and gingerly opened the book and carefully read each page.

In his introduction he wrote:

"What is our vision for the next 100 years? What can we do to realize that vision? The answers will not come easily nor will they be similar.
This book is a modest contribution for the search for answers.
I have endeavored to outline the dominant themes that preoccupy scholars when they think about the future. I am not a futurist and I do not pretend to be one. I have written this book based on the situation I perceive the world and our nation to be in and how I can deal with the realities of the present and of the imponderables of the future. No doubt, writing this book was a 'learning and planning process' in the broadest sense of the words – research, exploration, discovery, education and a sense of participation in the community of concerned citizens who desire 'a brighter, newer, world.'”

As I went on to read from chapter to chapter – I was overwhelmed by the uncanny feeling that Doy had written this book as his legacy to the Filipino people he had sworn to serve. However, more concerned with its safekeeping, I kept it on a shelf along with his other documents.

For six years the manuscript sat idly on a shelf and imprisoned within its pages were the precious thoughts and visions of a man who took the pains of writing the “answers” that he felt could save a nation.
Many times I wanted to publish the book especially when issues that he expounded on in the book were hotly debated upon. But I hesitated.

But now that his 82nd birthday approaches I feel that I must release this book and allow Doy to continue to serve his country through his thoughts and written words.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

FISHBROOK (FB)

Few years ago, I am one of the many fish caught by a net. I am resilient to new things, but the promise of a beautiful and better home endeared me to it. I succumbed to the invitation. I gave in to the offer. Now after being webbed by the net, I land here in Fishbrook. I am happy to belong here really, at first. Rekindling ties with old folks was something to look forward to. But then again, building new ones was more intriguing. You see here in Fishbrook, new batches of fish arrive day by day. Some very calm, some very edgy, some you do not even bother to know and some you do not even think existed. In fact here in Fishbrook, you meet all kinds of fish, whether you like it or not.

I by nature do not love company. Maybe you would ask me, then why choose Fishbrook? Hey, it’s not that I do not like to mingle around. It’s just that I choose the ones to blend with. That’s it. I do not easily blend. I am the type of fish who does not simply go with the waves. In fact, I usually go to the waters less taken. That is why maybe I usually have lesser company. I do not mind really. In fact, I do not even care. And to your question, why Fishbrook? I only have this in mind: I was hoping to find other fish who share the same passion, same principle in life. And yes I did. Here in Fishbrook, only a few understands me. Come to think of it. I do not really want them to understand me, I want them to believe on me.

Enough of myself! Yeah, unlike other folks here, I do not want to talk much about myself. I love Fishbrook, but I leave Fishbrook where it should be. After all, beyond Fishbrook is a much wider and deeper ocean. Ok, ok enough really of myself. I hate talking about myself much that I hate listening to other fish’s me and myself stories. I honestly believe that these kinds of stories should be confined at a very personal level. And since Fishbrook is a community, what should come in and out of it must at some point be relevant to most of its inhabitants.

Here are some Fishbrook folks bitten by this me and myself story bug. Enjoy!

Meet Mr. Pea Ech Dee. I remember the first time we were introduced to each other (in fact, this is what he does every time he is introduced to someone). Hi, I’m Pea Ech Dee, MA, MS, BS, nice to meet you. Huh, I’m such an achiever noh? The capital letters attached to his name made him famous to every one in Fishbrook. He is actually not famous, on second thought. He strives to be popular but always to no avail, if I may say so. On third thought again, he succeeded on one thing, that is, to constantly annoy me. Nope, I do not feel threatened by his intelligence please. I am vexed by the way he begs for appreciation and praises. Imagine, he had to give it to himself because everybody else does not mind? Oh no, please do not get me wrong. I too value education highly. In fact I bet, much higher than he does. But I do not share the same hubris that he has about learned education. One’s intelligence is never measured by our titles. Rather, we are calculated by how we are grown by our education. And only if we have achieved the last can we be accorded the praises that we are yearning for. More so, laudation is earned not encouraged. It is never our duty to constantly remind others that we are good because when we are in fact good, they will on their own commend us for our ways. Right sir?

Now, I introduce Mr. Ceh Vee. This sir and Mr. Pea Ech Dee have some things in common but they are not really close. In fact, I believe that if do they meet they will clash. Why did I say that? Let me give you two people who both feel they are superior beings the other because of his titles, the other for the series of seminars he has attended in his lifetime. At some time, of course, they will exchange credentials one after the other until blood comes out of their self- acclaimed ‘overly used brain neurons.’ Nay, let’s give it to the geniuses. Ok, ok, let’s give Mr. Ceh.Vee. his time to shine. Unlike Mr. Pea Ech Dee, Mr. Ceh Vee. does not even open his mouth when introduced. He does not have to because a comprehensive curriculum vitae always comes in very handy. Here, your eyes will drool over his long list of achievements, educational attainment, lectures attended and every minute detail you never thought can ever be included in a vitae. Your eyes will drool yes. Your mouth may even salivate. You will also be annoyed, I promise. Please Mr. Ceh Vee, take the advice I gave Mr. Pea Ech Dee, laudation is earned not encouraged. It is never our duty to constantly remind others that we are good because when we are in fact good, they will on their own commend us for our ways. More so, Fishbrook you may not realize is simply a stage in our lives. Sometimes, it even becomes fictional at some point. There is a more real and bigger ocean to live outside of Fishbrook. And it is in this deeper ocean where we are truly measured.

My next neighbor is Miss Bum Bastic. She’s a bum. She really doesn’t do anything actually. Oops, that’s actually the problem, she does nothing. And she wants everybody else to know that she does nothing. Am I actually saying anything? Well, take this, Miss Bum Bastic every minute carries a megaphone hanging around her neck. Sometimes when most are pondering over the problems of Fishbrook, she just shout outs, “I’m sad!” (As if anybody cares if she is.) Or “Wala lang!” One may actually ask, does she really have to do that? Well, maybe she has to because when she does not, she will have nothing else to do. Get it? Mind you, her doing nothing comes to an extremely annoying level. One time, she gave each and everyone a picture of herself sporting her new fin cut. At least now, she has something to boast about- that is her newly trimmed fin. F! Fishbrook! Whew! Please forgive me for I have sinned. Just the other day however, this gal surprised me. She out of a sudden screamed, “I’m busy!” Indeed? I instantly became happy! She is finally busy. But this soon faded to my dismay because on second thought, she might not be busy after all because when she is she won’t have the time to actually announce that she is. Ok, she might actually be busy after all. I change my stand. She was indeed busy, busy telling everyone that she’s busy. Buzz! Go get a sensible life gal! Do you even realize that maybe, just maybe, not even one in Fishbrook cares if you are sad? Hmmm, I think I just wasted my time on you. Ok, on to the next please.

Miss Peeh X on the other hand is a bitchy rich fish. If Ms. Bum Bastic is busy with simple joys in her life like when she’s busy or has just sported a new fin cut, Ms. Peeh X is rather on the high end. In fact, Ms. Peeh Ex has already migrated to international waters. But as being fatally bitten by the me and myself bug in Fishbrook, she carried the symptoms even beyond our territory. Just the other day, she has this to say to everyone at Fishbrook: Hey, just got my newly-released Apple Ipond, see that? I tried to rationalize her and her ways and only one pops up in mind: salivate all you who cannot afford! I think no one could blame for it. She made me do it. Well, picture this out, when most in Fishbrook is poor and striving for a better fish life, here comes a filthy rich lass bragging of a fortune most folks, even beyond Fishbrook, could never own in their lifetime. Do not get me wrong, we o understand your joy. We do indeed. However sometimes don’t you think it is much better if everyone can relate to your happiness? More so, it is more blissful to feast on something hardly earned, right? Then maybe all in Fishbrook and beyond can relate and celebrate on your success.

Mr. Sar Dy Nas is our next neighbor to talk about. This pompous mister is one of our new leaders in the community. He likes grandstanding to the truest sense. He is fond of using the Fishbrook stage to convince everyone that he is the messiah of selfless service. In fact, he defends himself so hard that I am convinced that he wants to convince himself too. One time, while taking on his me and myself stories on stage, I stood up and throw straightforward questions at him. To my dismay however, he did not answer even one! The birth of the messiah is just a myth, I convinced everyone in Fishbrook. They branded me for being pessimistic but as always I do not even care. In fact, there was chaos in Fishbrook for a while. Nope, it was not between me and Mr. Sar Dy Nas. In fact, not even once did Mr. SS engage in a fish fight with me The pandemonium was created by Mr. SS’s solid and blind supporters. They rallied for me to be thrown out of Fishbrook as I was according to them one arrogant fish. This continued for a while but not even once was I confronted by Mr. SS. In fact, until it died down, I never heard him defend himself. I can only think of one reason why: He actually cannot.

Ms. Emow is on the limelight now. She is a close ally of Ms. Bum Bastic. However, unlike Ms. Bum Bastic who does almost nothing, all Ms. Emow can do is think of her love life. Every day she would proudly announce to Fishbrook that she is on an “emo mode.” You know what I mean by that. Emotional. Vulnerable. Fragile. Apparently, she and Ms. Bum Bastic share the same megaphone to let everyone now about the status of her love life. Oh did I already say that Ms. Emow has a pep squad that comes with her all the time? Yeah, unfortunately, she has. That’s explain why my annoyance heaped to its highest level. Imagine, I had to deal not only with Ms. Emow everyday but also a bunch of others who are exactly in the same mode that she is! Thus, when she says, “Hay, I miss home...and I miss you too hon” All would answer, “Hay…(downscale voice).” Then one would bravely ask as a follow-up, “Siya ba yan gurl? Wow, after all these years kayo din pala!” Ms. Emow would answer, then one would ask again then another until they fill the waters with all their angst-filled hearts. Verily, they live up to the true meaning of the saying, “tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who are.” I think that Fishbrook deserves better than these things. It may be an avenue for more significant and relevant things right? Don’t you realize that maybe just maybe the things that you do in Fishbrook is in fact insignificant to the lives of other folks here? I believe there are more important things in your life you may want to share in Fishbrook, something sensible perhaps? On second thought, there might actually none. Oops, poor you, that’s really a problem!

Miss Gut Sy is our last guest. Like Mr. Ceh Vee and Pea Ech Dee, Miss Gut Sy claims she is a learned individual. Unlike the others however, she participates in community issues. She too likes to grandstand. And even if she fails a countless time, she stands and fights again. One cannot really avoid admiring her guts. In fact, despite her being so-called learned, her guts is the only left imprinted on my mind. But also not like two other so-called fulfilled and learned gentleman, Miss Gut Sy does not border on anything like she knows everything. However, when it comes to her field, she has the highest regard for herself. She gives it to herself, that’s the funny part. What is funnier is that she cannot even live by what she claims. It would be very hard to delve on details. But I leave this for you to ponder: A wrong answer given is nothing more than a question not answered. In other words, a waste of time and energy.


This has been my everyday battle but I do not regret being webbed by the endearing net for it has indeed placed me in Fishbrook. Fishbrook, despite the existence of these species is a fine community afterall. Here, I meet different kinds of fish, of various species, origin, behavior and inclinations from whom I can all learn something from. I just hope my fellow fish would value Fishbrook and the opportunities it offers to each of its inhabitants as much as I do. It’s not enough that we live everyday but we should live a meaningful day each day. We only have one life to live. We might as well use every minute of it into something that might be of some relevance to others. After all, we all have this community to share with. Go fun swim!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

COMFORT WOMEN: The elusive quest for justice (Part1)

On April 28, 2010, the Supreme Court in Vinuya v. Romulo (G.R. No 162230) dismissed the petition filed by Filipino comfort women to compel the Philippine government to get a public apology from Japan and to secure reparation to victims of sexual abuse during World War II. Through the pen of Justice Mariano Del Castillo, the Court held, among others, that the Philippine government is not under any international obligation to espouse petitioners’ claims before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) or any other international tribunal for that matter. Moreover, the claims for reparation put forth by petitioners against Japan are barred because they are deemed included in the waiver of claims by the Allied Powers, as provided mainly in the San Francisco Treaty of Peace of 1951. In other words, the Philippine government purportedly speaking in behalf of the victims, its citizens had already abandoned any claim for compensation as regards to Filipino comfort women ever since the signing of the Peace Treaty with Japan. I shall deal later with the merits of the position taken by the government.

It was in 1992 when we first heard the sad story of Lola Rosa, the first Filipina comfort woman to come forward publicly. Back then, she seemed to be alone in the wilderness shedding light on the ordeals of Filipina comfort women. After almost fifty (50) years, Lola Rosa finally revealed what it was really like to be a young Filipina held captive by the Japs during those fateful times. Even now, as I review the facts of Lola Rosa’s account, the rape, sexual slavery, torture and violence committed by the Japanese are truly disturbing and unthinkable for any human being. Imagine this, a scene of what appears to be her baptism of fire: at 16 years old, she was abducted and kept in a town hospital turned garrison. Suddenly, a Japanese soldier barged into the room. Armed with a bayonet, the soldier slashed her dress and stripped it open. Thereafter, he ravished her, her youth devoured whole. It happened for twelve more times that fateful day with 12 different soldiers. The little time she was left alone was almost unrecognizable and insignificant for only after 30 minutes or so, she bravely recounted, a new batch of hungry soldiers came to wolf on her jaded young body.

Such was the fate of Lola Rosa, a sex slave for the Imperial soldiers. But she was not alone in this plight. Lola Rosa at the time clearly represents the face of comfort women who were too ashamed to come out in the open. Soon enough though, inspired by Lola Rosa’s courage, many other Filipinas, erstwhile “comfort women” came out to speak the truth and recounted their own stories during captivity.

It is of importance to know that the crimes committed by Japanese soldiers were more than just series of rape or unconsented sex. There’s a lot more in it. In his article, The continuing agony of comfort (PDI, 07/22/10) women, quondam dean of the UP College of Law Raul Pangalangan made the following observation: we are talking about sustained and systematic abuse and debasement on a daily basis over months, if not years, of captivity. The UN rapporteurs have listed the following crimes, sexual violence, slavery, including sexual slavery and forced prostitution, crimes against humanity and cruelty, inhuman and degrading treatment.Here he tried to open the eyes of his readers into realizing that the repetitive stories of abuse of our local women was not, in reality, mere episodes of worldly desires, like most of us are aware of. Here he explained, the comfort women genre was in truth and in fact, a system crafted by the Japanese authorities to appease their soldiers’ sexual appetites in the course of their occupation. Like bones given to hungry dogs, our women were offered as hopeless preys. It was therefore clearly deliberate, fearless and unimaginable. It was a war policy out to keep them in war. In Vinuya v. Romulo, the Court ventured into the historical antecedents of the comfort women system.

The comfort women system was the tragic legacy of the Rape of Nanking. In December 1937, Japanese military forces captured the city of Nanking in China and began a “barbaric campaign of terror” known as the Rape of Nanking, which included the rapes and murders of an estimated 20,000 to 80,000 Chinese women, including young girls, pregnant mothers, and elderly women.

In reaction to international outcry over the incident, the Japanese government sought ways to end international condemnation by establishing the “comfort women” system. Under this system, the military could simultaneously appease soldiers' sexual appetites and contain soldiers' activities within a regulated environment. Comfort stations would also prevent the spread of venereal disease among soldiers and discourage soldiers from raping inhabitants of occupied territories.

Daily life as a comfort woman was “unmitigated misery.” The military forced victims into barracks-style stations divided into tiny cubicles where they were forced to live, sleep, and have sex with as many 30 soldiers per day. The 30 minutes allotted for sexual relations with each soldier were 30-minute increments of unimaginable horror for the women. Disease was rampant. Military doctors regularly examined the women, but these checks were carried out to prevent the spread of venereal diseases; little notice was taken of the frequent cigarette burns, bruises, bayonet stabs and even broken bones inflicted on the women by soldiers.

In 1991 a case for damages was filed by three former Korean comfort women before the Tokyo District Court. Others followed suit. However, as matter defense the Japanese government denied any involvement in the establishment of brothels or comfort stations during the war. It raised the issue that these brothels used for forced prostitution were set up and maintained not by Japanese soldiers as claimed by the victims, but private individuals. To this end, the Japanese government consistently invoked the same line of defense and thereby caused the dismissal of every suit in the domestic court.

But that is not the end of it. That seminal lawsuit made headlines and raised public awareness worldwide. Thereafter, serious efforts began mainly under auspices of the United Nations pressing among others, that Japan must issue a public apology admitting the establishment of comfort women system by the Japanese Imperial Army during the war, accept legal responsibility for that violation and pay the appropriate compensation to all their victims.

In 1992, faced with overwhelming evidence, the Japanese government finally succumbed to admission that indeed the military itself was involved in the operation of comfort stations during the war. A year later the much awaited apology came from no less than the Japanese government. In a statement issued by the Miyazawa government, the first explicit apology after fifty (50) years of denial, the government 'acknowledged' that the military had actively and forcibly maintained women sex slaves to satisfy the sexual urges of Japanese soldiers during World War II. The belated admission came as a direct result of a government investigation conducted since 1991 on the issue of wartime comfort women. Later on, concrete steps were taken by the Japanese government that eventually led to creation of the Asian Women Fund. Through the AWF, victims of the comfort women system may apply for monetary and medical assistance from the Japanese government. (Vinuya, supra) To this end, the Philippine government in 1997 signed an agreement with the AWF for medical and welfare assistance for former Filipino comfort women. Since then, these programs were gradually implemented by the government through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

To be continued...

Monday, July 19, 2010

MAKING MORAL CHOICES DURING ELECTIONS


"Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?" Gal. 4:16

In pushing for relevant change in politics, I salute young advocates who are idealists in making a positive and reformed difference in our society. Pursuing change has its great potentials from young minds since they have not been tainted with empirical corruption. Despite the strong tempting inclination of most candidates to go along with the tide of traditional politics, cheating, and winning at all costs(mostly by devious design), our society does not lack few albeit rare species of noble souls whose moral backbone remains unbending and unbreakable to check bad politics gone haywire. Initiating reform in politics and governance has always been a long daunting task. Call it wishful thinking but one can always hope for better things to run the affairs of government. This writer is tired and sick of always hearing how corruption has long gone berserk in our country and elevated to a shameless level. Even those candidates whose platform is grounded on the word “change” has demeaned its true meaning. They just want to change the status quo but not their character.

Admittedly though, these young advocates, though they are not candidates, instead get stoned and crucified for their dogged principles simply because they paddle against the tidal wave of political indecency. It is even sadder but ridiculous that candidates who get piqued with constructive and objective criticisms retaliate by challenging critics to also run for public office. Running for public office ultimately is a personal decision and not anyone’s dictates. Public servants should be forewarned that they will never be exempt from public criticisms. Take it or leave it, it comes with the territory. Our imperfect democracy assures us our freedom of speech. I would unsolicitedly advice these elected officials to just be open minded to criticisms that are at least within the bounds of constructive and objective decency. Transparency and accountability, though very cliché already, are not empty principles of governance but is imbedded in our laws. “Kung sino ang pikon, talo” goes the common reaction.

Elected officials must be reminded that they owe their mandate to the citizenry who voted them and therefore must be accountable to them including responding to constructive criticisms. But sadly, elected officials don’t think that way because a good number of our populace are already paid hacks resulting from vote-buying. Thus, these officials have this mindset that they should be “exonerated” from any accountability. Ergo, the evil of vote-buying gives the elected candidate the self-proclaimed idea that they should not be accountable to the electorate because the voters were already given their due. “Bayad na kayo, reklamo pa kayo ng reklamo” so says the common reply of candidates. In this setup, it is the people who are ultimately the losers.

VOTE-BUYING AND CORRUPTION

As a Christian, I tend to wonder how the moral values of some so-called Christian candidates are demonstrated. Oddly enough, what one can hear from them is “winning is the be-all and end-all whatever the means and the costs.” The means and the costs, in this regard, include vote-buying. This also means, as what a friend has relayed to me, “mas makapangyarihan pala ang pera kaysa prinsipyo.” There are candidates who are so obsessed in winning because this is the only thing that matters to them but on the other hand also consciously compromising their moral values and dignity. Gauging from the recent elections, this malady was so blatantly demonstrated. In the hollow minds of most candidates, it “seems” winning an elective seat obliterates their wrongdoings like vote-buying done during the campaign. My neighbor screams at candidates who won an elective position through immoral means and hopes that they will be “hounded and stigmatized throughout their term.”(makonsensiya sana).

Definitely, vote-buying is morally wrong. You can never reconcile vote-buying to one’s moral beliefs based on the moral teachings of the Scriptures. It is so diametrically opposite.

Where can we find a similar case of vote-buying in the Scriptures? Judas was “bought” with a few clinking of silver coins to “sell” his Savior to the political leaders of his time. Rhetorically, vote-buying is a betrayal of our sacred trust when we yield to its temptations. But many would arguably retort, “hey, we didn’t ask for it, they gave us money so what’s bad about it?” If one admits that he is not corrupt, how then should you call someone who consentingly accepted the bribe? Others argue that they would just receive the cash or goodies but will follow their “conscience” to vote the candidates of their choice. This kind of mindset however, still tolerates vote-buying to go on as a bad practice because one still consents to receive the bribe. Also from the point of view of the candidate, they can always lash out at voters that “pera lang ang katapat niyo at mukhang pera pa rin kayo.” Judas realized this and was so conscience stricken he hanged himself. Cash for your vote, anyone?

With corrupted elections, is the conscience of our corrupt elected officials and those recipients of vote-buying already numbed or devoid of any moral sense? I can only feel aghast as to what I have witnessed. On the other hand, I knew of a few friends who outrightly rejected bribes from candidates. The point to be driven here is that we, as morally conscious beings, can make a choice, including the choice to say no. Samuel Adams insightfully said and I quote “Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual - - or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country.” That solemn trust sadly has been damaged with rampant vote-buying. Thus, it is right for these young idealists to remind our conscience that vote-buying is illegal and immoral. If the so-called “senior” candidates who have engaged in such sleazy tricks could not exemplify themselves as models to the youth, where else will the youth look up to as models then? Regrettably though, even young candidates now would also mortgage their soul and follow the path of dirty politics. Corrupting our youth is corrupting our hope.

As a challenge, how many candidates who were re-elected can make an open declaration like this presidential candidate who said “hindi ako magnanakaw” and truly mean it?

VOTE-BUYING AS A DISHONORABLE ACT

A Roman Catholic priest (and PPCRV chairman in the recent elections) aptly described to me his observations that thousands of people went to the mayor’s house to “sell” their votes. Denying it to high heavens simply insults our intelligence. Both the vote-buyer and vote-seller were indeed shamelessly engaged in a happy tango. In a homily delivered by the Roman Catholic bishop in a barangay church, he presented this question to the parishioners during the campaign period: Anyone of you received 500 pesos from candidates? The parishioners were dead silent. One lawyer friend advised that we should not allow candidates to treat us as downright stupid by accepting their bribes but how many deaf ears heeded this advice?

Relatively, how can an elected official be respectfully addressed “honorable” by well-informed citizens when the means they employed to earn that title are brazenly dishonorable. Woefully, many of our candidates in my hometown (or elsewhere) engaged in such pusillanimous schemes like giving of cash, rice, sardines, noodles and tamban fish. Strangely also, one candidate’s selling point was promising free death insurance to voters if he wins. All these in the guise of an insulting plea: “tulong ito ha, hindi vote-buying.” This sort of problem spawns a “lazy” culture of the majority of Filipinos who look for leaders who can provide them with dole-outs. It also breeds a vicious cycle of patronage and corruption, more Juan Tamads in this modern era and beggarship attitude. Ergo, candidates who are into vote-buying are guilty of reinforcing a hand-out culture. Thus, Rizal’s description of an indolent Filipino people is prophetically true. The right thing to do would be not simply to give the poor fish, but to teach them how to catch fish.

After the elections, two elected councilors (not from the political party where I campaigned for) separately but personally sought my services as a speechwriter for them. I asked both councilors if ever they were engaged in vote-buying. Both said no. The first councilor, a longtime acquaintance in which I also wrote his profile, was invited for a speaking engagement in Las Vegas. I consented to write his speech but not after I gave my piece of mind how election was so shamelessly dirty in Isabela City. I gave the same acid lecture to the second councilor. After some negotiations with the second councilor, I likewise consented. To my dismay, I discovered a week later that the second councilor gave 500pesos to barangay kagawads, one of them who was my friend. I can only shake my head in disbelief. Disappointed, I told an emissary of the second councilor that I am withdrawing as his speechwriter.

MOLDING OUR MORAL VALUES

Let me dissect a bit on how we develop and mold the foundations of our moral values. There are three basic institutions that influence our moral conscience.

First institution is the home. I firmly believe that all mothers and fathers inculcate good morals to their children by teaching and reminding their kids, “anak, wag kang magsinungaling, wag kang malulong sa bisyo, wag kang magnakaw, wag kang manakit ng ibang tao, wag kang matigas ng ulo, papaluin kita.” For sure no parent would ever impart wrong trainings to their offsprings. And yet, bluntly speaking, how many parents were beneficiaries of vote-buying? What a sordid testimony to young minds!

The second institution is the school. As pupils, our teachers further molded our moral values with good manners and right conduct within the confines of the classroom. However, I was petrified when one of my workers enrolled in a college evening class informed me that teachers were also lining up waiting for their turn to received cash amounts in a candidate’s residence! (Let me categorically say that I am not making a sweeping generalization here because there are also teachers who were not blinded by money).

The third institution is the church which should help strengthen our core values, righteousness and faith in God. We go to church Sunday after Sunday, kneel, pray, sing religious songs as worship, make a sign of the cross but on the following day lining up, shoving, elbowing and barging through a candidate’s house hankering for the 500pesos like hungry wolves! One religious sect even endorsed a mayoralty candidate who engaged in vote-buying in past elections and still doing the same in the recent elections. I am not sure what the basis for their endorsement was. A leader (who also claims himself as a prophet) of a big church anointed a presidential candidate as the next president of the Philippines only to witness that candidate lost by a wide margin against the winning candidate. For whatever reason, can it be said that churches have also been penetrated with bad politics?

Every Christian has a moral duty to demonstrate righteous indignation at corruption and at reprehensible abuses of power. We do not have to wrestle with the angels on the question of whether we should tolerate crooks and cheats in our midst.

TIME RUNNING OUT

Outside of these three institutions, where else can we further fortify and find shelter for our moral rectitude in times of tests and trials? Or am I simply naïve talking to a blank wall here because I was never a receiver of any political bribe? I confess I am neither an angel nor a saint nor holier-than-anyone. I am an imperfect being still under process by my God to borrow the term of a Christian friend. All I can confess too is that my family was never a recipient of vote-buying and would not intend to be.

Is it possible for me within my lifetime to witness a genuine reform, secure an authentic mandate from an honest election? Time is running out on my generation. I don’t want my children to be witnesses of the continuous malady of corruption perpetuated through and through. I still want to see some guarantees in my remaining years in this world that my children are given safety and an opportunity for a dignified life vis-a-vis good governance even how flawed our democracy is. It gives me a light of hope when young minds come to the fore shouting from the rooftops telling our government leaders what the right and moral thing to do as a Biblical injunction instead of apathy that many of us can be faulted of. Lamentably, the reality is otherwise from the truth. Label me unrealistic whatever, so be it, but not untruthful to my convictions herein.

If it is of any least consolation for my children, I can say that I was not just a fence-sitter overtaken by a couldn’t-care-less indifference, that their papa’s integrity was not cheapened with bribe offers from candidates. In this country, the rule is if you have no clout, might as well shut up and rage in silence. But then, apathy and keeping quiet is tolerating evil to prosper. One adage goes that the sin of silence, when we should be protesting, makes cowards out of men.

I gave my 5 cents worth of critical views against the evils of vote-buying and likewise supported candidates who did not engage in devious schemes even if my candidates lost. For all its moral worth, I can tell my children that there is still dignity in an honest defeat than one who fraudulently won through vote buying. Saying that this malpractice is incurable is a surrender of our core values and grossly debasing our human dignity.

In this imperfect world and imperfect system, a perfect God is not blind. As a Christian, it will be God’s holiness and righteousness that will ultimately prevail and defeat the follies of this world, the evils of vote-buying included.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is written by Nickarter "Boy" Gonzalo, a fellow Christian writer and advocate of good governance.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

THE PARABLE OF THE YOUNG TRAPO: The Final Sermon

"We have to protect the morals of our youth, for the corruption of our youth is the corruption of our hope." Salvador H. Laurel

He was awakened by the thud of crowd in front of his sturdy manor. They bellowed for words aren’t clear to him for the moment. As they continued to screech for more, the presence of them continued to stir mixed feelings upon him. Just days ago, he was elated to know that he won in the first ever automated elections. He was in utopia. Then several days after that, here they are bellowing at the top of their lungs…shouting of words he barely can’t understand. Are they mad at him? As far as he can remember everybody was good to him, all smiling and doing beso-beso. When finally he cleared his mind, he routed his eyes on the crowd in front of him. A weary woman, in her worn-out malong, carrying a small child on her arm and making a plea as if he has fathered her child; a middle-aged man with a slightly thwarted face shouting as if he had owed him something; and a bigger group of people asking for more!

He was in a state of confusion. Gradually though, the words are beginning to make sense, but he refused still to understand. He merely uttered to himself, “Who are these people? What are they doing here?” He suddenly did not remember anything or anyone. He tried to recollect thoughts but can’t recover anything. He tried hard. Hard enough to put into perspective why a wide group of people would gather in front of his mansion uninvited. His victory party was long over, he thought. He was lured back by a voice. They are asking for what you have promised, remember? He tried hard again to remember and refused once more. But their words are now clearer, more lucid and unavoidable: Konsehal! Asan na ‘yong ipinangako mong kapital para sa itatayo kong negosyo? Nasaan na po ang tulong na sinabi niyo noong eleksyon, ibinoto pa naman namin kayo dahil doon! With these all clear to him, still he hesitated to go down and face them. So unlikely of the past weeks when he was so willing and in all smiles shaking their hands. In his perplexity, he sought refuge from the concrete walls of his folks’ mansion and felt somehow secured. But instincts tell him, this won’t be the last. The words that lasted on his mind: IT’S PAY BACK TIME!

Allow me to share this short story about the aftermath of the recently concluded elections on a young politician who crafted his way to his post thru groceries and unconcrete promises to his constituents. This is fictional. And I sincerely hope that you do not in anyway find yourself in this short story, either as the “he” who suddenly turned deaf or the “crowd” that continues to cry out. Unfortunately however, this may be happening in the very near future if it is still not happening today somewhere out there…Isabela City perhaps?

What is the moral of the story then? The narrative has a great deal to do with the Biblical proposition: WE REAP WHAT WE SOW. In politics, when a candidate’s platform is rooted on money politics and personal interest, his eventual assumption to power signifies only two things: PERPETUATION OF POWER AND CORRUPTION. He has no choice really, sink or swim he needs to sustain the whims and caprices of his constituents. Empty promises and commitments ranging from “pangbinyag” to “pampalibing” are common practices which are deeply etched in our political culture. Political solicitation is from womb to tomb. Hence, for every handshake and “beso-beso” during barangay sorties, a deal is sealed. Literally, a politico so committed with traditional politics could never meet the demands of his evil practices without dipping his fingers in public coffers. Whatever it takes he has to give in to their demands at any cost if he wants political survival. What else could we expect from this vulture? Indeed power corrupts absolutely. In the long run, the dutiful taxpayers of this nation are at the losing end having to shoulder the burden of incessantly filling the monetary buckets of government.

In my article, “New Breed on the Block: Young trapos in local politics?” I warned the voters, mainly constituents of my beloved hometown, to examine carefully young candidates running for public office. I was appalled of the fact that trapos nowadays are not anymore imaged after some old and beer-bellied politicos but even amongst the good built yuppies. In fact, although I knew that my past post had lame targets, I never imagined that the said article would create a big fiasco over the net. The people on the other end did everything to argue with me except answer the very basic issue of the exposition I did. As I see it, the reason why this fiasco over the net got big is because they failed to be objective. Their plan of attack was simple: shy away from the issue then attack the writer. God! I just can’t imagine how much time they have devoted in seeing through me. They tried to explain why this writer writes the things he writes and why he writes the way he does. In fact, in defense of his brother, Roland Rodriguez had given me a needle-like lecture on sociology, trying it hard to explain why I was critical about his brother, Councilor-elect Mr. Abner Rodriguez. He discussed in that response all the sociological characteristics of the Filipinos, i.e., crab mentality, amor proprio, etc, trying to point out that I was unFilipino. But then again, we do not need all these terms to explain my political leanings and criticisms. We do not need so. And we do not have to. They merely should answer the question I laid down. That’s being objective. I would not attempt to be a self-proclaimed sociologist like him. You see, some people envision public office as something that will boost their egos, fame and influence on society. They often think highly of themselves so much so that they can never accept any kind of criticism. Not even an objective one. They instantly take umbrage and unleash the critics with senseless bickering and below-the-belt innuendos. Now why is this happening? I would like to believe that this has something to do with the wrong motivation and lack of understanding of what public office truly means. It seems that even at this point they could not harmonize the basics of free speech in relation to “public figure, public interest and governmental powers”. Clearly, they have a limited view of the entire democratic framework. In the scheme of things, there is nothing they can do about it. That’s how democracy works. This kind of elitist mentality, wrong motivation and all are the very causes of malfunctions under the present political system. I must say however that, in my opinion, being “not objective” is NOT a collective character of all Filipinos. I am in no better position to say that. Maybe the other man can for he devoted all his discourse in educating me as if I am reading a sociology handout in college. Nope, it’s not a Filipino like thing. It’s basically human’s way to escape things when everything else fails.

As far as I can still recollect, it all started with this query: Did he or did he not engage in traditional politics to win a seat in the local council by giving out noodles and cans of sardines? Firstly, let me clear that the name of this public official never came from me. It was his supporters who flaunted his name. So they must, I understand, defend him at all costs even if it means coming out of the real issue. I can’t think of a better explanation for their behavior but this: How on earth can you find the right words to defend something or someone you know is wrong? The answer is simple again: Go out of the box and shy away from the issue. Their first strike: Our supposed familial ties. On my part, that should have never been brought forwarded. It was and should never have been an issue. They did not realize that by bringing that familial thing, they created a scenario that convicted their ‘public official’ more. Their message was clear: I should stop writing about my observations in our recently concluded elections, especially that regarding our local elections in Isabela City, because we are family after all. This was to me, the lamest mean to escape the situation because in the end, their defense ended as a plea. NAGMAMAKAAWA PARA TIGILAN NA PARA NA LANG SA DAHILAN NA MAGKAPAMILYA. It would have been different if they have told me to cease writing because I am wrong and not because we are simply related by blood. My respect would have been easily bought, este, gained in that way. Kidding aside, I must stress that the saying that “blood is thicker than water” finds no application in politics and governance. For if it does, you, as a public official, exposes a kind of governance that encourages corruption and palakasan. I also remember the brother saying to me that his brother will never succumb to corruption if elected as city councilor because from his very words, “they have always lived a luxurious life because of his family’s hardwork.” The term “luxurious” struck me in a different light. On my part, he should have at least used the term “comfortable” or even “contented” which to me are more innocuous terms in light of the discussion. The word scared me, really! Luxuries should always give in to public office and service. Otherwise, it’s dooms day. Public service, in its honest sense, can never live up with the luxurious life he has. Reality however bits us hard, wounding us deep. Luxury and public service are congruent terms in a corrupt political setting. Anyway, let us give him credit for his truthfulness. I hope they were as truthful when confronted with the sardines and groceries issue, lol. Just a thought! Now you may say, "C'mon, give this guy a break and let him prove his worth in the council." Yes, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt but on one condition: NO MORE BEATING AROUND THE BUSH AND SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT! Did you or did you not? I can read your mind and I agree. It certainly takes a great deal to admit one’s shortcoming. But that honesty does not make you less of a man. We all have our shortcomings. In fact, history has unfolded several times that reviving a besmirched reputation starts from honesty. It must not end here though. What matters is what we do after a fault. Remember, a bad beginning emulates a worse middle and figures a worst ending. It’s a vicious cycle that only we can stop.
.
To end this exposition, I would emphasize again that this phenomenon of young trapos joining politics is far more dangerous because they are more likely to stay in power for the longest time by merely replacing the old players in the system. I’m a hopeless idealist alright, but something tells me that my ideals would in a way reflect the common sentiment of the silent minority that change must come from the outside. But what happens if those who are tasked to instill noble reforms in the old system are merely heirs of the traditional system-operators? Here I would like to suggest that the system is not the problem. The system was meant to serve as a medium to bridge the chasm, forge consensus between the people on one hand, and government on the other. But our government officials, the operators in the system manipulated it to suit their personal agendas. Again, similar to a philosophical assumption, when the starting point is flawed everything is bound to be wrongheaded. It is best then, that we should not expect too much from the incoming young “Honorables” whose mandate to rule stems from the evil practices of trapo politics. This is not an omen but a warning to our fellowmen to choose the people they want to run the system. It’s also a challenge, a brave challenge to run counter the present political maladies in the country.

Reference: To Build Upon A Rock: Excerpts from Public Discourses 1967 to 1987 by Salvador H. Laurel (1987)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Why I Am Still A Christian?

"Question with boldness even the existence of a God;because if there be one, he must more approve of the homeage of reason than that of blindfolded fear."- Thomas Jefferson

Allow me today to write about my Christian faith and how I wrestled with recurring doubts to satisfy my intellectual curiosity and worldly urges through the years. At the outset, let me stress that I was born a cultural Catholic. However, upon reaching the age of six (6), I was exposed to an entirely different belief. It was my mother, a dedicated elementary teacher, who opened our eyes to the teachings of the bible and Christianity. From then, the whole family shifted devotion and became born again Christians. As the words imply, we felt being born again into this world, with a new faith to hold on to. Our new faith catalyzed the irreversible changes in our family. I witnessed first hand how my father changed his life instantly, from habitual drunkard to a living saint. He was in a state of total transfiguration. Meanwhile, the rest of us vowed to spread the gospel in our community. On my part and so with my two older siblings, we ventured into the realm of reading bible stories and other gospel anecdotes. I can say that this exposure has honed me to be the writer and reader that I am today. Since then, I can beastly say that my reading skills and comprehension hyped unimaginably. Although admittedly I was an inconsistent honor student in school, but when it comes to bible quizzes I always emerge as the ultimate victor above anyone else. As my spirit is languished with a fresh faith, my tot brain was flooded with bible characters and scriptural verses one after the other.

Later, my desire to read the bible became monotonous until the passion dwindled to ground zero. It was not abrupt, though. Gradually, as I discovered the wild edges of secular thoughts and practices, I began to question the very faith I turned down the other one for. At the age of twelve (12), I became obsessed with rock music and learned to play the guitar as fast as I could. My fondness for bible characters dramatically shifted to rock icons like the Beatles and later to a much heavier stuff. How, un Christian-like of me! I turned deaf to all criticisms, especially of my mother who was very against it. Unheeding her authority, together with my high school buddies, we formed a rock band to satisfy our rock n’ roll fantasy. Now, we felt like certified rockstars! Suddenly, I was being reborn again! This time I was embracing another passion …

For quite sometime, we enjoyed local popularity like appearing in local television shows and radio programs. Humbly, we won the much coveted battle of the bands contest. The perks and porks of slight popularity elevated our minds to a nearly euphoric level. Being the popular guys we were, flirting with girls was much easier. Add in all the mischief we seemed licensed to do so, undoubtedly, this new passion has moved me further away from my Christian faith. It was on the brink of destruction and no amount of biblical passages could save it from ruin.

My unchristian journey continued until college. Way passed through it however, I was beginning to see an unclear direction for my future. This time however, my desire to turn my life into the path where it should be was abrupt. I suddenly realized how education could lift me from the emptiness I am feeling. I completely abandoned my foolishness and decided to devote more time in my studies. But reviving my faith was never put into issue. My Christian faith remained dormant in many ways except that by this time I regularly attend Sunday service in our church. Thus again, did not revive my Christian faith even in some little way. The next lines would illustrate why.

Please give me this chance to make these admissions. The sermons delivered by our pastor never arouse my intellectual hormones let alone strengthening my Christian faith. Going to church every Sunday became more of a routine rather than a sacrosanct duty for every devout Christian. These made me crave for an unorthodox or radical perspective of the bible. I hail for a teaching far from the usual evangelical sermons which to me were purely rhetorical and conventional. These things however were not done without a little sense of remorse for my slowly weakening faith. In fact, I feared that one day I may not be able to defend my Christian faith against other religious dogmas. To counter this, I made a commitment to pursue the truth at all cost. Thus, I began to ask serious questions regarding origin of life, morality and ultimately the very existence of God. As mentioned, the conventional evangelical teachings failed to provide persuasive answers to these critical questions. Thus, I remained a nominal Christian for quite sometime. So it must have been fate (that’s contextual), that I entered law school…the battleground for logical thinking and academic discipline.

In law school we were thought not to take anything at face value. Facts must be supported by convincing evidence otherwise you can't justify your theory to win a case. Having this kind of training and thinking, I started to test my Christian faith using my training as a law student. I contemplated whether most Christians are really indeed Christians in the truest sense of the word. Do they have the right reasons to support their belief? This is where the distinction between faith based on reason (reasonable faith) and faith guided by blind assumptions deserves critical precarious considerations.

Here there should be a clear delineation between cultured Christians and authentic believers or followers of Christ. And so I search deeper and deeper, asking questions about faith and the existence of God. To satisfy my intellectual curiosity, I read books on secular worldviews. Having proclaimed myself as a fledgling Christian apologist, I started to conduct my own research and ended up with Bertrand Russell's essay on "Why I am Not A Christian." I must admit though, that Russell's objection to Christianity is a bit shallow and mostly couched in an open-ended language. Nonetheless this essay however bolstered my curiosity and decided to search deeper on atheism and agnosticism. Finally I devoured books authored by militant atheists Sam Harris (e.g.The End of Faith and Letter to the Christian Nation) and Christopher Hitchens (e.g. God is not great), both are staunch defenders of atheism or should I say hard core atheists. Most of their objections, except for their incessant anti-God tantrums, are valid and intellectually stimulating so to speak. I then entered into the realm of metaphysics which I found amusing but very difficult to understand in first reading. By this time I was partly convinced that the anti-theist theory is bereft of any logical arguments as to the non-existence of God. Embracing atheism as a way of life is like succumbing to a life of perpetual emptiness, a life without meaning. But still questions exist in my head. If atheism is a farcical worldview, does Christianity provide authentic answers to all questions pertaining to meaningful existence- a life based on morality? Again I searched for answers carefully weighing everything and anything that Christianity has to offer as the gospel of truth. Then I came across Ravi Zacharias’ book on Christian apologetics entitled Can Man Live Without God. (e.g. The End Of Reason) This work tackles on the philosophical aspects of Christianity and deals squarely among others, with Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” on the issue of morality and happiness. Then I resorted to Lee Strobel’s outstanding book, The Case for Faith, a very interesting book which answers almost all my questions and doubts as to what faith really is in essence. My further readings obviously expanded my understanding on faith and reason, between theism and anti-theism, and more importantly the essence of being a true Christian. I always thought that God gave me the absolute freedom to navigate uncharted waters so that I may be able to appreciate Him more. To do otherwise, I guess is to depict God as a lesser Being.

The pursuit of truth is a never ending journey for us Christians. My journey so far has brought me satisfaction both intellectually and spiritually. While I do not wish to discuss Christian philosophy or apologetics in this writing, the message I want to convey is two fold. First, it is a normal thing for us human beings to question or to have doubts regarding our respective faith. By encountering doubts, we pursue the truth, we search for a deeper explanation about life and meaningful existence. That is the essence of free will. Freedom to think is a God given right, use it to know your creator by heart. Second, by pursuing the truth you may be able to defend your Christian faith in any given forum, and in the end convince others to be followers of Christ. Knowing the truth is the decisive answer to the question on why I am still a Christian all this time

Saturday, May 8, 2010

I THINK therefore I am for GIBO

Right from the start, I’m torn between two astute presidential candidates. This is not always the case ever since I became a registered voter. Normally, I had it all figured out a year or two before official declarations are made. But in this crucial 2010 Presidential Election, I must say I walked the extra mile before reaching a decisive decision whom to support. To be fair, I deliberated so hard on the pros and cons of each prospective candidate. Spent enormous time in research and profiling. I really wanted to make sure that if I will select a presidential candidate, I may be able to defend him not on Plaza Miranda but coffee shops. Why coffee shops? Well, for one I’m an insatiable coffee drinker. I love to talk, talk and talk over a cup of brewed coffee. (Not all the time of course, especially when the one sitting at the other end of the table loves to talk more about non-sense TV shows like the pathetic Pinoy Big Brother.) But more than this, coffee shops are convenient venues for the perceived “educated” working class in the metropolis. This is not to say that those who can’t afford Starbucks or Figaro are bereft of any opportunity to have fruitful discussions. In fact, even the street sweeper has a lot of sensible things to say on socio-political issues more than the conos whose silly conversation centers on six pack abs and weight loss. Anyway, my point is, in coffee-shops people tend to shed their inhibitions on almost anything. I would like to think that caffeine has something to do with this. It may be psychological or a cop-out to some, but coffee to me is something closely related with my personality. And so before throwing off my hat in the arena of coffee-table discussion, I had to make sure that my turf is secured. Heck, my presidential candidate deserves a zealous defense against the evils of politics like black propaganda and character-assassination. It has been my practice to never discuss issues with anyone who focuses more on personalities rather than substantive issues like platforms of government and track-record. Can you defend your preference with passion and objectivity? I’m sure you do and so am I! So here it goes.

At the outset and by looking at the prospective line-up of presidential candidates, I decided to go for Richard “Dick” Gordon all the way. Not until the eloquent Gilbert “GIBO” Teodoro came in the picture. I came to know Gilbert Teodoro long before he became a member of the House of Representatives but when he landed at the top spot of the 1989 Bar Examinations. As we all know, the bar examination is “arguably” the most difficult government examination administered no less than the Supreme Court itself. While passing the bar exam is more than enough ticket to success, topping the bar is surely every barrister’s elusive dream. GIBO, in all his media interviews, never bragged about topping the bar or bagging the Dean’s Medal for Academic Excellence in the prestigious UP College of Law. And oh, not to mention GIBO is a holder of Master of Laws from Harvard University. With all his sterling academic achievements both here and abroad, GIBO remains a humble creature.

You must be nuts if you say that GIBO is not a standout amongst the presidential candidates during live television debates. While most candidates stutter when answering stale yet tricky questions propounded to them by the audience, GIBO managed to answer it all with honesty and sincerity. He may not be a great speaker in the likes of Ferdinand Marcos or Ninoy Aquino but in terms of wit, deep grasp of issues, and vision of government, GIBO could emerge as the runaway winner in today’s presidential derby. Unlike most presidential bets, GIBO never promised the stars and the moon just to win the masses. He is a realist. He does not have to hide beneath the cloth of motherhood statements to the extent of exuding false hopes to the people. In my article Aquino and Villar: Slogging through Campaign Slogans, I lambasted two “messianic” inflicted presidential candidates for exploiting the issue of poverty and corruption throughout the campaign season. The 1987 Constitution is emphatic that a president can only serve for one term and that is for six (6) years with no re-election. How the hell can a president extirpate deeply-rooted problems of poverty and corruption in six (6) years? The least he can do is to minimize or lay a foundation for the next president, may be his vice-president or any other future president. Is this what they are trying to say? I think not. Most of them seem to make us believe that they have some sort of a magic wand in their hands. And with a magic spell like Harry Potter’s “Wingardium leviosa!” alas, poverty and corruption disappear in the face of our nation. And so for the next six (6) years, we will be all living under a utopian state as envisioned by Plato. No hunger, no corruption and to make it more rustic, let’s say that there will be angels singing and trumpeting all throughout the six-year term. I understand that a populist platform is an effective campaign strategy. But sorry to say, like most thinking Filipinos, I’m not buying it. I don’t get it really. The reason why most candidates resort to messianic-strategy is because they have little respect for the masses. Like what I always say, necessitous men are not free men. This to my mind is one of the factors that separate GIBO from other presidential candidates. His honesty and sincerity can be judged with the way he presents himself to the public. He talks more about feasible reforms supported by hard facts and figures. If you, by any chance happens to be an avid viewer of presidential debates then you know very well what I’m talking about. With all the deeply rooted problems of this nation, what we need are real solutions coming from a realistic and intelligent leader. Of all presidential candidates, only GIBO has the guts to admit in public that genuine reforms may take some time to implement but we will be heading towards that direction. Now taking into consideration our political culture, how’s that for a presidential candidate?

The reason why most people tend to shy away with politics or government for that matter is because they picture it as a dirty game. This attitude has serious repercussions. It discourages citizens to participate in the affairs of government. It likewise promotes complacency and attention-deficit on the part of the people in relation with the government. In the end, the outcome is manifested with the crop of leaders we have elected to sit in public office. The players, mostly traditional politicians have a lot to do with this negative perception. This is especially true even during election season. Have you seen how LP presidential bet Noynoy Aquino and Nacionalista standard-bearer throw mud at each other? The equation is simple: Noy accordingly has an untainted character but very poor track record while Villar has a relatively solid legislative track record but with a questionable character. Now, with this kind of picture, the strategy is predictable. Pinch salt on the weaknesses and bank on the perceived advantages. I don’t have to elaborate any further since the media has always been jumpy every time these two presidential candidates fired at each other. It’s an ugly mess and I don’t want be associated with this kind of politics. If one of them happens to be your sure-fire bet to the presidency, then don’t expect reforms in government because what you see right now is what you’ll gonna get for the next six years.

Where is GIBO amidst this mudslinging politics? Well, my presidential candidate is obviously busy waging a positive campaign all over the country. Critics, mostly from the anti-GMA camps, have tried to put him down many times. Some of them throw black propaganda at him but what do they get in exchange? GIBO just simply shrugged them off. Show me one, just one TV interview where GIBO appears to be vindictive against his fiercest critics who have nothing against him except that he is a LAKAS standard bearer, and I would be willing to concede my mistake. I tell you there is none. GIBO, despite his superb credentials and being a Cojuangco, remains prudent and humble amidst the political circus. When asked about the rationale behind his positive campaign, GIBO had this to say, "If I also put hatred and negativity in my heart, and practice mudslinging, how can I unite the nation when I become the president?" LP presidential bet Noynoy Aquino has a lot to learn from his cousin on how to wage a positive campaign that promotes unity rather than divisiveness.

For argument’s sake, let us pretend that LP bet Noynoy Aquino has the much needed character and integrity to become the next Philippine president. Does it necessarily follow that all other presidential contenders are corrupt and devious? In other words, Noy Aquino or anyone for that matter has no monopoly or exclusivity whatsoever to make a pompous claim that, “Inde ako magnanakaw!” If you ask me, I will go for character plus track record. Why settle for less if we could have more. Strangely, if all that is needed is simply character to make a good president, why not elect Ang Kapatiran standard bearer JC De los Reyes or perhaps Nick Perlas to the presidency? Surely these two struggling presidential contenders have never been linked to any scandal or corruption in government. They too represent new blood in Philippine politics as opposed to trapo governance. The truth is, and some quarters may find this hard to admit, qualities such as character, intelligence and track-record are all essential features of a great president. Very well then, is there even a hint that GIBO, judging from his many years of public service, would be a “magnanakaw” if elected as the 15th Philippine President? Critics are quick to dismiss him all because he served as a cabinet member of GMA and later as the standard bearer of LAKAS. This is a clear case of guilt by association. The way I see it, this issue has always been the lone objection against GIBO. Like my pessimistic friends, critics label GIBO as GMA’s lapdog. On the contrary, I believe this single yet defensible barrier may work to GIBO’s advantage. It is here where GIBO show the makings of a great president.

In various live presidential debates and media interviews, GIBO has always been castigated and tagged as GMA’s puppet. However, critics don’t seem to care to check on his accomplishment as the youngest appointee since Ramon Magsaysay to head a key executive position. In August 2007 and at the age of 43, GIBO was appointed as Secretary of the National Defense and chairman of the National Disaster Coordinating Council. As Secretary of Defense, GIBO led the campaign against communist and Muslim rebels. GIBO likewise vowed to employ anti-corruption measures to cleanse the department. And he did. To systematically combat corruption within DND, GIBO implemented a policy that would coincide with transparency and accountability in all DND’s transactions especially with a third party who belongs to the business sector. As chairman of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) GIBO oversaw rescue and rehabilitation efforts in areas devastated by typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng. In both tasks, GIBO undoubtedly gain public admiration for his performance as a cabinet secretary.

During his stint as Secretary of DND and while serving concurrently as the head of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), I never heard an iota of accusation charging GIBO of corruption. And so if GIBO did a fine job as a cabinet secretary, why charge him guilty for the excesses committed by the Arroyo administration? Is there a reasonable link between GIBO’s performance as cabinet secretary and the Helo Garci, Fertilizer scams, NBN-ZTE fiasco and other constitutional violations committed by GMA? Time and again, critics tried to squeeze blood on GIBO because he is the administration’s candidate. Believe me, I’m not an apologist for GMA’s administration. I have been very critical in my writings every time GMA so decides to tinker with the 1987 Constitution. But let us put things in the proper perspective and be objective enough.

I may not be able to cite each and every accomplishment of GIBO as a budding lawmaker and as a cabinet member but one thing is sure about my candidate, he definitely has what it takes to conquer the highest position in the land. Yeah right, Aquino and Villar are the frontrunners based on manipulated electoral surveys but GIBO has been upstaging them in every presidential debate. To me, it’s more than enough that GIBO left a significant mark for voters to rethink their choices and maybe, just maybe, switch their support and go for the substance. If you want a cheesy presidency, by all means vote for LP's Benigno Simeon Aquino III. Or maybe if you’re not into that, there is transactional politics or the win-win solution approach offered by NP Manuel Villar. As for the convicted plunderer Erap Estrada all I can say is, YOU HAD YOUR WINDOW SIR…AND YOU BLEW IT BIG TIME! No pun intended but what is at stake here is the future of our country and GIBO is the best choice for the 2010 Presidential Election. I THINK therefore I am for GIBO!

Friday, April 2, 2010

New Breed On The Block: Young trapos in local politics?

I would like to write about local politics today. I would have preferred to discuss national politics again but my interest has shifted dramatically towards the micro-level aspect of the entire political spectrum. I remember what my feisty professor on local government would always say: all politics is local. And there is absolutely a ring of truth about this observation. Certainly, national officials, particularly the incumbents who seek re-election, draw enormous strength from their wards and errand boys in the local level. This is where political parties play an important role for any national candidate during elections, at least ideally. But culled from the premise that all politics is local, are we to say that most local officials or candidates too have little regard for party principles? Conversely, I would like to believe that the deterioration of principled politics in the national level is but a mirror of what is really happening in the parochial arena. It is really of no moment even if you have elected the best presidential candidate come 2010 if in the end, you have just filled the city hall with the worst possible incompetent candidates for public office. I mean let us be realistic in all this. If you happen to be a gullible person and you picture the next president as someone who is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, well you are in for a disappointment. The next president, even with the best possible technocrats and advisers in his cabinet, can only do so much during his term of office. To be able to solve all the deeply-rooted problems in our country necessitates more than just a great chief executive but it also entails a strong and stable foundation of the entire structure. At the end of the day, the progress of your respective hometowns will have to depend with the kind of local officials you have elected and your devout participation in the community. What I am trying to say here is plain and simple: political reforms must come first from the bottom and not on top of the political structure as pundits would like to suggest. Put bluntly, elect principled leaders in the foundational level, which is the local government then translate it up to the national tiers of the political structure.

I understand that as a rule, ethics and politics can never be merged into one. As long as the key players of Philippine politics continue to dominate the game, we can never expect legitimate reforms and genuine transformations for our country. Change must come from the outside not from within the old system. I shall propose the term “outside” to mean the youth sector of society. Indeed, this observation affirms the age-old saying that it is hard to teach old dogs with new tricks. This is especially true if we rely on traditional politicians to make meaningful reforms in the political system I am therefore deeply convinced that the youth can introduce new kind of politics within our corrupted system of government and it is in them I can foresee the reinvigoration of party principles as a democratic way of life. For one, unlike the old-timers of the present political system, the youth sector is not yet a prey to cynical thoughts. They possess purity of principles that will stand the test of solidity amidst the recurring political turmoil in our country. I have put so much faith in the youth of my generation to shoulder the burden and help educate the masses in terms of political education. Or better yet join the political mainstream and gradually infuse youthful idealism to counter the gargantuan tide of corruption and ineptitude that thrive incessantly in the halls of public offices.

The question therefore now is: how best can we determine who amongst the local candidates has what it takes to bear with the constitutional declaration that “Public office is a public trust?” I think the most decisive starting point here is for the voter to look into the candidate’s character. Verily, when I speak of character, the same should not be limited to the examination of a candidate’s public character but private as well. Necessarily, a leader must be whole. He cannot have his public character be honest but on the other hand, have his private character be deceitful and corrupt. The core ethical values like respect, honesty, and the will to distinguish right and wrong amidst over-powering temptations inherent in public office are all ingredients of a great leader. I would like to think, and as I propose in this writing, that young candidates possess the much needed character for public office. This however does not mean that all young candidates running for public office are character-proof. In fact in my hometown Isabela City (Province of Basilan) where politics is as devious as the devil, the reverse is more likely the rule. It saddens me to know that even young candidates, people I grew up with, have not lived up to the expectations of what youthful idealism should be. Albeit there are indications of immense political awareness from the youth sector these days, thanks to the Internet by the way, the political vigor and exuberance inherent in them have not been translated locally. Sadly, the local scene still remains pretty much the same. Most young candidates have nothing but well-sounding surnames, wealth and porma as part of their credentials. Visit their Facebook accounts and see for yourself how they visualize themselves as the next Philippine president when the office they seek to land on is simply that of a city councilor. I have at least one encounter with a pompous young candidate from my hometown who postures himself as the pag-asa ng kabataan. And since he flaunted his candidacy for city council in Facebook, I could not help but asked him some relevant questions about platforms and his ideas on local statecraft. To my dismay, he simply shrugged off the questions and boasted instead his supposed achievements as a young philanthropist in terms of humanitarian and civic projects. What was he thinking? Organizing party events, sponsoring a basketball team, and sitting as a judge for a gay pageant makes him qualified to be a city councilor? Is there a reasonable connection between his purported generosity and the functions of a city councilor under the present Local Government Code? Or is he posturing as gay rights advocate once elected in the city council? Let me remind him as early as now that the august office he wishes to serve is a seat of deliberations. Questions involving his views on individual liberty and the basics of government are not misplaced because as a future local legislator he will encounter these concepts in drafting ordinances. It is best, by way of preparation, that he should browse once in a while the provisions of the Local Government Code and the 1987 Constitution for enlightenment. He could have earned my respect had his sudden itch for generosity came long before the local elections but the timing is really off and the motive is highly suspicious.

Let me integrate the term “character” with party loyalty for it is here where a young candidate either manifest signs of conviction as a future leader or the tendency to emerge as a sure-fire traditional politician someday. In my writings, I have always been critical with the multi-party system as structured under the 1987 Constitution. From the democratic vantage point, apart from the fact that it is incompatible with a presidential system, such mechanism has greatly contributed to the demise of principled politics in our country. Worse, down in the local level, political dynasties continue to gain sturdy support from their constituents who are immensely benefited by patronage politics. As a result, political families have effectively replaced political parties as key institutions in the democratic polity. Again I wish to remind the readers that political parties are essential components of a functioning democracy. Without a strong party system and in the absence of political watchdogs like the academe, we can never expect political maturity from the people especially the masses. And following the bottom-up approach I mentioned earlier, it seems that the light at the end of the tunnel remains long in sight. To be sure this is not to say that under our present system there are no respectable political parties to count on during elections. In fact, despite my own misgivings on Senator Noy Aquino running as president, I have always respected the Liberal Party for having strong and reform-oriented programs of government. But because of the multi-party system and not to mention the party-list system, political parties in our country can hardly be seen as a reliable institution to bank on in terms of principled politics. Thus, elections in this country whether national or local elections, are personality-based contest rather than an issue-oriented democratic exercise.

It is therefore an imperative for the young candidates especially in local politics to understand the rudiments of the entire system so that they may be able to assess how to effectively infuse “youthful” reforms in government. Local statecraft entails more than just noble ideals or intentions but more importantly how to implement it as well. In other words, candidates must both possess pristine motives to serve the people better and a firm grasp on the basic mechanics of government. This two should always compliment each other. It is best then to join a well-entrenched political party composed of men and women with impeccable reputation and with a solid track-record on governance. However, if you find these political parties too “political” in the sense that the people who composed it are so ruthless to hold the reins of government then by all means take the road less traveled and run as an independent candidate. And stay independent at all times. It is unfortunate that in my beloved hometown some of our young candidates for local positions seem to show early signs of political opportunism if not arrogance. As I said it is fairly within the judgment of a candidate whether to join a political party or not. But to play safe and engage in double-talk do not speak much of a promising leader coming from the ranks of the youth sector. Take this young local aspirant for example, while pledging his undying loyalty and commitment to his party he also secretly supports the ruling dynasty. Rumor has it though that this young aspirant was recently fired from the party not because of disloyalty but due to fluctuating childish behavior during sorties. Some I presume opted to run as independent candidates because they feel that most political parties do not have definite programs of government other than motherhood statements. If you are neophyte, or a perennial loser and you happen to run as an independent candidate I must say that I praise your courage not to join the circus despite the odds of running without a racehorse. However there are also those who, young as they are, have already mustered the art of cunningness at this early point of their political careers. These young vultures either run under the banner of a well organized political party or run as independent candidates but nonetheless joined the bandwagon as guest candidates. There can be no logical reason for this tactic other than wanting to play both cards safely. But surely, I don’t see any principled politics here let alone the makings of a great youth leader. In times of never-ending crises, a potential leader must always takes sides on issues that define convictions no matter what the political consequences are. There is no middle-ground in the face of a power-hungry administration, either join the opposition or stay truly independent. We have had enough of these fence-sitting trapos in the halls of government. To run as an independent candidate while at the same time appearing as a guest candidate of a potent political party will certainly mislead the voters. I challenge these young candidates who are “semi-independents” if not binabae, to bolt out from these parties as guest candidates and once and for all make a firm stand on issues that will help the voters decide intelligently. These reasons make me very skeptic to take our chances on these young politicians.

After all what has been said, the bottom line is: taking the big leap towards change and reform in our government, starts in our hands, the youth. While traditional politics may have robbed some of these youth candidates/aspirants of the innocence and pristine motives, the voting youth has a duty to ground them back to where they should be. The malfunctions in our political system while largely attributed to the players of the system, we too are partly responsible for its failures. And so this coming May 10 elections, let us start a youthful revolution by choosing the right candidates for public office. The bottom-up approach as proposed above is designed to push the youth sector to take the lead on matters of governance. Again if we want meaningful reforms, change must come from the outside not from within the present political system. Simply, these new breed of politicians must not keep abreast with the old and traditional “public servants.” They, as youth, must recreate, reform, if not give breath to a genuine new breed, unbitten by the dangerous bug that brought our country into malady.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Villar and Aquino: Slogging through campaign slogans

In this frenzied political season, all eyes are focused on the presidential candidates hoping that maybe, just maybe, one of them could be the messiah we all have been waiting for. Once again the masses are hypnotized by means of silly and trite campaign promises like extirpation of poverty, peace in Mindanao, eradication of graft and corruption and a lot more, name it and they could readily unleash answers that would solve our country’s plight. Yes, all of these, as they would like us to believe, can be done in just a matter of six years. What a crap! What an insult, an affront to our collective intelligence as particles of sovereignty.

Philippine politics as we all know revolves around personalities and not platforms, principles or programs of government. Because political parties are often seen as “ideologically” bankrupt democratic entities, most Filipinos vote for individuals not parties, or at the very least, the principles they represent as democratic organizations. The propensity of politicos to jump from one party to another throughout the political season clearly enhances popular disgust on the political system. Logically speaking, the seismic crack in our political system has a direct link why political dynasties and incompetent movie personalities thrive in the halls of public offices.

From this perspective, no wonder most presidential contenders are so obsessed in creating their own myths by flaunting their faces on prime time television, reinforced with profound campaign slogans which represent the issues of the day. Amongst the favorite “gasgas” themes of tradpols is the perennial problem of poverty. While poverty is a legitimate social issue of Third World democracies, sad to say that it is also in fact an effective political issue during election season. Thus, poverty being the ultimate source of the ills and inequality in our society, still remains to this day, the most exploited theme for candidates aspiring to sit in public office. Unless poverty is lessened through meaningful social reforms, populist platforms will always be the favorite campaign strategy to bank on during elections. For obvious reason, politicos readily embarked on populist theme because it aims to touch the hearts of the underprivileged segment of the electorate which by experience, determines the “winnability” of a candidate.

In the 1998 presidential elections, Erap played his cards well in convincing the masses to choose one of their own to seat in Malacanang. Anchoring mainly on a populist platform expressed in his slogan, “Erap para sa mahirap,” he was eventually elected “overwhelmingly” as the 13th President of the Republic. Erap being a “mahirap” is of course a brazen lie. Nonetheless, his campaign strategy worked well knowing for a fact that he had the upper hand in terms of mass appeal and popularity. Undoubtedly, by portraying roles such as the defender of the underdogs in the big screen, no one dared to examine his checkered past nor question the truthfulness, the exaggeration inherent in his claims as the purported champion of the poor. Conversely, the late Senator Raul Roco with all his sterling credentials, tested and unwavering commitment to principled politics finished fourth in that electoral contest for the presidency.

Today as it was before, the issue of poverty appears to be the trend for an effective campaign strategy. The most vocal and by far credible of all presidential contenders is Nacionalista Party standard bearer Manny Villar. The problem however with Villar, unlike Erap in the ’98 elections, he has no star quality to rely on. And so whatever it takes, he needs to play the “poverty card” with utmost precision. We all know his side of the story. His television campaign ads coupled with a catchy campaign jingle speak for themselves. In the end, he proposes a one-liner solution to eradicate poverty, “Sipag at Tiyaga.” Thus, as of this writing, Villar was reported to have spent a billion for his campaign, the highest so far amongst other presidential candidates. This is expected of Villar because preparation-wise, both financially and emotionally perhaps, he is the most determined to conquer the seat of power at any cost. What worries me, and I’m sure hundreds of Filipinos too share the same trepidation, is the many IOUs (I owe you) he may have incurred as a result of profligate campaign spending. Indeed politics in our country has become too expensive which only the well entrenched oligarch could afford.

If Villar’s campaign battle cry is profound and simple, Liberal Party contender Senator Noynoy Aquino, his closest rival in the surveys, has a family-oriented campaign slogan, “Mama at Papa.” This of course is not intended to belittle Aquino’s intentions but I’m merely stating the obvious. The decision of Noy Aquino after all, came as a surprise to everyone. Almost like a thief in the night, he stole the ambitions of Senator Mar Roxas to become Liberal’s standard bearer. As I have mentioned before, the perceived clamor urging Aquino to run for the presidency was merely an offshoot of Cory Aquino’s celebrated funeral. Being the symbol of the EDSA revolution, the death of the former president brought back a lot of emotions for our people. It rekindled our sense of nationhood through shared suffering in the face of a perceived indestructible despotic regime. Then suddenly, the spotlight was focused on Noy Aquino, the progeny of Ninoy and Cory, among the heroes of the EDSA revolution.

Critics both pros and cons, were quick to express their opinions. Some praised Senator Noy Aquino’s courage to take up the challenge while others expressed doubts because of his dismal performance as a legislator. The think-tanks of the Liberal Party panicked and chose to exploit the spirit of EDSA to patch up Aquino’s supposed weaknesses and lack of solid track record. Lately, Aquino and those behind his strategy opted to invest more on “character” issues which make all the more suspicious that he has nothing to offer except his family name. Surprisingly during the 1986 snap election, Cory Aquino too did the same thing when President Marcos questioned her lack of experience for the presidency. But how can we be so sure of Aquino’s character if I may ask. I barely saw him articulating his views on controversial issues during his stint as legislator. When asked about his obscure legislative track record all he could offer was that he devoted much of his time as a legislator by attending legislative investigations. Kudos then for the good Senator! But what Noy Aquino seemed to forget is the fact that legislative inquiries serve only as an aid for legislation. Simply put, legislative hearings are incidental to primary function of Congress that is, to pass laws. Very well then if so, what landmark legislation did the good Senator pass during his term as a Congressman and later a Senator of the republic? How convenient it is to deceive the public especially when majority of our people are unfamiliar with the rudiments of government and its institutions.

I think character, as a necessary ingredient of leadership, should be measured conclusively when it is being put into severe test of will power and convictions in times of insurmountable crises. In the august words of a patriot, “Seldom is a leader remembered for what he said during a crisis. He is often remembered for what he did.” Unfortunately for Aquino, we seldom see both. As a legislator, he chose to be part of the “silent minority” bloc which clearly shows his unpreparedness to become the next president of our country.

It is for these reasons that I urge the academe to take an active part in overhauling the mind-set of our people, the masses in particular when it comes to political education. Civil society organizations can only do so much. More often, they too are being utilized by moneyed and highly influential politicos to set the trend of discussion which would fit their own purported advocacies. Corruption indeed touches everything. Today, albeit more and more people engage in participatory democracy, still we have to work harder in bringing the discussion down to the uneducated masses. If we want to change the system, or at least neutralize traditional politics, we have to consider the bottom-up approach in dealing with the problem. As they say, all politics is local.

Campaign slogans no matter how distasteful, at times funny, depict the kind of politics we have in this country: perpetual exploitation of the masses by allegedly joining the poverty bandwagon. Therefore, the next president of this nation should not be solely gauged with whether you believe in Sipag at Tiyaga or you have high regards for “Mama at Papa,” rather, he should and must be measured based on his platforms and deep-seated moral principles that will enable him to defy temptations of the supposed grandeur of a public office. In the end, it is not afterall choosing between, Sipag at Tiyaga or Mama at Papa, it is choosing for our “Bayang Pilipinas.”

Next time I would be dealing with LAKAS’ standard bearer Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro and BAGUMBAYAN’s Richard “Dick” Gordon.