Life behind bars for NDF consultants: Pets,stolen moments, cramped cells


consultants final raymund
FREE AT LAST, albeit temporarily. The first batch of political prisoners released as part of preparations for the resumption of long-stalled peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front.

Alexander and Winona Birondo have spent the last year gazing and waving at each other through a small opening that allows sightings among residents of different detention blocks in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City.

For seven months after their March 2015 arrest, the couple managed to share soft-diet weekend breakfast meals in Camp Crame. Once they were transferred to Bagong Diwa, however, court hearings were the only opportunities for the couple to see and briefly touch each other.

“Aldub na aldub ang dating namin,” jokes Alexander, following their release as the Philippine government and Asia’s longest running insurgency prepare to resume stalled peace talks.

ALDUBAlexander and Winona Birondo have spent a year waving and gazing each other across rooftops, with court hearings providing their only opportunity for physical closeness. Photo by Obet de Castro

The Birondos are middle-aged. Both suffer from diabetes and have been released on humanitarian grounds.

Hardly the spry, coy youngsters of the country’s most popular television variety show segment.

But Alexander says he identifies with the young lovers’ frustration at obstacles that stand in their way.

“Nasa magkabilang building lang kami, pero bawal kaming magkita,” he said. “Sa rooftop lang kami nagkikita, kaway, kaway.” (We were assigned to adjoining buildings but refused to let us meet. We could see each other only on the rooftop, waving at each other.)

“Ito yung masasabi mong napakalapit pero malayo,” he adds. “Talagang aldub na aldub ang dating.” (We were so near, yet so far. We could have been the stars of Aldub.)

In his excitement to finally see his wife, Alex’s blood pressure shot up. The reading during the mandatory medical examination required for release was 180/90.

“I had to reassure the doctor that it would easily do down,” said Alex , whose affectionate gestures towards wife draw grins from comrades.

Pet — and food taster

alcantaraMid-afternoon of Wednesday, August 17, Christina Palabay holds up a two-page document filled with dense text that detail the 46 criminal raps filed against Tirso Alcantara.

The secretary general of human rights group Karapatan is checking several mobile phone units for blow by blow updates on efforts to secure the 22 political prisoners who are covered by safety and immunity guarantees.

It is the third, nerve-wrecking day for Palabay and an estimated 100 lawyers and para-legal workers tasked with ensuring the releases. The hard work started on August 5, when the Supreme Court ruled that lower courts had jurisdiction on arrest proceedings.

“They actually camped out in the courts,” jokes Alcantara.

The military calls the 62-year-old detainee the deputy of Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal, the late chief of the Southern Tagalog Melito Glor Command of the New People’s Army.

Arrested on Feb. 14, 2011, Alcantara was incarcerated in isolation at the Philippine Army’s maximum security area at Fort Bonifacio.

He was eventually transferred to Bagong Diwa. There, he adopted a cat that once reportedly belonged to Rizal Alih, a leader of a rebellious separatist faction.

.”It’s my child,” says Alcantara. “It’s also my food taster,” he quips with black humor.

But the wisecracking Southern Tagalog rebel leader could not have imagined the coincidence that allowed him to reunite Wednesday with a grand-daughter he hadn’t seen in 12 years.

lolo and grandkidThe last time Alcantara saw Nica, she was a rambunctious four-year-old visitor to the guerrilla front.

The revolution, however, separated him from family. His daughter, based in Palawan, spent eight years in jail. Alcantara lost touch with the child.

Nica grew up with an aunt with very little affinity for politics. She doesn’t even know  about the peace talks. But on the wayto school at dawn, Wednesday, she saw a banner with a familiar name.

“She went up to the speaker. She said, ‘lolo ko yan’.”

It was dusk when Nica saw the tall, sturdy figure of her grandfather alight from a the van.

She charged at him, past alarmed security escorts, hurling herself into his arms with the cThere are some 500 political prisoners nationwide. Membership in the Communist Party of the Philippines is no longer outlawed, but most detainees are charged with common crimes.

SALUTACamp Bagong Diwa hosts the most number of political prisoners.

Ruben Saluta says conditions there are not much different from shocking photos of the Quezon City jail.

“Sometimes it gets so hot that my blood pressures goes up to 170/90,” Saluta noted. “We’re mixed with common criminals in areas that are so congested that we take turns sleeping or resting. If one of us stands up to use bathroom, someone will take our place.”

 

 

#HindiManhid: Bring Them Home mission for stranded OFWs in Saudi


“Our kababayans are in serious crisis because their employers did not pay their salaries. They are also confronted by many difficulties caused by the expiry of their end-of-services benefits. Many were not given exit visas after they completed their contracts, and are being delayed for repatriation.”
jan28_ofw
Photo from abs-cbnnews.com
More than 11,000 stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWS) in Saudi Arabia are the subjects of an urgent government mission to bring them home by September 10, according to Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Judy Taguiwalo.
Taguiwalo detailed her department’s participation in the multi-agency mission headed by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III as the latter announced a giant step in efforts to ease the crisis of 11,000 workers affected by setbacks in the Middle East country’s oil industry, the backbone of its economy.
Bello said the Saudi monarch has instructed the Ministry of Labor to waive immigration penalties for workers with expired working visas. The King has also directed Kingdom officials to provide food aid and start processing the money claims of the workers.
Taguiwalo said “Operation Bring Them Home” also aims to document situations of undocumented OFWs in crisis like women and children,  facilitate provision of appropriate services and referral to their respective regions for the needed services. The DSWD is earmarking P50 million to help the OFWs in crisis.
OPTIONS
The labor secretary said the King has offered workers options: plane fare for those who want to return to the Philippines and re-employment aid for those willing to transfer to other firms.
Slide1
Labor Secretary Silvestro III and Social Welfare and Development Secretary Judy Taguiwalo
Taguiwalo said the DSWD would provide psychosocial interventions like counseling and debriefing, help distressed OFWs in reintegration with families and communities and provide after-care and other material services.
The Foreign Affairs and Health departments are also part of the mission ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Many Filipino workers have said they are willing to stay on and be absorbed in other industries to going home and facing unemployment. But complex legal requirements and unhelpful employers have made for a difficult process.
While Saudi Arabia has some of the most onerous labor policies in the Middle East, the government of President Duterte has managed to wrest concessions from the Kindgom, in contrast to the performance of former president Benigno Aquino III’s administration.
The Saudi labor ministry has confirmed the King’s instructions “to guarantee and protect the rights of foreign workers,” according to Bello.
Taguiwalo appointed DSWD Undersecretary Vilma B. Cabrera, Assistant Secretary Hope V. Hervilla, Social Welfare officers Perlita V. Panganiban, Mely S. Pangilinan, Teresita L. Valentino, Victoria N. NAvida, Marygrail B. Dong-as, Franco V. Lopez, Bienvenido V. Barbosa and Ali B. Namia to the mission
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Urgent queries from OFWS in crisis. Photo by abs-cbnnews
The affected OFWs were  previously employed by three multinational companies: Bin Laden, Saudi Oger, and Mohammad  Al Mojil, as well as by six (6) sub-contracting companies.
“Our kababayans are in serious crisis because their employers did not pay their salaries. They are also confronted by many difficulties caused by the expiry of their end-of-services benefits. Many were not given exit visas after they completed their contracts, and are being delayed for repatriation,” she explained.
The focus of the mission is the stranded OFWs in three major KSA cities, namely Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam/Al-Khobar.
“This is not the first time that Filipinos working overseas such as in the KSA have experienced severe crisis because of questionable labor policies imposed by their employers and because of the neglect of their contracting agencies,” Taguiwalo said.
“The DSWD sees it important to take part in this humanitarian mission so we can gauge the impact of such policies on the lives and welfare of our OFWs. We hope to come up with findings that can help guide us in the future when it comes to the implementation of the country’s export labor policy,” she stressed.
“As the government agency that’s primarily tasked to look after the welfare of Filipinos, the DSWD wants to also provide assistance to our OFWs the same way we also aim to help their families here at home when it comes to their emergency  needs,” Taguiwalo said.

Keep those hands off the phone while driving — or else


You’re napping. Suddenly horns start blaring. You sit up, rub your eyes and see your car is not moving while the lanes on both sides stream forward.

Your best buddy is oblivious, sending a text to a beloved.

Call them intexticated.

intexticated1.jpg
http://www.textinganddrivingsafety.com

Most of us have probably experienced riding with kin or friends who text or check their social media pages or email stream while driving. We grasp our seat belts and pray for deliverance as the one-handed drivers struggle with multi-tasking.

The Philippine Council for Health, Research and Development (PCHRD) cites studies showing that drivers are four times as likely to cause a crash when using their phones.

“The likelihood that they will crash is equal to that of someone with a 0.8 percent blood alcohol level, the point at which drivers are generally considered intoxicated. Research also shows that hands-free devices do not eliminate the risks, and may worsen them by suggesting the behavior is safe,” the agency notes.

In the United States, the Colorado-based website Texting and Driving Safety.com says 23% of all car crashes recorded in 2011 were caused by drivers who were texting. 

intexticated2
Graphic from http://www.textinganddrivingsafety.com

Slap on the wrist

We all scream at drunk drivers. Social media-crazy Filipinos, however, seem to shrug off an already existing ban on mobile phone use while driving. 

The penalty is a joke — P200 from first to third offense. Driving without slippers gets more than double the penalty for driving while using a handheld phone or mobile radio.

Only when you’ve actually caused an accident does reckless driving come into play.

 

 

INTEXTICATED3

Well, brace yourselves. Change is coming. The House of Representatives adopted en toto the Senate’s version of the “Anti-distracted Driving Act” Monday, during the last session of the 16th Congress.

This means the measure doesn’t need bicameral committee proceedings to consolidate versions by both chambers, doing a way for the ratification requirement.

In 2011, former President and Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo shepherded her bill to approval, but it lacked a similar Senate push.

The measure should  now be on its way to President Benigno Aquino III’s desk.

It’s highly unlikely he’ll veto it — but you never know with him. Unless vetoed, an approved bill that has been transmitted to the Chief Executive will lapse into law within a month.

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte also comes into office on July 1 with enough time to sign it. If I were a betting gal, I’d put my money on Mr. Duterte — who’s allowed himself to be ticketed for traffic violations — taking the law very seriously.

davao cowboy

The measure covers the gamut of distracted driving. This includes the use of mobile devices as a means of communication either through texts or calls and the use of electronic gadgets for playing games, internet browsing and watching movies.

Because drivers of public utility vehicles have crashed while using cell phones, the measure now includes the owner or operator of the vehicle as a liable party.

Also covered are wheeled agricultural machineries, construction vehicles and other forms of transportation such as bicycles, pedicabs, trolleys, “habal-habal”, “kuliglig”, human and animal-powered carriages.

The penalty:  P5,000 for the first offense, P10,000 for the second offense and P15,000 for the third offense. Higher than for drag racing, one of Mr. Duterte’s pet peeves.

The final offense shall mean cancellation of the driver’s license and a penalty of P20,000.

The bill exempts drivers using the aid of a hands-free function and vehicles that are not in motion except those who are temporarily halted by the red light and by traffic enforcers.

The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), Land Transportation Office (LTO), Philippine Information Agency (PIA), Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Philippine National Police (PNP) shall initiate a six-month, nationwide information, education and campaign.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

 

RSF wrong to call for media boycott


Reporters without Borders (RSF) is right to express outrage over President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s remarks on the murders of Filipino journalists. Its call for Philippine media to boycott his press conferences is dead wrong. So is the suggestion to use the law on defamation (libel or slander in this country) against Mr. Duterte.

The international organization was reacting to this particular line of Mr. Duterte: If you’re not a bad journalist, you won’t get killed. That was a line repeated thrice in his rambling harangue, each time said with greater intensity.

Media did not misinterpret, Mr. Duterte, nor take him out of context.

Read: Lawyering for the killers of journalists

killings

Media groups, in their investigations into the 174 murders of journalists, have pointed out allegations of corruption against some of the victims and the unjust economic systems in media that make colleagues vulnerable to corruption.

There are laws that cover erring media practitioners. Murder is a crime; there is no excuse for it.

Most journalist victims died in the line of duty. It is not true that only the bad eggs are hunted.

Most victims were murdered for exposing corruption and actions threatening local communities, including human rights violations, the sale of narcotics, the proliferation of illegal gambling, illegal logging and abusive mining practices.

When state agents commit the crime – and majority of suspects in the killings of journalists are active or retired law enforces, and local officials and/or their henchmen – the situation grows worse.

Hundreds of human rights workers, judges, political activists and environmentalists have been slain for many of the same issues that journalists die for.

Defamation

There is no downplaying the gravity of Mr. Duterte’s statements.

But for RSF to suggest that Philippine media organizations bring defamation lawsuits against Mr. Duterte is mind-boggling.

“Duterte should nonetheless be pleased by the existence of these laws because without them he would also be exposed to violent repercussions, according to his own words. We urge organizations that represent the media to not overlook comments of this kind and to bring lawsuits. We also urge the media to boycott the Duterte administration’s news conferences until the media community gets a public apology.” — RSF

Hasn’t RSF kept track of our long campaign to decriminalize libel? Did it not monitor the threat represented by the Anti-Cybercrime Law, which increases the penalty for the crime?

I do not want this used on me, on citizen journalists, or the 40 million Filipinos on social media.Why would I use it against a critic, even if he happens to be the President-elect?

I am a member, formerly chairperson, of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), which campaigns to drop libel as a crime. Around the world, media groups are battling to decriminalize defamation. RSF should know that.

The late Jun Pala’s family, on the other hand, or other heirs of slain journalists, can choose this course.

Grounds for boycott?

A boycott by journalists is tantamount to a strike against both news sources and the people we serve.

A media boycott should be used only when our physical safety or ability to gather, process and disseminate the news, are in direct danger due to the actions of news sources.

The President-elect’s remarks present a general danger — especially if people with axes to grind see his views as a green light to go after journalists perceived as erring. These remarks do not yet represent a direct threat as, say, censorship does.

His catcalling and leering, however, are direct threats to well-being of women reporters — that is why there are laws on sexual harassment in the workplace.

Mr Duterte MUST apologize with no excuses for that, and pledge not to display such behavior. GMA7 reporter Mariz Umali has enough grounds to file a legal complaint. RSF did not mention her case.

Mr. Duterte uses extremely colorful language. But other chiefs of state, including outgoing President Benigno Aquino III have used similar lines. That does not excuse the President-elect. And media groups have spoken up as they always have.

The Philippine media did not boycott former Presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when they directly attacked us.

The first pressured owners of one national daily into selling it to his political allies. Mr. Estrada also prodded business cronies to boycott a hard-hitting newspaper.

Mrs. Arroyo took on emergency powers, padlocking a newspaper and arresting outspoken critics. The Armed Forces and the police went around the country, providing schools and communities with a list of “enemies of the state” – which included the name media organizations, including the NUJP.

The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos closed down media, except for a few outfits owned by cronies.

Impunity’s throwback loop

Through all these years, Filipino journalists slugged it out with the powers-that-be. Even under the dictatorship, we put up underground press units and alternative media outfits.

We continued to cover Mr. Estrada and Mrs. Arroyo, not allowing their actions to cow us.

aquino

In 2014, on the fifth anniversary of the Ampatuan massacre, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) came out with a report. I wrote a piece what perpetrates impunity in this country. I scoured files going back to the early 2000s. Here are excerpts from that article:

“It is 2014 and I’m looking at reports, articles, talks and papers from 2004. Few things have changed. Indeed, every incident of violence perpetrated against journalists and almost every official statement on the issue by the incumbent President hurl those working for press freedom into a never-ending #throwback loop….

Mr. Aquino has tried to downplay the 33 murders of journalists under his watch, insulting the victims while at it.

‘When we say ‘media killing,’ usually (we refer to) agents of the state suppressing the search for the truth . . . but many of them, we can say, were not in pursuit of the profession,’ said the President, citing love triangles and extortion as possible motives.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) notes the poor solution rate for the 33 murders under Aquino’s term, with arrests only for six of these cases. Yet here was the land’s highest official, who often presents his administration as righteous, providing an old, discredited spin to a long-festering problem.

Mrs. Arroyo and leaders of the Philippine National Police (PNP) then also repeatedly blamed media victims for the killings, hinting at “shady backgrounds,” corruption and messy personal lives.

Then and now: Top government officials refusing to acknowledge that murder has become a routine response by powerful individuals and groups who come under a harsh media spotlight.

Then and now: Top government officials ignoring the roots of the problem, instead, hinting that murders could decrease if journalists eased up on their duties as watchdogs of society.”

 

We owe the people

And now we face Mr. Duterte.

A boycott is not just between media and Mr Duterte. A boycott does not just affect the incomes of media workers or the profits of our employers.

A boycott would hurt most the people we serve. Our people, RSF.

digong alabangIn this day and age, Mr Duterte can take to the Internet and record daily ramblings for the people to watch. He could very well bypass media.

But that would not be real communication. It could become a one-way monologue or he could impose a controlled platform, where only supporters get to ask sacharine questions. Filipinos know about that; we saw that during the dictatoship.

RSF is wrong. Filipino journalists owe the people our coverage of Mr. Duterte. We owe them, his fans and critics, the duty of asking the tough questions.

We cannot criticize if we abandon the task of asking those hard questions. We cannot educate, nor explain, if we stop prodding and investigating contradictions between words and actions. And we won’t be able to give Filipinos the good news – and there are many positive pronouncements and actions from Mr. Duterte – if we ignore his existence.

This is not a playground brawl. This is a fight for press freedom and free expression; a fight against impunity. This is not just about journalists, because those two rights are intertwined with other basic rights due to all citizens of this republic.

Media is a reflection of the society it serves. Where we get killed, others, too, face the guns. And they struggle on, as we in media should.

Impunity rides high when society confers too much power on select individuals and groups and imposes too little accountability on them. The murders of journalists in the Philippines will go on so long as governments continue to confound calls for transparency, so long as the corrupt and abusive wield the silence of the graveyard in response to expressions of the people’s democratic aspirations.

Opaque systems and selective imposition of justice, not to mention a weak justice system that makes sitting ducks of whistleblowers and witnesses, fueled and continue to fuel conditions that constrict press freedom – and all other freedoms — in the Philippines.

We will slug it out. We will soldier on. And while at it, we will give credit to Mr. Duterte when he gets it right even as we stand our ground when he is wrong.

A 10-day trip down cancer memory lane. Day #1


I was nominated by dear friend, Alma Anonas-Carpio to post a selfie daily for ten days and to nominate one person each day to do the same for cancer awareness. The campaign seeks to honor those who have battled and are still battling cancer, and those who have lost a loved one to cancer.
I also happen to be a cancer survivor. I have lost a breast to the beast and underwent chemotherapy.
I have since been pronounced in full remission — no one every says “cured” when it comes to cancer.
I treasure each day … every shaft of sunlight and fall of rain, every meal with friends, every battle that comes, every victory and loss, every song, every splash of color, every tear and every gurgle of laughter.
This treasury of memories will succour if and when the day comes when the doctors say cancer has recurred. It is a day I hope never happens. It is something I know could happen.
Alma’s challenge is an opportunity to share some parts of that struggle.
Call it a 10-day cancer odyssey.
Let me start with how doctors spotted the cancer early enough to avert disaster.
It was early 2008; a high school class thread on the experiences of two buddies who’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. Our two brave souls advised everyone — we were then in our late 40s — to get breast mammograms and regular examinations to spot for cancer.
We were mostly well-educated professionals in that group. We’d read plenty about cancer. Few of us had ever had that checkup. I am a doctor’s daughter. Yet no one among seven daughters had ever gone for a beast exam.
There is, I guess, an instinct in all of us to shove the thought of cancer to the back of mind.
I went for a mammogram with this thought bubble: “let’s see if it really hurts as they say it will.” (It didn’t, but then I have a high pain threshold.)
The results came up negative. But the doctor recommended an ultra-sound. I had dense breasts and these sometimes result in false negatives.
The doctor found a few very tiny lumps in the ultra-sound. They were too small for any other tests. She said to come back after three months.
Waiting game
I followed the palpating test for those three months. The first two came up with nothing. On the third month, just before the second ultra-sound, I felt a squishy little lump. It wasn’t hard like a pebble, which doctors cite as a warning sign.
Our family doctor agreed. There was a lump but it seemed, on touch, benign. But she said, get that ultra-sound.
There, the doctor sounded worried. Two of the lumps were clearly benign. But one showed an irregular shape, a red light for possible cancer. Her recommendation: Immediate biopsy.
I asked Nanay’s long time assistant, Lynn Carinal Casia, our dear lifeline to everything medical, to get an appointment with classmate and surgeon, Julian Rizaldy Jr Raca, and the cutest surgeon in town, Dr. Tony Vasquez, also a family friend.
Both were in the US for a conference. So I went to Doc Sidney, the son of doctors who are my parents’  buddies.
It was Masskara festival.  Buddy Yvette Lee and I were in town to gambol. I squeezed the biopsy in between a morning press conference and an early dinner with a visiting senator.
Yvette didn’t know to laugh or groan when shown a mobile video of the event. Yeah, I took it, asking questions, getting answers. A bit surreal — siblings went, ewwww, you’re crazy! But that’s how this journalist copes with fear.
Sparkling memories
The biopsy coincided with preparations for a long-planned, all-girls trip to Thailand — seven siblings, our friend, Effie and our dear cousin, Tess, coming in from the US by way of Cambodia and Laos.
Lynn, who we all call Tita B-bing, was requested to forward the results through email or SMS.
And off we went.
bangkok
Gallivanting before going home for breast cancer surgery. Bangkok, 2008
Memories of that trip sparkle, although it was my nth visit. Maybe, it was us celebrating life, pretending there was nothing to worry about.
We feasted land took funny photos of our bellies in diminishing sizes. We scared Mary Anne’s then boyfriend and the driver he hired for our van as we battled to follow our itinerary  (no jewellery bazaars, just old palaces and temples.)
The driver fled and was replaced by his brother, a sweet, gentle, funny guy who got us hooked on Korean telenovelas (probably as a way to save his sanity). He even loaned some bootleg series.
Us braver ones got hoisted on elephant trunks. We traipsed through temples. We tried not to bolt at the sight of things dangling from the boys of Patpong — including the two who offered to take Tess and me out for dinner — free, they said. 🙂 We graciously turned down the invite.
Tess and I even went on a side trip to Chiang Mai.
chiangmai
One morning, I texted B-bing asking for the biopsy result. It was a day after it should have come out. After my third, text, she got in touch with our doctor-sibling, May.
Turns out, my son, Commie asked them to hold off so as not to spoil the trip. But B-bing and siblings knew me; they eventually decided that revelation was the better part of valor.
It was positive. I had cancer.
Everyone was calm but watchful. I requested B-bing to book surgery, asking for a few days to inform my Philippines Graphic family and ensure that managing editor, Joel Pablo Salud, was up to holding up the fort.
Waiting for Barack
I had read up by then and decided to take the route of radical mastectomy. It helped that Doc Tony, the main surgeon, was eye candy and calm. He’s also a talented photographer; we chatted about light and shadows in between medical notes.
Julian was the second. Both were amused when I lobbied for a specific date and time for surgery.
You’re not going anywhere for days, they pointed out. The wound would need draining.
The rolled their eyes on the reason: I wanted to be awake and lucid when America elected Barack Obama.
It was Nov. 5, 2008 our time; it was Nov. 4 for Americans. (Photos below fro, http://patrickfallonphoto.com/2008/11/04/election-2008-barack-obamas-election-night-grant-park/)
Shaking off the fog and nausea of anaesthesia, I asked for the laptop and weirded out the nurse by writing a column on the rise of my Bama to the presidency of the US of A.
The drainage went smoothly and I went home to heal. The next time the doctor saw me, he asked who had changed the dressing.
I had, by facing the mirror. He broke out in a chuckle and said I did a better dressing.
The second time, he frowned at a request to go Macau. He threw up his hands. Why?
Because Nadal and the Fed were playing an exhibition and there was a standing invite from a friend. He laughed, but warned about the possibility of the stitches breaking. I had a ready answer: Doc Julian was going escort and baggage handler and changer of dressings (which Julian knew he didn’t have to do.)
Shaolin me
I’d also sat down with oncologist, Dr. Adonis Guancia, as straight-forward and grounded a doctor as anyone could hope for, and a passionate campaigner to ensure poor women are not deprived of checkups and intervention for cancer.
I opted to take chemotherapy. I knew other friends elsewhere took the alternative route.
He gave wonderful advice: Not to let cancer interrupt your life. To rest when energy flagged but to continue doing the things one loves.
I kept on working, flying back home for a couple of days for chemotherapy sessions. Joel and the Graphic family were wonderful colleagues. We joked about the one remaining boob being more than equal to other pairs.
Sister Malou and her daughter, Alex,  went shopping for wigs. I had decided to shave the head on the first sign of falling hair.
But the wigs were hot and I looked like some refugee from a Marx Brothers film.
Besides, the mirror showed a strange gal — the Shaolin runaway this kid always wanted to be, although I doubt warriors of yore wore dangling earrings and ruffled jammies.

shaolin1shaolin2wig partywig party2

 
Ties that bind
I’m not fearless. I’m just good a not showing it. Sometimes, too good for my own sake. 
But we grew up with elders who laughed and mocked at their adventures and disasters.
And we grew up singing, “Whistle A Happy Tune.” We believe in the song and in that other childhood ditty, “My Favorite Things.”
It helps to have a big, sprawling clan of chaotic individuals who will argue and skirmish but come together when shit happens, clowning around but letting people cry if they need to.
Commie and his sister, Mutya, were pillars of strength. I’m sure they schemed behind my back for ways to negotiate more days of rest. Commie stood between his mom, who has a hard time saying no to people, and the rest of the world.
It also helped that Doctors’ Hospital in Bacolod was our second home — I’d eavesdropped as a kid in the emergency room, hoarding stories of lives unknown. The nurses and doctors didn’t blink as we gossiped during chemo sessions.
It was a wonderful Christmas. Dad and I went to arts events. Nunelucio Alvarado’s Nami-nami became a bonding place with old and new friends.
Once the siblings had straggled home, we sang a concert of carols and broadway songs and guffawed and cried through old film favorites.
And there was Facebook, a new gift then, a perch from where to  watch the world those days I couldn’t be in the thick of it. There was the Mac, for taking selfies, and there was photoshop for mucking up.
Dec 2008
Life IS wonderful. Breast cancer is easy to overcome if you catch it early.
How you do your checkups, what tests you take are issues still being debated by the medical profession. The stories seem to morph with every year. Consult with your doctor, read up and decide for yourself.
Shit happens, yeah. But we don’t have to let it cover us, whether we’re dealing with cancer — or dictatorship.
For the first day, I’m nominating high school classmate and friend, Alpha Shanahan, a great singer, a former nun, a wife and mother, and an artist who came into bloom while in the midst of struggle.

Panelo as spokesman: Bad signal for seekers of truth, justice


Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, the country’s next President, has appointed defense lawyer Salvador Panelo as his spokesman.

Presidential transition teams usually vet nominees. Maybe, Duterte, who got Panelo to represent him during the public lynching stage-managed by Sen. Antonio Trillanes, feels he knows the lawyer well enough to forego of the vetting process.

Mr. Duterte chose wrong. Journalists and media groups are telling him so. As have the families of the media victims in the Nov. 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre.

maguindanao-massacre

“Hindi ako komportable. Hindi tama (I am not comfortable. This is not right),” said Mary Grace Morales on behalf of other families of our fallen colleagues.

“Parang alam na namin saan patungo ang kaso (We know where the case is headed),” Morales, whose husband Rosell, circulation manager of the community paper, News Focus, died in the massacre, said.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) quoted Morales as saying, “Kung sya (Panelo) na talaga, hindi na ako aasa na may mangyayari pa sa kaso na ito (If he is really appointed, I will no longer hope for progress in this case),” she added.

Duterte campaigned on the promise to rid the Philippines of criminals and abusive government officials. Few clans are more abusive than the Ampatuans of Maguindanao.

Read: THE AMPATUAN MASSACRE: BECAUSE THEY COULD (IMPUNITY IN THE PHILIPPINES)

Ampatuan-621x446
Andal Ampatuan, Jr., a principal suspect in the Maguindanao Massacre. Photo from the AsianCorrespondent

Panelo was a defense lawyer for the Ampatuan massacre principals. He withdrew as counsel for Andal Ampatuan Jr. in December last year.

The NUJP expressed serious misgivings on his appointment as spokesman. It noted the “possible implications on the trial of those accused of what is acknowledged as the single deadliest attack on the press in history and one of the worst incidents of electoral violence in the country.”

I am a member of the NUJP, one of its former chairpersons. While the statement was right on most points, a tougher call is in order.

Mayor Duterte must rethink his appointment of Panelo

paneloDo you see this quote, sir?

 

More than 50 people died, most of them hapless journalists. It was a MASSACRE of civilians.

Unarmed civilians, many of them women, one of them a lawyer who worked with the poor. A massacre, sir. The single, most vicious attack on journalists ever, worldwide. And it happened in your beloved Mindanao.

ampatuan-massacre

One can be a defense lawyer and protect suspects’ rights.

It is another thing to peddle the lies of killers, the worst of murderers.

Panelo described the charges as fabricated.

F A B R I C A T E D.

That speaks of his affinity to truth — an ocean separates him and truth.

This is the man who will be your spokesman?

There are, what… 6,000 positions? Put him somewhere where his presence does not taint the search for justice.

Other media groups have also raised opposition to Panelo’s appointment.

Philippines Graphic editor in chief, Joel Pablo Salud said:

I can already see where the Ampatuan case will be going with your choice, Mr. President, of a spokesperson. While I believe and will fight for people’s rights to have their day in court, lies like this one do not help the cause of justice. I suggest you find someone else to stand as your voice to the people because by this statement alone, this man could endanger your presidency even before it starts.

National Press Club president Paul Gutierrez said it would be difficult for journalists to work with Panelo.

“Members of the press would find it hard to interact, and work with, a press secretary whose main client are the suspects in the wholesale murder of the members of the press that has outraged the entire world,” Gutierrez said.

“We understand certain debts owed during the election season need to be paid, but for a candidate who won overwhelmingly on a promise that change is coming, this is not the refreshing wind of change our clients sorely need now,” said Romel Regalado Bagares, Executive Director,Center for International Law.

“The choice is uninspired, to say the least. But it is clear it does not really understand the gravity of what happened on Nov. 23, 2009 on a hill in Sitio Masalay, Ampatuan, Maguindanao. Sadly, it is a choice that does attack not impunity decisively but rather, perpetuates it,” the lawyer and journalist said.

 

 

 

 

Duterte to scrap pork


*photo courtesy of Ariel Casilao

Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, the country’s next President, has vowed to strip all vestiges of pork from the government, according to representatives of militant party-list groups.

Ariel Casilao, the first nominee of Anakpawis in the May 2016 elections said Duterte stressed his pledge during a two-hour meeting with Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and officers of Bayan Davao.

“Bawal na din ang congressional license plates and other signs of privilege,” he added.

Duterte also promised to persuade Congress to give departments the proper funds for necessary programs.

“He said lawmakers would no longer have powers to assign health services and scholarships,” Casilao said. The authority would return to agencies with aid from data provided by local governments.

If the promise holds, it would be a major victory for activists who have long campaigned against the massive use of discretionary funds by all branches of government.

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the long practice of pork is unconstitutional, despite arguments from President Benigno Aquino III’s government. It also ruled against many aspects of Mr. Aquino’s Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP.

Both programs have been identified with widespread graft and corruption, including the P10-billion pork scandal of Janet Napoles for which several legislators have been charged with plunder.

While Mr. Aquino initially claimed to back the anti-pork movement, he swiftly shifted to a strong defense. He railed against the Supreme Court when it ruled on many salient points of DAP, which has taken away from congress-approved projects, shifting spending to pet projects of Malacanang. Activists have pledged to pursue criminal charges against Mr. Aquino and his top officials after they step down on June 30.

What Duterte wants, Casilao said, is for Congress to “triple the budgets of departments” so they can provide better service to citizens.

It has been a congressional practice to slash departmental and agency funds, to allow legislators’ powers to influence executive actions.

Duterte earlier said he would be selling off government assets, like the presidential yacht, to ensure funds for the welfare of soldiers and cops, and the deployment of health professionals to the countryside.

The incoming president said he would provide allowances to ensure that young professionals are encouraged to work for the government.

Casilao said Duterte believes there can be enough money with an austerity program where officials and government employees account for every peso spent.

“He wants greater focus on health and education services,” Casilao said.

Duterte has announced a ban on junkets by government officials, bringing experts to the provinces to save on training costs, and to impose simple lifestyles on all government officials.

Fiscal woes

Some economic experts, including former National Treasurer Leonor Briones, have warned that with the campaign expense blitz of the incumbent administration, there may be little cash leftover for Duterte.

“There will be practically nothing left of the 2016 national budget” when Duterte takes his oath as President on June 30, the Dumaguete Metro Post quoted Briones as saying.

She said the 2017 national budget is 3 trillion 350 billion pesos, and that it is almost entirely to fund the projects of President Aquino.

She said the new President will only have three weeks after he assumes the presidency to submit his 2017 budget.

“If he realigns funds, he will have to move very fast. He has to have a very strong Congress. He has to ensure a massive exodus of traitors who will go to his camp, and change that budget. He will be like Jesus Christ who will conduct a mass baptism in the river of Congress to change the budget. Otherwise, they will have to go around it. It’s a narrow space for ‘Captain Philippines’.

“He will have to resort to horse-trading, and he will have to work very very hard, and he will have to copy [the programs of other candidates] very vast,” Briones predicted.

Communist Party of the Philippines (CCP) founder Jose Ma Sison also said Tuesday the national government “is in crisis.”

“In last elections, the government spent na parang walang econ crisis,” Sison told a gathering of activists.

He expressed surprise that the presidential candidates in the May 2016 polls did not debate on the economic crisis.

“Due to this crisis, hot money has been going out since 2014,” Sison said.

“Parang walang malay sa pandaignidan antas ng krisis na nag-umpisa nang umepekto sa Pilipinas,” said Sison, who also chairs the International League of People’s Struggles (ILPS). (They seemed to have no knowledge about the global crisis that has already started affecting the Philippines.)

He said despite praise from investment bodies and multilateral lending institutions, Aquino worsened the country’s problems with heavy borrowing.

“But due to crisis, hot money has been going out since 2014,” he pointed out.

DBM defends Aquino fiscal performance

The Department of Budget and Management, meanwhile, defended the Aquino government’s  fiscal policies, saying Duterte would inherit a “robust, transparent and performance-based budget.”

The DBM confirmed Wednesday that that 84 percent of the P3-trillion budget for 2016 has been released to agencies as of end April 2016.

But it stressed, this does not mean that the incoming administration has been left with little resources for its priority programs.

“It is not true that only 16 percent of the budget is left, contrary to the claim of the camp of former Vice President Jejomar Binay. That is an incorrect and malicious claim. Allotment releases to agencies do not indicate actual spending of funds,” Budget Secretary Florencio B. Abad said.

An allotment gives an agency the authority to obligate funds for projects. When projects have been awarded, the funds have been obligated and it is only then that actual funds are disbursed to agencies to pay the contractors and suppliers.

Abad clarified that of the total P3.002 trillion general appropriation in 2016, P2.505 trillion in allotments have already been released to government agencies. The remaining allotments amount to P496.3 billion and this is slated to be released later this year.

For Special Purpose Funds (SPFs), as of May 2016, P157.4 billion has already been released out of the P446.4 billion total appropriation—a large share of which was for the Budgetary Support to Government Corporations at P43.1 billion and the Pension and Gratuity Fund at P41.6 billion. This still leaves 75 percent or P332.8 billion in SPFs to be utilized by the incoming administration—with P58.0 billion for the miscellaneous personnel benefits of government personnel and P42.1 billion still intact for calamities.

Abad said the comprehensive release of agency budgets was made possible through the GAA-As-Release-Document regime, a public financial management reform in 2014 that phased out the Agency Budget Matrices (ABMs) and Special Allotment Release Orders (SAROs) from the budget process to facilitate the swift and efficient implementation of the expenditure program. With the General Appropriations Act (GAA) as the primary fund release document, agencies are now able to obligate funds for their projects in the beginning of the year and thereby accelerate spending.

“Let me assure the people and the incoming administration that the 2016 national budget was not squandered in the last elections and the appropriations in the budget are being released and spent according to the specific purposes and guidelines in the General Appropriations Act,” the budget chief said.

“We are proud to say that the next administration will inherit not only a financially stable and robust budget, but also a transparent and performance-based budget. If you look at the GAA, and it is available online, it has detailed disclosure of agencies’ performance targets. Also, we have disaggregated the lump sum amounts in the agency budgets into component projects, intended beneficiaries and location in order for the GAA to function as a budget release document.”

“The Aquino administration, under a solid platform of good and effective governance, has been able to craft a national budget that reflects transparency and accountability in public financial management,” added Abad.

For a full breakdown of releases as of April 2016, you can refer to our website: http://www.dbm.gov.ph/?page_id=15576

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