“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.”
My son calls him, “the real action man.” A friend, a true-blue capitalist from Binondo, beams on hearing the name Neri Colmenares.
Neri Colmenares (#11) is the first and only one of two names on my Senate list.
The man lawyers call “Comrade Amparing” has given honor to the term “activist”.
He paid his dues as a teenager – arrested, tortured, jailed.
He has never acted like he’s owed for the sacrifice.
After years as a human rights lawyer and three terms as Bayan Muna representative in Congress, Neri continues to invest his soul and root his politics in the “karaniwang tao.”
The people’s lawyer became the people’s fighter in the House of Representatives, bastion of traditional politicians. He authored 11 laws, including these:
- Amending the Rent Control Act by prohibiting excessive rent for low income groups;
- the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) law, increasing the salaries of PAO lawyers;
- the law requiring disaster warnings through text; and
- the law creating Special Election Precincts for persons with disabilities and senior citizens.
These are laws that affect the lives of millions of Filipinos in ways that truly matter.
He authored several human rights laws including the law compensating human rights victims during Martial Law, the Anti-Torture Law and the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Law.
His bill for a P2,000 pension hike for Social Security System members sailed through the House of Representatives. Senators gave him the highest display of respect by adopting his bill en toto and passing it swiftly.
He aims for the elimination of VAT on electricity, water and fuel; the prohibition of privatization of public hospitals and public health services; the increase in income tax exemptions; the Freedom of Information Law.
He’s also the main author of the bill, Magna Carta of Airline Passengers Rights, to protect passengers from abusive airline companies. You and I know how important this is.
It’s easy to see why Neri has worked so well in the House of Representatives.
Soft-spoken, polite to all, with a comic bent, he is ferocious when attacking abuse and persuasive in advocating his causes.
Colleagues across party lines stress his diligence, sharpness and his skill in building consensus where it can be forged.
His labors extend beyond the doors of Congress, all the way to the Supreme Court where he won a decision stopping Meralco and other electric companies from imposing excessive electricity rates in Metro Manila and other provinces.
He was also petitioner in the Supreme Court cases which declared DAP and PDAF pork barrel unconstitutional and in the P10 Billion overcharging and refund case against Globe and Smart telecoms. He has argued before the Supreme Court several times in various petitions defending human rights and the public against excessive rates for public service — including unjust MRT-LRT rate increases.
He argued before the US District Court in Hawaii for the compensation of human rights victims on the Marcos human rights case. He is the President of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) a national association of human rights lawyers and a Bureau Member of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers based in New York and Belgium.
Oh, Neri is one of a handful of candidates who openly espouse divorce. He’s for the anti-discrimination bill that gives justice and dignity to LGBT’s in this country.
Lourd de Veyra says: He’s solid.
Neri’s more than solid. In a field full of dross, he’s golden.
Plus, how many senators can sing Buchiki and What a Wonderful World and give these equal meaning?
American operatives exercised lead roles in the planning, preparation and botched operations last year against a Malaysian terror suspect hiding in a southern Philippine stronghold of Muslim rebels.
The United States gave “real-time” intelligence assistance and training to members of the Special Action Forces (SAF) in the hunt for Malaysian terrorist Marwan and his Filipino accomplice, the sacked director of the elite cop unit told a Senate panel.
It also isolated the SAF from the Armed Forces of the Philippines in a bungled bid to ram through its war-on-terror goals at the crucial homestretch of peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
And the Philippine President was complicit in all this.
Getulio Napeñas, who is seeking a Senate seat in this year’s elections, also told senators his insistence on time-on-target information sharing was on the urging of American advisers.
The lack of coordination has been blamed for the deaths of 44 SAF members. More than a dozen rebels and armed residents, and six civilians were also slain in the carnage that lasted till late afternoon.
US involvement went on through several oplans targeting Marwan, up until the Jan. 25 Mamasapano operation. The United States wanted Marwan for the deaths of American citizens in the 2002 Bali bombings. It offered a $5-million reward for information leading to the capture of Marwan, who had since moved to Mindanao and masterminded other bomb attacks.
That aid was filtered through a very small group focused on the get-Marwan mission, called in its Jan 25 version as Oplan Exodus.
Only President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, the suspended national police chief Alan Purisima, Napenas and PNP intelligence chief Fernando Mendez, Jr. were involved in the final planning. There was no oversight from other key Filipino officials who could have warned of grave unintentional consequences, including a breach of a ceasefire agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Peace a major casualty
Marwan, SAF troops, civilians, rebels. There was one other major casualty of Mamasapano: The peace legacy that President Benigno Aquino III and, yes, the US government had been touting as the key to progress and security in one of the world’s most volatile areas, a region prized by both big corporations and the rampaging ISIS.
Filipinos erupted in anger when a previous Senate probe indicated a reluctance by the military to deploy the artillery and mechanised armour Napeñas belated sought for his beleaguered forces.
Transcripts of previous hearings show Purisima informing Mr. Aquino early morning that the SAF had run into guards of Basit Usman, Marwan’s Filipino accomplice who managed to escape from Mamasapano. This was after he told the President that Marwan was dead and a SAF member wounded.
Despite US intelligence, instead of between 15-20 men from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway MILF group, there were scores within deployment range of the target area.
Purisima, text messages show, also failed to inform the President of that particular fact. He did not correct the Commander-in-Chief’s 7:59 am text:
If I remember correctly 160 SAF troopers were directly involved in this operation plus provisions for other PNP and AFP units to assist. The terrain is flat and clear as opposed to upland forested or jungle terrain. Why could they not contain and or overwhelm 15 to 20 members of opposing force. Are they still in contact with other targets? If not, and the opposing forces escaped, are we now back to square one?
As a result, Mr. Aquino ordered : “Basit should not get away.”
Aside from the BIFF, the area is also home to MILF supporters. A big formation of mainstream rebels were within a kilometre of the target. Alerted by gunfire — dozens of residents had joined the fray — MILF forces engaged the retreating SAF and a blocking force, exacting the most casualties.
The MILF ultimately became the scapegoat, blamed for the SAF slaughter. Politicians decried what they called the rebels’ treachery. They used Mamasapano as the bogey to crush the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, the key condition for forging a permanent peace with the MILF.
The government itself had signed an agreement with the rebels — praised by foreign states and development donors — on the conduct of military and police operations in its strongholds.
The ceasefire aimed to prevent ground clashes; the agreement is premised on an MILF pledge to root out extremists and criminal gangs in its areas.
Policy as main threat
The ceasefire monitoring body involves the Armed Forces. Military officials factor this in during operations.
The President did not bother to inform top AFP officers that he had approved a US-supervised plan that listed the MILF among the “enemy forces” in Mamasapano.
“The AFP has internalized the peace process and operates within this framework. It is an instrument of national policy, in this case the ceasefire with the MILF,” a retired AFP officer who has direct experience in the peace process stressed in an earlier interview.
“Had the President given a clear signal to ignore existing ceasefire mechanisms or exempt the January 25 Mamasapano operation from coverage, the military would have obeyed.”
But Napenas and American advisers viewed that same agreement and assimilation of former rebels in the AFP, the result of a previous peace pact with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), as the greatest threat to the hunt for Marwan.
Purisima said Americans had no involvement in the intelligence packet initially furnished by the PNP Intelligence Group.
Questioned by Sen. Ralph Recto, Napenas gave examples of where military involvement jeopardise the outcome of operations to hunt down terrorists. He cited one operation where the military reneged on a promise to loan mechanised units because of a ceasefire provision requiring coordination with the MILF.
In the hunt for Abu Sayyaf commander Purugin Indama of Basilan, Napenas said surveillance showed the targets of an aerial bomb moving away 15 minutes before attack.
“Nakita doon sa surveillance. Galling din sa liaison namin na Americano ang impormasyon na ‘yun. From the Seaborne and siya din mismo ang nagsabi sa akin na alam nya na before naibagsak ang bobmba sa kalaban, nakaalis na sila.” (Surveillance showed that. I was also told by our American liaison from the Seaborne. He knew that the targets left just before planned aerial bomb.)
While there is suspicion that the military-police rivalry may be rooted on the big rewards (there was also a P7-million reward for Marwan from the Philippine government), the real cause of the debacle may be the tug-of-war between doves and hawks from both governments.
MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal has the most clear-eyed reading of events: A collision between the government’s commitment to conflict resolution and its support for the United States’ global “war on terror” sparked the clash that derailed the Mindanao peace process.
Unlike the country’s communist insurgency, which is listed as a terrorist organisation by the US government, the MILF officially enjoys some support from Americans.
Like Philippine officials, the MILF was initially reluctant to focus on the US government role in Mamasapano.
But pressed at a peace forum, Iqbal expounded on the MILF’s balancing act with a supportive superpower viewed with hostility by Muslims who have experienced the fallout of its global war on terror.
Below is an excerpt of a piece I wrote for ABS-CBNNews.
“Ang trato namin sa Amerikano iba sa komunista,” Iqbal said. “May bilateral agreements. Kung nandiyan ang US troops, hindi mali sa amin.” (Our view on American presence differs from that of the communists. There are bilateral agreements between the Philippines and the United States. We see no problem with the presence of US troops.)
“But in Mamasapano, there were complications,” Iqbal acknowledged. He confirmed that Americans funded Oplan Exodus, gave intelligence, operated drones for real-time monitoring of the target and SAF teams, and evacuated government forces.
Two national policies — conflict resolution and supporting the US-led war on terror — “crossed paths” in Mamasapano, the MILF negotiator pointed out.
“Imbes na ang priority ay conflict resolution, naging war on terror, kaya nagka-leche-leche na,” Iqbal said. (Shifting the priority from conflict resolution to the war on terror caused the mess.)
Those conflicting goals led to the shut-out of the AFP, which Mr. Aquino approved. He ordered Napenas to increase the number of troops for Mamasapano, knowing it was a stronghold of the MILF.
Who ordered ceasefire?
Military officials have repeatedly said they could not deploy mechanised units or artillery for fear of hitting friendly forces and civilians. In any other situation, they would be applauded for this. (Elsewhere, they mow down civilians, especially those suspected of supporting communist rebels.)
AFP officers insist Napenas did not give clear locations of his men. SAF personnel testified that they regularly updated Napenas of their positions. The SAF commander, at least, knew where his men where. Yet more than half of close to 400 men were not moved from their highway waiting posts.
The biggest revelation of the latest Senate hearing answered the question: Who ordered a halt to reinforcements.
From ANC’s coverage of the hearing:
Napeñas: (Despite SAF asking for help via radio), Purisima ordered us to ceasefire, hold on to our position, and don’t move forward
Purisima: I contacted MILF persons to assist us in pulling out MILF troops. I was just giving Napeñas the info MILF gave me.
Purisima: I asked MILF to pull out their troops because our SAF forces were already at a disadvantage (“nahihirapan na ang SAF natin”).
The AFP had scrambled to convene the ceasefire body mid-day in a bid to halt the carnage. But it was apparently still Purisima who meddled — without coordinating with the AFP.
By this time, the President would have come to realise the horrible fallout of Mamasapano.
Mr. Aquino did not even discuss events with his AFP chief of staff or Interior Secretary Mar Roxas until late afternoon. Nobody bothered to shake him awake because he seemed to have been busy dealing with other persons — Purisima and some other still unknown parties.
Nobody seemed in charge — except for Purisima and the American companions of Napenas, who at one point was told off by a military officer for trying to order the firing of artilery.
Everything that followed — the dodging, the hedging during his speeches and that of officials during congressional hearings — were all premised on salvaging what the Commander-in-Chief and his men, enthralled with Americans, had jeopardised.
A lot of the shadow-boxing and outright lying in the weeks following Mamasapano were precisely aimed at hiding the US hand.
“The bloodshed triggered bitter recriminations in one of America’s closest allies in Asia, and put sharp new strains on Manila’s security relationship with Washington,” said a special report by the LA Times.
Within weeks, the Pentagon announced that it was withdrawing a special operations task force. It had been sent to the Philippines after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and had become a model for U.S. counter-terrorism teams later deployed around the globe.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III‘s government delayed plans to give U.S. troops, warships and aircraft wider access to military bases that the Obama administration sought for its strategic “pivot” to Asia. The planned expansion has been stalled since.
The botched raid also left a landmark 2014 peace deal between the Philippine government and entrenched Islamic rebels in tatters, sparking a renewal of violence by insurgent groups.
“It was a bungled operation and it has had major fallout,” said David Maxwell, a retired Army colonel who commanded the U.S. special operations force in the Philippines in 2006 and 2007.
CIA? Or FBI?
The LA Times quotes Pentagon officials insisting, “No Americans joined or issued orders to the assault team.”
But they gave orders from the command post. They were still trying to give orders to reinforcing military officers in the afternoon.
Napenas said his men underwent training in the US Joint Task Force facility in Zamboanga City.
Asked about the general identities of the trainers by Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, defense chief under two Philippine Presidents, Napenas said some were members of the US military, “but some are mere members of the Joint Task Force”.
Napenas later said he presumed the non-military members of the Joint Task Force were from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), since “they were giving us intelligence”.
However, BAYAN USA, an overseas chapter of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, announced that it has filed a Freedom of Information Act request before the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, to uncover the role of the agency in the bloody Mamasapano incident.
The FOIA request covers communications between the FBI and PNP , DNA tests results on Marwan, as well as details of the supposed bounty set up for the targets of the operation. Full text of the FOIA request can be found here: http://bayanusa.org/foia
Enrile offers an explanation for American reluctance to use the military. The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two countries does not include police operations. It covers defense against external threats, like China. Anti-terror covert operations, especially one with a potential to derail a major peace policy (also backed by the US government) is a particularly slippery slope.
The Senate hearing adjourned with no clear answers. If anything, senators play at the edges of the US question but show reluctance in directly accusing a superpower. Elections are, after all, in the offing.
The Senate’s original report on the Mamasapano incident raised the question: Who actually called the shots in Mamasapano.
Accountability is a requisite for Justice. While President Aquino is Commander in Chief, the US government can neither wash its hands of the blood of those it tapped to do its dirty work.
If the US was giving real-time info, did the relay or withholding of information affect the decisions to save or not, on that fateful day?
Did the relay or withholding of information affect the planning of the operation? Did the relay or withholding of information prompt the Philippine government to cut losses on a triumph that was crossing over to disaster category?
In other words, did information lead to a decision to sacrifice SAF men?
Information – the right information provided at the right time to the right people – plays a great factor in success.
The major disasters faced by the United States – including the Twin Towers bombing – were partly rooted in information being hogged (jealously compartmentalized by competing but allied organizations) and thus not passed on to key decision markers, or passed but ignored, or passed, weighed and then buried under other priorities.
Mr. Aquino, hPurisima and Napenas seemed to rely heavily on US military might, including advanced technology for intelligence.
Now Napenas is hinting that, for all intents and purposes, Philippine leadership may have been a farce in Mamasapano — although Filipino lives were at stake. That may be the greatest treachery of all.
AND SHE, IMELDA MARCOS, ENDED THE COLD WAR. #NeverForget
“But there is no extravagance of beauty and love.” – Imelda Marcos at 80, quoted in the Associated Press (AP) coverage of her bash.
I wasn’t invited to that party. But in early March, 2008 I got a one-on-one with Mrs. Marcos in a condominium unit crammed with photos, clippings and paintings of a past she believes was the Philippines’ golden age. It was a sudden summons after weeks of chasing her for an interview. The result was a two-part series on “Imelda’s Truth” — photos by one very harried writer-editor.
There is no denying the Imeldific charm. It reels one in, however fierce the psyche’s resistance. So maybe I didn’t push her enough. I don’t know… but here’s the original two part series — divided into three now — where we wisely (I still think) let her ramble on rather than filter her thoughts.
“Even Mao said, ‘I love Imelda because she is so natural. And natural is perfection.’
Only Imelda Marcos of the fabled gems and gowns and shoes can don huge garish costume jewelry and have thousands of women stampeding to buy these.
Forget irony. That is lost on the former First Lady. This is the woman, after all, who’s upended every theory there is on crime and punishment.
At one point facing some 900 cases for graft — for money salting and everything and anything connected with the financial rewards of two decades of strongman rule — Mrs. Marcos has won acquittal after acquittal and, in several instances, forced the Philippine state into accepting compromise deals worth a fraction of what was being sought.
And don’t even dream of waking one day and seeing a repentant Imelda on television. She doesn’t believe there is anything to apologize for.
She and her beloved Ferdinand are the victims. EDSA I marked the death of Philippine democracy. Martial law brought back human rights. The late President Marcos not only was a true democrat; in dispatching his wife to charm Mao Tse Tung, he also single-handedly ended the Cold War.
For the latter, she says, the Marcos clan paid a high price. A jealous superpower kidnapped them at the height of the 1986 EDSA People Power revolt and dumped them in Hawaii, leaving them high and dry and, yes, penniless.
But natural law — a favorite mantra of Mr. Marcos — says life is a circle. With cosmic rays blessing the mythic couple, enemies were bound to get their comeuppance, says the Gospel of Imelda.
Mrs. Marcos won a big case on her birthday. And over lunch, she points out that the World Trade Center twin towers were bombed on Mr. Marcos’ birthday. There is no coincidence in life, says his widow.
There is plenty of the surreal in Philippines where, Imelda says, openings in the sky drizzle down rays that make for great rock and roll.
All the country’s a stage. Imelda’s advice for people waging revolutions, peaceful or otherwise: Forget it, folks. Do not even try to jolt Filipinos out of their perpetual fiesta mode. The only thing that will get them going is a love-fest. Though when they do get going, like during EDSA I, it’s because they don’t understand.
So, Joseph Estrada croons and unleashes one-liners as he walks away from conviction for plunder. And Imelda; well, Imelda was, is, and forever will be Imeldific.
Why fight it? she says with a sniff,. After all, ordinary folk from Tondo to Ilocos grow faint with ecstasy whenever she opens her arms and tells them to come home to mama.
Mama promises to share the joy represented by rooms full of gold and stock certificates, if and when those evil people tire of chasing after her beloved Ferdinand’s hard-earned wealth.
One of those ill-gotten wealth hunters had sent an emissary to Imelda, asking for P10 million to give up the chase, so he could spend the rest of life doing bad imitations of Elvis Presley.
Imelda’s reply: “Maybe my stature can coax people into coughing out P10 million but since I don’t know if I could pay back this loan, I’d be lying, a virtual thief. And Imelda doesn’t lie — or steal.”
Imelda’s flat is a kleptomaniac’s paradise. Every inch of wall and mantel space are crowded with sentimental objects d’art — the kitsch and the classic in a madcap tumble. There is so much for the eyes to follow that they fail to register that the cream walls and ceilings are beginning to turn gray.
Everywhere there is gilt. It’s apt for the widow of a man who ostensibly made his fortune in gold trading, to paint even lahar-made picture frames with gold leaf.
The public image of Mrs. Marcos is that of an imperious dowager; studied in her manners though capable of breaking out now and then into vastly entertaining theatrics.
Up close and personal and in the comfort of her sprawling Makati flat — Mrs. Marcos shows more of the abondanza that her public forays hint at.
Who cares about brawn and intellect? The war, according to the gospel of Imelda, is won by willpower.
And chutzpah, we might add. There is nothing more surreal than seeing Imelda walk into the lobby of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and have scores of other bejeweled woman — including some who screamed and cried on EDSA — fawning over her.
At home, there is little of the young, insecure beauty queen and much of the woman who learned early on to make capital of her beautiful bones, doe eyes and creamy skin.
Mrs. Marcos says she is both yin and yang. There is plenty of masculinity here.
She is in a navy blue pants suit with turquoise and aqua sleeves. Huge turquoise earrings are clipped on the ears. Hands now running to pudgy sport a matching ring. On her chest is a mammoth brooch with twin figures holding up spheres; very Malakas and Maganda.
Imelda sits legs akimbo, sometimes drumming both feet and even crossing limbs in the masculine de quatro.
Her talk is earthy; her lectures and analogies full of phallic symbols.
She is at turns arch and indignant — all wounded pride and smug confidence. At times, she is much like one of the boys.
And when she turns on that charm, oh boy.
With the assurance of great beauty, this 79-year-old survivor relishes re-enacting the coy approaches, the damsel-in-distress poses that disarmed strongmen from Asia to the Middle East.
She stands and leans over; a hand reaches out to caress as she recalls her blithe handling of a love-sick, macho spouse who ruefully warned of emasculation as he begged her to lose some of their arguments.
You may have fought against the Marcos dictatorship, maybe sacrificed loved ones in that fight; there is simply no escaping the Imeldific charm.
She confesses to being greedy, and needy and extravagant. Hell, you can call her vulgar and she’ll just give that sideways smile — vulgaris, she reminds you, means one’s cup overfloweth with beauty.
Who’s Joe America? Who cares?
President Benigno Aquino, in his last State of the Nation Address (SONA), singled out a blogger named Joe America. The President loves reading praise prose like most people. The pairing of their identities should launch a thousand memes.
Whatever fantasies involved in the blogger’s foxhole remark are best discussed by the gentlemen in private, maybe while they’re zapping enemies of the state.
I’m really more concerned about those the President left out in the cold.
He went out of his way for his stylist. He snubbed the #Fallen44.
He heaped praise on Interior Secretary Mar Roxas. He could not muster a shoutout for retired police Deputy Director-General Leonardo Espina, the man who carried with dignity and grace the burdens of a grieving, shaken Philippine National Police (PNP).
Mr. Aquino boasted of “neutralizing” international terrorist Marwan. He did not give credit to the men who lost their lives taking him down.
The President could not mention the#Fallen44 because he could not afford mention of Mamasapano. He called for the passage of his legacy, the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). He was silent on what almost killed the BBL.
He could not utter the word, “Mamasapano” though Malacanang continues with the fiction that the President did no wrong in the Jan. 25 tragedy. That’s because the bloody trail leads all the way back to the Commander in Chief. The President again sacrificed the #Fallen44 to protect his sorry backside.
Mamasapano happened only because Mr. Aquino insisted on retaining a suspended police chief’s powers to call the shots on a high value and very high-risk operation.
Mamasapano happened only because Mr. Aquino refused to abide by legal guidelines on the suspension of officials being probed for wrongdoing. He allowed — gave his blessings – to the creation of a shadow command outside of the official PNP hierarchy.
He and Purisima and Special Actions Chief Getulio Napeñas kept the PNP officer in charge of and all other important state security agencies in the dark.
The #Fallen44 were promised immediate extraction. It was a promise that was never fulfilled. They could not extract beleaguered cops because they had refused to coordinate with units that could have moved the right equipment and troops into place.
Even when the horrifying news trickled in, these three gentlemen tried to contain the information.
Only when things were really desperate – and too far gone for any lucid solution – did the three men go to those they had left in the dark. Then they demanded others solve the problem for them.
Mr. Aquino could not abide remembrance of the #Fallen44 because it would remind Filipinos that he lied to them on Mamasapano.
READ: Avalanche of Lies Swamp Aquino
Mr. Aquino claimed Purisima was consulted only until the Ombudsman issued the order of suspension. That was a lie.
Mr. Aquino claimed only Napenas was in charge. That was a lie.
Purisima was the only one he deigned to speak to even when reports of a debacle were becoming clear. (He didn’t even bother to say “noted” when Interior Secretary Mar Roxas informed him of text messages.)
The Commander-in-Chief ignored Mamasapano because it would remind military officials that they were left to flounder as politicians shot them down, blaming them for sticking to a policy handed down – and then broken – by the President of the Republic. READ Mamasapano tragedy: AFP officials can’t usurp top-level policy
Mr. Aquino hails Joe America. He was silent on Mamasapano because it would remind Filipinos that Americans were in charge of that tragedy – even to the extent of trying to command Army officers.
He was silent on Mamasapano because it would dredge up memories of how the Americans cared only for their target and didn’t give a fig for the repercussions on the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Mr. Aquino emphasized his humility during the SONA, saying he doesn’t have to do ribbon cuttings or grace openings of projects. He could not mention Mamasapano – or the #Fallen44 – because he was laughing with Japanese executives at a car plant opening while the slain heroes were being welcomed home by grieving families and peers.
Mr. Aquino could not afford to mention Mamasapano and the #Fallen44 because these betrayed the shallowness of his claim to the straight path.
Alan Purisima wasn’t just dogged by petty charges; he was being investigated for major corruption. Mr. Aquino didn’t care.
The President who touted his righteousness during his last SONA could not even mention the Ombudsman’s dismissal of Purisima as an achievement of his administration.
And that is why on the first day of the rest of this President’s life, the #Fallen44 were once more betrayed.
Japan’s entry into a regional maritime dispute in the shadow of two bristling superpowers can only worsen security concerns, say former senators and foreign policy experts.
“It may exacerbate the problems,” said former senator Rena Saguisag, who pointed out that the Russians are joining the fray, with exercises scheduled in the disputed areas by 2016.
“That’s going to be another harmful provocation,” Saguisag said at the June 8 launch of P1NAS, a new coalition that seeks to promote an independent foreign policy for the Philippines.
The former senator, who was part of the Senate bloc that voted in 1991 to oust the largest American bases outside of the US homeland, said the presence of foreign troops is not necessarily bad. He cited the battalion of military engineers sent by South Korea to assist communities devastated by super typhoon Yolanda in 2013.
It is when countries send troops to promote belligerent interests that security conditions become dangerous, Saguisag explained.
Former senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani, who gave a “critical yes” vote for the retention of the US bases, agreed with Saguisag.
Both joined P1NAS to send a message to the powers now manuevering in disputed waters that form one of the most important global maritime highways.
“I was for modernization of the Armed Forces,” Shahani said, criticizing successive Philippine governments for failing to use bases privatization earnings to upgrade facilities and equipment.
“Where has the money gone?” the former senator asked.
Independence and self-reliance are important, Shahani said. China and other countries will always turn covetous eyes on the Philippines because of its rich resources, including vast quantities of natural gas and minerals.
She said even a victory in a UN-backed tribunal hearing a case filed by the Philippines against China is no guarantee for peace.
Shahani also gave this advice to Mr. Aquino – who spoke of multi-generational friendship during his recent Japanese trip: “Don’t forget they (Japanese) invaded us.”
President Benigno Aquino III has expressed support for Japan’s planned review of a pacifist constitution to improve contribution to “collective self-defense” in the region.
Japan has offered to help beef up the Philippines’ supply of patrol vessels. READ – Palace Sees More Japanese Military Aid to PH
Leaders of the two countries have also broached the possibility of crafting a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) for Japan, which would give the East Asian country the same controversial privileges granted the American military.
The Philippines has an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States. Reports say there are plans to allow the operation of eight new military bases once constitutional issues are resolved.
Philippine and US officials often frame these pacts as a way of bolstering the defense capacity of a weaker ally. But aid is not automatic. Critics say the US is only out to ensure free use of one of the world’s busiest maritime highways with no commitment to upholding Philippine claims on disputed waters.
Even Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gregorio Catapang acknowledges that American commitments under EDCA do not include defense of the West Philippine Sea
The VFA is controversial because critics believe it bends over for foreign troops that misbehave or commit crimes in the Philippines.
The issue is bound to become more critical where the Japanese are involved because of the atrocities that occurred during that country’s World War II occupation of the Philippines.
A study by the Philippine government from 1997 to 2002 estimates there were over 1,000 enslaved women in this country. They were taken to some 17 comfort stations scattered all over Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. The Digital Museum on the Comfort Women Issue lists the locations of their enslavement, with an accompanying map.
A special United Nations-commissioned report has found that the government of Japan orchestrated the enslavement of “comfort women” as part of their policy of war. Filipinos, to be sure, were not the only victims. Koreans, Chinese, Malays, Indonesians, Burmese — no one escaped the cruelty. READ : The Unforgotten: Valor and Our Comfort Women.
Japan has not officially apologized for the comfort women outrage in many Asian countries, including Korea, China and other Southeast Asian nations.
Japan is also strengthening its military ties with the United States. The two countries released a new set of security guidelines in April, integrating ballistic missile defense systems and giving Japan a bigger security role.
Malaysia, meanwhile, has agreed to strengthen security ties with Japan, with the goal of transferring defense equipment and technology.
The Diplomat reports upcoming naval exercises by Russia and China in disputed waters.
“Russia and China intend to hold naval exercises in the South China Sea, according to comments by Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov. The exercises will include Russia’s allies in the Asia-Pacific region, though Antonov did not clarify which countries, beyond China, would participate in the exercises. Russia maintains close relations with several Southeast Asian states, especially with Vietnam, for which Russia is an important provider of arms. China, however, is involved in territorial disputes with four Southeast Asian states — Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei — over the sovereignty of various islands and reefs in the South China Sea.”
Both Saguisag and Shahani know aid is a fact of life, given the disparity in wealth and powers among nations. However, they want the Philippine government to be more discriminating and judicious in accepting and using military aid.
They fear that legitimate concerns about China’s muscle-flexing could fuel a greater cycle of dependency that other countries, like Japan, could exploit to strengthen their own interests.
“We cannot be at the begging end forver,” said Shahani, who urged Mr. Aquino to stress that any military aid would be used for an independent foreign policy.
“We must know how to draw the line,” she added. “An independent foreign policy is not immediate. I have no illusions about it. But let us not lose sight of the long-term goal.”
The personal touch has always been one of President Benigno Aquino’s greatest strengths. It has also been a major weakness of the Philippine’s incumbent Chief Executive.
When it moves him, Mr. Aquino can be dogged, emphatic, unleashing the Aquino charm. Conversely, the President comes off as unfeeling and uncaring, and prone to convoluted logic when put on the defensive. (Read, Mamasapano and the SAF 44).
In the temporary stay of execution granted Mary Jane Veloso, Mr. Aquino must be credited for reaching out to the Indonesian government and for suggesting that targeting big narcotic fishes, instead of little mules, would be in the best interests of both countries.
No less than Indonesia’s Attorney General confirmed that Veloso was spared after Aquino’s appeal that Veloso be used as a witness in the impending case against her recruiter Maria Kristina P. Sergio, also known as Mary Christine Gulles Pasadilla.
“There was a request from the Philippine president regarding the perpetrator who’s suspected of committing human trafficking and surrendered in the Philippines. Mary Jane is needed for her testimony,” Tony Spontana, the spokesman for Indonesia’s Attorney General, said in a text message to media.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) had remained silent following a personal appeal from the Philippine President during the ASEAN summit in Kuala Lumpur.
Based on a Reuters report, the reported “surrender” of Mary Jane’s alleged recruiter tipped the scales for the hapless Filipino woman. The Indonesian Cabinet secretary has also acknowledged that activists, who helped in Jokowi’s rise, played a major role in their President’s change of heart.
Keeping one’s eye of the big fish is, by the way, a strategy long practised by the best intelligence units — whether dealing with illegal drugs, human trafficking or terrorism. Sometimes, zeal gets the better of them and they find themselves abetting illegal, criminal actions while trying to hook the big fish. There are laws that ban such practices and, if caught, law enforcers may see their target walk.
I’d laud him for that, too.
I’ll also point out that it was the least he could do.
Failing Mary Jane
You see, a big part of why Mary Jane found her self on the verge of execution was because the Philippine government had done nothing to follow up her claim that she was duped into carrying narcotics.
It started as a human trafficking case.
As many hapless Filipinos have experienced in the Middle East, Mary Jane was abused by an employer and forced back home. Bereft of any hope for a productive job, probably still in the process of paying off debts incurred in her first trip, she sought the help of Kristina Sergio.
When no job materialized in Malaysia, she was invited to try out her luck in Indonesia, given a new luggage, some new clothes.
Mary Jane’s Indonesian lawyers were not remiss in telling the Philippine government that going after Sergio was critical to saving their client. Mary Jane had sworn testimonies. Her family also coordinated with the government. They were told that making noise could endanger Mary Jane, told to trust in the system.
That is the context around President Aquino’s last-minute efforts to reach out to Indonesia.
He did his part at crunch time. But there can be no denying that the system, this government – his government – failed Mary Jane big time.
Sin of Omission
Even after Mr. Aquino wrote Indonesian leaders to request clemency for Mary Jane, NOTHING WAS DONE? What were those letters premised on, simple mercy?
Mary Jane’s lawyers and allies were clear: their request for a review, for a step back hinged on the tenet that with death so final a punishment, it is but just to exhaust all remedies that allow a sentenced person to prove her case.
In Mary Jane’s case, flaws in the Indonesian system (a lack of translator that confused Mary Jane, among other things) and the greater flaw at home — nothing was ever done to follow up her claim.
Governments should not be even staging last minute saves – unless during a clear, sudden accident. Governments should ensure that citizens get the best possible service, especially when their lives are at stake, especially when they find themselves toiling in harsh, dangerous and hostile conditions.
Well, this is what the government will do NOW.
“Our Department of Justice will do a case build-up and provide the information to the Indonesian authorities, so that the position of Mary Jane may be clarified, that she was a victim of a human trafficking and illegal drug trafficking syndicate,” Coloma said.
The question is, despite documents, why wasn’t it done BEFORE?
I understand private lawyers and migrant groups are closing in on a paper trail that could shed light on why Mary Jane was abandoned on the most important part of her defense, even as the government went through the motions of “helping out”.
The least of the cases
I heaRd Kristina Sergio over dzMM. She, of course, denies having anything to do about narcotics. She also denies she is an illegal recruiter.
In the interview I heard, she claimed to be a legitimate representative of a legitimate and credible employment agency. No names were given (and none asked by the anchors).
Sergio claimed Mary Jane approached her. I’ll buy that. The countryside gossip network is vast and operates overtime, especially on matters of livelihood.
Her later interviews, however, give lie to the story of being a legitimate employment agent.
A legitimate manpower agent deals directly with clients, ensures that a job and a proper contract are available and waiting, and that all government requirements at home and abroad have been met, before sending an OFW to greener pastures.
A legitimate employment agent is not an escort service, not someone who shells out considerable funds for someone’s plane fare, hotel accommodation, plus some pocket money, for a possible job. That is a classic human trafficking set-up.
If only on that score, the government’s inaction in the case of Mary Jane is criminal.
That the human trafficking eventually turned out to be narcotics smuggling only makes the omission more grave.
Even on the day the Indonesians bent back to give Mary Jane a chance to make good her story, Serigio was not under arrest. She was under protective custody because of alleged threats received in the run up to the scheduled execution.
If the government really wants to show the world it is determined to go mano-a-mano with narcotics lord, it must also provide the answers to questions surrounding Mary Jane and Sergio.
You see, that was the crux of the matter: The Philippine government was begging Indonesia to save Mary Jane after it failed to do so.
Ten percent of our nation is scattered to the winds. Mary Jane could have been a sister, a friend, a parent, a spouse, a partner.
I’d have broken protocol, too, if I were the President. There was no other choice.