Tagum shooting by alleged Lapanday guards shows land still the root of PH unrest


(Photos and video by Kilab Multimedia. Do not use without credit.)

A long-running conflict between Lapanday Foods Corporation and agrarian reform beneficiaries in Tagum City, the capital of Davao del Norte, exploded today in a shooting incident that followed a successful attempt by farmers to reclaim their land.

Renante Mantos, chairperson of  Hugpong Sa Mga Mag-uuma sa Walhog Compostela (Humawac), the alliance of farmer cooperatives from the Tagum barangays of Madaum and San Isidro, said in a phone interview that guards of Lapanday’s security agency, ACDISA, wounded seven protesters.

Jose Balucos, 42yrs old; Rico Saladaga , Jojo Gomez , Belardo Francisco, Emanuel Buladaco,46 yrs old; Taldan Miparanun,16yrs old; and Joseph Bertulfo, 58yrs old, were rushed to the Davao Regional Medical Center.

Buladaco and Bertulfo are among the 159 direct beneficiaries involved in the protest, according to Mantos, who remains with more than 200 farmers on the reclaimed land.

The others are members of Humawac cooperatives in the Southern Mindanao area, who reinforced the beneficiaries in their efforts to assert their landonwership that a regional trial court and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in 2011. He said they are waiting for medical updates on their colleagues.

The shooting came two days after some 2,000 agrarian reform beneficiaries and supporters stormed the gates of their land – forcibly taken over by Lapanday in 2011 following the DAR decision.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fkilab.smr%2Fvideos%2F564643747039195%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Festering conflict

guards-attack-by-kilab
Documenting an attack. Farmers take out mobile phones as masked, armed guards, allegedly controlled by Lapanday Foods Corp., approach them in Madaum, Tagum City, where a long-running land conflict exploded into violence on Dec. 12, wounding seven protesters.

Mantos said armed guards of Lapanday entered the encampment past 7 a.m.

He and other protest leaders were holding a dialogue with the guards’ leader, only known by his surname, Vicente, just three meters from the main bulk of protesters when they heard gunshots.

As protesters rushed to aid the fallen, the guards retreated. The other protesters strengthened their barricades and undertook defensive formations.

After the wounded were taken off the encampment, Mantos siad, the guards returned, having replaced their guns with wooden clubs. They challenged the farmers to a brawl but were ignored, Mantos added.

The land dispute in an area barely an hour from President Rodrigo Duterte’s Davao City turf has been festering since 1996 when the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) awarded 724 farmers in Madaum nearly 570 hectates of land, mostly planted with banana export crop.

Lapanday just released this statement:

Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) denies any involvement in the reported shooting of alleged agrarian reform beneficiaries in Barangay Madaum, Tagum City this morning. Since last week, the company has been seeking police assistance to investigate the presence of armed men who were seen within the areas under Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative 1 (HEARBCO-1). HEARBCO-1 which has acknowledged its existing and valid contracts with LFC has been in conflict with a breakaway group of its former members led by Mely Yu who has been engaging armed men to inflict violence and disrupt operations in the farm. Mely Yu and her group were ousted as officers by the majority of HEARBCO-1 in 2011 and since then, her group has caused severe damage to the cooperative. This internal conflict among the HEARBCO-1 and this breakaway group may be the reason for this latest incident.

Protesters deny the claim of armed men, saying guards fired in the air when they asserted farmers’ right to the land. A Kilab Multimedia photo shows most of the protesters without shirts “to prove they were not armed.”

The timeline of the land dispute also indicates that Lapanday has waged a legal battle with the farmers — and lost its case twice.

A decade of woes

kmp-photo
Protest signs along the Madaum highway, where guards, allegedly controlled by Lapanday Foods Corp, shot farmers reclaiming the land. (Photo by Kilab Multimedia)

The DAR order was covered by Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) No.00398239, issued under Transfer Certificate of Title No. C-10527 and registered on 18 December 1996.

The mother cooperative of beneficiaries, the HIJO EMPLOYEES AGRARIAN REFORM COOPERATIVE 1 (HEARCO1), signed a Banana Sales and Marketing Agreement (BSMA) with Lapanday, owned by the Lorenzo family.

Mantos said within two years, many farmer beneficiaries expressed dismay at the low price for their products and the many supposed debts subtracted from their sales income, “kasi di nila alam saan nanggagaling ang utang at walang supporting documents.”

In the ten years, from 1998 to 2008, skirmishes between restive beneficiaries and guards cost two lives and injured several from both sides of the conflict. Farmer leaders were also booted out of work and reinstated only after years of legal battle.

When the contract with Lapanday expired in 2009, the beneficiaries undertook a referendum for future plans. Majority voted to extend the contract, while 159 voted No.

The nay-voters eventually reached an agreement with the mother cooperative, which allowed them to leave, ceding over 145 hectares covered by a document.

“They found a new buyer with better contract — $8 a box from $4 a box paid by Lapanday,” Mantos said.

The DAR ruled in favor of the benificiaries in 2010, upholding their right to the land parcel ceded by the mother cooperative.

Lapanday: no owner – but exerts control

Mantos said the 145 hectares is only one case. Other land parcels are also involved in on-going disputes between beneficiaries and Lapanday, for unjust wages and onerous practices – reminiscent, he said, of the old, feudal plantation setups in the pre-CARP era.

Lapanday denies ownership of the land. But it filed a a case against the new group, covering the lands they tilled. The corporation lost that legal battle too, with the regional trial court ruling in favor of the formers.

Mantos said the agrarian reform beneficiaries were preparing to till the land after victory when “300 Lapanday guards and goons atacked.”

“Tinutukan sila ng baril at pinalayas,” he said. (Guns were pointed at them and they were forced off the land.)

Despite the legal victories, the beneficiaries were kept out of their lands for the next six years.

After seven months of pickets at the gate of Lapanday’s local office, the farmers sought reinforcement from other peasant’s group in the region and entered to reclaim their land on December 9.

Lapanday, in a statement released to Sunstar Davao last month, said:

 

“Lapanday Foods Corporation clarifies that it does not claim ownership over agrarian reform lands awarded to Hijo Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative (HARBCO) and Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative 1 (HEARBCO-1). This is in reaction to a recent gathering of members and sympathizers of these cooperatives at its offices in Davao City,” the statement read. The LFC said these cooperatives remain the absolute owners of these lands and they only want “these cooperatives honor and respect their valid and lawful contracts with LFC that mandate them to sell the bananas produced in their farms to LFC and allow LFC to manage their farms to ensure the quality of their produce.” The company also said in the contracts where HARBCO borrowed funds for its use from LFC, HARBCO and LFC entered into a banana sales and marketing agreement in 1998 and a general framework on farm handling last December 23, 2008. In these contracts, HARBCO committed to exclusively sell bananas produced in its farm to LFC and allow LFC to manage its farms to ensure the export quality of the bananas.

The Kilusang Mambubukid ng Pilipinas – Southern Mindanao said the tagum dispute “is a classic example of what Pres.Duterte refers to as Feudalism.”

The KMP urged Duterte “to walk the talk” and intervene with the farmers upholding the DAR decision.

“We hope that he understands very well that agrarian reform remains myth so long as landlords continously grabbed the lands of nameless farmers. If the farmers will not fight for their rights to survive what assurance can they get from this landlord-dominated government?” said KMP-SMR chairperson, Pedro Arnado.

Lords of the land

pr-peasant-day
A 2015 campaign poster linking the failures of agrarian reform in old and new order of leaders. (Graphic by UMA Pilipinas)

The Tagum dispute is an emblem of the struggles that face Filipino farmers decades after the passage of what was pledged to be a landmark law for a comprehensive agrarian reform program (CARP) and congress approval of a successor program, Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reform (CARPER).

Lapanday is controlled by the Lorenzo clan. Its chief executive officer, Regina Lorenzo, is the sister of Martin Lorenzo, a top executive of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac, the sugar mill of the Cojuangco clan’s sprawling Hacienda Luisita.

A recent outbreak of violence also occurred in Luisita, where beleaguered land workers still have to benefit fully from a final Supreme Court ruling in 2013.

Distribution of land has gone very slowly for beneficiaries. In 2009, the Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department of the House of Representatives, said CARP had a balance of 1.6 million hectares, covering 1.2 million farmer beneficiaries. The environment department, it added, also had nearly 600,000 hectares of land still undistributed to farmer-tillers.

CARPER received a P150 billion budget. But in a 2015 report, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism said DAR had still failed to distribute 726, 421 hectares and the DENR still had some 100,000 hectares to go.

Even those who have received land continue to struggle from their lack of access to affordable credit, the continued lack of support mechanisms from government and the market control exercised by agriculture dealers who are also often big landlords.

The hardships often end up with re-concentration of lands, which are then blamed on workers and not on government neglect and collusion with big landowners.

Halting an unjust cycle

uma-2016-card2In August, Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano, the former representative of militant party-list group, Anakpawis, received President Rodrigo Duterte’s backing on the planned executive order for a halt to land use conversion.

Mariano said the proposed EO should also cover applications for exemption/exclusion of land from the coverage of CARP and other agrarian reform laws and programs.

The practice is currently allowed by Section 20 of the Local Government Code, which authorizes municipal and city councils to reclassify agricultural lands into other uses.

It’s a long, long fight, paid for by tears and blood. Farmers formed the bulk of restive Filipinos who rose up against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and joined the New People’s Army as big ticket development projects drove them off their lands.

Sixteen years after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship, Bulatlat.com came out with a damning report on CARP: Lands are Back in the Hands of the Lords.

Read Also: Are Filipino Peasants Better Off Now?

It’s now four decades since the EDSA People Power Revolt. Farmers are still shedding blood for lands that are theirs by right.

 

 

 

 

D’ Strafford levels up: ‘Proving’ the upwardly mobile phantoms of the elections


You have to give the guys from D’Strafford credit for cheek, for cobbling a parallel #Halalan2016 universe.

You have to give them credit, too, for causing very respectable and decent folk to hyperventilate with joy.

d strafford

Never mind that the morning after, the equally respectable Manila Bulletin had to take down the   news item about Mar Roxas “sustaining” his lead over rival wannabe-presidents Rodrigo Duterte, Grace Poe, Jejomar Binay and Miriam Santiago.

TAKEDOWN2

I guess it’s hard for professionals to ignore the reality of D’Strafford’s latest press release. Guess it’s hard to defend a survey firm’s credibility when their release mentions candidate Poe twice, under different rankings.

poe twice

It’s also hard to keep a straight face when the Sun Star — whose editor got into a tussle with social media critics after its report on Strafford’s debut — placed in ”      ” project manager JM Balancar’s defense of their methodology.

It’s the “proving” question, dudes, Balancar told journalists in  press conference following the release of their April 13-18 alleged survey.

He was asked why their press release had nothing to back up the claim that Roxas surged because Duterte ‘s rape joke scared off some fans. He said other things, of course. Feel free to read the quotes.

SUNSTAR

Unlike other survey firms, D’ Strafford sends out a press release, instead of a detailed report that includes mechanics and sub-topics.

We still haven’t seen the actual “proving” question. So we don’t know if voter-respondents got lost in the racing syntax of D’ Strafford’s pollsters. It’s a trademark.

Read: Ro-Ro and the Funny Survey

Maybe Balancar’s just exciteable. Maybe its ecstasy. Hey, you can actually “feel” them breathless with admiration whenever they tweet about Roxas.

It’s the kind of wide-eyed wonder that gals and guys fall for. They’d be lovely in front of the television cameras, yes?

Except it’s also hard to get a handle on these guys. They are virtual phantoms. Read Thinking Pinoy’s latest report.

All that money spent for this reported un-commissioned major survey by a “family-owned corporation with five members” — if the SunStar got the details right.

I got some names during an earlier interview with an incorporator named Mark Lim.

But D’ Strafford dudes go through names as fast as Balancar rushes through his sentences.

Lim said their in-house, corporate survey lead was a Jeffrey Concio, credentials a top secret.

The SunStar story said it was in-house consultant Ralph Fuentes who did the honours of presenting results of the first survey.

ralph Fuentes

But they seem to have levelled up fast, if we can trust the tabloid Abante, another eager chronicler of D’ Srtafford.

They apparently now have a “survey director” by the name of John Stevenson. 

ABANTE

When I clicked the share button on that story, here’s what came out.

WHEN I SHARED

So I googled John Stevenson.

And, hey, these dudes must be real movers and shakers!

Imagine that, a Conservative British MP for survey director?

stevenson mp

Or so Abante claims. You would think they’d bring a photographer to a press con announcing the results of a major survey. You would think any reporter these days would have a mobile phone with a still and video camera.

Instead, we get a file photo and a leap of faith on the part of the editors. The story actually sounds lifted from yet another wacky press release — though I’ll lay the blame for the photo on Abante.

I was tempted to write to Mr. Stevenson but suddenly thought of the embarrassment that could bring Roxas, the man who would be President. But I will. Tomorrow.

Meantime, let us rejoin in the miracle! And let us enjoy the cosmic tweets from the phantoms of this election.

 

Ro-Ro and that funny survey


“Takot sila sa akin,” Mar Roxas, Liberal Party standard-bearer said in March after the second debate among #Halalan2016 presidential bets. He also said surveys didn’t matter and that rivals were ganging up on him because of fear.

But a certain survey does matter a lot to the Liberal Party and its followers.

A minor Twitter stir occurred on April 20. Accounts linked to Roxas loyalists erupted in jubilation, sharing  headlines on a miraculous survey surge that had President Benigno Aquino III’s candidate tied with Sen. Grace Poe at first place.

daang matuwid

 

The day before, Pulse Asia released the results of the ABS-CBN commissioned survey, showing Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte extending his new front-runner position, from 30% to 32%.

Pulse Asia said Duterte managed to capture “a sizeable plurality of Filipino registered voters.”

 

READ: Duterte extends lead in latest ABS-CBN survey

Had one of the two other big survey firms like the Social Weather Stations (SWS) or Laylo released the April 20 report, it would have been major news.

Both firms have displayed similar rankings, though with different percentages and margins of error.

The catcalls that followed were louder than the hosannas. Many Roxas supporters were too embarrassed to join the chorus, for good reason.

Only a few tabloids carried the momentous announcement. One report, credited to the Philippine Star, actually comes from its Filipino-language tabloid, and has since been taken down.

published Curious website

A simple Google search brings you to the website of  D’ Strafford Research & Strategies, Inc.

The firm claims it uses the language of the business elite.

Its site looks sleek but turns out to be a skeleton – no profile, projects, no clients. Not even an address.

When I visited mid-afternoon of April 20, it didn’t even have anything about an election survey. 

D’ Strafford’s first appearance on email accounts of newsdesks was after it got a deluge of phone calls from curious Netizens.

I called up two numbers. Several tries on the first only got a recorded voice saying Extension 6138 was not available.

A man named Mark Lim answered the other number. He gave their office address as Unit 1, Penthouse, on the 35th floor of EcoTowers on 32nd St., BGC. He said a JM Balancar presented the survey results during “a press conference for tri-media at the Shangri-la Fort.”

Who is Mr. Balancar? What are his credentials?

Lim described Balancar first as “project manager” then as “project director”.

When asked for the name of the CEO – the website does not list company officials –Lim pointed to Balancar. Prompted for the names of other company officials, he mentioned a Mark Tan and Anthony Seno.

I asked if any of them were statisticians. No.

He also said the survey was done in-house and not commissioned.They interviewed 2,800 respondents face to face from April 13-18, he added. The outcome has a +/-1.9% national margin of error.

Then, unprompted, Lim attributed the lead to Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial joke about the rape-slay of an Australian missionary in 1989.

Professional style

I asked for the education and professional credentials of Balancar and their survey leader.  Lim said their in-house, corporate survey lead was a Jeffrey Concio, but he was mum on credentials.

Mum on clients. Mum on most everything, except that the firm’s owners were businessmen with ages ranging from the 30s to the 40s. Lim said he’s 38 years old. He would not give me his education background.

D’ Strafford incorporators don’t come up on Facebook or even Google. They must be very, very private men.

Balancar’s email to news desks was a gem . Will share it as is:

balancar email

 

Nothing in their press release backs up the claim that Roxas surged because Duterte scared off some fans. Analysts say he may have lost some number of “soft voters;” but we’ll have to wait for the next surveys.

But Pulse Asia places Roxas fourth among voters’ second choice, with 14%, compared to Sen. Grace Poe’s 29%, Vice President Jejomar Binay’s 17% and Duterte’s 16% — though that category is premised on the condition of a favored bet not able to continue contesting the presidency.

pulse 2nd choice better

D’ Strafford’s press release shares the press release’s quirky writing style, especially the unique use of punctuation.

Even more curious was the passage on the undecided:

“Of the 4.2% undecided, 1.5% goes to Poe, 1.3% for Roxas, 1% to Duterte and .4% for Binay.” 

You make try to decipher that.

Discoveries

Roxas’ official Facebook account did not share the story. His vice presidential bet, Leni Robredo – D’ Stafford claimed she had a rating 32%, leading r Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (25%) and Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero (23%).

leni on d'strafford

After chatting with Lim, I called up Balancar. He was busy and just asked for a text query. I asked about the firm’s SEC registration.

He replied: “We will have another round of press conference this coming Friday. We will be sending invites. Thank you.”

A follow up text from him said: “All are invited even Duterte supporters, of GP and ke Binay. Thank you.”

Netizens Mariah Sanchez and Jae Manuel Sta Romana did separate searches and discovered that D’ Strafford’s website was registered only on April 14, a day after the claimed start of their survey.

website
Screengrab photo posted by Mariah Sanchez

It only registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission on April 11.

Sta Romana also found out that the firm borrowed i’s entire website template from a Chicago-based company. Unlike D’ Stafford, Omotosho and Associates details a range of services.

borrowed

So a very young firm of mysterious men decided to spend a caboodle of money for a nationwide survey because of the goodness of their hearts.

Don’t let those inconvenient truths divert us from this sure-fire reality, says an undersecretary.

Roxas will win, according to Malacanang, because the government has the most organized force.

This administration has a genius for twisting the meaning of words. Let’s parse out organized in the next installment, starting with the Palace downloading voters’ personal data stolen from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) website.

IMELDA’S TRUTH: Martial Law returned human rights; My Ferdie, a true democrat. UPDATE LINKS TO COMPLETE SERIES


AND SHE, IMELDA MARCOS, ENDED THE COLD WAR. #NeverForget

(scaRRedcat’s latest via @ABS-CBNNews)

imeldamarcosfromflickerpostedatthebignm
NOT my photo. imeldamarcosfromflickerpostedatthebignm

“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.

IMELDA’S TRUTH

“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.

Fiesta forever

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.”

Iron butterfly

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.

Vulgaris

Photo from davidbyrne.com
Photo from davidbyrne.com

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.

READ THE FIRST PART OF THE Q&A HERE — Imelda’s Truth in Her Own Words

Part 2 — TAMING MAO AND CHINA

Part 3 — RECLAIMING GOLD AND PARADISE

GRACE POE and how NOT to damage control (UPDATE on who did it)


UPDATE: A a citizen volunteer for Sen. Poe has owned up on the error of that video. Leon Flores, former chair of the National Youth Commission (NYC), co-convenor of the Good Governance Pilipinas (GoGracePoe), a citizen volunteer for Sen. Poe. He takes full responsibility for the error. His note below, unedited. My views on her statements stand.

Dear Sen. Grace Poe,

You’ve mostly talked sense — not all the time, but mostly — since you campaigned for your current post. During that campaign, when thrown questions on popular issues, you were studied — this part right, but other parts need to be studied. You did very well chairing the Senate probes into the MRT mess. You did even better in the Mamasapano investigation — your committee report is as good as can be expected from the limits of your task.

But you were dead wrong in your statements on the Iglesia ni Cristo protest. And you got well-deserved flak for that. READ: Pandering to the INC 

Now, your PR people, whoever they are, are compounding that mistake. I’m not sure if these are professionals or close friends, but your son is apparently one of them.

Tell them this:

grace poe damage1Stop sending a truncated video — labelled “FULL Grace Poe response.” when it is actually only a portion of your remarks. 

It is a representation. The actual youtube video says “clip” but your social media label is unethical because it leads people to believe the “clip” if the “full response.”

Worse, it is being used to tell journalists that reports on your reactions are wrong. And it is being used as the basis of memes aimed at “correcting” news reports.

It is not just an error of fact or a tactical miss. It is an UNETHICAL act. It tries to mislead the public when we journalists were emailed a FULL transcript of that interview by your good office. Why don’t you just release as a note the transcript you sent us so that people can judge — based on the right information?

Just to jog your memory, here’s what your office sent. I am reproducing full transcript and highlighting the portions pertaining to the INC case.

SEN. GRACE POE AMBUSH INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

August 28, 2015

Sen. Grace Poe: ….mga estudyante marami pa talagang kailangang gawin sa kanilang mga adhikain, mga pangangailangan nila. Saka iba talaga ang enerhiya kapag mga bata kasama  mo. Yun nga edukasyon ay napakahalaga kasi nga naniniwala ako na ito ang sektor na yaman ng ating bayan. Pero hindi naman sila magiging produktibo na mamamayan kung hindi sila bibigyan ng sapat na tulong ng gobyerno. Yung unang bill ko kasi libreng pananghalian sa public schools. Hanggang ngayon ay tinutulak natin yan, sana naman ay matuloy na.

Question: Dun sa ibang interviews sa inyo, you emphasized, you always replied pagdating doon sa issue ng citizenship. Is this your way of reaching out to more audiences to explain to them ‘yung issue, rather than holding a presscon?

Poe: Oo, kasi alam mo lahat ng tao curious talaga. Ano ba talaga ang buhay nitong taong ito? Pilipino ba talaga siya? Tama lang na suriin nila ang aking pagkatao. Kaya mabuti na nanggagaling na mismo sa akin dahil hindi naman ako nagtatago ng katotohanan sa kanila. Ngayon sa batas dadaan naman tayo sa tamang proseso at hindi naman po tayo nagtatago ng kung ano pa mang kailangang malaman.

Q: Is this your way to gather more public support po?

Poe: Actually, I don’t really. Going around, I’ve been expecting people to ask me that question. But that it’s not really my intention. Hindi ko naman intensyon. Pero curious talaga sila. Yun talaga yung gusto nilang matanong kasi yun ang napapabalitaan nila na ibinabato sa akin, na ako raw ay hindi Pilipino. So at least nandito ako para ikwento sa kanila na bakit nila sinasabi na hindi ako Pilipino. Dahil hindi nila alam ang kadugo ng, kung sinuman ang biological parents ko.

Q: Ma’am, ngayon po nag-iikot po kayo sa maraming lugar ngayong linggo, bahagi na po ba ito ng paghahanda ninyo?

Poe: Kung saka-sakali malaking bagay ito kasi katulad niyan, galing ako ng Zamboanga. Kinausap natin mismo doon ang mga tao, business sector at mga internally displaced person tungkol sa BBL kung ano ang palagay nila diyan. Kasi mahirap naman na nakaupo ka sa Senado, hindi mo nakakausap yung mga taong direktang naapektuhan. Dito sa Nueva Ecija at sa Pangasinan halimbawa, apektado sila ng tagtuyot, El Niño, ano’ng kulang natin? Imprastraktura ng mga dam, ng mga water entrapment facilities. So dapat ay saksi ka sa tunay na pinagdadaanan ng iyung mga kababayan.

Q: So bahagi na po ito ng inyong paghahanda?

Poe:  Bahagi. Kasi naman pag ako ay natuloy, kapag natanong ako, ano ba sa palagay mo ang solusyon sa mga problema na yan? Eh baka hindi ko alam.

Q: Ma’am bakit dun sa mga pag-iikot mo, this week ma’am, bakit puro mga estudyante, puro bata?

Poe: Doon sa pag-iikot ko, nakakataba sa puso ko yung assurance na marami sa mga kabataan ay alam ang nangyayari sa ating gobyerno. Let us not underestimate the youth. Huwag natin silang maliitin. Huwag natin apihin ang kanilang oportunidad at pagkakataon. Katulad nga niyan, nagkaroon ng pag-uusap sa CHED. Bagama’t tumaas ang budget nila, binawasan nila ang pera para sa scholars. Eh yun ang pinakaimportante. More than other items in the budget, kailangan ay mag-invest tayo sa mga kabataan at education is the best equalizer. Nagbibigay ito ng oportunidad. E kung babawasan mo yung P300 million, sa halagang iyon parang ipinapahiwatig mo na hindi ka masyadong seryoso.

Q: Sa pag-iikot po ninyo ma’am, were you encouraged sa pagdedesisyon ninyo?

Poe: Para sa akin, ang pag-iikot kong ito, naramdaman ko ang pagmamahal. Hindi lamang nila sa akin kundi, ako sa kanila. Alam mo nakikita ko, ito yung mga pinaglaban noon ni FPJ. Kaya nga kapag sinasabi nilang inclusive growth, it means more than just, it’s not just a buzz word. Ito ang totoo na wala tayong iiwanan dapat sa ating mga paggawa ng tulong sa gobyerno. Dapat lahat ay kasama, hindi yung pipili ka lang ng sektor na uunlad.

Q: Ma’am do you have timeline po before you decide?

Poe: Before October 16.

Q: On INC

Poe: Kasi alam mo unang-una hindi ba ako’y nakikiramay sa marami nating mga kababayan.  Alam ko lalo na ‘yung pinagdadaanan nila. Kasi sa hustiya natin sa atin, marami ang nakasampa ngayon sa DOJ. Ihihingi pa natin ng resolusyon. Alam ko hindi madali. Kaya pati na rin sa SAF44 na ngayon hinihintay natin. Siguro mas makakabuti, dahil alam ko naman si Sec. De Lima, sabi nga niya ginagawa niya yung kanyang trabaho, ay humarap siya sa mga tao na nagra-rally. Mahinahon at i-eksplika, kung ano ba’ng sitwasyon bakit nangyayari ng ganun. Kasi after all, kami naman ang nasa gobyerno ang responsibilidad naming ay maipamahagi ng maayos sa ating mga kakabayan, bakit ganun ang aming mga hakbang sa pamunuan. 

Q: Pero sa tingin niyo po ba dapat hawakan ng DOJ ang kaso?

Poe: Alam mo sa totoo lamang, maraming inaasikaso ang DOJ. Para sa akin hindi ko alam talaga lahat ng detalye tungkol diyan. Siyempre magtataka ka rin bakit ang tutok doon, samantalang, halimbawa yung ibang mga kaso ng gobyerno wala naman silang witnesses pa, na naka-hold. Halimbawa, tinatanong ko mayroon na ba kayong nakuha doon sa Mamasapano massacre? Mayroon na raw mga inimbestigahan pero wala pa namang naka-witness protection at least, sa pagkakaalam ko. 

Q: Mayroon po bang fallback ang Liberal Party in case Grace Poe decides to run for president?

Poe: I’m sure naman lahat ng partido ay naghahanda sa kahit na ano’ng contingency.

Q: Ma’am yung sa INC, even if may kidnapping issue dapat ba hindi makialam ang DOJ?

Poe: Depende kasi sa lakas ng kaso. Pagdating kasi, I think dapat transparent. Ang pagkakaalam ko ng issue, ito’y isang saksi sa taong nakidnap. Pero  yung tao nakidnap diumano ay nandoon naman. Hindi ba free? So ako kasi hindi ako parte ng DOJ, gusto ko rin malaman. Kaya nga sinasabi ko, tama yung sinabi ni secretary kung ginawa niya ang kanyang trabaho. I-eksplika niya sa taumbayan kung anong merits ng case. Pero alam mo, huwag rin nating mamaliitin ang importansiya ng relihiyon. Para sa akin ang mga tao na yan ang dinidepensahan nila ay ang kanilang paniniwala. Nirerespeto natin yan at kailangan pangalagaan din ang kanilang mga karapatan. Thanks guys. #

That last paragraph is the pits. And here’s why.

Photo from Net25 TV's Facebook page
Photo from Net25 TV’s Facebook page

Ang pagkakaalam ko ng issue, ito’y isang saksi sa taong nakidnap. Pero  yung tao nakidnap diumano ay nandoon naman. Hindi ba free? So ako kasi hindi ako parte ng DOJ, gusto ko rin malaman. (You don’t know, but you throw out, “Hindi ba free?” You want to know — how do you want to get at the truth? On the streets? Coffeeshop gossip? A meeting with De Lima? You’re a lawmaker and should know better. This is a criminal complaint, filed with prosecutors. You get the truth — or what passes for it — from a formal inquiry into the complaint.)

Kaya nga sinasabi ko, tama yung sinabi ni secretary kung ginawa niya ang kanyang trabaho. I-eksplika niya sa taumbayan kung anong merits ng case. (Excuse me? De Lima referred it — a bit late, if I say so; ask the lawyers of the complainant — to prosecutors. That is where the merits of the case are scrutinized and resolved.)

Pero alam mo, huwag rin nating mamaliitin ang importansiya ng relihiyon. Para sa akin ang mga tao na yan ang dinidepensahan nila ay ang kanilang paniniwala. Nirerespeto natin yan at kailangan pangalagaan din ang kanilang mga karapatan. (Good god, I don’t care what religion you or anyone professes. This is not about religion. This is about a criminal complaint on a very serious charge. I am hoping you do not believe that HOW “discipline” is meted out is a purely internal faith matter even when such allegedly violates the laws of this land.)

As lawyer Trixie Cruz-Angeles notes:

Dear Ms. Grace Poe: Sec. 3 of the Anti Graft and Corrupt Practices Act states:
3. Corrupt practices of public officers.– In addition to acts or omissions of public officers already penalized by existing law, the following shall constitute corrupt practices of any public officer and are hereby declared to be unlawful:
(a) persuading, inducing or influencing another public officer to perform an act constituting a violation of rules and regulations duly promulgated by competent authority or an offense in connection with the official duties of the latter, or allowing himself to be persuaded, induced or influenced to commit such violation or offense.
Now could you repeat your spiel about how the Justice Secretary needs to focus on other cases and not to take cognizance of the case for serious illegal detention filed by one Isaias Samson, Jr?

Again, you are dead wrong. Don’t add to your misery. People, including myself, respect people who promptly acknowledge mistakes and explain their new-found wisdom. This is beneath you.

HERE IS AN UPDATE: It was sent by Leon Flores, former chair of the National Youth Commission (NYC), co-convenor of the Good Governance Pilipinas (GoGracePoe), a citizen volunteer for Sen. Poe. He takes full responsibility for the error. Here is his note, unedited
Inday, I sought out the interview from Nueva Ecija because somehow I got a feeling that the words from Sen. Grace Poe were just taken out of context. I was able to get hold of a clip and uploaded it on our group’s Youtube account, Good Governance Pilipinas (GoGracePoe). GGP is a volunteer citizen-led group supporting Sen. Poe and egging her to run. We were lead and co-organizers of the #TakboNaPoe event last Aug. 16. I was uploading the interview video clip while I was in the middle of a speech contest yesterday. At first I titled it “Full video…” thinking that it was. I shared it on FB and asked others to share as well too. I asked for a transcript of the video thereafter and that was when I realized that it was only a partial clip. So I changed the title right away to “Clip of Grace Poe…” on our Youtube channel. Apparently when the FB post gets shared and reposted, it retains the original title “Full clip..”. Not much of a techie but my hunch is that it is a mere technological limitation. THERE WAS NO INTENTION TO BE UNETHICAL ABOUT IT. Second, it was my intention to be transparent about the whole transcript so I also posted it wholly on the video description. This effort to clarify things for Sen. Grace Poe and to seek out the clip was borne out of the request of some GP supporters (and yes even questions from the other camp). I also wish to clarify that while I do know Brian Poe, her son, he has nothing to do with our actions. GGP is a group of willing, eager, and able volunteers who believe in Senator Grace Poe. If you wish to know us more, we will be happy to have coffee with you soon. I hope this clarifies the issue on the video. All other issues pertaining to the INC case, you may officially seek from Mam Poe’s office.

Elegy for Freedom of Information Law


When the Right to Know Right Now (R2KRN) coalition proclaimed the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill dead in the 16th Congress, I wondered if the declaration was premature. Could renewed clamour prod President Benigno Aquino III to finally declare the bill urgent? READ: R2KRN 2010 Letter to PNOY on FOI

Another paragraph also raised my brows. The coalition said it would be unfair to continue giving House FOI champions the burden of taking political risks in order to overcome the leadership’s refusal to push for FOI.

“Champions are expected to take political risks,” was my thought bubble. But I come from a more militant point of view than other folks in the R2KRN coalition and so decided to ask co-convenor Nepomucena Malaluan some questions. There’s always room for enlightenment.

I’m going to share Nepo’s replies verbatim. Before that, however, let me acknowledge the very hard work the coalition has done in more than 15 years of campaigning for the passage of the FOI Act.

Ed Chua, country chairman of Shell Companies in the Philippines and a trustee of Makati Business Club signs www.change.org/TayoNaParaSaFOI at a UP event
Ed Chua, country chairman of Shell Companies in the Philippines and a trustee of Makati Business Club signs http://www.change.org/TayoNaParaSaFOI at a UP event

It has has held forums, issued statements, ran pooled editorials, participated actively in the legislative process – the latter not a task for the faint-hearted and the sensitive. It has also launched mass actions signature campaigns — more than 17,000 signatures on this Change.org petition and 20,000 more on the paper version. It also organized advocacy runs, filed its own bill by way of Indirect Initiative, produced information materials, initiated dialogues, and coordinated work with allies in Congress and the executive. READ: 38,000 signatures submitted to Malacanang

This is the coalition’s sad conclusion:

“We confront the reality that our institutions, particularly the Presidency and Congress, are not ready to overcome their selfish fears and take the side of public interest on the issue of FOI.”

Sounding the death knell for the FOI bill isn’t a full retreat. Nepo explains it as an alternative course of action and one started even as the coalition pushed for passage of the FOI Law.

This is what the coalition said in its statement:

“While the FOI bill again meets its death in the hands of a President and a House leadership reluctant to redistribute power or too arrogant to heed our call, our fight for an effective, working, and living FOI, lives on. It may take a different form, emphasis and strategy, but its essence will remain the same: we assert the right to information as a fundamental mechanism in the struggle for a rights-based governance with greater transparency and accountability, less corruption, broader and informed peoples participation, and development outcomes that are sustainable and just.”

Here are Nepo’s answers to my queries. I just broke down the pargraphs for easier reading:

1) Why is the coalition issuing the death certificate this early?

It is not early.

There is hardly any more time if we go by legislative calendar. Session adjourns October 10 to November 2, and resumes session again from November 3 to December 18. It adjourns again December 19 to January 17, and resumes session from January 18 to February 5. Then a long break for the elections, to come back on May 23 mainly for the canvassing of votes and proclamation of the new president.

This is where prioritization by the highest leadership is important, and the declared top priorities are BBL and the budget. All others in the “priority list” are really secondary.

Can we get them to give FOI equal priority, such that they will take it up alongside/at the same time they take up and approve BBL and the Budget?

freedom-of-information-law-aquino

2) Have there been clear indications — other than (Deputy Speaker Neptali Gonzales ) Boyet’s remarks; say, from the Palace — that it is going nowhere?

It’s not like we are demanding such high prioritization only now. We demanded it from day one of this administration. We did not see it for the past five years (other than lip service).

You can google how after taking his oath PNoy changed his tune by raising ever-mutating concerns early in his term. He created a study group, which we painstakingly engaged for a year to arrive at a balancing of concerns (which our friends in Makabayan reduced to calling a watered-down Malacanang bill). READ: FOI Bill ‘defanged’ — Makabayan

READ: Coalition responds to Makabayan criticism

Nepo adds:

PNoy’s supposed endorsement in Feb 2012 was not accompanied by push on the ground, unlike in other measures such as sin tax and even RH. His allies saw it as mixed signals, allowing Evardone and House leadership to dribble FOI to death in the 15th Congress.

At the start of the 16th it was not included in the priorities. It took PNoy to be cornered by a question from Ramon Del Rosario at the Daylight Dialogue in Malacanang before the 2014 SONA, to for the first time in his term personally say something positive about FOI passage. It was only after the 2014 SONA that it was included in the list of Malacanang’s priorities, even if he still did not mention it in the SONA itself.

For what it’s worth, the statement at the Daylight Dialogue provided some Malacanang close allies who are supportive of FOI to join the push at the House (particularly Reps Dina Abad and Leni Robredo, and Usec Manolo Quezon, which provided political counterweight to allow Committee chair to move positively). “Added to the coalition and House champions (those pushing independently of Malacanang) work, the Bill passed through the committee.

I could tell you there was really hard work behind the scenes that went into that — coordination meetings that goes from substantive unities to the specific motions and manifestations to be made, and mustering the votes. The Makabayan opposition is the easy part, although they did contribute to the slow process at the TWG level, and also undermined the integrity of the bill through conclusions that are attractive to those who don’t have the time to objectively look at the fine print.

The biggest hurdle was the counter-signals from Speaker and Boyet, and we confirm the account by Walden. I can give you details if you’re interested.

Here is a passage from Walden’s op-ed article on FOI:

The problem, however, lies not with Belmonte but with Malacanang. As everyone in the House knows, Belmonte is a pliant ally of the president, and whatever may be his public statements, if Malacanang does not want a bill, it won’t go through. Thus, Aquino’s silence on FOI last Monday spoke volumes to Belmonte and other members of Congress.

During both the 15th and 16th Congresses, Malacanang tried to waylay the advocates by playing a double game. On the one hand, it would send Undersecretary Manuel L. Quezon III to assure them that Malacanang was willing to assist in framing a law that it could support. On the other hand, other emissaries would float the word that the president had major problems with the bill, giving ammunition to opponents of the bill.

In both Congresses, advocates bent over backwards to accommodate Malacanang’s legitimate national security concerns while ensuring that there would be no blocks to full transparency. In both Congresses, Malacanang’s representatives registered no objections to the versions that finally passed the Committee.

What has prevented people like Belmonte and Aquino from following through on their promises to pass FOI?

I think their strong hesitation stems from the generalized fear of many politicians that the legislated transparency of FOI may work against them in some undefined way at some point. In the case of the House leadership, it is probably a case of generalized fear. In the case of President Aquino, however, it is probably more than generalized fear. It probably stems from his desire to prevent access to documents and other material that may give him an image different from that he wants to leave behind, if not make him and some of his subordinates vulnerable to criminal and civil charges for felonious deeds committed while in office. – See more at: http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/530402/opinion/commentary-freedom-of-information-bill-in-its-death-throes#sthash.G9UCdGXw.dpuf

FOI cebu by foi youth initiative

Nepo expounds on the process of shepherding a bill through Congress:

However, getting the bill out of committee is one thing; getting it even calendared in plenary and much more voted on with sufficient time is another. And this is where a mention of FOI at at last SONA would have been critical, and I’m sure PNoy and Malacanang know it.

He did not mention it. Instead, his spokespersons point to the budget message, which to me is just a cover. PNoy could also certify it urgent; he says he wont because the constitution requires an emergency but you very well know it’s a political discretion, as it is used when convenient

3) Is the coalition making it too easy for the Palace? It could die, of course, even with another wave of mass campaign. It would, at least, give some discomfort for those responsible. In bowing out this early, isn’t the coalition encouraging similar behavior from whoever succeeds Mr. Aquino?

We are making it too easy for the Palace by declaring the FOI Bill dead?

On the contrary. What will be too easy is if we allow ourselves to be strung along up to the point when any cry of betrayal is already moot since the elections is done.

We did not just declare the FOI Bill dead; we unequivocally put the responsibility for killing it on PNoy and Belmonte. We gave up on PNoy. We gave up on the House of Representatives. We gave up on the institutions. Certainly it is not our intent to give those responsible comfort.

4) On ‘unfair to continue to burden our House FOI champions with the expectation to take political risks’… It’s a strange phrasing. Don’t major, urgent causes also come with political risk? Does this passage have anything to do with the champions’ political future with the administration’s coalition come election period? Is this linked to the early death certificate?

No, we did not mean political future with the administration’s coalition. We mean the readiness to do what it takes — such as scuttling BBL or budget deliberations to compel the House leadership and PNoy to negotiate on FOI passage. Is there anyone ready to do that? (During the 14th Congress what it required towards the endgame was for someone to scuttle the Presidential canvassing to force a negotiation on FOI.)

We recognize the work of our allies, but how far they will take it is a leadership call and not for us to demand. We can only offer our full support should they do so.

There may be other engagement nuances that I do not see. I’d appreciate if you could expound on these. I’m sure the numerous other supporters of the FOI would also appreciate your insights.

Nepo then discusses the alternative:

What is lost in your questions is the other side of the statement — FOI Practice. We are serious about this shift in focus, and this will be something we will pursue systematically and doggedly.

The serious gaps in FOI that can be comprehensively addressed by legislation, which was the path we took for more than 15 years, we can alternatively struggle to address by FOI Practice. (We did have occasional conversations on Direct Initiative, but this is another very difficult route.)

There are trade-offs. This alternative focus on FOI Practice allows for incremental changes, rather than a one-off big change through legislation. But this can also be rewarding, and can give as much discomfort to the centers of power.

You mentioned earlier another wave of mass campaign directed at the legislative push. That is no small matter; it requires much time and resources. This is time and resources that we can put to FOI Practice, and we are ready to show this can have great impact as well.

In the 14th and 15th Congress we fought the legislative route up to the very end. We may not have done enough, but we also felt the institutions failed us. We are prepared to go a different route this time, and it is not a matter of whim.

The coalition does not see our legislative efforts lost. We would like to think that we have developed a strong and broad coalition. Whatever shortcomings we have, and there would be many, we would like to think as well that we were able to reach some people.

It is from these foundations built from our legislative advocacy that we take the road of FOI Practice.

Those VIP detention joints


The last we heard from Senator Bong Revilla’s family, following that drawn-out surrender drama, was that he needs an air cooler for his special cell — more a studio — in the Philippine National Police custodial center. His wife, Rep. Lani Mercado, says the heat gives him migraine.

Revilla's detention studio at the PNP custodial center. Photo from abs-cbnnews.com
Revilla’s detention studio at the PNP custodial center. Photo from abs-cbnnews.com
Supporters clog the Revilla clan compound in Bacoor, Cavite in a sign of support for Sen. Bong Revilla. Photo from Yahoo.com
Supporters clog the Revilla clan compound in Bacoor, Cavite in a sign of support for Sen. Bong Revilla. Photo from Yahoo.com

Revilla’s new flat may be well below the standards of the clan’s sprawling Cavite homes. But as TV news footage shows, it’s comfortable enough.

An outcry soon followed, with memes spreading on social media.

One compared the cells renovated for Revilla and Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile — all three charged with the non-bailable crime of plunder — with the bunkhouses for Yolanda survivors. The meme’s subtext is, that Revilla and company are accused of heinous crimes while Yolanda folk’s only crime is that of existence.

Previous news reports, quoting government agencies, have shown the Yolanda bunkhomes to be of substandard stuff. This news video also reports an old man dying from heat stroke and children falling ill. His widow notes the stifling heat. Electricity use is only for light. And only last night, I chatted with two young women whose families live in these facilities. They told me the drainage in their makeshift communities is of the same bad standard, causing unhealthy flooding during heavy rains.

The administration’s staunchest supporters complain that the memes are meant to draw attention to perceived government slights rather than stress the issue of justice. In one report, a priest notes that the senators have not yet been convicted and “jail” is the wrong term to use.

Cells for senators vs cells for common criminals. From the Facebook page of Abdur Rashid Santos.
Cells for senators vs cells for common criminals. From the Facebook page of Abdur Rashid Santos.

The good priest will probably be interested in this second comparison shared by Bayan Patroller Abdur Rashid Santos.

It shows a holding cell where cops stuff people arrested for more minor crimes — theft, for example. It can be so crowded behind bars that detainees take turns sleeping. The toilet puts anyone at risk for tetanus.

The people penned in this space have also not been convicted. Many cannot afford lawyers nor bail. Some will rot in municipal and provincial jails while on trials that go on for years.

The good priest might also be interested in what Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno has to say about the country’s criminal justice system. The news article is headlined, “Too poor to post bail, thousands spend years in jail without conviction”.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno described as “dysfunctional” the current jail system in the Philippines, a system that forces inmates to take turns in sleeping inside cramped detention cells.

“While it is not yet a detainee’s turn, he will have to stand up while another one takes a nap… This in itself is condemnable, even before they are sentenced,” Sereno said during the public interviews of candidates for the Sandiganbayan’s presiding justice conducted by the Judicial and Bar Council on Thursday.

“For many of these prisoners, they have already accepted that a life in prison—while their cases are pending—are already their alternative lives. This is alarming to me,” she added.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas explains the studios are only temporary holding centers until the Sandiganbayan divisions tasked to hear the senator’s plunder cases decide on their custodial status. Earlier PNP statements claimed 1) the senators’ physical security must be safeguarded and 2) those nice joints were not constructed specially for them.

Still, anti-crime watchdogs and good governance advocates see the individual studios as a sign of VIP treatment. Len Dante Clarino’s petition on change.org has more than 8,300 signers sharing his call for the senators to be put in regular jails.

Some critics of the senators acknowledged that regular jails would be too dangerous for the three senators. (Most detention centers out of Camp Crame are overflowing with people too poor to afford jail and contrasting lifestyles may cause tempers to flare up, one lawyer told me.)

But the custodial center, which is much better guarded, also hosts political prisoners and other government officials, former PNP officers included, accused of graft and corruption. There is nothing in the facilities they now occupy that would make it dangerous or unduly uncomfortable for the three senators. And a transfer would free their quarters for the officers of the custodial center.

While everyone is agog about Revilla, who in the heat shares the experience of Yolanda survivors and millions of Mindanao residents who’ve braved the sweltering summer in the face of power failures that last as long as 12 hours, we may be forgetting Janet Lim-Napoles.

The alleged private sector top cat in the P10-billion pork scandal — only one of many — enjoys her privacy in Fort Sto. Domingo, far from the madding crowd. She is in a two-bedroom bungalow with a floor area of about 82 square meters. The compound is reportedly guarded by 300 Special Action forces.

It costs P5,000 a day to keep Napoles in detention. Police records peg the average overhead monthly cost for Napoles’ detention at P150,000.

In short, her daily upkeep is, per government statistics, enough to feed a family of five for a month. If a Metro Manila employee receives the minimum P466 daily wage and works without break from a month, he or she would receive P13,900 before taxes. The monthly expense for Napoles’ detention could underwrite 11 families with single breadwinner status.

That probably rankles most. After all, Napoles — who, let us not forget, received VIP escort service on her surrender — has pointed at everyone and his/her mother, without acknowledging any guilt. The government can well transfer her to Camp Crame, halve the number of people guarding her, and still keep her safe.

But that’s something Malacanang will shrug off. Today, Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma told a press briefing:

“Ang sitwasyong ito ay nagpapakita lamang ng kahalagahan ng layuning magtatag ng isang lipunan na kung saan magiging tunay na pantay-pantay ang trato sa lahat ng mga mamamayan habang iginagalang ang kanilang mga karapatang pantao.”

(This situation shows just how much the government is trying to build a society where everyone is treated with equal respect for their rights.)

Coloma also tries to turn the tables on government’s critics, to the point of giving yet another insensitive analogy. (He is becoming an expert on this.)

“Ang paggamit ng pasilidad sa detensyon ay naayon sa batas bilang pagkilala sa prinsipyo ng makataong pagturing sa mga nasasakdal. Dapat bang dalhin at ipiit sila katulad ng mga bunkhouses at temporary shelters na ginagamit ng mga pamilyang naapektuhan ng ‘Yolanda’ at iba pang kalamidad? At kung gagawin naman ito ng pamahalaan, hindi kaya mamayagpag ang tuligsa na pinahihirapan ang mga ‘di kaalyado sa pulitika?”

(The use of the detention facilities are lawful and a display of just treatment for the accused. Should we bring them to a facility like the bunkhouses and temporary shelters used by survivors of Yolanda and other calamities? If the government does this, won’t we be accused of making things stuff for people who are not our political allies?)

That pretty much shows what they think of the bunkhouses. It’s good enough for survivors of calamities but the same standard can’t be used for the plunder guys.

Coloma misses the point. Very few people are asking the government to bend backwards for these senators. People are calling on the government to expand the probe into pork abuses beyond the opposition, and asking President Benigno Aquino to stem his penchant for clearing friends without the benefit of transparent investigation. To equate this with a pro-Tanda, Sexy, Pogi, Napoles sentiment shows they’re slip-sliding on their tuwid na daan.