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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pet — and food taster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SALUTACamp Bagong Diwa hosts the most number of political prisoners.

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

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

 

 

Keep those hands off the phone while driving — or else


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

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

Call them intexticated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slap on the wrist

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

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

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

 

 

INTEXTICATED3

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

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

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

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

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

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

davao cowboy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

 

RSF wrong to call for media boycott


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

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

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

Read: Lawyering for the killers of journalists

killings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defamation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grounds for boycott?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impunity’s throwback loop

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

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

aquino

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

We owe the people

And now we face Mr. Duterte.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

shaolin1shaolin2wig partywig party2

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

NERI COLMENARES IS MY ACTION MAN


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.

neri

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?

 

 

Track record over words: My left-handed choice for the vice presidency


 

Bongbong Marcos, the unrepentant son of the dictator, was never in the running for my vote. Nor was failed mutineer Antonio Trillanes ever considered. Nor Honasan.

Cayetano’s a competent lawmaker. And bless him for going hammer and tongs at Marcos. But his bigotry was in full display during the Mamasapano hearings and BBL-related events. I’ve seen up close and personal the results of such bigotry. For that reason, I’ve never considered Cayetano.

For some time, it has been a toss-up between Sen. Chiz Escudero and Rep. Leni Robredo.

Before delving into the pros and cons of both candidates, here are some issues and points that influenced my decision. These are mine; I am well aware others have theirs and have no intention of forcing these on anyone.

  • You are not your father or your spouse, whether they be demons or saints. (Had Bongbong showed repentance, had he cooperated with the country’s search for justice, he would not be the candidate I most revile.)
  • Human rights are non-negotiable. So is a justice system that gives the poor a fair shake.
  • Corruption is evil. Working for transparency and systemic changes that make it harder for the corrupt to operate earn big points.
  • My socio-economic views have always leaned to the left, for inclusive governance that goes beyond dole-outs.
  • #ScrapPork
  • I have never voted based on gender. What one does for gender equality is more important.
  • “Experience” is over-rated. What one has done is what matters.

 Leni Robredo

Leni is competent. An economics degree the University of the Philippines (UP) and law from the University of Nueva Caceres. She is a member of Saligan, a national alternative lawyers’ group helping farmers. She is a lawyer for the poor. And, yes, her lifestyle is simple.

What has she done in her single term in Congress? I’ll quote Yoly Ong’s article in Rappler:

“Leni has pushed for the bills that benefit not only her constituents but the entire country such as the charter extension of the Philippine National Railway. She filed for the Full Disclosure Bill that will require all elected officials and government agencies to fully disclose any transactions, documents, and budgets of public interest. She is a champion for the Freedom of Information bill (FOI).”

Leni also backed President Aquino’s Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL.) I will give her full credit for taking on Marcos. She supports reforming the law on annulment. (No contender for the top two posts has come out for divorce.) She’s an opponent of the death penalty.

The FOI bill DIED in the House of Representatives. There were champions, yes. I think they tiptoed too much around Mr. Aquino’s aversion to FOI – even when they had accommodated Malacanang’s numerous suggestions. The timidity helped kill the FOI. The unwillingness to confront stalling House leaders helped ensure the bill would lie there and die there.

“Support for the BBL” is a phrase that doesn’t impress me. I followed proceedings. The BBL was WATERED DOWN by Mr. Aquino’s allies, Robredo among them. What it looked like after they got through with it was something the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) vowed to reject.

I won’t invoke the sainted Jesse’s fight against illegal gambling. But Leni praising the governor of Pampanga (the wife of one of the country’s biggest alleged illegal gambling lords) puts into question her commitment to fight corruption.

To invoke good governance as a reason for getting cozy with Mrs. Pineda (who represented her husband in Senate probes) totally flies before known facts:

1) Pineda was a name that surfaced during the Estrada impeachment trial – those sacks of money delivered to San Juan;

2) A falling out over the spoils of jueteng made the family embrace Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo;

3) Coming out bigger post EDSA 2, Pineda’s name once more during accounts of electoral fraud by the former President; he was allegedly among those who underwrote fraud.

 

Leni may spout anti-corruption lines. She may from time to time seem independent from this administration. But she sure hasn’t shown that independence when it comes to the heavy-handed use of government services – paid for by taxpayers – for her campaign.

Chiz Escudero

My problems with Chiz:

He’s too soft on President Aquino; they are good friends.

He justified the Iglesia ni Cristo’s shameless, extra-legal pressure to block a legitimate criminal case.

He did not come after Bongbong Marcos.

He did not banish that rapist Jalosjos from the slate’s campaign sorties. (A pardon does not change my mind about Jalosjos.)

He’s hasn’t given up on the idea of pork. (Robredo has her own DAP problems.)

He is a critic of the BBL.

Problems other people cite that I don’t buy:

Noy-Bi: Chiz was never LP; he owed Mar no allegiance. The President’s own sisters were Noy-Bi and so was the man he appointed executive secretary. There could have been no Noy-Bi without the Noy. (Don’t say, ‘didn’t he know Binay was corrupt?’ I’ll point you to PNOY and family.)

Alleged closeness to Danding — The old man is not fond of Chiz, whom he considers defiant and rebellious.

Blocking the coco levy bill — DHe’s not the only one who has serious concerns about HOW that particular bill aims to give justice to coco farmers.

Corruption — What? Where? When? How? There have never been clear facts on that. And that Napoles claim fizzled out fast.

So, yeah, never expect fire and brimstone from Escudero. He has never pretended to be an “alternative” politician. If you call him “trapo,” he’ll probably smile and and give you that silly wave.

Where it counts, however, Chiz DELIVERED on my priority issues.

He will not bash Marcos. But he was the main author in the Senate of RA 10368 – the reparation and recognition of victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime; RA 10353 – defining and penalizing enforced or involuntary disappearance; and RA 9745 – penalizing torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

Aside from laws that added many courtrooms nationwide, he authored laws that seek systemic reforms in the justice system, reforms that better the odds for those without money or ‘connections’:

RA 10389 – institutionalizing recognizance as a mode of granting the release of an indigent person in custody as an accused in a criminal case;

RA 10158 – decriminalizing vagrancy;

RA 10071 – strengthening and rationalizing the National Prosecution Service (increasing salaries of public attorneys, among other changes);

RA 9999 – providing a mechanism for Free Legal Assistance;

RA 9995 – defining and penalizing the crime of photo and video voyeurism (critical in this digital age);

RA 9946 – granting additional retirement, survivorship and other benefits to members of the judiciary

We all know how PAGASA has improved. Escudero authored RA 10692, which allowed for the modernization of the weather service. He also authored

RA 10625 – reorganizing and strengthening the Philippine Statistical System; and RA 9470 – strengthening the system of management and administration of archival records, stabling the National Archives of the Philippines. (Very important, if not really sexy laws.)

For anybody who wonders how safe are the funds we park in banks, Escudero authored RA 9576 – increasing the maximum deposit insurance coverage, strengthening regulatory and administration authority and financial capability of the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp.

Transparency? Chiz is among the rare politicians with their pork allotments out there for public review. He has submitted a genuine waiver with his Statement on Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth since 2013. It’s the real thing. He just doesn’t do a big song and dance.

Among his pending bills are :

SB NO. 16 – requiring public officials and employees to submit written permission or waiver in favor of the ombudsman to look into ALL DEPOSITS OF WHATEVER NATURE WITH BANKS WITHIN AND OUTSIDE PH, including investment bonds issued by PH govt; and

SB NO. 18 – the Senate version of the FOI — implementing the right of the people to information on matters of public concern … and the state policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest. (Full disclosure in there; Chiz was main author; Poe it’s champion. The Senate passed it.)

My anti-Epal side likes SB NO. 17 – declaring as unlawful the naming of govt projects after govt officials and other persons whose name or identity may be associated with said officials.

SB NO. 118 – an act penalizing influence peddling; and SB NO. 425 – an act providing for protection, security and benefits of whistle-blowers should matter a lot to those hoping for a less corrupt country.

As a journalist, I appreciate SB NO. 127 – an act decriminalizing libel.

SB NO. 445 – amending the law on prostitution by imposing penalties on its perpetrators, and protective measures and support services for its victims – would end the current hypocrisy that penalizes sex workers while letting their users go free.

On consumers’ rights: SB NO. 123 – an act increasing the penalty for criminal negligence committed by common carriers

On OFW welfare: SB NO. 432 – penalizing the imposition of excessive placement fees against overseas Filipino workers

SB NO. 441 – magna carta of workers in the informal sector – tries to narrow the cracks in the economic system.

And, of course, it counts that he voted for the Senate version Neri Colmenares’ SSS pension increase bill.

I only have one vote and that goes to support real, tangible issues that matter. What’s been done matters.

Escudero gets my vote. It doesn’t scare me that many Filipinos are waltzing with a dictator’s son. And the argument that my vote will help him win doesn’t impress – because this administration’s record has made a mockery of the word ‘democracy.’

Look who’s trolling


We’ve seen a gazillion fake news, fake memes, fake announcements this #Halalan2016 season.

There will always be trolls. That’s the downside of the Internet and social media.

Trolls thrive on manipulation, on lies, on scamming gullible folk.

This isn’t hard to do. People will believe most stuff – even embrace conspiracy theories — that validate their own beliefs.

Every professional who conducts workshops on social media will tell Netizens to be wary, to check the original link, to go independently to news websites or accounts allegedly responsible for the suspicious posts. It also helps to check rival news websites.

Even professional journalists have been had. Remember that Oprah comment in the wake of Shamcey’s heart-breaking loss at the Miss Universe pageant? Yeah, some news websites ran that. Even international media outfits have fallen for fake news about the Iraq and Syria conflicts, hurricane Sandy and other big events.

In this last election, even “responsible” elders have deliberately shared fake news, malicious plants that have nothing to do with the errors that come with the 24/7 news cycle.

I remember the hilarious post Vice President Jejomar Binay stash of money found behind a wall. Some friend on Twitter, someone I actually respect, tagged several journalists on a photo post that opened to … nothing. This was during the time when the Mar Roxas camp was gunning for Binay. There was another similar post, dubious even to the untrained eye. But was my friend apologetic? Nah. She said, well, it’s up to you investigative journalists to investigate.

You can understand some kid asking… “ma’am I stumbled on this; is it true?” It’s disappointing to see a communications expert spouting this line.

We’ll save the other trolls for another post.

Let’s focus on communications specialists who show no compunction planting fake news.

Let’s not even talk about such communications specialists blindly scooping up the funny D’ Strafford surveys and passing this on as gospel truth.

It’s the deliberate spread of false news that should set off alarms at the Paris-based Publicis Groupe. Especially false news that drag the country’s Catholic bishops into the fray.

Matec Villanueva, the chief executive officer of Publicis Manila, the local agency of the Publicis Groupe, shared at least two memes with false claims to back up her verbal jabs at Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte’s followers — especially those of the Marcos-loyalist bent — have been responsible for many false plants on social media.

You’d think an advertising CEO would be more discriminating.

There are a million and one charges on can hurl at Duterte, without involving the bishops. It’s not like Netizens live in a vacuum where they can’t check what’s happening on the other side of the bubble.

There’s no understanding such a lapse, unless it’s a matter of, well — friendship — with Mar Roxas.

Here’s what she’s been sharing.

bloc voting 1111

While Catholic bishops have no love lost for Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, they’re not exactly embracing Roxas. In fact, they’re not embracing anyone.

They’ve advised against tendencies by some candidates. Mayhem could be a pointed dig at Duterte. On the other hands, the bishops have also spoken out against the terrible violence unleashed by state forces on the Lumad.

They also warned against crimes against the environment.  Roxas has praised some dudes as exemplars of good practices in total contradiction of a Supreme Court decision; he also okayed tax perks on their planes while he was still transportation secretary.

A communications specialist like Villanueva ought to know enough to double check – the website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has contact details. A communications specialist could have scanned news outfits to double check the claim.

It’s not just an issue of ethics but of professionalism. Aren’t these ad executives supposed to review  even their clients’ claims? Aren’t they held to standards of truth in advertising? She’s supposed to be a lecturer in marketing in some hot-shot Catholic university. What does she teach the kids?

I guess some incentives trump ethics and professionalism.

Overreach will always unbalance you. Is Villanueva the ad agency version of Trillanes?

Talk is, Roxas isn’t amused – as her efforts have just opened him up to more ridicule. The saner of his campaign staff are bristling.

And I guess our bishops won’t be pleased  either– to put it mildly.