Insights and opinions from our contributors on the current issues happening in the region

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Let us continue our march for progress

The story of Samar congressman-elect Doloy Coquilla

Economic gains do not justify strength of democracy

An Initial Statement of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial killings

Condemnation on the brutal assassination of Prof. Jose Ma. B. Cui of COURAGE-NS

Never trust a communist!

Bunang and the Pulahanes

Tabang Palo

An Experiment in Happiness

Stop the Killings in the Philippines




Bias for Life vs. Demands of (National) Security?

August 26, 2007

“When soldiers and civilians die in free self-giving sacrifice for their country, that makes them heroes; but when, in truth, they are sent to death to protect a regime…”

In the Philippines we are all aghast at the sight of flag-draped coffins of soldiers who have died in the on-going Mindanao war between government forces and the Abu Sayyaf plus its allies from the MILF and MNLF. Television footages or accounts of decapitated or mutilated bodies make us recoil or gasp in horror but hardly lie. “It’s a waste of lives,” Roman Catholic Bishop Martin Jumoad of Basilan recently lamented. Absolutely no one from the conflicting forces openly disagrees. The bias for life as expressed by the bishop is rarely, if at all, questioned in the land of Rizal. But its slow downgrading is being subtly shown in our life-for-national-security government culture.

On the one hand, the scenario of the dead, the dying, the wounded, displaced families and the innocent being victimized by the crimes of a few has the makings of a public relations nightmare for the government. It has sparked chorus after chorus of protests from civil, religious and ordinary concerned citizens. On the other hand, the Philippine government insists there is no other way to deal with the perceived terrorists than to crush them. And the seeming public relations nightmare that the deaths of soldiers have become is fast being turned into a public relations offensive.

In other more democratic countries (the U.S. for one) governments strictly keep the media away from covering the arrival of and funeral rites for the casualties of war to avoid demoralizing the population; here the media have become society’s celebrity-and-hero makers, something the government is keen to use.  First off, media coverage of mutilated, decapitated or plainly killed soldiers has beefed up support for the government war effort by inciting desires for revenge from the majority (Christian) population from whom majority of the dead soldiers come. Second, by hailing the dead soldiers as “mga bagong bayani (new heroes)” and giving them public honor is also, in effect, clothing the life-for-national-security culture with a mantle of nobility.

Though national security is often seen as the requirement for the survival of the nation-state by the use of political, economic, diplomatic and military powers, in real terms the survival at stake may not necessarily always be that of the nation-state itself but, instead, that of an individual or group in power. Therein lies the crux of the problem in Third World countries like the Philippines. And in the haze and maze of political language the truth could be easily sugar-coated or effectively hidden by half-truths or seemingly common-sense non-truths.

The idea of national security in the country appears at times dressed up as economic development and peacekeeping. Recent statements from Malacañang (cf. Philippine Daily Inquirer, August 20, 2007, 10) are very telling. “Economic development, which we draw from the arsenal of democracy, remains our principal weapon against terrorism,” so spoke Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye quoting President Macapagal-Arroyo. Ms. Arroyo continued: “Ongoing peacekeeping operations against rearguard actions of a despised and defeated group are meant to clear the path for these provinces’ journey to peace and progress which terror has delayed for so long”.

I remember reacting to this statement spontaneously: “If this group was already a ‘defeated group’, how come they are still around and inflicting heavy casualties on our military and bleeding our national coffers dry?” Or it could also be asked, in the context of the global war on terror, whether our government’s actions are not only meant to allay local fears but also to impress on the international community that we are not sitting on our avowed commitment against terror. Nothing wrong with that, but which nation(s) in particular?

But what about our role as Church vis-à-vis our bias for life? May I share a few thoughts.

One, although we admit that life is not an absolute value as Jesus himself affirmed in word, that is, by teaching about love as expressed best in giving one’s life for one’s friends (Jn 15:13), and in deed, that is, by himself dying on the cross for us (Catechism for Filipino Catholics, no. 996), still human life is the foundation of all other the other gifts of God to us. If we were not alive, democracy or national security would be meaningless. Respect for human life is a must because Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, has done so, and more, by becoming a human being himself. “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1;14).

Two, life is, as the CFC text above again states, “the necessary condition for actively loving others as well as their receiving our love”. If so, then we must love, not downgrade, human life itself, not only of our soldiers or of people who share our political beliefs but even of the enemies of state or of our political enemies. Human lives are equally precious, however much we bewail, as we should, the inhuman war practices of some (enemies of state). It follows, therefore, that for the media to treat the fourteen soldiers’ deaths as of more consequence than those of forty-two enemies the government forces killed is to trivialize human life and the common dignity of all human beings. The uncivilized behavior of an enemy does not humanize doing a similar course of action.

Three, the Church must always raise her prophetic voice against the abuse of military force against unarmed civilians and its dismissive disregard of the value of human life as “collateral damage”. When soldiers and civilians die in free self-giving sacrifice for their country, that makes them heroes; but when, in truth, they are sent to death to protect a regime or prop up its image to its international supporters, the war effort in which they die is anything but moral. The leaders responsible for the war have blood in their hands.

Four, the nation-state, like every individual human being, has the right to protect itself. But the use of armed conflict as a means of self-protection raises questions. Not least of which is whether peaceful means have been exhausted, whether there is a just cause, whether it is aimed and actually protects human rights, not violate them, whether it actually can succeed, not prolong indefinitely the sacrifice of human life and human rights, whether it relies solely on the unexamined judgment of an individual or a few, whether it is a last recourse (CFC 1042). I wonder if any of these criteria are even considered by our government war planners and implementers.

Finally, the bias for life requires an active work for peace. Nothing brings peace more effectively than peaceful means. I remember smiling every time a beauty contestant says she is for “world peace”. But desire is always a good start. But prayer as a follow-up is a must. I remember praying earnestly for peace and security (I never distinguished national security from anyone’s) one morning. That evening I was struck while I watched the news on television. All I heard were news about accidents and violent confrontations but there was one commonality: the absence of human deaths. I asked myself: Is the Lord not educating me about prayer power? Peace by the ways of peace (and there are more of them that meets the eye)? Yes, it follows, if you follow the Prince of Peace.





The case against the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK)

July 24, 2007

The Background

The upcoming SK elections has encouraged a number of new young voters to register so they could exercise their right of suffrage. Since 1992, the SK elections have been truly training grounds for nasty electoral processes. No one can dispute the fact that it has been used as extension of the dirty politics of the local politicos. The precursor of SK is of course the Kabataang Barangay (KB) of Marcos. Under the Local Government Code of 1991 primarily authored by Nene Pimentel, a staunch nemesis of Marcos, the SK was nothing but an institutionalized KB.

The Arguments Against SK

I will focus my arguments against SK on the following grounds:

1. It is not necessary;
2. It is not beneficial; and,
3. It is not practical.

Necessity of SK: Do we need the SK for youth empowerment?

The SK is supposed to be the training ground for future leaders. The framers of the 1991 Local Government Code thought that the SK would be an excellent avenue for creating better leaders. I would say that it is not necessary for a leader to be in SK to be a good leader. It does not follow, or it is non sequitor, that once you are involved in SK that you become a better leader. Leadership training is available in far better settings like in schools, churches, or other institutions other than the government like scouting. The idea that our youth are not getting enough leadership training because there is no organization like the SK is simply hilarious.

Another reason why the SK was instituted is the fact (or I would say the myth) that it could "initiate policies, programs, or projects for the development of the youth in their respective political territories." It is so good as a sound byte or as an oratorical piece but never as a blueprint for reality. The real world says that it is the local political warlords or barangay chieftains that dictate whatever programs the SK can have to benefit them and not to benefit the youth in the area of their responsibility. More often than not, SK projects are limited to signs, basketball courts, lamp posts, flowering pots, and the like. They simply mimic what their elders can do and do not venture into projects that would truly benefit the youth.

Are there reading centers or mini-libraries in their barangays? Nope. That won't be popular. Are there literacy or tutorial programs to benefit the disadvantaged? Nope. That won't be politically sound. Are there citizenship or civic training so young people could become better citizens? Nope. That won't be well attended. Are there tie-ups with the TESDA and other government institutions for technical or vocational training for young people? Nope. That would be too serious. If what the SK can do is to display in a barangay sign the names of the chairman, kagawads, secretary, and treasurer, then definitely there is no need to have an SK. The barangay council could do what they could do.

Beneficiality of SK: Does our youth benefit from SK?

Qui bono? Who benefits from having SK? The youth? To some extent yes but that answer should be qualified. Yes, the youth who are elected into the SK would reap the rewards but not the youth in general. In a way, it benefits those in power but not their constituents. Why? An SK kagawad or chairman receives honoraria for attending SK sessions. The SK chairman who is elected, through the help of the politicos, to become president of the municipal/city/provincial federation sits as an ex-officio member of the municipal/city/provincial council/board with all the perks and powers of a regular member of the said council/board. Qui bono? The selected few reaps the manna from the 1991 Local Government Code while the rest of the youth in their respective barangays are left in the dark.

Another bunch of unscrupulous people that will benefit from the SK are the local politicos who will have a new network of political operatives from among the SK people. The SK, though apolitical by creation of law like the barangay, is simply a front of contending politicos. Politicians finance the election of their wards in the hope that the wards will deliver the votes or resources in the future when the need arises.

In the end, the spirit of the law to have the youth benefit from the SK will never materialize. Only a few will benefit from the system while the majority will never be able to enjoy the very purpose of the creation of SK which is to bring good programs and projects for the youth, the fair hope of the motherland.

Practicality of SK: Is it cheap to have SK?

Since 1992, billions of pesos coming from scarce government resources have been spent to cover for the elections of SKs in practically all barangays in the Philippines, whether urban or rural. SK officials receive remuneration for attending SK sessions from barangay funds. SK receives a 10% apportionment from the barangay budget. With that, they spend their share for their pet projects that are not necessary, not beneficial to the youth, and simply a drain to the coffers of the government.

The upcoming synchronized SK and barangay elections would cost 3 billion pesos. To say the least, it is not cheap to elect SK officials and keep their perks. Nene Pimentel, principal author of the 1991 Local Government Code, must have made a big blunder when he inserted the provisions on SK.

In closing, the 15-year SK experiment should have galvanized noble members of congress to abolish the SK because it is simply not living up to its expectations. It has failed miserably. Instead of spending billions of pesos to run these mock youth councils, the government should focus on strengthening the public elementary and high schools so it could produce better leaders than what we currently have. A government run by cheats and incompetents is not a good model for training future leaders. Abolish SK! Strengthen the public schools!





Press Statement of Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY Tacloban Chapter) on the killing of Charlie Solayao
July 19, 2007

Two days right after the implementation of the Anti-Terror Law also known as the Human Security Act, what the militant organizations feared to occur as ATL takes effect, made its inimical sampling and cost the life of an Urban Poor mass leader.

On June 17, 2007 while the Supreme Court is on its last day conducting its Human Rights Summit, Charlie Solayao was shot right before the eyes of his wife, Marina Solayao. Charlie Solayao, 50 years old, is the Vice-chairperson of Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY) Tacloban Chapter and Vice-Chairperson of Katig-uban Han Gudti nga Magtirinda ha Annex "B" (KAGUMA) [Federation of Small Vendors in Annex "B"], a local small market vendors organization. Solayao and his wife, both fish vendors, were waiting for a passenger multicab bound for Old Road, Sagkahan in Tacloban City, the City's fishport, to buy the fish they were going to sell in the public market of the same city, when two (2) unidentified men on board a single motorcycle with no plate coming from the direction of Abucay, Tacloban City – the driver wearing a ski mask and the passenger clad in long pants and a jacket – stopped in front of Charlie. While the passenger was getting off the motorcycle, he instantly shot Charlie in his body three (3) times. When the gunman was able to get off the motorcycle, he approached the victim who already fell to the ground and shot him again. The perpetrators left immediately to the direction of Anibong district in Tacloban City.

Charlie's wife, Marina, who was sitting a few meters away his husband, was not able to react immediately. She was only able to call help from their house when the perpetrators left. Some of their children and Charlie's brother was able to help her rush his husband to the Divine Word Hospital in the same city aboard a tricycle.

Around 11:20 am on the same day, Charlie died in the said hospital while in the Operating Room. He was able to sustain two (2) gun shot wounds in his right arm, another two (2) in his right sides, and two (2) in his back.

Solayao was also confronted by his cousin, Noel Solayao, a military personnel, who is believed to be a staff in the camp at Brgy. Palanog, Tacloban City, came to his house on June 12, 2007 at around 11:00 am before the victim was supposed to attend a mass mobilization in the downtown area of Tacloban City. Noel told the victim that if he does not lie low or stop his participation on his organization (KADAMAY & KAGUMA) which the military linked to the CPP-NPA, he will be killed. Noel also showed a list containing names of suspected NPA members, in which the victim's name is included and urged Charlie to sign a clearance purposefully to clear his name on the list, which the victim turned down. After that incident, Solayao told his wife that he is being hold under surveillance as based on his observation whenever they leave their home for the market.

Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap -Tacloban Chapter strongly condemns the assassination of Charlie Solayao and believes that this is a case of extra judicial killings among members of militant organizations. While Solayao's death is deemed to be perpetrated by the elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, KADAMAY strongly disproves the statement of P/Supt. Romulo Cleve Taboso over the radio claiming that the assassination is due to personal motive. Note that Taboso's statement regarding "personal motive" angle on Solayao's assasination was released prior to the investigation. Police interviewed Marina Solayao at around 10:30, an hour after Taboso's interview.

This is but a clear cover-up for the true perpetrators and irresponsibility on the part of the police, the incompetency in conducting investigations which is vital to solve this case. KADAMAY stands with the accusation to the AFP as perpetrators of this extra-judicial killing as part of their Oplan Bantay Laya, in its attempts to eradicate mass movements. KADAMAY has long been maliciously linked with the CPP-NPA to legitimize the killing of its members and leaders.

KADAMAY challenges the PNP Tacloban to solve this case immediately and conduct a credible and speedy investigation.





Joint Statement of the Independent Observers in the Peace Negotiations between the GRP and the NDFP

Posted: July 15, 2007

We, the independent observers of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) that monitors the compliance of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) with the Comprehensive Agreement for the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) came together for a meeting held on June 29, 2007 in Los Baños, Laguna.

We shared our respective readings of the national situation after the release of the Alston and the Melo Commission reports and in the context of the announced implementation on July 15, 2007 of the Human Security Act of 2007 (HSA 2007) or the anti-terror law.

We have noted that the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Mr. Philip Alston, who was invited by the GRP to visit the Philippines, investigated the cases of extrajudicial executions and issued a preliminary report to the effect that "many of the cases of summary executions are largely attributed to state security forces." We have likewise noted that the Melo Commission came out with a report indicating that "there is circumstantial evidence to support the proposition that some elements within or connected to the military are responsible for the killings." Both reports note that the majority of the victims are associated with the so-called left-wing organizations.

Despite the findings of the Alston and Melo Reports that have been echoed by numerous other international investigative missions that came to the country - the killings and enforced disappearances of persons associated with the Left and those labeled as members of "front organizations" continue to this day.

While welcoming the recent initiative of Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno to call for a National Consultative Summit on Extra-Judicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances, we view with grave concern the impending implementation of the HSA of 2007.

We agree with the position of Mr. Martin Scheinin, UN Special Rapporteur on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism, who urged the government to have a "further debate which may result in the introduction of specific amendments or repeal of the entire Act by the new Congress… since implementation of this law could have a negative impact on human rights in the country and undermine the rule of law."

We agree with the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) who urged the government to review the law. Its inconsistency with the Bill of Rights stipulated in the 1987 Philippine Constitution and to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is worth-reflecting on.

We express our profound concern for the safety of the personnel of the Secretariat of the Joint Monitoring Committee of the NDFP as well as the other consultants and resource persons nominated by the NDFP in the peace negotiations once the HSA of 2007 takes effect as they are very vulnerable to be labeled as communists and be subjected to attacks as has happened to several victims of extrajudicial executions.

As observers in the peace process, we believe that the HSA of 2007 will further prejudice the peace negotiations or completely end the entire peace process between the GRP and the NDFP. When this happens, the internal conflict can only become more critical and can result in even more human rights violations and more victims.

We, therefore, urge the Government to indefinitely postpone the implementation of the HSA until it can be thoroughly reviewed and possibly amended or repealed by Congress. Finally, we once again appeal to the GRP and NDFP to go back to the negotiating table.

The HSA of 2007 will not offer solutions to the country's homegrown insurgencies that have deep socio-economic and political roots in the lives of the people.

(Sgd.) BISHOP TOMAS MILLAMENA                               (Sgd.) MS. MERCEDES C. DANENBERG

(Sgd.) MS. MARIE H. ENRIQUEZ                                     (Sgd.) MS. MARY AILEEN D. BACALSO





A challenge to the administration of the newly-created City of Catbalogan

July 14, 2007

An mga mulopyo han bungto han Catbalogan naghatag na hin pagtugot na an ira bungto maging usa na nga syudad. An syudad damo it kinahanglan na himoon para maging mas maupay hiya kontra hit iba nga mga bungto na munisipyo la it rango. Kun baga, ha bug-os na isla han Samar an Catbalogan, Calbayog, ngan an Borongan matindog nga mga susbaranan para hiton iba pa nga mga bungto han Samar. Asya ito nga an pagka syudad han Catbalogan, diri la iton pagparayaw ngan panhambog kundi an maging modelo para hit iba pa nga mga bungto.

Sugad nga usa ka syudad, an Catbalogan dapat manguna hini nga mga butang:

1. An "zoning" dapat ayuson hin maupay. Only in the Philippines and particularly in Catbalogan na makakakita ka hin beach resort beside a cemetery. Health-wise, mangirhat ito paghunahunaon. An usa nga dapat kit-on hiton aton liderato ha Catbalogan an pagka-may-ada hin alternatibo na memorial park. Guinsurungan Cemetery is jampacked like a squatter area in Tondo. Catbalogan leaders should think bigger and wider. Pupua, for instance, may be the next site of a new modern Catbalogan. Its plains while good for rice farming is also good for modern buildings and new city infrastructures. We have to accept the fact that poblacion Catbalogan is bereft of good land area for further expansion. What the poblacion needs is simply a makeover to make it look nicer.

2. Sidewalks for pedestrians. Hi MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando is adamant in reclaiming the sidewalks of Metro Manila for pedestrians. Sidewalks are for people and not for hawkers selling their wares. Catbalogan sidewalks are now owned by businesses, whether legal or illegal. The mayor should have the political will to address this concern. Kun malimpyo an sidewalks, an mga kabataan or mga pedestrians magiging safer from accidents.

3. General Cleanliness. One biggest example is the public market in Catbalogan that is so messy. An mahugaw na public market sinyales ito han mahugaw na paninda ngan pagdumara han gobyerno. Kinahanglan la hin mas istrikto na pagpatupad hin balaod para maging malimpyo an source hit mga pagkaon hit mga Catbaloganons. Mabaho na mga estero, mahugaw na mga kalsada, mga vandalized na walls, ug iba pa, kaya iton himoon na mauru-upayda kun mayda political will and mga lider han bungto.

4. Responsive city offices. An syudad na panhuna-huna malaksi permi it mga proseso. Makuha ka hin birth certificate, madagmit. Makuha ka cedula, malaksi. Makuha ka hin mayor's permit, masayon nga proseso. Makaka-obserba kita na hit kadamo hit mga nag-uuro-istorya la hin usa na opisina, pag-request nimo hin usa ka butang, masiring dayon na baliki la buwas. It "mamaya na" or mañana habit dapat waraon na. Government services should be faster, better, and smarter.

5. Peace and order. Catbalogan is relatively peaceful compared to big cities like Manila but there are also some spate of incidents that make Catbalogan an unsafe place to rear kids. A peaceful place is like a magnet for development.

5. Stir more economic activities. A city in its name is useless when most of the people are dying of poverty. Catbalogan's population is too dependent on the bounties of the sea and the meager produce of the land. There should be alternative jobs for people that would calibrate economic growth. When the government is the biggest employer in a place, that is a disaster. Private enterprises must be able to contribute to harness the potentials of the people of Catbalogan. Private enterprises should be encouraged to venture into further processing of fish and marine products or other industrial undertakings that Catbalogan doesn't have right now. Cash crops should be introduced to farmers. Backyard farming, ala Green revolution, should be encouraged among unemployed mothers so they rather tend their yard than tend to worthless things like tsismis and showbiz.

Of course this list is not exclusive but this should be a good start for making Catbalogan a shining city on the hill of Samar.





Promoting proper nutrition and healthy lifestyles among adolescents

By Philippine Information Agency (PIA 8)
July 12, 2007

We can not just sit down in our own comfort zones, knowing and realizing that much is wanting in the Filipino adolescents’ nutrition and lifestyles. It is the responsibility of the home, the school, the government and all the stakeholders (including us) to make a collective effort and do something lest we wake up one day to see that the country is being ran by unhealthy leaders.

For one, the adolescents must be provided with a supportive family environment where nutritious meals are available with special attention to nutritious breakfast. The parents must be the role models of good nutrition and where physical activities among family members are encouraged.

There is a need for nutrition-friendly schools where the school canteens provide a variety of options of nutritious but affordable meals and snacks. The schools can help a lot in promoting safe and nutritious foods among vendors in the vicinity of the school. The schools should integrate good nutrition in the secondary school curriculum and conduct nutrition assessment among the young students. Weighing scales and height charts should be available for students to determine their weight and height regularly. The nutritional status of adolescents is determined using the body mass index which is computed by dividing the body weight in kilograms by the square of the height in meters.

The school administrators and teachers, when making the school schedules, must ensure that students have enough time for snacks in the morning and afternoon. They may also conduct for a, discussions, seminars on nutrition and healthy lifestyles to increase awareness and to clarify misconceptions about nutrition. This is also a good opportunity for adolescents to express their ideas and opinions.

The community and local government support for adolescent nutrition and healthy lifestyle is also very important. To start with, the local government must make this issue on the adolescent a priority concern. Perhaps it would be good to provide iron supplements especially among female adolescents. Community assemblies on proper nutrition and healthy lifestyles must be conducted. Sports activities must be promoted.

The local lawmaking bodies could enforce an ordinance banning children from purchasing cigarettes and alcoholic beverages or perhaps one that would regulate the sale of junk foods.

Engaging adolescents in community nutrition programs such as Operation Timbang, nutrition education, food production programs are good ways of making them good-nutrition oriented.

The media and civil society can also help by promoting a healthy body image of adolescents as not being too thin but that of having normal weight. They can also make a big difference in the lives of the adolescents by providing correct information especially about fad diets which adolescents are likely to experiment with.

We can think of all the good things that every stakeholder must do to help the adolescents, but in the end, the decision whether to listen and do something to improve their lifestyles and nutrition, lies in the adolescents themselves.




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