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

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Enact Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill now!

RH is unreasonably expensive!

A stranger's thoughts of a place in her country

Laudable efforts of Kaisampalad Inc.

Basey Water District finally audited by LWUA

A blatant display of animosity from the South Wing

Human rights in crisis

A call for transparency and vigilance

Special election for Samar 2nd District may be called to choose a new House Representative

Indifference to disaster





Agenda item for 2012

December 16, 2011

Call this the “Deadbeat Bill”. When Congress reconvenes after the Christmas break, it should make time for House Bill No. 2009, despite the impeachment trial for Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona If approved into law, the measure could help stem today’s flood of government officials who welsh on settling cash advances.

Failure to settle, within a whittled-down period, becomes “prima facie proof of malversation of public funds”.  That’d call down jail terms and fine for deadbeats.

Cash advances that national government officials failed to settle exceeded P4.8-billion in 2005 alone, says bill author Pasig City Rep. Roman Romulo “This is a disturbing situation… What about the succeeding years to the present?”

Consider the advances that then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took out for foreign and local travel.  In 2009, the Office of the President exceeded P594 million allocated by Congress for this purpose. Worse, over P367.3 million in cash advances for travel remained unliquidated as of August 31 this year, Commission on Audit records show.

“Efforts to identify officials, who whelshed on payments, were hampered, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Jr. admitted.  Lists of those who traveled with the President were not available. Some former disbursing officers quit.

National officials do not command a monopoly on this reluctance to pay back what government advanced.  Flip through the latest Commission on Audit’s latest annual financial report on Local Governments (Vol III).

This documents an epidemic of local officials, thumbing their notes at government bill collectors. The contagion cascaded from Tugegarao in the north to Tawi-Tawi in the south, from Palawan in to west to Samar in the East.  Here are some telling excerpts from the auditors:

On the western Philippine flank, Puerto Princesa city accumulated a staggering P180.4 million worth of unliquidated advances. That whooper is the biggest bill in all 136 cities.

In eastern Philippines, Samar racked up P25.8 million in unpaid advances. Calbayog City outstripped that at P59.9 million.

Up north, unliquidated cash advances in Tugegarao City amounted to P5.77 million. Management proved lax “in monitoring their liquidation.” It shied away from clamping on sanctions such as “withholding of salaries to settle cash advances.  Of P836,207 disallowed, only P73,167 was paid.

In southernmost Tawi-Tawi, unliquidated cash advances totaled P2.3 million. And Marawi City granted cash advances even before previous releases were settled. Unliquidated cash advances in Zamboanga Sibugay climbed to P34.4 million.

Surigao del Norte accumulated P43.8 million worth of IOUs because previous bills were not settled.   Cotabato City’s bill stood at P31.8 million.

“A small debt produces a debtor,” the Roman author Publius Syrus once noted. “A large debt creates an enemy.”

How big are the IOUs of local government officials? The latest COA does not provide sum totals.  You can, however, guess the bill by looking at the number of LGUs.

As of today, there are 43,356 cities, provinces, towns and barangays. Can we say: Each one, without exception, has unsettled bills with with Juan Q. Taxpayer?

“We have to resolve this issue”, Rep. Romulo said.  HB 2009 would amend Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code. It would thereby stiffen the curbs that Presidential Decree 1445 already imposes on cash advances. How?

First, it’d make refusal or failure of a public officer or employee, to settle cash advances, prima facie proof of malversation or misappropriation of the fund received.

Second, the Bill would clamp on tougher penal clauses.  Persons who dodge settling cash advances “shall suffer the penalty of perpetual special disqualification”. He may not get a government job. Nor can he run for public office.

Third, there would be a jail term too. ”Depending on the amount involved, the penalty of imprisonment ranges from prision correcional to reclusion perpetua.

Fourth, there will be stiffer fines too. Official found guilty must cough up a sum “equal to the amount of the funds malversed or equal to the total value of the property embezzled.

Capacity of LGUs, however, is sapped by its failure to collect what should be its main financial prop, namely real estate taxes.

Flabby collection by LGUs has now ballooned unpaid real estate taxes to P1.29 billion, says the Commission of Audit.

An analysis of audits conducted on 81 provinces, cities and towns, reveals “failure of LGUs to intensify collection efforts,” notes COA in it’s latest financial report on provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays (Vol III).

Local officials shrink from clobbering real estate tax deadbeats. Often, these belong to political elites.  Yet, administration of judicial sanctions are available.

High time LGUs revise obsolete assessments on land. The treasurer’s list of delinquent taxpayers should be published. More important “enforce remedies” to collect overdue levies.





Selling charity today

December 15, 2011

SELLING charity today is like selling rotten fish. You would have more success selling it to a wall. Charity has become a total outcast, hardly known, ignored if not ridiculed by many who are driven only by their so-called sense of justice.

This actually has always been our universal human problem. The root cause is that we pursue justice outside of charity. We make it subject only to our feelings and passions. Or to purely human criteria and laws that cannot go far from the eye-for-an-eye law of Talion, and the tit-for-tat logic of our wiles.

It’s a justice that is mired in legalism, very prone to manipulations, to knee-jerk reactions, to the mob rule dynamics, that cannot free itself from the motive of vindictiveness, and the temptation to gloat over the misfortunes of others, to insult and do all sorts of below-the-belt actuations.

Without charity, it’s a justice that is not an organic extension of divine justice, but its caricature. It covers only a biased part of the over-all picture of true justice, and its main if not sole purpose is to punish and demand restitution, rather than to heal the offender, the sinner.

It considers only the externals, and hardly the inner drama in men’s hearts. Its judgments are therefore based mainly on appearances and impressions. Those who dispense it tend to get hasty and rash in their decisions, often abusing the discretionary part of law.

If possible, what injustice damaged, wounded and killed, justice should repair, heal and resurrect to life. If possible, justice should go against the law of nature, of biology and physics, etc., if only to recover what was lost. It finds it hard to move on without satisfying its lust for revenge.

We have to understand that without charity, justice can go unhinged, and can simply follow the madness of a heart deprived of God who is precisely love, charity. We have to understand that justice is never enough when we deal with people, especially those who may have offended us.

Without charity, our justice can only spring and strengthen our self-righteousness, or that of the world, in its different forms. It’s a justice that cannot understand the workings of grace, the value of the cross, the need for forgiveness and the transcendent providence of God.

Still, no matter how hard it is to sell charity today, we just have to make an act of faith and hope that one day, people will realize we need charity, the charity of God and not just our own version, when we pursue the cause of justice. We just have to run the gauntlet.

Nowadays, the Church, that is, the bishops and priests, gets accused for not doing enough of justice. Some contributors of public opinion claim that the Church gets quiet when one of its own gets involved in some crime, or when it does not make any clear pronouncements on the volatile political issues wracking the nation today.

Aside from mistaking the Church to be composed only of bishops and priests (the Church is hierarchy-clergy-and the laity and consecrated religious men and women all together), they want the Church to follow their kind of earthly justice. They want the Church to shame the suspect or the culprit, for example. They cry for blood.

Perhaps, it’s partly the fault of our Church leaders for not providing concrete Christian guidelines on how to resolve problems and issues when they erupt. They should do this as promptly and as clearly and strongly as prudently possible.

But the truth is all of us, clergy or lay, if we are to be genuine Christians and living members of the Church, should practice justice always within the sphere of the charity of God, revealed and lived by Christ.

Certainly, there are loopholes in how cases of criminal offenses within the Church human structure may be handled, or there can be cases of clerics overstepping their competence and are falling already into partisan politics, etc.

These should be repaired and corrected. But these are not excuses for the Church to pursue justice without charity, just like what these Church accusers want it to do. These accusers are making themselves the final authority of what justice is and how it should be lived.

Granted, to preach about justice within charity may be hard, but definitely it’s not impossible. If we just learn how to be humble, if all of us just try to assume the mind and heart of Christ, as we Christians ought to do, then the ideal can be made real!





Christmas is Christ with us

December 14, 2011

JUST in case we forget, Christmas is about Christ born to us. The reminder has become necessary because proofs of the disfiguring of Christmas are increasing.

No less than the Pope reminded us not to be dazzled by the shopping lights of the season but to keep focused on the coming of Jesus Christ, the “true light of the world.”

In a town in the US, a controversy erupted because a group put street signs saying, “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Obviously when messages like that have to be put up in public, there must be something quite wrong in that place.

This was verified when another group precisely kicked up a fuss about it citing legal provisions. Instead, the group wanted their own banner to be hung in the streets, saying: “At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

Ah, ok. No problem. We have freedom of expression and of consciences. If atheists want their messages publicized, that’s just fine. But let’s not deny believers their right also to show their faith in public, as long as public order is observed.

The legal basis of the group’s complaint is that the “Keep Christ in Christmas” signs were put on public property, which turned out to be false, since they were on private property. But that legal basis raises the questions like, should public property then be devoid of religious signs? Would religious signs already create public disorder?

I’ll leave the people concerned and their public authorities to resolve that issue, but I, frankly, just find the reasons behind the ban of religious signs on public property funny. To me, it’s taking the principle of Church-state separation to its ridiculous conclusions.

Truth is, for Christian believers, we need God, we need Christ, who is the second person of the Blessed Trinity, the Son of God who became man, to save us, to complete our creation, to give us a way to attain the fullness and perfection of our human dignity.

God is our creator. We, and the universe around us, just did not come to exist on our own, quite spontaneously out of nothing, since from nothing, nothing comes. We are not our own creator.

In our case, since we are creatures of reason and will, our creation by God has to be corresponded to with our reason and will also. Paraphrasing St. Augustine, we can say that if God created us without us, he cannot complete that creation without us. We need to correspond to God’s creation of us. We need to cooperate and bring it to its completion.

In other words, our creation by God is still a work in progress. And our life here on earth is precisely where that “progress” has to take place, where the lifelong drama of our correspondence or non-correspondence to God’s work becomes the ultimate purpose of our life.

This is a truth of faith that is actually meant for everyone, but especially more for believers than for non-believers. For the latter, we need a different tack that uses reason and philosophy more than faith and theology. This piece is addressed more to believers.

We need to be reminded that as Christian believers, we need to be ‘alter Christus,’ if not ‘ipse Christus,’ another Christ if not Christ himself. That’s because Christ is the very pattern of our humanity. We cannot live properly without him. Remember Christ saying, “I am the truth, the way, and the life…”

We become another Christ through God’s grace, but also through our cooperation, when we let our mind and heart, our intelligence and will to get engaged with Christ in the spirit.

In short, we need to assume the mind of Christ, following what St. Paul said that “we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor 2,16) We need to train ourselves for this ideal, realizing that our thoughts should not just be our thoughts, but also those of Christ. The same with our will, our desires, our plans, etc.

Our life is always a shared life with Christ. It’s a reflective life driven by reason and faith, and not just a life animated by the senses and reason alone.

For this, we need humility, otherwise we won’t allow faith to guide our reason. We need to study, develop virtues, so that Christ becomes alive in us, and true Christmas becomes a reality!





Inability to protect has created a 'parallel system'

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the Occasion of the International Human Rights Day
December 10, 2011

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) today published its 25-page report containing its analyses on what it has observed as the irreparable 'social and systemic impact' of the ongoing violations of human rights in the country. The government remains incapable of providing the most rudimentary forms of protection to its people despite the growing intolerance of the public towards human rights violations. On the other hand the improvements in the legal framework to protect rights, has created the situation where despite the laws being in place to protect the citizens they resort to an emerging 'parallel system' from which they now seek remedies and redress.

The full report is available for download at

The ongoing phenomenon of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, with the government admitting to the poor record of convictions, raises a serious question as to whether the country's justice system is capable of ensuring the protection of rights. While there remains the shared perception in the notion of justice and democratic space victims are rapidly losing confidence in the institutions of justice. They no long see the importance of registering complaints.

For the possibility of a remedy to be obtained, 'complainants' and their 'complaints' are two indispensable elements in order that the process of seeking justice, remedies and redress could take its course. However, due to the government's failure to, for example, ensure those responsible for killings and disappearance are held to account, the importance of investigations, prosecution and the adjudication of cases in court, has been severely questioned by victims and their families in recent times.

Here, police investigations, because of its flaws, themselves becomes the obstacle in seeking possibilities of remedies and redress; the prosecution, because of its apparent vulnerability to political control and public pressure, becomes a political tool rather than a method of pursuing the violations of victims' rights; and the court, because of its failure to ensure cases are resolved promptly, has become complicit in the deprivation of the possibilities of remedies.

As a result, when the complainants file their complaints they do so without the expectation that it will result in to something. This increasing absence of confidence in the system of justice: the police, the prosecutors and the courts, has resulted in victims resorting to a 'parallel system'. Here, the report observes the phenomenon of 'remedy by publicity'.

By way of remedy by publicity, possibilities of remedies or redress are there depending on how the victims or their families apply pressure to influence public opinion for the government to take action in their favour. Witnesses or complainants at risk now prefer to expose their risk to journalists, rather than to the police for them to investigate and to provide protection; torture victims who are illegally detained, tortured and falsely charged would rather employ public pressure for their release than legal action.

In some parts of the country, particularly in conflict areas such as Mindanao, the military has virtually assumed civilian police powers and these go unchallenged. In these areas, the notion of civilian policing, civilian power above the military and due process hardly operates because of the military's complete disregard to due process and legality. This practice has since become commonplace to the point where it obscures what is legal and what is illegal. Also, the military establishment has been intruding into the civilian's way of life unchallenged, on the pretext of terrorism and insurgency.

It explains the practice of soldiers inspecting people before they board public buses, in entering commercial establishments and conducting operations, not in conflict areas, but in the urban areas heavily populated by civilians. However, the tolerance, by way of agreement and memorandums, by local elected officials, has justified the ongoing intrusion of the military establishment into the people's civilian life.

Thus, this practice has also obscured who are the police and not the police. The military establishment, by the day, has obtained a certain legal or a de facto legitimacy in their practice of routinely arresting, detaining, torturing and investigating persons under duress, with complete disregard to rules of criminal procedures.  The courts tolerance of their practice has also cemented the military's authority and control over, not only of the police, but also in ordinary way of life of the Filipinos.

The AHRC has observed this is probably because; firstly, this practice has become heavily embedded as a social norm--meaning, there is nothing new in it. Also the widespread arbitrariness and disregard to elementary due process and legality that protects the rights is lacking if not completely absent. There must be a substantive discourse on the irreparable impact of how the flawed country's system of justice operates to this day.

The AHRC therefore urges a discourse on the protection of rights by examining how the country's system of justice actually functions when compared to how it should function. The discussion should be more than a mere description of the violations but rather raise questions as to why these violations are taking place.

The full report is available for download at





What a Difference Years Make!

December 9, 2011

I was able to visit Metro Manila. There are no automobile dealerships in the small town of Gubat, Sorsogon Province so we had to go to Metro Manila and it was pretty costly getting the Toyota Revo serviced by the dealership supposedly to be serviced once a year with a local mechanic beforehand and we needed a place to stay for the two days with a two day drive there and back; but my mother decided to live a little so we stayed at a nice hotel instead of roughing it.

I almost did not want to go because I was involved with NaNoWriMo 2011; the “National Novel Writing Month is an annual internet-based creative writing project which challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel between November 1 and November 30.” – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia on the Internet.

The trip meant four days of the 30 days during November while not writing on my novel entered with the NaNoWriMo writing contest because I did not own a tablet personal computer with a “word processor” software that I could have brought with me to write even while riding at the front passenger seat of the “Revo” during daylight.

I realize NaNoWriMo is a personal challenged to write a novel in 30 days with no prize money involved just personal satisfaction of writing a completed novel in 30 days and it might take me another ten years to publish a novel and get paid for it, but it was the principle.

My father needed wheelchair access so it was mandatory for me to accompany my parents. I felt like one of the police officers on the old “Ironside” TV show (1967-1975) wheeling around my father at the hotel, just to eat at the breakfast buffet restaurant inside the establishment.

My mother hired a driver that knew the “South Road” and the Metro Manila area, since I could not drive the 14-hour one-way drive to Quezon City and I could not drive the “Revo” to the Cubao commercial shopping area for the yearly service at the dealership and I could not drive the 14-hour one-way drive back to Gubat.

We stayed at The Sulo Riviera, a landmark hotel, in Quezon City to make the trip a somewhat costly vacation for my elderly parents in their mid seventies just to have a personal automobile serviced by a dealership. The last service was on June 2006 and (this time) I was very impressed with The Sulo Riviera Hotel make-over.

The last time I witnessed in person, not just on TV news events, the progress of the Metro Manila area was on December 2008 when my father celebrated his Golden Anniversary from graduating from Medical School at University of Santo Tomas.

Back then, I went around saying that other than Makati City, the Manila area and Quezon City looked dirty or old buildings needed paint or the entire area needed renovation; but it was not poverty and it certainly was not world hunger.

What a difference years make!

The new TOLL highways and the new retail outlets to attract domestic tourism are comparable to any major city of First World countries. It will attract tourism throughout the world and more businesses will develop because of the ambiance so I am so happy for my birth country. The Philippines has ended its poverty.

The capable of success Filipino kids want the small midsize four-door luxury automobiles instead of motorcycles. Last time, the streets were scattered with motorcycles. This time, I probably saw two or three motorcycles zipping by during the various times while we drove around. There were hardly any motorcycles parked on the side streets.

Because of tourism and retail and entrepreneurship, the young upwardly mobile are finding success early instead of waiting for middle-age to work overseas for success.

I was really impressed with the new toll roads and the renovation of the business buildings and the construction of new retail outlets of mega stores.

Yes, there is congestion but city planning has organized the congestion and it did not appear to be a free-for-all of every which way was the right away.

Luxury small four-door midsize automobiles dominated the streets compared to the SUVs of gas-guzzlers of before. I did not think the capable of success wanted the two-door subcompacts promoted for preventing Climate Change, but the midsize designed for families is a step in the right direction.

The luxury small four-door midsize automobiles were what I wanted to manufacture in the Philippines if I had success in America after college and I could afford to buy General Motors to bring a manufacturing plant to Subic Bay, Post Cold War industrial zone, after the Berlin Wall fell. I knew; it was providence to eventually convert the American military bases to commercial properties.

I ruined my college education so not all dreams happen. I have a new dream; I would rather write fictional novels. I can make up the success with words; however, it might take years for reality to catch up, life imitating art.

My desires to be a Filipino-American billionaire saving the Philippines from poverty have fizzled so you Filipino kids capable of success should start an automobile company in the Philippines similar to General Motors, manufacturing luxury small four-door midsize “electric” automobiles or ethanol blend from sugar cane or soy bean diesel motors, which can run on current diesel engines using 100% soy bean diesel, especially for delivery trucks and passenger “jeepneys” and commercial bus services and the rail transits and power plants.

With the change over from SUV gas-guzzlers to luxury small four-door midsize automobiles, I can see sustainable growth for the next ten years with tourism and retail in the Philippine Islands, but eventually the fear of gasoline shortages and the need for alternative energy would be a thunderstorm cloud waiting to happen someday, named Climate Change caused by Global Warming from the fossil fuel discharge of waste gases.

The poverty is definitely over. We have high unemployment. More job creations are needed to prevent new poverty in the future, for without jobs an educated society will only go backwards.

I am often criticized that I promote the retail industry with the low wages in my quest to end the poverty in the Philippines with my freelance writing of articles, but I will again point out that retail products have to be manufactured or grown, creating more jobs, so I hope small manufacturing are flourishing in the Philippine Islands and local farmers are making a living, not to mention those that deliver the products or those that warehouse the produce.

I noticed several new high-rise buildings but with the growing need for automobiles the parking lot problem will be inevitable at locations of limited space. I thought; I saw one building having a first floor indoor parking or open sides for ventilation.

Solid cement molded old buildings could always be renovated with the first floor for parking and with escalators to the next level because of possible power blackouts, but carrying packages might be a burden without elevators powered by electricity.

I know; some of you Metro Manila residence want my opinion on how I feel about the toll highways for building new roads and maintaining better highways because personal transportation vehicles are needed to expand beyond living at metropolises.

I would prefer non-tax revenue for government responsibilities in taking care of the people in society.

Like what?

How about nationwide legal “jueteng” and nationwide legal “mahjong” for non-tax revenue to repair roads and to maintain highways, especially in the Bicol Region? The potholes were vicious after the suggested yearly service from the Toyota dealership at Cubao on the 14-hour drive back at night.

There is no doubt in my mind; the Republic of the Philippines has ended its poverty.





Running amok

November 26, 2011

WHEN things are not inspired by charity, when we fail to keep a supernatural outlook in life, when we just depend on our reasoning and feelings, then most likely we end up running amok, killing everyone we meet.

This cruelty can easily be seen when political issues and controversies erupt. They erupt in the first place because many people think politics is outside the domain of charity, faith and religion.

The underlying mentality is that prayer and sacrifice have nothing to do with politics. One would be accused of living in a different planet if they behave along lines of charity and religion. He would not be “getting real.”

This attitude has been demonizing us for quite some time now that I’m afraid it has become part of our culture. Proof to that is the openness with which this inhumanity is expressed in public, and hardly anyone complains. On the contrary, a great majority applauds it.

I thought, for example, that gossiping and backbiting are done in whispers, quite hidden in some corner and in small groups. No, it’s not like that anymore. Gossips, backbiting, all sorts of impertinent ad hominems can now be broadcast on radio, TV and the Internet, with many people stoking them to their maximum viciousness.

What is worse – and I hope I’m wrong – is that they think they are doing the right thing, that their reaction is what is just and fair. They have lost the sense of balance, and charity is, of course, regarded as an outcast in the discussion.

In this kind of discussion, the targets are painted all in black. They do not seem to have any saving grace. They seem to be beyond redemption.

This does not bode well of us as a people. We will be hooked to divisiveness and to a spiral of vindictiveness if we exclude charity and the finer requirements of religion in our political discussions.

Let’s remember that our Lord himself told us to love even our enemies. He himself forgave those who crucified him. To the repentant thief, he also promised the Paradise. He told us to forgive not only seven times, but seventy times seven. He asked us to be merciful, because our heavenly Father is merciful.

We need to consider these words as the perfection of our humanity, a way to purify and heal us of our spiritual and moral wounds. They serve none other than to reconcile us with God and with one another. These commands and counsels are not optional. They are necessary.

The truth is that we are all sinners. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jn 1,8) We need to understand each other, and forgive each other. No use getting entangled with our sins, mistakes and failures. We just have to move on, doing all to make that possible as soon as we can.

I was both amused and bothered when I heard a radio commentator say that since justice is supposed to be equal, then everyone has to be treated in the same way whether the one involved is a high official or just an ordinary Juan.

In the first place, equality in justice is never to be interpreted as uniformity in treatment. This is commonsensical. Even in our family life, parents love their children equally but treat them differently, simply because the children are different from one another.

Wherever we go we try to be fair with everyone, but we always treat everyone differently, because people are just different. We don’t make a big fuss about this, unless there is clear injustice.

I froze in disbelief when the commentator said that if a public official who happens to be sick already has been arrested, he should go to prison with all the other criminals who had to bear with all the inconveniences of prison life, like hard labor and exposure to sickness because that is simply a prisoner’s plight.

That, he said, is equal justice. There should be no privileges like a hospital arrest. Then he launched into personal attacks on the public official involved, taking jibes at the physical defects of the person. All this at prime time and in a major media outfit. Unbelievable!

He forgot that everyone has a right to protect oneself, his name, his dignity. If many prisoners are treated inhumanly, it’s not because of some discrimination. It’s because of the imperfections of our human justice and legal system.

Again, if there is no charity, our justice can run amok.



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