Thursday, June 7, 2018

Fired but enriched, pocketwise

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

With the series of firings of high government officials and bureaucrats suspected of corrupt practices or hard-to-explain personal use of government funds, one can’t help having afterthoughts about the outcomes of their cases and the direction of their lives. Have cases been filed against these persons? Did they get off the hook or end up in the slammer? How much of the government funds — the people’s money — that they allegedly used for personal enjoyment was recovered or voluntarily returned?
Or did the fired and fried government officials just leave their juicy posts as ordered and walk away in haste? Disgraced, yes, but feigning innocence and none the worse for wear despite the swirl of accusations and body of evidence.

Our jaws fall to our feet when we learn of staggering amounts of money involved in questionable deals that smell of rot. Then we feel somewhat mollified when the culprits are identified, tarred and feathered in the media, when we learn that Sec./Mr./Ms. Sticky Fingers have had their comeuppance, been exposed and fallen from grace. But was justice really served in favor of the tax-paying citizenry?

What happens after heads have rolled? Case in point is that of acting PhilHealth chief Celestina Ma. Jude de la Serna, who was discovered to have incurred huge travel expenses and hotel bills. The Commission on Audit (COA) raised a red flag. Not a Manila resident, De la Serna traveled regularly from Bohol, her home province, to Manila and lived in a hotel while serving as PhilHealth acting president and chief executive officer. She was reported to have received huge allowances despite notices of disallowance in past years.

De la Serna got the boot several days ago and was replaced by another acting chief. Some might say to her: But, hey, it was good while it lasted. And perhaps even after?

In the case of the jaw-dropping P60-million advertising deal that led to the sacking of former tourism secretary Wanda Teo and subalterns in her department, was the money returned? And even if it was returned by her brother’s media outfit as promised, is everything back to, uh, okay? End of story?

While these recent cases are not as staggering compared to the earthshaking scam that involved billions, spawned by one Janet Lim Napoles (now behind bars) in cahoots with politicians, these recent ones are just as eyebrow-raising because they are easy to grasp and close to home. Like what the COA did, just follow the money.

The clever are able to set up labyrinthine trails that can throw off track even those with the smelling power of blood hounds. But not for long. The Marcoses were experts in covering their tracks, but eventually their evil schemes were laid bare. But, hey, there is more to uncover out there.

While at this, I call to mind the case of Acsa Ramirez, the brave whistleblower who exposed a P432-million tax and money-laundering scam, but got the shock of her life when she was suddenly presented as an accused. Ramirez suffered for years before she was cleared, no thanks to bumbling investigators, ingrates who, like former president Gloria Arroyo, could not even get themselves to thank Ramirez and apologize. (http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/232585/acsa-moves-on-but-tax-case-is-stuck)

After what Ramirez went through, who would then muster the courage to blow the whistle on wrongdoing in the bureaucracy? There is rot and there is rot, and it only takes a lowly government bureaucrat to expose it.

I know someone in a government office who, as a newbie, already saw how her seniors could play around with per diems, allowances and expenses for out-of-town trips and get away with them. They would buy themselves take-home gifts charged to their department, their way of lining their wardrobes, closets and cupboards. This person had to glumly take her share and give them away, so as not to be seen ever using them. How’s that for a department that is supposed to spread good values?

If questioned, just return the money? If fired, you have enriched yourself anyway. Henceforth you can enjoy the nest you have feathered with people’s money, and bask in the memory of the days of wine and roses. Bad. Bad.#

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Thursday, May 31, 2018

WE Day: Beating the scourge

In case you didn’t know, the United-Nations-initiated World Environment Day is on June 5, with India playing the host this year. It is trumpeting the theme “Beat plastic pollution” with the aim of combating the single-use plastic scourge.
Here’s the host driving home the point: “In the time it takes [Indian international cricket player] Hardik Pandya to bowl an over in a cricket match, four garbage trucks worth of plastics get dumped into the ocean.”
Someone should translate that using basketball jargon for our basketball-crazy nation.Last week I wrote about Manila Bay as an unflushed toilet bowl, as described at a Senate hearing by lawyer and environmental activist Antonio Oposa Jr. This horrible situation was further stressed by the Inquirer’s editorial last Sunday (“Manila Bay in death throes”).

But it is not only human and animal excreta that have befouled this body of water that showcases one of the most beautiful sunsets this side of Planet Earth, this historical gateway into the heart of the so-called Pearl of the Orient. Plastics, too, have clogged the toilet bowl.
So there — some thoughts to haunt us in the run-up to WE Day.
But there are other happenings worth celebrating. Out recently is the third volume of “Philippine Native Trees: Up Close and Personal 303,” midwifed by Imelda Sarmiento (project coordinator) and which she coedited with botanist Edwino S. Fernando, Marietta R. Marciano, Angelina P. Galang, Gloria M. Angara and Leonor G. Berroya. It was published by Green Convergence. The Forest Foundation of the Philippines helped make it happen.
This 516-page (it’s thick and heavy) third volume and its two predecessors (all sold out) are treasure troves not only for botanists and tree lovers but for every Filipino who meets trees every day, takes shelter under them, finds healing through them, eats their fruits and smells their flowers, uses their wood for everyday living, plants them to enliven and preserve their surroundings, etc.
As Sarmiento wrote: “Here we are with our third edition of the book borne of a crazy idea that these complex creations that are our native trees could be understood by pedestrians, and the even crazier idea that pedestrians could write interesting pieces about them.” That explains the “up close and personal” in the title.
Her oft-repeated refrain: “The trees you might know are not ours; the trees you do not know are ours (native).”
In all, 366 (of the 3,600 known) native trees have been featured in the three volumes, written by writers who love trees and study trees. Just as important as the essays are the scientific and native names and descriptions, their uses and other data, the colored photographs (of whole trees as well as close-ups of their amazing fruits, seeds, bark and flowers).

What a rich, green encyclopedic wilderness! Interested? Call 0905-6666117, 899-0675 (Green Convergence).
Another offering to celebrate: The Loyola School of Theology of the Ateneo de Manila University is offering a Certificate Program in Integral Ecology. It is an answer to Pope Francis’ call for “ecological conversion” and hopes to address urgent environmental issues and explores alternative perspectives and lines of action. It follows the insights of “Laudato Si,” the Pope’s encyclical on the environment, and “uses the lenses of Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, Moral Theology and Interreligious Spirituality to reflect on the political, cultural, economic and scientific aspects of the damage we have inflicted on our common home.”
Integral Ecology can be completed in five months, from August to December 2018. Impressive faculty. Students attend three afternoon classes a week, participate in one online course, and join three field trips. For their final course requirement, students shall be guided in crafting pastoral projects relevant to their local churches, schools and communities. Integral Ecology is designed for religious, seminarians, and faith-based workers, including teachers and catechists, as well as environmental activists, who wish to take very seriously Pope Francis’ words on heeding “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”
For inquiries, contact Sacred Springs: Dialogue Institute of Spirituality and Sustainability, Room 305, Loyola School of Theology, Admu, Katipunan Avenue, Loyola Heights, Quezon City. Or call 426-6430 to 35 local 3624.#

Read more: http://opinion.inquirer.net/113576/day-beating-scourge#ixzz5I6YlkRDQ 
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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Manila Bay. a toilet bowl

Photo by Don Lejano, Inquirer.net
If you take a second look at Manila Bay on the map, its shape is somewhat like that of a urinal. No, a toilet bowl, insists lawyer and environmental activist Antonio Oposa Jr. It is a toilet bowl that has not been flushed, he adds. It is a toilet bowl not just in shape but also because of what it has become, both figuratively and literally.
At the Monday hearing called by the Senate committee on environment and natural resources chaired by Sen. Cynthia Villar on the rehabilitation of Manila Bay, a bristling Oposa spoke about the worsening state of the waters.
For his quixotic advocacies for Mother Nature, Oposa was conferred the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2009. He was honored for being “an environmental activist who advocates for field enforcement of fishing and logging laws, environmental litigation, education on sustainable living, advising local governments on crafting environment-preserving legislation and establishing marine sanctuaries in the Philippines.”

Oposa worked hard to win the 2008 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the previous rulings of lower courts on the 1999 petition of a group of citizens to compel government agencies and local governments to clean up Manila Bay and restore it to its healthy state. Among the petitioners were Oposa’s students at the University of the Philippines College of Law as well as his youngest son who was then a little boy. Included were the talaba (oysters), tahong (mussels) and all other endangered marine life.

He acted as counsel, and spent time, money and energy to pursue the case even after the petitioners had graduated.
With the Supreme Court justices speaking unanimously and with finality from their perch, Manila Bay could then claim the care it deserved — and those who defied the previous rulings be damned. Or so it seemed.
Tasked to implement the ruling were the Department of Environment and Natural Resources as lead agency, and the local governments of Metro Manila and six provinces with shores on the bay or have tributaries that flow into the bay. Also the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, the Departments of Health, Agriculture, and Public Works and Highways, the Philippine Coast Guard, the Philippine National Police Maritime Group, the Philippine Ports Authority, and the Local Water Utilities Administration.
I wrote then: “Ecstatic, the Harvard-trained Oposa could not contain himself and waxed poetic. ‘I try to reach for the stars,’ he told me. ‘Often I hit my head on the lamppost. But sometimes I am able to soar to the skies, and maybe, for a moment, touch the face of God.’ Arguing in the Supreme Court on this case was, to Oposa, his ‘finest moment’ as an environmental lawyer.”
Last year, Harvard Law School honored Oposa (1 of 14 honorees and the only Asian) for the work he has done for the environment.
The DENR’s 1990s data showed that Manila Bay had a fecal coliform content of about 1 million MPN (most probable number). The safe figure is 200 MPN. Now, Oposa told the Senate hearing, the figure is 5 million MPN.
Boracay waters a “cesspool”? Manila Bay is a bowl of unflushed human ebak. An ocular inspection of the coasts will tell you why.
Oposa had called the 2008 Supreme Court ruling “revolutionary.” I had quoted extensively from the ruling written by Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. (“Revolutionary SC ruling on Manila Bay, 2” Jan. 15, 2009).
It ended with: “The heads of … MMDA, DENR, DepEd, DOH, DA, DPWH, DBM, PCG, PNP Maritime Group, DILG, and also of MWSS, LWUA, and PPA, in line with the principle of ‘continuing mandamus,’ shall, from finality of this Decision, each submit to the Court a quarterly progressive report of the activities undertaken in accordance with this Decision.”
So how have we come to this? How did Manila Bay get worse over the years? Did any of the cited government agencies even so much as submitted one quarterly progressive report?
The historic gateway to the heart of the Philippines is now a toilet bowl. Out of frustration, Oposa has taken to painting and will soon have his first exhibit. But that is another story.#

Thursday, May 17, 2018


Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

With Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno thrown out the door of the Supreme Court by eight (of 14) of her fellow justices last Friday the eleventh, many more things are coming to light. In fact more things that were heretofore not in our imagination have been laid bare in the recent months and weeks.
Are end times of a metaphorical kind upon us? Is it “Apocalypse Now,” to borrow the title of Francis Ford Coppola’s war movie, or an “Apocalypto” of sorts of Mel Gibson’s cinematic imagination? Not that kind in our present setting, please, God. National Artist Nick Joaquin’s novel “Candido’s Apocalypse” is more into the idea of reveal, which is what the word “apocalypse” really suggests.
“Apocalypse” comes from the Greek word apokalypsis, which means “revealing, disclosure, to take off the cover.” The Bible’s last book, “The Book of Revelation,” is also called “The Apocalypse.” It conjures images of chaos and destruction so that the word has become associated with cataclysmic events. Hear ye, the book ends with a warning for those “with false speech and false life.”

Revelations could be unsettling, terrifying. They could also herald change and renewal.

The “big reveal” is that Solicitor General Jose Calida has awesome powers that blow the mind. Many citizens, law practitioners, constitutionalists, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, senators, and the Supreme Court justices who voted to throw out the quo warranto petition Calida filed against Sereno are aghast that his move put the constitutionally correct impeachment option in deep freeze. He jumped the gun on the (deliberately?) dilly-dallying House of Representatives as well as the Senate that was eager to give Sereno the day in court that she wanted.
In the case of those who voted to oust Sereno, five were also her accusers who did not inhibit themselves. Her accusers sat as her judges.
A not-so-secret reveal was printed on a big tarpaulin at the May 11 protest rally against the quo warranto petition in front of the Supreme Court. On the tarp were pictures of the strong women whom President Duterte has issues with (or have issues with him), clashed with, or wants out of the way. A number of them he had verbally attacked.
Sister Patricia Fox, an Australian missionary who has worked among marginalized Filipinos for 17 years, was given 30 days to pack up and leave; Sen. Leila de Lima is in jail for what her allies call trumped-up charges; Vice President Leni Robredo was unceremoniously banned from Cabinet meetings. The others were Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and reporter Pia Ranada, Victoria Tauli Corpuz, three Muslim women, a grieving mother, and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales whom Duterte allies threaten to impeach.
Another revelation is that the so-called millennials are taking up the cudgels for their future by braving the streets to protest what they believe is a travesty of justice, what they believe are wrongs that are to be righted. The twilight rally of students on Katipunan Avenue, held hours after the Supreme Court decision was issued, was proof that the young are waking up to harsh realities now staring them in the face.
Church people are still a strong presence in the streets, they who, during the dark days of the Marcos dictatorship, cut their teeth on Martin Niemoller’s words: “Then they came for … Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—/Because I was not a Jew./Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
I met the Siervas de San Jose, the Holy Spirit Sisters and the Missionary Catechists of St. Therese. There was Sister Teresita Alo, 79, Franciscan Sister of the Immaculate Conception, who had fasted and prayed for days in front of the Supreme Court.

And Benedictine Sister Mary John Mananzan of the Office of Women and Gender Concerns of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines. Her apocalyptic words: “The Supreme Court which should uphold the law is breaking the law in a most blatant way. This is a fight between good and evil. Now is the test. If we no longer trust the executive, the legislative and the judiciary, we are the ones left. We will be like an atomic bomb, we will form a critical mass. All we need is a spark.”#

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Voices, images from the frontlines

Photo by Raffy Lerma/Philippine Daily Inquirer
Last May 3, World Press Freedom Day, media groups published a pooled editorial, “Speak truth to power, keep power in check” in newspapers, the Inquirer among them. Behind it were Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, and Philippine Press Institute. At the media forum held that day, they presented a report on the dismal and alarming state of media freedom under the Duterte administration.
To quote: “Rodrigo R. Duterte’s presidency has altered and controlled the public discourse so radically in its favor in ways rude and bold. One tragic result: It has restricted and narrowed the celebrated freedom of the Philippine press and the people’s cherished right to know.
“In his first 22 months in power, Mr. Duterte has earned the dubious honor of logging 85 various cases of attacks and threats on these dual values that the Constitution upholds as inalienable rights of the citizens. The number far exceeds those recorded under four presidents before him.”To read the entire report, go to the PCIJ website (pcij.org) and feel yourself sinking into the dark depths and moaning de profundis, “How have we come to this?”

But just as disturbing are the five brief personal accounts, “Voices from the frontlines” by reporters and photojournalists, “the boots on the ground of Philippine media.” The accounts form part of the report on the state of media freedom in the Philippines.
Inquirer reporter Aie Balagtas See’s “A bloody trail of patterns” is about her police beat coverage and the nights she witnessed 8, then 14, then 26 bodies of alleged drug users and pushers showing up on the streets of Manila. See asked: “And where did we find the dead? In the slums, of course.”
A group of photojournalists who call themselves “The Nightcrawlers” prowled the city streets night after night to document with their cameras Mr. Duterte’s brutal war on drugs. Their prowling resulted in images too real to ignore.
Wrote these denizens of the night: “The President himself has called many of our works as ‘fake news’…. we have received insults, threats and harassment on and offline. And yet we continue our work. For us it is not about political colors … it is about looking beyond the death toll, and humanizing the victims.”
Last month, Manny Mogato, senior correspondent for Reuters, and his colleagues Clare Baldwin and Andrew R.C. Marshall, received the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for “relentless reporting that exposed the brutal campaign behind Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.”
Revealed Mogato: “Reuters found sources inside the police who trusted journalists with information about the mechanics of the drug war, the rewards list and the staged encounters. These sources freely showed to Reuters journalists their mobile phones with text messages from the senior regional officials ordering them to do things related to the drug war. These are courageous police officers who shared sensitive information with journalists who they believed can be trusted.”
A senior TV correspondent wrote about the five-month siege of Marawi City and prior incidents of conflict in Mindanao. “As with any other conflict, the line between propaganda and factual information are almost always hard to distinguish. But in the battle for Marawi it was cranked up to the highest level. Access to the actual main battle area was tightly controlled by the military, and for good reason.”

PCIJ’s content producer Vino Lucero has filed with various units of the Philippine National Police over a hundred letters of request for data and documents on the war on drugs. His lament: “The Philippine National Police has set up all sorts of hoops and obstacles … One is wont to ask: What are the police trying to hide?”
Can’t hide this pattern of headlines: “Catanduanes newspaper publisher slain” (12/19/16), “Sultan Kudarat native first Mindanao journalist slain since martial law” (8/7/17), “Blocktime radio anchor shot dead in Kidapawan City” (2/2/17), “Broadcaster shot dead in Zamboanga del Sur” (8/6/17), “Dumaguete broadcaster declared dead after gun attack” (4/30/18), “Broadcaster-university professor killed in Ilocos Sur” (1/7/17), “Radioman shot dead day after Ombudsman ousts Bislig mayor”  (10/24/17), “Hard-hitting Masbate columnist gunned down” (3/13/17).