Thursday, August 8, 2019

No to China 'smart cities' on our islets

August being Buwan ng Wika (National Language Month), I am using a second byline written in “baybayin,” one of several writing systems used by our ancestors before the age of colonization that nearly obliterated many of our ancient practices and bodies of knowledge.
At last, at last, the China-enamored Duterte administration might be waking up (is it?) to the reality that China’s “slow-by-slow” takeover of territories we claim as ours is indeed happening, if not becoming alarming.

Different from outright intrusions/seizures/takeovers as what happened in several areas in the West Philippine Sea, the Chinese from mainland China are eyeing with beady eyes several islands that are not in so-called disputed waters, but islands that are in fact on the Philippine land map—this time, not by actual seizure but in the guise of business and development.
Last May, I did write about this worrisome development (“Chinese takeover of Fuga Island?” 5/09/2019) in this space after I read a joyous-sounding announcement in the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (Ceza) website that said: “Chinese firm invests $2B on Cagayan isle.”

That “Cagayan isle” is Fuga Island, located north of mainland Luzon, that could become an exclusive domain of China, its special enclave and playground, a dream isle of Chinese investors and more. I did say that without our knowing it, the island could slowly slip away from us, be lost forever and become a forbidden “smart city” for Filipinos.
A dystopian scenario? Not at all. But I thought it was a lost cause and was about to raise my hands in surrender.

Then, two days ago, the Inquirer bannered: “Chinese investors target 3 PH islands.” It was an alarum. The story was by Frances Mangosing. The Chinese investors were not only targeting Fuga Island, but also Grande and Chiquita Islands in Zambales. These places “are to be developed into economic and tourism zones as part of China’s Belt and Road initiative, raising concerns among Philippine security officials,” the page 1 blurb said.

That gave me a joskolord moment. Alarmed, I thought of Palaui Island off Cagayan and some other outlying islands that we could lose. And whyever not?
The supposed $2-billion “smart city” on Fuga Island was to be constructed under a memorandum of understanding between the Ceza and the Xiamen-based Fong Zhi Enterprise Corp.
Fuga Island is part of the Babuyan group of islands that lies between Cagayan province and the Batanes group of islands. Fuga is part of the mainland town of Aparri, Cagayan, while the rest in the Babuyan group belong to the island town of Calayan. Fuga is now a coveted place because of its proximity to Sta. Ana, Cagayan, where Ceza is.
The Ceza announcement said: “Secretary Raul Lambino, Ceza administrator and chief executive officer, said the project would be patterned after the firm’s ongoing mega-infrastructure project in Fujian province in China. The investment is part of $3.9 (billion) worth of commitment investments made at the sidelines of the recently concluded 2nd Belt and Road Initiative Forum in Beijing.”On the other hand, Chiquita and Grande Islands, the Inquirer story said, served as key defenses of Spain and the United States during their years as colonizers.
Now that alarm bells have been rung, there seems to be a turnaround. Navy officials are concerned. Even Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said his office had not been consulted on the security implications of such “Chinese investment.”
“Investment” it is, indeed, not only of the business kind, but an investment that is more alarming. National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. has been busy and pettily charging two religious sisters and other human rights workers with perjury. Why doesn’t he train his energies instead on the islands that the Chinese are eyeing to turn into “smart cities”? He should begin to spell and pronounce the word “sinofication.”
S-I-N-O-F-I-C-A-T-I-O-N. Will our senators find it in themselves to look into this matter of national concern? #

Thursday, August 1, 2019

A conjuring

There was a movie titled “The Conjuring” that had paranormal investigators and demonologists delving into strange phenomena and other events that bordered on the macabre. A horror movie, in other words.
The recent spate of killings in Negros Oriental (at least 14 at last count) is one such horror movie playing out in real life. One of the victims is lawyer Anthony Trinidad, brother of former Inquirer reporter Andrea Trinidad.

And just as chilling, if not terrifying, is the series of cases conjured up and filed against persons daring to speak out against, or even just constructively criticize or remind, the Duterte administration about excesses particularly in the human rights department.
Creepy and unnerving, they feed on people’s primal fears that fester when the street lights are dim and with the roar of motorcycles with masked men riding in tandem.

Sutokil, not as the Visayans say of their favorite repast, but of the guns-for-hire on wheels who leave pools of blood as they speed away.
To conjure up means “to summon into action or bring into existence, often as if by magic.” To invoke, call forth, put forward, arouse, evoke, stir, raise. The word itself conjures up images of something unprecedented, surprising, as in “What?” In Pinoy textspeak, “Anyare?”

Take the case of Sister Elenita Belardo of the Religious of the Good Shepherd, chair of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), and Sister Emma Cupin of the Missionary Sisters of Mary and coordinator of RMP-North Mindanao.

On May 6, RMP, along with Gabriela and Karapatan, filed a petition for writs of amparo and habeas data with the Supreme Court. The writ of amparo has to do with human rights violations and seeking protection for human rights defenders.
The petition partly said: “Petitioners’ rights to life, liberty and security are being violated and continue to be violated. This petition invokes the jurisdiction and power of this Honorable Court to issue these protective writs in favor of Petitioners who are constantly threatened and harassed, red-tagged and maliciously terrorist-labeled only because of their advocacies in various fields of human rights work…
“Petitioners are likewise asking the Honorable Court to compel Respondents, under the writ of habeas data, to produce and, if necessary, to update and rectify, or to suppress and destroy, data and information filed in their possession, under their control or contained in their database that relate to or which concern Petitioners.”
The Supreme Court sent the petition to the Court of Appeals, which tossed it away. Another petition is being prepared.

Shortly after, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., one of the more than a dozen government officials named in the petition, filed a perjury case against the officers of RMP, nuns Belardo and Cupin, as well as the officers of the two other groups.
By the looks of it, the perjury case stems from the RMP petitioners supposedly not having read the truth of their allegations — and their status? Esperon  et al. did some explorations and checked RMP’s registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission and found it had been revoked at one time.
But RMP, Belardo says, had in fact reregistered and religiously filed reports thereafter, and there was never any notice that their reregistration was either denied or accepted.
That is the butas (hole) that led to the perjury case. Perjury has to do with lying.
As to the allegations that RMP funds help communist rebels, Belardo says the European Union office recently conducted an audit and found nothing irregular.
Therefore, the red-tagging and threats from government officials that necessitated the filing of a petition for a writ of amparo or protection for human rights defenders resulted instead in a backlash in the form of a perjury case.
But why perjury? Esperon, sir, you know better.
Today, at 9 a.m., the preliminary investigation on the perjury case will be conducted at the Office of the City Prosecutor in Quezon City.
Conjuring also fits the case filed against lawyers, church officials, bishops among them, and Vice President Leni Robredo — all accused of having coddled the “Bikoy” character who ratted on the alleged drug connections of President Duterte’s family but, expectedly, later changed his tune. Now coddled by government agents, he’s been singing since. #


Thursday, July 25, 2019

NY court hearing on $41M for Marcos victims

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

If things go right in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, the almost 7,000 recognized claimants in the Hawaii class suit against the Marcos estate would again be awarded compensation from recovered funds belonging to the Marcoses. This time, the reparation would be much bigger ($41 million) than the three previous tranches distributed in 2011, 2014 and 2019.
The claimants had been awarded $2 billion in exemplary and statutory damages by a Hawaii court in 1995, but these came in trickles or have not yet been fully satisfied owing to the complexities in tracking down the so-called ill-gotten and hidden wealth of the Marcoses stashed away in different parts of the world. Well, not to mention blocks thrown in the way, among them coming from a competing claimant, the Philippine government. Or from the Marcoses themselves.

On July 15 (shortly after the third tranche was distributed), the US District Court for the District of Columbia issued an order for the “enforcement of Philippine forfeiture judgment against all assets of Arelma, S.A., formerly held at Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Incorporated, including but not limited to, Account Number 165-07312, and all interest, income or benefits accruing or traceable thereto.”
This was on the petition of Jose Duran, a member of the class suit filed by human rights violations victims who had been awarded the $2-billion judgment in Hawaii.

Robert Swift, counsel for the claimants who had suffered under the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986), said that after three years of inactivity, the case involving the so-called Arelma funds would now be heard in New York. US District Court Judge Richard J. Leon entered a decision on July 15 granting two of Swift’s motions transferring the case from Washington to a federal court in New York. Swift predicts a final decision in a year.
The change of venue would spell the difference because the funds are, in the words of Leon, “in the custody of the State of New York, held pursuant to New York state law…”

A backgrounder: Former US justice of the Supreme Court Anthony Kennedy had given a history of the Arelma funds at issue: “In 1972, Ferdinand Marcos, then President of the Republic of the Philippines, incorporated Arelma, S.A. under Panamanian law. Around the same time, Arelma opened a brokerage account with Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith in New York, in which it deposited $2 million. As of the year 2000, the account had grown to approximately $35 million. (Approximately $41 million by now.—CPD)
“Alleged crimes and misfeasance by Marcos during his presidency became the subject of worldwide attention and protest … After Marcos fled the Philippines in 1986… the [Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG)] asked the Swiss Government for assistance in recovering assets—including shares in Arelma—that Marcos had moved to Switzerland. In compliance, the Swiss Government froze certain assets and, in 1990, that freeze was upheld by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court…
“The Swiss assets were transferred to an escrow account set up by the [PCGG] at the Philippine National Banc (PNB) pending the Sandiganbayan’s decision as to its rightful owner. The Republic [of the Philippines] and the [PCGG] requested that Merrill Lynch follow the same course and transfer the Arelma assets to an escrow account at PNB. Merrill Lynch did not do so. Facing claims from various Marcos creditors… Merrill Lynch instead filed an interpleader action….”
An interpleader action is initiated when a plaintiff that holds property on behalf of another does not know to whom the property should be transferred.
“Poppycock!” Judge Leon said of the Philippine government’s claims, and he states why in his memorandum opinion.

And so, folks, who said there are no hidden, ill-gotten wealth out there that have yet to be retrieved? Who said that the tens of thousands who suffered under the Marcos dictatorship are a mere figment of the imagination?
I hope for a speedy decision so that the victim-survivors, especially those in their twilight years, the next of kin of those who perished during the dark night of martial rule, would again be compensated, partially at least. #

Thursday, July 18, 2019

'Fishy' legal turnaround of fisherfolk

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
I begin by quoting the late human rights lawyer and senator Joker Arroyo: “Like a mackerel lying in the moonlight, it shines and it stinks” (a variation of John Randolph of Roanoke’s quote).
On April 16, fisherfolk from Palawan and Zambales filed a petition for a writ of kalikasan and a writ of continuing mandamus asking the Supreme Court to compel the government to perform acts mandated upon it and enforce environmental laws in the Philippines’ territory. The fisherfolk were represented by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and collaborating counsel Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno.Something strange surprised the counsels. During the oral arguments this month of July, Solicitor General Jose Calida asked for the dismissal of the petition by saying that the fishermen-petitioners were withdrawing and have executed affidavits denying that they authorized the filing of the petition. Huh?!
Counsel Diokno replied and stressed then that the petition was filed with “full knowledge and consent” of the fisherfolk. The petition was filed so that the government would protect the fisherfolk who only want to be able to fish in their country’s own territory and to earn enough for their families.

Over the weekend, I sought out Diokno because I learned that officials from the Philippine Navy visited the fisherfolk, after which the latter changed their minds. What happened was highly suspicious (“kahinahinala”), and was against legal ethics.
I was able to watch Pinky Webb’s interview with lawyer Theodore Te (“The Source” on CNN Philippines) who expressed the same thing. A video clip showed the fisherfolk approaching some lawyer to withdraw their petition. Te said that lawyer should have dismissed the fisherfolk (the legally ethical thing to do) and advised them instead to tell their lawyers that they were being fired.

Something suspicious about that video… Did the fishermen know their action was being recorded?
In a statement, IBP national president Domingo Cayosa vouched for the integrity of the lawyers (Diokno et al.) involved in filing the petition on behalf of the fisherfolk: “The IBP advocates for the enforcement of environmental laws, protection of the rights and welfare of fisherfolk, and securing the territory and patrimony of our country in the West Philippine Sea… the IBP stands firmly with the fishermen, IBP chapters and the lawyers involved in the petition for a writ of kalikasan filed before the Supreme Court.”
To Diokno’s accusation that the government was using underhanded tactics, the spokesperson of President Duterte, Salvador Panelo, responded by saying that Diokno manipulated the fisherfolk into signing the petition.
Diokno hit back by saying it was the government’s lawyer that committed a “breach of legal ethics” when he secretly talked to their clients, the fishermen.
I am getting curiouser and curiouser. The petition for a writ was to protect the environment and the country’s territory. Why is the government averse to that? And why seek out the petitioners in the dead of night, so to speak? Ano meron?

“There was a breach of legal ethics in this case,” someone told me, “… the Navy lawyer bypassed the fisherfolk’s lawyers. The IBP team, and Diokno as collaborating counsel, acted in good faith. They only wanted to help our countrymen, the fishermen, because they have the right to fish in our own territory, free from fear and harassment from certain forces. That was what the petition for a writ of kalikasan was all about.”
By the way, this is not the first time that Diokno represented fisherfolk. In October 2018, he filed a petition before the Supreme Court for continuing mandamus, on behalf of three fishermen from Navotas and Oceana Philippines International, to compel the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to formulate rules on legal, sustainable and proper fishing methods, for the delineation of all municipal waters in the Philippines and many other things besides that would benefit and protect our fishermen. Enforcement of our Fisheries Code, Diokno says, is weak.
This recent petition for a writ of kalikasan and Diokno’s involvement as collaborating counsel is a logical extension of his support for our fisherfolk and the preservation of our marine ecosystem and for our people’s food security.
The petitioners’ turnaround is a big blow to their own selves. Whoever instigated that “midnight visit” that made the petitioners change their mind…. #