Thursday, February 24, 2011

Finally, Marcos victims to receive compensation

Filed Under: Justice & Rights, Litigation & Regulations, Graft & Corruption, Crime and Law and Justice

MANILA, Philippines—Twenty-five years after the dictator Ferdinand Marcos was ousted in the 1986 People Power revolution, victims of his oppressive regime will at long last receive some compensation for their suffering.

The settlement will be paid out starting March 1, the US-based Kohn Swift and Graf law office informed the class action claimants in a letter dated Feb. 7.

“It is my great pleasure to inform you that your claim is eligible for payment for the peso equivalent of $1,000 from the settlement fund in this litigation,” said the letter signed by Robert Swift, the class suit lead counsel.

Last January, Honolulu Judge Manuel Real approved the distribution of $7.5 million to settle a class action suit filed in 1986 by rights abuse victims of the Marcos regime.

In 1995, a landmark decision by a US federal jury in Honolulu found the Marcos estate liable for torture, summary executions and disappearances of about 10,000 people and awarded the victims $2 billion in damages.

A total of 9,539 victims had joined the class suit but this number has been reportedly reduced to 7,526 because of questions of eligibility.

Claimants should have submitted both the 1993 and 1999 claim forms in order to be considered eligible. (This reporter and an Inquirer editor are claimants.)

The money will be distributed at the office of the Commission on Human Rights, SAAC Building, UP complex, Quezon City, from March 1 to 7. The letter clarified that the CHR is allowing the use of its space but is not participating in the distribution.

1986 bishops' power: like the wrath of God

(This is a much shortened, revised version of my long article that came out in the Mr. and Ms. Special edition, Feb. 21-27, 1986. This is about how the Catholic bishops weighed in to help effect a tipping point. )

FINALLY SOMETHING was beginning to unravel. Out of the silent halls of the Catholic Church, the voices of the hierarchy crackled. The 1986 post-election statement of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) came down like the wrath of God.

Valentine’s Day 1986 will be written into Philippine history as the day the bishops condemned in their loudest voices a political exercise. Lifting up their hemlines, they at last waded into muddy waters to cross the moat and lay siege, so to speak, to an impenetrable fortress.
The bishops’ statement was, by far, the most scathing ever released by the CBCP then. It outdid all previous pastoral letters, statements and exhortations. And although nowhere in the statement was there mention of who was guilty in the elections they described as “unparalleled in the fraudulence of the conduct,” there was no mistaking who the bishops meant.
As former hostaged Jesuit Bishop Federico Escaler of the Ipil Prelature in Zamboanga del Sur unabashedly exclaimed: “Marcos will be boiling mad!”

Scoring the systematic disenfranchisement of voters, the widespread and massive vote-buying, the deliberate tampering with the election returns, intimidation, harassment, terrorism and murder, the bishops took issue with “a government in possession of power.” Signed by Cebu Archbishop and CBCP president Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, the statement warned: “If such a government does not of itself freely correct the evil it has inflicted on the people,” then it is the bishops’ serious moral obligation to denounce and correct the evil.

“We are morally certain that the people’s real will for change has been manifested,” said Bishop Teodoro Bacani. Added Bishop Francisco Claver, SJ: “The mandate for change is very clear. You make up your mind what the change means.”

Although the bishops did not go into specifics regarding the action to be taken, they prescribed “active resistance of evil by peaceful means—in the manner of Christ.” Their call would later take shape in Corazon C. Aquino’s seven-point program of civil obedience presented at the “Tagumpay ng Bayan” rally in Luneta where she called for a boycott of the crony banks, media, corporations and the delay of payments to the government. The bishops’ presence at the rally bolstered Aquino’s claim of victory in the elections.

When President Ferdinand E. Marcos imposed martial law in 1972, there was nary a whimper of protest from the CBCP. The silence sent shivers down the rank and file. As was expected, not a few militant Church people found themselves either arrested, detained, tortured, killed or deported.

Fast forward to 1986. They had come a long way, these monsignors.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My car was SWP (stolen while parked)!

Filed Under: Transport, Road Transport, Crime, Robbery and theft

THE FEELING is indescribable, surreal. There’s an ice-cold ball in the pit of your stomach. Your mouth is dry. You wish you were just in the middle of a bad dream. Everyone around you has a ghastly look on their faces.

This is how it is during the first moments when you realize that your car has been stolen. All you can mutter is, my car was just here and now it’s gone!

On Dec. 28, 2002, I went to a friend’s house on Malakas St. in Diliman, Quezon City for a Christmas holiday lunch. I parked my one-and-a-half year-old Honda Civic on the street, unaware that I was in the “carnap capital” of the Philippines. Emerging from the gathering an hour later, I found my car gone.
I can say that after that experience, I became an expert on the subject of carnapping. I even wrote a three-part series on the what, where, why and how of it (Inquirer, April 25-27, 2003). Researching and writing the series was cathartic. It gave meaning to my ordeal. I valiantly told myself that I was not just a victim but one of the chosen meant to spread the bad news about the evil that was stalking the land.
What factors make Quezon City the car theft capital of the Philippines? Where in Quezon City is your car most likely to get stolen (circa 2002)? Where might you find “chopped up” parts of your stolen car being sold as “original?” How does a stolen car get resurrected and acquire a new identity? Has a car thief ever been convicted and sent to prison? These were some of the questions I answered in that series. Let me reprise the answers a bit:

So you’ve just lost your car to thieves. Here are the steps one should take immediately, steps I went through myself. A word of advice: go about the task serenely and put yourself in a state of equanimity. Bear in mind that it’s only a car that you lost, not your limbs, not your life.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

PH as state party in International Criminal Court

Filed Under: Crime and Law and Justice, Judiciary (system of justice), Foreign affairs & international relations

A FEW more pushes and a significant feature will be added to the Philippines’ history as a democratic nation. A few more steps and the Philippines will stand side by side with great democratic nations that have ratified the Rome Statute and joined the International Criminal Court (ICC).

After years of lobbying by ICC advocates in the Philippines, it looks like the waiting will soon be over. But two midwives—the executive and the legislative branches of government—will have to help in the birthing.

A backgrounder: The Rome Statute is the founding treaty of the ICC, the first permanent international court that is capable of trying perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. With headquarters in The Hague, The Netherlands, the ICC represents one of the world’s most significant opportunities to prevent or drastically reduce the deaths and devastation caused by conflict. Created in 2002, the ICC is now a fully functional judicial institution, with all of the senior officials of the court in place.

With the 2010 ratification by Moldova, Bangladesh, Seychelles and Sta. Lucia, the number of ICC state parties has reached 114 or more than half of the world’s nations. Ratifying the statute will mean joining the global movement to end impunity.
The good news is that the only remaining government agency hereabouts that had consistently opposed ratification, the Department of National Defense, has finally changed its stand. The Coalition for the ICC (CICC-Philippines) has written a letter to President Benigno Aquino III asking that his office transmit the ratification bill to the Senate. This move is required by the Constitution. A two-thirds vote in the Senate is needed for the bill to be passed.
The Philippines is among the 139 signatory states, having signed the statute in 2000, but is not yet among the state parties now numbering 114. Being a signatory is one thing, getting a country to ratify and participate is another. The Philippines has seen developments in the ICC and was actively engaged in the United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an ICC in 1998. This means that the Philippines had demonstrated its commitment to the international justice system as enshrined in the Rome Statute of the ICC.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Study finds smelling flowers hazardous

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

Philippine Daily Inquirer/NEWS/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
(unshortened version)
MANILA, Philippines—Don’t eat the flowers. But is it safe to smell them?
On the eve of Valentine’s Day, which triggers a huge demand for flowers, an international food organization issued a warning on the toll pesticides used in the flower growing takes on flower workers.
FIAN, an international human rights organization that has been for the right to food for more than 20 years and which has a network in the Philippines, disclosed the results of a study that showed the adverse health impact of pesticides in Ugandan flower production for the European market.
FIAN called attention to the European campaign “Fair Flowers—for Human Rights” and its study on the toxic effects of pesticides in flower production to back up its warning.
The study was conducted by a partner in the campaign, the Uganda Workers’ Education Association (UWEA).
Prodded by the study’s alarming findings, campaign organizers are demanding stricter controls on pesticide residue on flowers imported by the European Union, and are asking that the country of origin of imported flowers should be indicated.
UWEA is urging public institutions, flower traders, and consumers to buy “socially and environmentally produced flowers.”
There are as yet no environmental, health, or labor watchdogs checking whether flower farm workers in the Philippines are exposed to the danger or how they are being protected when handling pesticides, in spite of the vigilance of advocates for organic food production.
FIAN said the study showed that flower workers in all areas of production were exposed to pesticides.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Love is On the Air

A RADIO listener calls to air her worst fear. In her husband’s pockets, she says, she’s been finding table napkins with the cellphone numbers of women who, she discovered, work in entertainment joints. What is she to do?

A night watchman sobs unabashedly on the phone, talking about his unrequited love for a woman who has rejected his affections. Alone in the dark, lovelorn and forlorn, the young man pours out his heart, grateful for the listening ear.

From the United Kingdom, a Filipino nanny calls to say she has received a text message of endearment from her husband. Oh, but the message was not meant for her, she found out, but for someone else. “Wrong send!” she cries.
A distraught mother calls to say she is about to end her life and her three children’s. For almost two hours, the riveting real-life drama unfolds on air on the popular “Dr. Love Radio Show,” and listeners who are tuned in participate directly and indirectly in preventing a tragedy from happening.
Hosted by Brother Jun Banaag O.P., Dr. Love Radio Show (DLRS) airs from 10 p.m. to midnight from Monday to Friday on DZMM (630 khz). But since DZMM airs as a “teleradyo,” listeners can not only tune in to DLRS on the radio, but also watch it on cable television.

Brother Jun is “Dr. Love,” and callers address him either way, like he is their close friend or trusted confidante. Juanito Banaag in real life (he is not a Junior, he clarifies), Brother Jun is a veteran radio broadcaster and disc jockey with decades of experience in radio. The title “Brother” and the O.P. after his name have to do with his being a lay member of the Dominican Order (O.P. for Order of Preachers). He is a husband, father and grandfather who, because of his own past experiences, is right at home in the love department.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Blame game in Reyes' suicide

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

A nun I know very well keeps a photo of her grade school class to which she and former Armed Forces Chief of Staff Angelo T. Reyes belonged. Reyes, she told me, was a big, bright kid, one of the good boys who would walk her home after class hours. They became tinikling partners in Grace 5.

Unbearable pain of betrayal. Unbearable pain of exposure. Failure. Humiliation. Rejection. Defeat. Shame. Guilt. These are just a few factors that are casually cited as reasons why people kill themselves. But suicide is not as simple as cause and effect, experts say.
Whatever it was precisely that pushed former AFP chief and four-time cabinet secretary Reyes to pull the trigger on himself two days ago we will never know for sure. All of the above? Those who had been watching last week’s hearings at the Senate and saw Reyes so suddenly and so publicly put on the spot and made to categorically admit or deny his receiving millions of pesos taken from military coffers would surely say that the process that Reyes went through was indeed humiliating.
Humiliating because the question was suddenly sprung on him, so humiliating because it took Reyes some time to compose himself and say yes or no. Humiliating because he is known to have had great accomplishments as a military man and government official, then suddenly his integrity was being questioned. The onus was on him and he was being put alongside alleged crooks in the military, multi-millionaire Gen. Carlos F. Garcia among them. And Reyes’ main accuser was no other than his own subordinate in the service and his kumpare, Lt. Col. George Rabusa of the military’s budget department.

How much could a man take? And is suicide the only option? Why should a much decorated general crumble because of allegations? Why must he succumb when there was yet no case filed against him? Did he fear the outcomes? Did he think killing himself would uphold his honor and protect his family? Would ending it all put a stop to the investigations and protect the military institution that he had served?

I thought Garcia was the more likely candidate for suicide given the piles of damning evidence that support the plunder charge against him. But obviously, Garcia would rather resort to a plea bargain, that is, plead guilty to a lesser crime, than kill himself. It was, in fact, his plea bargain so easily granted by the Office of the Ombudsman that riled the lawmakers who then called for an investigation.

From out of the Pandora’s box that was flung open by the Garcia plunder case was the accusation against Reyes. Bolstered by former government auditor Heidi Mendoza’s expose, the not-so-hidden rot in the military establishment was being forced out into the open. Reyes who had served the Arroyo administration and was no longer in government service became fair game.

Reyes’ elder and defender, retired Commodore Rex Robles makes it appear as if Reyes was singled out for the slaughter. As in, why him only? People expect more to be revealed so Reyes’ supporters shouldn’t think he was meant to take all the arrows by his lonesome. Sure, some of Reyes’ senate investigators who might have had an axe to grind against him could not suppress their delight in pushing him to the wall. But this does not mean that Rabusa’s expose should be ignored. It is just the tip of the iceberg.

To portray Reyes at this time as a sacrificial lamb that chose death over dishonor would make the investigations look as if some lawmakers are merely out to settle scores. Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile stressed that while he felt sad about his friend’s demise, “I must uphold the right of the Senate to conduct an investigation in aid of legislation.” Giving up this prerogative, he said, may lead to a breakdown of “this government, this nation, this institution.”

In other words, the investigation is not for bleeding hearts. Even Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago who had herself experienced suicide in her family said plainly that, yes, with death, Reyes’ liability has been extinguished, but his family is not yet off the hook.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Hail, Heidi

I WRITE this piece to add to the many voices and written pieces hailing the good, the true and the wonderful that have risen out of the deadly scum that threatens to drown this nation.

This hurried piece may not sound like a piece of erudition but I write this to humbly and personally say, “Thank you, Heidi Mendoza.” Thank you for braving the way in the wilderness, for shaking the fortress, for showing us how to be a Filipino patriot, for the unforgettable shining moment.

These past days I’ve been constantly hearing comments about the bad news hogging the headlines both in the print and the broadcast media. Where are the good news? Many demand to know. Surely there must be a lot out there, they say to my face. It’s as if we in the media have not been looking for the good news hard enough.
But even from out of the bad news comes the good—such as the earth-shaking revelations of former government fraud auditor Heidi Mendoza of the Commission on Audit (COA) who shocked this nation with her detailed account of how millions in Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) funds were funneled to where they shouldn’t be, and in such a crass and craven way. How persons deliberately carried out their dark intentions. That’s not good news?
But it is. The good news here is the fact that one brave woman came out of the dark to tell the world what she knew, how she knew, why she knew. She was right there where this happened and she would have none of it. And so she eventually resigned in disgust despite the tempting gifts being dangled before her. But not before she had gotten a good grasp of the evil that was creeping and could point to damning evidence that would boost her suspicions and findings.