Thursday, March 29, 2012

On Corona's claims of ATeneo honors

Did he lie? Did he misrepresent? Was he negligent?

The Internet is abuzz with expressions of shock and disgust coming mostly from some graduates of the Ateneo de Manila University, alma mater of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona who is going through an impeachment trial.

“Corona lied about academic honors!” by Riziel Ann Cabreros is about Corona’s claims, as shown in his resumé, that he graduated with high honors from Ateneo grade school, high school, college and law school. But record checks proved otherwise. (Writer Cabreros works with ANC as a segment producer of “Pipol” and as a news writer. She is a researcher for journalist Marites Dañguilan Vitug’s upcoming book on the Supreme Court, a much-awaited one, I must say.)
Cabreros asked: “Did Chief Justice Renato Corona embellish his academic achievements brandished on the website of the Supreme Court before it was altered just a few days ago? Given some inconsistencies with records seen by Rappler, he might have been, at the very least, negligent or had allowed false claims to be made about him. At the most, he himself could have misrepresented his own achievements.” (Rappler is an online news network.)
Cabreros wrote that in the resumé that Corona submitted to Malacañang in 1992, when he was assistant executive secretary for legal affairs of then President Fidel V. Ramos, he claimed that he finished grade school to law school in the Ateneo with honors. He made the same claims on the Supreme Court website as of March 9, 2012, Cabreros added.

Here were Corona’s claims in his resumé: That he earned his Bachelor of Laws degree “with honors as no. 5 in the class of 44 members.” That he finished his Bachelor of Arts course “with academic honors.” That he graduated from high school with “silver medal graduation honors,” and from grade school with “gold medal graduation honors.”

Cabreros declared: “Our investigation shows these are not true.” I could only mutter: “Patay kang bata ka!”

Outside of the grave charges against Corona at the impeachment trial, there have been other questions festering in the moonlight, foremost among them Corona’s midnight appointment by then outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (now in detention for a string of alleged nonbailable offenses), his fitness and credibility as Chief Justice, etc. Even the doctorate degree conferred upon him by the University of Santo Tomas was under a cloud of doubt because of waived requirements. Recent university students’ surveys on Corona, though pooh-poohed by his defenders, show poor ratings.

Now another school-related tempest is upon him. After reading Cabreros’ news report, Rene Santayana, Corona’s schoolmate at the Ateneo, wrote: “The point is … why lie about it? There are more than a hundred of us classmates—surely a large number will recall what really transpired in school? What a blatant display of arrogance and contempt! This I take personally because it touches me and it violates whatever small personal unsullied space I can still cling to in this life. I cannot stand idly by and allow myself to be made complicit in this.”

Cabreros cited Vitug’s book “Shadow of Doubt” (2010) where the latter wrote that university records “don’t reflect” Corona’s claims in his profile posted on the Supreme Court website.

Here are some info that Cabreros discovered and wrote about:

A college commencement program, dated April 19, 1970, indicates Corona graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Corona is nowhere in the college honors list, contrary to what is in his resumé and on the Supreme Court website. Supreme Court Justice Antonio T. Carpio and the late activists Edgar M. Jopson and Emmanuel F. Lacaba were among his batchmates in college. Jopson was the valedictorian of Corona’s high school batch.

Corona is not on the list of high school honor awardees. Corona graduated from Ateneo’s high school department on April 30, 1966 and was awarded a silver medal under the category of “Activity Awards.” This was for his involvement in the Science Club. But he was not on the elite list of those who graduated with honors, contrary to claims in his resumé and the Supreme Court website.

Corona graduated from grade school on March 22, 1962 with an “Honorable Mention” and not a “gold medal” as claimed in the Supreme Court website. His gold medal was for an “Academic Contest Award” in spelling (Filipino).

The new Supreme Court website says: “Chief Justice Corona had a sterling record as a student. He graduated with gold medal honors from the Ateneo de Manila grade school in 1962 and high school in 1966. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree, also with honors, from the Ateneo de Manila University in 1970. He was appointed by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2010.”

Cabreros said that Corona claimed, too, in his resumé that he earned his Bachelor of Laws degree “with honors as no. 5 in the class of 44 members.” There were 44 students in his batch.

Cabreros disputed this and wrote: “According to the law school’s commencement program, he graduated on March 31, 1974 with a Bachelor of Laws degree. He graduated with no honors. It was Arturo D. Brion, now an associate justice of the Supreme Court, who graduated valedictorian with a gold medal for academic excellence. Corona is not among those listed as having graduated with honors and distinctions in law school.”

So Mr. Santayana, like you, I also am offended because, yikes, Ateneo is also my alma mater. My heart beating wildly, I went over Ateneo’s sesquicentennial coffeetable book “To Give and Not Count the Cost: Ateneans Inspiring Ateneans 1859-2009,” which contains stories about 150 Ateneans written by 150 plus Ateneans. (I wrote about my teacher Fr. Jaime Bulatao SJ.) I was relieved to not find a write-up on Corona in it. #

Thursday, March 22, 2012

'Cafe au' social innovation

If there’s café au lait (coffee with milk), there is now what I would call café au social innovation. The latter is not a coffee drink per se but a café (excuse my French-English coinage), a place to be, a showcase of “a new generation of social entrepreneurs who aim to create businesses that leave no one behind.” Here one could, of course, also drink coffee—and more.

I was at the soft launch of The Enchanted Farm Café. I have known its beginnings, having been appraised every step of the way by Gawad Kalinga (GK) founder and moving spirit Antonio Meloto. The café has its roots in GK’s The Enchanted Farm in Angat, Bulacan which I had visited and written about last year. More on the farm and the vision later.
The Enchanted Farm Café is an “advocacy café” which showcases products sourced from and produced in the Philippines by the social enterprises in GK’s The Enchanted Farm and other partner advocacy groups and entrepreneurs “that do not leave the poor behind.” The café is located on Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City, on the second floor of the building where GK’s fast-growing Human Nature body care products are sold.
Advocacy cafés are here to stay? There is another “advocacy café” that I had written about—Advocafé. It showcases products of indigenous peoples/communities (IPs) and staffed by IPs. My good friend Ben Abadiano, who, like Meloto, is an RM Awardee (for Emergent Leadership, 2004), put up Advocafé to support Pamulaan, a college he founded for IP students. Advocafé is on Quintos St. near Roxas Boulevard.

Support advocacy cafés!

Social enterprises partnering with The Enchanted Farm Café are the following:

The Enchanted Farm is a village university, the nurturing ground for social enterprises that provide “only the best for the least.” It is a place where good businesses, products, and food grow.

Bambike is a socio-ecological enterprise that makes handcrafted bamboo bicycles designed with green innovation and handmade by GK villagers. Built with locally sourced bamboo and abaca, the bikes are naturally strong and serve as a physical statement for green transportation advocacies.

Filbamboo Exponents provides high quality products in the form of food, beverages and health supplements through an integrated and holistic approach. Envisioned as a social enterprise devoted to promoting bamboo in the pursuit of health, wellness and beauty to address each individual’s needs and care for the environment, this company aims to create sustainable livelihood for rural farming communities in the Philippines.

Rags2Riches is a social business enterprise creating designer lifestyle masterpieces that embody eco-ethical style. This company partners with high-end designers to create eco-ethical fashion and home accessories out of “upcycled” scrap cloth, organic materials and indigenous fabrics. Rags2Riches gives jobs to women in poor communities.

The Golden Egg aims to grow horizontally from the Enchanted Farm platform with a vision of creating a more sustainable duck egg and meat industry. They are produced by GK families at The Enchanted Farm. The eggs shells are dyed yellow (instead of the usual toxic red) using turmeric.

Gourmet Keso is a dairy enterprise that aims to provide artisan cheeses of the finest quality. Income from sales will help GK projects. The daily products are made from milk sourced from local farmers and made by members of the GK community.

Other social enterprises are Happy Green, makers of Enchantea; Gandang Kalikasan, makers of Human Nature; Hamlet, makers of natural meat products; Cafe de Sug Sulu Coffee; Blue Bamboo Ventures; Ecoingenuity, makers of Jacinto and Lirio; Theo and Philo, the first to make truly Filipino chocolate bars; GKonomics, makers of world-class community-produced items.

The Enchanted Farm is the venue of the Center for Social Innovation (CSI). There, product ideas are hatched and tested. CSI is part of GK’s second phase: a 21-year vision with a roadmap towards a First World Philippines. CSI suggests daring and creativity. Living the CSI way is for the big of heart, not the faint of heart.

But who says one can’t have fun in a place like this?

The farm is on 14 hectares of verdant, undulating terrain. It is farm, home, village and “university” rolled into one, where people’s dreams and ideas are put to the test, made to grow and become realities.

The Enchanted Farm in Barangay Encanto in Angat, Bulacan is, as its name and location suggest, indeed a special place like no other. The farm is rapidly transforming the Angat landscape by being a sustainable community, a place of learning, creating and, most of all, sharing.

When GK quietly began in 2000 “by building communities to end poverty,” Meloto had no idea how far he and his fellow dreamers from Couples for Christ (CFC) would go. GK began as a ministry for the poor of CFC. The story of how GK grew from its small beginnings is told in Meloto’s book “The Builder of Dreams.” There are now more than 1,700 GK communities in the Philippines plus several in three Asian countries.

When SIM visited the farm, there were about a dozen young volunteers integrating and doing their chores. They came from different countries and the Philippines. Many were new graduates, others have had fruitful, high-paying careers that they gave up to work with GK.

Last May Meloto received the Nikkei Asia Award for Regional Growth. Just recently he was invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos. To thinkers, policy makers and generators of global wealth, Meloto describes how GK is “creating a hybrid of philanthropy and social business to achieve impact, scale and sustainability.” Meloto loves to say, “Mangangarap ka rin lang, bakit ka pa magtitipid?” (If you must dream, why limit yourself?)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The original 'hamog' boys

April 1, 1996, would have been just another necklace day for Teddy Bernardo and Cesar Rivera, an unlucky day for a pedestrian suddenly separated from her neck adornment. But that day the two teenagers wanted to try something else.

They decided to go to SM City in Quezon City, a stone’s throw away from the San Roque slums where they lived. It was close to noon when they spotted 14-year-old Oliver Ang, a scholar at the nearby Philippine Science High School, paying for his meal at Wendy’s. He was alone.

“We were not inside Wendy’s,” recalled one of the two boys when I interviewed them at the Quezon City jail. “We were outside watching him through the glass panel.” When Oliver stepped out, Cesar and Teddy walked close to him. Cesar was beside Oliver, Teddy was slightly behind. Cesar put his arm around Oliver’s shoulders. “Nakaakbay,” he said.
Cesar and Teddy had bladed weapons, slightly hidden but sharp enough for Oliver to feel. The three barely spoke and passed other people without calling attention. No one noticed that a boy was being held up. No one noticed that the boy at the center looked different, that he looked every inch a school boy.
“We were not wearing rugged clothes,” Cesar said, “but we were wearing slippers, alpombra.” People failed to notice that something was wrong.

Taking Oliver some distance away from where they got him was not difficult. Cesar and Teddy described to me the route they took (which I would later walk through so I could picture how it all happened). From Wendy’s they walked across the front of SM then crossed North Avenue (near the Edsa intersection which had traffic lights at that time) to the bus stop. (That SM wing where Wendy’s was located has since given way to a much bigger SM annex.)

The three crossed Edsa and went toward the old Paramount Theater (where Radio Veritas is now) then turned left until they reached a messenger services branch. That strip, which was slightly across from the San Roque slums, was somewhat deserted because there were no bus stops there at that time.

This was where Cesar and Teddy forced Oliver to hand over his money. When he put up a fight, Cesar and Teddy stabbed him. One of them had an ice pick, the other a beinte nueve (a size-29 fan knife).

Cesar remembered plunging his weapon twice into Oliver. “We later learned that he had six stab wounds,” he told me, “and one was close to the heart.” Oliver was left bleeding on the pavement and died almost instantly. The two confessed killers said they threw their bladed weapons into a canal, split their earnings, called it a day, and went their separate ways.

It was murder at high noon. It took the cops only two days to find Cesar and Teddy who then tearfully confessed to the crime on live TV.

I wrote a long two-part front-page series on the two young offenders, aged 16 and 20 at that time, their growing-up years, their families and the place where they lived. How they killed, why they killed. When I met them, both were wearing T-shirts marked with the words “Compliments of the Guillotine Club.”

Cesar told me that he realized the gravity of what happened when the effect of the drugs they used had worn off. So, did they remember anything? I asked. Was Oliver’s body soft? Did the weapons go in softly, slowly? Did they hear Oliver plead, moan, cry? Did they see the look on his face? Did they see the blood? Did they look around before they ran away?

I tracked down the mothers of Teddy and Cesar in the San Roque slums, a filthy, congested, overpopulated place that is still there today. Finding the two boys’ “homes” was a feat and getting their mothers to speak was a challenge. I wanted to find out how the murderous streak developed, how San Roque spawned boys who would kill a young, bright scholar who was just having lunch.

San Roque is not an easy place to enter. If not for the residents’ help, I wouldn’t have found my way out of there.

Unlike many urban slum areas, San Roque is right smack in the middle of a sprawling business district where shopping malls, condominiums and commercial buildings continue to rise. Many times the squatter colony faced the threat of demolition, and every time the residents put up a fight.

In 1996, a “no names, no photographs” policy on minor offenders was not yet in place. So here I am now, looking at Teddy and Cesar’s photo on the Inquirer front page, wondering where they are, how they are. I surely want to meet them again after they have served their sentence. Teddy, being a minor then, must have been sent to youth rehab.

I am also looking at the school photo of Oliver Ang, which the Inquirer used. He was an only child. Sixteen years after his death, how is his family? I remember his father, so overcome with grief, speaking of his son, so brilliant and so promising. Oliver was a math wiz. He would have been 30 years old now, perhaps a Pinoy Steven Hawking in the making.

I bring up this story, 16 years after it happened, because of the recent disturbing incidents on Edsa which involved the so-called “batang hamog” who figured in windshield-smashing, snatching and other petty crimes against commuters and drivers. They are not pure like the morning dew, as the moniker might suggest. The perpetrators are getting younger and getting away with their crimes because of their age. The enraged, helpless victims who strike back have to face the human rights commission for child abuse.

On rainy days, they clamber up the hoods of vehicles to clean windshields. They peek through the glass window to check out the insides of your vehicle. You have to make sure your doors are locked and your valuables are out of sight.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

In scarlet velvet robes

The senator-judges’ fashion statement is loud and clear. They wear scarlet velvet robes meant to inspire respect and awe among those who watch them do their job as judges in the ongoing impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona. They have to have that kagalanggalang (respectable, dignified, distinguished) look that would set them apart from the rest of us. They are to be called “Your Honors” or “The Honorable” so and so.

In December last year when the senator-judges posed for their first official photograph that became a banner photo of the Inquirer, the robes they were wearing were fire-engine red. (Did the designer do some basic research on the history of this judicial costume?) The senator-judges did not seem happy with the color and cut. Harsh on the eyes and baduy, if you ask me. And so all the judicial robes, as they are called, were promptly changed.

When the senator-judges solemnly emerged at the impeachment trial for the first session in January, they had on them a certain sheen. The robes were velvet this time, and the color was not just any red, it was on the dark side of red. The color was scarlet or crimson which is the color of the sky at sundown. Those scarlet robes the senator-judges now continue to wear. The color is not the faded scarlet of the masa in T-shirts – they with the trembling hopes and shattered dreams, they who fling themselves on the Poong Hesus Nazareno of Quiapo. The senator-judges’ velvety scarlet suggests royalty, pomp and pageantry. It conjures up biblical themes and reminds about the glory of sacrifice and martyrdom.

And so every time the senator-judges glide into the courtroom day after day, week after week, we, with our mouths agape, wait with great expectation, eager to be confounded by some inspiring salutary moments the senator-judges might provide. Or be dazzled by the brilliance of their utterances.

But what did we get from the impeachment court during the last several sessions? Foul froth in the mouth, venomous saliva and obnoxious behavior that would shock even the shock jocks.

Call it synchronicity or what, but when Senator-Judge Jinggoy Estrada singled out prosecution lawyer Vitaliano Aguirre II whom he saw covering his ears in his little corner while Senator-Judge Miriam Santiago was perorating, ululating and bashing the prosecution lawyers (for the nth time), I knew at once that something – bad or good – would come to pass.

In street-corner Pinoy-ese, naghalo ang balat sa tinalupan. In the French and English language we might call it a denouement, albeit in a plot’s midstream. It was a defining moment we will not forget.

Defining because what happened defined and revealed many things to us. Not about the man on trial, not about the prosecution or the defense, but what was under those judicial robes. For many that I have spoken to, the shocking thing was not just Santiago’s verbal acrobatics and paroxysms, it was also the feebleness of the senator-judges to restrain (not publicly, of course) one of their own.

It was Santiago herself who had said sometime back that if all the TV cameras were removed from the courtroom, the impeachment trial would be finished in no time. Meaning that there would be no playing to the gallery on the part of the parties involved, no grandstanding. And yet it was she who has been hogging the limelight for many days – as legal lecturer par excellence, shock jock and screaming banshee rolled into one.

This is not to say that Santiago was all bluster and blah-blah. She had indeed strong points to get across to the uninitiated and especially to the prosecution guys who are often lost in the woods. In fairness to the prosecution, they have been bravely and humbly taking it on the chin, until…

Alas, what brilliance Santiago’s points might have, has been darkened by the bats in her belfry. And for many who have been watching the trial on TV or in the Senate, Santiago’s coequals appear to be either terrified of her or cozying up to her, or they don’t care about the sensibilities of the public at all. Their office is sacrosanct and beyond reach to us, the hoi polloi.

Or they have this covenant to look out for one another or look the other way (play deaf) when something like Santiago’s tsunami of words assault our ears. We all saw how Senator-Judge Pia Cayetano moved with lightning speed for the censure of Aguirre. The haste.

Called to explain, Aguirre could have gotten away by saying he was suffering from a chronic ear ache, that he did not mean to be disrespectful. Instead he said what many of us were dying to say – that respect begets respect.

Aguirre was ready to be detained. After yesterday’s caucus, presiding judge, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile announced that Aguirre will be given only a verbal reprimand.

Santiago, by the way, is due to take her oath (tomorrow, March 9, I was told) as one of the new member-judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) based in The Hague. But she reportedly wants to finish the impeachment trial. An officer of the Philippine coalition that had lobbied hard for the Philippines to ratify the ICC’s Rome Statute told me that it was the Department of Foreign Affairs that nominated Santiago. The coalition does not nominate.

Here’s hoping that the ICC would get a jolt from Santiago’s participation, and that the despots, tyrants and terrorists accused of crimes against humanity would get their just desserts from her.

With due respect, I present (arrrrg!) commonly mispronounced words at the hearings, even on TV: honorable, circumstances, category, organization, testimony, precedence, applicable, cemetery.

I rest my case.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Empowering women to fight hunger

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

March being Women’s Month, it behooves us to celebrate the efforts of the women who are actually and busily working on the ground to produce food for the world. They touch, dig and caress the earth to make it yield flower and fruit. They are a class all their own. They are the unsung heroines who have gone beyond rocking the cradle. They work from seeding time to harvest time, from the rising of the sun to its setting.

Fecundity becomes them. They are key to food security.

From the International Food Policy and Research Institute (IFPRI) comes the good news on the launching of the “groundbreaking index” to empower women to fight hunger. The “Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index” (WEAI) is a first. It is “the first measure to directly capture women’s empowerment and inclusion levels in the agricultural sector.”
The WEAI focuses on five areas: decisions over agricultural production, power over productive resources such as land and livestock, decisions over income, leadership in the community, and time use. Women who have adequate achievements in four of five areas would be considered “empowered.” The Index also takes into consideration the empowerment of the women as compared with the men in the same household.
The Index is being piloted in three countries—Bangladesh, Guatemala and Uganda—which have diverse socioeconomic and cultural contexts and will track the change in women’s empowerment that occurs as a direct result of the US’ Feed the Future initiative to address global hunger and food security. The Index will be used for performance monitoring and impact evaluations across Feed the Future focus countries.

The Philippines is not included in the Index. But a Philippine NGO was ahead in this department.
Some years ago Centro Saka Inc. (CSI) did a study of women in agriculture in the Philippines.  CSI had observed then: “The exclusion of women food producers from official statistics and industry profiles means that they are likewise invisible in rural development processes.”
CSI published “Who are the Women in Agriculture?”  by Maria Daryl L. Leyesa in its 2008 Rural Development Review. The CSI study answered the question, “How empowered are the women in agriculture?”