Friday, June 24, 2022



Of oaths, vows, and pledges

Countless newly elected officials of this benighted republic are taking their oaths before their personal choices of magistrates, government biggies, and whatnot. Of course, we do not always know the reasons for their choices, but one thing we often see in the photographs is the Holy Bible (or the Holy Quran, perhaps) on which the oath-taker’s left hand rests while the right is raised.


A photograph of outgoing Davao City mayor and Vice President-elect Sara Duterte, who took her oath on June 19 (a surprising 10 days ahead of the presumptive President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s oath-taking on June 30), showed her left hand on what looked like a gold-edged Bible that her mother was holding. I could not tell the Bible version but it looked brand new. If I were the one, I’d much rather choose a dog-eared Bible, perhaps preloved, preowned, its pages crawling with highlights and markings and with traces of DNA.

Another kind of oath-taking will be taking place on June 30, this one led by victims-survivors of the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986). “Panunumpa Para Sa Bayan” (oath taking for the nation), it is called, “oath-taking to guard against tyranny, falsehoods and the trampling of people’s rights and freedoms” as the invitation says.

I did sit in on the discussions and how “panunumpa” was the word chosen instead of the stronger double entendre “pagsusumpa,” The two words derive from the Filipino word sumpa, which means a solemn promise or vow but which also means a curse or swear/cuss word. With loathing one could say, “What you did is kasumpa-sumpa!” (curse-worthy). Or “Isinusumpa kita!” (I curse you!). But then, two people in love make a sumpaan before the altar of God or in the moonlight. The Filipino kundimans are dripping with the sumpaan hanggang libingan theme that brings to mind star-crossed lovers and lovelorn Maria Claras of yesteryears.

The discussions sometimes turned hilarious, despite the planned event’s seriousness. Panata (pledge) was deemed not strong enough, and pangako (promise) was never in the discussion.

The words “oath,” “vows,” and “pledge” crowd my mind with images of broken pieces; how public officials who had sworn to be servants of the people ended up serving their own interests instead. One could make one’s oath of office on hallowed grounds with hand on the Bible and still end up serving mammon instead.

Eminent historian Ambeth Ocampo on the opposite page reminded me that two Philippine presidents—Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo and Joseph “Erap” Estrada—pronounced their oaths at the historic Barasoain Church in Malolos. How could one not think of them as making sacred vows as well? Both presidents, alas and alack, did not finish their terms, with the latter convicted for plunder and sentenced to reclusion perpetua until…

The word “oath” has a legal ring to it, while a vow conjures up the sacred and divine.

Speaking of vows, last Sunday, I watched a live-streamed profession of vows—one temporary, the other final—of two missionary religious sisters who belong to a monastic order known for its observance of liturgical practices that inspire awe and reverence. The raising of both hands as in surrender, the prostrating on the floor symbolizing the total giving of self—how I wish our elected officials would do the same to dramatize their intent to serve truly. Alas, to paraphrase a common saying, the one hand that goes up and the other that is on the holy book during oath-taking would later no longer know what they are doing separately. One on the take, the other goes into the pocket.

I remember the eminent historian chanting “Suscipe me, Domine” at the altar when he made his temporary vows as a monastic years ago. Then, with both hands on his chest to implore God’s help, “… et non confundas me in ab expectatione mea.” Would that the elected do the same.


Every day, in good weather, local officials and their underlings are present at flag-raising and the singing of the national anthem, and if time permits, they, like school children, make the pledge (panata) of allegiance to the flag and the motherland. The rest of the day could be twilight zone where deals and exchanges are made, when “pastillas” are offered and received. But pledge or no pledge, there are countless upright public servants worth emulating.

Many Filipinos make personal panatas (in various degrees as vows, pledges, promises) to God and their favorite saints while seeking favors and solutions to their earthly problems. If only our government officials were as staunch in living out their own.

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/154342/of-oaths-vows-and-pledges#ixzz7sDLQNGPc
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Friday, June 17, 2022




And other “thoughts” should complete this piece’s title.

The Philippine archipelago is in the Pacific Ring of Fire, so one of our active volcanoes, Mount Bulusan in Sorsogon, is still in eruption mode and spreading ashfall on the province and beyond. Volcanologists haven’t declared it is over. Oh, but not to ignore eruptions of the “third kind,” to borrow words from ufologists, that are emanating from so-called political and social volcanoes that rock our everyday lives.


The longest English volcanic-eruption-related medical word ever coined, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, comes to mind again.

I was a kid when I first encountered the word in a publication with trivia in it. I hastily memorized the word by splitting it into several words. I also let its sound hang in my mind, the way I do now in memorizing phone numbers or remembering the plate numbers of erring motorists before I could grab a pen and paper while I am driving—among the memorizing calisthenics I employ. The word is a mouthful. On paper, it is hard to photograph with the mind’s eye, but when memorized as components, it stays better. Try it.

Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, or silicosis, is a lung disease caused by inhalation of very fine, sharp silicate particles that injure the lungs. Volcanic eruptions and ashfalls are not always to blame. Hazardous industries such as quarrying, mining, brick manufacturing, and some processes in construction can cause silicosis. Pulmonologists should know if volcanic eruptions hereabouts every so often make many people prone to silicosis. But now, with COVID-19 still hanging around, most people have, in their pockets, protective face masks that serve several purposes, including committing crimes in high places.

It is good to know that after Mount Bulusan’s first blast, a team from the Office of the Vice President hit the ground running to bring aid to displaced families. Vice President Leni Robredo, in the remaining days of her vice presidency, has not stopped caring and ministering to the needy, notwithstanding the paid bashers and hecklers of the vicious kind. It seems the job contracts of these lowlifes have not yet expired. Like flies, they swoop down on terse posts on social media that seem to be meant to trigger hateful comments from their kind. What toxic delight it is for them.

And just when we thought Mount Bulusan was done, another blast some days ago sent people scampering back to the evacuation centers. The latest news report was that many people, children especially, are stricken with respiratory maladies that could have been caused, if not made worse, by the ashfall.

Volcanic eruptions have become part of the lives of Filipinos long before Mount Pinatubo’s world-class 1991 eruption. Pinatubo hastened the departure of the US Air Force from Clark Air Base. Its effects were felt for more than a decade, changing the landscape of Pampanga, Bataan, and Zambales, and the way we regarded the hardy indigenous inhabitants of Pinatubo’s foothills, the Aetas.

But while the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology is “principally mandated to mitigate disasters that may arise from volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis and other related geotectonic phenomena,” it does not address the medical and health consequences. It is the Department of Health, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and other related government agencies that must deal with the impact on human lives. And in the long term, even the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources and of Agriculture, too.

What a different kind of disaster a volcanic eruption is. Think Taal Volcano, which still exhibits restiveness every now and then. Think Kanlaon in Negros Occidental, which has been made into a symbol of the so-called social volcano and class divide in Sugarlandia. Think Mayon in Albay, the most majestic of them all, which drives poets and peasants into paroxysms of joy.

Mount Hibok-Hibok in Camiguin Island (of lanzones festival fame), whose last eruption was in 1953, will surely make a cinematic display when it erupts. I have been in Camiguin and I cannot imagine what it would be like for the islanders when the earth begins to move again. The whole island, I am told, is the volcano, or the volcano is the whole island. Whatever, when the time comes that the island heaves and throws up plumes of fire and sand, it would, indeed, be a spectacle that is difficult to endure, a time to flee to the sea but also, uh, a selfie moment.

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/154084/pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis#ixzz7sDM2mpRY
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Friday, June 10, 2022



A woman wronged

More than a year ago, when Sen. Leila de Lima was completing her fourth year in solitary confinement at the Camp Crame detention facility, I serialized in four parts my Q&A with her.

There seemed to be no break in the clouds then, as the powers that be that willed her incarceration on alleged trumped up charges (without bail) was a boulder that could not be moved.


Now, in her fifth year in detention, six prosecution witnesses have withdrawn/recanted/reversed their accusations in succession, like domino tiles falling one after another. Previous to these withdrawals, one of three charges against De Lima has been dropped by the court. But the senator, a fierce critic of President Duterte’s drug war, continues to languish in jail with the Department of Justice (DOJ) saying that all these recantations will have to pass through a judicial process.

Despite her supporters’ unrelenting push for her to win, De Lima did not make it as a re-elected senator in the recent May 9 national elections. After June 30, she ceases being a senator. Only God knows what awaits her.

I reviewed my Q&A with the senator, and these are what she said about the cases against her:

“I’m facing three cases of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court. Criminal Case Nos. 17-165 and 17-166 are being heard at Branch 205, with the Prosecution having concluded their presentation of evidence. Criminal Case No. 17-167, meanwhile, is being handled by Branch 256…”

According to De Lima at that time, the following case developments served to prove her innocence:

There is no corpus delicti or body of the crime, meaning, the kind or volume of alleged drugs that is a basic premise for any drug case was never identified;

There is no money or paper trail linking her to any illegal drug transactions;

There is no conspiracy because, in the first place, no one has admitted to being a co-conspirator who has personal knowledge of illegal drug transactions, let alone to dealing with her personally;

There is no drug case; instead, what became apparent was (a) a kidnap-for-ransom case involving crooked cops who extorted money from a Bilibid Prison convict whose niece they kidnapped, and (b) a bribery case involving Bureau of Corrections officials who took money from convicts in exchange for certain favors—neither of which had anything to do with illegal drugs;


There is no credible testimony from witnesses who are mostly Bilibid inmates—their accounts were mere hearsay, riddled with inconsistencies and without any proof.

Last June 5, the Inquirer had for its banner headline “DOJ to reassess evidence vs De Lima” with the accompanying blurb: “Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra says it will take ‘a few days’ for prosecutors who will review the cases of detained Sen. Leila de Lima to determine the strength of the overall evidence against her. They will remain on course to try to convict her on the drug charges if the recent recantations of key witnesses will not affect the two remaining cases against her.”

It’s been “a few days” too many, if you ask me. But there is consolation in the thought that the woman wronged is on the threshold of freedom. Recent developments should bear that out.

First, there was Kerwin Espinosa who, in April, reversed his claim that he had given protection money to De Lima when she was justice secretary during the Aquino presidency. He said he was “misled by the police” into signing an affidavit in exchange for not facing drug charges himself. He has apologized to De Lima.

The Inquirer banner story by Marlon Ramos said that on May 24, Marcelo Adorco, presented by DOJ as Espinosa’s bodyguard, recanted his 2016 and 2017 allegations that De Lima was behind the drug trade in Bilibid Prison. In April, Ronnie Dayan, De Lima’s former aide and coaccused, denied that De Lima was involved in any drug dealing. Convicted murderer Joel Capones also withdrew his testimony against De Lima. Well, another convict-turned-prosecution-witness Noel Martinez also told the court that he had no knowledge or involvement in the drug-related charges against De Lima.

According to the Inquirer report, high-profile convict Vicente Sy denied his earlier claim that he contributed to De Lima’s senatorial campaign. Sy told the court that he never met nor gave money to De Lima. He died of a heart attack in July last year.

Free Sen. Leila de Lima. Let justice be done, though the heavens fall. Fiat justitia, ruat caelum.

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/153816/a-woman-wronged#ixzz7sDMkUAlE
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Friday, June 3, 2022



Vanishing French fries

I have not checked it out myself, but word has gotten around that orders of French fries in some fast-food joints are now limited to medium size, not large. In other words, you are allowed to eat only so much, leave some for the others. The high-calorie fast-food item is not yet, altogether, a rarity that consumers will form queues for, but its limited supply could be a harbinger of things to come.


A week or so ago, baby milk formulas flew off the shelves in US supermarkets and drugstores. There was a shortage. Parents of infants dependent on these products were in panic when they found shelves empty and had nowhere to go. Which made me think, haven’t these parents heard of breast milk and breastfeeding? Well, so much for societies where breastfeeding in public is sometimes frowned upon as if it is indecent. But that is another story.

As to the French fries that are in short supply hereabouts, Filipinos gobble them up like they do potato chips in all flavors. But the Philippines is not potato country, in the sense that most of us cannot tell one variety from another. We buy only whatever potatoes are being sold for use in our Spanish-style potajes and American- and Russian-style potato salads. Filipinos did not go through the “Great Potato Famine” that Ireland did, something which, I read, was more politically induced and not simply an agricultural catastrophe.

I am not a regular meat eater, but when, once in a blue moon, I crave for and cook corned beef hash, I use our native kamote or sweet potato (P60-plus per kilo the other day), instead of the regular spud to go with the carne norte. It just tastes more delicious to me.

Are these shortages, indeed, harbingers of things to come? Our agriculture experts should have ears on the ground and be ready to support our local food producers who seem to be always last in the government’s priorities. They get by on their own to face challenges brought about by climate change, or with some help from nongovernment organizations. Else, why do we often hear that our food providers are among this country’s neediest and hungriest?

The Cordillera region is known to be the Philippines’ biggest potato producer (I don’t know what variety), but are their potatoes the kind that are julienned and frozen for fast-food chains to use? McDonald’s reportedly uses some 3.4 billion pounds of potatoes worldwide annually. I hope McDonald’s will try our Philippine-grown potatoes.

The French fries shortage may look like a fleeting problem for urbanites, but it behooves us to get to the context of it. And of other food shortages as well.

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s “2022 Global Report on Food Crises” highlights “the alarming deterioration of acute food insecurity in 2021 in numerous food-crisis countries/territories. Nearly 193 million people were in crisis or worse … as a result of intensified conflict, significant economic shocks and some of the most severe weather extremes in recent years, or a combination of these drivers.” According to the United States Institute of Peace, the (Russian-instigated) war in Ukraine is deepening global insecurity. But “even before Russia invaded Ukraine, the global economy was suffering from the repercussion of several man-made conflicts, climate shocks, COVID-19, and rising costs—with devastating consequences for poor people in low-income and developing countries.” Speaking of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines is not yet out of the woods, if not still limping out of it.

“The war in Ukraine—a major ‘breadbasket’ for the world—is deepening these challenges on an unprecedented scale. In the immediate, swift, and bold action is required by both wealthy and low-income nations to avert further humanitarian and economic catastrophe…

“The war in Ukraine has severed key supply chains and added surging costs for beleaguered companies trying to move products around the world, which are then passed on to consumers. Keeping trade open for food, fuel, and fertilizer is crucial to containing the increase in food insecurity both within Ukraine and globally.”


Filipinos are sturdy, hardy people. Okay, I will not use the eyebrow-raising word “resilient” that implies that we get by anyway, in any way. But we get it very bad when things get bad.

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/153582/vanishing-french-fries#ixzz7sDNRSaGf
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