(Well, President Bush, "a lady can always change her mind" as you once said.)
President Arroyo is in the United States for a three day "working visit". Yup,she's working alright, she's working on Hillary Clinton already as she immediately cozied up to the prospective First Gentleman, Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting (LA Times reports) and they talked hotly of geothermal energy just before she met with lots of Filipino American voters to defend her Mindanao policy. I am not sure exactly what she told them, but the true situation is this. Last April 19, 2007, the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped for ransom and eventually beheaded five students working on a summer road construction job in Sulu to earn money for college and a fish vendor who they happened to be with, dumping their severed heads in a burlap sack outside a Marine base in Sulu. That's part of them on the back of a truck. The picture is from Adrian Ayalin's blog. On July 10, Moro Islamic Liberation Front guerillas ambushed and killed fourteen Marines who were looking for the kidnapped Italian priest Fr. Giancarlo Bossi near Tipo-tipo, Basilan. Ten were later beheaded by what the MILF claimed were "unknown forces". After a Basilan judge issued arrest warrants against 130 suspects, the Peace Processors Jesus Dureza and Gen. Rodolfo Garcia stepped in, delayed service of the warrants, blamed the beheadings on "Abu Sayyaf bandits". Six weeks after the Basilan beheadings, the President supposedly launched an all-out war, but not against MILF or the MNLF who together with the Abu Sayyaf have now killed 57 uniformed Philippine soldiers. NOT A SINGLE SUSPECT in these terrorist crimes has been arrested, though the Philippine Military just yesterday reported killing 10 Abu Sayyaf gunmen in a violent encounter, (but without recovering the bodies.) The President has also announced her intention to grant, without plebiscite, 1000 barangays and all of ARMM to the MILF as their own Muslim Juridical Entity. This is Bangsamorostan for sure.
Recent Philippine Commentaries on Mindanao, the Basilan Beheadings and terrorism are numerous.
THE SENATE AGAIN RISES Meanwhile, it has been a momentous week in the Philippine Senate with two high profile investigations in aid of legislation: first into the role of major telecomms Globe and Smart in the illegal wiretapping of President Arroyo and Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano by the Intelligence Services of the AFP in 2004, and then into the National Broadband Network bribery scandal, at the heart of which also happens to be a telecommunications project involving China's 3rd largest telecomm player, Zhongxing Telecommunications Equipment Corporation. The controversy may have been a factor in the just announced plunge of the Philippines to No. 131 in Transparency International's 2007 corruption ranking (down from No. 121 least corrupt in 2006).
Nota bene: Both controversies involve the telecommunications industry and government officials allegedly working together in the commission of crimes of serious crimes.
WHAT'S IN A HAND GESTURE? Language Trainers Blog has an excellent post on the The Top Ten Hand Gestures. Here is Number 3:
In the most severe fallout over the ZTE scandal for the Arroyo administration, an impeachment case has been filed in the House by Gov. Rolex Suplico and endorsed by Rep. Teofisto Guingona III against Benjamin Abalos, chairman of the Commission on Elections for bribery, corruption and breach of public trust. Although Presidential Legal Counsel was bravely predicting a "lack of numbers" in the House for the case to prosper, Gov. Suplico told media today that his evidence against Abalos was strong since two accusations of attempted bribery against him have been given under oath and before the Senate by no less than Joey de Venecia III, the son of the House Speaker Jose de Venecia, in addition to former Neda Director General Romulo Neri. In some ways, Abalos' fate is in the hands of Speaker Joe de Venecia.
3. The “Moutza”
Opening your palm to your target and stretching out your fingers seems harmless enough to most Westerners. Most of us would think you’re waving. In Greece, however, the gesture is known as a moutza, and is one of their most traditional manual insults. With fingers slightly apart, you thrust your hand into your target’s face, usually coupling the gesture with a brash “na!”, meaning “here you go!”. The basic suggestion is something like “eat shit”, implying that you’re not particularly impressed and would rather the target of the moutza leave you alone – comparable to the American interpretation of the same signal as “talk to the hand, because the face isn’t listening”.
The gesture is also an insulting one in Pakistan and many parts of Africa. The Japanese use a very similar sign to insult their old enemies, the Koreans. Roughly translating as ‘animal’, the signal is similar to the moutza in every way except they tuck the thumb into the palm.
Amusingly, Microsoft used to use a very similar-looking hand signal as an icon for warning dialogs in previous versions of Windows – what Greek users must have thought of that, I don’t know… “This application has performed an illegal operation - now, eat shit!”.
Aside however, from Neri's accusation against Abalos, he also testified to something that has gotten the attention of a lot of ordinary people. This was his revelation that Filipinos are paying US$20 for every Megabit-per-second of bandwidth, compared to 11 cents in the US and 22 cents in the Philippines, even if the technologies being used are the same: DSL, cable and wireless delivery modes. Obscene profits are thus being made, but then again it may have something to do with the fact that the Philippines has no anti-trust law, and even if it did, it is also the Archipelago the Artful Areglo. Neri's revelation was done to justify the concept of a National Broadband Network, which no one buys, but it does point to a real problem: the telecommunications industry in the Philippines is cartelized, as charged several years back by the United States Dept. of Justice.
OFWs have been the loudest at complaining about the high telecomm rates charged by Smart and Globe. Clearly some kind of competitive regime needs to be fostered to drive down the obscenely high rates being charged by the incumbent telecomms for broadband and other servies.
Today, the nail on the coffin of ZTE National Broadband Network project may have been hammered in by Deans Raul Fabella and Emmanuel de Dios of the University of the Philippines School of Economics, who delivered a paper analyzing why the deal is GROSSLY ADVANTAGEOUS to the government entitled "Lacking a Backbone."
The wiretapping investigation involves 3 Senate committees led by National Defense (Rodolfo Biazon) and including the Blue Ribbon (Alan Peter Cayetano) and Trade and Industry (Mar Roxas). But I think the tone for the whole week was set by Senate President Manny Villar as he confronted representatives of Globe and PLDT for not sending their previously invited Chief Executive Officers (Globe's Gerry Ablaza and Smart's Roberto Nazareno).
In the hearing it became clear that wiretapping CAN be done quite easily in a number of ways, if there is collusion between wiretappers and insiders within the service provider sensitive operations divisions. However, one thing that Globe's Rudy Salalima said which I found intriguing was his suggestion that ISAFP could have carried out the wiretapping with "spiked" cell phones in which the user is unaware every call he makes or receives is actually a conference call with Vidal Doble or some other agent of the MIG-21 group. This would certainly explain the description put forward by Ping Lacson of conversation signals being "split." The Senate wiretapping investigation resumes Friday.