Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Merienda with a Nobel Laureate

Professor Torsten Wiesel 1981 Nobel Laurate in Medicine for his work on how the retinal cells in the eyes receive light and how the brain conjures an image, is now in town for a series of visits to our research universities. He was in DLSU earlier and proceeded to UP Diliman. He will visit other universities in his tour of the country.

Over merienda at the Board of Regents (BOR) room at Quezon Hall, UP administrators briefed the professor about the University’s plans to further push forward our scientific development. Prof Wiesel is no stranger to the problems and pitfalls administrators face, for after receiving the Nobel, he became president of the Rockefeller University. Upon stepping down from this post, he assumed leadership of the Human Frontier Science Program which promotes and funds interdisciplinary collaboration between the sciences and helps train postdoctoral scientists.

Professor Wiesel in these various engagements, advises government research bureaucracies on how they can make their science become more globally competitive.

I was in the meeting at the BOR room and Prof Wiesel struck me as your Hollywood stereotype of the kind professor, and not of the Einstein type but not of the Tuesdays with Morrie kind either. [BTW Einstein was regarded by students as hard to deal with and thus he only successfully graduated one PhD]

The sharp as a tack 85 year old prof commented on one of the powepoint presentations of the administrators. He remarked “A blue background is sure to put your students to sleep!” Well we take that as a very expert assessment from one who won a Nobel on describing how eyes can really see!

But beyond that he was concerned about problems (much related to our bureaucratic culture) on how science is administered. The prof knows that while science especially in the 21st century is given much attention by those who hold the government purse, it can never be THE PRIORITY for funding over social services and other issues that can deliver the votes. The professor was confused with appellations of putting the word “national” on our academic and research institutions. For instance the UP is the National university. The professor understands that in other countries such as in Singapore, a national university is assured of the money and it is expected to deliver. He was perplexed at first to learn that UP while national, is not assured of getting the money.

He also had some observations on why UP and other universities have a lot of graduate students but graduate just a few of them. This is a waste of resources. His suggestion is to make the admission of grad students more competitive. I believe the prof saw the problem clearly. Getting into a UP grad program is infinitely easier as compared to getting into an undergraduate program.

The problem is so evident in the UP PhD programs which in the sciences manages to graduate only 13 a year. In other universities of good reputation such as DLSU, Ateneo or UST, it is usual that 1 or 2 or at most 5 PhDs are produced. In contrast as the prof says eminent research universities graduate 50 or more PhDs. This is true. When I got my degree in Australia, we were 30 PhDs in the class and my university was much smaller than the more eminent Sydney and Melbourne.

Of course there are a lot of reasons some of which are particular to the Pinoy why many can’t get through the grad program. But all of these reasons are solvable. Dean Caesar Saloma of the science college says its the lack of mentors and these mentors should be scientists who do publish. Indeed we need to develop more of this science culture.

There were lots of issues that were brought up to Prof Wiesel and at the end he seemed like a father-confessor! One of the senior academics from UP Manila said he was like the Pope! Perhaps the comparison is apt for Papa Ratzinger is known to listen, give sharp pointed advice and crack an academic joke (which mere mortals are won’t to get!) I won’t dwell on these issues like academic “inbreeding” since it’s for academe and for most readers this may not be relevant.

One issue that should interest readers is how universities can really serve as S&T incubators and in the end contribute much to the national economy. The prof has had lots of experience (as Rockefeller U prez) in getting these tech start ups up and running. He says that the university linked S&T incubators in China contribute about 2 billion USD to the economy. And when these technologies go mainstream, the returns are geometric. The UP and to some extent Ateneo and DLSU envision that their schools will be catalysts for this kind of enterprise. UP has started in its technohub venture with Ayala but the promise is still to be seen. So far everybody knows it is a BPO hub.

Prof Wiesel advices Pinoy academics that these S&T incubators will only deliver its promise if the academics themselves adopt a more daring interdisciplinary view of things. This would imply a major shake up of how university bureaucracies are run which at present promotes departmental isolation. He suggests that academic departments and even the various UP campuses be daring enough to set up shop at the technohub (which should facilitate departments to collaboratively how to hatch projects). He gives the example of UP Manila’s health sciences research units. Medicine should not limit itself to clinical research but look into the potential of basic science research which can be incubated as new medical technologies. The best place to do that is in UP Diliman’s technohub since UP Diliman is strong in the basic natural sciences like physics, chem, biology and environment.

Professor Wiesel advises Pinoy academia and science bureaucrats to promote “Brain circulation” and not just ‘brain gain”!

At the end of the merienda I was convinced that this Nobel laureate who did ground breaking studies in vision has vision.

But the prof knows all about the upcoming election and he hopes that the new prez will be a science president.

BTW, the chismis is that one of the professor’s hosts in the Philippines is a presidentiable who has a shot at winning the Palace. However it immediately dawned to us that the prof isn’t seeing yellow! :-)

Ben Vallejo

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Manny's Enchanted Kingdom

by Manuel Buencamino
From Life in Gloria's Enchanted Kingdom

"Slander is the revenge of the coward, and dissimulation his defense." —Samuel Johnson
A friend sent me a text that said, “GMA plundered when she became president. Manny Villar is only a candidate but he already took a cash advance.”

I called her up, demanding an explanation.

She said the draft report of the Senate Committee of the Whole recommended censure for Senator Villar and asked him to return all the money “he has or his companies have illegally gained or obtained as a result of unlawful acts and improper and unethical conduct.”

She sounded pleased so I reminded her that Sen. Alan Cayetano said the report is a worthless piece of paper until the majority upholds it.

She replied, “Then why are Villar and company trying to prevent it from being discussed in the plenary, why is Sen. Joker Arroyo raising a prejudicial question à la Rep. Edcel Lagman preventing evidence from being presented at Gloria Arroyo’s impeachment?”

“Even Enrile admitted there was no direct evidence against Villar,” I said, quoting Senator Santiago.

“Read the report, you will see that what Enrile actually said was, ‘Although there is no evidence to prove the direct participation of Senator Villar in the overpricing of such properties, it is fair and safe to assume that Senator Villar knew about the said overpricing as his corporations stood to gain from such transactions with the government and considering the closeness of Senator Villar to Engr. Adriano who was directly involved in these transactions’”
Enrile Committee Report.

“Who is Engineer Adriano?” I asked.

“He’s the guy, according to the sworn testimony of Atty. Yolanda Doblon, director general of the Legislative Budget Monitoring Office, who dictated to her amendments to the 2008 national budget while Villar looked on. He’s an executive of the Villar-owned companies that benefited from the amendments.”

“The P200-million insertion?”


“Was C-5 really realigned?”

“The original plan for C-5 was done during the time of Marcos. C-5 extension was supposed to link South Super Highway to Coastal Road in a straight line but Villar managed to get the original plan revised so that C-5 extension would wind through his property.”

“What’s wrong with that?” I asked.

“Nothing wrong if a private citizen proposed the realignment, but Villar did it as a member of Congress.”

“Let’s go back to the overprice. Villar insists he did nothing illegal because it was the BIR [Bureau of Internal Revenue] district revenue officer of Parañaque, not him, who priced his property.”

“Carmelita R. Bacod of the BIR said she gave a high zonal valuation for Villar’s property because it would be beneficial for her agency’s collection purposes,” she explained.


‘‘That’s exactly how the committee reacted. Bacod eventually apologized for the overprice and admitted that what she did was grossly disadvantageous to the government,” she replied.

“That’s the no-direct evidence Senator Santiago referred to?”

“Yes, if you believe Villar’s employee, Engineer Adriano, had nothing to do with Bacod’s error in judgment,” she replied.

“But Villar said he has not been paid.”

“Not exactly true. He has been paid for a lot of those pieces of property, although some remain unpaid.”

She added, “Do you think his pork barrel was going to pay for road construction only?”

“You mean his pork barrel would also fund overpriced right-of-way payments for his property?”

“Read the report,” she replied.

“Villar said he does not know where the P6.2-billion figure came from.”

“That amount is itemized in the report he’s trying to keep from the public.”

I replied, “But Villar said it was a one-sided report, he had no witnesses, no lawyers. He called the committee a kangaroo court.”

“A kangaroo court? He was given all the chances to present his side, to bring in lawyers, witnesses and evidence to prove his innocence. He never did. He refused to man up and refute the allegations of Senator Madrigal. That’s why Enrile called him a coward.”

“He defended himself in the media and in advertisements,” I argued.

“Yes, in venues where he was not under oath, where he was in no danger of being charged with perjury.”

“Do you really think he is guilty?”

“Read the report, it’s only 84 pages. If, after reading it, you still believe he was unjustly persecuted, that everything he and his allies said about the committee and its report are true, then Jason Ivler was set up by the CIA and Andal Ampatuan Jr. was framed by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.”

Friday, January 22, 2010

Comelec's Flawed Reasoning

By Jun Bautista

In a 26-page decision, the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) Second Division junked the disqualification case filed against Erap Estrada by ruling that the constitutional prohibition on reelection to the presidency found in Article VII, Section 4 applies only to the incumbent president.

According to Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer, who penned the decision, “respondent Joseph 'Erap' Estrada no longer holds a public office; more importantly, he is no longer the president and wields none of the vast powers of this position. He poses no danger to anyone. Because of this prevailing status, a simple application of the rule will lead any reasonable and logical person to conclude that the prohibition against the reelection of 'The President' does not apply to Joseph Estrada.”

The constitutional provision in question is as follows: “Section 4. The President and the Vice-President shall be elected by direct vote of the people for a term of six years which shall begin at noon on the thirtieth day of June next following the day of the election and shall end at noon of the same date, six years thereafter. The President shall not be eligible for any re-election. No person who has succeeded as President and has served as such for more than four years shall be qualified for election to the same office at any time.”

While it is true that Estrada is no longer president and the phrase “the president” on the second sentence of section 4 seems not applicable to him, the decision conveniently disregarded the adjective “any” before the word reelection on the same sentence. Any reelection clearly means election again either immediately after the expiration of one’s term or after an interval.

If it were the intention of the framers of the Constitution that the prohibition applies only to the sitting president, then the phrase “any reelection” would not have been used for in that case the adjective “any” would be useless. In contrast, the use of the definite article “the” before “president” presents no anomaly or tension with the interpretation of an absolute ban on reelection. The second sentence of section 4 would simply mean that once someone is elected as president an ineligibility to run for president again attaches during his or her incumbency and in the future, that is when he or she is no longer president. According to former Comelec Chairman and Constitutional Commissioner Christian Monsod, a person elected as president only gets one shot at the presidency.

In defending his bid for reelection, Estrada insists that it is the third sentence of section 4 that applies to him, rather than the second sentence. Recall that the third sentence disqualifies any one who has succeeded as president and has served as such for more than four years from being elected as president at any time. Estrada claims that he served the presidency for less than four years and, therefore, not ineligible to be elected as president. The third sentence, however, applies only to one who became president not by election but by the operation of the rule on presidential succession for two reasons, viz: first, the provision speaks of one who has “succeeded” as president; second, in prohibiting such person from becoming president again, it uses the phrase “shall [not] be qualified for election” instead of “shall [not] be qualified for reelection” simply because not having assumed the presidency via election, it would not be correct to use the word “reelection.”

The second division further justified the decision to allow Estrada to run for president by saying that “in the end, it is the Filipino people who would act as the final arbiter on whether they would have Estrada sit again as president. It is the electorate’s choice of who their president should be. The better policy approach is to let the people decide who will be the next president.”

This reasoning disregards the fact that the Constitution is an embodiment of the people’s will. While the people did not directly draft the Constitution it is the people that ultimately gave it life and binding force when they ratified it in a plebiscite. Thus, when the Constitution imposes disabilities on certain persons from becoming public officials, it is simply expressing the people’s will on who they want to run for public office. So what will is Ferrer talking about?

Besides, following Ferrer’s reasoning, if indeed it is a better policy approach to let the people decide who will be the next president then why not apply the same reasoning to other candidates that they have unilaterally disqualified for being nuisance candidates? It should be noted that these candidates meet the minimum qualifications, and do not suffer any disability, under the Constitution. To say that a person should be allowed to continue his or her candidacy and let he people decide is like saying never mind if that person is disqualified, just let the people decide if they want to elect him or her to public office.

Such a flawed and dangerous proposition, not to mention double standard as far as other candidates are concerned, disregards the basic principles of republicanism where the people’s will is expressed not only at the polls, but equally important in the institutions of democracy it created.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

More problems in doing science in the Philippines

One of the good things about the social networking and other likewise sites in the cybersphere is that people from geographically disparate places can meet. In the yahoo group of the Philippine Association of Marine Science, an interesting discussion thread is happening. The main question posed is this

Why even with the increased science funding given to the DOST by the previous administrations and the present one, our science as evidenced by competitive rankings, has not progressed much but even retrogressed?

It is no secret that the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo administration has invested much in S&T much more than its predecessors ever did. The GMA administration has at least a science development strategy that departs from the usual science and national development lip service mantra. Perhaps this is due mainly to GMA appointing experienced science administrators to the DOST.

But we have these recent statistics provided by Dr Lawrence Liao of USC in Cebu

Table of Asia-10 publications (rearranged from WK Cummings data provided by Dr. Lawrence M. Liao)

Avg annual change (%)
1995 2000 2005 1995-00 2000-05 1995-05

Japan 47,068 57,101 55,471 3.9 -0.6 1.7
China 9,061 18,479 41,596 15.3 17.6 16.5
South Korea 3,803 9,572 16,396 20.3 11.4 15.7
India 9,370 10,276 14,608 1.9 7.3 4.5

Taiwan 4,759 7,190 10,841 8.6 8.6 8.6
Singapore 1,141 2,361 3,609 15.6 8.9 12.2
Thailand 340 663 1,249 14.3 13.5 13.9
Malaysia 366 460 615 4.7 6.0 5.3
Indonesia 129 182 205 7.0 2.5 4.7
Philippines 145 185 178 5.0 -0.7 2.1

The main index of science competitiveness is seen in the publication and citation index. And for the period of 2000-2005, we have a negative rating. It is during this time that the Arroyo administration started to sink in huge sums of cash to our science development. South Korea shows the best competitiveness since even with the Asian financial crash of 1997, it has managed to outperform all Asian countries in the list. Korean scientists say that they actively campaigned and manage to get scientists elected to Parliament. They obviously had a large say in directing Korea's science policy.

Professor Flor Lacanilao of UP has listed some major problems in why we have this problem. One is on poor research practice and lack of experienced researchers that hinders the training of young scientists. Professor Raul K Suarez has listed the preconceptions that hinder productivity. And since the training of scientists and the generating of new scientific knowledge is done in the universities, there is the problem of academic reform. I will be a wag. I would call the problem of why we can't produce because of our academic culture as "the Diliman Delusion". I will honour Professor Richard Dawkins with "Diliman Delusion" since the idea that the University of the Philippines is the best university is a matter of religious dogma rather than scientific fact. I'll write something about this as a blog post soon. Since that can't bring us to salvation, then it must be what Rich Dawkins writes about.

This is how I see the problem in the near term

"However what hinders scientific productivity in the near term is the lack of access to the latest literature, especially through online.

The UP College of Science tries to make up for this by having trial access arrangements (while it has provided access to a few like Elsevier). This simply doesn't work. The latest literature are for premium subscribers. One of my earlier papers was not accessible to me in the UP using this trial arrangement!

Since access to scientific literature is key to improving productivity, major
priority should be given towards this end. All science institutes and departments will benefit from this whether these are UP departments or those from other universities."

Other scientists have summarized all the issues

"One recurring complaints here and elsewhere is on funding (e.g., Joselito Alcaria’s comment 34). My suggested readings in comments 5 & 21 show much research money have been spent but did not result in valid publications. (This partly explains the table of publications that form the background of our discussion.) Examples of wasted research funds are also given by Ben Vallejo (15), Raul Suarez (10, 19), and Ed Leano (22).

The next President of the Philippines come June 1, 2010 will be in the important position to strategically direct the Philippines scientific development for the large part of the decade. That's if science is part of the major platform of the next administration. But from the looks of it, none of the candidates have a clear idea of strengthening the education sector. What more of science which is married to education?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Comelec Allows Erap to Run For President

Today is the 9th Anniversary of the EDSA DOS coup d'etat. There is no lack of irony, I suppose, in the news just breaking that the Commission on Elections has decided to allow former President Joseph Estrada to seek the Presidency again in the upcoming May national elections.
"Let the people decide who will be the next president," said the resolution released by the poll body’s Second Division, junking the petition filed against Estrada by lawyers Oliver Lozano, Evillo Pormento, and Elly Pamatong last December. 
The controversy has been brewing ever since President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo pardoned Erap after his overthrow in 2001 and a plunder conviction, in which what figured most prominently was the resolution therein restoring all his civil and political rights.

It has been suggested that PGMA has allowed Erap to get this far in order to splinter the opposition (as if they needed help doing that!) and possibly derail the candidacy of NOYNOY AQUINO whilst secretly supporting MANNY VILLAR.

Personally I think she's thinking farther than 2010, when she will indubitably lose the reins of power, no matter who wins.  I think she is already looking with moist eyes at 2016, when she will be a young 67 or 68 years old, and may now be just as eligible to seek re-election to the Presidency as Erap.

Although Joseph "Erap" Estrada has lagged third in the polls behind Aquino and Villar, no one should count him out!  His mass base is largely intact and with a still fragmented field he can still become a decisive factor in case the race gels into a two man race.

Coral Triangle Business Summit opens this week in Manila

 I thought this could be important for the regional environment and 'greener' business:
Manila, Philippines – Business and policy leaders from across Asia and the Pacific are gathering in Manila this week to identify opportunities for more sustainable growth in the world’s most diverse marine environment.

The Coral Triangle Business Summit opens on Tuesday, 19 January and will attract representatives from more than 100 businesses as well as non-government and international development organizations.

Organized by the Philippine Government and WWF with the assistance of USAID, the Summit will be held on 19 and 20 January and will outline pathways and networking opportunities for key sectors in the Coral Triangle interested in reducing their ecological footprint.

It will also provide a platform for financial support and investment for businesses willing to commit to sustainability and green growth.

“There is a growing demand for seafood and other marine products from this region, as well as increased tourism, coastal development and oil and gas interests, all driven by exploding population growth and increasing affluence,” said Head of WWF Coral Triangle Programme Dr. Lida Pet Soede.

“Business leaders therefore have a central role to play in the protection and on-going management of this unique and important marine environment.

“Thankfully there are emerging opportunities for businesses willing to operate more responsibly, and growing demands from consumers for greener products. This summit will help businesses leaders identify what some of those opportunities are.”

The Coral Triangle is scientifically defined as the marine region encompassing Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste.

Covering just one per cent of the earth’s surface, the Coral Triangle includes 30 per cent of the world’s coral reefs, 76 per cent of its reef building coral species as well as vital spawning grounds for tuna.

The region sustains the lives of more than 120 million people, along with thousands of small and medium businesses that heavily rely on healthy marine environments and resources.

But the Coral Triangle’s marine environments are threatened by over-exploitation and environmental degradation, compounded by population pressures and severe climate change.

According to a WWF report coral reefs could disappear from the Coral Triangle by the end of the century and the ability of the region’s coastal environments to feed people could decline by 80 per cent if no effective action is taken.

For more information:
Charlie Stevens, WWF Coral Triangle Media Office, +61 424 649 689
Paolo Mangahas, WWF Coral Triangle Communications Manager, +63 9293600121
Gregg Yan, WWF-Philippines Communications, +639178334734
  (Press release from the office of Mr. Gregg Yan)


The summit concluded with the private sector outlining a plan to protect the Coral Triangle.

In the seafood sector, fishing operators and buyers agreed to address the problem of overcapacity and overfishing through a number of measures including:

1/ Ensuring that fish are not sourced from illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) operations;
2/ Implementing catch and trade documentation schemes to ensure traceability;
3/ The use of third party certification schemes such as MSC to promote sustainability;
4/ Reducing bycatch (including juvenile fish) through adopting bycatch appropriate technology and techniques; and
5/ The promotion of low carbon fish production methods and trade practices.

Martin Brugman, president of global seafood supplier Culimer B.V said one of the issues discussed was how adding value to fish could help operators to better address the problem of overfishing.

“Ultra-low temperature production of tuna for example allows for better quality fish when it’s landed and helps fishermen get by taking less fish from the oceans but making more dollars,” said Mr Brugman.

 Cebu Air used the summit to significantly extend its program to help protect Apo Reef in the Philippines. ‘Bright skies for Juan’ is an initiative that allows consumers to donate money with each flight to a WWF climate change adaptation program to protect the Philippines’ largest coral reef.

by Jesusa Bernardo
BLOG by Taga-Ilog News

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Religious crackpots

The CBCP urged its flock not to vote for anyone who supports the Reproductive Health bill.

Ricky Carandang reports his strange conversation with Fr. Melvin Castro, the priest who heads the CBCP commission that prepared voting guidelines for the Catholic faithful. (READ HERE)

He asked the priest why candidates who commit plunder and acts of corruption are not being condemned in the same way that reproductive health advocates are.

The priest replied plunder and all of those corrupt acts are an offshoot of the lack of respect for the family and therefore not as bad in the heirarchy of catholic morality as family planning which is as he says, anti-family.

In other words, it’s okay to plunder as long as you don’t wear a condom.

An even crazier religious leader spoke about the disaster in Haiti. (READ HERE)

Pat Robertson, in the January 13, 2010 edition of the Christian Boadcasting Network’s 700 Club, blamed the Haitians for the earthquake that hit their country.

PAT ROBERTSON: And, you know, Kristi, something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, “We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.” True story. And so, the devil said, “OK, it’s a deal.”

And they kicked the French out. You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other. Desperately poor. That island of Hispaniola is one island. It’s cut down the middle. On the one side is Haiti; on the other side is the Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, et cetera. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island. They need to have and we need to pray for them a great turning to God. And out of this tragedy, I’m optimistic something good may come. But right now, we’re helping the suffering people, and the suffering is unimaginable.

KRISTI WATTS (co-host): Absolutely, Pat.

God help us.

Life in Gloria's Enchanted Kingdom

Monday, January 18, 2010

Privilege Speech Vs. Villar's Alleged Violation of Anti-Graft Law

Let me share with the readers the privilege speech delivered by Joker Arroyo in August 1998 against Villar’s alleged violation of anti-graft law. I find this speech significant and relevant in view of Villar’s declaration that he is equipped with tested experience and competence to lead the country once elected President.

I rise on a question of collective privilege on a constitutional issue that affects the integrity of the House and it is very ripe to continue existing.
In the course of the fight for the speakership, Rep. Agapito Aquino, chairman of the reform bloc, raised questions regarding the fitness of Rep. Villar to seek the speakership. Rep. Villar chose to answer the charges but he was overwhelmingly elected Speaker by this House.

Successful election, however, does not answer the questions nor lay to rest charges of wrongdoing, not in government of laws.

We had a colleague, we still have a colleague in the person of Congressman Jalosjos. He was elected by his district but that did not erase his conviction. So, drawing a parallel election does not wipe out the offense.

The questions raised, nay, the charges against Speaker Villar are constitutional in character. And our duty as members of the legislature is peremptory and clear. We took oath to support and defend the Constitution and uphold the laws.

The Constitution has been violated, laws have been broken. If we are to continue in the capacity of public officials, if this Chamber is to continue in its very character as legislature, an indispensable pillar in the system of checks and balances, then we must come to the Constitution’ s defense and the vindication of the laws.

I hesitated long and pondered hard whether to raise these questions for fear of being accused of sour-graping and being a poor sport. But this has nothing to do with sports. Our duty is clear, there are charges of illegalities, the charges must be heard and answered. I am reminded of the case of Speaker Newt Gingrich of the United States House of Representatives. He was investigated by the United States House of Representatives for I think collecting some fees of books he wrote while Speaker (I am not too sure of the facts). But one thing I am sure of is this, the House after hearing censured its own Speaker and penalized him with a penalty was meted out. In other words, there are precedents and we must not hesitate to do our duty.

Article XI of the Constitution is titled “Accountability of Public Officers” it proscribes in Section 16 that:

“No loan, guaranty, or other form of financial accommodation for any business purpose may be granted, directly or indirectly, by any government or controlled bank or financial institution to the President, the Vice President, the Members of the Cabinet, the Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Constitutional Commission, the Ombudsman, or to any firm or entity in which they have controlling interest, during their term."

Charge I. Low cost housing is totally dependent on government agencies such as PAG-IBIG, National Home Mortgage Finance Corporation (NHMFC), SSS, GSIS, and other government financial institutions.

Speaker Villar and the companies of which he is President or Chairman, or where he has a controlling interest, are the biggest low-cost housing developers in the country. To be more specific, it is the Camella and Palmera Homes and its principal subsidiaries, the Household Development Corporation and Palmera and Communities Philippines.

In violation of the constitutional injunction, these companies were given financial accommodations by government banks or financial institutions, among them, PAG-IBIG and the National Home Mortgage Finance Corporation among others, during Speaker Villar’s term as Representative from 1992 to 1998 to finance their business purposes.

Charge II. Representative Villar, from 1992 to 1998 did not divest himself of his interests in, nor did he sever his connections with, the companies aforestated. They obtained financial accommodations from the above government financial institutions while he was a Member of Congress. Since he did not, therefore, such companies were forbidden from entering into such financial arrangements.

Because of our Constitution, Republic Act No. 6713 known as the “Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials” states in Section 9:

“Divestment. – A public official or employee should avoid conflicts of interest at all times. When a conflict of interest arises, he shall resign from his position in any private business enterprise within thirty (30) days from his assumption of office and/or divest himself of his shareholdings or interest within sixty (60) days from such assumption.. .”

Charge III. Nor has Speaker Villar, up to now, I am saying up to now, divested himself of his interests in, nor has he severed his connections with, the companies aforestated. Speaker Villar is in no hurry to divest because he has declared that he is under no obligation to do so. A continuing violation.

Charge IV. Speaker Villar controls the Capitol Bank. Mrs. Villar is the chief executive officer. The Capitol Bank received loans, financial accommodations and guarantees from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas from 1992 to 1998 while he was a Representative. That is constitutionally forbidden.

To sum it up, the constitutional prohibition is very simple. If a Representative has a controlling interest in a firm or entity, that firm or entity cannot be extended a loan, a guaranty, or a financial accommodation for any business purpose from any government financial institution.

If that firm or entity would like to obtain a loan, a guaranty or a financial accommodation from a government financial institution, that firm or entity must first relieve itself of the controlling interest of the Representative.
It is my humble submission that Speaker Villar did not do either.

Republic Act No. 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, provides in Section 6 therefore as follows:

“Sec. 6. Prohibition on Members of Congress. – It shall be unlawful hereafter for any Member of the Congress during the term for which he has been elected, to acquire or to receive any personal or pecuniary interest in any specific business enterprise which will be directly and particularly favoured or benefited by any law or resolution authored by him previously approved or adopted by the Congress during the same term.

The provision of this section shall apply to any other public officer who recommended that initiation in Congress of the enactment or adoption of any law or resolution, and acquires any such interest during his incumbency.”

In other words, even if he was not the principal author, if he did ask or initiated the enactment of such a law, he is covered by the prohibition.
Simply put, during our term of office, each one of us, it shall be unlawful for us to author any law or resolution that would benefit or favor us. The above prohibition shall apply even to that representative who just recommended, not even authored, the enactment of such law that benefited him.

Charge V. Representative Villar, in his bid for the speakership, prepared a propaganda kit that he distributed to Congressmen and media. I think you were given copies of the one. It is entitled “Manny B. Villar, Jr., Achiever and Visionary Leader,” and [in] the “Legislative Performance of Congressman Manny B. Villar, Jr.” Representative Villar unequivocally said that he “incorporated in the landmark Comprehensive and Integrated Shelter Finance Act, Republic
Act No. 7835, the recapitalization of the National Home Mortgage and Finance Corporation and the amendment to the Agri-Aqua Law to include housing investment.”
Speaker Villar’s companies are engaged in housing. He thereby violated the Anti-Graft Law.

The aforementioned Act, which incorporates H.B. No. 6145, co-authored by then Representative Villar mandates “banks to extend to housing loans not utilized for agriculture and agrarian reform credit.” In other words, loanable funds for agriculture and agrarian credit are to be re-channeled to housing, Speaker Villar’s business.

Representative Villar co-authored H.B. No. 11005 which “increased the capital of the National Home Mortgage and Finance Corporation” and is the main source of funding of Speaker Villar’s companies. President Estrada admitted that the National Home Mortgage and Finance Coporation is presently bankrupt. He said that to the following: LAMP President Edgardo Angara, Congressman Agapito Aquino, Presidential Legislative Liaison Officer Jimmy Policarpio, former Congresman Miguel Romero and myself. The President no less said that it is bankrupt. Increasing the capitalization of a bankrupt GFI benefited Representative Villar’s housing companies.
In the same propaganda kit of Speaker Villar, it states that “also passed by the House were Villar’s measures to make Pag-ibig Find contributions compulsory and to increase housing investments with the SSS.” Pag-ibig is a main source of funding of Speaker Villar’s companies.

In a word, Representative Villar’s legslation from 1992 to 1998 were designed to benefit his business, a violation of the Anti-Graft Law.
Now, the same provision of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, provides in the third paragraph of Section 6 thereof, as follows:

It shall likewise be unlawful for such member of Congress or other public officer, who, having such interest prior to the approval of such law or resolution authored or recommended by him, continues for thirty days after such approval to retain such interest.

Charge VI. When those bills that Representative Villar introduced or co-authored were enacted into law, he did not divest himself of his interest in his companies that benefited therefrom.

Now, Republic Act 6713, known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials provides in Section 3 (j):

Section 3 (j) “Divestment” is the transfer of title or disposal of interest in property by voluntarily, completely and actually depriving or dispossessing oneself of his right or title to it in favour of a person or persons other than his spouse and relatives as defined in this Act.

Charge VII. Manuela Corporation applied for and was granted a loan of P1 billion by the SSS, a government financial institution. Another P2 billion loan would be syndicated with another government financial institution, the GSIS. Total syndicated loan from the two GFIs: P3 billion.

Manuela Corporation, a housing and realty corporation, is owned by the family of the wife of Speaker Villar. An indirect financial accommodation. Again, the same Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials states in Section 3 (k) thereof:
Section 3 (k) “Relatives” refers to any and all persons related to a public official or employee within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity, including bilas, inso, or balae.

SSS, historically and as a matter of public policy does not extend direct loans to any company. It extends loans to banks or to public or private financial institutions but not directly to business enterprises. The direct loan to Manuela Corporation is a first in SSS history.

Charge VIII. Manuela Corporation owes the Capitol Bank, which also owned by Speaker Villar, P150 million. There may be nothing wrong with that because both are private entities. However, out of the P3 billion earmarked to liquidate the P150 million Capitol Bank loan to the failing Manuela Corporation. In other words, it is a financial accommodation extended by GFIs to relieve Capitol Bank, owned by Speaker Villar, of the P150 million loan. Another indirect financial accommodation.

Charge IX. The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) is being undertaken in obedience to a constitutional mandate. All lands covered by CARP cannot be used for residential, agricultural, industrial or other uses unless a clearance, conversion, or exemption for a particular property is first issued by DAR.

Speaker Villar’s companies are developing or have developed 5,950 hectares or almost 60,000,000 square meters of CARP lands into residential subdivision without the appropriate DAR issuances that would authorize such lands to be used for residential purposes. A traducement of the constitutionally directed CARP law.

Article XIII of the Constitution, in Sections 4,5,6,7 and 8 states with clarity what the agrarian reform program is all about.

Just to give you an idea about how big 60,000,000 square meters is – my constituency of Makati is only one-third of that size. It is only roughly 21,000,000 square meters. If you add the entire area of Las Piñas and Makati, that is the residential subdivisions covered by the companies of Speaker Villar.

The House cannot reform itself, much less even operate effectively if a cloud of doubt hangs over the Speaker of the House. It is to the interest of the Speaker and the Members no less if these concerns are addressed frontally and resolved forthwith to clear the path for meaningful reforms.

Public office is a public trust. We, the representatives of the people pay a price for getting elected to public office. The Constitution imposes on us certain constraints which we must follow to the letter.

Let me allude to the Members of Congress who are barristers – the Constitution forbids us, lawyers, from appearing in court. In my case, for instance, I was a practitioner up to 1992. I got elected to the House so I stopped practicing, or in other words, I no longer appear in court. That is the price I have to pay. I think I was earning adequately in the practice of law, but I have to make a choice. Do I want to be a lawyer or I want to be a Congressman? If I want to continue being a lawyer, then I must not be a Congressman. If I have to be a Congressman then I must stop lawyering. That is what the Constitution says.

So in the case of Speaker Villar, it is simple. If he wants to go/continue in business and deal with government financial institutions, he can do so but he cannot also be a Congressman. If he wants to be a Congressman, then he must not be in business which deals with the government. We have to pay a price.

So, this case is a learning experience for us all. Whatever the outcome, it will show the things we can do, the things we cannot do, and the things we must do.
I would propose that the House of Representatives constitute itself into a Committee of the Whole to hear the charges and the Speaker’s defense.

He will have a trial that is more than fair to him for he will be judged by the very peers who elevated him to be the first among equals, only this time they will judge him according to the law.

I will never seek the speakership again nor in any manner challenge the leadership of Speaker Villar except on this specific issue of constitutional breach that calls into question the rule of law.

This is how important it is. So I rest my cause.

Is the Chief Justice in the line of succession to the Presidency?

By Joselito Basilio

Matias Defesor said that the Chief Justice “is the most important appointment vested by the Constitution to the President” being fifth in line of succession to the Presidency.

Similarly, in his January 12 column in Manila Standard, Emil Jurado, a veteran journalist and lawyer, stated the following :

But a hiatus in the office of the chief justice poses clear and present danger to the country. There is the order of succession to the presidency: a Chief Justice is fifth in line. If there’s no President, Vice President, Senate President and Speaker of House of Representatives proclaimed by June 30, who will take over the country?

Is the Chief Justice really fifth in order of succession to the Presidency?

The answer in the negative. There is no provision in the Constitution that says expressly or by implication that the Chief Justice is fifth in line of succession to the Presidency.

To be sure, let me quote the relevant provisions of the Constitution on presidential succession.

Where no President and Vice-President shall have been chosen or shall have qualified, or where both shall have died or become permanently disabled, the President of the Senate or, in case of his inability, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, shall act as President until a President or a Vice-President shall have been chosen and qualified.

In case of death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation of the President, the Vice-President shall become the President to serve the unexpired term. In case of death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation of both the President and Vice-President, the President of the Senate or, in case of his inability, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, shall then act as President until the President or Vice-President shall have been elected and qualified.

Even in the United States, the Chief Justice is not in the line of succession to the Presidency per Presidential Succession Act of 1947.

Appointment of New Chief Justice

Among the arguments proffered by several legal luminaries on whether or not the incumbent president may appoint a new chief justice vis-à-vis the constitutional prohibition against ‘midnight appointment' and command that any vacancy shall be filled within 90 days from the occurrence thereof, the one submitted by Fr. Bernas, which is mainly anchored on the principles of statutory construction, is more convincing.

Bernas sees no conflict between such prohibition (Sec. 15, Art. VII) and command (Sec. 4.1, Art. VIII) of the Constitution if the new president appoints the next chief justice.

Let me reproduce in its entirety the article written by Bernas on this issue, viz :

I had originally planned to continue my dialogue with CHEd on the issue of collegiality, but the issue of who should appoint the next chief justice has grown more sexy. Collegiality can wait.

Since, however, there are so many issues involved regarding the appointment of a chief justice after CJ Puno retires on May 17, I shall write in telegraphic style.
It is important to remember that the prohibition against appointments two months before a presidential election until the end of the incumbent’s term was inspired by the reprobation by the Supreme Court of President Garcia’s scandalous “midnight appointments” before President Diosdado Macapagal assumed office.
But the prohibition against midnight appointments in Article VII is general, whereas the command in Article VIII to fill the vacancy in 90 days is special to the Supreme Court. An accepted principle is that a special law creates exception to a general law.

But again Article VII is in negative language, whereas Article VIII is positive. Another accepted principle is that negative language carries stronger weight in law than positive.

However, when laws are apparently in conflict, jurisprudence also says that efforts should be made to give effect to both when possible. Is reconciliation possible?

Yes, it is possible. The prohibition against appointment starts March 10 and lasts only until June 30; the period for filling a vacancy (90 days) lasts until Aug. 17. The new President will therefore still have about 45 days after June 30 to make the appointment. Both Article VII and Article VIII can have effect

The original period proposed for filling vacancy in the Supreme Court was 60 days; it was extended to 90 days without debate. [See Constitutional Commission deliberations.] Thus even the Constitution believes that the vacancy can wait 90 days. There is no rush to amend the Constitution now.

Moreover, according to the Aytona case (1962) and the Valenzuela case (1998), when the president-elect is known, the authority of the incumbent is only to ensure an orderly transfer of power. Call it an argument from morality or delicadeza. Under the automated elections, we should know who the next President will be by May 17 or soon after.

The power to appoint is activated only when a vacancy occurs. Vacancy will occur only on May 17. But by then President Arroyo will only have power to make temporary appointments in the executive department. (Speaker Nograles’ contrary view is a premature attempt to amend the Constitution.)

Appointment is a two-way street: it involves offer and acceptance. A justice who accepts a prohibited appointment is complicit in the violation of the prohibition and opens himself or herself to impeachment for culpable violation of the Constitution.

Appointment to fill an anticipated vacancy is valid only if the person making the appointment still has the power when the vacancy occurs.

The President can appoint only from a list given by the JBC. Cory Aquino made appointments without a JBC list, as Senate President Enrile correctly recalls, but only when there was as yet no JBC.

The JBC is duty-bound to submit a list, but only when there is a vacancy, not necessarily sooner.

However, the JBC has no authority to decide whether Arroyo can appoint or not. The JBC can only prepare a list for whoever has authority to appoint. The JBC is not the Supreme Court.

In substantive issues, the chief justice has only one vote out of 15. In administrative matters, the CJ’s absence can be handled, and has always been handled, internally by the other justices of the Supreme Court through a designated temporary presiding officer. To say that the 14 remaining justices will not be able to temporarily run the Supreme Court properly without a chief justice is to insult all of them, one of whom will almost certainly be the next chief justice.

Problems that can arise during the coming elections do not necessarily need a chief justice. (1) Administrative matters go to the Comelec first. (2) Contests in local elections go to local courts first or to the Commission on Elections. (3) Contests in congressional elections go to the Senate or House Electoral Tribunals where a chief justice does not participate. (4) Presidential election contests go to the Supreme Court; but the Chief Justice is not the Supreme Court. At most his is only one vote out of 15. (5) The same can be said about appeals to the SC of election cases. The quorum of the Court en banc is only eight, not 15.

The only instance I can think of where the presence of the chief justice might be indispensable is when the President is on trial on impeachment. But I cannot see that coming any time soon.

What is dangerous for the nation is not the temporary absence of a chief justice but the possible conversion of the Supreme Court into a play-thing of political powers. The Supreme Court itself should resist this. The Supreme Court boat is already listing, weighted as it is by, among others, threatening endless reconsideration of decisions.

My suspicion arising from all of this is that the rush to appoint a chief justice before the swearing in of a new President is being orchestrated, out of unfounded fears or unstated political reasons, by forces in and around the Palace.
A final word. Those who want President Arroyo to appoint the next chief justice might attempt to persuade CJ Puno to retire much earlier than two months before the elections. That would not be a solomonic solution but an unwelcome political solution. I doubt, though, that CJ Puno would want to leave that as his legacy after a distinguished career in law.

By Joselito Basilio

Fallen Young Red Fighter Kemberly Jul Luna - Within the context of the EDSA 2-Arroyo/Ramos-CPP-NPA connection

THE death of 21-year-old Kemberly Jul Luna caused quite an uproar in the activist and leftist circles. Jul was a popular, charming, merry, and yes, beauteous, true-blue scholar ng bayan with multiple talents and interests from the Mindanao State University (MSU). She died a comrade, a member of the New People's Army (NPA), the military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), during a days-long battle with the military in Sitio Bulacao in Valencia, Bukidnon last December. Her tragic, principled (or ideological?) death made me ponder on the current state of the communist movement in the Philippines.


Called "Kimay" by friends, she was a high school valedictorian from Tubod, Surigao del Norte who enrolled in AB English at MSU. True to the calling of her age, she initially lived what the Philippine Daily Inquirer described as "bon vivant lifestyle" marked by late-night parties. Despite, she still managed sustained academic performance and a host of campus cultural activities. Intelligent, active, party-goer, yet socially involved, Kimay was once a leader of the Catholic Center Campus Ministry and member of the Kalimulan cultural dance troupe until she embraced the leftist perspective.

In February 2008, she became an active member of the League of the Filipino Students. Supposedly, that was the time Kimay "shed herself off of all the petty-bourgeois individualism." By the first semester of school year 2008-2009, she was chosen as adhoc chairperson of MSU's opposition party, STAND-IIT.

Came second semester and she did not enroll as she completely turned to a very radical path. According to STAND-IIT spokesperson Mark Jason Tan Cesar, "She wanted to serve the poor and she was very resolute. She told us that she wanted to work with the peasants in the countryside. There was no stopping her.”

October of the same year, she bravely took part in uncovering the impact of militarization and indiscriminate aerial bombing of war-torn Tagoranoa village in Poona Piagapo in Lanao. She then engaged in full-time work organizing peasants as she reportedly joined the province-wide KASAMA-Bukidnon organization January of 2009.

Young, Scholar of the Masses, NPA, Dead

In August 2009, she informed friends that she left KASAMA-Bukidnon, saying only that has developed greater love for the peasants with every passing day she lives among them. She became an NPA.

Kemberley was reported missing in mid-December 2009 by human rights group KARAPATAN-Bukidnon Chapter. When her body was found days later, it was already much decomposed and dumped with those of seven other alleged NPAs in the forest of Brgy. Concepcion.

CPP-NPA & 'National Liberation'

Columnist Herman Tiu-Laurel laments and questions Kemberley's death, saying that "She follows a long line of fallen young warriors over the past five decades which include several of my own friends and comrades. Is this still the right way to fight for national liberation?"

For its part, the Communist Party of the Philippines released a press release saying:
Her martyrdom is extolled as well by the peasant masses whom she intimately lived with and served as a Red fighter and medic of the NPA until her last day... Her life of tireless work and selfless sacrifice for the downtrodden will forever be etched in the hearts of those she loved, worked and died for.

Unholy Mix: CPP and EDSA 2

I'm not exactly endorsing the path July chose to take. I do respect her decision because the depth of her patriotism led her to offer and sacrifice her youthful, promising, beautiful life in pursuit of her conception of 'national liberation.'

However, the organization she embraced, the CPP-NPA, the Communist Party of the Philippines of the present time, to my mind, showed itself too flexible principle-wise when it took part in EDSA II--what a foreign media outfit described as "the opportunist coalition of church, business elite and left....". I expected better from Jose Maria Sison's group, as I remember questioning back then why they would even consider joining forces with those of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and former President Fidel Ramos whom then-President Joseph Estrada wanted charged for the Centennial Expo and other corruption scandals.

While I don't subscribe to any form of totalitarianism, whether left or right, or religious, I've harbored respect not only for the personal conviction and sacrifice of its members but, as well, for the underground organization's principles. Back in 1985-86, the Philippine communist movement was chided for its decision not to support or join the EDSA I (original) "People Power" Revolution. The 'culprit' was its strict adherence to its principles such that the movement was unwilling to compromise enough to accommodate the unified opposition led by Corazon "Cojuangco" Aquino and Salvador "Doy" Laurel.

Arguably, the CPP-NPA should not have merely stayed at the sidelines during the historic 1986 Edsa 1. Definitely, to my mind, the Philippine Reds should NOT have shifted to opportunist mode during Edsa 2 which aimed for nothing but oust the not-entirely-clean but, nonetheless, relatively patriotic and nationalist Estrada.

By taking part in the ouster of the pro-masa and genuinely elected Erap by coalescing with unquestionably fascist and elite elements, the local communists have indicated their dangerous adoption of what can be seen as counter-revolutionary strategy and anti-populist mind frame at will.

Gloria Arroyo, Part of Joma’s Foresight?

Then again, is it possible that the CPP-NPA calculated that a Gloria Arroyo presidency would be more conducive to their goals? Way back before Gloria was able to grab the presidency, she was without question already a fascist, even imperialist agent.

Along with then President Ramos, Senator Arroyo was responsible for Philippines' membership in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade-World Trade Organization (GATT-WTO) in 1995. She was also the principal author of what has been called "the most environmentally-hazardous law of the land," Republic Act 7942 or the 1995 Mining Act, which permits foreigners a hundred percent ownership of the country's mines.

Compare Gloria to Estrada, who, despite the latter's agreement to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), nonetheless braved neo-imperialist foreign interests by removing sovereign guarantees on government contracts. Did CPP-NPA leader Joma Sison figure that replacing the rather 'uncouth' but popular and pro-masa Estrada with 'fascist' Gloria Arroyo could speed up their brand of national liberation struggle?

2008 Mindanao War: Gloria, Kimay & Joma

It's been speculated that Arroyo virtually cooked up the October 2008 war in Mindanao to present an excuse to declare Martial Law in the country and extend her term scheduled to end in June 2010. Her administration signed the Memorandum of Agreement-Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) with Muslim rebels while well aware that such dismemberment of the Republic won't be allowed by the Christian community not only in Mindanao but in the capital. According to an October 2008 Malaya editorial, the MOA-AD is an "elaborate charade... [apparently designed] to provoke the MILF into going back to war as what is happening now" after the Supreme Court TROed the agreement.

A few months after seeing first-hand the horrors wrought on Davaoenos by the Mindanao war , Kemberly advanced from full-time peasant organizing to become an NPA. Wonder if Joma Sison foresaw Gloria's Illegitimacy would turn the 2001 power grabber into a devil-may-care megalomaniac, thus inadvertently serving as a hopefully effective NPA recruiting machine?

The last paragraph in the January 8, 2010 CPP press release on Kemberley Jul Luna's death reads:
Let us pay tribute to Kimay by amplifying the call for student, youth and other activists to join the New People's Army. As the people's revolution gears for greater advances, there is a growing need for more youth and students and activists from the other sectors to sign up as Red fighters, combine with the peasants and workers and contribute to carrying out the tasks of people's war with unprecedented vitality.

EDSA II - Part of Joma's Foresight, or Plain Mob Crazy?

It is a fact that the Arroyo administration is credited with the most number of salvagings, desaparecidos, and human rights violations in Philippine history, largely targeting the activists and socialists. Has the Philippine Left been had by Arroyo and Ramos when its members supported the EDSA 2 ouster of Estrada?

Or did Joma, et al. chose to avoid a more progressive administration to advance its “people’s war”? I’ve long harbored the suspicion that why Joma’s group went against Erap and took the side of the clearly fascist (or more fascist) Arroyo and Ramos was because Estrada’s ‘bakya‘ or masa appeal presented a strong competition in winning the masses, whose support they need in order to further their war style towards national liberation.

Of course, I could be wrong. I hope I’m dead wrong.

Then there’s the possibility that neither applies for the 2001 Edsa coup. If I remember accurately, broadcaster Korina Sanchez-Roxas commented back in early 2001 as to what could have possibly brought about Edsa 2, saying something like “It’s as if a cloud of something descended upon the people who took part in it.” It is not entirely impossible that the Edsa II people simply went mob crazy. So crazy they went the side of Centennial-Expo-defensive Eddie, ‘Tabako’ Eddie....


by Jesusa Bernardo

References & Images at: SOBRIETY for the PHILIPPINES

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The safest place to be... Palawan but......

Those of us in the Philippine environmental science profession learn in undergraduate geology that Palawan is the most aseismic place in the whole country. For one thing, the island is a piece of the Eurasian continental crust that was ripped from the mainland as a result of the formation of the South China Sea more than 30 million years ago. Palawan is a continental island as compared to the other Philippine islands, which are called "oceanic" meaning their origin is from the oceanic crust. Volcanism built these islands.

In graduate school, we had to pass the master's level course on geological oceanography. I was fortunately under Dr Margaret Goud-Collins (who is now affiliated with Woods Hole) who had not a few class days devoted to how Palawan came to be. I fact the evolution of this island is linked with the evolution of the Sulu and South China Seas. Palawan is relatively aseismic since it is far from any plate subduction zone. In contrast the islands of oceanic Philippines are seismic since they are near these zones and as a consequence, are volcanic. But before Filipinos complain of the bad reputation, the islands came to be due to volcanism. There would be no Philippines without volcanoes. Filipinos depend on their very existence in the archipelago to volcanoes.

The final exam only had one question. How did Palawan form? If that sounded easy, think again. It took me more than three hours to hand in the examination paper!

Now comes the Philippine Daily Inquirer with its banner headline on Palawan. The reporters interviewed Dr Mahar Lagmay, one of our productive volcanologists having published many scientific studies on the discipline. While it is good that the public will have an idea of that scientific fact, we have to be more circumspect. Before we promote Palawan as the next real estate, "earthquake free" development destination, let us remember that

1) Palawan has a unique biodiversity from the rest of the Philippines
2) It is also the most forested island we have left
3) Palawan has also problems with resource extraction
4) Palawan also has a water problem (which is related to rapid population growth)
5) Palawan is home to several indigenous cultures one of which has preserved the traditional Philippine writing system.

With only about 682,000 people, (population density of around 47 per sq km) Palawan is the second to the least populated province in the Philippines. Only another geologically, ecologically and biologically distinct province, Batanes, beats Palawan in this category. Also Palawan is the largest province at 14,649.7 sq km.

If Palawan follows a development route that encourages migration to the island, the island's ecosystems may be stressed. As a continental island, Palawan's soils are less fertile than those found in oceanic Philippine islands. With an expected greater population, it is likely that the island cannot produce food more than what the present population requires. Ecosystem degradation in the Visayan islands have caused a lot of people to migrate to Palawan. The estimated population growth rate is close to 5%, with half of that attributable to migration. The lack of major rivers (since the island is so narrow, but long) and a distinct monsoonal climate contributes to the water problem.

Palawan thus is a threatened island ecosystem. What it least needs is the influx of uncontrolled real estate developments (with seasonal migrants from Metro Manila and other urban centers) which can contribute more to the water problem as well as the waste disposal problem. While tourism can and is a real cash earner for the island economy, this has to be balanced with the aim of maintaining ecosystem integrity. Palawan citizens are well aware of the risks and opportunities

I hope the Philippine Daily Inquirer counterbalances its banner headline with one specifically discussing Palawan's threatened environment. The ultimate ecological nightmare is that we could turn Palawan into another Boracay!

Ben Vallejo

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Death mask makeoever

I don’t know what’s happening to me. I’m not alive. I’m not dead. I’m just…I’m just so lonely.—Julie, Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993)

When a Lakas-Kampi bigwig compared Gloria Arroyo’s anointed successor to President Quezon, the first question that popped in my mind was, “Why compare him to Quezon, why not to Gloria’s father, Diosdado?”

I posed that question to Manuel L. Quezon III, newspaper columnist, TV host and grandson of the late president. His reply was a satirical essay on why and how Quezon was chosen over Rizal, Magsaysay and Macapagal. (His essay—“Makeover”—is archived in his blog

I don’t understand the logic behind Gibo Teodoro’s makeover into Quezon. The only similarity between them is Quezon is dead and Teodoro’s candidacy is also dead.

Although it’s true the heroes who were considered as templates for Gibo are dead, it can be argued that they are dead only in a physical sense.

Rizal, Quezon and Magsaysay continue to live in the hearts of the Filipino people while Diosdado Macapagal continues to live in the heart of his daughter. Thus, it makes more sense to compare Gibo to Diosdado; it’s closer to Gloria’s heart.

Besides, Quezon hated thieves. He would never have been a standard-bearer for a party of thieves.

Maybe Diosdado Macapagal was not seriously considered because Gloria’s endorsement is already “a kiss of death,” and likening Gibo to her father would only be seen as another fatal kiss, this time “a kiss from the dead.” Those endorsements will make Gibo’s campaign double dead. But I’ve been wrong before.

Strange as it may seem, Lakas-Kampi considers Gibo’s candidacy viable. The party must have been encouraged by surveys showing him ahead of four other candidates by a comfortable margin.

I guess the party is banking on money, muscle and machinery to add at least 40 percent to Gibo’s current 5-percent rating between now and May. Besides, who can predict the future; what if, God forbid, Gloria suddenly passes away or, God willing, she admits to her crimes and volunteers to go to prison? Fate could be the game- changer Gibo is looking for. But I could be wrong again.

Gibo might deserve a second glance if he were not the standard-bearer of the Bonnie and Clyde Arroyo Gang. Unfortunately, he is. And that makes it impossible to assess him purely on his own merits.

That’s why when Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita told the press, “Hopefully, the accomplishments of this administration will rub off on Secretary Gibo Teodoro,” I saw Gloria’s many accomplishments—private armies, human-rights violations, dozens of graft-laden deals—rubbing off on Gibo.

That’s why when Ermita said, “In other words, Gibo Teodoro’s explanations overshadow the perception that the elections are just about popularity,” I flashed back to the 2004 presidential election when electoral fraud overshadowed popularity.

And when Ermita kept on attacking popularity and introduced intelligence into the equation—“We had an experience, if it’s just popularity, something wrong would happen. But if we had a leader who really has brains, the country would be managed well”—I remembered Rep. Mikey Arroyo saying that his mother was “10 million times more intelligent” than he was.

Mikey’s remark made me wonder, how much brains does anyone need to become 10 million times smarter than Mikey?

And that’s when I saw that Ermita, like Mikey, mistakes the absence of scruples for intelligence. But I digress.

Going back to why I wrote this article, “Why compare Gibo Teodoro to Manuel Quezon and not to Gloria’s father, Diosdado?”

Who’s got the answer?

I don’t know what’s happening to me. I’m not alive. I’m not dead. I’m just…I’m just so lonely.—Julie, Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993)

When a Lakas-Kampi bigwig compared Gloria Arroyo’s anointed successor to President Quezon, the first question that popped in my mind was, “Why compare him to Quezon, why not to Gloria’s father, Diosdado?”

I posed that question to Manuel L. Quezon III, newspaper columnist, TV host and grandson of the late president. His reply was a satirical essay on why and how Quezon was chosen over Rizal, Magsaysay and Macapagal. (His essay—“Makeover”—is archived in his blog

I don’t understand the logic behind Gibo Teodoro’s makeover into Quezon. The only similarity between them is Quezon is dead and Teodoro’s candidacy is also dead.

Although it’s true the heroes who were considered as templates for Gibo are dead, it can be argued that they are dead only in a physical sense.

Rizal, Quezon and Magsaysay continue to live in the hearts of the Filipino people while Diosdado Macapagal continues to live in the heart of his daughter. Thus, it makes more sense to compare Gibo to Diosdado; it’s closer to Gloria’s heart.

Besides, Quezon hated thieves. He would never have been a standard-bearer for a party of thieves.

Maybe Diosdado Macapagal was not seriously considered because Gloria’s endorsement is already “a kiss of death,” and likening Gibo to her father would only be seen as another fatal kiss, this time “a kiss from the dead.” Those endorsements will make Gibo’s campaign double dead. But I’ve been wrong before.

Strange as it may seem, Lakas-Kampi considers Gibo’s candidacy viable. The party must have been encouraged by surveys showing him ahead of four other candidates by a comfortable margin.

I guess the party is banking on money, muscle and machinery to add at least 40 percent to Gibo’s current 5-percent rating between now and May. Besides, who can predict the future; what if, God forbid, Gloria suddenly passes away or, God willing, she admits to her crimes and volunteers to go to prison? Fate could be the game- changer Gibo is looking for. But I could be wrong again.

Gibo might deserve a second glance if he were not the standard-bearer of the Bonnie and Clyde Arroyo Gang. Unfortunately, he is. And that makes it impossible to assess him purely on his own merits.

That’s why when Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita told the press, “Hopefully, the accomplishments of this administration will rub off on Secretary Gibo Teodoro,” I saw Gloria’s many accomplishments—private armies, human-rights violations, dozens of graft-laden deals—rubbing off on Gibo.

That’s why when Ermita said, “In other words, Gibo Teodoro’s explanations overshadow the perception that the elections are just about popularity,” I flashed back to the 2004 presidential election when electoral fraud overshadowed popularity.

And when Ermita kept on attacking popularity and introduced intelligence into the equation—“We had an experience, if it’s just popularity, something wrong would happen. But if we had a leader who really has brains, the country would be managed well”—I remembered Rep. Mikey Arroyo saying that his mother was “10 million times more intelligent” than he was.

Mikey’s remark made me wonder, how much brains does anyone need to become 10 million times smarter than Mikey?

And that’s when I saw that Ermita, like Mikey, mistakes the absence of scruples for intelligence. But I digress.

Going back to why I wrote this article, “Why compare Gibo Teodoro to Manuel Quezon and not to Gloria’s father, Diosdado?”

Who’s got the answer?

Life in Gloria's Enchanted Kingdom

Joseph "Erap" Estrada Answers Plunder Conviction & Food Security Issues Head-On

Excerpts of the GMA-7 November 2009 Presidential forum (Tagalog parts translated into English)

PRETTY smart and very straightforward answers from former President Joseph "Erap" Estrada. Herein, he confronts the perpetually hot issue of his Plunder conviction with an un-trapo-like honesty. The comebacking politician also defends his performance during his unfinished first term with regards food security.

On his claim of innocence re plunder/theft of government money:
Estrada: Nothing was proven. Nothing was proved with regards [the issue] of my supposed theft of government money, not a single centavo... My conviction pertains to jueteng. That jueteng [money] ....was deposited in the Muslim Youth Foundation, of which I was not a beneficiary. Its Board of Trustees were ...UP professors. So that was clean.

They needed to convict me. That is why they created  that court to convict me. That special court--the first time a special court was created. And that court was created to convict me.  In fact, when I was convicted, two [Sandiganbayan] justices were immediately promoted to the Supreme Court.

So that was my only conviction. And that I supposedly received commission from one corporation, the BW. But the [one who stood as] witness said I wasn't given the money, it was given to Jaime Dichavez, not to me.

Assuming... that the jueteng and the commission to me, they are called private money, ... not goverment money. That's the two counts I was convicted [for]. Those citing the 7171, re government money--none, I'm cleared.

So [if that were true], I wouldn't have the courage to face the Filipino people and run [for president] again if I did steal, if I were guilty.

Look at the conviction, just the two counts. But with regards graft and corruption, every contract I approved was scrutinized. A Task Force was established by the Department of Justice consisting of six lawyers...who scrutinized everything ... but they didn't see any contract tainted with anomaly.  If there were even just one [anomaly] seen, it would have made headlines....

On poverty level during his first term:
Erap: In 1997, just please recall that there was an Asian Economic Crisis.... when i assumed office, our agricultural growth rate was zero-zero. I was able to raise that [agri growth rate level] to 6.6%. Such is documented. And inflation rate was 12%, I reduced it by 3.0%.

 And our GNP, I was able to increase it up to 3.6%. This is documented, professor. You can check it with the Department of Finance.

So what are you claiming that.. .... and I concentrated on food security. Re agriculture, from 0-0 growth, raised to 6.6 [percent].

[My administration] just came from the Asian crisis. And I was able to turn the tide. We were able to overcome the [effects of] the Asian crisis. That is on record, Prof. Monsod if you can go out of your way to find out from the Department of Finance.

On Bro. Eddie Villanueva's question re dealing with the "perpetrators of extrajudicial killings and of massive gargantuan, unabated corruption":

Erap: There should be intense investigation and after the...[conclusion] of the investigation, there should be...  "certainty of punishment," which is what's important. There are many people in government that escape prosecution because their cases are [allowed to be] fixed... even extrajudicial killings....

On the part of GMA-7, including Mel Tiangco, the TV station seemed much more civil and less bias here than during the interview they conducted right after Estrada's announcement to seek the presidency once more time.  Said issue was touched on in an earlier Philippine Commentary article:

Monday, January 11, 2010

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

How COMELEC Violated Separation of Church and State in the Ang Ladlad Case

The title may puzzle some readers since the present controversy does not involve any Church or religious  issue as such. Instead it has to do with a gay rights organization being denied participation in the 2010 Party List election on the grounds that it's political program is immoral and a danger to the Youth; that it's members have been living immoral lives; and that they have even been dishonest about these alleged facts of their personal and collective immoralities in filings for accreditation as a party list organization.  Yet these judgments of disqualifying immorality were arrived at by three Comelec commissioners explicitly as the result of applying not one, but two religious tests based on Biblical and Quranic scriptural quotations about homosexuality.  This is contrary to Law and a grave abuse of discretion since the exercise of civil and political rights is specifically protected against the application of such religious tests--
The 1987 Philippines Constitution's Bill of Rights  Article III Section 5 defines the Principle of the Separation of Church and State in three key provisions:

No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. (Nonestablishment Clause) 
The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. (Freedom of Religion clause). 
No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights. (No Test clause)

In SPP 09-228 the Comelec denied a petition to run in the 2010 Party List elections from  Ateneo Professor Danton Remoto, and the Ang Ladlad LGBT Party, (a sectoral organization of self-described Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender persons) on the ground of IMMORALITY.  A Petition for Certiorari has been filed before the Supreme Court assailing the Comelec resolution.

Everybody should care about this case because it is about what the State can and cannot do to anybody under the Constitution.

Based on commonly accepted statistics, the chances are that you, dear Reader, would not identify yourself as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person (although the chances that you might identify as LGBT--are not necessarily imponderable or even small.)  Of course there are no official statistics since these categories are not part of the population census, which goes as far as distinguishing males and females but not sexual preferences or personal practices.

Nevertheless, anybody who is not a hermit knows of, works, lives with, or is related to someone who is homosexual. In every historical epoch and every civilization, homosexuals have constituted some fraction of the human population. In Philippine society, some of our most famous personalities in show biz and politics are homosexuals (both male and female). Recently the Comelec Chairman Jose Melo even claimed that homosexuals are well represented in the Congress--which might've been a better excuse for disqualifying Ang Ladlad--by claiming they do not represent a marginalized sector of society!

The SEPARATION of CHURCH and STATE is a favorite topic of mine.

Nowhere else does the Law approach the wit of Poetry than when it defines the relationship between Government and Organized Religion in the Nonestablishment clause; between Theology and Morality in the No Religious Test clause; and upholds a Freedom of Religion so broad it protects the pious and devout's Freedom OF Religious Profession and Worship with dedication equal to that of the Atheists' Freedom FROM Religion.

The American roots of 1987 are quite obvious in the corresponding US Constitution of 1787.
The No Religious Test clause of the United States Constitution is found in Article VI, section 3 where it appears in the context of qualifications for public office:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but, no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
This principle evidently predates the so-called Establishment Clause in the US First Amendment (Bill of Rights, Freedom of Religion, Speech and of the Press)--
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Several things are immediately noteworthy in comparing US and RP formulations:

(1) Both Constitutions define Separation of Church and State as a series of PROHIBITIONS upon the State regarding what it can and cannot do with regard to religion.

(2) Freedom of Religion is inextricably linked to Freedom of Speech and Expression and is indeed a proper subset of that much larger body of personal and common liberty guaranteed by both Constitutions.

(3) The No Religious Test provision of the US Constitution, which largely applies to the qualifications for government officials, is vastly expanded under the 1987 Philippine Constitution to cover "the exercise of civil and political rights". This much stronger principle amounts to a No Theology Clause and is the inspiration for this blog's motto that "Democracy is all Morality but no Theology."


Separation of Church and State has lately figured prominently in three fresh controversies.

The first involves Danton Remoto and the Ang Ladlad LGBT Party of "Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders" which has been denied participation in the Party List system of representation in Comelec Resolution SPP 09-228 "on moral grounds".

What are these "moral grounds"?

First, Comelec cites Ang Ladlad's own description and definition of its LGBT membership and their sexual orientation as
"a person's capacity for profound emotional, affectional and sexual attraction to, and intimate and sexual relations with, individuals of a different qender, of the same gender, or more than one gender."
Comelec asserts that,
"This definition of the LGBT sector makes it crystal clear that petitioner tolerates immorality which offends religious beliefs."
Comelec finds that the Petitioner maintains IMMORAL BELIEFS whose offensiveness to religious beliefs Comelec demonstrates by quoting from the Christian Bible and the Islamic Q'uran passages that condemn to "fire and brimstone" various forms of homosexuality.

In a Comment from the Comelec's own Legal Dept,
"The 'ANG LADLAD' apparently advocates sexual immorality as indicated in the Petition's par. 6F: 'Consensual partnerships or relationships by gays and

(2) serve no other purpose but to satisfy the market for violence, lust or pornography; (3) offend any race or religion; (4) tend to abet traffic in and use of prohibited drugs; and (5) are contrary to law, public order, morals and good customs, established policies, lawful orders, decrees and edicts;

(3) Those who shall sell, give away or exhibit films, prints, engravings, sculpture or literature which are offensive to morals. (As amended by PD Nos. 960 and 969)."

Next, Comelec finds that Ang Ladlad Party has been UNTRUTHFUL,

"Petitioner should be denied accreditation not only for advocating immoral doctrines but likewise for not being truthful when it said that it "or any of its nominees/party-list representatives have not violated or failed to comply with laws, rules, or regulations relating to the elections".

But the resolution does not mention which laws, rules or regulations relating to elections the Petitioner has not complied with.

Third, and most seriously , the Comelec rules that allowing Ang Ladlad LGBT to participate in the Party List elections would result in spiritual and moral degradation of the Youth by exposing them to an immoral and corrupting environment:
Furthermore, should this Commission grant the petition, we will be exposing our youth to an environment that does not conform to the teachings of our faith. Lehman Strauss, a famous bible teacher and writer in the U.S.A said in one article that ''older practicing homosexuals are a threat to the youth"11. As an agency of the government, ours too is the State's avowed duty under Section 1312, Article II of the Constitution to protect our youth from moral and spiritual degradation.

We are not condemning the LGBT, but we cannot compromise the well-being of the greater number of our people, especially the youth.
COMELEC has opened a Pandora's Box of Trouble by declaring as IMMORAL the doctrines, emotional preferences and sexual practices of the Ang Ladlad Party of self-described lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members.

Surely its own ruling obligates Comelec to ensure that NOBODY else filing a COC is guilty of the same immoral doctrines, emotional preferences and sexual practices it has condemned in Ang Ladlad's LGBTs. Moreover, I don't see how they could look the other way at heterosexual immoralities, infidelities, indiscretions of individuals and party lists.

In effect, SPP 09-228, the Resolution denying Ang Ladlad accreditation, imposes novel standards of SEXUAL MORALITY that must be met by all candidates--local, provincial and national -- to participate in the 2010 elections.

It would be grossly discriminatory to apply the new Morality Test only to Ang Ladlad. So I think the Comelec en banc will see the wisdom of reversing this Resolution and accredite Ang Ladlad.

The conclusions of Comelec about the immoral beliefs and practices of the Ang Ladlad Party were quite clearly reached as the result of applying RELIGIOUS TESTS to the perceived lifestyles and beliefs of the LGBT community (which Comelec's Chairman Melo claims is a large subset of the population well-represented even in Congress!).

A justifiable suspicion that Comelec has GRAVELY ABUSED ITS DISCRETION in this case arises now that such RELIGIOUS TESTS have resulted in the denial of civil and political rights to participate in the Party List system of representation