Friday, November 30, 2007

Rapporteur is French for Reporter and Amparo is Gobbledygook for Unconstitutional

UN Rapporteur Philip Alston is NOT the United Nations. Neither is the UNCHR (Human Rights Commission). But that banner headline on Wednesday, UN: AFP behind killings gave many PDI readers the false impression that the United Nations itself was blaming the Armed Forces of the Philippines for the killings. (No one does headline innuendo more adroitly!)
Thus the Final Report of Philip Alston to UNCHR on his Mission to the Philippines arrived like a bombshell the Wednesday before the Makati Peninsula stand-off. Perhaps Sen. Trillanes and Gen. Lim thought the authorities would be too stunned to react if they pulled some kind of stunt on Thursday, which they did by walking out of Judge Pimentel's Court room and holding court instead at the Makati Peninsula, along with several hundred journalists and supporters. Trillanes and Lim misread both the authorities and the Public if they thought they could foment a withdrawal of support scenario based on the Alston Report and the takeover of yet another posh Makati address.

But the record should be set straight. Philip Alston's Report is NOT a judicial or legal finding. It is a summary of observations and opinion of an essentially JOURNALISTIC nature. It is the result of a nine day visit to the Philippines last February during which Philip Alston conducted some number of interviews and briefings in Manila, Baguio and Davao. From the testimonies and documents he was shown by both government and NGO sources, Alston concludes that between 100 and 800 killings have taken place since 2001 outside the bounds of Philippine and international law. The lower figure comes from police and military authorities while the higher numbers come from NGO's like Stop The Killings and Karapatan.

The Alston Report is not however a primary source of data or evidence on extra-judicial killings in the Philippines. It's main objective is to try and explain the killings as such, so that the UNCHR can later come to further conclusions and recommendations. Alston lays most of the blame for extra-judicial executions of leftist activists since 2001 on the Philippine Military and its Commander in Chief, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Alston finds "strikingly unconconvincing" evidence that the CPP NPA NDF is currently engaged in a large-scale purge adding that "The military’s insistence that the “purge theory” is correct can only be viewed as a cynical attempt to displace responsibility."

Alston specifically blames the Arroyo administration's counter insurgency strategy which targets "front organizations" of the communist movement by going after its local leaders and organizers using both legal and illegal tactics. This focus on above ground mass organizations and leaders as communist fronts, claims Alston, has led to the reported string of extra-judicial executions of leftist activists under the Arroyo administration. And he asserts that the killings continue because the perpetrators of past killings have not been arrested or punished by the criminal justice system.

A careful reading of the Alston Report reveals it to be "balanced" in the sense that it does not spare the CPP NPA NDF from the accusation that it too conducts extra-judicial executions and engages in insurgent activities and combat tactics considered illegal from the standpoint of international law. These violations include the holding of sham "people's courts" which can pass death sentences and other punishments without any legal framework and are tantamount to kangaroo courts.

However, the Alston Report puts the Philippine Government and the communist insurgents on the same moral and legal level of equivalence. The basic thesis of the Report is that both sides are guilty of violating Philippine and international law, but that the Philippine government and military are somehow more guilty.

It ignores the essential reality of the insurgency, which is an armed, violent and ongoing criminal activity that is supported by organized extortion and front organizations. It is silly to deny or ignore the fact that the CPP makes use of front organizations and personalities in almost everything it does. And that MOST its work is actually conducted not through the NPA, but through the NDF and its "united front".

One might ask Mr. Philip Alston to name the members of the CPP NPA NDF that he has met or communicated has communicated with. I bet he would be hard pressed to give one example for each organization because even Jose Maria Sison won't readily admit to being a Member, even if he is widely acknowledged as the CPP's founder and still chairman and grand poobah.

Nonetheless, it may yet be useful that at least Philip Alston acknowledges and identifies the decades-long-in-the-tooth communist insurgency as the locus of circumstances and events at the very center of the phenomenon of extra-judicial killings of leftist activists.

Many people find it a logically persuasive claim, at first, that leftist activists are being killed extra-judicially by rightist elements, such as military or vigilante death squads, a practice known as "SALVAGING" under the Marcos regime. Yet it is not only Marcos fascists or military rogues who've tortured and killed leftist activists in the past, but also the leftists themselves. This happened in paranoiac purges against alleged deep penetration agents of the government in the 1980s and assassination strikes against Joma's ideological and organizational rivals.

But here is a counter-example for Mr. Alston to consider in his stack of evidence that comes from November 2007 and not November 1987.

At STOP-THE-KILLINGS website take a look at this still uncorrected entry A family of 4 abducted by soldiers of the 74th IBPA in Agdangan, Quezon Province, Philippines. This entry from 4 November 2007, is typical of the 850 or more extrajudicial killings or enforced disappearances that United Nations Rapporteur Philip Alston mentions in his Final Report to the UN Human Rights Commission, for which he blames mainly the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The entry and report in the Stop the Killings Website is false and wrong!

In the Amparo Plea of Malapute a certain Roperto Malapute claimed to the court that his son Edwin may have been abducted by the military in Quezon province. Turns out, both his son Edwin, daughter Edwinalyn, her husband Primo Retuda and their young daughter, were all in the protective custody of the Philippine Militar --as rebel returnees waiting to be reintegrated. Although Edwin agreed to return home with his father, Edwinalyn and Primo indicated their desire to stay under the military's protection.

We do not of course know what the true relationship is between father, his son, daughter, granddaughter and son-in-law. But the circumstances and disposition of the writ of amparo issued in this case clearly suggests that the Puno Court's inventions have indeed, vastly expanded the substantive rights of nosey relatives. It has also informed the New People's Army exactly where their missing recruits, Mr. and Mrs. Reduta have gone off to.

What I take from this case is the realization that a large percentage of the cases that Philip Alston considers as "evidence" of extra-judicial killings or enforced disappearances may be similar in circumstances and details to the Malapute case. How would he know? He was here for a scant nine days, just like any other parachute journalist. All of a sudden he's got Ph.D. on Philippine security affairs?

The communist movement puts a lot of its time and resources into above ground operations, fund raising by extortion, protection and blackmail; political recruitment and organizing; the legal parliamentary work at Congress and of course, peaceful but confrontational mass actions and demonstrations that ever keep the political kettle warm.

The Alston Report also takes to task the Philippine Justice system, which is of course an Augean Stable of backlog, gridlock and corruption. But let me help him out a little...

Although it may not be quite enough for somebody like Philip Alston, the Philippine Supreme Court is unabashedly activist. Nothing could make this clearer than the introduction of the writs of amparo and habeas data. They are touted by the Chief Justice Reynato Puno as the Court's contribution to the protection of human rights. The Supreme Court is said to have unsheathed special powers in making such new "Rules of Court" found in the following Constitutional provision on the powers of the Judiciary:
1987 Art VIII Section (5) Promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights, pleading, practice, and procedure in all courts, the admission to the practice of law, the Integrated Bar, and legal assistance to the underprivileged. Such rules shall provide a simplified and inexpensive procedure for the speedy disposition of cases, shall be uniform for all courts of the same grade, and shall not diminish, increase, or modify substantive rights. Rules of procedure of special courts and quasi-judicial bodies shall remain effective unless disapproved by the Supreme Court.
In promulgating its new Rules of Court on the Writ of Amparo has the Supreme Court complied with the above provision not to diminish, increase or modify substantive rights? In the Supreme Court's News Flash September 2007, we have this on the new Rules of Court on the Writ of Amparo:
Today, the Supreme Court promulgated the rule that will place the constitutional right to life, liberty, and security above violation and threats of violation. This rule will provide the victims of extralegal killings and enforced disappearances the protection they need and the promise of vindication for their rights. This rule also empowers our courts to issue reliefs that may be granted through judicial orders of protection, production, inspection, and other reliefs to safeguard one’s life and liberty,” said Chief Justice Puno.

The writ of amparo imposes a higher standard of diligence (extraordinary diligence) on public officers or employees than on private individuals or entities (ordinary diligence). There shall be no presumption of regularity on the part of the public official or employee. The filing of the petition for the said writ is not mutually exclusive with the filing of other reliefs (i.e. habeas corpus), as well as the filing of separate criminal, civil, or administrative actions.
If one considers those criminal, civil or administrative actions which "not mutually exclusive" with the filing for a Writ of Amparo, not one denies the PRESUMPTION OF REGULARITY on the part of public officials and employees. Since the filings of one or more of all of these reliefs is "not mutually exclusive" and one of them, the writ of amparo in fact denies the presumption of regularity on the part of the public official, has not such denial been effected for any concurrent legal reliefs being sought??? If so, has not a substantive right -- the right to a presumption of regularity -- been diminished thereby?

Hmmm, one might think the new Rule on Amparo violates the Constitution! But that would not be unusual for this Supreme Court which does not seem to regard the Constitution as a Social Contract at all but a pliable Construction for them to invent and re-invent, to redact as though it were a Bible.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Breaking News--Stand-off at the Peninsula Hotel--Trillanes--Danilo Lim

I am monitoring TV and Radio coverage in Manila of a breaking news event involving Senator Sonny Trillanes, General Danilo Lim, and the highest levels of the government over an incident at Makati's posh Manila Peninsula Hotel. As of this posting a Live Press Conference is going on from Malacanang Palace with Press Sec. Ignacio Bunye, DENR Sec. Lito Atienza, Presidential Legal Adviser Sergio Apostol, Trade Sec. Peter Favila, Finance Sec. Gary Teves. Messages of support from provincial governors and city mayors are being highlighted as supporting the president. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez has just made an appearance. Updates will be in the Comment Section for an accurate time stamp.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Power of Prayer--Asking God to Kill Someone Else

GMA TV News has the neatest animation of the tracks of the two typhoons, Hagibis and Mitag during the last week or so, and their predicted paths, also shown in a snapshot of the Western Pacific from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii. You can see Hagibis crossing just north of Mindanao towards Palawan, and supertyphoon Mitag approaching the Bicol region from the east. But after hundreds of thousands had evacuated to churches, schools and government shelters, Mitag changed direction, thus "sparing" Bicol. One editorial asks the philosophical question,
What happened? Answered prayers, many Bicol residents said, recalling how people in the region swamped radio stations with messages urging prayers. Priests noted that attendance at Masses grew as “Mina” was reported to be approaching closer. When the typhoon changed course and spared Bicol, one priest said it was “sort of a miracle.”
Answered prayers? A sort of miracle? But what should we make of the later headline: Mina death toll rises to 12 as storm leaves RP (but in Isabela, Northern Luzon and the Babuyan Islands). Shades of the oratio imperata (Prayer for Rain) that the Catholic Church also led the Faithful in besieging Heaven itself with supplications for, earlier in the year, when rumors spread in media of "drought." Hmm...seems to be working a lil too well, folks.

By the way, the naming of typhoons and other terrestrial storms can be a bit confusing because there are regional and local naming conventions in use all over the world. For example the Western Pacific regional names for the two storms mentioned above are "Hagibis" and "Mitag" which were actually contributed by the Philippines and Micronesia to a rotating list of names used by group of 14 participating countries. Meanwhile, the "Philippine region" names for the same storms are "Lando" and "Mina" respectively. The authoritative source for all the agreed upon names is the National Hurricane Center of the US National Oceanograhic and Atmospheric Administration, including Philippine region names.

FYI: For 2008, be advised that the Philippine region names that will be assigned to typhoons are Ambo, Butchoy, Cosme, Dindo, Enteng, Frank, Gener, Helen, Igme, Julian, Karen, Lawin, Marce, Nina, Ofel, Pablo, Quinta, Rolly, Siony, Tonyo, Unding, Violeta, Winnie, Yoyong, Zosimo.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Who Cares About Wahab Akbar Anyway?

Senator Juan Ponce Enrile does not see terrorism in the Batasan Blast. He says that it was not an attack on Congress "as an institution" and that a "coercive element" on government was absent. There's also that absurd matter of election season suspension of the law, but we won't bother with that detail for now... What is amazing is how people who normally detest JPE seem fervently willing to join him in this state of denial.

Yet the Batasan Bombers committed this daring and brazen mass murder right at the doorstep of the House of Representatives, inside the Batasang Pambansa Complex in Quezon City which is the equivalent of the US Capitol Building in Washington DC. How can the Batasan blast not be an attack on the Congress as an institution? Surely the venue of the assassination was not an accidental one. Even if this attack was directed at one individual, that individual was still a Member of the House of Representatives. The assassination of Wahab Akbar violates the security of the Congress and its Members, physically and psychologically. The government is forced to accept this fait accompli as a failure to protect its own elected officials and ensure the security of a major branch of the State.

On Friday, the Australian Embassy in Manila expressed the opinion that the Batasan Blast was indeed a terrorist attack and issued a fresh advisory to travelers about terrorist attacks possible "anywhere in the Philippines".

It was a "directed attack on one individual," was how DIlG Sec. Ronnie Puno put it. That individual was Wahab Akbar, the Congressman from the lone district of the province of Basilan, who was killed Nov. 13 by a bomb hidden in a parked motorcycle and remotely detonated with a cellphone, as he was about to board his own car at the south entrance to the House of Representatives building in the Batasan Complex in Quezon City.

But then, why should we care about some Basilan politician like Wahab Akbar, with his checkered past, his terrorist associations, his self-aggrandizing speeches? Like the first and only privileged speech he ever made: "I AM Basilan!" by Wahab Akbar (July 31, 2007) following a wild month in which Father Bossi was kidnapped, then mysteriously released, then fourteen Marines were ambushed by the MILF after which ten were beheaded by the ASG, yet the Govt has not served a single one of the 130 arrest warrants issued by Basilan Judge Leo Principe. And here, Wahab Akbar is dead, blown to smithereens!

Who has the balls to conceive of and carry out such a brazen attack in a high profile venue like the Batasang Pambansa? Amazingly, the Philippine National Police have charged at least four persons with multiple murder after a big break in the case just days afer the blast. After a P5 million reward for information on the Batasan blast was announced by Malacanang, the Philippine National Police got a hot tip and a big break. The police raided a house in Payatas killing three suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf in an ensuing gunbattle including a bomb making expert named Abu Jandal. Police also arrested three others whom they are charging with multiple murder in connection with the Batasan bombing based on evidence gathered at the crime scene and during the raid. A fourth suspect, said to be Hajarun Jamiri former mayor of Tuburan town has also been arrested in Malate, Manila. The investigation continues into the question of the Master Mind, with the family Akbar itself seeming to be willing to wait on authorities to get to the bottom of it.

But does the assassination of Wahab Akbar qualify as a terrorist crime? What harm to the government comes from the Abu Sayyaf successfully carrying out an explosive assassination right on the grounds of the Congress itself?

Several come to mind. It is a big propaganda victory for the ASG since the front pages and prime time newscasts have been given over to the powerful message that the Republic cannot enforce the laws even right where it makes those laws--the Congress! The government evidently cannot guarantee the personal and physical security of its lawmakers. An institution like the House of Representatives, (whatever one thinks of the current quality of its tenants) is surely under attack and obviously has a major security problem, when one of its Members is blown up with dynamite on its own premises, by an assassin who dials a cell phone number safely from a distance.

It is also a big advertising and marketing coup because with the live demonstration of its latest technology and expertise, everyone, on both giving and receiving ends, is made aware of the tender services available for sale and delivery by ASG, aka Murder, Inc.

The terrorist assassination of Wahab Akbar sends a message about what happens to those who even nominally turn away from the organized Jihad and decide to participate in the parliamentary democratic process. In this sense, the assassination directly contravenes the government's policy of attracting and integrating both Bangsamoro leaders and ordinary citizens to the task of peaceably working towards justice and reform in Mindanao.

There is of course, one absurd reason the Batasan Blast cannot be considered terrorism under Philippine Law:The very last provision of the Human Security Act (R.A. 9372 The Anti Terrorism Law) has got to tickle even the most mirthless of terroristes

Sec. 62 Special Effectivity Clause: Thereafter, the provisions of this Act shall be automatically suspended one month before and two months after the holding of any election.

Now, since the Barangay Elections were held on October 29, the provisions of RA 9372 are automatically suspended between October 1 and December 31. The Opposition Senator Nene Pimentel and several other very shortsighted legislators put in this provision out of O.A. because they claimed the Anti Terrorism Law could be used as a political weapon before, during and after elections. And so they put in the effectivity clause a blanket suspension of the Act for three months around election time.

But there is also an explicit Definition of terrorism as a crime in the Human Security Act and one wonders if the Batasan blast qualifies as a terrorist crime under that definition.

The Human Security Act of 2007 (Rep. Act 9372 the Anti Terror Law) defines the Crime of Terrorism in the Philippine jurisdiction:
R.A. 9372, Section 3. Any person who [1] commits an act punishable under any of the following provisions of the Revised Penal Code:

1. Article 122 (Piracy in General and Mutiny in the High Seas or in the Philippine Waters);
2. Article 134 (Rebellion or Insurrection);
3. Article 134-a (Coup d‘Etat), including acts committed by private persons;
4. Article 248 (Murder);
5. Article 267 (Kidnapping and Serious Illegal Detention);
6. Article 324 (Crimes Involving Destruction,

or under

1. Presidential Decree No. 1613 (The Law on Arson);
2. Republic Act No. 6969 (Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Waste Control Act of 1990);
3. Republic Act No. 5207, (Atomic Energy Regulatory and Liability Act of 1968);
4. Republic Act No. 6235 (Anti-Hijacking Law);
5. Presidential Decree No. 532 (Anti-piracy and Anti-highway Robbery Law of 1974); and,
6. Presidential Decree No. 1866, as amended (Decree Codifying the Laws on Illegal and Unlawful Possession, Manufacture, Dealing in, Acquisition or Disposition of Firearms, Ammunitions or Explosives)

[2] thereby sowing and creating a condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace, [3] in order to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand shall be guilty of the crime of terrorism.
Thus, the crime of terrorism is a COMPOSITE CRIME that involves the commission of other crimes already punishable under the law, "in order to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand" using extraordinarily lethal or threatening means. Terrorist crimes, as distinguished from "ordinary" crimes, have an END or objective of forcing some unlawful demand upon the government through MEANS that are so lethal, random, insidious, or threatening, that the authorities have no moral choice but to comply. Even if the extent of such compliance is a helpless acquiescence, both the ends and the means of a terrorist act are considered to be morally unacceptable.

FEARFUL and LETHAL MEANS "...thereby sowing and creating a condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace...";

A terrorist crime is expected to involve the use of remarkable means and weapons or extraordinary tactics whose sheer deadliness, random destructiveness, or diabolical conception seems designed to sow fear and panic in people. However, it has only gradually been accepted by critics of the law that suspected terrorists need not actually succeed in creating a condition of widespread fear and panic for this element to exist and be applicable to a given instance. In fact, a credible threat or ability to foment such a condition fear and panic in the populace may arguably have greater coercive effect on the government. In addition, as a matter of public policy, we would NOT want the public to ever react with unnecessary fear or panic under any threat condition. Thus this element of the crime of terrorism distinguishes the MEANS employed in a terrorist crime from ordinary instances of that crime.

UNLAWFUL and COERCIVE INTENT " order to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand..."

Although JPE is right that no explicit demand letter or other "coercive element" has been associated with the Batasan blast, there now exists the possibility of using death threats by means of remote conrolled bombs as a very potent threat that other House Members or even Senators their staff members, and other high government officials cannot afford to ignore.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Read This, But Please Don't Kill Yourself

Does Poverty Cause Suicide?

In 2004, the Times of India asked this question after stories circulated of farmers committing suicide in one of the provinces out of financial distress. But they concluded that, "Suicide is related to illness, old age, teenage stress, family problems, and a host of minor causes. Financial stress comes rather low in the list." Curiously, they also quoted a US study, "A 1986 study in the US showed that teen-age suicides increased 7 per cent following nationally televised suicide stories. Thus, the media not only discover but also create suicide waves."

Recently, we had our own media-led stampede of "jumping to conclusions" on the issue of poverty causing suicide in the case of Marianett Amper when the PDI headline breathlessly read, Girl who killed self lamented family's poverty in diary
DAVAO CITY, Philippines -- A 12-year-old girl, who became despondent over her family’s poverty, hanged herself inside their makeshift house a day after her father told her he could not give her the P100 she needed for a school project.
PDI later canonized the young Mariannet Amper by calling her "a Saint of Poverty" then laying a Guilt Trip on everybody!
PDI Editorial: "BY HANGING herself a day after All Saints' Day, 12-year-old Mariannet Amper of Davao City has become the embodiment of the Filipinos' worst nightmare, a saint of poverty for a nation that continues to deny the blighted reality of its impoverishment."
Published a few days after the suicide, this editorial and other writings like it, started a FEELING FRENZY among publicly bleeding hearts, both in the Main Stream Media and in the blogosphere. It became ammo against the Palace's glee over glad tidings from Social Weather Stations, where self-rated poverty statistics are said to be on the low side.

Then there appears to be a fly in the ointment, an inconvenient truth about theory that "poverty" caused Marianett to take her own life.

Journalist R.M. Balanza of the Mindanao news blog durianburgdavao -- covers the Bizarre Twist to Marianet Amper's suicide. Meanwhile, GMA-TV has the autopsy result indicating the 12 year old may have been raped some weeks before she apparently hanged herself November 2. Cheryl Fiel of Davao Today has Mayor Roger Duterte's remarks after the results were made known following exhumation of the 12 year old girl five days after her burial.
“It’s not fair to us, it’s not fair to the girl who died, it’s not fair to the Filipino people because you are covering the truth,” Duterte said. “If there’s poverty in our midst, it’s not the fault of the city government of Davao, we are not the captain of the ship, it’s Manila,” he added. He said the “whole episode has turned into a very sordid event, because of the penchant of people to color the incident with romantic fairy tale.”
But Conrado de Quiros seems to be sorely disappointed that such a perfectly serviceable romantic fairy tale about victimhood, poverty and hunger stalking the land, has apparently been blown up by a medico legal examination. He thinks the authorities are making it up the way some newspapers do:
What reason would the authorities have to lie? Plenty. Rodrigo Duterte, who was among the first to broadcast the theory of rape, is an ardent supporter of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and can’t particularly like it that his favorite hometown has become the source of this regime’s hugest embarrassment -- at a time that it’s desperately trying to convince the citizens that unbeknownst to them things have never been better for them than today. It is to his, and Arroyo’s, interest to show that no one, least of all a child, commits suicide in this country out of impoverishment and deprivation.
Well there you have it folks. The whole rape angle is a lie by the pro-GMA mayor of Davao, sez de Quiros, (even if it does make more tragic sense than the Sad Fairy Tales of Poverty and Hunger Causing Suicide.)

As cruel and gruesome as the circumstances of this process must be for the family and friends of this little girl, I think the Public does have a right to know the truth about her suicide, after she had just been made the Poster Girl of the Poor and Oppressed. Dr. Tess Termulo of Prudence and Madness bravely says so.

By the way, global suicide statistics show that the Philippines must be doing great if high suicide rates follow from "extreme poverty, hunger and deprivation" as claimed by the the new Marianett Devotees, since the Philippines is only No. 83 or thereabouts at 2.1 suicides per 100,000. This is compared to Russia at No. 3 and Cuba at No. 17; Japan (not an impoverished country) at No. 8; and Belgium, Finland, and Switzerland all in the Top Sixteen most suicidal countries.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Artistic Freedom and the Right To Be Unhappy With It

(Click to Enlarge)

The Neo-Angono Mural of the National Press Club has been offered for sale to the Philippine Daily Inquirer (P910,000. As is, slightly bastardized; 32 ft by 8 ft full color mural). The Mural contains the likenesses of at least six living persons closely associated with that favorite newspaper including founding chair Eugenia Apostol; Editor-in-chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc; Editorial consultant Amando Doronila; and columnists Randy David, Juan Mercado, Conrado de Quiros. Also, the "central figure" in a red shirt is reading the Opinion Editorial Page of PDI. Although the offer to sell was made tongue in cheek, it is likely that the NPC's Louis Logarta would earnestly entertain any truly serious bid. If the mural is a paean to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, maybe they should be payin' for it, eh? But how did it come to this between National Press Club and the Neo Angono Artists Collective?

HOW DID IT COME TO THIS? Last August, NPC offered the Neo Angono Artists collective 910,000 pesos to do a mural in three months on the History of Press Freedom in the Philippines for its headquarters restaurant in Manila in time for its 55th anniversary last Oct. 26. NPC paid in full and took delivery two days before planning to unveil the mural with President Gloria Arroyo in attendance. But lo and behold the Mural did not seem to be about the History of Press Freedom at all, but rather a visual or graphic innuendo about the Current Events involving alleged extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. They knew that having the President unveil the Neo Angono mural, as delivered, would have been like the scene in The Godfather when a disrespectful Mafia don wakes up to a horse's severed head in his plush, plush bed!

Another PDI pundit (not in the mural) -- Raul Pangalangan (A Passion for Reason) likens the recent NPC Mural Brouhaha to Diego Rivera's disastrous Lenin mural for Rockefeller Center in 1933 in which the "fiery Mexican Marxist" made Vladimir Lenin the central figure of his mural for the main lobby of the RCA building at Rockefeller Center in New York City. Asked to remove or modify the face of Lenin, Rivera refused, offering instead to paint Abe Lincoln into the picture! Accused of anti-capitalist propagandizing, Diego Rivera famously declared that, "All art is propaganda!"

According to the Encyclopedia of Censorship Diego Rivera was called down from his high scaffolding while putting the finishing touches to Man at the Crossroads, was paid in full the balance of his commission, dismissed from the project, banned from the premises and his nearly finished mural discreetly covered with tarpaulin. The work was destroyed a few months later -- "pulverized with hammer and pick axe" -- and was never publicly displayed. The fate of Rivera's Mural neatly illustrates the point of Raul Pangalangan about ownership of art as physical objects. Since he had accepted payment in full for his mural, Diego Rivera could not prevent its "pulverization" by Rockefeller Center. Likewise, no one could prevent Diego Rivera from recreating his Mural, which is now some place in Mexico City, but not at Rockefeller Center in New York. This was a case of the customer not being happy with his purchase and exercising the ultimate option of not using it at all and accounting the financial loss under "tuition fees."

But NPC did not have the luxury of time that Rockefeller Center did. When NPC asked Neo Angono to make some changes after delivery of the Press Freedom but before unveiling, they got, "Nyet! Artists are resting!" In other words, the artists collective left their customer in a lurch. They refused to make any further changes since final payment was made and in some sense there was nothing NPC could do about it. Except to panic and go ahead with whatever modifications seemed necessary to save the unveiling from being a total embarrassment.

By pure coincidence, Diego Rivera was paid $21,000 for his "Man at theCrossroads" mural, or just over 900,000 pesos in today's money, which happens to be the price paid by the National Press Club for the mural made by the Neo Angono Artists Collective on the "History of Press Freedom" for its headquarters restaurant in Manila.

In a fit of panic, NPC decided to modify portions of the mural, as detailed by the artists in their Protest Letter. NPC is reaping a whirlwind of criticism for modifying the mural. They are even being accused of censorship over an "art work" entitled "The History of Press Freedom"! Especially after the NPC put in "a hideous bird monster in a cage" to replace some manifesto and tried to disguise Randy David as Mr. Spock in a hard hat talking to someone looking suspiciously like Conrad de Quiros, also in mechanical engineering camouflage and hard hat.

Edita and Jonas Burgos actually play a big role in the mural. It is the headline news story about them that Jose Rizal (looking like he popped out of a postage stamp) is reading in the Inquirer and discussing with a stoic Ninoy Aquino.

I was listening to ROY MABASA and CONRAD GENEROSO of the National Press Club on Media in Focus with Cheche Lazaro Thursday, along with former NPC President PDI's NEAL CRUZ and RICHARD GAPPI of the Neo-Angono Artists Collective. Mr. Gappi claimed they were given progress reports, thumbnail previews and several opportunities to view the work in progress. However, it also appears that there was a great big rush in the last two weeks to finish the work on time. as Mr. Gappi relates the collective had spent "many sleepless nights" busily working on the mural to a heroic completion. During a first attempt to deliver the mural, the NPC did not have payment in full ready, so the collective transported the mural back to Angono. Only after getting paid in full did NPC finally take possession.

The Neo Angono Artists Collective. explains the mural on their website:
"For this reason, it might initially escape belief and comprehension – and even solicit fun – that Joaquin “Chino” Roces is preventing a child (symbol for an emerging imperialist America) from shooting a bird resting on the street signage titled “Kalayaan”;Marcelo del Pilar rummaging through a garbage can for a cigarette stub and being furtively handed a letter by Mariano Ponce under a street sign labeled “La Solidaridad”; Eugenia Apostol smirking on the declaration of Martial Law; Epifanio de los Santos and Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc debating on the hot issues of the day; Antonio Luna, also an NPC hall of famer, being interviewed by journalists covering a rally of protesting journalists; or Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino listening pensively to Dr. Jose Rizal’s point on the issue of abduction and the “desaparecidos.”
Frankly, I find this somewhat cavalier mixing of the Living and the Dead a little macabre and irreverent. Or worse, corny. But artistic freedom is the most licentious of all the liberties, so I must let that aesthetic point pass as having been established and made viral by Diego Rivera.

Still it seems unreasonable to demand that NPC merely accept what the collective produced in the name of artistic freedom, since it is the NPC that has to live with the mural hanging in its restaurant for years to come. Perhaps it was unwise and desperate to have modified portions of the mural at all, but I think NPC has the right to be unhappy over what Neo Angono produced for them, how they rendered the History of Press Freedom as a side effect of the unknown plight of Jonas Burgos and ignored the main theme of Press Freedom with its rich panoply of possibilities using germane material.

Perhaps the essential point is that the artists collective ended up producing a Mural not about Press Freedom as their client NPC was expecting. Instead they made a mural about Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances. Whatever artistic or moral merit attaches to it regarding those issues is immaterial. If the NPC has any ground for unhappiness over the "work of art" that it paid 910,000 pesos for, it may well be the Mural's failure to address the agreed upon theme of Press Freedom in a manner pleasing and acceptable to the new owners. For though the Neo-Angono can rightfully claim that the living exemplars of press freedom "casually mingling" with "common and ordinary people" are indeed journalists and editors of note, the central theme is not Press Freedom as such, but Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances. This can be seen in the central thematic role played by Edita and Jonas Burgos, neither of whom is a journalist, but who are the headline story in the newspaper being read by Rizal and discussed with Ninoy Aquino.

As art, it may be considered bold or innovative to mix living, well known personalities with long-dead national heroes and national leaders (whose places in history are more or less fixed by their having already been dead from martyrdom for a long time). But I find it creepy and macabre.

If we imagine that NPC had contacted Neo Angono a year ago and was previewing the product for months before the opening on October 26, I don't imagine we would have had the controversy we have today. They would surely have worked things out according to the old fashioned business principle of "The customer is always right." and NPC would have a mural to display that it could not complain about or modify with any shred of justification. As it was, both Neo Angono and NPC got into time trouble, and when the final product was not to the complete satisfaction of NPC, what happened was perhaps inevitable.

In the final analysis, I don't think Neo Angono should have abandoned NPC in its hour of need. By doing so, it did not appreciate how seriously unhappy the NPC was about the Message in the Mural. By not sending someone to NPC as soon as they heard there was a big problem, Neo Angono had shown bad faith, seeming to be laughing all the way to the bank, though that might be an unfair image. But then when the NPC undertook the modifications, the artists claim they are outraged, oh revolted and outraged! However, it is most unlikely that NPC had at one time okayed a theme based on the Extrajudicial Killings issue and then suddenly changed its mind at the very end or after delivery. The NPC was genuinely unhappy with what was delivered at the very last minute when nought but the most desperate and ultimately gauche measures were left to the National Press Club.


The Wyzemoro has a perspective on Wahab Akbar by Samira Gutoc.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Anti Terror Law Not Applicable To Congress Blast

Just after eight pm Tuesday night, ABSCBN News reported an explosion near the South Entrance of the House of Representatives Building in Quezon City.
The blast, said to have been planted in a parked motorcycle and remotely detonated, killed Basilan Rep. Wahab Akbar and the chaffeur of Party List Rep. Luz Ilagan, seriously injured several others, and brought the specter of violence right to the front door of the Congress. Said to be one of the original members of the Abu Sayyaf Group in Mindanao, Wahab Akbar and his two wives are the political kingpins of Basilan.

House Speaker Jose de Venecia returned to the Batasan Complex in Quezon City in the aftermath of the explosion, trying to look like the man in charge, and condemning it as an act of terrorism. That may or may not turn out to be warranted by the facts of this incident as they are uncovered, but unfortunately, the Human Security Act RA 9372 (Anti Terrorism Law) contains the following provision: Section 62 Thereafter, the provisions of this Act shall be automatically suspended one month before and two months after the holding of any election.

We are presently in the two month period after the Oct. 29 barangay and SK elections during which the provisions of the law are automatically suspended, supposedly to prevent the authorities from using to law against political opponents, just before, during and after elections!

The best Speaker Joe will be able to do is to prosecute whoever did this under the Revised Penal Code, as an ordinary crime. It's best to really not use RA 9372 anyway, even in terrorist cases, since it is a booby trapped law, a terrorists bill of rights that is beyond the ability of law enforcers to use effectively without exposing themselves to fines and jail time under its "human rights provisions" which far outnumber the provisions sanctioning terrorists and cannot be easily complied with.

Now of course, we do not yet really know yet exactly what happened, how, and whodunit. By chance, Ms. Sandra Cam, who became famous as a Senate witness on the inner workings of the Jueteng Industry in the Philippines, was talking by cell phone to Rep. Akbar as he was descending the steps down to his waiting automobile when the blast occurred.

The President has called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice and convened the National Security Council overnight to assess the serious turn in events. Fears that martial law is about to be declared are rife in the texting realms. Interior Secretary Ronnie Puno has indicated that this may be a politically motivated assassination -- not a far-fetched idea considering the Byzantine politics of Basilan, which has been ruled by Akbar and his two politically powerful wives.

The leading theory seems to be that Wahab Akbar was targeted by a remote controlled bomb right inside the Batasan Complex.

What with an impeachment complaint, a speakership fight, and several Bribery scandals and exposes on High Boil, this is probably the last thing the Congress needs right now.

But I hope it will bring into focus certain absurdities attending the present anti terrorism legislation. The use of remote controlled car bombs as a tactic by all sorts of mean people needs to be nipped in the bud with a good firm prosecution under the new law, but things like automatic suspension for three months only brings mockery to the law. Many aspects of the Human Security Act need to be reviewed and amended if it is ever to be an effective tool against terrorist attacks.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Why Self-Rated Poverty and Hunger Statistics Are Scientifically Meaningless

pinion pollster Social Weather Stations needs to find something better to do in between elections. Their quarterly reporting of SELF-RATED poverty and hunger "statistics" seems designed to ensure that they will have some kind of feel-bad news for the headline writers of the scoop-addicted and sensation-dependent Press to report. The general public, unfortunately, isn't savvy enough to see through the fog of dire-sounding results when even the normally savvy scientists who work at SWS are complicit in the fallacious tsk-tsking.

Now whenever I see a headline like "52 Percent Feel Poor" or "20 million Pinoys say they are going hungry" I am not really impressed. To see why neither should you, substitute some negative self-describing adjective for "poor" and it would make sense but not be sensational. For example, consider a headline like "52 Percent Think They Are Short."

In fact, if one considers any "normal distribution (bell shaped curve) that represents some kind of social good or human preference, like wealth, access to food, health care, insurance, good looks, political influence, etc. it is unavoidable that half of the population will be below the Median Level and half above the Median Level. And so it is always possible to measure a "feel bad" and therefore "newsworthy" statistic merely by reporting the percentage of the population that describes itself as being one, two or three standard deviations below the Mean of that distribution. In the case of wealth for example, there are always "the poor" and "the rich" at either end of the distribution, even though the poor in one country may be far better off than even the rich in another country in terms of all the primary social goods that are actually available to them.

In the self-rated poverty and hunger surveys recently reported, SWS and its client news outlets like PDI, try very hard to make it seem deeply profound that,
"Household heads' ratings of general poverty, food poverty and experience of hunger were "internally consistent," SWS noted. Nationwide, the proportion of households who experienced hunger during the past three months was at 31 percent among those who rated themselves "food poor" and 28 percent among the self-rated poor..."
Considering that food, shelter and clothing are basic necessities and primary social goods, I wouldn't be surprised either if they next report that among the self-rated poor, a near-equal percentage would rate themselves as not having enough clothes to wear or good enough homes to live in.

The gentle reader will please notice that I am not questioning the scientific integrity of the data on "self-rated" statistics, or the accuracy of its measurement, merely on its real significance.

And why does SWS have to trot out an utterly meaningless and tendentious idea like "internal consistency?"

Well, because unlike the voter preference surveys that have made SWS deservedly famous, there is simply no independent, objective event or process by which their findings on self-rated anything can be falsified or verified. And so they make self-rated hunger stats and self-rated poverty stats, each other's verification. Because of that, self-rated statistical polls cannot be considered to be scientifically meaningful polls in the same way that voter preference polls are scientifically meaningful, which are falsified or verified by the results of the elections. The potential for egg on their face keeps SWS honest. But in the case of the self-rated stats, there is no such verification or falsification, and so merely reporting them allows people to draw their own conclusion, to which they are often led by the nose by the pollsters when "record levels" of hunger are noted and highlighted. I have criticized these results in the past because of seasonality and periodicity in the data indicates there may be nothing more than statistical variation to such "record levels."

The only reason SWS can get away with these numerically meaningless polls about hunger and poverty, is that most people cannot deny that there must be SOME level of poverty and hunger in the land, just like there have to be some short people if there are tall people and a bell shaped curve or normal distribution of the height attribute to begin with.

Because of the essential use of rigorous statistical and mathematical techniques to produce their raw data, SWS and other public opinion pollsters like Pulse Asia, Inc. have a just claim to being "scientific organizations" in much the same way as the weather bureau Pagasa.

But this can be very deceptive. Just as most newspapers and broadcasters have fairly rigorous news gathering components, with ethical standards that call for verification and substantiation of what gets reported as "news" -- which are the equivalent of the data gathered by public opinion surveys--the pollsters also offer "opinion". By this I mean that SWS and Pulse offer interpretations and explanations of why their data comes out a certain way, what factors they think account for the scientifically gathered results. Here things are not so scientific and often reflect the pollsters biases and ideology. In contrast the weather bureau does not offer personal opinions about WHY the weather is the way that it is, why a typhoon has suddenly appeared on the horizon.

Public opinion polling is unavoidably a genre of journalism. The data reported are the equivalent of news stories, but the attempt to explain the factors that led to the statistics are more like editorials and opinion columns, which may or may not be correct. In the case of the self-rated hunger and poverty stats, there is not really even the opportunity to check what the objective reality is relative to the numbers reported. And so they are really the equivalent of "letters to the editor"!

And so, as with the mass media, the advice is also: caveat emptor!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

She's Like A Chigger

long time ago, in what seems like another lifetime, when I lived in the Deep South of the United States of America, I became unpleasantly familiar with a particularly nasty insectivore that the natives of the Little and Great Pee Dee River swamplands called a CHIGGER. I have never discovered its exact genus or species. It was surely put on Earth not by the Divine Artificer but His diabolical nemesis precisely to bedevil human kind with its singularly reprehensible modus operandi of burrowing deep in the calf of one's leg, usually while blissfully asleep in a pleasant meadow, there to inflict interminable punishment with an amalgam of pain and itching unrelenting and unrelievable by the normal mechanical or chemical means known to civilized man. Thus, grimacing in pain and humiliation I consulted my good friend and neighbor, Matt C., whose family had lived in those parts for many years and had won their freedom from slavery in the days of old Abe Lincoln. He revealed to me the secret for its removal and my own emancipation. First you must identify the throbbing nucleus of its chosen burrow, there to draw a perfectly straight vertical line with a permanent marker. Then with a razor you must shave off completely the hair to one side of this demarcation line. Next you douse some high octane gasoline (unleaded) on the remaining hair of your inflamed leg and quickly set it ablaze. Donning of course, protective head and eye gear, you watch while biting on a wet towel for the miserable little bitch of an insect to wriggle out of its hiding hole in your burning flesh, and taking careful aim as it scurries off to make its escape, you stab it repeatedly with a sharpened ice pick! DO NOT MISS or it'll bite your toes off.

I hear Joseph Estrada is going to support the impeachment and removal of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. (Great news! Now where in the hell is that bloody rusty ice pick of mine?)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Dustup Over Angono and the Terrorists Bill of Rights

Click to Enlarge
A new brouhaha has arisen over a 32 x 8 foot mural commissioned by the National Press Club of the Philippines for its Headline Restaurant done by a hitherto little known group called the "Neo-Angono Artists Collective. " After NPC paid P900,000.00 for it, and caused a number of alterations to the work just before it was unveiled last week by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in Manila, the Neo-AC are crying "censorship." Philippine Daily Inquirer's screaming banner headline on the matter is FREEDOM MURAL DEFILED--Artists Outraged by NPC Censorship. It's the usual hyperbole the paper needs to sell it's many ad pages of cell phone load, but the intellectual property rights issues that have been raised involve matters of artistic and press freedom that ought to be considered and addressed.

Neo-AC's President, Richard Gappi, also published a Protest Letter and told PDI that "the most terrible" change made by their client was painting "a hideous bird monster in a cage" over the statement of the International Federation of Journalists, which had apparently been reproduced in the mural as newspaper article being read by Jose Rizal at the very center of the mural. Here is that IFJ Statement in full:
New anti-terror laws threaten press freedom: Philippines

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is concerned about the effect a new anti-terrorism law will have on press freedom in the Philippines.

According to local news reports the new law, known as the Human Security Act, was brought into effect on July 15 and includes provisions for the phone tapping and detention of suspects for three days without charge.

Despite government assurances that the law will not be used against political opponents or dissenting voices, IFJ affiliate the Nation Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) says it remains unclear whether journalists will be considered accessories to terrorism if they report the statements of terror suspects.

IFJ Asia Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said the new law could easily be used as an excuse to harass journalists.

“If the government cannot assure the international community that the safety of journalists and their right to freedom of expression, which is enshrined in the Philippines’ constitution, are protected under this new law, it should be repealed,” Park said.

According to reports, three politicians filed a bill in the House of Representatives last week seeking to repeal the law, which activists believe to be unconstitutional.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a vocal supporter of the US-led war on terrorism, insists the law is necessary to combat Al-Qaeda-linked militants who have allegedly blown up passenger buses, telecommunications towers and power lines in the Philippines.

“Terrorism is undoubtedly a threat in the modern world, but it is important to ensure the fight against terror does not provide an excuse for the suppression of free speech,” Park said.

“The people of the Philippines have the right to a free, unbiased press and it is the responsibility of their government to ensure this press is protected.”
First let me address the purely journalistic aspects of this statement.

It is obvious that neither IFJ nor the NUJP have even bothered to read or study the Human Security Act of 2007. They express concern about "phone tapping" of journalists and report that they are unclear about the possibility that journalists will be charged as "terrorist accessories" when they quote statements of terrorists suspects.

What a laugh! I wonder what could possibly be unclear about Section 7 of that law.

SEC. 7. Surveillance of Suspects and Interception and Recording of Communications. – The provisions of Republic Act No. 4200 (Anti-wire Tapping Law) to the contrary notwithstanding, a police or law enforcement official and the members of his team may, upon a written order of the Court of Appeals, listen to, intercept and record, with the use of any mode, form, kind or type of electronic or other surveillance equipment or intercepting and tracking devices, or with the use of any other suitable ways and means for that purpose, any communication, message, conversation, discussion, or spoken or written words between members of a judicially declared and outlawed terrorist organization, association, or group of persons or of any person charged with or suspected of the crime of terrorism or conspiracy to commit terrorism.

Provided, That surveillance, interception and recording of communications between lawyers and clients, doctors and patients, journalists and their sources and confidential business correspondence shall not be authorized.

Actually, I would not mind it one bit if the Human Security Act of 2007 were repealed today since no such restrictions are even present in RA4200, the Anti-Wiretapping Law of 1965. Moreover, it is important to note that under HSA 2007, it requires the written order of a special division of the Court of Appeals to undertake wiretapping and surveillance operations against legitimate terrorist suspects, whereas such a thing could be done under RA4200 with Court Orders from a mere Regional Trial Court!

Completely ignored too by IFJ, NUJP, and Neo-AC are no less than nine successive provisions , Sections 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16 of HSA 2007 which regulate the conduct of such wiretapping and surveillance operations and levies fines and imprisonment penalties on law enforcement officers for the most trivial violations, like failing to keep a log book or failing to inform suspects that they have been surveilled!

Among the most amazing of these provisions is the requirement that the person under surveillance must be informed of the surveillance, if after thirty days no charge of terrorism has been filed against him or her! The information includes all the records and data captured, as well as the identities of the surveillance team, which can then be used to sue the law enforcement officers and put them in jail. Failure to notify such suspects after thirty days of surveillance can result in up to 8 years imprisonment for the law enforcement officials concerned!

The Human Security Act is not an Anti Terrorism Law at all but a TERRORIST BILL OF RIGHTS. There are in fact only four provisions that penalize terrorists and terrorist organizations in the law, whilst over forty provisions contain fines and imprisonment for the law enforcers!

It is obvious that IFJ, NUJP and Neo-AC are talking not from the point of view of Press Freedom at all, but from PURE IGNORANCE of the Law.

Regarding the intellectual property rights aspect of today's tempest in a teapot, it seems quite clear that the mural is a commissioned work, for which the National Press Club paid nearly a million pesos, and it has not been denied that some kind of approval process was agreed upon for changes and alterations. I have not seen that contract, so it remains to be seen what legal fallout there may be regarding the various changes that were made. However, the statement to the PDI by Neo-AC chairman Wire Tuazon that they will not insist on restoring their original work and are content "to drumbeat about how we were treated" indicates that they had indeed sold their rights to the work lock, stock and barrel. Upon discovering unacceptable " political" undertones to the various features of the work, the NPC saw fit to alter it since it is installed in the NPC headquarters restaurant in Manila and it is they that have to live with the mural's clear ideological and political bias.

The Intellectual Property Rights Code (PDF) is likewise apparently unknown or unfamiliar to the artists. This is not about freedom but the usual victimology of our leftist poltiical classes.

Artistic and Press Freedom have nothing to do with it, try as hard as the Philippine Daily Innuendo might to make such a case. The mural is a droll caricature, a piece of audio-visual propaganda inspired by manifestae from the the Utrecht Space Station foisted on the National Press Club, and I would not be surprised if it were removed altogether eventually.

Press Freedom is alive and well in the Philippines, and not just among Leftists who think they have a monopoly on that sacred right and freedom.

Please read the friggin' laws!

From the purely aesthetic perspective, I fail to see how the left side of the mural is supposed to depict "an idyllic community while on the right side is the busy street of Manila." Heck it all looks the same to me. But check out the Protest Letter of the Neo-AC for a comparison of the Before and After alterations. I can't rally blame them for the overnight clumsiness of the changes, though I must say that "hideous bird in a cage" replacement for the IFJ's uninformed statements was either deliciously ironic or just plain mean! However, I do not agree with getting rid of the alibata "K" tattoo on Andres Bonifacio's arm, and putting an entirely irrelevant red heart with an arrow through it. Maybe the Collective should just start making its own murals and donate their work to the CPP NPA or the Abu Sayyaf for fund raising activities on You Tube.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Hey Migz! Feed the Cars or Feed the People?

BIOFUELS were again being pushed in the Media today by Senator Migz Zubiri (who should really be out helping to arrest his benefactor in Maguindanao, the fugitive from Justice, Lintang Bedol). Now, I rarely agree with United Nations Rapporteurs especially on "human rights" and so-called "internationalized justice." But the call for a moratorium on biofuel production by Jean Zigler, UN Rapporteur on the right to food makes a good bit of sense to me, whereas Zubiri just reeks of the kind of Greenpeace politics that can only make the situation worse with pseudoscientific crapola.

For countries like the Philippines, with its puny 300,000 square kilometers of land area (compared to the US at 9.8 million sqkm and Brazil with 8.5 million sqkm), simple arithmetic compelled me to oppose Zubiri's snake oil called the Biofuels Act of 2006. It may be green and sexy to be for "renewable energy" -- which is the main selling point of the biofuels idea, it is in my opinion a bad choice for a country like the Philippines, where hunger is said to be at record levels. Whatever the true hunger statistics are, it simply makes no sense to be feeding the cars and not the people. Even though the UN's recommendation for moratorium targets biofuels made from food stocks like corn (for methanol) or coconut (to make cocodiesel), the effect of planting stinky non-food-stocks like jatropha reduces the land available for growing food.

Considering the serious turn in the price of oil this past week and the very dark energy picture worldwide, we certainly cannot afford the feel-good proposals of politicians like Migz Zubiri. His biofuels advocacy is not only shortsighted, he is only deceiving the people that we can somehow solve the energy crisis without a good deal of personal and universal sacrifice.

Because there are simply no immediate technological solutions, certainly not along the lines that Zubiri's friends in Greenpeace can turn from snake oil to fuel oil, I think that we should put the highest priority in laws as well as in practice to CONSERVATION. Some ideas:

(1) This Christmas season, the sale and use of Christmas lights ought to be outlawed or at least given the greatest possible emphasis for non-use except perhaps on Christmas and New Year's Eve, but not a month-long orgy of blinking waste. Cities, shopping malls and private homes need to set practical targets of reduction and carry them out with resolve.

(2) I am for matching the fluctuations in global oil prices with punitive EXCISE TAXES on gasoline in order to strictly limit demand and to encourage carpooling and the use of public transportation.

(3) Planned, rolling blackouts throughout the country ought to be considered before they become unavoidable.

(4) I would subsidize the replacement of all incandescent light bulbs with more energy efficient fluorescents and even LED lights.

All in all, we simply have to conserve and suppress energy consumption and demand, becauses prices and supply are not going to be cooperating very much with our profligate lifestyle.

For the longer term, I think that other forms of renewable energy than biofuels need to be given high priority for research and evaluation. For example wind, solar and wave energy sources have to be developed and encouraged with tax and other financial support incentives.

I am also for re-commissioning the Bataan Nuclear Plant as proposed by a Japanese engineering outfit that has deemed the proposal viable.

Why the Supreme Court Is Not Infallible and How Congress Can Correct It

Our Constitution recognizes three basic powers wielded by Government: the power to make laws, the power to enforce those laws, and the power to decide justiciable cases based on those laws.

I used to think that Separation of Powers could be explained as follows: the Legislative Power belongs to the Legislative Branch of Government called the Congress; the Executive Power belongs to the Executive Branch of Government as headed by the President; and the Judicial Power belongs to the Judiciary, vested in one Supreme Court.

Most people still see it that simplistic manner and this has caused no end of confusion and trouble. As we shall demonstate in this post, the Separation of Powers is not pure and the Constitutional formula for the distribution or division of powers actually results in a mixture of powers being held by each branch of government, in such a way that a very effective and sophisticated system of Checks and Balances is attained.

The Supreme Court wields not only judicial but very substantial legislative powers, because whenever the Supreme Court rules upon a justiciable case, the resulting Decision or Resolution becomes a part of the Laws of the Land. Most significantly, the Supreme Court is entrusted with the awesome power of interpreting the Constitution itself, leading to the widespread misconception that in matters of Constitutional interpretation, the Supreme Court is infallible because it's decisions are final. (The truth is, the Supreme Court is not infallible and any of its past decisions can be reviewed and reversed by a future Supreme Court decision.)

The Chief Executive also has a rather powerful Judicial Power that was stunningly demonstrated by President Gloria Arroyo in the pardon of Joseph Estrada. In executive clemency, the Chief Executive wields a nearly absolute power to nullify the punishment resulting from even final and executory judgment of any justiciable case (except only in cases of impeachment).

The Congress also has an awesome Judicial Power that needs to be better appreciated by lawyers and laymen alike. I refer to the exclusive and sole power of the House and Senate of the Congress to remove by impeachment and conviction at trial any of the 31 Constitutional Officers of the Republic mentioned in Article XI (Public Accountability), namely, the 15 Justices of the Supreme Court; the 7 Members of the Commission on Elections; the 3 Members of the Civil Service Commission; the 3 Members of the Commission on Audit; the Ombudsman, the Vice President, and the President.

Note that the Congress does not have ANY impeachable officers. Even while holding office, the Senate President and House Speaker for example, are not immune from criminal suit. ALL the impeachable officers of the Government belong to the Executive Branch, the independent Constitutional Commissions, or the Supreme Court, which has by far the largest number at 15.

Note also that in all cases of impeachment, the verdict of the Senate to convict or acquit is final and executory--it cannot be reviewed or reversed by the Supreme Court and the punishments of removal from office and perpetual disqualification therefrom cannot be nullified by the President's power of executive clemency. For example, if the Chief Justice is impeached and convicted by the Congress, the Supreme Court cannot then restore him to that high office, nor can the President pardon him and reappoint him to it.

Thus, the Power of Impeachment, which is an essentially Judicial Power (charge and case, trial and verdict) is truly the exclusive and sole power of the Congress. Thus, Article XI on Public Accountability is like a geological formation that separates the power of impeachment from the Executive and Judicial Branches of Government and grants it entirely to the Congress--

Section 1. Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.

Section 2. The President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust. All other public officers and employees may be removed from office as provided by law, but not by impeachment.

Section 3. (1) The House of Representatives shall have the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment.

(2) A verified complaint for impeachment may be filed by any Member of the House of Representatives or by any citizen upon a resolution or endorsement by any Member thereof, which shall be included in the Order of Business within ten session days, and referred to the proper Committee within three session days thereafter. The Committee, after hearing, and by a majority vote of all its Members, shall submit its report to the House within sixty session days from such referral, together with the corresponding resolution. The resolution shall be calendared for consideration by the House within ten session days from receipt thereof.

(3) A vote of at least one-third of all the Members of the House shall be necessary either to affirm a favorable resolution with the Articles of Impeachment of the Committee, or override its contrary resolution. The vote of each Member shall be recorded.

(4) In case the verified complaint or resolution of impeachment is filed by at least one-third of all the Members of the House, the same shall constitute the Articles of Impeachment, and trial by the Senate shall forthwith proceed.

(5) No impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year.

(6) The Senate shall have the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment. When sitting for that purpose, the Senators shall be on oath or affirmation. When the President of the Philippines is on trial, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall preside, but shall not vote. No person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate.

(7) Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than removal from office and disqualification to hold any office under the Republic of the Philippines, but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to prosecution, trial, and punishment, according to law.

(8) The Congress shall promulgate its rules on impeachment to effectively carry out the purpose of this section.
Perhaps the most important thing to understand about the concept of the Separation of Powers is its purpose--to produce a Constitutional System of government in which the various branches actually have enough power to check and balance the other branches when they make mistakes or seek to exercise powers and functions not assigned to them by the Constitution.

The principle of Checks and Balances and its integrity is crucially important because of the awesome powers granted to each branch of government. Without it, we have a dictatorship or totalitarian state in the guise of democracy. When Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law and effectively seized all State power, we fell into fascist dictatorship that was not overthrown until the Edsa One People Power revolution that resulted in the present Constitution.

Perhaps because of its entirely despicable record (Javellana vs. Executive Secretary!) to stop Marcos and his New Society Constitution, the Judicial and Jesuitic personalities that Cory Aquino tapped to craft the 1987 Constitution built into it several reactionary features whose potential for malevolent carpentry and construction is only now becoming apparent in what I consider to be a rogue Supreme Court, drunk with power after illegally overthrowing a President in Joseph Estrada (2001), protecting its own Chief Justice from impeachment in Hilario Davide (2003), and throwing a monkey wrench of an initiation rule into Congressional Power of Impeachment, which has been frustrated and cynically thwarted in its attempts to impeach Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (2005, 2006 and possibly now in 2007).

I shall not go into the details of this critique of what the Supreme Court did when it imposed on the House a self-serving rule that impeachment proceedings are deemed initiated as soon as ANY impeachment complaint is filed by ANY Member of the House and is ministerially referred to the Justice Committee. This Rule by the Supreme Court is INSANE on its face, since the exclusive power of the House to initiate all cases of impeachment is held hostage to the discretion of any single Member of the House who may endorse any impeachment complaint, such as the Pulido and Lozano complaints, merely to "innoculate" impeachable officers under the Constitution's once-per-year provision on impeachments. It is also a gross violation of Article XI Section 8 that unequivocally declares that "The Congress shall promulgate its rules on impeachment to effectively carry out the purpose of this section." The Supreme Court has violated this specific provision of the Constitution, because it should've ruled that it HAD NO JURISDICTION to decide when impeachment proceedings are initiated by the House, since those "proceedings" are entirely within the discretion of the Congress, limited only by the Constitution. The events in the House following the revelation of national security and political espionage violations by the Isafp and possible election fraud in the Garci Wiretapping scandal, clearly demonstrate the power to obstruct Justice inherent in that Supreme Court decision given to any Member of the House. Moreover, the Davide impeachment initiation rule upends the clear intention of the framers of the Constitution to take from the Majority the power to impeach, by giving to a mere One Third Minority of the House the power to initiate a case of impeachment that must proceed forthwith to trial in the Senate. Ironically, it was Hilario Davide himself in 1986 who proposed for impeachment initiation an even looser, One Fifth Minority Rule!

As everyone knows, the Supreme Court imposed this silly rule on initiation to save its Chief Justice from impeachment for malversation of Judiciary Funds in 2003. But the reason they were able to make it stick lies in that confusion about the true meaning of Separation of Powers that I mention at the beginning of this post and the inability of many people to understand why the Supreme Court is NOT infallible and how its mistakes can possibly corrected.

WHAT'S THE SOLUTION? I think it is becoming clear to everyone that the Supreme Court ERRED on this occasion, that it should not have degraded, compromised and usurped the power of the House to determine for itself, precisely when and how some arbitrary Impeachment Complaint actually triggers the initiation of Impeachment Proceedings. This situation is fast becoming intolerable, and is leading to a restoration of the situation that allowed Marcos to become a Fascist Dictator--that of an impotent Congress with a vassal Majority, an intellectually-challenged Supreme Court, and a captive Military.

The only solution is for the Congress itself to pass explicit new Rules on Impeachment Proceedings so as to give the Supreme Court to review and annul its past erroneous decision. The Congress must give the Supreme Court a chance to practice CORRIGIBILITY by challenging that silly rule on impeachment initiation.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Give It Up, Edsa Dos Diehards

RENE SAGUISAG on ABSCBN News The Big Picture, expresses my own sentiments quite precisely on the Erap Pardon, especially when it comes to the long-running argument about the true nature of Edsa Dos, getting even Ricky Carandang to say, with no bones about it, that it was a coup d'etat. Diehards like Enteng Romano and the entire cast of Edsa Dos elitists and anti-constitutionalists are really abashed and out of arguments. Enteng tries very hard but miserably fails to make an equivalence between Edsa One, which resulted in a revolutionary constitution, and Edsa Two, which was a conspiracy between the Military, the Supreme Court, the Catholic Church hierarchy, and the Mr. and Mrs. Arroyo who now still hold the illegitimate power they seized on 20 January 2001. Until Enteng and the rest of the Edsa Dos diehards learn to uphold constitutional democracy as a social contract and not a Bible or Boy Scout Handbook, they cannot expect to lead or sway the people again.

I think Rene Saguisag would have preferred an appeal to the Supreme Court and a proper acquittal, considering that Erap was illegally and unconstitutionally removed in 2001 when his impeachment trial was aborted by Davide, instead of proceeding to acquittal as the Craven Eleven proved on 16 January 2001. Moreover, the two crimes for which he was convicted of plunder did not add up to plunder but mere illegal gambling and simple graft and corruption. That no appeal was mounted and a pardon was applied for and accepted, was the "client's call" in Rene Saguisag's phrase. I agree with that too, and this from Rene: "The pardon is a tyrant's way of correcting an injustice she herself had done."

There is only one point upon which I do disagree with Rene Saguisag. The biggest criminals and most dangerous ones from Edsa Dos are not the Arroyos, nor even the Military that colluded with them, but the Supreme Court, which stands up there, heads unbowed and leering down on us, ready to do more damage to the Constitution they swore to uphold but have done nothing but violate. They usurped the Congress' powers in 2001, now they are moving in on the Executive, and later this year, they will start giving away territory to terrorists.

If there is any lesson to be gained from Edsa Dos that is yet unlearnt it is this: the Weakest Branch of the Government, just ain't. It is the most dangerous. Mark them!

Either we learn that lesson or learn to bear the chains they are fashioning for us in abashed silence. Their barrio-style constitutional carpentry is turning nuts into bolts, north into south, upending checks and balances, making a mockery of the separation of powers, and leading the Ship of State off the edge of sanity and reason.

What Is Fair Has Just Priority Over What Is Good
Our Bantay Salakay Supreme Court and the Separation of Powers
Ancestral Domain or Bangsamorostan?
Creation Myth of Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines
Laughable Textbook Errors In Crucial Supreme Court Decisions

The son of a Lanao Judge newly-appointed Comelec Commissioner by President Gloria Arroyo describes Moslemen Macarambon on his personal blog (a pseudo struggle of a Moro youth to self-determination thru blogging)--
"My dad - Comelec Commissioner Moslemen T. Macarambon Sr. a former RTC Judge in Iligan City who is been serving the Judiciary for over 30years. He is just appointed to one of the two vacancies at the Commission on Elections (Comelec)."
"Jun" Macarambon uses the blogger handle, "Wyzemoro," and identifies himself further: "I'm the webmaster of - a flagship website of Young Moro Professionals Network, Inc. (YMPN) and also webmaster/maintainer of - The Bangsamoro Documentation Project." but the intriguing links lead to under-construction sites.

ABSCBN News is reporting immediate angry reaction to the appointment of Judge Macarambon including a vow by Senator Panfilo Lacson to block the move in the Commission on Appointments, saying Macarambon is a protege of the notorious Virgilio Garcillano. The latter accusation has been denied by the commissioner-designate, who crows that he has the recommendation of Hilario G. Davide, Jr. Hmmm, the other vacancy, the very chairmanship of Comelec vacated by resigning Ben Abalos, is not expected to be filled until next February, since a replacement now would only serve till then.

So who should we expect in February to head the Comelec? Garci or Davide? (Well, it's Halloween, ain't it?)

Purgatory and the LSD in the Communion Wine The Holy Mass that preceeded the Press Conference of the Kilusang Makabansang Ekonomista (KME is said to be the official CPP NPA NDF affiliated mass organization doing "united front" work among the "national bourgeoisie") the other day must've had LSD in the Communion wine or something, judging by what has been proposed by the principal participants, Teofisto Guingona, Bishops Deogracias Iniguez, Antonio Tobias, Julio Labayen. First they want the President, the Vice President, the Senate President and the House Speaker all to resign. But instead of immediate snap elections as provided for by the Constitution even if their hallucination were to come true, they want the Comelec abolished along with the Value Added Tax, and the formation of a "transition junta" to be headed by no less than Chief Justice Reynato Puno. The latter has politely declined the offer to head the Bishop-led abolition of Constitutional democracy in the Philippines.

But I wonder what ever made them think he would consider the option, if not Puno's own intemperate and immoderate acts and statements of the last few months.