Friday, July 31, 2009

Gloria Upstaged by Beer Summit

Following is the Dept. of Foreign Affairs transcript of the 8-minute Press Conference of President Barack Obama and Gloria Arroyo. From USA Today's David Jackson's report it seems most of the eight minutes was really taken up by interest in the BEER SUMMIT held by Barack Obama with Henry Gates, James Crowley and Joe Biden in the Rose Garden. Barack got it right (though he was careless reading the teleprompter)  about the RP-US relationship being historical, cultural, diplomatic, military AND personal. His description, that "it dates back many years" seems a bit off--since it's been goin' on for more than 110 years. And when he said, "The Philippines is not the largest country in the world..." he could not be referring to its population of nearly 100 million, the twelfth largest country in the world. The US President exchanged mutual compliments with the visiting Philippines leader and then launched into an answer to a question about US GDP figures due out Friday.  Naming the Philippines as the "coordinating country" for ASEAN to carry the ball on such clearly long-term projects as human rights, nuclear nonproliferation and anti-terrorism must mean however that even Barack knows Gloria is a Lame Duck now and has begun the long slow descent from zenith to the cliff's edge...

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me express my thanks and appreciation for the visit from President Arroyo. As we discussed during our meeting here and our delegations, the relationship between the United States and the Philippines dates back many years. It is a friendship that is forged not only in treaties and trade relationships and military relationships, but it is also strengthened by very personal ties that exist between our two countries. We are proud to have 4 million persons of Filipino ancestry contributing to our country each and every day, in all walks of life. The fact that we have Filipino veterans who have fought side by side with American soldiers on behalf of freedom — all those things have strengthened the relationship between our two countries.

I am very pleased that President Arroyo has made such good progress on dealing with counterterrorism issues. She has initiated a peace process in Mindanao that we think is — has the potential to bring peace and stability to a part of the Philippines that has been wracked by unrest for too long. We are very grateful of the strong voice that the Philippines has provided in dealing with issues in Asia ranging from the human rights violations that have for too long existed in Burma to the problems that we’re seeing with respect to nuclear proliferation in North Korea.

I am looking forward to my travels to Southeast Asia, and the Philippines will be the coordinating country in the U.S. relationship with ASEAN, the primary organization — strategic organization for Southeast Asian countries. And in addition, the Philippines will be sharing the Non-Proliferation Treaty conference that will be taking next — place next year.

And so we’re going to have a busy agenda together working to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons, improving the multilateral partnerships in Asia that can create greater security and greater prosperity for all countries. And in addition, we continue to be grateful for the outstanding contributions that the Philippines has made with respect to U.N. peacekeeping around the world.

So although the Philippines is not the largest of countries, it, in using a phrase from boxing, punches above its weight in the international arena, and we are very grateful that President Arroyo has visited us here today, and we are looking forward to using this meeting as a way of launching even greater cooperation between our two countries in the years to come.

PRESIDENT ARROYO: Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you for inviting me to have this very important conversation here in the White House.

The U.S. is very essential to the economic, diplomatic, and national security of our country. We are very thankful for the U.S. as an important ally in helping to professionalize our military and making it more effective.

Just as important, we are thankful to the U.S. for being such a good ally in our — working on soft power by helping us build bridges, roads, schools, not only in Mindanao but across the nation. And this assistance of the U.S. has gone a long way in helping us to achieve what we have been able to achieve in the peace process in Mindanao in southern Philippines, and also in our fight against terrorism.

I was very happy to let President Obama know that the Muslim secessionists have agreed, together with a Philippine government panel, to work towards a resumption of formal peace talks, and we’re very thankful for the international community, including the U.S., for their assistance in bringing us to this stage.

Internationally, we stand foursquare behind the United States on the position that it has taken with regard to Burma and with regard to North Korea’s nuclear adventurism.

We also applaud President Obama for his leadership on climate change, which is so important to the Philippines because we are an archipelagic country and severe climate change is going to be disastrous for our country. We are already feeling the weather pattern changes in the rising seas.

We are also — finally, may I say that I bring the thanks also of our Filipino veterans for the inclusion of the veterans’ benefits in the fiscal stimulus package, something that we have all waited for as a country for the last 60 years.

So I’m very grateful for this opportunity. We thank the Obama administration for the new engagement in our part of the world, and we look forward to a stronger relationship between the U.S. and ASEAN and, bilaterally, a stronger relationship with our two countries.

Thank you, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you so much.

Okay, we’re going to take two questions, one from a Filipino reporter.


PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yes. This gentleman right here. Is this a good — (laughter.)

Go ahead.

Q Thank you very much, Mr. President, and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. I am from the Philippine media, sir. It’s noted that you’re the first Asian head of state to be afforded by President Obama this — such an invitation. As much as this is your first time to see President Obama in person and you have talked to him, could you kindly share to us, Madam President, your impressions of the American President? (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I’m sure she thinks I’m much younger looking than she expected. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT ARROYO: Well, as a person, President Obama is very cordial, warm, and welcoming. And I’m really very impressed about — of his deep understanding and knowledge of the Philippines and the Filipino people — the understanding of the close relationship within the Filipino people and the American people.

And we — I think we connected very well also on our position with regard to Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi, with regard to North Korea and nuclear proliferation, with regard to human rights and terrorism. And we welcome President Obama’s reaching out to the Muslim world, and also we are very pleased about his — the importance that he accords to engagement with our part of the world.

Q Is it considered to be ungrateful if I will not get your reaction? It will be greatly appreciated if you can also give your impression of our President.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, obviously, President Arroyo has done outstanding work on a whole range of issues. She mentioned the areas where the United States and the Philippines are of one accord, but as evidenced here today, she’s somebody who knows the issues. She has experience leading the Philippines through some very difficult times. She has expressed a great friendship towards the United States, and aside from her great personal charm — (laughter) — we are very appreciative of the concrete ways in which her administration has pursued strengthening ties with the United States. So I’m very grateful for that.

Okay, Jeff Mason.

Q Yes, sir. A double-barreled question for you. First of all, what do you expect to be the main message of the GDP figures that come out tomorrow? And second of all, what do you think will be the main message of your meeting tonight in the Rose Garden?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: On GDP, I don’t have a crystal ball and I haven’t received the figures yet, but I think if you look at the consensus of economists right now, it confirms that we have seen a significant slowing down of the contraction over the last several months. There are a lot of indicators out there that tell us that job losses, although still way too high, are not at the pace that we were seeing in January or February. Housing prices went up for the first time in three years. The credit system, the banking system, the financial markets generally have settled down. You’re not seeing the huge volatility or panic that you were seeing.

And so all of that is a sign that we have stepped away from the precipice. As Ben Bernanke and others across the ideological spectrum have indicated, we were in a position where we could have gone into a Great Depression. I think those fears have abated.

But I suspect that the GDP numbers will still show that the economy contracted in the second quarter, that job loss is still a huge problem. And you don’t have to read GDP numbers to see that; all you got to do is talk to the American people who are still losing jobs, losing homes, and worried about their ability to keep their health care and finance their child’s college educations. So we’re not going to rest until we have seen not just a technical improvement in GDP but until the American people’s job prospects, their incomes have rebounded — and that’s going to take some time.

With respect to tonight, you know, I am, I have to say, fascinated with the fascination about this evening. As you know, this idea was prompted when I was talking to Sergeant Crowley, and he said, well, maybe I’ll have a beer in the White House someday, and I said, well, you know, I’m sure that can be arranged.

I notice this had been called the “beer summit.” It’s a clever term, but this is not a summit, guys. This is three folks having a drink at the end of the day and hopefully giving people an opportunity to listen to each other. And that’s really all it is.

This is not a — this is not a university seminar. It is not a summit. It’s an attempt to have some personal interaction when an issue has become so hyped and so symbolic that you lose sight of just the fact that these are people involved, including myself, all of whom are imperfect. And hopefully instead of ginning up anger and hyperbole, everybody can just spend a little bit of time with some self-reflection and recognizing that other people have different points of view. And that’s all it is.

And so I will be surprised if you guys all make this the lead as opposed to a very important meeting that we just had with one of our most important partners in the world, but the press has surprised me before. (Laughter.)

Thank you very much.

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Yo! Barack--She's Zelaya in a Skirt

Even as her loyal House allies desperately push Conass at home, President Arroyo leaves for Washington D.C. today and a long-hoped-for personal meeting with US President BARACK OBAMA (whose kids have probably sampled exotic fare like adobo already at the White House). Mrs. Arroyo claims they are going to discuss Nuclear Nonproliferation, Veterans Affairs, Global Climate Change, and the Global Financial Crisis (all in 20 minutes). (I hope he sees Zelaya in a skirt). The Explainer Dialogues with Manolo Quezon analyzes the recent State of the Nation Address in last Monday's episode with Business World's Vergel O. Santos and Black and White Movement's Leah Roque. I was on the panel.

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Let Us Pray For Cory

In 1985 the reluctant Cory was convinced to run for president to unify the fragmented opposition. If she did not run for president, Marcos could have handily crushed the divided opposition in the 1986 snap presidential election namely Salvador Laurel (UNIDO), Aquilino Pimentel (PDP-Laban), Jovito Salonga (LP-Salonga Wing) and Eva Estrada Kalaw ( LP-Kalaw Wing) who were all hell-bent to run for president.

04 Feb 1986. Huge crowd of Cory Aquino supporters at the election campaign rally in Luneta Park.

The key to the EDSA revolution was the voice of Cory. If she did not run for president there would perhaps have been no EDSA. We would probably not have the freedom we are enjoying today.

We owe our democracy to Cory. At 76, Cory remains a moral and political force. A recent Pulse Asia survey revealed that Cory rated highest with a trust rating of 41% beating Erap, FVR and GMA. The Time magazine put her again in its cover in its 2006 anniversary issue as the leading hero of Asia’s 60-year history beating Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi, MacArthur, Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa and many more heroes of our time. She was also honored by prestigious foreign award-giving institutions for her continuing efforts to empower poor communities in the socio-economic sphere in collaboration with various sectors of society.

State of the Nation Address 2009

Delivered by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo before a Joint Session of Congress on 27 July 2009 with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Prospero Nograles sharing the podium with her.

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary
I'll reserve my own Comments for the thread...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Membership has its privilege

The National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzalez and his comrade Fr. Romeo Intengan met and proposed the establishment of a revolutionary transition government to Bishop Gaudencio Tobias and Chief Justice Reynato Puno. Is this not sedition? Shouldn’t the Palace be alarmed that the National Security Adviser is proposing the overthrow of the government?

Not according to Palace boob, Cerge Remonde. ( (READ HERE)

Remonde told dzBB radio, “Well, ah, hindi kami na-alarma riyan. Medyo sanay kami riyan sa mga ganyang klaseng initiative ni Sec. Gonzales. (We are not alarmed over that. We are already used to those initiatives by Gonzales) These things he does, he does as National Security Adviser.”

Gonzalez is the national security adviser, Cerge. Let me wipe the coffee off my nose first before I ask you, what the heck, you’re telling the public he often proposes initiatives to topple the government and this is part of his job as national security adviser? Abcerge!

And so the national security adviser is going to be made to explain, that’s all?

“The actions of Sec. Norberto Gonzales insofar as a transition council are entirely his own. He has no authority from the Cabinet or the President and therefore Sec. Gonzales lang maka-explain sa bagay na yan [therefore only Gonzales can explain his actions].”

Why is Gloria not ordering the Department of Justice to investigate the matter and to file charges against Gonzalez and Intengan if warranted? Why doesn't she put him on leave, is he not a security threat until cleared by an investigation?

What the hell is going on? It’s okay if a call for revolution comes from within but not okay if it comes from the opposition?

SOURCE: Life in Gloria's Enchanted Kingdom

Thursday, July 23, 2009

We need science but don't understand it: on scientific uncertainty

Rachel Carson wrote in the 1950s (I think it was in "Under the Sea Wind") that science is "part of the fabric of life". In 1948, John Steinbeck (best known for "The Grapes of Wrath" and a 1962 Nobel Prizewinner in literature) wrote a foreword to Ed Ricketts "Between Pacific Tides" in which he notes that science is a new way of looking at the world despite its warps. Steinbeck and his marine biologist friend, Ricketts collaborated on a marine biology expedition in the Sea of Cortez in 1940. Their collaboration is considered to be a unique effort in viewing nature. Steinbeck used marine science to view nature using prose as a literary form and Ricketts viewed nature and how nature is viewed using science.

There would never be any other time since then when art and science would tryst. Art has become constructivist and science has become less reflective. Both Carson and Steinbeck had science and literary talent and training. Their works are examples of what we call now as the science essay genre. They also helped popularized science and communicate to the public how and what science does and its associated uncertainties.

Today the public wants answers to vexing questions on food security, climate change, the fate of human society, energy and a whole raft of environmental, economic and political issues. It weren't scientific papers published in "Nature" or "Science" that catalyzed public awareness on these issues but the works of Carson ("Silent Spring") and Steinbeck ("Log from the Sea of Cortez"). Carson can be the secular environmentalist counterpart of the Protestant Reformation's John Wycliffe. If Wycliffe is called today as the Morning Star of the Reformation, Carson could be called as the Morning Star of Environmentalism. In Silent Spring's first chapter, Carson described a hypothetical scenario when pesticides have eliminated 1) insects, 2) birds and people were having health problems as a result. Carson was a professional scientist and recognized that her work involved uncertainties and errors and the proposing of hypotheses were but part of her job. But today she is considered as a "witness for nature". The Christian allegory is so clear. She is a Saint. And by our understanding a Saint is definitely in heaven.

However she had trouble explaining to the US Congress especially the Senate on her scientific claims. Since the public wanted clear cut guidelines, the whole issue about pesticides became a black and white issue. It was either do away with pesticides or not and suffer the consequences. In fact, she wasn't for that but careful application of pesticides to prevent insect resistance.

Carson died of cancer (presumably due to her work on toxicology) and that ensured that she became environmentalism's first saint.

Scientists have to deal with uncertainties in their work. In reality this uncertainty is needed in motivating scientists to devise better ways, instruments and methods to do experiments to verify their hypotheses. Indeed an unwillingness to deal with uncertainties is the real barrier to progress. The products of scientific research is technology which we use in our daily lives. In using technology we expect that we certainly get a cell site signal when we want to send SMS. We expect to get a cable or broadcast signal when we turn on the TV to watch a show. We expect PAGASA to tell us when and where the next typhoon will hit.If we are certain, then we are content.

But with environmental catastrophe in the public awareness, scientists are often asked to give statements to the media and the media need certainty. Even in what wags say "scientifically backward" Philippines, we observe this. For instance I have been interviewed about biodiversity by popular media practitioners. Biodiversity is something that interests many Filipinos of all ages and social classes but even if one species does go extinct, this is unlikely to kill them immediately. So the warnings we give (despite the scientific uncertainty) are listened to but the solutions we dispense kind of give a sense of feel good hope. This is a good thing for the time being.

However contrast this with what happened to the ill fated Princess of the Stars last year. It is claimed that the captain of the ill fated ship depended on advisories issued by the Coast Guard which got them from PAGASA. Unbeknownst to the captain, he sailed his ship right into the eyewall of Typhoon Frank. The consequences as we know are tragic. The Philippine Congress had PAGASA and the PCG account for the "shortcomings" and the ship owners lodged a lawsuit against PAGASA. Too bad the media and the legal eagles in the blogosphere did not hoot much a peep on the significance of the suit. This was probably the first suit in the Philippines against a science agency and its scientists. The court dismissed the suit saying that no one can really control and predict the weather with that certainty.

But this exposed the real shortcomings of our weather bureau. It sorely needs more equipment, weather stations, and meteorologists. The Arroyo administration has recognized the equipment upgrades and the need for those Doppler radars (those who watch the Weather Channel know how Doppler radar plots look like). Around 10 radars have been ordered and they cost a million USD each. PAGASA personnel have been sent to the USA for training. However only a trickle of meteorology students enrol at UP's Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology each year. This drought of weathermen/women means that even with new equipment, we don't have people that can use the radars and interpret the weather data. One of our major worries in the institute that this drought of students threatens the viability of the program and the weather service as a whole.

The public worldwide is not comfortable when scientists publicly express their uncertainties about their conclusions. I believe that the major reason why the global warming advocates and scientists needed an Al Gore is that he being a non-scientist may express this uncertainty without much ridicule (after all he is a layman). But in "Inconvenient Truth" this uncertainty was downplayed for the media hype purposes. The public hasn't really got the idea that uncertain science doesn't mean unsound science. But the demands for quick scientific solutions for real life problems means the public misconceptions are reinforced.

The Philippines faces an election year and in every election year, the environment becomes an election issue (aside from the usual corruption issue). Whether it is a Father Panlilio, Chiz Escudero, Manny Villar, Mar Roxas etc as candidates for president, expect that they will have a stand on environmental issues. They will depend on scientific advisors. Can the advisors advice them on how certain science is? Science will be playing a more important role in future elections as the Filipino public perceives a coming environmental catastrophe.

Society needs science but we are on the way to understand it and how it works. However we need to reexamine science in basic education and on to graduate school. The other choice is we consult with quacks, crocks and other charlatans who dispense information with nary a logical underpinning that sounds certain but whose uncertainty cannot be challenged.

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary

A Grain Of Salt For Your SWS Survey

SOURCE: Social Weather Stations 2nd Quarter 2009 Press Release

This Chart summarizes over two years of SWS polling on the following question:
Under the present Constitution, the term of Pres. Arroyo is up to 2010 only, and there will be an election for a new President in May 2010. Who do you think are good leaders who should succeed Pres. Arroyo as President? You may give up to three names.
Various headlines are derived (sold?) from the quarterly public opinion polling data collected by SWS, in this case, from asking 1500 respondents the above question and tallying up how often various personalities are mentioned. But the claimed Margin of Error of plus or minus 2.5 percent is SPURIOUS, as one can easily verify that the reported percentages do not add up to 100%! Since there is no fixed menu of candidates given in the question, and the respondents were free to name up to three choices, this form of statistical survey cannot be analyzed and its accuracy ascertained using the methods that are applicable to surveys where there should only strictly speaking be two choices.

The more realistic measure of how accurate this series of polls is likely to be can be better seen in the numbers of one particular "CANDIDATE" that is never mentioned in the SWS spin of its own data: namely that of NONE or DON'T KNOW, which an inspection of the above chart will show actually competes with the leaders of the survey, and in fact, apparently topped the First Quarter SWS survey. But this fact never made it to the headlines.

Indeed, I would submit that the REAL STATISTICAL ERROR in the SWS survey is at least half of the NONE or DON'T KNOW percentage, that is, closer to plus or minus ten percent!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Alleged Abduction-Rape: True or False?

It all turned out to be a false alarm.

Or is it?

After capturing the nation’s attention and filling the general populace with outrage, the alleged abduction and rape of the 13-year old daughter of an agent of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in Baguio City seems to be a case of a father’s worry over his daughter’s not coming home on time.

It apparently turns out that the girl went out drinking with friends, and, since she didn’t come home on time, the father, given his line of work, understandably thought that the worst had happened. However, the girl’s companions have come out and have ‘fessed up, giving closure to the case.

However, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which headlined the story last weekend, appears skeptical, and has hinted, in its story today, of a possible cover-up, considering the abrupt about-face of the government in its statements about the case. At first, the government spokespersons expressed the outrage that the public felt, and declared war on drugs; this, of course, prompted columnist Ramon Tulfo to question what the government was doing about the problem before the alleged abduction. With the announcement by PDEA chief Dionisio Santiago that the alleged abuction didn't happen, the spokespersons began backtracking and saying that the abduction news was "unverified". If this is the case, what happens to the war on drugs now?

I remember reading about the case last weekend, and I remember the revulsion and rage that I felt. I found myself agreeing with politicians calling for the re-imposition of the death penalty for these monsters who would stoop so low as to attack the dependents of agents working against them. Such beasts, I thought, have lost any right to life. Now, however, I find the rage dissipating and wonder at how the whole situation will affect the war against illegal drugs, which, despite the false alarm with the agent’s daughter, is a very real problem.

The fact that the case unleashed a wave of public indignation and outrage is an indicator of how widespread the problem is. It is unsettling to learn that the Philippines is one of the top movers of illegal drugs in the world, and one has to question what our government has been doing to stop this heinous trade.

One of the problems is that the drug syndicates are likely backed by powerful individuals, among our politicians, local officials and our military, making it difficult to impossible for any real progress to be made in rooting out the criminals. There is big money to be made in illegal drugs, and, with next year’s elections coming up, potential candidates need sizeable war chests in order to be able to run a credible campaign, and aren’t picky about where the funds come from.

I’m not sure how the problem can be solved, but it’s important that the government doesn’t let the false alarm over the agent’s daughter deter them from continuing to go after the syndicates. The only way, it seems, is to go after the ringleaders, and make sure that any charges against them stick. Of course, given the fact that a number of our officials are likely involved in the trade, it’s going to be a Herculean task.

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary

An overly ambitious dung beetle

Many people didn’t know what to think when Norberto Gonzales, the national security adviser of Mrs. Gloria Arroyo, first broached the idea of a constitutional commission (con-com) as an alternative mode of changing the Charter. Maybe it’s because he didn’t say much, other than it was doable.

“The key is for the heads of our three branches of government to agree among themselves to undertake Charter change. To Secretary Gonzales’s mind, this is not a complicated thing,” said a press release from Gonzales’s political party, PDSP (Partido Demokratiko Sosyalista ng Pilipinas).

Well, it’s not that simple. Con-com is not included in the present Constitution, so a Charter amendment has to happen first before one can even consider a con-com. Now, if there’s going to be a constitutional convention or a constituent assembly, anyway, what’s the need for a con-com? Why even bother thinking about it?

Most people will move on. But Gonzales is not like most people. Instead of dropping the idea, he went on to propose a revolutionary government, to get around the fact that the con-com cannot be done except in the manner prescribed by the Constitution. That—advocating the overthrow of the present government—opens him to charges of sedition and fomenting revolution.

Fortunately for Gonzales, he is a protegé of Fr. Romeo Intengan, the guru of applied jesuitics. He can contradict himself without contradicting himself.

Gonzales can agree with Chief Justice Reynato Puno; that is, his analysis that the country is “like a volcano that is about to erupt” and still claim that the Arroyo administration has substantially improved the lives of the people. He can characterize the need to reform our electoral system as a matter of life and death without criticizing the massive cheating that happened in the 2004 presidential poll and, to a lesser degree, in the 2007 senatorial election. He can call for a revolutionary government because he’s really just asking the leaders of the present government to overthrow themselves so they can reconstitute as a transition government.

“The call of the times [is] for the three major branches of government, supported by key pillars of our society like the churches, civil society and mass movements, to agree to a transitional government respected by the armed forces.”

“GMA should be part of the revolutionary government that should also include the leadership of the two houses of Congress, the Judiciary and the Church.”

Gonzales does not say much except that his patrona should be a member of the junta. He does not say how the junta will function, how its members will be chosen, and whether the junta operates on unanimity or majority rule. He does not say who will be the commander in chief. He does not say if Congress will be abolished during the transition because if it will be abolished, then what’s the point of including the leaders of a nonexistent body?

Gonzalez has not revealed any details about his junta because the only thing that matters to him is Gloria Arroyo’s continued leadership. Never mind that she turned the country into a “volcano that is about to erupt,” she can undo what she has done. She, at the head of a transition government, can “truly empower the people to choose their leaders and shift in the system of governance to free the nation from very costly elections and from paralyzing stalemates among institutions and political forces.” I know it sounds insane, but that’s applied jesuitics.

That’s why Gonzales reminds me of an American pundit’s description of Sarah Palin, “She is like an especially ambitious dung beetle trying to push a turd up and over a hill; even if she gets it where she wants it, in the end, she’s still just been rolling shit.”

SOURCE: Life in Gloria's Enchanted Kingdom

Election Cases: Waste of Time and Money

"It will only be a waste of time and money," observes Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio's election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, when asked for his reaction to the Supreme Court's recent ruling allowing the recount of votes cast during the Pampanga gubernatorial elections in 2007. Former Lubao, Pampanga Mayor Lilia Pineda filed an election protest against Governor Panlilio by claiming that the erstwhile priest and his followers committed various electoral frauds.

This statement, coming no less from a veteran election lawyer, speaks a mouthful about the state of election cases in our country. It pains me to say this, but election cases in general do nothing except line the pockets of election lawyers, for in most cases the winners end up with empty victories, no to mention empty purses, because the favorable verdicts come in only after they have become moot. With the 2010 elections just less than a year to go, the election protest against Governor Panlilio is yet another example of an exercise in futility. The recounting of votes, while every protestant's dream, takes the longest and is the most contentious and tedious process in an election protest. The protestee's lawyer interposes every imaginable objection from the custody and handling of the ballot boxes to be re-opened to the reading and inclusion of ballots prejudicial to his client. Take it from Macalintal, who must've handled thousands of election cases (both high-profile and low-key) already, when he said that the recount against Panlilio is futile at this point in time.

With the slew of cases being filed every three years, the Philippines probably has the richest jurisprudence when it comes to election cases. A lot of defeated candidates with money to spare, perhaps excesses from the huge campaign war chests, cry they have been cheated after every elections even when the margins are huge. Many factors can be attributed to this phenomenon - which a visiting Canadian lawyer I once met during a legal forum found unbelieveable because he has never heard of election cases in his country. For one, our electoral system is prone to cheating and election officials are bribe-susceptible. Not only can election officials in charge of counting and canvassing of votes be bribed to guarantee victory for one candidate, but election judges to assure favorable judgments in election cases. Another equally strong, if not more powerful, reason is the insatiable quest for power, with all its illegitimate perquisites that promise luxury and indulgence to the holder. Politicians with such devious motivation (and there are lots of them unfortunately!) will have no qualms bribing their way to victory, both at the polls and courtroom.

If it's any consolation, law students and lawyers won't find a shortage of jurisprudence illuminating the election code and its companion laws that makes for interesting studies and provides guidance to our courts in disposing election cases before them. At least we would not be groping in the dark as US courts did in the wake of the 2000 US presidential elections between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when confronted with thin jurisprudence in trying to make sense of their varied election laws. But then again the dispatch with which these courts came out with a decision in the Bush v. Gore case (decided in less than a month) and the recently concluded legal contest between Norm Coleman and Al Franken for a Minnesota US Senate seat (completed in eight months) would make us weep.

The exceedingly slow pace at which election cases are resolved in the Philippines has turned election law litigation into a big joke. Although election cases are given preferences before regular courts and the election code directs their resolutions with dispatch, our legal system - with its loophole-ridden appeals process - makes it possible for parties on the losing end to prolong the litigation with the end goal of getting them through their terms before a decision is finally handed. More often than not election cases are resolved after the contested terms have expired or elections for the next terms have passed.

In my home town of Mabalacat, Pampanga, for example, when in 2001 the election protest against Mayor Marino "Boking" Morales was resolved declaring his long-time rival Anthony Dee the winner, Morales already completed his term of office. Then again in the 2007 case of Rivera III, et al. v. Comelec, et al., G.R. No. 167591 (May 9, 2007) - originally a petition to cancel the certificate of candidacy of Morales where I was one of the petitioners and counsels - the Supreme Court declared the ineligibility of Morales to run for Mayor in the 2004 elections. But this decision came only less than two months before the term for which he was found ineligible expired. There are tons of other cases bearing similar backdrops which i'm sure most of you can relate to that we need not cite them here for convenience.

Despite this sad reality, however, the Supreme Court, which is empowered by the Constitution to not only give meaning to the law but to promulgate rules of procedure in matters of litigation, has done nothing to put a stop to this abhorrence. Worse, it even sustains it by, for example, allowing wrongdoers to profit from their misdeeds by allowing "elected" candidates found to have lost the elections to keep their salaries, however miniscule they are compared to the illegitimate perquisites of their office, under the de facto officer doctrine. Would it not be more just that a usurper of public office be penalized by returning all the salaries he drew during his unlawful tenancy? The Supreme Court has also the penchant for entertaining petitions that do not establish new law and are clearly covered by established jurisprudence. Instead of declining jurisdiction and deferring to the Comelec or lower courts' rulings in cases squarely adhering to established jurisprudence, it proceeds to hear and publish full decisions in cases that could otherwise be disposed of by minute resolutions, thus adding to the delay in disposition of election cases.

Election litigations should not only be a lawyer's or politician's concern, but of every voter because it is an extension of the electoral process of choosing our leaders. They are designed - supposedly - to protect the voters' choice at the polls and ensure that those who court our votes are only those who are legally qualified to do so. But when they drag on indefinitely and are decided only when they can no longer serve their purpose or worse, when they are manipulated to the advantage of the unworthy, they subvert, and become an affront to, our sovereign will.

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Unpacking Choice and Reproductive Rights

Why is the reproduction of life political?

Fundamentalists rest easy on grounding reality on something solid, eternal, unchanging. There is security in anchoring one’s view of the world on basic principles from which spring beliefs about who we are and what we ought and ought not to do. Once these fundamentals become shaky, it is feared that identities (who we are) and morals that guide us (what we ought and ought not to do) become shaky as well.

The Reproductive Health bill is a landmark policy shift that gives women control over their body’s reproductive functions through state resources. It is revolutionary, and thus feared, on two accounts.

First, should the bill make it through Congress and approved by the Executive, the public domain will have acknowledged that reproduction, i.e. the creation of life, is not a completely private matter between mother and father. Motherhood confers to women a unique bodily function. It is often argued that because we have a uterus – ‘nature’ (i.e. God) has given us an immutable identity – that of bearing children. In other words, because we have a uterus, our biological make-up forever cements us in the mold of reproducing life. True, motherhood is a gift and fertility is revered in many cultures around the world. One then wonders why this matter is intensely political in a large and differentiated society such as ours.

Those opposing the bill have argued that the State should not dictate upon families the number of children they want to bear. Advocates have answered the bill makes no such imposition. Indeed, it does not. The bill, however, gives women a last say on what happens to their bodies. It is revolutionary in that it wrests control over the reproduction of life away from ‘nature’ (i.e. God) and men. The sexual act need not naturally result to pregnancy. This is why anti-RH bill people claim that our society will develop a ‘contraceptive culture’ and that the young will become more ‘promiscuous.’ The image of the ‘loose’ woman offends many. This moral guidepost says women ought not to engage in sexual acts with any man of her choosing in any context. The sexual act is reserved for married heterosexual partners, because, fundamentalists argue, the sole function of sex is procreation. Unpacking this moral guidepost unearths many donts and hidden punishments:

1. Only men and women can have a union blessed by the most powerful institutions in our society – the State and the Church.
2. Marriage confers rights and protection to this coupling that is denied to any other combination (men-men, women-women).
3. Sexual intercourse should occur only in a marital context. To do otherwise paints one, especially women, as immoral and therefore undesirable.
4. Sexual intercourse’s sole purpose is to reproduce life.

Unpacking all that, we get to the heart of the matter – how to control and harness reproductive labor. At the top of this structure of control are the State and Church. Their powers to constrain individual behavior discipline and order human beings in such a way as to benefit both. The State must have a last say on all things public, i.e. what concerns all of us, and the Church on all things moral, i.e. what we should and should not do.

Between these two at the top of the pyramid however, the State is a much more democratic, more participatory and less opaque structure of power. We do not get to elect who mans the Church. We do not get to argue and debate over theological matters. We do not get to negotiate moral matters as per the Catholic hierarchy.

Secondly, the bill is revolutionary (thus feared) because it pierces the sanctity of the ‘family unit.’ The Catholic Church and other fundamentalist organizations jealously guard its sanctity. They often argue that the State (or the public domain) should have no say about reproductive matters. The same argument can also be made for domestic violence. What goes on between husband and wife is a private matter. What goes on between parent and child is also a private matter. But the so-called sanctity of the domestic domain cloaks power hierarchies within the family unit. This traces back to the history of marriage as an institution where the wife is the husband’s property. Parenthood also confers ownership of children. To acknowledge that wives and children have rights independent of the societal unit to which they belong unveils the cloak of the family’s ‘sanctity.’ Women are individuals who are more than the sum of their mammary glands and uterus. Children are individuals who are more than the result of reproductive labor.

This is why the Church and other fundamentalists have fought tooth and nail against the Reproductive Health bill. It unravels the order of the ‘natural,’ that is, it unravels the order of God.

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary

Automation and the Rights of Suffrage


What exactly does the Constitution mean by the two terms: (1) "the secrecy of the ballot" and (2) "the sanctity of the ballot"--and how should our appreciation of them change if the country moves from the old Manual Election System to some kind of new Automated Election System? How for example can a ballot remain SECRET yet be properly and verifiably COUNTED by a public agency like the Boards of Election Inspectors, Comelec and the Congress? How can BOTH secrecy and sanctity of the ballot be secured, as required by the Constitution? In future there may not even BE a physical ballot involved in the voting process!

The 1987 Constitution provides:
Section 1. Suffrage may be exercised by all citizens of the Philippines not otherwise disqualified by law, who are at least eighteen years of age, and who shall have resided in the Philippines for at least one year, and in the place wherein they propose to vote, for at least six months immediately preceding the election. No literacy, property, or other substantive requirement shall be imposed on the exercise of suffrage.

Section 2. The Congress shall provide a system for securing the secrecy and sanctity of the ballot as well as a system for absentee voting by qualified Filipinos abroad.
The Congress shall also design a procedure for the disabled and the illiterates to vote without the assistance of other persons. Until then, they shall be allowed to vote under existing laws and such rules as the Commission on Elections may promulgate to protect the secrecy of the ballot.


What exactly does the Constitution mean by the two terms: (1) "the secrecy of the ballot" and (2) "the sanctity of the ballot"--and how should our appreciation of them change if the country moves from the old Manual Election System to some kind of new Automated Election System? How for example can a ballot remain SECRET yet be properly and verifiably COUNTED by a public agency like the Boards of Election Inspectors, Comelec  and the Congress?   How can BOTH secrecy and sanctity of the ballot be secured, as required by the Constitution?  In future there may not even BE a physical ballot involved in the voting process!

I think that these two terms refer to two different aspects of the INFORMATION that is contained in a valid voting BALLOT namely: (1) Which VOTER cast the ballot; and (2) Which CANDIDATES were chosen on the ballot.

The SECRECY of the ballot refers to the IDENTITY of the VOTER who cast a given ballot. There must be a reasonable expectation that this information cannot easily or readily be determined from an inspection of the ballot alone.

Meanwhile, the SANCTITY of the ballot means that it ought to be properly counted and canvassed and the candidates chosen receive the intended vote.

Under the Manual Election System that has been used in all past elections, a paper ballot must be filled out by the Voter with the NAMES of the candidates (this, despite the explicit 1987 provision that literacy is not a requirement for the exercise of suffrage.) The ballots cast at a given precinct are then read (usually by persons many of the voters will know to have been their school teachers) and a tally of all the votes is made to produce the Precinct Election Return.  Theoretically, the identity of the voter casting a given ballot is kept "secret"  since the voter does not literally sign the ballot.  But in most cases of course, this is a legal and practical fiction.    About 250,000 precincts (max 200 registered voters each) are required to service about 50 million potential voters for 2010.

In the case of the Manual Election System that has been in place since time immemorialthere is of course no identification of the voter on the ballot. However, since each voter is obligated to write out the names of each candidate, and the local school teachers who know everyone from infancy (and likely their handwritten script) are manning the Board of Election Inspectors, the concept of voter identity secrecy could easily be a legal fiction in most cases!

On the other hand, the sanctity of the ballot under the Manual Election System is notoriously subject to addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and every imaginative genre of dagdag-bawas known to Garci, Bedol and that shady ilk of election operators during a month long process of municipal, provincial and national canvass.

Comes now the concept of the AUTOMATED ELECTION. How are reasonable Filipinos to construe the concepts of SECRECY and SANCTITY of the BALLOT under this new SYSTEM?

In the upcoming May, 2010 elections, an automated election system will enable registered voters to MARK selections from a LIST of candidates on the printed paper ballot. The ballot is fed into a Precinct Count Optical Scanner (PCOS) which photographs it; programmatically interprets the voter's choices; encrypts, registers and stores the raw data in preparation for CANVAS, TRANSMISSION, and ARCHIVING. The PCOS will also produce a RECEIPT for the voter's records.

The following analogy is useful: the ballot is like a set of email messages, one for each candidate selected by the voter. The voter is the sender of the email messages and the candidates chosen are the recipients of the message.

Thus the "delivery system" which is to be provided by the Congress and executed by Comelec must efficiently and accurately deliver all possible 50 million email message ballots in 2010 to their intended recipient's "mailboxes" maintained for local candidates at the Comelec HQ and the Congress in joint session assembled for the national canvass. At the same time, for any given message, the identity of the sender must not be easily or readily determinable from the ballot alone.

May I suggest that there is a well-established technology which can fulfill the Constitutional guarantees on secrecy and sanctity of the democratic ballot that is available to a suitably engineered and implemented automated election system. I speak of techniques involving the use of PUBLIC KEY CRYPTOGRAPHY to guard both the voter-sender's identity from public view, and ensure that only the intended candidate-recipients can actually receive the ballot-message!

Are such systems even possible in the real, practical world?  You bet! In fact take a look at this news item on PhysOrg from the Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Science, which describes a recently implemented "auditable voting system" called Helios that is a kind of ideal model for an automated election system:

 "Helios allows any participant to verify that their ballot was correctly captured, and any observer to verify that all captured ballots were correctly tallied," said Adida. "We call this open-audit voting because the complete auditing process is now available to any observer. This revolutionary approach to elections has been described in the literature for more than 25 years, yet this is the first real-world open-audit election of this magnitude and impact of outcome."

The verifiable voting system, available as open-source/free software, implements advanced cryptographic techniques to maintain ballot secrecy while providing a mathematical proof that the election tally was correctly computed.

Helios relies upon public key homomorphic encryption, a method where a public key is used to encrypt a message (in this case, a vote); messages can be combined under the covers of encryption (in this case, tallying the votes); and multiple independent private keys are required to decrypt the message (in this case, the election tally).

In an election, Helios works as follows:

• first, each voter receives a tracking number for his/her vote and the vote is encrypted with the election public key before it leaves the voter's browser;

• second, with the tracking number, a voter can then verify that their ballot was correctly captured by the voting system, which publishes a list of all tracking numbers prior to tallying; and

• finally, the voter, or any observer including election watchers from outside the election, can verify that these tracking numbers (the encrypted votes) were tallied appropriately. The election results contain a mathematical proof of the tally that cannot be "faked" even with the use of powerful computers.

"Because the tallying happens under the covers of encryption, the entire verification process is done without revealing the contents of each individual vote," explained Adida "Moreover, by using Helios, voters no longer need to blindly trust those supervising the election, as officials must provide mathematical proofs that everything was done appropriately."

The automated election system that Comelec will use in the May 2010 elections makes many similar claims of capability to secure ballot secrecy and sanctity, although the implementation is necessarily different for an election with 50 million voters spread out over 250,000 precincts, than what may be possible at Harvard University!  However, it will be noted that public key encryption techniques are at the heart of the SmartMatic/TIM consortium's proferred system and thus certainly has the potential to be evolved and developed into a mathematically secure voting system.

Cryptography is indeed the KEY to securing the rights of suffrage: ballot secrecy and sanctity! 

The Contract between Comelec and the technology provider, SmartMatic/TIM is to be found here on the Comelec website.

Key Dates on the Comelec 2010 Election Calendar are here.

SmartMatic Corp's Home Page contains a wealth of information about the company that will provide the historic first automated election system for the Philippines.  There is a Philippines Media Kit on the site.  Although SmartMatic has a track record in conducting elections, it reveals on the website that it has actually counted only about 150 million votes in all the elections it has automated.   The May 2010 elections could involve as many as 50 million Filipino voters.  

A successful automated election in the Philippines is clearly in the long-term interest of the company called SmartMatic, for it could unlock a rich market for automated election services in democracies all over the world.   A bad election in which the automated system is implicated in fraud or God forbid, a failure of election, is NOT in SmartMatic's interest.

I believe this is a key consideration in how pundits and bloggers especially ought to see SmartMatic.  Comelec of course is another matter!


SOURCE: Philippine Commentary

Friday, July 17, 2009

Apollo after 40 years and going back to space

I am a member of the generation born during the years of the Apollo space program. Growing up in the 1970s in science class and in science fair projects, we were building model rockets. Dad bought me a telescope when he went to the US for a visit in 1977. The nights in Quezon City then were dark enough to use a telescope to see the rings of Saturn or Jupiter's Red Spot. The in thing in science then was spaceflight. Even the Marcos science establishment fantasized about the country and its New Society being advanced enough to launch its own rockets and put up its own satellite. This was at the height of the Marcos regime. I will discuss the Marcos fantasy of rockets and satellites a bit later. It is not as fantastic as it seems.

In the 1980s manned space flight took a backseat when NASA realized that by sending robotic probes, like Voyager, we can get the same science for less bucks and less chance of people being lost in space. The space shuttle was sent aloft in 1981 or thereabouts. Russia's Mir space station was launched in 1986. In the same year just before the fateful February Snap election, the Challenger blew up like a giant kwitis and an ailing Ferdinand Marcos commented on the disaster. Two weeks later, Marcos was history.

The question that bugs space fans like me (and all the Apollo astronauts) is that how come the US never went back to the Moon? As for the Soviet Union, it realized that it can't keep up with capitalism and settled for a space station program using 1960s Soyuz derivatives (which still works). The USA had the money but the 1980s Reagan years were an age of waiting for the Soviet Union to collapse (which it did). Together with the communist collapse, went the Soviet space program. Its copycat shuttle "Buran" went to space on remote control only once. Russia reincarnated the space program by 1) selling launch time to the Americans and 2) space tourists on Mir.

Today a recession hit America and a resurging Russia are considering going to the Moon on the way to Mars. America needs a spaced out distraction and Russia knows that now it has the cash to finally beat the Americans. America may find the cash, but I don't know whether doing a JFK is enough to boost the morale of jaded Americans. As Obama's "change that matters" begins to sound like "change that hardly mattered"(and Oprah and other talk show hosts begin to eat their words.), Obama may do a JFK to boost his sagging image and send someone to Mars. A politically inclusive and correct publicity stunt is to send a black American who may first set foot on the red planet.

But another Space Race is too expensive for Obama and Medvedev to contemplate alone and since the shuttle will be retired, NASA and the Russian Space Agenc will have to use 3 stage rockets and Russia's dependable Soyuz, once more to send supplies to the International Space Station (whose scientific value is hotly debated). It is likely that the Russians and the Europeans will play a large role in the Mars mission.

And planting the Stars and Stripes or the Russian tricolor would be the most un-PC thing to do on Mars. It is likely that an environmentalist "Earth Flag" will flutter in a Martian dust storm.

Readers may not know it and wags may laugh about it but the Republic of the Philippines has its own space program. It is under DOST direction and focuses on remote sensing and space based research on monitoring the Philippine environment. The Pinoy space dream is to have out own natural resource sensing satellite. However we don't have any launch capability (hey wags! Don't mention "kwitis" from Bocaue!) and thus the program surely has security implications. Who is going to launch our satellite? The Americans?, Russians?, Europeans? Chinese?, Japanese?, Indians?, Pakistanis? or the Dear Leader in Pyongyang?

Of course all these parties will do it for a fee. How much could the fee be? It could be that these parties may demand that we give them some remotely sensed data about our dwindling natural resources. The security issues are very obvious. Our own satellite can track down those pesky Abu Sayaff and zap them with a cruise missile. Marcos even in his dictatorial days realized the advantages of space. And Prez Gloria (who according to PDI's Amando Doronila is the A student in Marcos 101!) I assume realizes the same potentials and advantages.

One thing hindering countrywide research on the Philippine environment is the cost of remotely sensed data. For example, my research project staff inquired how much the cost of the latest image of Quezon City and this was quoted at 1 million pesos! The French and the Americans own the images. Some "freebies" may be obtained from NASA, ESA and the US Navy but these are usually of low resolution. In many cases we have to content ourselves with Google Earth!

Thus DOST has called for space technology applications research proposals in the last two years or so. Two national conferences have been hosted and I attended one. In these conferences it is obvious that a space program will help us protect our resources and our national security. How the Philippines develops its space program is likely to be in cooperation with space nations in the region. Here the Chinese and Russians have shown interest. So far I haven't heard any peep from NASA aside from their call for our scientists to help them put up a aerosol monitoring station in the Philippines. Since this has military applications, the security aspect is real.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Explainer Dialogue on Education

This was Monday night's telecast on ANC Cable TV of The Explainer with Manolo Quezon. We talked about Education, in particular Science education, teachers and the idea of privatizing Basic Education...Watch it all! The program's show page on the Archive The Explainer July 13 2009contains several downloadable and streamable file formats, including for use on Iphone/IpodTouch platforms.

[Courtesy of The Rizalist Press Multimedia! Join The Rizalist Press on Facebook!]

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Give her enough rope

“Aaminin kong may pagkukulang kami sa intelligence community, pero lahat na intelligence community sa buong mundo ay nasisingitan din ng mga masasamang loob. E, mas malaki ang budget nila nasisingitan pa rin, at mas malaki ang mga bombang sumasabog sa kanila. [I will admit we are inept but so are other intelligence agencies in the world.] ” —National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales on why he won’t resign despite being caught off-guard by the recent spate of bombings in ARMM

The Palace said the Sunday morning bomb that killed five and wounded dozens in Cotabato City bore “the signature of the special operations group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front [MILF].”

In the same breath, the Palace pointed out that the matter is still under investigation. So maybe it’s the MILF. Or maybe it’s not.

Meanwhile, the opposition is not doing anybody any good raising alarms that the bombings are part of a Palace plot to declare martial law. They have no proof.

Without evidence, warnings about an elaborate Palace shadow play involving terror bombings are nothing more than shouts of “Theater!” in a crowded fire.

Here’s what I mean:

“We’re only two weeks away from Mrs. Arroyo’s last Sona [State of the Nation Address] and we’re seeing a spate of despicable bombings in Mindanao. It doesn’t take a genius to piece the two together to surmise that something bizarre is going on,” said a leader of the opposition.

In the same breath, he said he was not discounting the MILF’s role in the bombings. So maybe it’s the Palace or maybe it’s not.

The public will just have to be patient. It may take a while before it becomes clear whom the Palace boob was alluding to when he urged everyone “not to yield the day to political harlots who wish to profit from the unsettled situation.”

Seriously, there is too much lawless violence in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). There have been 38 terror bombings since January. The governors of North and South Cotabato said people in their area have started to arm themselves.

Gloria Arroyo must prevent the “unsettled situation” from deteriorating into anarchy. She must put a stop to the bombings and bring the perpetrators to justice. And she has the means to do it.

The Constitution says, “The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion.”

What is Gloria waiting for, more bombings and more mangled bodies?

The opposition, for its part, must change tack. They must urge Gloria to declare martial law in ARMM and give her all the tools she needs to deal with the terror bombings. “Give her enough rope…” as the old saying goes.

How much time does she need, three months? Fine. Does she want to eavesdrop on all communications within ARMM? Fine. Does she want to monitor the movement of funds in that area? Fine. Does she want warrantless searches? Fine, but no suspension of free speech, no torture and no salvagings.

Give her everything she says she needs so that if she fails to stop the bombings and to apprehend perpetrators, she will have no excuse.

Box her in. If she can’t make martial law work in ARMM, she can’t claim she can make it work anywhere else.

On the other hand, if she stops the bombings and apprehends the bombers, then she has no more reason for martial law, in ARMM or anywhere else.

Either way, whether she succeeds or fails, her option of placing the entire country under martial law because of bombings is off the table.

Hopefully that will put a stop to all the blather about shadow plays. And we can now focus on real issues like where to jail Bonnie and Clyde when the time comes.

SOURCE: Life in Gloria's Enchanted Kingdom

Monday, July 13, 2009

Charter Change and Plagiarism

Reading the papers last weekend, I see it appears that Philippine Star columnist and Charter Change advocate Carmen Pedrosa have either chosen not to respond to my letter to the editor regarding her two counts of plagiarism in her column (one in 2006, and the other last June 20), or are still deciding on what course of action to take. I hope it’s the latter, because I don’t think she, or the reading public, should ignore the fact that she has been less than honest about what she writes, considering that she has continued to question the credibility of those who protest or oppose Charter Change. Until she owns up to her dishonesty, she has no right to question others’ credibility, when her own credibility is in itself in question.

Of course, that doesn’t stop her from continuing to do so. In her column yesterday, she castigates U.S. Ambassador Kirstie Kenney for having stated that “the US would be concerned if the election were postponed,” and then categorizes the statement as a threat. Be that as it may, Charter Change isn’t the only possible reason why the elections would be postponed, considering the current situation in the country today. It is a continuing perception that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has intentions of prolonging her stay in power. So Ambassador Kenney’s statement could also be a warning to the President and her lapdogs against taking illegal measures to prolong that stay.

Pedrosa seems to think that Kenney is speaking her own mind on the 2010 elections, but it should be noted that the US Ambassador is an emissary of the American President, so it is unlikely that Kenney issued that statement independent of US intentions. Kenney’s statements on the 2010 most likely echo the will of the powers-that-be in Washington.

Pedrosa also continues to label those against Charter Change as oligarchic and foreign-sponsored. Of course, the House of Representatives, which is pushing for Charter Change, only has the country’s best interests at heart when they voted for HR 1109, which calls for the House to convene itself as a constituent assembly. If you’re willing to believe that, there’s a get-rich scheme that I’d like you to try out.

The main reason why Charter Change cannot be pursued at this time is that the President, being distrusted and unpopular, does not have the necessary public approval to push this agenda. The House, which Pedrosa supports, is every bit as elitist and oligarchic as the anti-Charter Change movement supposedly is, if not even more so. A number of our Congressmen are in power because they have manipulated the electoral system to install themselves in Congress, using the time-honored method of guns, goons, and gold. And this is the august body which will initiate changes in the Constitution? Please.

Unless our countrymen are properly educated about the Constitution and their social and political rights, it really doesn’t matter what system of government we have, because the ruling elite will make sure that the playing field is uneven enough to maintain their stranglehold on the nation. If it’s going to be the same bunch of elitists, scions of political dynasties, and general idiots which will make up whatever new legislative body will be formed under Charter Change, then there will be no lasting change, only the same old song with new packaging.

As for Pedrosa and her plagiarism, I'm unsure as to how to deal with this issue. I'm welcome to suggestions.

As for the articles themselves, here are the links: "Let us move on, but where?", and "Gridlock rears its ugly head".

This post also appears in Daily Musings.

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary

On science in the early grades and in graduate school.

DJB is in a crusade to bring back science as a distinct subject in the early grades of the basic education curriculum (BEC). Since 2002, science has been integrated with Makabayan and English. For Makabayan there are these subject areas: Social Studies, Music and Arts, Technology and Livelihood, and Values Education.

DJB's current crusade should let us think about the problems of teaching science in basic education. Dina Ocampo et al's paper (2009) (also a UP Centennial lecture) on reforms that don't transform in the DepEd should be a requisite backgrounder on dealing with the problem of basic science education.

Despite the extensive discussion on the various surveys on Philippine educational reform and the vexed issue of language of instruction, one important point in this paper is that we haven't effected a shift from structure based to constructivist based approaches to education. Here lies the nuts and bolts of the post-modern debate on science education. What is better? Content based sci-ed (structure based) or inquiry based sci-ed (constructivist)? Recent pedagogical approaches in the US and Commonwealth countries point to a concept based approach that rapidly moves on to an experimental hands on based approach. This is supported by some research but remains controversial.

Obviously the latter choice will require extensive infrastructure in the provision of science labs in elementary and high schools. Even in the USA, there has been a trend to de-emphasize science in basic education by reducing the core subjects to earth/physical sciences, biology and chemistry. This is partially due to the expense of providing these programs. There is also a trend to integrate the sciences along a more humanistic and social studies theme. In the UK upper level basic education programmes may have 21st science as an option for their school leavers certificate.

I am quite aware of this first hand when I taught at Lousiana State University. Thus the concern that the United States is losing its competitive edge in science has some basis. In the USA, the integration of science along humanistic lines occurs in junior high. Physics has been the first casualty here and universities and colleges are quite worried that students get into science and engineering with not much physics to begin with!

I am no expert nor a practitioner in basic science education but we in higher education get the products of basic education. The leveling process in introductory college science courses includes removing out misconceptions due to previous thinking or views of the world. In my Philippine experience of college science teaching these misconceptions often have a religious and cultural/superstition basis. This BTW cuts across social classes. The rich have their own unscientific ideas and the poor theirs. The common between these are religious in origin and class based misconceptions persist especially on human biology and health. The recent study by Professor JR Torres of Rizal Technological University on astronomy concepts is proof that these misconceptions persist.

It is certain that inquiry based science should include factual knowledge since it is impossible to do experiments on all basic science concepts. A good grounding on both the experimental and factual bases of science is necessary in metacognition in which students begin to integrate and form their own scientfic theories. This starts in high school and further developed in college/university. In the MSc and PhD levels, this is further honed. However we notice that even at the MSc level, we have to teach science the undergrad way since students haven't developed the basic metacognition competencies!

In the US, UK, EU, Japan, and China, science is taught as a single subject from the early grades to at least in high school where the basic sciences are taught as separate subjects. The trend to teach science along humanistic and social studies lines risks it being tainted with ideological bias. This is something that isn't part of a scientific culture and will retard scientific development Teaching basic science in Makabayan risks this and may not develop thinking skills for a globalized technology driven environment.

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary

Affirmative Lying

CIA Director Leon Panetta must be thanking his lucky stars.

Imagine the relief of discussing weighty and surely less stressful affairs of state with Southeast Asian leaders, including an equally pleased Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, instead of having to face the still developing firestorm in the U.S. Capitol over how the Central Intelligence Agency had deliberately lied to American lawmakers about the torture of suspected terrorists in Iraq during the Bush administration.

Mr. Panetta’s worries are, of course, his own and our being 10,000 miles away certainly gives us little proximity to the scandal.

But nosy that I am, I was struck by a phrase in the news account about how 7 American congressmen revealed the CIA’s lying ways:

On June 26, seven Democrats on the committee — Anna Eshoo (Calif.), John Tierney (Mass.), Rush Holt (N.J.), Mike Thompson (Calif.), Alcee Hastings (Fla.) and Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) [Update: I received an early version of the letter. Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.) also signed it] — wrote to Panetta, “Recently you testified that you have determined that top CIA officials have concealed significant actions from all Members of Congress, and misled Members for a number of years from 2001 to this week.” The letter — which doesn’t explain what those “significant actions” concerned* — asks that Panetta “publicly correct” his May 15 statement that it isn’t CIA “policy or practice to mislead Congress.” TWI acquired a copy of the letter, which comes after CQ reported that committee chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) also nebulously stated that CIA “affirmatively lied” to the committee.

Affirmative lying!

This is something for language maven William Safire to dissect.

But herE at home Filipino politicians can proudly crow they are past masters in the art of affirmative lying that puts even Goebbels to shame.

Not far behind are presidential and military spokesmen, albeit several rungs lower.

Pinoys have long become street-wise and are already incredulous when they are treated to none-too-convincing presentations and avowals of innocence and glowing news that too-good to be true.

With May 10, 2010 make sure your BS detectors’ batteries are fully charged with spares at the ready. :D

A parting shot: when our security officials were briefing Mr. Panetta at Malacanang yesterday how much, you think, was unvarnished truth of affirmative lying?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Yun dagdag yun dagdag

One of the medical staff who attended to Gloria has an interesting story to tell..

Dr. Guanzon briefed President Gloria on the procedure before he put her under general anesthesia.
“Ma’am we will remove those lumps so we can do a biospy” said Dr. Guanzon.

“Okey dokey. Is it going to hurt?”

“No ma’am. You will be under general anesthesia.”

“Good. Anything else?”

“Opoh. We may have to remove your implants if we see that they are leaking.”

“Hay naku doc, if you remove my implants people might notice. I have a SONA coming up pa naman.”

And so the last thing on Gloria’s mind before she was put to sleep were her implants….

So when she woke up, she was still thinking about her implants and the first slurred words out of her mouth were, “Yun dagdag? Yun dagdag?”

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary

Harry Roque Hands GMA & SCoRP a Useful Justiciable Controversy

You know how the ConAss people like Luis Villafuerte and Prospero Nograles are desperately trying to create a "justiciable controversy" in the Supreme Court that can be used for the dastardly end of perpetuating their Mistress in power?  They should take lessons from Lawyer Harry Roque!

I am glad that Comelec has just signed a contract with Smartmatic/TIM to automate the 2010 elections. Warts and all, I think that this is a necessary and historic first step towards a whole new deal when it comes to democratic elections in the Philippines, which are a big fat joke on the electorates.  But the chances of automated elections being cancelled in 2010 is apparently so high in the opinion of the principals that the  winning bidder reportedly insisted on a contract provision, agreed to by Comelec, that the vendor would be paid for its systems and services even if automation is called off.  

Many observers are convinced that the TRAPOS (traditional politicians) and manual election cheating operators,  desperately want to, and can still scuttle election automation and force the usual manual election in 2010, so we are a long, long way off from a hoped for clean, honest and automated election that does not require over a month for the results to be announced while they are cooked.

Strangely enough, the prospect of killing automation is being bolstered most strongly by the most unlikely people. Consider for example the suit by lawyer and UP Law School Prof. HARRY ROQUE to stop the deal, filed in the Supreme Court (SCoRP) just 24 hours before the contract signing.   Although no TRO was issued to stop the signing, SCoRP can now sit on and possibly pull out this very lawsuit and simply kill off the automation deal between now and the 2010 elections.  We should not forget the Decision in 2004 which stopped Ben Abalos' Automatic Counting Machines project, ITF v. Comelec--which could just as easily happen again as "Roque v. Comelec."

Harry Roque has effectively handed the Palace a Magic Bullet with which to stop automated elections in 2010 dead in its tracks.  Please note that it was very important that this suit was filed not by the likes of Oliver "Lolo" Lozano or other known Palace toady,  but by someone just like Harry Roque, an ardent Administration critic.  As it is a plea for certiorari and prohibition,  SCoRP assumes original jurisdiction, can issue a TRO at any time and for virtually any reason (such as to hear oral arguments or testimonies of experts and amici curiae)--all of which could seriously, if not fatally  compromise the implementation. SCoRP could even conceivably micromanage the implementation, allowing for example partial implementation, thus allowing manual election fraud to occur in the usual places, like ARMM and Mindanao.   The salient point of course is that the Court can decide to do nothing until it decides to do something--thanks to Harry Roque!   

Just WHEN the Court does something is almost as important as the nature of its very rulings. Thus, what Harry Roque might have thought of as his duty as a lawyer to do -- to question the validity of a Public Contract affecting elections themselves -- turns out to be a double-edged sword that the powers-that-be which he so ardently disdains and opposes.  They are only too glad to accept such a weapon from him and wield it with a swift and merciless granting of  Harry Roque's prayer that election automation not be implemented in 2010.

This news can only be cheered on by the likes of Virgilio Garcillano, Lintang Bedol and their coterie of manual election fixers--as well as aforementioned traditional politicos--who can all plan the usual Dirty Tricks of Dagdag Bawas  Their black hearts can only be gladdened to see that those doing the Dirty Work for them against automated elections are not exactly Palace stooges or Congress toadies, but bona fide divas and doyens of Civil Society--the dahlinks of Main and Blog Stream Media, the creme de la creme of the intellectual Opposition!

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Military as Arbiter of Political Conflict

In the July 9 New York Times article "Fuel for a Coup: Perils of Latin America's Oversized Military," Nobel Prize winner, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias wrote that strong militaries in Latin America have paved the way for military solutions to political conflicts in the region. He observed that the coup d'état that led to the ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya is something that is not unexpected in a region that "continues to view armed forces as the final arbiter of social conflicts."

While the Philippines is not as extravagant as Latin America when it comes to military spending, since the days of martial law our armed forces have increasingly taken an active role in trying to resolve our nation's manifold problems. We thought that after EDSA I the re-branding (from AFP to New AFP) and reorganization of the armed forces would eventually lead to its depolitization. But as history would have it, coup after coup have wracked the nascent administration of then President Corazon Aquino.

Yet again under the present administration, the military continued its political involvement in seeking solutions to our socio-political problems during the so-called Oakwood Mutiny despite repeated indoctrination at the nation's premiere military academy and among the ranks of active duty military personnel against military adventurism. Then there was the Manila Pen incident. The leader of Oakwood, Navy Lieutenant Antonio Trillanes IV, would later on be popularly elected as senator even while he was behind bars.

Coup d'état as a means of achieving change is, aside from being a crime punishable by law, without a doubt unconstitutional. Not even the present constitutional provision defining the role of the armed forces as the protector of the people can legally justify the military's role in acting as the arbiter of the country's political conflicts. That provision was meant to highlight the military's role in protecting the people against external threats or aggression, and not as a prescription against a corrupt government, however appealing the idea may be to others.

Arias says the imbalance between Latin America's fragile democracies and strong militaries, with the scales tipping toward the latter, has much to do with the military taking an active role on the political landscape. The Honduran experience shows that when Zelaya committed flagrant disregard of the country's Constitution and defiance of the high court's ruling, the military decided to resolve the impasse by arresting Zelaya and whisking him out of the country. The Honduran military's swift action did decisively what the Supreme Court and Congress failed to do: to immediately stop the illegal actions of an abusive president.

The failure of our democratic institutions in maintaining political stability and reigning in of official excesses have left our people looking for answers elsewhere. Idealists in the military have seen this as an impetus for involvement in transforming our society by resorting to extra-constitutional measures. As citizens equally disgusted by the worsening problems in the country, these soldiers follow the route where they have been trained well in seeking the much needed change. And for a country that is yet to see a truly military rule, Marcos's martial law notwithstanding, hard line military idealists would find the idea of a military junta as a seductive goal, especially so that previous administration changes have only resulted in installing new faces into power without resolving the country's fundamental problems. The guiding political aphorism, it would seem, is that when democracy fails force becomes a necessity.

To be sure, the armies of other countries are much more powerful and highly trained compared to those of Latin America and the Philippines. But we do not see the United States or United Kingdom being threatened by coup d'états. The reason is their democratic institutions and processes do not fail them. Sure there are failings here and there, but not on a scale as grand as in our country. And solutions are invariably found. In the Philippines we've seen how our democratic processes and institutions have been repeatedly mocked by those in power: until now not a single verdict of conviction has been handed down against the former First Lady Imelda Marcos despite the plethora of cases brought against her, she and her family have reacquired political power, public officals who only earn miniscule salaries continue to live lavish lifestyles, we have a president who committed an act comparable to or even worse than Watergate but continues to remain in power, scandals after scandals are being heaped upon us by government officials who remain unscathed by the scalpel of justice, etc.

For as long as we do not fully mature as a democracy, where our democratic institutions and processes are revered as inviolable, members of the military establishment clamoring for change will continue to see their relevance in instituting political reforms. As long as our politicians continue to tinker with our Constitution and unabashedly violate the law, our institutions fail to cut down official excesses and public officials defy the people's will, the military will remain an active participant of political change.

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary

Wacko Jacko's Ghost!

This should interest culture studies people. When Elvis kicked the bucket in 1977, people were confused and a spate of Elvis sightings were reported that continues on to the 21st century. The scientific explanation for this is that Elvis impersonators flourish everywhere. In the Philippines, you just have to see RJ! Jacko is rightly or wrongly compared to the King or Rock and Roll. But we have had a few reports of Jacko post-mortem sightings. One hospital janitor is convinced that he saw Jacko slip out of the UCLA Medical Center ER dressed as a nun!

Elvis and Jacko are American cultural phenomena. But Elvis kicked the bucket in a time when the fastest way to get news was through satellite broadcast (in the Philippines it was mainly by microwave) or if by print through TELEX (If you are from generation Z you will ask "What is that?"). Fax machines I believe had been invented but weren't in commercial use.

Looking at the history of Elvis sightings, very few have claimed to see his ghost, but the real Elvis.

Wacko Jacko kicked the bucket in the age of 1) Internet, 2) Facebook, 3) Twitter, 4) SMS and my mom (who's turning 80) got the SMS less than 5 minutes after the death was announced. Imagine being greeted at breakfast "Michael Jackson is dead!" In other words, we got the news almost instantly.

Which leaves us a question, why do people now see his ghost? Do ghosts come out of the Internet via YouTube?

In the Medieval ages, people saw ghosts since they were 1) hungry, 2) have eaten ergot, 3) scared by the Church, or 4) drunk. In this post-modern but still secular age, we shouldn't see ghosts.

Now cloning mammals has been a reality for more than 20 years. Success in cloning your dog and cat is no longer news. I did expect some wacko to suggest that we resurrect Jacko as a clone. Before this wackiness was limited to movies such as "Boys from Brazil" where Dr Mengele tried to clone the Fuhrer! Maybe the whole idea of cloning Jacko is extremely bizarre that fans won't even contemplate it. I really did expect someone to steal his nose and clone this (oooooops that's the plot of Woody Allen's 1973 comedy "Sleeper"!) But still I wonder do the fans have a boundary they won't cross? While Jacko fans won't be thrilled by impersonators, they probably will be by the ghost!

The Medieval still lives. The Funk of 1000 years and every ghoul will seal your doom!