Thursday, March 31, 2011

‘Fugitive from injustice’


Manila Bulletin
“I lived the life of a prisoner outside a prison cell”
MANILA, Philippines – Two former justice secretaries drove me to become a fugitive from injustice.
This was how Senator Panfilo M. Lacson described his decision to go into hiding for 14 months.
“The unvarnished truth is – I was made to suffer a crime I did not commit. Two former secretaries of justice (Raul Gonzalez and Agnes Devanadera) drove me to become a fugitive from injustice,’’ he said in a press conference, the first time he went public since he went into hiding in January, 2010, to evade arrest in the Dacer-Corbito double murder case.
Lacson added that he never felt that the Aquino administration is giving him “a fair shake,” saying his being a supposed ally of President Benigno S. Aquino III could only be read in the newspapers.
“Do I consider myself an ally of the administration? Sa diyaryo ko lang nababasa (I only read such things in the newspapers),” Lacson said. He, however, stressed that from what he had heard and read, the President is sincere in his anti-corruption campaign.
“I never felt I was given a fair shake by the new administration,” he stressed.
He said that while he was in hiding, the PNP and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) never slackened their attempts to look for him.
Lacson – arch critic of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whom he accused as the one behind his miseries – expressed this sentiment when he answered reporters’ questions during a press conference at the Senate building after he returned to the Philippines last Saturday through the Cebu gateway.
Lacson finally came out of hiding as there is no longer impediment after the Court of Appeals issued a final and executory decision thumbing down the double murder case filed against him and voided the warrant for his arrest issued by the Manila Regional Trial Court.
In his own way, Lacson helped in the successful presidential bid of President Aquino.
After self-reflections during his life as a fugitive in places abroad he refused to identify, Lacson said that “I am more inclined to just forget and forgive… that is my state of mind as I go on with my duties as a senator and I have obligations to serve.”
Asked whether the new administration was a factor in his return to the Philippines to help in convicting Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez in the forthcoming impeachment trial at the Senate, Lacson simply said “never.”
He refused to comment on who could have helped and supported him during his life as a fugitive and where he hid during all those months.
He also denied seeking the help or meeting Sen. Manuel Villar in Dubai last Friday.
Asked who could be the mastermind behind the Dacer-Corbito double killing, Lacson said he knows the mastermind but “it is a matter of evidence.’’
Lacson admitted that evading arrest might be “legally difficult to justify, if not hardly defensible.”
He also conceded that going underground is politically incorrect.
As the impeachment trial of Gutierrez approaches, Lacson emphasized that he is “not a shoo-in judge to vote against the Ombudsman.”
Lacson said he agrees with the position of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile that senator-judges should be guided by evidence and the rules of evidence in judging the guilt or innocence of Gutierrez.
Asked how he was able to successfully evade arrest although the International Police (Interpol) had sought him out, Lacson, a Philippine Military Academy (PMA) graduate former Philippine National Police director general, replied: “I managed to keep my head down as it was a day to day struggle since there are many Filipinos all over the world.”
Days before the Manila RTC issued a warrant for his arrest, Lacson went into hiding on Jan. 5, 2010.
During his 14-month experience as a fugitive, Lacson said he had been subjected to the vitriol of arrogance and hatred by my old and new detractors.
“I have been humiliated, unfairly eviscerated of my dignity and personal honor, even as I am humbled by an experience so surreal I never imagined could happen. Every single day that I was underground, the crucible stared each time I opened my eyes,” he said.
He said he had lived the life of a prisoner outside a prison cell and the “only difference from one who suffers in confinement is that I could, on my own will, navigate my movements using the best of my instinctive compass.”
Lacson said he felt bad that he was told that Department of Justice prosecutors “were allowed to shred the rules on evidence in favor of satisfying the last-ditch effort to pin him down.
“On a personal note, there were frequent moments that I felt the persecution had never stopped even after a new administration took over the reins of power. All I was asking for is a fair share of justice, correct its miscarriage, and trim the excesses of the past regime,’’ he added.
He also asked the Dacer and Corbito families not to close their eyes on blaming him because the mastermind is out there.
He said he decided to go into hiding because he did not want to place himself “under the jurisdiction of a court whose judicial determination of probable cause and the subsequent issuance of a warrant of arrest I was questioning before a higher court of the land.”
Asked if he would again go abroad during the current 45-day recess that started Monday, Lacson said “no” because he has no passport.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

No-win situation


By Val G. Abelgas
It was providential that the House of Representatives approved the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez just a few days before the Senate was scheduled to go on a one-and-a-half month Holy Week recess. The long hiatus would give all the parties concerned time to reflect not only on their individual lives and sins, but on what to do with this crucial political exercise. The long recess would also give parties in the opposite sides of the fence to cool off and contemplate on the merits of the case, or at least on the consequences of removal or acquittal.
On the other hand, the long recess would also allow room for wheeling and dealing by both sides, an impeachment process being a purely political exercise. One can expect the Aquino administration to utilize its vast resources to convince the senators to vote for removal. Gutierrez has been pictured, after all, as the biggest stumbling block to President Aquino’s promised goals of curbing corruption and sending to jail officials of the previous administration who used their position to enrich themselves.
At the same time, the long recess would give Gutierrez time to reflect on whether it would be worth facing a lengthy and destructive trial to salvage whatever is left of her credibility and integrity. Maybe, the Lenten atmosphere during this long recess would give her enough motivation to resign before the trial and spare the country from such a highly divisive exercise, and, at the same time, spare herself from the humiliation of an impeachment trial.
I’m sure Gutierrez is aware that an impeachment trial will not only subject her to even more ridicule, but more importantly, will give the critics of her longtime friends and allies, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, an opportunity to bring back to public consciousness two of the biggest corruption scandals involving the Arroyos.
The two – the unresolved P728-million fertilizer fund scandal and the $320-million NBN-ZTE broadband deal — are among the six charges presented in the Articles of Impeachment submitted by the House to the Senate just before the congressional recess.
The House had voted to impeach Gutierrez by an overwhelming vote of 212-47 for the following charges:
• The Office of the Ombudsman’s allegedly dismal performance as shown by its low conviction rate
• Gutierrez’s allegedly unreasonable failure to take prompt and immediate action on the complaints filed against various public officials, including former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in connection with the botched national broadband network deal with China’s ZTE Corp.
• The allegedly inexcusable delay of the Ombudsman in investigating the death of Ensign Philip Andrew Pestaño aboard a Philippine Navy vessel
• Gutierrez’s alleged inaction on the P728-million fertilizer fund scam that involved the alleged diversion of government funds into Arroyo’s 2004 presidential campaign
• Her alleged inaction on the election automation deal between the Commission on Elections and Mega Pacific Corp., which was nullified by the Supreme Court for being anomalous
• Her alleged inaction on the case of the so-called Euro Generals—ranking police officers who took millions of pesos worth of euros with them to a conference in Russia.
In effect, Gutierrez will not only be the one on trial here, but Arroyo herself. I will be shocked if the House panel tasked with prosecuting Gutierrez would not call the Arroyo couple to the witness stand and subject them to intense grilling on at least the two charges pertaining to the fertilizer scam and the broadband deal. The Arroyos would most likely be asked about their close relationship with Gutierrez, and whether they had a hand in the Ombudsman’s inaction on the two cases.
The prosecuting panel will have to prove that there were enough grounds to indict the Arroyos and the other officials involved in the five cases cited, but still Gutierrez did not file the charges. To do this, they will call on witnesses and those tagged in the anomalies all over again.
While Gutierrez may escape removal because she was not directly involved in any one of the cases and the prosecutors may not be able to gather the 16 votes required to remove her, her friends and benefactors, Gloria and Mike Arroyo, will emerge from the whole episode brutally bruised, if not criminally charged for the two corruption scandals.
Still, the impeachment trial will be a no-win situation for her because even if the Aquino camp fails to get the needed votes to impeach, Gutierrez’ integrity will almost certainly be ruined beyond repair.
Even so, I must admit I admire her courage in fighting for her integrity and honor, although I must lament that by doing so, she will be dragging the country into another highly divisive and distracting exercise.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Merci mercilessly impeached!


By Perry Diaz

In a stunningly swift action, the House of Representatives impeached Ombudsman Merceditas “Merci” Gutierrez at 12:13 a.m. on March 22, 2011. With only 95 votes needed to approve the Articles of Impeachment (House Resolution 1089), it was passed by an overwhelming vote of 212 for impeachment, 47 against, and four abstentions.
Amidst efforts by supporters of Gutierrez — including an allegation that a high-ranking official of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) lobbied House members to vote against H.R. 1089 – to rally last-minute support for her, the House allies of President Benigno Aquino delivered a blockbusting vote that demolished attempts to rescue Gutierrez from impeachment.  Indeed, the speed for which the Articles of Impeachment were approved could be a harbinger of Aquino’s expanding – and solidifying — political power, which he testily flexed when he openly called on his Liberal party mates and non-Liberal allies to affirm their vote for impeachment.
But the Senate would be a different scenario.  Senators are known for their independence that view themselves as fief lords whose loyalty is measured on how their personal interests are enriched and their political power enhanced.  They are a different breed of political animals.
Indeed, the senators are like flowing lava – fluid but extremely hot.  Their direction is unpredictable and they could abruptly – and sharply — make a turn without notice.  And if Aquino tries to change the flow, it could burn him badly.  It’s an extremely dangerous “game” and it could ruin the prosecution of Gutierrez.  Aquino would be better off if he kept his hands out of the Senate trial.  He should leave it to the House prosecutors – which the House seems to have aplenty – to prove their case with solid evidence and not allow the Senator-judges any laxity in weighing the evidence.  The evidence alone should be enough to make a judicious decision if Gutierrez had indeed betrayed public trust.
“Craven Eleven”
There’s many to learn from the Senate impeachment trial of then-president Joseph “Erap” Estrada. On January 16, 2001, the Senate, on an 11-10 vote, ruled not to open an envelope — which allegedly contained “incriminating evidence” against Estrada — based on the premise that the envelope was not part of the impeachment complaint; thus, inadmissible in the Senate trial.  The 11 pro-Estrada senator-judges who prevailed in keeping the controversial envelope sealed were known as the “Craven Eleven,” which consisted of Juan Ponce Enrile, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Gregorio Honasan, Ramon Revilla, Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, Robert Jaworski, Tessie Aquino Oreta, Nikki Coseteng, Blas Ople, John Osmena, and Francisco Tatad.
Consequently, then-congressman Joker Arroyo, the head of the House prosecution team, and his team members walked out of the Senate trial in protest of the seemingly politically-motivated adverse action of the “Craven Eleven.”  That put the Senate trial in chaos; thus, ending the impeachment trial of Estrada.  It then forced the anti-Estrada plotters to execute “Plan B.”  Four days later, Estrada was overthrown in a sham “people power revolution” – EDSA 2 — and catapulted then-vice president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to the presidency.
Senate impeachment trial
The question is:  What is the likelihood that the Senate impeachment trial of Gutierrez would end up in disarray and chaos similar to the Estrada impeachment trial in 2001?
It’s important to note that four of the “Craven Eleven” (Enrile, Defensor-Santiago, Sotto, and Honasan) are still in the Senate with Enrile as senate president and Sotto as senate majority leader. And Joker Arroyo, now a senator, would also be a senator-judge in the Gutierrez trial.
With 22 senators (without Ping Lacson who is still out of the country) in the Senate, it would be hard to get 16 senator-judges to vote for conviction, the requisite 2/3 votes required by the constitution.  The buzz going around in political circles is that senators Defensor-Santiago, Arroyo, Honasan, and Jinggoy Estrada have indicated that they were not supportive of impeaching Gutierrez.  Since they haven’t heard the impeachment case yet, it would be fair to surmise that their stand was based purely on personal and political reasons.
The four opposition Nacionalista senators, Manny Villar, Alan Cayetano, Pia Cayetano, and Bongbong Marcos are most likely to vote against impeaching Gutierrez.
And how about the bloc of Edgardo Angara, which includes Juan Miguel Zubiri, Ramon Revilla Jr., Lito Lapid, and Loren Legarda?  Would they vote as a bloc regardless of what their conscience would dictate or would they vote their conscience based on the preponderance of evidence?  Interestingly, Lapid and Revilla are close allies of Gloria and would most likely vote against a Gutierrez impeachment.
The only predictable proponents of impeaching Gutierrez are the five Liberal Party senators: Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Ralph Recto, Serge Osmena, and Teofisto Guingona III.  Chiz Escudero and Antonio Trillanes IV would most likely vote with their Liberal allies.
In the case Enrile and Sotto, their decision could be purely political like what they did 11 years ago during the Estrada impeachment trial when they were part of the “Craven Eleven.” But all things considered, they could swing either way, evidence notwithstanding.
End game
To convict Gutierrez, 16 votes are needed while only eight are required for acquittal.  If all four Nacionalistas would cast their votes with the four senators who have indicated they’d vote for acquittal, then Gutierrez has already the “magic eight” needed to beat impeachment.  And if the Angara bloc together with Enrile and Sotto would swing for acquittal, then tapos na ang boksing (the boxing is over) – a knockout for the House prosecution team and a political defeat for president Aquino.
With Congress going into the Holy Week month-long recess starting March 26, Aquino has to work hard to convince the senators to keep an open mind and weigh the hard evidence that the House prosecution team would present at the Senate trial.
However, when all things seem to fail, then Aquino needs to bring his plea to the senators in a language they fully and unequivocally understand.  Simply put, the senators cannot turn a blind eye to the overwhelming vote in the House of Representatives.  They shouldn’t repeat the blatant political act that the “Craven Eleven” did 11 years ago.
The terms of 12 senators end in 2013 and most of them would most likely want to run for re-election.  And at a time when the voters are anxious to see reforms in government, the repercussions could be severe for those who are out of touch with the people’s sentiments.
At the end of the day, it can be said that while Gutierrez is fighting for her job, Aquino is fighting for his political life.  And if the Senate fails to impeach Gutierrez, then Aquino might just well kiss his crusade against corruption goodbye.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ombudsman Gutierrez impeached

By Noemi M. Gonzales

THE HOUSE OF Representatives on Tuesday impeached Ombudsman Ma. Merceditas N. Gutierrez in a session that extended beyond midnight and ended six months of proceedings.

In an overwhelming vote of 212 for the impeachment, 44 against and four abstentions, the chamber affirmed at 12:13 a.m. Committee Report 1089, which contains the articles of impeachment against Ms. Gutierrez, and sending the same to the Senate for trial.

The House needed only 95 votes, or a third of its membership of 283, to oust an official who has a specific constitutional mandate, such as the Ombudsman.

Under the Constitution, the House prosecution panel now has to obtain the support of at least 16 of the 23 senators, or two-thirds of the 24-member chamber, to secure a conviction and make the Ombudsman's impeachment final and executory.

The Senate has one less member after then senator Benigno S. C. Aquino III was elected president in last year's general elections. Senator Antonio F. Trillanes IV, who had been jailed since his election in 2007, has been granted temporary liberty pending the approval of his amnesty application over his alleged involvement in mutinies during the Arroyo administration, while Senator Panfilo M. Lacson is expected to resurface after the Court of Appeals junked with finality murder charges and arrest warrants issued against him for allegedly masterminding a double murder case in 2000.

Senators have said they will tackle the case after the Holy Week break on March 26 to May 8.

The Arroyo family in the House -- former president now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (2nd district), her sons Diosdado “Dato” of Camarines Sur (1st district) and Juan Miguel “Mikey” of party-list Ang Galing Pinoy, and brother-in-law Ignacio T. Arroyo of Negros Occidental (5th district) -- all voted against impeachment. Ms. Gutierrez has been close to the Arroyos and was a school mate of former first gentleman Jose Miguel "Mike" T. Arroyo at the Ateneo de Manila University Law School.

Cavite Rep. Lani Mercado-Revilla (4th district) abstained from voting as her husband, Senator Ramon “Bong” B. Revilla, Jr., will serve as judge during trial. Las Pinas City Rep. Mark A. Villar, son of Senator Manuel B. Villar, Jr., also abstained on the same grounds.

Ms. Gutierrez, whose seven-year term ends in November 2012, is facing the prospect of being the first Ombudsman to be impeached.

Her trial in the Senate will be the second, following that of former president Joseph E. Estrada whose trial was cut short after his allies in the Senate decided against opening an envelope that allegedly contained evidence to pin him down on plunder charges. He was ousted after an uprising that followed, now known as EDSA 2, in January 2001.

EDSA 1 was the so-called People Power Revolution in February 1986 that ousted dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos and catapulted Corazon "Cory" C. Aquino to the presidency. The late former president is the mother of the current president.

The minority bloc had attempted to delay the proceedings after its members questioned sponsors of the articles of impeachment, drawing lengthy debates that questioned the grounds for impeaching the Ombudsman.

Minority Leader Edcel C. Lagman (1st district, Albay) also called for an investigation on the text message allegedly sent by Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio A. Abaya (1st district), chairman of the influential committee on appropriations, to congressmen which warned on the risk of voting against impeachment in exchange for losing the so-called pork barrel fund, or a stand-by authority of legislators to identify pet projects that will be undertaken by the Department of Public Works and Highways.

“I ask the leadership to immediately cause the investigation of this latest assault against our institution. More than the impeachment proceedings, the preservation and protection of the independence and integrity of our chamber must be upheld and prioritized," Mr. Lagman said in a speech before the plenary.

The articles of impeachment bear the following cases:
-- failure to act on the P728-million fertilizer scandal, particularly the alleged fund diversion to finance Mrs. Arroyo’s presidential campaign in 2004;
-- failure to take action on the P1.3-billion poll automation contract in 2004, which was declared null and void by the Supreme Court;
-- refusal to prosecute so-called euro generals, or police officials who brought undeclared euros to a conference in Russia in 2007 that were intercepted upon their departure from Moscow;
-- failure to act on the $329-million National Broadband Network project with Chinese firm ZTE Corp. also involving Mrs. Arroyo and her husband;
-- delay in the investigation on the death of Navy Ensign Philip Andrew Pestaño in 1995 on board a Navy ship over an alleged drug shipment discovery; and
-- low conviction rate. -- Noemi M. Gonzales

Monday, March 21, 2011

Volunteerism for Nation Building


By Jose Ma. Montelibano
It was about midnight in New Jersey when I saw the first posting of a historic event on FaceBook. I was so moved by the development that I couldn’t sleep till almost daybreak. It was my moment to savor alone the coming true of a wish, not yet in the fullness of it, but enough to see the light at the end of a tunnel shine brightly through the darkness. In that one moment, it was as though ten years of personal effort became all worth it.
A co-advocate and volunteer in the work known as Gawad Kalinga had sent through FaceBook the news that House Bill 3474 had been filed the day before. House Bill 4374 will not be any less dramatic as the RH Bill, but it definitely will produce a sharp contrast in any drama that ensues. Entitled Volunteerism for Nation Building, or VBN, is as literal as it sounds. The filing of the bill is a virtual recognition and appreciation of the work of Gawad Kalinga. It also is the signal that poverty has found a David to take it down.
Allow me, with much elation and pride, mention excerpts of the Introduction of House Bill 3474, as follows:
“Less for Self, More for Country, Abundance for All”
“This is the motto that every Volunteer for Nation Building strives to live by as he or she works individually and solitarily – hand in hand, with other volunteers across the country and beyond Philippine shores, as they collectively envision our Filipino people living with dignity and in peace, in a slum-free, squatter-free, poverty-free Philippines by the year 2024.”
“Building viable, sustainable and empowered communities in the Philippines embodies the faith that Filipinos will end poverty in the Philippines through (1) public-private partnerships; (2) simultaneous ground-up and top-down initiatives; (3) rich and poor working together, bridging the social gap; (4) the principle of the “best for the least” and preferential option for the least fortunate, giving those at the bottom of the social and economic pyramid upward aspirations to build a broader middle class with enlightened leadership from the Government and the private sector.”
“The goal of this legislation is to encourage the private sector to be a supporter of Government, not just its critic, to restore the faith of our citizens in our Government institutions through collaboration and cooperation, to go beyond partisan politics, religious and ideological differences and business rivalries, and to build a just and prosperous nation – by making every Filipino a nation builder.”
“In the Philippines, Gawad Kalinga or GK, has blazed the socio-economic-political frontiers of society by employing a unique tool for change called Social Engineering which exemplifies the “Bayanihan” spirit of “volunteerism” coupled with “caring” or kalinga. “Bayanihan” and “kalinga” are indigenous Filipino practices/traits that can be traced to our pre-colonial forefathers. The Bayanihan spirit evokes of local heroism and patriotism, in the midst of our people’s struggle to fight poverty and other social inequities. “
“GK’s trademark is its capacity to mobilize multi-sectoral initiatives from the ground, by marshalling its “capital resources” of: TRUST equity, SWEAT equity, plus its sterling record of RESPECT and INTEGRITY with its partners and various stakeholders from the Government, the private sector, international agencies, foreign governments, interfaith groups, the academe and CSOs. The GK approach is hinged on effectively drawing out core Filipino values of faith and patriotism, of generosity and sharing. And its “secret” formula to success is a genuine and sincere stewardship founded on unwavering TRUSTWORTHINESS. “
“GK as an emerging Philippine and Asian “Model of Development” has ben instrumental as a “converging point for multi-sectoral partnerships” and as a template for “Good Governance” engaged in: community building through shelter and other infrastructure programs; community child, youth and maternal health; child and youth education; community entrepreneurship, livelihood and micro-finance, food sufficiency; gender equality and woman empowerment; peace efforts; culture, eco-tourism and environmental preservation and protection.“
“All these socio-economic themed programs are in line with the eight-point Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) which the Philippines, as a signatory to the United Nations Millenium Declaration has committed to achieve by the year 2015. Recently, GK has also fostered “peace builds:” for displaced Muslim Filipinos in Mindanao, in the aftermath of strife and natural calamities.”
The fifteen-year solid track-record of GK in continuously providing a Filipino model for modern day community growth and development, through a “trust-based merging” of multi-sectoral public-private partnership, and the “bridging-molding-shepherding” by GK among the poor informal settlers in the country, of the values of self-help self-empowerment, through the delivery of basic needs: land, shelter, food, healthcare, livelihood, all contributing to the development of 2,000 communities nationwide, to rise out of extreme poverty – IS PROOF and a testament to the effectiveness of the GK framework of grassroots community building, that indeed, in inspiring the poor to help themselves, become self-reliant through “bayanihan” and “kalinga”, we Filipinos can end poverty in the Philippines within our generation.”
“It is about time that the Volunteerism in Nation Building framework be institutionalized as a means to directly link the various sectors of society: the public sector, the private sector and the CSOs, through a Government-initiated national development plan on alternative poverty eradication, patterned after the innovative “Gawad Kalinga Way” of multi-sectoral resources generation and mobilization of sustainable human development.”
“We have seen how GK, which started as a diminutive “outreach group” evolved as a distinctive Filipino model for community development, has made it possible to turn the tide of social transgressions in our country, by addressing poverty, hopelessness and class struggles, while transcending traditional politics, business rivalries and ethnocentric interests. In all these, we find inspiration that we can BUILD a NATION that every PINOY can be proud of.”
House Bill 3474 goes on to how Government can motivate future initiatives following the GK Way, from direct funding initially through the Office of the President and to be sustained through appropriations from the national budget – including allocating a small percentage of real property taxes. It also outlines how the private sector can contribute its share, and points to specific government agencies and departments as strategic partners of the collective effort.
House Bill 3474 is historic, even before its passage. It is forcing us, beginning with Congress, to confront our accumulated shortcomings and pinpointing the poor as the primary victims who must be recompensed by a new and more caring society. How it will eventually look like as a law is an unfolding we will yet have to witness. Yet, a giant step has been made, and there is no turning back.

“In bayanihan, we will be our brother’s keeper and forever shut the door to hunger among ourselves.”