Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Jail us all


By Ernesto M. Maceda
The Philippine Star
A combative President Noynoy Aquino has upped the ante in his battle with the CBCP on the RH bill by saying that he will take sedition charges against Anti RH bill advocates who engaged in civil disobedience.
His threat was immediately challenged and accepted by a group of Bishops led by Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, Iloilo Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes and Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Collin Bagamoro who said “put us all in jail. Let him charge all of us bishops, priests, religious, all the faithful with sedition.”
“It is better to obey God rather than men and immoral laws,” Bishop Bastes stressed.
Archbishop Ramon Arguelles was more pointed when he said:
“He can put all of us in jail. We are willing to pay the price to save the unborn from modern Herods and save the executioners from the group of the evil one.” Bullseye!
President Aquino started his administration by engaging a war with Chief Justice Renato Corona at the Supreme Court, even labelling them paranoid, followed by his war with Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and Deputy Ombudsman Emilio Gonzalez III. He is now critical of media and lately, the Sandiganbayan. Well, at least, we have a fighting, shouting President.
* * *
SET THE EXAMPLE… President Noynoy Aquino keynoted the DOH Healthy Lifestyle Program at the QC Memorial Circle. He also led Cabinet members and 100 bikers in a 10-minute ride around the Circle. In his speech, President Aquino said the nation needs “healthy people so it could progress.”
When asked whether the President would stop smoking, Communications Sec. Ricky Carandang evaded the question and said:
“The President did not say anything about that. It was not discussed and it was not asked.” The President has been coughing more frequently.
* * *
STAYING ALIVE… A person who gets elected to any public position enters into a contract with the people to serve and protect their interest for the term he got elected to — six years for President, Vice President and Senators and three years for Congressmen and local officials.
The first obligation of an elected official is to keep himself alive and healthy six or three years. He should, therefore, avoid putting himself at great risk of dying, or seriously sick.
The Department of Health just released statistics that 87,000 Filipinos die due to illness related to smoking including cancer of the lungs or throat and other respiratory diseases like emphysema and heart diseases. All elected officials should seriously try to stop smoking.
* * *
VISIT TO UNCLE JOE. . . President Aquino finally took time out to visit Uncle Jose “Peping” Cojuangco. He visited him at his Dasmariñas residence to try to convince “Uncle Joe” to support the proposal to postpone the ARMM elections. Uncle Peping stood his ground and said it is a matter of principle for him and wife Tingting, as well as a commitment to Muslim leaders they recruited to support P-Noy in the May 2010 elections. End of visit.
Peping has told his Philippine Patriots group no longer expect being appointed to positions in the Administration.
In the meantime, Uncle Peping has agreed to become President of VP Jejomar Binay’s PDP-Laban party.
* * *
GUESS WHO?… A group of big time contractors are raving mad these days. They claim that a fellow contractor raised over a billion pesos in campaign contributions from them for the Aquino campaign in 2010.  The come on was an assurance their projects already approved and awarded to them under GMA would be upheld and allowed to be implemented by the new administration. That didn’t happen. Most of their contracts were not honored, others were reduced in amount.
The corollary question, how much of the contributions were reported to Noynoy?
* * *
WIL TIME, BIG TIME… TV5 and Willie Revillame upgraded his TV show to “Broadway” class with the very latest in light and sound technology, including a P10-million sound stage floor that really left his audience starstruck and mesmerized.
The 25-minute opening musical number could be given a triple A rating with his 26 dancers in sparkling outfits doing excellently as Willie sang and danced.
As always, the lovely Shalani Soledad was an eye catcher. But her many fans told us they hope her participation be given more time and her assets be maximized.
Congratulations and welcome back, Willie, Shalani. Excellent show!
* * *
TIDBITS… La Salle Dean Jose “Chel” Diokno, son of the late Sen. Pepe Diokno is the frontrunner for the Ombudsman job. President Aquino has ruled out “too old” aspirants for the position.
Much debated is whether former Cong. Nereus Acosta will be appointed as DENR Secretary. Acting Sec. Ramon Paje is backed up by the Iglesia ni Cristo and by P-Noy crony, Gerry Acuzar.
Deadly accidents are back on Commonwealth Avenue, QC, UP Professor and media person Lourdes Simbulan, 54, was killed when a taxi she was riding was struck from behind by a speeding Universal Guiding Star bus. The other day six passengers were hurt when a racing bus hit their jeepney on the killer highway.
Add Angeline Mantigue, a grocery owner to the long list of kidnapped victims in Mindanao. She was kidnapped in North Upi, Maguindanao.
We join the many who commend Manny and Cynthia Villar for their program to build 10 new churches, the first, the Sanctuario de San Exequiel Moreno occupying 1.2 hectares in Las Piñas.
We chanced upon Sen. Villar at the resumption of the Willie Revillame TV show last Saturday. He looked 20 years younger and said he is devoting his full time to running his many businesses.
Congratulations to Rep. Gina de Venecia and Joe de Venecia on the graduation of their son, Ipe as No. 1 in his class of Masters in Publishing at New York University.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A needless ‘war’

By Val G. Abelgas

By taking the lead role and declaring an “all-out war” against the Reproductive Health Bill, the Philippine Roman Catholic Church has put itself in a precarious position where its standing as the most influential religious group in the country would be put to the test.

The great debate on the merits of two measures pending in both the Senate and the House of Representatives heated up last week with the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and Malacanang exchanging harsh words over each other’s hard stance on the bill.
President Aquino appeared wishy-washy on the issue for several months although he had supported the bill when he was senator and during the campaign, and agreed to hold dialogues with the bishops to try to find a middle ground in the program to put a brake to the runaway population growth that has been perceived as one of the obstacles to combat poverty and put back the country on the path to economic recovery.
But when CBCP President Bishop Nereo Odchimar said during an interview that Aquino’s direct involvement could result in his being excommunicated was a “proximate possibility,” Aquino reiterated that he would not waver in his support of responsible parenthood, which is actually the essence of the Reproductive Health Bill (HB 4244 in the House and SB 2378 in the Senate).
The other week, CBCP said it would no longer hold dialogues with Aquino and later declared an “all-out war” against the bill, saying it would use all means necessary, including using the pulpit, to rally the faithful against the measure. The Church had, in fact, organized a rally among its faithful at the Luneta as a show of force but they were able to gather only about 10,000.
Malacañang said it was astounded at the incendiary rhetoric coming from some elements of the Catholic hierarchy and said men of the cloth should behave properly with circumspect. Aquino also warned that pro-life groups threatening to mount tax boycotts and other forms of civil disobedience faced sedition charges.
Malacañang officials said the bishops should “calm down a bit” and explain their position “within the means of law” on the proposed measure.
But the bishops could not be calmed down. “Will you be calm if you are held at gunpoint?” Archbishop Ramon Arguelles asked. “The Church has been calm on the issue but they have provoked us.”
In the heat of this word war, the bishops should perhaps pause and reflect on what a Catholic priest wrote shortly after the threat of excommunication was poised on Aquino. Fr. Ranhillo Callangan Aquino, in his regular column at the Manila Standard Today, called for sobriety and rationality, and demanded that the Roman Catholic Church should be ready to convince the people – Catholics and non-Catholics alike – that the use of artificial means of contraception is not acceptable.
Fr. Aquino wrote: “If the Catholic Church rejects the reproductive health bill because artificial means of contraception will be readily available under the aegis of such a law, then it should rightly be asked: What does the Catholic Church have against artificial means of contraception? If the only response the Church can give is “Humanae Vitae” and the consistent teaching of the popes and of most (certainly not all!) bishops, then that is not good enough an argument for the public sphere.
“The legitimacy of enactment is determined by its rational acceptability to all whom the law shall govern (presuming, of course the legitimate constitution of the legislature that passed the measure). If all that the Catholic Church can offer in opposition to the reproductive health bill is supposed argument drawn from its own reading of Scripture and the tradition of its teaching, that is argument that cannot be rationally accepted by other members of the Philippine political community who do not share our credal premises.”
For years, proponents of family planning have attempted to pass a law that would slow down the Philippines’ 2.04% annual population growth rate, one of the highest in the world and the highest in Asia, but strong opposition from the Church had shot down all the proposals. The bill sponsors could not get enough votes to even bring the measure to the floor for deliberations because of the constant threat by the Church to campaign against lawmakers and officials who would support the proposed law.
The Church again reiterated its threat to campaign against RH Bill supporters in the last election, forcing several presidential candidates to withdraw their support to the bill. But Aquino stood his ground and still won by a landslide, in the process casting a shadow of doubt on the influence of the Church on the Filipino Catholics.
In November, a Pulse Asia survey showed that 69% of Filipinos favored the passage of the Reproductive Health Bill. This was followed by a report that in one church in Pangasinan where the priest had dared those who supported the RH Bill to leave the church, many of those attending the mass did just that.
The perceived waning influence of the Church, and the aggressive campaign by Aquino have emboldened several legislators to defy the Church position, resulting in a sudden surge of support for the RH Bill. While previously, even known supporters of the controversial bill would just keep quiet, many of them are now willing to talk against the Church position.
Sen. Edgardo Angara, for instance, said the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines should start rethinking its role in modern society or else its members would abandon it.
“The interpretation of dogma is evolving. Before, there was even a papal bull on witchcraft,” Angara said. “If the church is instrumental in the number of the poor, of malnourished and uneducated children, then it is not the church of the poor,” Angara said.
The senator urged the local Roman Catholic Church to keep in step with the times instead of propagating “outdated, unprogressive ideas.” He said that if the Catholic Church confines itself to pulpit preaching and does not back this up with social action, then it will lose moral authority.
By cutting communication lines with the State and declaring an “all-out war” against the RH Bill, the Roman Catholic Church may have overstepped its bounds. The Church has a responsibility to its flock, and the State has a responsibility to its people, Catholic or not. The Church refused to accept this fact, and has drawn the line to a battle it did not have to fight in the first place.
In conclusion, I must reiterate what I wrote in an article entitled “RH Bill: Reason Over Dogma” in October:
“The Church cannot impose on the government its belief that any kind of birth control method other than the natural method should not be allowed. The government has the responsibility, nay duty, to arrest the rapid population growth in the same manner that the Church has the responsibility to promote the spiritual well-being of its faithful according to the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church.
“Obviously, the Church will not back down on its stand. On the other hand, the government must not turn its back on its responsibility to promote the general welfare of the people, which includes keeping the population within the limits of what the government can provide in terms of basic services and what the economy can support.
“East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet” and so be it. Let the State implement a Reproductive Health Bill that’s acceptable to the people, whether they are Catholics or not, and let the Church tell its faithful to stick to the natural method of contraception and reject any other means. After all, the proposed RH Bill does not aim to impose the use of any kind of contraceptive. It only aims to inform the people of their options with regards to planning the size of their family, and to assist them once they have made their choice.
“I don’t see any problem with that arrangement, unless the Church is no longer confident that its dogma can hold its own against reason.”

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Palparan’s comeuppance

By Satur C. Ocampo
The Philippine Star

Remember Jovito Palparan Jr., the notorious Philippine Army officer tagged by militant political activists as “The Butcher”?
In 2007 the Melo Commission recommended Palparan’s investigation for extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and other human rights violations. Instead, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo personally presented him as a special guest and commended his exploits during her 2008 state-of-the-nation address, thus abetting his continued terror campaign till he retired as major general in 2009.
Now Palparan may soon be hailed to court to face criminal charges. Comeuppance at last!
Last Wednesday the mothers of the two former UP students, Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno, who were abducted and “disappeared” in 2006, filed a complaint at the Department of Justice against Palparan, two Army colonels and several others. The charges: rape, serious physical injuries, arbitrary detention, maltreatment of prisoners, grave threats, grave coercion, and violation of RA 7438 (on the rights of detained persons).
Sherlyn and Karen were abducted by armed men on June 26, 2006 in Hagonoy, Bulacan. Witnesses have identified their abductors as soldiers of the Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion in Norzagaray, Bulacan. They were detained and tortured in a camp in Limay, Bataan under the 24th IB. The 56th and 24th IBs were both under the 7th Infantry Division, then headed by Palparan.
Their mothers, Erlinda T. Cadapan and Concepcion E. Empeno, filed a petition for habeas corpus at the Supreme Court. The SC directed the Court of Appeals to hear the petitions. Initially the CA denied the petition in 2007, but on appeal in 2008 it reversed the ruling and ordered the military to release the two women.
Yet to this day they remain in limbo.
At least two factors can be credited for the recent positive turn of events.
1. The courageous and credible detailed testimony at the 2008 CA hearing of a young Bulacan farmer, Raymond Manalo. His testimony — which convinced the CA to reverse its 2007 ruling on the habeas corpus petition cited above — is the linchpin of the criminal case, backed up by the testimonies of seven other witnesses.
In that testimony Raymond cited the direct involvement of Palparan in the abduction, detention and torture of Sherlyn and Karen. In a separate testimony earlier in his own petition for the writ of amparo related to his abduction, he detailed Palparan’s direct role and those of his two trusted aides since the 1980s, MSgt. Donald Caigas and MSgt. Rizal Hilario.
Raymond and his brother Reynaldo were abducted on Feb. 14, 2006 in San Ildefonso, Bulacan and detained together with Sherlyn and Karen, and another farmer, Manuel Merino in the Limay camp. They escaped after 17 months of detention, filed the amparo petition which the Court of Appeals granted in 2008 and affirmed by the Supreme Court.
In its ruling penned by then Chief Justice Reynato Puno, dismissing the military’s appeal to reverse the CA decision, the SC affirmed the credibility of Raymond’s testimony. It likewise clearly pointed out Palparan’s direct accountability for the abduction and violation of the brothers’ human rights.
2. The formation of Task Force Lawsuit, a legal-paralegal group which supervises the preparation, filing and pursuance of this case. The group has been formed by the human rights alliance Karapatan, the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, and progressive party-list organizations. (The group needs more lawyers to help, and justice and human rights supporters to donate funds.)
TF Lawsuit last month filed a damage suit against Gloria Arroyo and some military officers for the illegal arrest and detention of the health workers known as “Morong 43.” The group is set to file next a criminal case against officers and soldiers of the 56th IB for the abduction-disappearance of Jonas Burgos on April 28, 2007. It is also looking into the revival of the Manalo brothers’ abduction case, which was filed with the Ombudsman but hasn’t been acted on.
On the Jonas Burgos case, TF Lawsuit will coordinate with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who last April 14 directed state prosecutors to initiate criminal proceedings against 1st Lt. Harry Agagen Baliaga Jr., a 56th IB company commanding officer, and other persons allegedly involved.
NUPL secretary-general Edre Olalia, chief counsel in the Cadapan-Empeno case, explains:
“This will not ensure that Karen and Sherlyn will be brought back to us. Indeed, this is more than seeking justice for them. This is a way to put these incorrigible abductors, torturers, and rapists out of places of authority.”
In short, TF Lawsuit aims to score a breakthrough against impunity, the political atmosphere wherein no major human rights violators have been arrested and prosecuted since the era of martial law.
Another NUPL member, Juan Oliva, commended the decision of seven Bulacan farmers, fishermen and barrio folk to testify in the case as “an outstanding act of courage, and a genuine belief that criminals must be punished.”
Interestingly, two young women, contemporaries of Sherlyn and Karen as UP students, passed the last bar examinations and are now assisting in the case. They are Sandra Jill Santos and Ma. Cristina Yambot.
Let’s wish all of the

Saturday, May 28, 2011

P-Noy, seven senators give up P1.6 B in ‘pork’

By Jess Diaz
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – President Aquino did not avail of his P200-million pork barrel allocation in 2009 when he was a senator.
Seven other senators did not touch their pork barrel funds for that year, saving the government a total of P1.6 billion.
A Department of Budget and Management (DBM) report shows that aside from then Sen. Benigno Aquino III, Senate members who did not partake of the annual “pork” two years ago were Panfilo Lacson, Joker Arroyo, Francis Escudero, Mar Roxas, Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Antonio Trillanes IV, and Manuel Villar Jr.
Seven senators gobbled up their P200 million: Jinggoy Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile, Edgardo Angara, Lito Lapid, Gregorio Honasan, Ramon Revilla Jr., and Miriam Defensor-Santiago.
Juan Miguel Zubiri spent P199.9 million of his P200 million, Francis Pangilinan availed himself of half of his allocation, Alan Peter Cayetano received P198 million, his sister Pia Cayetano got P130.6 million, Richard Gordon used P182 million, Rodolfo Biazon disbursed P56.5 million, while Jamby Madrigal spent P44 million, less than a fourth of her fund.
One senator – Loren Legarda – received P205.3 million, P5.3 million more than her allocation.
In Lacson’s case, he has not been using his annual allocation since he was elected senator in 2001. In the P1.5-trillion 2010 budget, he and Madrigal made sure that their combined P400 million was deducted from congressional funds.
According to Lacson, a corrupt lawmaker can make at least a 20-percent commission from the use of his or her annual allocation for infrastructure and other projects.
This means that a corrupt senator can pocket P40 million a year, P240 million in six years and P480 million in 12 years.
In a recent meeting, Lacson told President Aquino that as was his practice, he is again giving up his P200 million for this year.
The DBM report shows that congressmen received their allocations of P70 million each, including party-list representatives.
However, in the case of the latter, they got amounts less than half of what they were entitled to.
Among them were Risa Hontiveros Baraquel of Akbayan, who received P30 million; Rafael Mariano of Anakpawis, P26.4 million; Liza Maza of Gabriela, P24.9 million; Satur Ocampo of Bayan Muna, P18.7 million; Teddy Casiño also of Bayan Muna, P11 million; and Luzviminda Ilagan also of Gabriela, P5.6 million.
Since 2005, when they started filing impeachment complaints against her, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had been withholding the pork barrel funds of militant party-list representatives.
The 2009 report is the latest on the use of tens of billions in taxpayers’ money allocated to senators and congressmen. There are no reports for 2007 and 2008, while the 2006 report is incomplete, listing only three senators as fund recipients.
DBM Secretary Florencio Abad has promised to be transparent with the disposition of pork barrel funds during the term of President Aquino.
The annual congressional pork barrel dispenses P200 million for each senator and P70 million for each member of the House of Representatives.
In 2010 and in previous years, half of a senator’s P200 million was hidden in the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), while half was included in the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), a transparent appropriation reflected in the annual budget.
The P100 million in the PDAF appropriation was for “soft” projects like medical, livelihood and educational assistance, and subsidies to local government units (LGUs).
In the case of congressmen, the ratio was P40 million for infrastructure and P30 million for “soft” projects.
In 2009, a total of P18.5 billion in pork barrel funds was disbursed. Of that amount, P16 billion went to members of the House of Representatives, while 15 senators received P2.5 billion.
Unlike in years past, lawmakers’ funds are now fully reflected in President Aquino’s 2011 budget. The PDAF is now about P25 billion, while last year, it was only more than P10 billion.
There are no more funds hidden in the appropriations of the DPWH and other agencies.
The President had disallowed lawmakers from padding their pork barrel allocations through the notorious “congressional insertions.”