Thursday, September 29, 2011

Brillantes’ brilliance fading away

By Perry Diaz
When President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III appointed Sixto S. Brillantes Jr., a well-known election lawyer, as Chairman of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) last January 16, 2011, many considered it a brilliant choice for the powerful post.  However, recent events have ignited a maelstrom of controversy during his Commission on Appointments (CA) confirmation hearings to serve the unexpired term of former Comelec Chairman Carmelo Melo, which ends in 2015.
Brillantes — who received his law degree from San Beda College and placed seventh in the 1965 bar examinations — is the son of Sixto Brillantes Sr. who served as Comelec Chairman from 1956-1965 during the Magsaysay, Garcia, and Macapagal administrations.  From 2000 to 2005, Brillantes Jr. served as president of the SBC Law Alumni Association.  He is also a Certified Public Accountant.
“Star” election lawyer
Following the footsteps of his father, the brilliant young Brillantes developed a keen interest in the Philippine election system.  He became an election lawyer representing politicians of various political backgrounds.  His clients include former president Joseph “Erap” Estrada, the late movie action hero and presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr., and the notorious Ampatuan family of which some members including the family patriarch are now on trial for the Maguindanao massacre.
In the May 2010 elections, Brillantes — the “star” election lawyer — represented the Liberal Party in its bid to be declared the “dominant minority party” by Comelec.  He also served as P-Noy’s legal counsel during the canvassing of the votes.
Balay vs. Samar
When Melo resigned as Comelec Chairman, the two warring factions backing P-Noy were pushing their own candidate for Melo’s unexpired term.  The “Balay” faction of Mar Roxas, P-Noy’s defeated vice presidential running mate, rooted for veteran election lawyer Romulo Macalintal while the “Samar” faction supported Brillantes.  Although the “Samar” faction supported P-Noy for president, it did not support Mar Roxas who was P-Noy’s running mate.  Instead, it supported Roxas’ rival, Jejomar “Jojo” Binay, who won the vice presidency.
Macalintal is a good and experienced election lawyer; however, he carries an “excess baggage” — he was former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s election lawyer.  But Brillantes carries an “excess baggage,” too.  He’s perceived to have close ties to Binay who recommended him for the Comelec post, a situation that didn’t bode well for Roxas who at that time was contesting Binay’s vice presidential electoral victory before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.
In the end, P-Noy threw his support behind Brillantes and appointed him to the post.
Confirmation roadblock
During Brillantes’ CA confirmation hearing last April 2011, Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano put a roadblock accusing Brillantes of attempted bribery and blackmail.  Cayetano claimed that Brillantes “dangled” the case of his wife, Taguig City Mayor Lani Cayetano, in exchange for Cayetano’s approval of his confirmation.  Cayetano said that Brillantes threatened to push through the electoral protest against his wife filed by Fredie Tinga — a former client of Brillantes — if he refused to meet up with Brillantes.  Cayetano alleged that Brillantes sent at least five to seven emissaries – including some congressmen – to convince him to meet with Brillantes.  But Cayetano refused to meet with him.
Last June 9, the CA adjourned sine die without confirming Brillantes, which was tantamount to a rejection. A few days later, Malacañang announced that P-Noy was going to reappoint him.  Cayetano asked Malacañang to reassess reappointing Brillantes, saying that there were individuals with unquestionable integrity and no “conflict of interest” who are qualified for the Comelec top post.  He also said, “We have to find out which of the two kinds of lawyers is Brillantes. And if he is the kind who is involved in cheating, why make him chairman?” But Brillantes stood his ground, saying that repeated objections by Cayetano were not enough to force him to quit.
On July 2, 2011, P-Noy reappointed Brillantes.
Unexpected issues
Little did Brillantes realize that more issues would be raised against him at the new confirmation hearing.  Cayetano’s objections in previous confirmation hearings were no longer the only issues.  When the confirmation hearing resumed last September 14, Atty. Ferdinand Rafanan, head of Comelec’s Planning Department, filed a strong opposition against Brillantes’ confirmation.  Rafanan alleged that Brillantes illegally removed him as chief lawyer due to his refusal to be “induced” by Brillantes to influence a certain Asryman Rafanan in the Office of the Ombudsman — whom Brillantes thought Ferdinand was related to but was not — to reduce the six-month suspension of three of the six Comelec officials linked to the P690-million ballot-secrecy folder scam during the May 2010 elections.  Rafanan also claimed that Brillantes bragged that he had bribed Comelec commissioners and lawyers in the past.
Other issues raised against Brillantes include discrepancies between his income tax returns and his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net worth (SALN).  Sen. Franklin Drilon said that Brillantes’ taxable income from 2006 to 2010 was only P5.4 million but his SALN for 2009 showed P25.4 million.  In his SALN, Brillantes listed among his assets the following:  a house worth P3.1 million, a residential lot valued at P1.08 million, cars worth P2.3 million, personal items worth P3 million, and around P15.5 million in investments and deposits.
“Hello, Sixto”
Drilon and Cayetano also alleged that Brillantes paid multi-million-peso pensions to indicted former Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos and promoted the poll manipulators – known as the “Garci Boys” – to higher and powerful positions at Comelec.  With the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) likely to proceed soon and the “Garci Boys” still around, a repeat of the “Hello, Garci” election cheating operation in Mindanao in 2004 could possibly happen again.  Many are wary and suspicious that the elements of a “Hello, Sixto” election cheating operation – similar to “Hello, Garci” — could exist under the leadership of Brillantes.
Time to quit
Last September 21, the CA deferred Brillantes’ appointment for the fourth time.  There are still many issues that need to be addressed.  He has another chance to redeem himself on October 5.  But if he is not confirmed by the time Congress adjourns on October 15, he will be deemed “bypassed.”
It seems that Brillantes’ brilliance is fading away.  Tired and weary, he recently told the media,  “I will tell the President to not reappoint me. It’s not worth it; I will tell him to name somebody else.” But why wait for the axe to fall?  In my opinion, it’s time for him to call it quits. Like they say, “Quit while you’re ahead.”
At the end of the day, good governance is not about brilliance; it’s all about honesty.  And the people deserve no less.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Return to the Dark Ages

Fr. Shay Cullen
(His columns are published in The Manila Times,
in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line)
It’s back to the dark ages for the hysterical tabloid press in Metro Manila where the bellowing newscasters and commentators are condemning street children and children in conflict with the law as criminals. The most strident commentators call for the children to be charged and jailed and reduce the age of criminal liability to 12 years old or younger. They demand that the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act be changed.
This act, Republic Act 9344 is a landmark legislation of compassion that seeks to restore the deprived life of children in conflict with the law. It says that children younger than 15 have an alternative to harsh, cruel prison life where enough of them have been raped, abused, beaten and starved in sub-human conditions. They can be helped, given a chance of an education and rehabilitation through meeting their basic human rights, nutritional needs and education. However, up to a million children and minors from the teeming slums frequent the streets and join gangs to survive. Many hundreds of youth are still jailed in conditions not even fit for animals.
Those who advocate the repeal of the law don’t know the reality. They are branding the street children as the tools of the criminal syndicates which the police are either too scared to oppose or are in cahoots with. Instead of exposing the criminal syndicates and their wealthy masterminds, the irresponsible commentators are setting up the street kids as targets for the death squads.
Not only that, a few commentators, after giving a tirade condemning the street kids over the radio or TV and arousing fear and hatred against them, they launch their own text-in surveys, then use this survey result to justify their continued condemnation of the children. The one straight forward solution is to feed and educate the young and give jobs with a living wage to the older teenage youth.
The death squads too are busy killing hundreds of street youth in recent years and doing their bloody butchering work with a nods and winks from their political backers and incompetent police. The latest, most gruesome, has been the killing of three youths, 13 and 14, tied, gagged, tortured and stabbed a hundred times and thrown as garbage in a ditch in Zamboanga City to the eternal shame of the politicians, police and citizens. Their muffled screams still cry out for justice and mercy. But there is none.
Cebu and Davao cities are the most notorious for the extermination of street youth. Ten years ago, I called on the former Mayor of Davao City to defend human rights and stop the killings of street youth. Instead, he charged me with libel and had me hailed to court.
It was a proud moment indeed to be able to take a stand for the kids in court but what¹s even more amazing was the crowd of street children that came to Davao City airport to surround me with their malnourished bodies to protect me from the assassins’ guns and escort me to a van away from danger. In the end, the Mayor was persuaded to drop the baseless charge. The death squads rule by fear but the politicians call it democracy. If the majority of the people approve by their silence, then I suppose it is. It is the democracy of death and the death of democracy.
There will be no end to the thousands homeless urchins that challenge our conscience and religious beliefs until the root cause is dealt with. That is the corrupt system of government and the insurmountable inequality of society. There is the unbridgeable gap between the tiny group of luxurious living rich and the masses of struggling poor. It’s a society where 2% of the population own about 70% of the natural wealth and the millions of hungry slum dwelling people are barely surviving from day to day.
Poverty, mass unemployment and hunger drive the children from these slums on to the streets to a miserable life of hunger and hopelessness. They go begging, and cannot resist stealing when they are hungry and smell the delicious foods that waft out from the fast food restaurants. The hungry children are driven crazy with the desire for a decent meal. Most of the time they live on left over from the garbage cans. The government has no homes that cares for them and delivers their basic human rights. They are the abandoned and forgotten until they are forced to steal in order to eat. Then they are condemned to prison.
This is the fundamental failure of the Church, politicians, society and humanity – to remain indifferent to the hungry needy children and allow them to be condemned as criminals. We have to come to their defense and give them a life of dignity and decency. END

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A great people

Like It Is
By Peter Walace
Manila Standard Today
I have often wondered why the Philippines is so poorly regarded internationally (the lowest levels of foreign investment and smallest number of tourists confirm this).
There’s so much that is attractive about the Philippines—but it’s not known. The image of the Philippines is of bungling cops unable to break down a bus door so eight tourists die. The image of New Zealand is of a country that rescues, nurtures and sends a penguin back home to Antarctica. A country that cares is not careless.
You have an image of a country from minor events, not from in-depth knowledge. Well, the Philippines is not a land of bungling cops (Incidentally, I’d almost guarantee that the promised properly, professionally equipped, intensively trained rescue team has not been created. If it is, I’d like to see a demonstration), but of talented people who perform as well as, or better, in many cases, than anyone else.
The situation is so bad that at many events the Philippines is not compared poorly to elsewhere, it isn’t compared at all. It’s not on the list. I really have no simple answer to why this is so, despite I’ve thought and thought about it over the years. Here is a country with a warmth, hospitality and friendship you won’t find anywhere else.
Multinational corporations tell me that their operations here are ranked up at the top on performance, efficiency, profitability amongst their subsidiaries around the world. That’s reality. I can tell you loyalty of staff is incredible. My team thinks nothing of working way beyond eight hours if the client or project needs it. Of working years for us in a belief in what we do. That’s a loyalty replicated in numerous companies. Texas Instruments doubled its investment here because after a typhoon that devastated Baguio and many of TI’s employees’ houses, the employees were all back at work the next day.
I wrote a booklet some years ago to help foreigners new to, or thinking about investing and living, here understand what they’re getting into. I listed the country’s best features based on various surveys, as: 1) English language proficiency; 2) Labor availability, quality and reliability; 3) Adaptability to Western culture and practices; 4) Market potential and size; 5) Educational attainment; 6) Low cost environment; 7) Positive Filipino attitude; 8) Quality and quantity of middle management and technical people; 9) Comfortable local lifestyle; 10) Strategic location; and 11) Good telecoms infrastructure.
Note how much of it is people: it’s the Filipino. Close to 9 million of them around the world tell you that, too. The global shipping industry experienced a great slump during the recent world economic meltdown, yet Filipino seamen didn’t lose their jobs. Other nationalities did.
But note too how two of the most important features (English capability and education) are being thrown away. My wife was taught in English, her home spoke English, English was the language of choice. Tagalog was placed alongside it. Today, misplaced nationalism seems to think Tagalog must be spoken as it’s the language of home so it’s easier for kids to learn in it. Yes, the language of home is the easiest language to use to impart knowledge, but 40 years ago, that language was English.
The other argument is that Tagalog identifies the nation. Well I speak English, not Aboriginal; Americans speak English, not some red Indian language. Language doesn’t define a nation, language is for one purpose, and one purpose only: Communication.
The world speaks English. More than 300,000 Filipinos have jobs in call centers because they speak English. Another 200,000 are employed in other business process outsourcing sub-sectors like transcription & digital content/game development where English is also the primary language used. Most of the nearly 9 million Filipinos around the world have jobs because they speak English. None is there because he or she speaks a Filipino dialect. The interconnectivity of the world, the explosion (the only word) of globalization makes English essential if we are to be a leader in the IT industry where we’ve done so well already. So it must be taught equally with Tagalog, not as a second language.
It also means education is ever more essential, yet we’ve just lost all our universities out of the world’s Top 300. Some 35 percent of kids never finish primary school, another 27 percent drop out from secondary. Of 100 primary school entrants, only 14 earn a college degree. The deterioration of the educational system is heart breaking and is becoming a major deterrent to new investment. There are still enough Filipinos to meet industry needs, but it won’t continue. The BPO industry, where the Philippines is a world leader, can find enough people now, but soon it won’t be able to. Not having enough money to fund education is not an excuse. There is enough money—if corruption is stopped as the President wants; if schools are built, not monumental government offices (go see the opulent monstrosity in Calamba to satisfy someone’s ego); if tax effort (taxes as a share of GDP) is brought up to the 17-18 percent of elsewhere in Asia; if tax changes are pushed through (sin tax amendments and fiscal incentive reforms could add about P95 billion that could be put into education and health). The money is there. Lack of money is not an excuse.
The other human factors that make the Philippines so attractive remain strong, so how do we get the world to know about them? Spend money, that’s how. Market the Philippines aggressively. Create the image (based on what is the reality). It’s a job that Tourism Secretary Mon Jimenez and Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo must be tasked to do. And that, Congress should agree, should be liberally funded—the returns will be multiples of what is spent.
We can’t sit around and wait for the world to discover the real Philippines, we have to tell the world. But forget the stereotyped, unimaginative ways: Rescue a penguin. Get the world to stand up and take notice.
When you market something, you sell its best feature, you identify the product with a unique feature. Well the unique feature of the Philippines is the Filipino. I’d sell the Filipino, concentrate on getting the message across that the reason to invest or visit is because the people are great.
No one wants to see a church, they want to see a temple. Beautiful beaches abound around the world, but people that make for a wonderful experience don’t. Workers that go beyond what is expected elsewhere in the world are as scarce as hen’s teeth (I presume hens have no teeth, I’ve never looked).
What must go hand-in-hand with this, though, is a change in the leadership of the country. Over the past 40 years, China has leaped past the Philippine, as I explained last week, for only one reason: better, more focused, more idealistic, nationalistic leadership. Nothing else was different, it can be the only logical conclusion. Three of the country’s past four leaders have been accused of corruption, of putting themselves before the nation. And many of the people below them have replicated that attitude. So the Philippines sank off the map.
Can it be made to surface again? Can we get a truly patriotic leadership? This is the challenge for President Noynoy Aquino. It’s a challenge he seems to have accepted, but can he bring the other leaders along with him?
That’s his real challenge. Can he change the wang wang culture at all levels?
Can Filipinos truly care for their country, not themselves. After 333 years in a monastery and 45 years in Hollywood—close to 400 years of foreign domination!—who wouldn’t want to think only of themselves and protect their families? But 113 years of independence is surely enough for Filipinos to realize it’s their country now and they must care for it, genuinely care for it—in action, not words.
Sell the Filipino to the world, it’s the Philippine advantage.

Monday, September 26, 2011

My People

By Jose Ma. Montelibano
I want to tell a story. I am part of the story, but the story is much bigger than me. It is a story as seen through my eyes and written through my words. It is the story of the Filipino, the story of my people.
Of course, the story of the Filipino cannot be told by one person alone, and cannot be told completely even by all the storytellers put together. But the story must be told, especially when the story often points to Filipinos who have no voice to tell their own story.
This will be an emotional story, truthful but emotional. There is just so much pain in the story of the Filipino people, and so much shame, too. There are over 90 million Filipinos closer to 95 million, I am told. The growing number deepens my sadness more than anything else, simply because instead of many more celebrating life and the abundance of creation being hosted in our motherland, I see tens of millions in horrible misery. Poverty takes on an added dimension because of its massiveness. It is not just economic, it is social, political and moral as well.
Whatever the story of my people, poverty will grab the limelight, and it should. Even if I submit to official measures and statistics of poverty, I know it is much more. We cannot be assuaged by $1/day or $2/day figures as though $1.10/day or $2.10/day eases the pain of fear, hunger and cold by any significant difference. I would like to be awed by our fantastic beaches, by our native hospitality and entertainment advantage. I would like to brag about Manny Pacquiao, Lea Salonga and Charice Pepengco, about the thousands of Filipinos who make it anywhere, everywhere. At some point, though, I cannot escape the face and reality of poverty in the tens of millions.
In the days of the datus, it was not that ordinary Filipinos had autonomy from the autocratic or dictatorial system of rule obtaining at that time. But the various styles of governance did not disrupt the relationship between man and land. From land and its sense of permanence came the security of man. It allowed a family to plant its roots and then the time for roots to grow deep. From that depth, the Filipino developed the capacity of understanding the future, the faraway future.
Landlessness as dictated by the king of Spain not only robbed Filipinos of their security, their sense of permanence and understanding of the future, it also removed their entrepreneurial skill and management capacity. Landlessness and the loss of freedom forced enterprising Filipinos to become subservient to a greater physical force and disabled their power to think, create and initiate. From gifted human beings responding to a rich land, natives of the islands now called the Philippines began their reverse journey to animal-hood and mere survival.
Recently, there was an article on the shallowness of my people as posed by the question of a former senator and commented on by a well-known writer. I shuddered as I read the article, not at the shallowness of the Filipino people, but that of those who are among its elite in society. Can they not see that the leadership of four centuries have forced our people to be shallow as their only form of survival? And I hope they will not point to the rare exceptions of once-hungry Filipinos who make it, as though the spectacular talent or luck of one would justify calling one hundred thousand shallow, or lazy, or stupid.
Under the circumstances that have co-opted their lives from the advent of foreign dominance and the extension of that dominance by an elite who knew about freedom and more about exploiting the forced weakness of a long enslaved people, Filipinos have done well enough. When poverty took over the lives of many, the beast in them went into submission but did not turn to violence and genocide. Or, should they have turned on the minuscule few and cut off their heads a la Marie Antoinette instead? Would have turning violent been the more refined reaction against oppression?
A new middle class is emerging, large chunks of the population rising powerfully from almost nowhere – at least nowhere from the intelligence or kindness of elite governance. The migration to America and other developed countries, the Overseas Filipino Workers – these are not born from the vision of leadership. Rather, they are coping mechanisms of desperate Filipinos and desperate countries whose native populations cannot or will not do what Filipinos remain willing to do.
Half of the total population must be directly benefited by remittances that boggle the imagination – in the $20 billion level annually by now. That same half of the population, though, pay a high price, from the absentee parent or sibling, to the children growing in a family with a missing mother or father, or both. But the sacrifice of a generation breaks the slavery or poverty which had been a family heritage. It may be a weak new middle class, born of allowance rather than hard work, but they will have more opportunities to grow as time moves on.
The other half though, especially the poorest third of our population, have no such luck. They have no relatives living and working abroad. They have no documents, no permanent address, no education enough to pass the barriers of immigration laws and labor requirements. Our very poor are very hopeless, too.
Unless we, Filipinos in motherland Philippines and around the world, remember we are one people, one Filipino race, brothers and sisters all. Unless we embrace that fraternity, that brotherhood of race, and hold the suffering and despairing close to our bosom and tell them that they are family, that we have not forgotten, that we care and we shall share.
There are so many stories to tell, and many more must tell them, too. I shall not stop telling the story of my people, if only to make them feel that I have not forgotten, that I am Filipino, as Filipino as they are.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What language do Filipinos really speak?

By Romy Monteyro
GIVEN THE BASTARDIZED WAY FILIPINOS SPEAK, I often ask myself this question: What language do we Filipinos really speak? Is it Tagalog? Spanish, perhaps? Or maybe English?
The answer I believe is we speak all three at the same time which would make us Pinoys, TagSpangLish speakers!
In the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada English is the official, if not the constitutionally mandated national language. It is not surprising therefore that English and only English, with the possible exception of Canadian style French in some parts of Canada, particularly Quebec, is the language used in all forms of communications both in the government and private sectors.
In Japan, needless to say, everything is spoken or written in Japanese. The same is true in Germany and many other countries in Asia and Europe.
But the Philippines stands out unique in that while the current Constitution which is written in English, mandates that Pilipino, based largely on the Tagalog dialect, is the national language, and both English and Spanish may alternately be used as official languages.
The medium of instruction in all schools is English. The language of commerce, medicine, government, science, broadcast and print journalism and even the military and police is also English. And while three languages—Tagalog, Spanish and English may be used in Philippine courts of law, only English is actually used.
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That being so since the turn of the century when America introduced English in the Philippines, the Filipino is unique because like it or not he is the only national in the world who may need an interpreter in his own country’s courts to translate his native dialect into English, to in turn enable the court stenographer (whose knowledge of short hand or steno is English-based) to properly record his testimony and for the judge, prosecutor and defense counsel to truly understand what he is saying. Wow!
Thus a Visayan, Ilocano, Tagalog or Pampango, not proficient in English who testifies in court either as a witness or as the accused is provided an interpreter to translate what he says into English! Whoa, is something wrong with that picture?
Apparently not because it is the accepted norm in our courts of law since time immemorial!
Funny isn’t it? But why is nobody laughing? But wait until a witness, counsel or prosecutor happens to speak what Filipinos call Carabao English, and a very humiliating roar of laughter will thunder across the courtroom! The same goes true in the Batasang Pambansa or Philippine Congress, which would make boxing sensation Manny Pacquiao a mere comedian should he ever speak in that supposedly august body!
So if one wants to witness something funnier, as far as murdering the English language is concerned, then one should attend a session at the Batasang Pambansa! It was not comedic at all during the time of true statesmen in the incomparable stature of Laurel, Recto, Quezon, Osmena, Paredes, Fernandez, Tolentino, Ople and Salonga.
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Only after clowns like the Estradas, Sotto, Revilla, Jaworsky and a host of other comedians replaced the tried and true statesmen did the Philippine Congress become, in the words of the late great columnist Joe Guevarra, “the place to go when one wants to enjoy real comedy!” And according to a recent report, the same is true with the Philippine Supreme Court!
Again, I dare say that when the likes of Laurel and Abad Santos, Arellano and Araullo were presiding or speaking in that august chamber, the most beautiful interpretation of the English language permeated its every nook and cranny.
But let’s get back to TagSpangLish. How did that happen? Why do Filipinos speak such a gibberish gobbledygook that only they could understand? And why do, strangely enough, Filipinos (mostly) use English when writing letters to one another?
I believe the Filipino entertainment writers are mostly to blame for the proliferation of TagSpangLish., ably aided by Pinoy movie and TV personalities whose grasp of English is most wanting to say the least!
Just try to read what a movie columnist writes in his so-called column, or listen to a TV interview of Pinoy celebrities and you will get my drift. Politicians are also to blame, modern day Filipino politicos that is.
So what language do we Filipinos really speak? To be honest, I’m confused so I don’t really know the answer to that question. Perhaps, you, dear readers can tell me?