Thursday, January 31, 2013

A tale of two reefs

By Perry Diaz
Scarborough Shoal
In a matter of days, the Philippine government took strong actions against the two most powerful countries in the world – the United States and the People’s Republic of China.  Now, that’s what I call “wow, wow!”  Yep, a double wow, indeed.  But as it turned out, the country was hit with a double whammy!
The first whammy was China’s seizure of the Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) that is within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).   Last August, after China tricked the Philippines into withdrawing her vessels from the lagoon, China roped off the only entrance into the lagoon; thus, preventing other fishermen from getting in.  Only Chinese fishing boats are allowed to enter the lagoon.  In effect, China has taken de facto possession of a piece of Philippine territory… without firing a shot.
Bajo de Masinloc, as Scarborough Shoal was named as far back as 1734 during the Spanish era, is 124 miles west of Masinloc, Zambales in the South China Sea.  The shoal is a triangle-shaped chain of reefs with a circumference of 34 miles and an area of 58 square miles.  Many of the reefs are just below water at high tide.  The lagoon contains a large variety of fish and other sea life including endangered species such as sea turtles, sharks, and giant clams.
Helplessly unable to defend her territory, let alone recover those she already lost, the Philippines had no other recourse but to turn to the United Nations to resolve the territorial dispute.
Last January 22, the Philippines’ Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario formally notified China that the Philippines is bringing the case before the Arbitral Tribunal of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  The issue is China’s claim to about 90% of the entire South China Sea delineated by an imaginary – and arbitrary – “nine-dash line” drawn by China.    
In reaction, the Chinese ambassador to the Philippines, Ma Keqing, reasserted China’s “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea.  However, she said that China supports a negotiated settlement through “peaceful means.”  Well, with several Chinese warships permanently deployed inside the lagoon, “peaceful means” might just be another convenient tool from China’s bag of tricks.
Last January 28, China’s supreme ruler, Xi Jinping, told the 25 members of the ruling Communist Party’s Central Committee Political Bureau (Politburo):“China will stick to the path of peaceful development. No foreign country should expect us to make a deal on our core interests and hope we will swallow the bitter pill that will damage our sovereignty, security and development interests.”  And as before, “core national interest” is not negotiable, peacefully or otherwise.
Xi Jinping
As China had demonstrated in the past three decades, her salami-slicing tactics of grabbing other countries’ territories – Paracel Islands, Mischief Reef, Macclesfield Bank, Scarborough Shoal — have been successful.  And now her biggest – and most ambitious – goal is to annex the South China Sea and the East China Sea all the way to the Okinawa Trough as a prolongation of China’s continental shelf.  That would be the fulfillment of China’s dream.
Evidently, China’s “talk and take” approach is paying dividends… until Japan decided to use force — if necessary — to counter China’s aggressive attempt to grab the Senkaku islands near Okinawa in the East China Sea.
Recently, during Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit to the U.S., Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a “veiled warning” to China not to challenge Japan’s control of the Senkaku islands.  She said that the islands were under Japan’s control and therefore protected under the U.S.-Japan Treaty.  Her remarks instantly ignited a war hysteria in China.  Xi Jinping ordered the People’s Liberation Army to get ready for war, quickly!
Tubbataha Reef
Meanwhile, about 600 south in the Sulu Sea, Tubbataha Reef is getting a lot of attention since an American warship, the minesweeper USS Guardian, ran aground in its vicinity.  The reef consists of two coral atolls five miles apart and each reef has a single small islet protruding from the water.
Tubbataha Reef
More than 1,000 species inhabit the reef of which many are considered endangered including manta rays, tortoises, clownfish, lionfish, and sharks.  There are 350 coral species and 500 fish species.  It is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Asia and inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.  It is called the “Crown Jewel of the Coral Triangle.”
On January 17, 2013, the USS Guardian ran aground on the reef.  An initial visual inspection showed that at least 10 meters of the reef were damaged.  Aerial photographs made by the Philippine military showed the “ship’s bow sitting atop corals in shallow turquoise waters, with the stern floating in the deep blue waters.”  The warship was bound for Puerto Princesa after routine refueling and supply replenishment in Subic Bay.
Initial reaction from Malaca├▒ang defended the Guardian’s presence in the protected area. “I confirmed with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin that there was such a port call request made for Puerto Princesa by USS Guardian,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.  “There was a request made and the request was granted.”
The following week, U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. apologized for the incident.  When the apology was relayed to President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III — who was attending the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland at that time – he told reporters who were covering his trip that an apology was not enough.  He wanted a thorough investigation to ascertain how the USS Guardian ran aground on the reef.
Grounded USS Guardian
But the United States Navy already made its commitment to do everything it can to repair the damage caused by the minesweeper.  Didn’t he know that?  Yet P-Noy continued to question, “How it could happen when the minesweeper, a U.S. made vessel, was supposed to be possessing of high technology military navigation devices?” He said that the U.S. would have to comply with Philippine laws regarding the incident.  “They violated it, there are penalties. Then they will have to address all of these violations of our pertinent laws,” he said.
But P-Noy didn’t realize that the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) had already fined the U.S. Navy for “unauthorized entry.”  However, it did not disclose the amount of the penalty.  Under Philippine law, the maximum penalty for unauthorized entry is of up to a year in prison plus a fine of up to P300,000 ($7,300).  The TPAMB decided not to include the jail option in the penalty.
When a reporter asked P-Noy about the call of some groups to review the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the U.S. and the Philippines in the aftermath of the Tubbataha incident, he toned down and said that the VFA only governs the conduct of visiting American troops when they’re in military exercises in the Philippines.  He explained that the VFA has no connection to the Tubbataha incident; it’s a question about violating the country’s ecological laws.
Meanwhile, Fernando Hicap, the chairman of the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas, called for the filing of a “millennium class suit” against the US Navy for damaging the reef, saying that the US should pay the country a considerable amount following the destruction of the reef.  P-Noy was also criticized by Anakbayan national chairman Vencer Crisostomo andKabataan Partylist national president Terry Ridon for his statements, which they claimed was tantamount to a “whitewash” on the incident.
But what is interesting to note is that these leftist groups are quick to attack the U.S. for any “infraction” but are quiet about China’s aggression against the Philippines.  What would they do if one day they wake up to see an armada of Chinese warships in the Sulu Sea on their way to Puerto Princesa?

The jueteng take is worth dying for

The Manila Times
Why would people kill over a jueteng turf? Simple. The take is so huge that every and all action to gain control over a lucrative jueteng turf is on the table: murder, intimidation, bribery and gentle persuasion – with the last being the least used.
Of all the rackets in the country, only drug dealing is probably more lucrative than jueteng. But then drug use is not ingrained in the culture of the Filipino while gambling, jueteng specifically, is. This makes jueteng lords ply their trade with impunity but with no kargo de konsensya at all. The jueteng kobrador (bookie) is so mainstream that he or she is considered a part of the community.
At the break of dawn in a jueteng province, there are two types of people that are very early on the streets. The manangs bound for the church and the jueteng kobradors.
How lucrative is jueteng operations?
A retired jueteng operator in my province – let us take note that he has been out of the jueteng racket for close to a decade – recently sold a hotel for more than P200 million. He has a tertiary level hospital which interested parties have offered to buy for P800 million (the former jueteng operator wants P1 billion for the hospital) and he has buildings and other choice real estate properties in the province.
To call the retired jueteng operator a multi-millionaire would be a vast understatement of his huge wealth. He is a billionaire many times over.
We also have to take note of this. During the peak of his jueteng operation, he was not even a big leaguer. He was not a penny-ante, small-time operator either. But definitely, he did not belong to the Big Boys of jueteng even during his prime years as an illegal gambling operator. With what he has amassed, you have a general idea of the stash and the investment portfolios of the big leaguers.
And during his time, this retired jueteng operator was reputed to be “galante,” meaning he was handing out money left and right, and many of the recipients were not even protectors of the jueteng trade. Had he scaled-down his pay-offs during his prime, he could have amassed a bigger money pile.
It is mandatory for jueteng lords to pay off LGU officials and police officers. Because if a provincial governor says no to jueteng, there will be no jueteng in a province. The provincial commander can only take the cue from the governor – no LGU approval, no go. But a governor refusing jueteng is a rarity. He or she should be given a Medal of Valor.
The jueteng take is a proposition that a governor cannot refuse – unless imbued with superhuman virtues. For big provinces, the governor is given – at the very least – a P1 million retainer by the jueteng operator. The governors of small provinces get anywhere from P500,000 to P800,000 a month. The police provincial commander has a monthly payola that is slightly lower than that of the governor.
Who gets more money than the governor?
If the president is corrupt and is on the take, the president gets a blank check from the big gambling lords. The president on the take is then allowed to write the name on the check and the amount. There is no limit to the amount a corrupt president can demand from the gambling lords.
The PNP chief and the DILG secretary – if they are corrupt and on the take – get less than the president. But definitely more than what a PNP regional commander receives. Once a PNP chief or a DILG secretary decides to accept, the monthly take from jueteng for each is P5 million.
So the bribery structure in the jueteng racket is arranged very much like the pay corporations boards give to their CEOs and middle managers.
The CEO is the president of the republic. But Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs only gets the highest compensation; he does not get a blank check, which is the usual compensation the gambling lords give to a president of the republic who is on the take.
What do people and institutions with no control or influence over gambling get money from the gambling lords? Priests and bishops.
Gambling lords want a salve to their conscience. So they give heavily to priests and donate heavily to church-building or church reconstruction projects. This is similar to a practice of drug lords in Mexico, Colombia and elsewhere.
How do the gambling lords keep track of their payments?
They have so-called “blue books” that list down the recipients of the bribe money, from the politicians to the generals to the bishops.
Remember that the gambling lords are operating a numbers’ game and they are very meticulous about numbers – the huge money coming in and what goes out in form of bribe money to men in suits, in uniform and the cloth.

In suburbs of L.A., a cottage industry of birth tourism

Companies operating ‘maternity hotels’ cater to pregnant women from Chinese-speaking nations who want an American-citizen newborn.

By Cindy Chang
Los Angeles Times
Three pregnant women and a young child enter the Pheasant Ridge apartment complex in Rowland Heights; the complex is home to at least one maternity hotel, run by a company called Mother of American. (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles Times)
USA Baby Care’s website makes no attempt to hide why the company’s clients travel to Southern California from China and Taiwan. It’s to give birth to an American baby.
“Congratulations! Arriving in the U.S. means you’ve already given your child a surefire ticket for winning the race,” the site says in Chinese. “We guarantee that each baby can obtain a U.S. passport and related documents.”
That passport is just the beginning of a journey that will lead some of the children back to the United States to take advantage of free public schools and low-interest student loans, as the website notes. The whole family may eventually get in on the act, since parents may be able to piggyback on the child’s citizenship and apply for a green card when the child turns 21.
USA Baby Care is one of scores, possibly hundreds, of companies operating so-called maternity hotels tucked away in residential neighborhoods in the San Gabriel Valley, Orange County and other Southern California suburbs. Pregnant women from Chinese-speaking countries pay as much as $20,000 to stay in the facilities during the final months of pregnancy, then spend an additional month recuperating and awaiting the new baby’s U.S. passport.
Many of the hotels operate in violation of zoning laws, their locations known mainly to neighbors who observe the expectant mothers’ frequent comings and goings.
Such was the case in Chino Hills, where residents recently protested an alleged maternity hotel operating in a hilltop mansion. City officials have sued the property owner, claiming that the seven-bedroom house was illegally subdivided with 17 bedrooms and 17 bathrooms, with at least 10 mothers and babies living there. San Gabriel officials shut down a similar facility in 2011, and Chino Hills officials hope their lawsuit will result in a similar outcome.
Critics also cite safety concerns surrounding the largely unregulated industry. A local attorney says he is representing a maternity hotel in a case where a baby was dropped and died. The California Department of Public Health also is investigating a case that may involve maternity hotels, said a spokesman who said he could not provide further details.
Federal immigration authorities say no law prevents pregnant women from entering the country. The women typically travel on tourist visas and return home with their newborns, who will have the option of coming to the U.S. for schooling, sometimes while the parents remain in Asia. American citizenship is also considered a hedge against corruption and political instability in the children’s home countries. For some, giving birth in the U.S. staves off hefty fines under China’s one-child policy.
Maternity hotels have proliferated in the last decade as mainland China’s new middle class tries to give its offspring every advantage. But birth tourism is not limited to Chinese and Taiwanese nationals. South Korean and Turkish mothers are also reported to pay thousands of dollars for package deals that include hotel rooms and assistance with the visa process.
Since the publicity surrounding the Chino Hills case, Los Angeles County officials have received at least two dozen complaints, mostly regarding sites in Rowland Heights and Hacienda Heights. Curt Hagman, a Republican assemblyman from Chino Hills, said he is looking into whether state government can play a role in addressing the issue.
Because of the increased scrutiny, some maternity tourism businesses are setting up shop in standard hotels, booking long-term stays for clients, according to Scott Wang, manager of China operations for USA Baby Care. Others are opting for apartment complexes, where zoning codes are more flexible and rents are cheap enough to serve a larger number of clients.
Until a few months ago, USA Baby Care was located on a Hacienda Heights cul-de-sac, in a large two-story house with a swimming pool. Now, it operates out of a hotel in Rowland Heights.
“We really want to make this industry legal,” Wang said. “There’s a demand for these birthing centers, so we should find a way to make them legal. Not a single one of us wants to operate by sneaking around.”
The road to giving birth in the U.S. begins with an in-person interview at an American consulate in the woman’s home country. Neither pregnancy nor the intent to give birth in the U.S. are disqualifying factors. The primary concern is making sure the applicant will not remain in the country indefinitely, the State Department said.
Likewise, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers do not refuse entry because a woman is coming to give birth.
“Obviously, the only reason it happens at all is because we permit it,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates reduced immigration. “They’re not doing anything illegal. The question for policymakers is, ‘Is this a good idea?’”
Maternity hotels nonetheless counsel their clients to be discreet.

El Presidente 2016?

By Alvin Capino 
Manila Standard Today
Transportation Secretary Jun Abaya
Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas has not shown any indication that he feels insecure that some of his party mates in the ruling Liberal Party (LP) are already looking at Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio “Jun” Aguinaldo Abaya as the more viable presidential candidate for the 2016 elections.
But we cannot blame some of Roxas supporters for being disappointed at the emergence of Abaya. They are looking forward to a “rematch” between Roxas and Vice President Jojo Binay who edged Roxas for the vice presidency despite the impressive win of Roxas’ running mate President Benigno Aquino III.
The problem of the LP is many of their own party members are unsure if Roxas has any chance at all of beating the popular and formidable Binay who has apparently solidified his political base even under the Aquino administration.
As housing czar and as the presidential adviser on overseas Filipinos, Binay has been constantly in the limelight and his poll rating is the highest among the top government officials.
Understandably the LP is looking at alternatives to run for president in 2016 and Abaya is emerging as the rising star of the LP and the Aquino administration.
In fact, no less than President Aquino himself has fuelled the speculation that Abaya is being considered as the LP’s viable alternative to Roxas as presidential candidate. Mr. Aquino said during the proclamation rally of the candidates for the provincial elections in the province of Cavite that Abaya could be the next President of the Philippines.
On stage with President Aquino and Abaya at that time was Roxas who many people still assume will be the LP standard bearer for the 2016 elections.
Abaya says the President was just joking when he made the “Baka ikaw na rin ang susunod na magiging pangulo” remark but it would seem, according to sources, that some Malacanang people are taking Mr. Aquino’s statement seriously. Some of them are now gravitating towards Abaya who is the acting president as well as secretary general of the LP.
For many LP members, Abaya is an acceptable alternative to Roxas because of his solid credentials.
He has impeccable academic background. He finished his grade school at De La Salle University. He was a scholar and honor student at the elite Philippine Science High School. He was accepted at the Philippine Military Academy and was selected to go to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis where he got a BS degree in Mathematics. He completed his law degree from Ateneo de Manila Law School.
He was aide-de-camp to President Cory Aquino after his return from the US and he retired from active service in the Philippine Navy as Lieutenant Commander. After retiring from military service, Abaya went to politics and succeeded his father Rep. Plaridel Abaya as congressman of the first district of Cavite and he was chairman of the powerful Committee on Appropriations before his appointment to the Cabinet.
He can boast of having two revolutionary heroes from both sides of his family. From his father’s side, his great grandfather is the Ilocano revolutionary hero Isabelo Abaya who founded the town of Candon. From his mother’s side, he is the direct descendant of the President of the first Philippine Republic Emilio Aguinaldo. His mother Consuelo is the daughter of Emilio Aguinaldo Jr.
If and when he runs for President, his Aguinaldo connections could be both an asset and a liability for Abaya.
Reactions to the Manila Film Festival movie “El Presidente” shows ho controversial President Aguinaldo was. Some people resented how the Supremo of the Katipunan, Andres Bonifacio, was treated in the movie. Debates on how Bonifacio was treated unfairly and brutally by Aguinaldo’s men have been revived.
Aguinaldo, inevitably, will become an issue in case of an Abaya candidacy. The issue that the Filipino people rebuffed Aguinaldo when he ran against Pres. Manuel Quezon for the presidency of the Philippine Commonwealth is expected to be revived. In that election, Quezon obtained 695,332 or 67.99 percent of the votes versus the 179,349 or 17.54 percent vote of Aguinaldo the former president.
His presidential rivals are expected to revive the issue of his great grandfather as a Japanese collaborator. This is unfair but that is a political reality.
An entry in Wikipedia online reads: “During the Japanese occupation, Aguinaldo cooperated with the Japanese, making speeches, issuing articles and infamous addresses in support of the Japanese – including a radio appeal to Gen. Douglas MacArthur to surrender…After the American retook the Philippines, Aguinaldo was arrested along with several others accused of collaboration with the Japanese and jailed for some months in Bilibid prison.”
Talking about political reality, is a clash between Roxas and Abaya inevitable? It could happen and it could happen soon.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What happened to the Marcos fortune?

By Kate McGeown 
BBC News, Philippines
Imelda Marcos with some of her shoes on display at a museum in Marikina City (Feb 2001) Imelda Marcos’s shoes are the best accounted for among her possessions
Imelda Marcos: a name synonymous with wealth, greed and excess.
During her husband’s 20 years as Philippine president, she amassed a huge collection of art, jewellery, property and – most famously – at least 1,000 pairs of shoes.
Paintings by Van Gogh, Cezanne, Rembrandt, Rafael and Michelangelo; palatial homes in the US and the Philippines; silver tableware, gold necklaces, diamond tiaras – the Marcoses collected the best the world had to offer.
When they were ousted in a “People Power” revolution in 1986, Philippine investigators estimated their wealth at about $10bn (£6.2bn).
The next president, Corazon Aquino, set up a special commission to recover these funds for the government coffers – but now, more than 25 years later, just $4bn has been accounted for.
So what happened to rest of the Marcos collection?
The issue came to the fore again late last year, when Mrs Marcos’ former aide, Vilma Bautista, appeared in a New York court charged with illegally selling a Monet painting.
She was also found to have another three famous artworks in her possession.
The commission admitted that all four were on a list of 146 paintings once owned by the Marcoses which they had not been able to track down.
Shoes and shares
Not surprisingly perhaps, Imelda’s shoes are the part of the collection that is best accounted for.
Vilma Bautista (C), the former secretary to former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos, leaves Manhattan Criminal Court in New York (18 Dec 2012) Former secretary Vilma Bautista was found to have some of the Marcoses missing artworks
Photographs of row upon row of designer footwear, left in the presidential palace when the Marcoses fled to Hawaii, became the symbol which summed up their lavish lifestyle.
Many of these shoes are now in a special museum in Marikina, an area north of Manila known for its shoe manufacturing.
Others are in the National Museum, along with some of Mrs Marcos’ gala dresses.
There was an outcry in September when it was revealed that much of the museum’s collection had been eaten by termites.

“The Philippine government has no right to question why Mrs Marcos had this art” — Robert Sison Imelda Marcos’s lawyer

But while the shoes and clothes are of undoubted historic interest, they do not have big monetary value.
The Commission on Good Government has been concentrating on the bigger-ticket items – it has sold real estate in New York and millions of dollars-worth of shares, and obtained $600m in Swiss bank accounts.
It has also found a ruby and diamond tiara, locked in the vault of the Swiss central bank, which could fetch more than $8m.
But Andres Bautista, the head of the commission and no relation to Vilma, admits there is still a lot missing – especially the paintings.
The commission started with a list of more than 300 missing paintings – many by the grand masters – and about half of these are still unaccounted for.
“We really don’t know where they are. They could be anywhere,” Mr Bautista said.
I asked him if he thought that some of these artworks were still in the hands of Imelda Marcos herself (her husband Ferdinand died in 1989).
His reply was careful: “Your guess is as good as mine”.
Robert Sison, Mrs Marcos’ lawyer, fears that is exactly what the commission thinks.
And while Mr Sison says he is unaware exactly what art the family still has, he believes that is not the right way to look at the issue.

“Filipinos are too forgetful – and we forgive too easily” — Andres Bautista Head of Commission on Good Government

He refers to the Marcos wealth as being “confiscated” rather than recovered by the commission, insisting there is no legal basis to take any of the assets.
“The Philippine government has no right to question why Mrs Marcos had this art,” Mr Sison said.
“Ferdinand Marcos was a gold trader before he became president, and he made his money then.”
Mr Sison also pointed out that, despite numerous cases being filed against the family, no-one has been successfully prosecuted.
Back in power
In defending the commission’s actions, Mr Bautista refers to a Supreme Court decision from 2003, which found all but $320,000 of the Marcos assets to be the result of ill-gotten wealth.
“This is a job we took an oath to do, and we want to do it well,” he said.
Imelda Marcos (R) and her two daughters, Imee and ?? Imelda Marcos, her daughter and a son are all still involved in Philippine politics
But Mr Bautista faces an uphill battle – and not just because the art is proving difficult to find.
The commission itself is not well respected – previous members have been accused of corruption, or “taking eggs from the chicken coop”, as Mr Bautista euphemistically puts it.
He admits that the commission “needs to have the support of the public”, and he is not sure whether it still does.
The Philippine judicial system is also frustratingly slow. Many of the legal cases filed against the Marcoses and their allies have been stuck for years in the backlog, never reaching court.
But there is another major factor hampering the commission – the Marcoses are once again a political force.
Imelda is a congresswoman; her daughter Imee is a provincial governor; her son BongBong is a respected senator who has a realistic chance of becoming president in 2016.
The fact the Marcoses are back in power “really doesn’t help us,” Mr Bautista conceded.
Given all this, it is perhaps not surprising that he wants to wind the commission down.
He is not quite ready to admit defeat – he suggests the Department of Justice still continues to investigate – but when I asked him if he thought the whole Marcos collection would ever be recovered, he paused for a while, then laughed softly.
File image of Gloria Arroyo from May 2001 Former President Gloria Arroyo is facing a lengthy corruption trial
“Filipinos are too forgetful – and we forgive too easily,” he said eventually.
New priorities
The emphasis now has shifted to another former president, and her alleged ill-gotten wealth.
Gloria Arroyo left office in 2010, and has already been accused of corruption as well as a string of other offences. Her trial looks set to be expensive and time-consuming.
Time marches on, memories fade and new priorities take precedence.
Maybe the full Marcos collection will never be found. Maybe the missing paintings will remain in private homes, stores and bank vaults around the world.
As for Mrs Marcos, she is now in her 80s but still as strong and flamboyant as ever – and still a keen art collector.
During one of my interviews with her, I asked for a photograph as a keepsake.
We posed next to a painting. “Wow, is that a Picasso?” I asked. “Yes,” she said proudly.
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Marcos Treasure (video)

August 25, 2009 | Politics & Government
Here is a recent video taken in February 2009 with Imelda Marcos showing her valued treasures and a sum of $987 billion to a BBC UK reporter.
CLICK TO VIEW VIDEO >> Marcos Treasure

The Tribunal

‘The criminal cases that Mrs. Arroyo will likely face in the Court may have an easy sailing, no thanks to President Aquino who appointed a brilliant 52-year-old lawyer who will be Chief Justice for the next 18 years.’
One of several critical reasons President Aquino exerted his influence, and in fact may have directly pressured the House of Representatives to impeach Chief Justice Renato C. Corona, was the belief, not exactly unfounded, that the Court or its head was picked by Gloria Arroyo to save her from the gallows.
The Senate shared his belief and convicted the Chief Justice in the impeachment trial. It is more real than apparent that Mrs. Arroyo packed the Court with majority members whose terms will expire far beyond the time of President Aquino, who will leave the presidency on June 30, 2016.
There are enough rulings that clearly indicate that with Renato Corona as Chief Justice, and the majority suspected to be canine loyal to the former leader, the prosecution of Gloria Arroyo for plunder would have rough sailing.
The expectation then, as it may still be today although that has been substantially diminished, is appointing a new Supreme Court Chief Justice was the be-all solution to the suspected partially of what became known as the “magic nine” seen as loyal to the former leader.
The new Chief Justice would carry the ball as Renato Corona successfully carried the ball for Mrs. Arroyo. Here, the President may have fumbled.
As it now turns out, there are glaring indications that Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno cannot lead the Court. Her peers would not cooperate with her. For good reasons.
She issued a ruling creating a regional court administration office in Cebu City and went as far as appointing its head without the consent of the majority of her peers. The ruling was described as en banc or collegial and the majority of the en banc as the law so requires.
The Court confronted her and revoked her solo en banc decision. To put it bluntly, she was shamed by her own Court. To put it honestly and truthfully, she asked to be shamed.
As if to escape from reports that she did not make the psycho test given to all nominees by the Judicial and Bar Council, Mrs. Sereno was reported to have contested the necessity for such test.
That’s like hating the bar exams after a law graduates flunks.
The continued refusal of the majority of the Court appointed by Gloria Arroyo to cooperate with the new Chief Justice does not bode well for what President Aquino expects from the Tribunal in the prosecution of Gloria Arroyo.
The “magic nine” cut to eight with the conviction of Renato Corona refuse to cooperate with Mrs. Sereno, the new Chief Justice. One interpretation of that refusal is the Arroyo majority would rather be on the side of Mrs. Arroyo and make it appear they are interpreting the Constitution and the laws in their best lights as the majority ruling – not a solo but en banc resolution – is part of the law of the land. The Court makes mistakes but it cannot be wrong.
The pressing problem is how to get the members of the Court to cooperate with the Head Magistrate. The problem really is to reinvent Mrs. Sereno so that she will deserve the cooperation of her peers.
In this sense, the reported appointment by President Aquino of a former Chief Justice to work on the associate justices and get them to cooperate with Mrs. Sereno may be, sad to say, a futile effort.
It is evident that the problem is not the members of the Court. The problem is a Chief Justice who cannot lead the Court.
None of these is to be interpreted to mean that the Court is doomed or the Chief Justice doomed her Court or the Supreme Court is no longer the last bastion in defense of the law.
But the Chief Justice herself violated the law.
The best learning lesson for so learned a lawyer like Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno is a shameful mistake. People by their nature learn to reform themselves much faster from a bitter lesson or a shameful mistake.
Without a doubt, Mrs. Sereno is capable of change. I watched her from a distance argue passionately for the government the arbitration case filed by Fraport of Germany in the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes in Washington DC with Carolyn Lamm, arbitration expert of White & Case law offices in the US.
Mrs. Sereno did not flinch. Her mentor, the highly respected former Supreme Court Justice Florentino P. Feliciano, was behind her in all of the arbitration proceedings. The case was difficult because the respondent in the complaint, the Republic of the Philippines, wanted to lose the case.
Counsel for respondent was not getting full cooperation from the client. Mrs. Sereno and the rest of the lawyers fought hard and long. They won.
We have the duty to inform the public that Mrs. Sereno is fit as a lawyer to be in the Supreme Court. But in the past months that she has been Chief Justice, she has not proven her ability to lead the Court. This bothers some of us, or many of us.
The worst part, which to many lawyers is culpable violation of the Constitution, is issuing an en banc resolution with only one conformity, that of the Chief Justice. Her pleas to the employees of the Supreme Court made during the last Christmas Party did not do her well.
She has to shape up with her peers. Otherwise, they will never cooperate with her.
The criminal cases that Mrs. Arroyo will likely face in the Court may have an easy sailing, no thanks to President Aquino who appointed a brilliant 52-year-old lawyer who will be Chief Justice for the next 18 years.
Nobody can add or detract from the fact that Mrs. Sereno did not pass the psychological test with flying colors.
President Aquino is making the law pay for it. We can only pray.

Should Binay resign as housing czar?

By Perry Diaz
Although the Vice President Jejomar Binay is not a senatorial candidate in the May 134 mid-term elections, he is the titular head of United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), which is the de facto opposition party to the administration’s Liberal Party coalition.   As such, Binay should have the delicadeza of resigning from his political appointment as the administration’s Housing Czar.  By holding on to the job and continuing to stay at the Coconut Palace, Binay is in a position to use the power of his Housing Czar job to advance the candidacies of the UNA senatorial candidates and also his own bid for president in 2016.
While President Aquino might be too nice to let him stay in his job, Binay is smart enough to realize that it’s time to go and cross the fence to the other side of the political divide where he belongs.  After all, he is one of the “Three Kings” of UNA, other two being former president Erap Estrada and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.  But in terms of prominence, he is the top dog in the UNA triumvirate.
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Binay: Nothing personal with PNoy in UNA-LP row 
MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Jejomar Binay has taken in stride the criticisms made by President Benigno Aquino on the opposition United Nationalist Alliance’s (UNA) alleged early election campaign.
In an interview with media upon his arrival from Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, Binay said he sees nothing personal in Aquino’s remarks in Cebu Wednesday.
“Okay naman iyon, at least nare-recognize na ipinararating ang mga issue sa ating mga kababayan. Malapit na mag-election, so ok lang iyon,” he said.
“That’s not too personal, if I’m concerned. Si Pangulo ay opisyal ng Liberal Party, ako naman ay opisyal ng United Opposition, so okay okay lang iyon. Wala namang personalan doon eh,” he added.
Binay also shrugged off Aquino’s claim that UNA has to do more compared to the administration’s Liberal Party.
“Okay lang. That’s according to the President,” he added.
UNA secretary general Rep. Toby Tiangco, in a press statement Thursday, was in a more combative mood.
He said most of the candidates of the Liberal Party-led coalition have been airing political ads and conducting provincial sorties way before UNA.
“We believe that the President may have been grossly misinformed by his own party. As a matter of fact, it is LP that needed a boost that’s why some of their presumed candidates were among the very first ones to have their ads aired on TV. They have been making provincial rounds as early as August last year — not us,” said Tiangco.
He also said UNA was “amused” by the reference to early campaigning during a political event.
“With all due respect to the President, we find it amusing that he would take issue with our supposed early campaigning during a political event organized by the LP and attended by some of the LP coalition candidates whom he asked the public to support,” he added.
Tiangco said despite this, UNA and non-LP bets are doing well in the surveys compared to LPs candidates.
“LP is facing an inconvenient truth. UNA senatorial bets, together with non-LPs, are leading in the surveys and not even one original LP candidate made it to the Magic 12,” he said. “So, it’s not UNA that needs to catch up and prove themselves. It is actually the Liberal Party that has more to prove.”

Sea disputes draw PH, Japan closer

By Joyce Pangco Panares  
Manila Standard Today
The Philippines and Japan on Thursday agreed to join forces in addressing a “common challenge” in China’s continuing aggressive stance in claiming almost the entire South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), including islands that belong to Manila and Tokyo as provided by international law.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said that President Benigno Aquino III and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan discussed how to peacefully resolve the conflict in the disputed territories when the Japanese envoy paid a courtesy call in Malacanang.
“We talked about the possibility of trying to learn about the various strategies of Japan and the Philippines. I think there’s a mutual agreement that we should pursue peaceful resolution to these disputes and we’re trying to find out what the right formulation is,” Del Rosario said.
“I think they (Mr. Aquino and Kishida) were all aware of the magnitude of the challenge. I think we all understand that the assertions being made by China in terms of their nine-dash line claim do pose threats to the stability of the region. We also need to be able to address the possibility that the freedom of navigation would be adversely impacted,” del Rosario added.
Kishida, for his part, underscored the need for closer cooperation with the changing “strategic environment” in the region.
“It is necessary for us to share recognition of the situation, enhance the strategic partnership between the two countries, and cooperate towards shaping peaceful and prosperous Asia-Pacific region,” he said.
Manila had been at odds with Beijing since April last year over their overlapping claims in the Scarborough Shoal and the Kalayaan Islands, which were within the country’s 200 nautical mile, or exclusive economic zone, as provided by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or Unclos.
Tokyo, on the other hand, has an ongoing dispute with Beijing over the Diaoyu Island, which the Japanese call Senkaku. Tokyo, however, took a hard stance in laying claim to the island, which forced China to bring the issue before the Unclos.
Del Rosario described China’s posture in the West Philippine Sea as “threatening.”
“They have an excessive claim in violation of international laws —strike one. Strike two – in order to reinforce that claim, they have established administrative units to oversee the entire area covering Paracels, Macclesfield Bank and Bajo de Masinloc. Then they come up with this new law which provides for enforcement in terms of interdiction of ships in those areas. So strike three already,” del Rosario said.
The Foreign Affairs chief later said that Manila’s strategy on dealing with Beijing, however, remained the same.
He said that the Philippines would continue to adopt a three-track approach: the political, diplomatic and legal.
“Nothing has changed,” he said.
In a separate interview, a source within Foreign Affairs said that the legal track was “almost done” and the department hoped to present their case before the United Nations.
The source, however, said they were still waiting for the “right timing” to present the case.
Del Rosario also recognized Japan’s assistance in strengthening the country’s maritime security, and confirmed that Japan has agreed to loan ten “brand new” coastal boats and an advanced communication system to the Coast Guard to enhance Manila’s maritime defense capability.
Aside from the maritime issues, Mr. Aquino and Kishida also discussed measures to boost economic ties.
“There is an ongoing review in terms of how the economic partnership agreement can be improved. One such area is the provision that we are trying to get more nurses and more caregivers to be accepted by the institutions in Japan and that is, of course, a work in progress,” del Rosario said.
Del Rosario, who had a closed-door meeting with the Japanese envoy on Wednesday which he described as “very productive,” added that he also discussed with Kishida other issues such as economic diplomacy, and the protection of overseas Filipino workers in Japan.
The meeting also tackled trade, investments, tourism, development assistance, people-to-people exchanges and the Mindanao peace process.
In a statement, Kishida said they had agreed to advance cooperation in expanding trade and investments, specifically in improving infrastructure in the Philippines through Japan’s official development assistance.
Through the ODA, Kishida said, Tokyo will extend loans for two projects: the extension of LRT 1 and 2 and the construction of a new airport in Bohol.
Kishida added that Tokyo also welcomed the signing of the framework agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and expressed Japan’s willingness to provide as much support towards achieving peace. With Sara Susanne Fabunan, PNA, Kyodo News