Wednesday, December 31, 2014

India’s Prime Minister Modi faces opposition within his own party

INDIA’S political establishment has been swept up in a far-reaching controversy over remarks made by members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government regarding the Hindu nature of the Indian state. India has officially been a secular democracy since gaining independence in 1947. Freedom of religion in the country, guaranteed by the 1950 constitution, has been instrumental in maintaining relations between Hindus and India’s significant Muslim population — one of the world’s largest — and a diverse group of religious minorities.
Many of Modi’s Cabinet members and closest supporters — and even Modi himself — are affiliated with the Sangh Parivar, a loose collection of right-wing organizations supporting the concept of Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism. The Modi administration’s reliance on its core base of Hindutva supporters will limit how far the prime minister can go in reining in these elements of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), even at the risk of instigating communal violence and galvanizing political opposition.
However, the biggest risks posed by the ruling party’s split in focus over pursuing a Hindu nationalist agenda are not necessarily communal violence (which remains a possibility), but complications for Modi’s ambitious economic agenda. Six months after landmark parliamentary elections swept Modi into office, challenges to his reform campaigns are coming not from traditional opposition parties but from within his own support base. BJP’s majority in parliament is so large, and the views expressed so diverse, that the prime minister must first work to unify his own party before grappling with opposition groups and India’s powerful state governments. This work will delay the implementation of any meaningful reforms.
In elections earlier this year, Modi and BJP rode a national surge of anti-incumbent sentiment driven by voters’ frustrations with slowing economic growth, rampant corruption and a slow pace of social and political change. Modi’s carefully cultivated public persona is one of a no-nonsense technocrat and humble political outsider who rose to prominence in Gujarat and transformed the state from one of India’s poorest to an example of pro-business policies and economic dynamism. But there is another side to Modi—one known better to political cadres and the political machinery that helped the prime minister and his party come to power: Modi as a pracharak, or “soldier,” of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), one of the largest Hindutva organizations within the Sangh Parivar.
Of course, Modi’s personal beliefs are not a secret; his deep faith led him to fast during his visit to the United States (even at a state dinner with US President Barack Obama), and his tenure as chief minister of Gujarat was marred by accusations of complacency during communal violence between Hindus and Muslims. Though India’s courts declared Modi free of any wrongdoing, his campaign worked diligently to combat constant accusations from the opposition All Indian National Congress Party, which depends heavily on minority voters, especially Muslims. This politicking by Modi’s center-left opponents did little to dampen voter enthusiasm. Modi and his party won the national parliamentary elections in May handily, and in the months since then BJP has gained control of more state governments as well, wresting even the traditional strongholds of Haryana and Maharashtra away from the Congress Party.
Modi’s careful response to disruptive rhetoric
Indian voters—especially the business communities and the burgeoning middle class—cast votes in support of Modi’s reformist and pro-business policies, not his charismatic Hindutva persona. Comments from senior BJP leaders in recent weeks are giving pause to many of Modi’s more moderate supporters—an especially troubling development for Modi, given how quickly social opposition can stifle India’s reform initiatives. The controversy over comments made by members of the Modi government has created the impression that Modi is having difficulty keeping his party in line.
December has been a particularly difficult month. Education Minister Smriti Irani allegedly sent a notice to schools earlier in December attempting to cancel students’ Christmas vacations. Irani’s credentials and management style have also been called into question; she was a fashion model and soap opera star before being appointed to oversee the country’s school system. Another government figure, Minister of State for Food Processing Industries Niranjan Jyoti, sparked heated debate in parliament when she allegedly said that all Indians, including Christians and Muslims, are “sons of Ram” — a Hindu deity also known as Rama. Addressing a rally, Jyoti told attendees they had to decide between a government of “Ramzaadon,” followers of Ram, or those who are “haramzaadon,” meaning illegitimate. Another BJP parliamentarian and RSS stalwart, Sakshi Maharaj, came under criticism for referring to Nathuram Godse, Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin, as a patriot.
Although Maharaj and Jyoti apologized for their comments, these incidents came as parliament introduced a contentious bill against mass conversions, ostensibly of Hindus to Christianity or Islam. The media storm and outcry in parliament surrounding these incidents have contributed to an effective halt in debate during the legislature’s winter session, despite the ruling party’s commanding majority. Modi’s delayed response to these incidents has been to instruct parliamentarians and government members to avoid making such comments in public unless they are condemning the remarks. Modi’s inability to harshly criticize the Hindutva ambitions of his party reflects the competition for leadership of the BJP between Modi and the Sangh Parivar movement that supports the party —and especially the RSS.
This upheaval is strongly challenging Modi’s image, founded on his management of the Gujarat state government and effective leadership style, on the national stage. Such challenges are to be expected; the transition from state to national leader is not an easy one, especially in a country as large and diverse as India. The size and diversity of BJP’s presence in parliament is creating a new management challenge for the prime minister, who relied on a small cadre of loyalists to advance the successful policies that established his political career in Gujarat.
The most unifying factor among the 282 BJP parliamentarians is their links to Hindutva elements, especially the RSS. Appointments of individuals with questionable experience, such as Irani, have led many of Modi’s opponents to question whether Modi or the RSS is running the country. These doubts are not assuaged by commentary from senior BJP leaders, such as Subramanian Swamy’s comments in a recent televised debate where he criticized those who chided Modi for not containing the Hindutva element of the party. Swamy argued that Modi was not opposed to creating a Hindu renaissance or an enlightened Hindutva national agenda. He cited the prime minister’s RSS membership as his tacit support of many of the party members’ actions, implying that the national policy agendas of the ruling party and the RSS are intertwined.
Competing domestic agendas and the effects on growth
Modi came into power amid a serious decline in India’s gross domestic product growth rate, rampant corruption in state and private sectors, and lagging infrastructure development. Modi remains focused on improving India’s regulatory and economic environment, having spent much of his first six months in office conducting high-level bilateral meetings and courting renewed international investment into India’s lagging economy. However, bureaucratic and political inertia makes creating long-term changes in India a slow and difficult process.
Modi’s focus on foreign policy since taking office is understandable in this context. The move has enabled him to accumulate victories in attracting promises of investment or recognition of India’s international presence. Moreover, it has allowed Modi to avoid becoming embroiled in difficult policy debates at home, especially in the run-up to several elections for state governments. However, while Modi has devoted his energies to foreign policy and investment, other elements within the government have been following their own agendas. His counterparts in government have prioritized a number of socio-cultural and religious issues over government reform initiatives in interviews, speeches and policy initiatives.
Meanwhile, Modi’s opponents decry the rise in Hindutva rhetoric out of the ruling party, saying it could spawn communal violence on par with the 2002 Hindu-Muslim clashes that occurred under Modi in Gujarat. The risk of communal violence is a persistent threat in some parts of India, such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states (riots in Muzzaffarnagar in 2013 were a key focus for BJP candidates who promised during campaigns to protect Hindu interests against Muslim aggression). However, the recent crises have struck the biggest blows against Modi’s leadership capability.
As evidenced by the split in the ruling party, a BJP majority in parliament does not necessarily equal a Modi majority, and contrary to claims made during the campaign season, Hindutva groups are directly affecting national policy debates. In addition, Modi was a controversial choice for the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, and he will have to work to prevent factionalism from spreading through the party’s 282-member parliamentary majority. Moreover, business groups and the Indian middle class are also slowly beginning to question Modi’s management ability—a key aspect of his appeal to voters.
Change in India cannot come out of passing laws in parliament alone. Implementation will also be a difficult phase of reform. Opposition parties hold several state governments, such as Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal — significant seats of power. Modi will need to forge ties across the political spectrum regardless of the ruling party’s majority in parliament. If Modi’s party cannot organize around a central platform that avoids the Hindutva rhetoric that halted the legislature’s winter session, this process of outreach will be undermined.
In the coming months, Modi will attempt to square off with opponents over the contentious issues of divesting state-owned enterprises, reforming land acquisition policies, and reforming the country’s corrupt and inefficient coal, iron ore and steel industries. However, before Modi can tackle India’s powerful labor unions, local rights groups and an entrenched opposition movement, he has to take on his core group of supporters. Modi cannot afford to alienate the Hindutva heart of the BJP, but neither can he allow it to dominate public policy discourse. Modi needs the support of the Sangh Parivar to keep his government in place, just as the Sangh Parivar needs a sympathetic government to help realize its national goals. The challenge is in finding a separate space for both, as the combination of Hindutva policy and Modi’s goals has proven untenable.
As the prime minister attempts to reach out to the opposition, he will try to get his own party to agree to mundane economic reforms and development at the expense of social and spiritual issues. This deliberate process will eventually benefit Modi’s ambitions, but at the expense of meaningful economic change in the short term. Modi’s biggest challenge will be to convince India’s voters to give him the time to do so. He will also have to rely on the tools he has criticized for much of his career: government largesse, respecting states’ rights and turning a blind eye to local corruption. Ultimately, there will be more of the same in India even as Modi attempts to make changes.—
© 2014, STRATFOR Global Intelligence

The story of the Christmas lights

Hiking uphill through the hot tropical afternoon to the Aeta village of Baliwit, San Marcelino carrying our loaded backpacks was a challenge in itself. The happy thought of bringing some Christmas cheer into the lives of the very poor indigenous people kept us going. Our mission was to bring Christmas lights into their lives it was inspiring and encouraging.
The only reward for our days of hiking would be the healthy exercise, fresh mountain air, the aroma of flowers and fauna wafting from the forest vegetation and at the end of our journey would be the simple mountain food of the native people. There we looked forward to the Christmas joy and smiles that would light up the people’s faces when we opened our gifts. That would make it all worthwhile. Sharing with others is the joy of living.
These were the feelings and thoughts of Donard, Roger and Shawn, the dedicated community workers of the Preda organization, who like the Three Kings were bringing gifts of Christmas lights to the remote mountain village. It was a mission to light up their lives and enlighten them about the rights and dignity of women and children.
In years past before electricity, candles and oil lamps helped dispel the dark and lessen the fears and imagined threats that it can bring.
Children are most vulnerable to fear of the dark. They imagine menacing monsters and witches in the dancing shadows on the walls of their rooms or little house as they lie down to sleep. Life without a night light can be scary, dangerous and non-productive.
We take light and electricity for granted in our lives and most people in the modern world have never lived without it. With a majority of people in the world living in cities for the first time in human history they hardly know what the sky looks like at night.
They cannot see the stars or the moon as they are too busy watching the screens of their television or smart phones or tablets. Many would be seriously disoriented and perhaps even traumatized if deprived of the electricity to run them.
Many people are alienated from the world around them and think nothing of the environmental destructive forces that are at work burning the fossil fuels that provide electricity. Power generation by burning coal and oil darkens the skies, damage our lungs, pumps CO2 in the atmosphere that heats the planet and is changing the world’s climate for the worst.
Modern humans have lost much contact to the natural world. They rarely experience the dusk and the creeping darkness at the end of a working day. Few wake up with the rising sun.
A Christmas star these days is a comet that does not herald the coming of a savior and captivates awe struck ancient people as it had at the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Nowadays modern people land scientific instruments on its surface to determine its composition and ask how comets might have contributed to human life on Earth.
But we ought be asking how all the magnificent scientific theories, learning and discoveries are benefiting mankind to end poverty, human hardship and social injustice. They are not. The meaning of the Christmas story has been lost to the modern craze of self-indulgence, greed and an unreflective life overwhelmed by commercialization, triviality and nonsense.
Self-giving to help others is alien and incomprehensible to many these days. Gratifying personal urges, desires and wants is the paramount purpose of living and it is self-destructive. The massage of Jesus of Nazareth can change all that if believed and followed.
The poor wallowing in poverty and hunger are left to wallow. But the greatest values and unselfish human behavior so necessary to human kind are in the Christmas story and gospel message. They are the key of the survival of the species and the planet.
As the “Three Kings” arrived in the remote Aeta village they were greeted with delight and smiles and a great welcome by these people of simple rural living. They have no electricity and have lived according to the natural cycle where the rotation of the earth and its journey around the sun determines their life and that of all living things. That was about to change.
After the welcome, and a humble healthy meal it was time for gift giving. They opened the backpacks and laid out the forty lights that are part of a bigger donation of solar lamps from the parishioners of churches in Melbourne in Australia. The people understood immediately what they were and clapped with glee and beaming smiles.
Each lamp is made as a hard plastic disk in the shape of a thick pancake with a dozen tiny LED bulbs on top. They are powered by rechargeable batteries. The bottom of the “Pancake Lamp” needs to be exposed to the sun to recharge the batteries. In the Philippines there is lots of sunshine. The lamps last up to 9 hours a charge. Technology had provided a way to save the sun into the night.
Now the children can do their home work, the adults can carve, do woodwork and basketry. Some adults who can read will enlighten themselves with the educational comics brought by the Three Kings.
In other less safe villages where women and children have to go out at night to the communal toilet they will be safer with the bright lamps.
The fear of the dark has been banished.
This simple but effective and efficient lamp is bringing light to hundreds of people in remote places. But it reminds us that solar and wind power and geothermal electricity generation is the way of the future if we are save our planet and ourselves. Christmas is about salvation, in this world and the next.

Was Bonifacio the First President?

By Perry Diaz
Andres Bonifacio
Andres Bonifacio
Recently, there has been a great deal of interest on one of our heroes and founder of the Katipunan, Andres Bonifacio. Indeed, many are now of the belief that he had been denied the recognition he deserved.
A decade ago, I wrote a column, “Was Bonifacio the First President?” that revisited the turbulent times when the revolutionary movement was in disarray; divided into two factions, one led by Andres Bonifacio, the Supremo of the Katipunan, and the other, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, leader of theMagdalo faction.
Although Aguinaldo succeeded in wresting control of the Katipunan from Bonifacio in a power struggle that cost Bonifacio his life, Aguinaldo never had a chance to establish his rule over the archipelago. The coming of the Americans weakened his fledgling government. He fled to Palanan, Isabela in Northern Luzon where he made his last stand.
On March 23, 1901 – exactly four years after Aguinaldo took his oath of office as president at the Tejeros convention — the Americans, led by Brig. Gen. Frederick Funston, captured Aguinaldo in his camp in the mountains of Palanan. Caught by surprise, Aguinaldo was subdued without a shot fired.
Thus ended the aspirations of the Filipino people to establish their own nation, sovereign and independent from foreign powers, which makes one wonder: If Bonifacio wasn’t murdered and Aguinaldo had joined his government, would the revolution have succeeded under the leadership of Bonifacio? And this begs the question:
Was Bonifacio the First President?
By Perry Diaz
January 21, 2005
The original Katipunan flag
The original Katipunan flag
On July 7, 1892, Andres Bonifacio — upon hearing the news that Dr. Jose Rizal was arrested and deported to Dapitan the day before — called for a meeting with five of his friends, to wit: Jose Dizon, Valentin Diaz, Deodato Arellano, Ladislao Diwa, and Teodoro Plata. That night, they organized a secret society calledKataastaasang Kagalanggalangan na Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan(Highest and Most Respected Society of the Sons and Daughters of the Nation) — in short, Katipunan. Bonifacio was named their Supremo.
They recruited people to join and by 1896, on the eve of the revolution, theKatipunan had more than 400,000 members. During the revolution, two dominant leaders emerged — Bonifacio and Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. By 1897, to the detriment of the revolution, their rivalry had divided the revolutionary forces into Bonifacio’s Magdiwang faction and Aguinaldo’s Magdalo faction.
Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo
Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo
Attempts were made to reconcile the two leaders. On March 22, 1897, the two factions held a convention in Tejeros, a barrio of San Francisco de Malabon in Cavite, Aguinaldo’s bailiwick. Aguinaldo did not attend the gathering. Jacinto Lumbreras, a Magdiwang,presided over the assembly. The agenda of the convention was to adopt a plan for the defense of Cavite. However, the subject was not even discussed as the meeting became tumultuous. Instead, those in attendance decided to elect the officers of the revolutionary government. In essence, the participants threw out the Supreme Council of the Katipunan under which all the revolutionary forces had been fighting for. Bonifacio reluctantly agreed to preside over the election. Aguinaldo was elected President; Mariano Trias as Vice President; Artemio Ricarte as Captain-General; Emiliano Riego de Dios as Director of War; and Bonifacio as Director of the Interior. The following day, March 23, Aguinaldo and the other elected officials, with the exception of Bonifacio, took their oath of office in the new revolutionary government.
Meanwhile, on the same day the Aguinaldo took his oath of office, Bonifacio and his followers — numbering forty-five — met again at the same venue of the convention held the day before. They were furious. They felt bad about the results of the election. They believed that the Magdalo faction committed anomalies during the balloting. Consequently, they decided to invalidate the election. They drew up a document — Acta de Tejeros — giving their reasons for nullifying the results of the convention.
Bonifacio and his supporters believed that Aguinaldo’s men were responsible for the chaos at the Tejeros convention. He believed that Aguinaldo’s men had maneuvered him out of power. Indeed, it was a rude awakening for him because even the Magdiwangs, his followers, did not vote for him either for President or Vice-President.
Tejeros Convention
Tejeros Convention
Adding insult to an injury, Daniel Tirona, a Magdalo, protested Bonifacio’s election as Director of the Interior saying that a person with a lawyer’s diploma should hold the post. Bonifacio, outraged by Tirona’s insult, angrily declared: “I, as chairman of this assembly and as President of the Supreme Council of the Katipunan, as all of you do not deny, declare this assembly dissolved, and I annul all that has been approved and resolved.”
At Naik, where Bonifacio subsequently moved his Magdiwang forces after the failed Tejeros convention, Bonifacio and his supporters drew up another document — known as the Naik Military Agreement — in which they resolved to establish a government independent and separate from the one established at Tejeros.
President Andres Bonifacio's signature and seal.
President Andres Bonifacio’s signature and seal.
Bonifacio and his supporters proceeded in forming a government. The government was calledHaring Bayang Katagalugan (Sovereign Country of the Tagalog Nation). They printed its Cartilla, a small handbook containing the rules, the 14-point code of ethics, and the recruitment process. In it, theKatipunan declared that the word “Tagalog” stood for “all who were born in this archipelago… hence Visayans, Ilocanos and Pampangos were all Tagalogs” (“Filipino” during the Spanish regime was a Spaniard born in the Philippines and the natives were called “indios”). The following were elected as officers of the de facto government of Haring Bayang Katagalugan: Andres Bonifacio – President; Emilio Jacinto – Minister of State; Teodoro Plata – Minister of War; Aguedo del Rosario – Minister of the Interior; Briccio Pantas – Minister of Justice; Enrique Pacheco – Minister Finance; Silvestre Baltazar – Treasurer General; Daniel Tirona – Secretary General. Unfortunately, the Bonifacio government was never recognized because they were all busy fighting the Spanish colonial forces.
Execution of Andres Bonifacio
Execution of Andres Bonifacio
Upon learning of the Naik Military Agreement, Aguinaldo sent a contingent of soldiers to arrest Bonifacio and his brothers Procopio and Ciriaco. The confrontation became deadly. Ciriaco was killed and Bonifacio and Procopio were wounded. They were brought to Naik to face a military tribunal. Albeit the absence of evidence, the Bonifacio brothers were found guilty of treason and sedition. They were recommended for execution. Aguinaldo commuted the sentence to deportation. However, Generals Mariano Noriel and Pio del Pilar, both former allies of Bonifacio, convinced Aguinaldo to withdraw his order and proceed with the execution. They believed that as long as Bonifacio were alive, there would be no unity. On May 10, 1897, Aguinaldo’s soldiers executed the Bonifacio brothers at the foot of Mt. Tala. They were buried in shallow graves without markers.
On June 12, 1898, Aguinaldo proclaimed the independence of the Philippines and installed a “Dictatorial Government” that would be temporary in nature until peace is achieved at which time it may be “modified by the nation, in which rests the principle of authority.”
General Emilio Aguinaldo boarding the USS Vicksburg as a Prisoner of War (Photo credit: Philippine-American War, 1899-1902 by Arnaldo Dumindin).
General Emilio Aguinaldo boarding the USS Vicksburg as a Prisoner of War (Photo credit: Philippine-American War, 1899-1902 by Arnaldo Dumindin).
On March 23, 1901, exactly fours years after he took his first oath of office, American forces captured Aguinaldo in Palanan, Isabela. Thus ended the Philippine revolution started by Bonifacio.
Today, Andres Bonifacio’s admirers believe that he was the first president of the Philippines. He organized the Katipunan and led the revolution against Spain. They believed that not only was he the first president of the country, he should be accorded the title of “National Hero” of the Philippines.
Had the historians robbed Andres Bonifacio of his rightful place in Philippine history? Shouldn’t Bonifacio precede Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo as the acknowledged Father of the Philippines? And shouldn’t his stature as “National Hero” supersede Dr. Jose Rizal?

Our humiliating alliance

By Rod Kapunan 

The country’s alliance with the US after that short interlude of having to leave in September 1991 has gone through “an ugly metamorphosing” process. 
The US forces are back with a vengeance through our signing  of the Visiting Forces Agreement. Now under the renamed “Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA)”, the Philippines is not only committed to provide facilities to protect the Americans’ interest in this part of the world with the usual trappings of according them extra-territorial privileges, but with an added premium that we contribute to the cost of their presence—as if to prove our hospitality and make sure their soldiers would truly have fun in the Philippines.  
Our negotiators led by Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario acted without hesitation by ceding all that the US demanded, even allowing them to interpret their view of jurisdiction in relation to our claim against China’s over those islands in the China Sea, and in sealing our mouth to our Sabah claim forgetting that in the conduct of foreign relations, the issue of jurisdiction is an integral component. 
This insidious pattern of recolonization could be observed on how we deal with China, with the US standing as our most ardent agitator, while advising us to drop our Sabah claim, and even prodding us to cede a portion of our territory to the Malaysian-sponsored Islamic secessionist rebels for us to achieve peace in Mindanao.   
It is for this why nobody has taken us seriously.  Our conduct of foreign relations has somewhat been frozen in time. We act as though the Cold War has just started and Chinese people continue to eat porridge, their soldiers still in their pajama uniform.  Our co-members in the ASEAN and the rest of the international community are confused whether we are really talking on our behalf, or whether it is the US that has been doing the talking for us in the name of securing our interest. 
Our situation has become hilarious; our interest has become more of a fiction, and in every aspect where we invoke our interest, the international community interprets it as, in fact, an interest of the US.   
The latest statement released by the US State Department stating that China’s “nine-dash line” claim is not in accord with the International Law of the Sea has not been greeted with much respect, not so much that the US is the number one violator of international law, but of the truth that the one talking for us is not even a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. 
No member of the ASEAN and even those countries that have contentious claim over those islands in the China Sea has come out to endorse that statement.   China’s rejection is not so much that it amounts to undue interference, but of the fact that the US cannot invoke the convention for which it refused to sign as member.   
Moreover, our premature rejoicing over the fact that Vietnam has joined us in bringing its dispute with China to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) based at The Hague has only exposed us to further ridicule.   A close hard look at Vietnam’s decision will reveal that although both the Philippines and Vietnam sought the auspices of that Court to help them resolve their claim (assuming China would accept and submit to its jurisdiction), a decision of the PCA on the claim of Vietnam would have no bearing on our claim.  Their claim has reference to their dispute in the Paracel Islands.  It would have been different if the claim of Vietnam covers the same disputed area in the Spratly islands where Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have laid down similar claims. 
In fact, many are wondering why the US did not propose a similar action of bringing our Sabah claim to the PCA.  The PCA is a better venue than the International Court of Justice where we were not even allowed to take our first step of submitting our memorial, even if expectedly Malaysia would refuse to submit to its jurisdiction.  Because of that askance attitude shown by the US, Secretary Del Rosario perhaps thought it wise to drop the idea, hoping that time will allow us to forget another ignominious chapter of betrayal in our history.  In that, one could clearly deduce that we have been completely reduced to a pathetic stooge that we could not even open our mouth without clearance from the US.
 As our supposed indefatigable ally, US has no reason not to support our claim over Sabah.  First, we have a historic and legal title to our claim.  Second, Sabah’s annexation by Malaya to form the present-day Malaysia has no basis in international law, except that Sabah and Malaya were former British colonies that need to be consolidated under a regime amenable to its former colonizer.  It is on this context why the US did not see any value in our argument. It considers their alliance with the British as more valuable than their alliance with us.  In other words, Sabah under Malaysia is more beneficial to US than in seeing Sabah as part of our territory.    
Our position has become humiliating. How could we pursue our claims in the Spratly islands and Sabah when we could not even enforce our jurisdiction within our own territory? We even allowed the US to define for us our interest under the guise of an alliance, while distancing from us when it would not contribute to their interest. The US refusal to surrender to our custody serviceman Joseph Scott Pemberton for the murder a transgender, Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude has made us look more like a pathetic clown, The statement by US Ambassador Philip Goldberg was more of an insult than an explanation when he said that their refusal to give surrender is in line with the provisions of the VFA. 
While obviously trying not to  mention the recently concluded EDCA to avoid antagonizing the Supreme Court for reasons that there is a pending petition to declare that sellout agreement unconstitutional, the US ambassador forgot that the VFA has already been superseded by the signing of EDCA, and that means the VFA has been abrogated and no longer in existence.  The intransigence of the US ambassador only highlighted the issue of constitutionality for which the US and this pathetic government has been trying to avoid.  By downgrading the substantive issue of jurisdiction which is indivisible to our claim of sovereignty, like having custody of persons who violate our laws while in the country,   China and Malaysia are surely snickering behind our back as they could see us desperately trying to exert our jurisdiction over those disputed territories, yet could not enforce the same to US servicemen whose country they serve claims to be our ally.

Holiday transport woes

It’s the time of year when people count the number of days they can go on leave from the office, count the number of parties they need to go to, the number of people to tick off a gift list. We are reminded that the reason for the season is not so much material as it is spiritual. But also in good ol’ Philippines there is nothing more concrete, nothing that reminds us about Christmas more, than heavy traffic and the daily commute made more difficult – and more dangerous – than usual.
This year, it seems this season is also about the crisis of public transport, MRT fare hikes and dangerous cab rides, cancelled and delayed flights included. And the lack of any government office that will take responsibility, the lack of caring and compassion and kindness for those of us who are unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of such bad public service.
It defies logic really. At a time when the MRT’s breaking down, the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) has announced a fare hike that will mean at least an 87 percent increase in fares, from P15 pesos for an end-to-end ride, to P28 pesos.
A fare increase is also happening across other trains. LRT 1 will get a 50 percent increase, from P20 pesos to P30 pesos for an end-to-end ride. LRT 2 will get a 67 percent increase, from P15 to P25 pesos for an end-to-end ride. (Ibon News, 21 Dec)
We are reminded that this wage hike has been long in coming. Spokesperson Sonny Coloma says that in fact the President had mentioned in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) in 2013 that “there is a need to end the government subsidy for lower LRT/MRT fare hike.” (Interaksyon, 21 Dec)
We are reminded that all this time, government has been subsidizing “60 percent of the cost for each LRT1 and LRT2 passenger and around 75 percent for each MRT3 passenger” which is an estimated P2 billion pesos. Transport Secretary Jun Abaya says: “We must emphasize that around P10 billion will still go to subsidizing LRT and MRT passengers. But the premise of the user-pays principle is this: if what each rider pays is closer to the actual cost of his or her own trip, the P2 billion savings can be used for development projects and relief operations to benefit those who never even get to use the LRT or MRT.” (Interaksyon, 20 Dec)
And so the rational is such: the fare hike is about making commuters pay for the “real cost” of each train ride. The fare hike means providing the rest of the country with P2 billion pesos for relief operations and “development projects.”
According to IBON Foundation, the fare hike is actually about the government’s privatization program, where its “public-private partnership initiatives for LRT 1 and 2 and MRT 3” requires that it “make <these trains> more appealing to investors. Higher fares will make the light rail transportation systems more commercially profitable but at the great expense of commuters.” (21 Dec)
Not to mention to the detriment of commuters. The fare hike means making the public shoulder the cost of public transport – a public service – one that has been getting into more and more accidents, has been breaking down more often, and has been assessed as dangerous.
A social media campaign encourages the train-riding public to look at that MRT CCTV camera and throw a dirty finger its way. Make our disgust at the MRT fare hike count, and hashtag that dirty finger #PakyuMRT.
Sounds about right.
Airline messes
Airline services are so bad in this country that one is actually surprised when flights leave and arrive on time, and one can only be relieved that one’s airport is not the woebegone Terminal 1.
Then again, there is very little a fancy new airport can do when one is faced with flights that are moved from one hour to the next, one week to another. Especially when this is about spending Christmas in places we call home, for which we have allotted hard-earned cash and precious vacation leaves.
My friend Daryll had booked an Air Asia flight for Tacloban in early December, around which time the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) announced that it was opening the Tacloban airport to airlines other than Philippine Airlines (which had continued flying its smaller planes via the Tacloban airport during the runway repairs and rehabilitation).
On December 14, a week after she bought the ticket, she receives an advisory telling her that all “AirAsia Zest flights between Manila and Tacloban have been cancelled from December 16 to 21 2014” because the CAAP had declared the continued closure and repair works on the Tacloban aiport. Daryll rebooks the flight to December 24 – cutting it very close to Christmas, but it was her only choice – only to be told on December 19 that all AirAsia Zest flights between December 22 to 28 were also cancelled.
To be told five days before Christmas Eve that your flight home has been cancelled, is like being told that you can’t be home for Christmas really. Because flights will have been fully-booked at that point, and the few seats left will be quickly snatched up by people who might be willing to pay for what will be more expensive seats.
Seems the only ones who will truly be jolly this season are the capitalists selling airplane seats.
Who to call on matuwid na daan
It seems that for all our transport woes in this country, from derailed trains to cancelled flights, dangerous cab rides to illegal colorum buses, the public has no one to run to for help.
Because government is pretty much absolved of all responsibility when it comes to bad transport services, never mind that public transport is a public service. In fact at the heart of this holiday transport crises is the fact of private corporations running these public services, where government can wash its hands of any and all responsibility when something goes wrong.
The list of woes is a long one, and the number of victims growing. And the holidays remind us of how the public is left to deal with public transport that is not only normally inefficient like our airlines, but also now apparently dangerous like the MRT. The more painful reminder is that we’ve got no one to call for assistance, no one is responsible. Not on matuwid na daan.
“Government to hike LRT, MRT fares beginning January 4” by Darwin G. Amojelar. 20 Dec 2014.
“LRT, MRT fare hikes questioned as DOTC issues notice : “Unreasonable”, says IBON” by IBON News. 21 Dec 2014.
“‘TAKSIL’ | MRT-LRT fare hike advisory in holidays a ‘treachery’, says Bayan; Palace defends move” by with Philippines News Agency. 21 Dec 2014.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fallen Crosses in ‘China’s Jerusalem’ Give Birth to Christmas Banquet in Queens

Source: Wall Street Journal
Wenzhounese Christians gather in at New York’s Good Fortune restaurant Sunday night for the community’s first large-scale Christmas banquet. (Courtesy of Faith Bible Church)
Wenzhounese Christians gather in at New York’s Good Fortune restaurant Sunday night for the community’s first large-scale Christmas banquet. (Courtesy of Faith Bible Church)
In China, people know the eastern city of Wenzhou as a center of entrepreneurship built on a foundation of lighters and zippers. They know it as a place where the dialect sounds so different from standard Mandarin that many Chinese consider it another language.
It is also known for its churches. Sometimes called China’s Jerusalem, Wenzhou is home to an unusually large number of churches visible on the skyline as well as on city streets. China is home to tens of millions of Christians, according to varying estimates, though Beijing maintains tight authority over their churches.
Earlier this year, many Christians in Wenzhou clashed with the police over forced demolition of church premises and for refusing to take down crosses on their churches. Officials cite violations to zoning regulations, but the locals believe that the authorities had specifically targeted churches and Christian symbols.
Local media reported Wednesday night that Wenzhou education authorities had ordered local schools not to celebrate Christmas (in Chinese).
The turn against Christianity has spurred concerns among the many Wenzhounese who have moved abroad over the years via their business ties as well as part of China’s diaspora. One such community is in Flushing, a New York City neighborhood with a sizable Chinese population. Earlier this year a number of local churches gathered to pray for the churches in Wenzhou, after hearing about the difficulties they faced over the removal of crosses.
The church leaders then noted Flushing’s Wenzhounese Christians, despite all they had in common, had never tried to come together in one place.
“We had several meetings with the leaders of the different churches and prayed together. And then we thought of having a combined Christmas outreach,” said John Yeung, a pastor at Faith Bible Church in nearby Corona.
He said such a gathering in Wenzhou would be difficult to pull off. There, such big Christmas celebrations are allowed only on church premises unless parishioners wanted to keep it a secret.
Performers sing during the Wenzhounese Christmas banquet. The banner in the background reads, “Jesus, our Hope. Wenzhou Good Tidings Christmas Banquet.” (Courtesy of Faith Bible Church)
Performers sing during the Wenzhounese Christmas banquet. The banner in the background reads, “Jesus, our Hope. Wenzhou Good Tidings Christmas Banquet.” (Courtesy of Faith Bible Church)
Performers sing during the Wenzhounese Christmas banquet. The banner in the background reads, “Jesus, our Hope. Wenzhou Good Tidings Christmas Banquet.” (Courtesy of Faith Bible Church)
Flushing’s first Wenzhou Christmas banquet was held on Sunday night at the Good Fortune restaurant. Over Wenzhou favorites like duck’s tongue, fried lobster and fried crab, a mostly Wenzhou crowd of about 800 people watch dance performances, listen to Christmas carols and heard how a Chinese pastor who used to be a chain-smoking, fight-loving gangster turned over a new leaf.
There were Christmas carols in Chinese, and a performance with dancers wearing red cheongsams holding green umbrellas brought back some vibes of Christmas. Baby blue and baby pink balloons were scattered across the restaurant; decorations could have also been used at a wedding party. Parents could be heard speaking in the Wenzhou dialect or Wenzhou-accented Mandarin, and their children talking among themselves in American English.
An elderly man also performed a monologue in the Wenzhou dialect with wooden block clappers and bits of humor, though at one point though he had to fight down a hacking cough.
Off the menu: spirits of the liquid kind. “If you know of someone bringing in a bottle, please do not open it,” one pastor said in the Wenzhou dialect before the first dish was served.
Also off the menu: politics. None of the speakers at the banquet mentioned the fate of churches back home. The closest the event came to current affairs came from Mr. Yeung.
“Some of you were smuggled [into the U.S.] and things have been hard,” he told the group, as he paced a red-carpeted stage. “But you have a chance for a better life.”
–Esther Fung. Follow her on Twitter @estherfung

Faith in Action Keeps it Strong and Alive

Fr. Shay Cullen
PREDA Foundation
Christmas-PREDAChristmas is the celebration of the family, the birth of Jesus and his great mission to lead the world from sin, vice and cruelty to a kingdom where people are free to live a life of virtue and goodness. Here we can be members of God’s family and strive for friendship, justice, love and peace. What a great and beautiful ideal.
The family is under great pressure these days as the cellphone, the Internet and social media spread so much negative influences from child pornography, extortion, bullying and sexual grooming and abuse.
Evil has its tentacles wrapped around the minds and hearts of our youth and adults through these technological means of communication. The youth have to be helped to resist and throw off these influences and embrace a life of virtue. Adults too are under great temptation. There is even a website that encourages people to sign up to have an adulterous relationship, designed to destroy families and leave children without united parents.
Yet there are millions of families that are rooted in deep Christian values of love, faithfulness and compassionate concern that helps the abused, exploited people. But these too are under pressure as society is becoming more secular, frivolous and prone to vice, materialism, corruption and crime.
Love as a spiritual experience of unselfish friendship is hard to find these days. Today they are easily overwhelmed by the selfish satisfaction of personal desires, greed and lust. The great ideal of service of others through volunteering without asking payments, rewards, praise and entitlements is diminishing. The age when thousands of young people answered the call to dedicate their lives to the service for the poor and the downtrodden is coming to an end. The age of the cheater, swindler, manipulator, betrayer and unfaithful is here.
Those who strive to lead a good and virtuous life have to strengthen their belief in eternal goodness and the sanctity of life, love, family and true faithful friends. Goodness abounds but it is not organized into a strong movement that could overwhelm the march of evil and corrupt practices of injustice and torture and abuse. Silence of the good people has given a kind of consent to the triumph of evil in today’s world. As Jesus said, we have to shout it from the roof tops and take a principled stand for what is right and just.
The enemy of the people is clearly seen in the corruption, graft, kickback and plunder of the people’s taxes by the dynastic families. The bad example from leaders permeates society and corrupts all around it. Justice is tainted and criminals go free. The incompetence of corrupt governance is apparent everywhere.
The recent expose of the beaten and starving naked children lying on the cement ground like the victims of Auschwitz at the Manila children’s detention center called RAC (Reception and Action Center) caused outrage but not enough. The children photographed looked like the skeletal victims of Auschwitz. I wrote about them recently and the horrors they endured. The social workers, managers and those sworn to help them allegedly betrayed the children and their profession. Allegations of pilfered money needed for the children’s food abound but are denied. Unqualified, underpaid staff are part of the abuse. The case of Francisco is just one of many examples of starved and tortured children as revealed this week by Amnesty International in Manila. Several of the victims of torture mentioned in the report (see ) were interviewed in the safety of the Preda Foundation’s children’s home for rescued children in Olongapo City.
When I came as a Columban Missionary from Ireland to the Philippines forty five year ago, I saw this terrible hardship of the children in jail. I set up Preda Foundation to give them a new, happier life and try to end the torture and abuse. It seems we saved hundreds but failed, so far, to change the systematic abuse of jailed children, illegal as it is.
In the Preda homes, they are recovering from their traumatic abuse and told their stories of torture to researchers from Amnesty International. Most of the children were rescued by Preda social workers and myself from government detention jails. Readers can help save many more.
Social services and NGOs have not remained untouched. Some have fallen into the darkness of selfish gain, dishonesty, unfaithfulness and greed. They abandon too easily and too quickly the values they vowed loudly to uphold and defend. The malaise of the world of selfishness and greed has damaged and led astray even some of those that once worked for the higher causes of defending human rights, helping the poor and restoring the dignity of the abused.
It’s no wonder the faithful, virtuous good men and women are treasures to society, the hope of the nation and the true defenders of human rights and abused children. We can oppose and defeat evil by being faithful, honest, generous, kind, respectful of all and put our faith into action and keep it strong by serving and helping the needy children this Christmas and always.