Friday, February 29, 2008

Bonus Day

Friends tell me I have been abroad too long, to expect Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez to save the day. The most cynical among them tell me everyone ends up becoming a Marcos. This is what power does.

35 years ago, Gonzalez was a young lawyer from Iloilo who was very active in fighting the dictatorship. At about that time, President Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire the top lawyer investigating the Watergate scandal, Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Richardson refused the order and resigned. Nixon then asked Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to carry out the order but Ruckelshaus also refused and quit. Nixon finally got Solicitor General Robert Bork to obey his order in what is now commonly referred to as the Saturday Night Massacre.

Today, the Department of Justice was snubbed by witnesses it summoned to its inquiry on the national broadband network scandal Deputy executive secretary Manuel Gaite and Erwin Santos, officer-in-charge of the Philippine Forest Corp., did not appear at the hearing. Santos had promised to attend at 8:30 a.m. but at 9:40 a.m. he sent a text message to Justice Undersecretary Ernesto Pineda’s secretary stating "I cannot attend panel hearing today. I have priority meeting with investors today, thanks".

Pineda personally spoke to both Gaite and Santos and got their assurances that they would be attending the hearings. Pineda said he was considering to ask Raul Gonzalez to request for an executive order that will grant them “coercive powers.”

"We want to know if it is possible for us to be equipped with coercive powers like the Senate to summon witnesses and documents…or at least to compel attendance," Pineda said.

This might be a beginning. On this bonus February day, for these public servants to do their job, fulfill their responsibilities to search for the truth and enforce justice.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Insufficient Reply

Gloria Arroyo admitted that she had been told about the irregular ZTE deal. That did not stop her from rushing to China while her husband lay unconscious at the critical care unit and witness the signing of the contract. She also admitted that her economic planning minister told her about the offer of the chief vote counter to throw him a 200 million peso cut in the action in exchange for his cooperation.

She admitted she was concerned the Chinese might “lose face” if she cancelled the entire deal at that time even if the kickback in question was to the tune of $130 million, certainly no small change for a country with a massive shortage of classrooms, a barely present healthcare delivery system, 50 million diets perennially short of protein.

Six months passed between the revelations and the actual scrapping of the contract. Covered in this period was the May 2007 elections which raises a very disturbing consideration. How will we teach our citizens to respect their sovereign right to vote if all you need to take care of is the obscene retirement package of Ben “counter” Abalos?

No Mrs. Arroyo, your explanation is totally wanting. You are telling us what we already all know. Your obfuscating silence on other matters simply confirms that you manipulated your election in 2004, it doesn’t make a difference that most of your fellow traditional politicos were likewise engaged in subverting the will of the people and therefore had no moral credibility to accuse you of the ultimate betrayal that a leader can inflict upon her people.

This might just be the opportunity for Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez to redeem himself. He used to be with the people. Mrs. Arroyo has admitted she had been advised about the irregularities, now he needs to do his job and conduct an impartial investigation and earnestly seek the truth amid this sordid mess.

And we will all see how fast this fancy tableau crumbles.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Reply and /or Resign

It was President’s Day around here and I am convinced that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo must finally explain to the Filipino people her part in the $135 million overprice scheme. She needs to explain if this was in partial payment to the head vote counter Abalos for past services rendered.

I’m sure there are not too many Filipinos left who continue to think that our government is clean. We have long ago resigned ourselves to the grim reality that we deserve our leaders and the preeminent part they play in the widespread corruption that is tearing our country apart. Moving out of the Philippines was all most of us could do who could not accept this cruel reality.

But Arroyo must now talk. We have reached a point when silence will no longer do. This isn’t just another crisis to be weathered with fear and money. If she is as corrupt as everyone thinks she is, then she has to resign. Vice President De Castro takes over, no matter what advantages he stands to gain in preparation for the 2010 elections.

Whether in the form of a trial or thru a fact finding commission totally devoid of politicians, we need to give her the chance to speak and recount in detail her involvement in the many scandals that have plagued her administration. All glory is fleeting, we all die. GMA must realize that it is never too late to come out clean. She can’t hang on to power indefinitely, her relatives and allies will all eventually fall. Sooner or later, she will be tried and for our nation to rise, justice will have to be served. Gloria Arroyo will face the full force of the law. And if she is found guilty of unpardonable crimes like depriving children from acquiring basic education, basic healthcare, basic nutrition, basic sanitation because funds were diverted to greedy criminals then she can expect no pardon.

Monday, February 11, 2008

What's on my mind in Guymon

I had to leave for the US on the day that Mr. Lozada had that early morning press conference. I didn’t want to but our clinic needed attention. Amid all the excitement in the Philippines, I find myself back in Guymon, quiet and serene and cold. This is a photo taken at the backyard of Dr. Paul. We had a dusting of snow early this morning.

Whenever I am busy working and I get to snatch a few minutes here and there to look at the websites of Philippine newspapers, I sense moments of clarity. That while I and 10 million other Filipinos are quietly working and contributing towards the upkeep of our country, there is an entire industry back home that decides how all these combined assets will be managed. I am of course referring to the industry that is dominated by traditional politicians.

Many people make an extraordinary living out of this industry. Membership grows in logarithmic fashion. Some talented and lucky guy manages to rise through the ranks and with more luck and pluck gets to pass all the accrued power and privileges to lingering relatives. All this would be cool if the business was run well just as we have successful companies that continue to grow when the various heirs take over. Contrast this to our situation when political leadership has been turned into a birthright that we, the sweating masses blindly support.

The problem is especially glaring at this time. Most positions of consequence are occupied by an elite group of individuals who exclusively derive their income from political wheeling and dealing. It is easy to see why the national interest is frequently subverted by dynastic considerations. So we witness all these children and grandchildren and all other political beneficiaries pursue the same methods, pathways and solutions because it’s all about preserving the existing order with the least amount of discomfort.

We’re still importing rice, medications, food, construction materials, vehicles after all these years. Smuggling has become more rampant, tax collection is dismal. And from 9000 miles away, I wonder why we persist in looking to all these senators and congressmen for enlightened decisions that will get us out of this mess. Why aren’t these professional politicians absolutely horrified with these revelations that can only be characterized as a disaster? Maybe because most of them are part of the stunt.

When are we going to awaken to the simple reality that these problems require totally different solutions? By totally committed, non professional political leaders who are painfully conscious of the unacceptable levels of poverty and suffering in our country? The situation we find ourselves embroiled in is tragic. We must not be naïve to think that this industry will not yield without a monumental battle. We must be vigilant and we must be prepared to sacrifice.

Dateline: Oklahoma

Just found out, all the way from the Oklahoma panhandle that Pampanga Governor Panlilio’s victory is being recounted. And this Lozada fellow is confirming reports that a $64 million overprice was acceptable but not $130 million. No other way around this but our country is going down and nobody seems to be doing anything about it. If anyone succeeds in ejecting Fr. Panlilio or anything happens to Lozada who has been characterized by the dangerous cabal of GMA supporters as a troublemaking Chinese, I am taking the next flight back home and I will actively take part in the overthrow of this corrupt regime.

It’s way past time. Way past time for just prayers and words. We are going to have to demand for the return of our rights in whatever manner that’s possible. Just thinking about this election official haggling over the kickback price that would make him manipulate election results makes me ill. Tama pala ang mga na-una sa atin: Rebolusyon hindi eleksyon.

Nakakahiya tayo. Wala nang pag-asa ang ating Bayan kung pababayaan pa natin itong katarantaduhang ito. Tama na ang mga matatamis na salita. Tama na itong pag-kukunwari. Kung totoo ang sinasabi ni Lozada, ibagsak na nga natin itong karumal-dumal na katiwaliang ito.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Diet Soda Advisory

I have long advised patients to stop drinking diet soda. While a can does not contain hardly any calories, experience has reliably shown that appetite is invariably stimulated by these drinks leading to increased intake of food. The prestigious journal Circulation just published a study that found a correlation between the intake of diet soda and the development of metabolic syndrome — the combination of risk factors for heart disease and diabetes that include hypercholesterolemia, abdominal obesity, hypertension and hyperglycemia.

The study involved more than 9,500 men and women ages 45 to 64 and followed their health for nine years. Those who partook of the developed world’s dietary pattern (red meat, fried foods and refined grain) were 18 percent more at risk for metabolic syndrome, while those who ate healthy (vegetables, fruits, fish and poultry) showed neither an increased nor decreased risk.

The risk of developing metabolic syndrome was 34 percent higher among those who drank one can of diet soda a day compared with those who drank none. The investigators postulated that there might be a chemical ingredient in diet soda that was responsible for this effect.

To those who want to stay slim and healthy, and to those who drink diet soda just for the taste of it, stick to drinking water exclusively.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Speaker speaks, too late

When he thought his life was in danger and GMA was doing nothing about it, he spilled the beans. He confirms electoral cheating, wanton extrajudicial murders, dependence on Malacanang for pork barrel, corruption in all levels of government, armed forces, judiciary, media, academe--everything we all know that’s holding our country down. Jose De Venecia did not disclose anything new, all he did was bare his selfishness, his sniggering loyalty so far as it benefited him, and above all, his cowardice.

And he has the nerve to call on all of us to join him in a moral revolution!

De Venecia is the consummate survivor in Philippine politics. He made his fortune during the time of Marcos and has successfully ingratiated himself into every ruling dispensation in our country. In the space of an hour, he referred to most everybody as a “friend”, described how many Godchildren he had in the chamber and how many politicians he helped to obtain government positions.

This was De Venecia’s chance for greatness and in keeping with character, totally blew it. He should have hurled that useless position back at all those deceitful colleagues of his, issued a contrite apology , called for genuine revolution and then disembowel himself in full public view.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Diagnosis of Dr. Rizal

Writing from Europe 120 years ago, Jose Rizal traced the causes of why Filipinos were so unproductive (which is a more refined term compared to the word that Rizal used: indolence). He began with a medical explanation that made it more natural and even healthier to refrain from heavy labor in hot conditions. Besides, he reasoned, tropical soil was more fertile to compensate for the reduction in manual input. He then proceeds to make clear that our ancestors were more motivated before we got colonized by citing ancient texts that celebrated the “activity and honesty” of the earlier inhabitants when they dealt with Chinese traders.

In what he described as a “fatal combination of circumstances” Rizal provided two major classifications: Spain’s fault and our very own fault. He rips the existing corrupt bureaucracy in his age and unsparingly describes the multitude of obstacles that totally wiped out any incentive for hard work. Upon reading this 120 year old essay, you can no doubt easily replace the governing colonial power with our various administrations. The substitution is seamless.

But if Rizal was brutal with the Spaniards, he was also able to call the shots as they appeared to him and he issued a ruthless indictment: we were as much to blame despite our ignorance and lack of education. “In order that he may make progress it is necessary that a revolutionary spirit, so to speak, should boil in his veins since progress necessarily requires change; it implies the overthrow of the sanctified past by the present, the victory of new ideas over the old accepted ones…. The lack of a national consciousness gives rise to another evil, which is the absence of all opposition to measures prejudicial to the people and the absence of any initiative in whatever may rebound to their good. A man in the Philippines is only an individual; he is not a member of a nation.”

In Rizal’s time, it was the Friars who constituted the constant ruling class. In our time, they have become our traditional politicians who have made politics into a thoroughly dishonorable manner of making a living. It was way obvious then, it remains crystal clear today. If we want change, we will have to get together and implement it ourselves. We need to rise above our differences no matter how strongly we might feel about certain convictions because what can be worse than witnessing our youth receive substandard education, practically no healthcare and wallow in subhuman living conditions?

We must all become extraordinarily conscious that we belong to one nation and it is our obligation to assume an active role in the development of our future.