Sunday, August 7, 2011

What hurts more?

Which was torture for Migz Zubiri: the two weeks he claimed to have spent tossing in bed — perhaps in guilt, knowing he had benefitted from the large scale dagdag-bawas of the 2007 elections; or the four years he seemed to have relished as a senator despite his legitimacy in the Upper Chamber bugged by the same dagdag-bawas that will forever mark his tarnished political name?
Whichever, it does not make him a man even if he owed up to his guilt as he had stolen four years from Koko Pimentel, who may have been long tortured, himself, by the circumstances and the grand, evil deeds of Gloria Arroyo to deny him a Senate seat. Migz, even with his “surprise” resignation, does not differ with Gloria. They both lied, and lived and accepted their lies as truth. They both stole the sanctity of our votes. And they have killed many hopes, not just of Koko, but the rest of us who are still in search of an independent, clean and working government.
The praises Migz received lasted only after they were uttered. He resigned knowing 2007 would hurt his chances in 2013. And even if he denies it, all the lies and the stealing and killing of our votes and hopes would forever mar his name, even if Koko does not push it further after he wins his case before the Senate Electoral Tribunal.
But if quitting while ahead makes a man, as Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile had implied during Migz’s resignation proceedings that fell short of becoming a ceremony of his own knighthood, what makes a woman then?
Does a woman earn daintiness by not talking, or by claiming to have lost her voice after an operation that became an excuse slip against probes and more probes of the irregularities a woman have committed while she was in power over all men?
Or does she feel being tortured now by her own faults, when she no longer has absolute power?
The air-conditioned rooms at the St. Luke’s Hospital could not be compared to the torture chambers where Karen Empeno and Sherly Cadapan could have been hurt and raped and violated by all means only beasts could make. But a witness claimed they have suffered at the hands of their military torturers. And then we ask, where did such beasts come from?
Jonas Burgos, if he is alive, could probably answer that.
But he’s nowhere to be found, he could possibly be dead by now, killed by the same beast who have raped, tortured and killed Empeno and Cadapan.
These torturers, it’s now clear, have spawned from the practice of hazing new recruits in the AFP and the PNP.
It was not the first time we have seen photographs and videos showing graphic images of inflicted pain and torture against military and police hopefuls.
The tortured ones become torturers themselves. It becomes a cycle not even laws could stop.
Last week, we have seen the torture of new policemen by their seniors.
Commission on Human Rights Chairman Etta Rosales could not help but compare them to beasts. But it's just how far the CHR could go, for now. Yet we hope Etta would be different in bringing those abusive policemen to justice.
Instead of taking punishments or sanction, the perpetrators of these crime against human rights often get rewarded.
Remember Joselito Binayug, the violent, arrogant torturer of suspected criminals at the Tondo police precinct?
Well, he was recently rewarded a job as an instructor at the Philippine College of Criminology, where young students hoping to become police officers someday pass by his bloodied hands.
What would his students become? Pray God they don’t spawn more torturers as we already have enough.
We have enough elsewhere, that a Filipina got home last week with her right eye blinded by an abusive Kuwaiti woman.
We have enough of them somewhere that a high school teacher had his student walk the school’s field in kneeling position before he was ordered to kiss the ground.
And then, there’s this other high school teacher in Zamboanga who stripped her student naked as she searched for stolen things reportedly missing in their classroom.
If they aren’t torture, I don’t know what is.
And we’ll continue to close our eyes, it may not take time before we see ourselves being flogged in hate, or in sheer power trip by those who can.
Didn’t they steal our votes once… I mean, twice? If that isn’t painful enough, I’m no longer sure what would hurt more.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Of heroes and villains

I’m not sure if it’s repugnance or sheer hate I feel seeing military men in a slow march pass.

As a struggling sportswriter, I take it with joy covering momentous gatherings like the athletes’ parades in the Olympics, the Asian Games or the Sea Games. These are sporting fiestas, where the big countries’ sporting greats can be seen, and where ugly comparisons between us and them often become after parade conversations.

But a military hearse is like directly seeing empty boots in formation as dead soldiers are honored for their heroism in wars. We don’t talk about this after, it is better forgotten.

But Monday was a scene that makes unforgettable nightmares.

There were the widows, howling their grief in front of television crews, their arms clutching photographs of their dead husbands and brothers and sons, like they were recreating a scene once owned by the grieving mothers of Argentina’s Plaza de Mayo. They were mourning their loss.

Their husbands, brothers and sons were recently killed in a gun clash with the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu. There were seven dead, five of them mutilated as the Sayyafs crow about their victory, or in a lesser sense (or nonsense), simply avenged their own dead.

How brutal could wars become, and this is war in its most physical sense and meaning. We could not have touched them, or heard them, but we saw them cry, we saw them howl in pain over the loss of a loved one. We don’t know any of them, but we can relate for whatever reason simply because their loss has lots of meanings to us.

Officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) could only salve their pain by announcing possible promotions, albeit posthumously. Now, if it can be done also to a great actor who could have become the country’s president had he not been robbed of his chance by somebody who looks like Gloria Arroyo.

It could not replace their loss, but that is what soldiers’ widows get. They may be meaningless to some, but medals and certificates and possibly cash grants could be meaningful to most recipients, especially when they were paid for in blood by their loved ones.

And oh, they received a handshake, and what appeared to be a sincere message of condolences from President Noynoy Aquino, who visited the wake.

But as these soldiers will be laid to final rest, their living peers have been tainted by another accusation of torture from one whom they suspected as a Sayyaf operative.

They mauled him. They soaked him in kerosene and burned parts of his body. And when they could not fish any information from the nameless victim, they turned him over to the Philippine National Police (PNP), before he decided to tell all.

Yet, his image has become a rallying figure for many other Sayyaf warriors. He could become an example of military atrocities that would serve as bait to many other adventurous youth who may join Abu Sayyaf in the future. And there could be more of him.

With one such image, whatever points the AFP may have earned in exposing Sayyaf’s own atrocities against government combatants could be erased by one stupid act by their own peers.

And then this call came late Monday, from a university staff who volunteered information to expose yet another supposed military atrocity, this time in Sarangani, General Santos City, hometown of our living sporting hero Manny Pacquiao.

The caller claimed members of the 73rd Infantry Battalion are harassing the operations of a learning center catering to children of the B’laan tribe aged 15-years and below so that these B’laan kids would not learn to read and write and possibly discern and analyze their future.

She said soldiers are accusing teachers and staff serving the B’laan community as communist sympathizers. And because of this, the school was not able to hold its graduation rites last march, despite the presence of two sisters from the Benedictine Order.

The Tribune source, however, suspects the military harassment isn’t really aimed at flushing communists and their supporters out of the secluded Sarangani area, but is actually part of an operation to clear the vicinity of people who might oppose a mining operation whose investors have reportedly secured their license to mine from GMA, who else?

“The mining operation is now in ‘stage two.’ And possibly, the 73rd IB does not want the B’laan tribe to oppose the operation in their area,” the Tribune source said.

A group has reported the cases of harassment this B’laan tribe has reportedly been receiving from the military to Human Rights Commissioner Etta Rosales. But some of them suspect they may be last in Rosales’ priorities as they claimed she is of a different political stripe.

They also first sought to bring the matter to Pacquiao. But the honorable congressman from Sarangani is more focused on his next fight with Juan Manuel Marquez, perhaps he does not realize he has chosen to have this other role in life.

But I could be as confused as Pacquiao. There are heroes and villains everywhere, I might stick my neck out for the Federers and the Williamses in any sporting march than hear any of these.

But then, there was one march I could recall. That of the Grand Old Man Chino Roces pulling a plastic tank at the end of Ferdinand Marcos’ military parade one year at the waning of martial law. It’s a reminder that we all have to make a choice. And our heroes and villains could come from any side.

Which one? Take your pick.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Reality and fiction

‘Twas a comedy, drama, romance and suspense thriller rolled in one. And I’d like to think all of these were part of the recent May 10 polls, but not exactly. But some twists are parallel to our first computerized elections, which are now being thrown in a mayhem by, I believe, several fronts which want to discredit the success of the polls, if they were indeed successful; or may break further our trust in the Commission on Elections, which has yet to recover from the ugly taint of the fraudulent Virgilio Garcillano of 2004.
I love Robin Williams, his films being among the very few that I care to watch, this rubbernecker being a sucker for good comedy.
When I first saw Man of the Year, Williams’ 2006 movie about the possible imperfections of computerized elections, which we tried and are now debating its success—or failure, however we look at it, I grabbed a copy of it with nary a care from a street stall of pirated DVDs in Quiapo, ignoring the whispers of a heavily perspiring vagrant, who pestered me with “Manong, triple X!”
I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life when I curtly replied: “Hindi ako nanonood nyan, pari ako! (I don’t watch triple x films, I am a priest!).” To which he retorted: “Yung pari sa amin, apat asawa! (The priest in my town has four wives!).”
I made a hasty exit, not wanting to become a recipient of some rapid fires of bullets coming from the hobo and his associates’ hands.
Dissecting the movie was as quick as my flight. It dealt with a television comedian (we’re back to Robin Williams. And no, we’re not talking about Manny Pacquiao!) who made a daring joke about running for the US presidency and was egged on by numerous fans that his joke became real.
For a quicker overview, Williams’ character Tom Dobbs won the polls, surprising even himself. Until a woman named Eleanor Green came out to claim there had been a major glitch in the computer system, which its manufacturers did not want out to protect their fortune, thus leading to Green being hunted to be killed. And then the movie turned interestingly serious.
The malfunction centered on the possibility of a big anomaly in the computers. In the movie’s plot, Dobbs tallied more numbers than his actual votes when the computers counting the ballots diverted counts to his name, which bore double Bs, as against the incumbent President Kellogg (Double Ls, and Gs); and another candidate, a fictional Senator Mills (Double Ls). The B, being the second letter in the alphabet, intercepted the votes for the double Gs and Ls.
Although the movie was of creative imagination, it bore similarities with our recent polls.
The results of the elections, even with Sen. Noynoy Aquino receiving an overwhelming number of votes, are under question. They are also being muddled further by interest groups, some with legitimate concerns and causes for their protest, that put the Comelec in a bad light, weeks after receiving accolades for the quick counting of votes, which was initially thought as a gauge for the computerized polls’ success, only to wake us up on what appear now as possibilities of malfunctioning PCOS machines (at the least); and at worst fraud, that may lead to another failure to have clean and honest polls.
This new saga in the Philippine electoral system is equally interesting to watch. It seems complete and with various scripts that were recently adorned with foul words Al Pacino blushed at in his murderous Godfather movies.
And there was “Koala Boy” who calls himself Robin (not Williams, I suppose), the self-proclaimed whistle-blower whom many pray should not be Ador Mawanay. He does not look as convincing as the Eleanor Green character in the Robin Williams movie, but we have to wait for the final turnout of this new, very interesting script.
And who’s behind him? Could he be the losing presidential contender the Comelec wants us to suspect? Or is he part of another Malacanang ploy to serve its own end, as Cong. Teddyboy Locsin vowed to reveal soon?
A comedic blunder would soon unfold before us. And we’ll just accept this as another bump in our lives, which we cannot seem to perfect.
Life, like the movies, are alike.
It draws inspiration from each other, even in the high-tech world of computers, and fiction, and plots to destroy the world, or an election.
But this one is no laughing matter.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Of murders and chances

If Sen. Ping Lacson can no longer “sleep soundly,” as his former aide Cesar Mancao wanted to assure him when he revealed then Presidential Security Group chief Romeo Prestoza’s offer of freedom and support to his children if he would pin Lacson on the killings of publicist Bubby Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito, it is probably not because Mancao eventually turned his back against him but because of his losing flint to his political star that now begins to show a dying flicker.

The revived double murder case is now beginning to gain headway even if Lacson is no longer in the people’s political radar after hedging on the presidency, which he realized was again elusive. And it is possible Lacson would become the sole political figure to get into the cross of the Department of Justice (DoJ)’s sight but Erap Estrada as well.

The problem for GMA, for now however, is that Erap remains determined in regaining the presidency he lost in 2001. Any move to pin down Erap might awaken a sleeping giant among the large mass that supports the deposed leader. So, it is better to train one’s sight at Lacson first and deal with Erap later, when the conditions are ripe.

It also did not help Lacson that he burned his bridges with Estrada, although some sectors believe that decision would come in handy if and when GMA moves firmly to stop Erap from becoming president anew at all cost.

But not for now, as GMA continues to weigh things with just a little over five months before a change in country’s leadership takes place (if ever!), but it is yet unclear whether her candidate Gibo Teodoro, or her perceived alternate candidate, Manny Villar, would pull through against Noynoy Aquino, who remains on top of surveys but whose lead nevertheless remains precarious given the possibility of another massive cheating if media play and/or future messages and advertorials would not work in favor of his rivals in the crucial months.

Erap will remain off the hook, as he immediately claimed after the DoJ’s announcement of Lacson being the prime suspect in the case. But while Erap isn’t tagged along with Lacson, and as new surveys do not seem to point to him as the leading candidate, Lacson and the Dacer-Corbito case would remain hovering above his head like festering flies.

The Lacson drama, however, surprisingly unfolded as focus on the Maguindanao mass murder of 57 persons, including 30 media colleagues, had started to wane. Politics being an art, its masters have just changed the course of public interest from some gruesome murders back to a couple of gruesome murders.

And it may get the necks of two scathing figures, while the rest of the field would prove little concern.

Besides, Noynoy is now facing a revival of issues related to the “Kamag-anak Inc.,” expanding the issue to sports where his uncle, Peping Cojuangco, one of the more famous among his relatives, is holding sway.

And while Villar may think he is off the hook already in the C5 double budget insertion mess, his handlers remain prepared for any more negative publicities that would come their bet’s way.

It is Erap, through Lacson and the Dacer-Corbito double murder case, who would possibly face the most damaging issues besides the disqualification case recently hurled against him before the Comelec.

And the rest are expendable.

With May 10 just around the corner, nobody among the leading contenders can afford a sound sleep.

Even if it’s another person facing charges of killing people.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The truth

It would take more than a hundred columns from different writers to expound on the insanity and madness that provided the backdrop to Gloria Arroyo’s martial rule in Maguindanao. And still, they would not compensate for the thousand more lies she had tried propagate once more in pushing the envelope when she tested the limits of the law to her favor.

Arroyo lifted martial law because she knew it wouldn’t fly. Not even with the hundreds of the congressmen in her pockets, she would need a backhoe and a lot of convincing to the people to be able to resurrect approval to what is widely deemed evil, contrary to what her Press secretary, Cerge Remonde, downplayed as mere skepticism based “just largely here in Manila.”

Gloria’s bid to effect martial noise, however, effectively deflected pressure and interest on the massacre of 57 people — for some time at least. But despite all the din, the country’s eyes remain fixed on what her government will do for or against the Ampatuans, her former allies whom she now brands as “rebels,” and dissenters only because they have threatened to reveal what they know about the cheatings that marred the 2004 and 2007 elections.

Two weeks and a martial law hence, the Ampatuans were quashed, and their rival Mangudadatu family would expectedly take over the reins as the new Ampatuans of the province — wealthy and armed and dangerous, too.

Not even martial rule, not the kind Marcos did and Gloria had tried to impose, would effectively quash private armies like the Ampatuans and the Mangudadatus have. They exist because government condones their presence as they provide strength to their local leaders, who provide them with muscular support, in turn, one that comes in handy, especially when cheating and silencing opponents, are needed.

They exist because government arms them. Militiamen also get paid by government, which, as our dark history showed us, often looked the other way when they have committed abuses like the CHDF (Civilian Home Defense Force) of Marcos, Cafgu of Cory and the Alsa Masa of other local warlords did, before they were re-christened to become CVOs.

Calls for the dismantling of these armed groups have been raised many times in the past. But these groups would stay as monuments to government instability and insecurity in fighting its enemies, including above-ground opposition groups. They are a proof of our backwardness as people’s support to the NPA, MNLF, MILF and the Abu Sayyaf is evidence government fails to provide for its people, leading them to turn to alternatives, including joining CVOs which pay them well.

It’s cheaper for Gloria to arm, say, the Ampatuans than build roads and markets, bridges and schools. It’s more convenient for Gloria to channel tanks, guns and bullets to the Ampatuans than respond to the calls made by the Magdalos to provide tanks and guns and bullets to the boot-less soldiers fighting enemies of the state in Mindanao.

‘Twas easier for Gloria to declare martial law in Maguindanao than face-up to her responsibility in her creation of the Ampatuan Frankenstein. ‘Twas also more convenient for Gloria to put the Ampatuans in jail and in silence than hear more political noise, to use her own term, about the legitimacy of her claim to power, all in the last six months of her stay in Malacañang, to which she hopefully would wave a tearful goodbye in June 2010.

‘Twas easier for Gloria to lie and make claims of a threat against the state for her to try gain absolute power. ‘Twas more convenient for Gloria to imagine she would gain the people’s support when she tried to mask the death of our 30 media colleagues by wagging the dog to bark justice.

The truth is Gloria had failed to make the Maguindanaoans’ lives better. That is why many considered joining the Ampatuan army as a respectable career.

The truth is Gloria had failed to bring government services closer to Maguindanao’s people. That is why they look up to the Ampatuans, who provided them with loose change for their burial expenses, like gods.

The truth is Gloria had wanted martial law badly, not only in Maguindanao but in the rest of the nation as well.

But Gloria knows the truth. It won’t fly and the people will fight it. And Gloria cannot afford to fight an army bigger than the Ampatuans.

Even if we are unarmed. Even if there’s no Edsa in the midst.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Exchange deal

Crises spawn opportunities, and Gloria Arroyo will grab whatever comes her way in her attempt to perpetuate her claim to power, at whatever cost, even at the expense of 57 innocent lives, including many journalists, who, as it turned out, only became pawns in a local turf war at which Gloria’s interest was long hinged.

The Ampatuan massacre in Maguindanao, the second poorest province in the country where guns, goons and gold worked wonders, not only for a cheating presidential candidate but also for her senators and local leaders as well, to the detriment of a country long lost in the darkest chapter of its history since Marcos’ martial rule, not only gave us our ugliest blot but a chance for Gloria to create an advantageous scenario for her to complete her own Marcosian cycle.

Gloria has placed Maguindanao and its environs under martial law, but not publicly declaring it like Marcos did, perhaps learning from the mistake of the vilified late dictator, whose old school, black and white television image became a direct illustration of evil even long after his death as his footage gets shown every year when the nation is reminded of his rule, or things similar to it, just as what we have now under Gloria, and against which we say, never again!

But it was martial law still she has just declared.

Ugly pasts have their way of resurrecting ghosts, and Gloria must have found out about this when what was only expected as an arms cache, found buried like valuable treasures in Ampatuan properties, also revealed remnants of Hello Garci’s past, in all its glorious glory, confirming the wide-spread electoral fraud that sent Gloria to Malacañang and denied some opposition sena-tors victory.

The Ampatuans, once a very powerful family in the region, however, have threatened to “talk,” if talking means confirming what Gloria and Garci have discussed in the country’s most interesting telephone conversation. But not even this threat would have sent chills down Gloria’s spine. It might have opened another opportunity to strike a deal with the Ampatuans, whom the nation wants nailed for the mass murder of people, which a foreign observer likened to what has transpired in Rwanda.

Under martial law, there is a likelihood the Ampatuans would escape the more serious offense of mass murder, as government is now focused on what it termed as a “looming rebellion,” one that has yet to transpire but for which the Ampatuans would likely be nailed, and given lighter penalties compared to what Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. faces for 25 counts of murder.

It has also to be said a number of times, by various legal experts, opposition groups and those in the know about martial law, that the one recently declared in Mindanao would likely creep into several other politically important areas as the 2010 elections near, while government is being accused of building up a no-elections scenario, if it would help Gloria stay put and longer at the throne, there is now very little doubt she had stolen from the people.

The Ampatuans, their backs against the wall as Gloria and Gibo Teodoro make their rivals — the Mangudadatus — the next big warlords of Maguindanao, would accept whatever deals that would be offered their way, if only to end this family crisis that started when GMA had condoned their earlier acts of violence in return for political favors in their region, even giving them money and supply of arms, which of late, are being dug up in Maguindanao.

But the Maguindanao crises seem only the beginning.

The nation must be on guard against the many plans of Gloria Arroyo as her end-time nears.

Only our vigilance would ensure she steps out of Malacañang very soon, if not now.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Use your illusion

I remember half of the boys in my class standing up to declare their dream of becoming a president of the Republic of the Philippines someday. That was in 1976, during my first taste of public school as saling-pusa, being too young to be formally included in the grade one class.

Most of the girls wanted to become artistas, and I remember only some of them claimed dreaming of becoming nurses, doctors and lawyers.

My answer elicited laughter. I told the class I wanted to become an astronaut, the only one to do so in a class of Philippine presidents and artistas.

It was my childhood dream. My name was patented after Buzz Aldrin, who along with Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins, became the first men to set foot on the moon.

I remember the class bully howled: “Go to the States,” obviously referring to the US, where not even 10 percent of that public school class may have set foot in their adult lives, although I believe most of them are still entertaining thoughts of settling there someday — courtesy of their children, perhaps — who may or may not become astronauts as I once dreamed of becoming when I was really young.

Perhaps, my classmates thought I was not only dreaming but having an illusion, as if becoming president of a republic then very much under martial rule was not.

The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was the star of every show then, with only a handful willing and daring to challenge him, and all them were detained, tortured and one was killed while returning home.

Maybe that explains why we do not run out of people, mostly being tagged as loonies, who file certificates of candidacy for the most coveted positions whenever the Commission on Elections starts to accept them.

Yesterday, I even got a ribbing from Ferdinand Agena, a college colleague who more than qualifies for the mayoralty of his town in Batangas, who asked if I managed to beat the Comelec deadline, the last days “reserved” for the “more serious” candidates.

He may have expected my simple reply: “I do not entertain such an illusion,” that my friend’s curt self no longer bothered to add to the jibe.

A television crew panned at the white board listing “applicants” for the presidency numbered a little over 50, if my aging eyes did not deceive me. It is expected to be trimmed down to just a few when the final reckoning comes, with those expected to survive the final “massacre” bearing names too familiar for many of us to ignore, while the rest will be sidelined in history alongside Eddie Gil and Elly “Spike Boy” Pamatong.

Only about 10 would make it in the final list, majority of them political scions successfully riding their elders’ greatness, or representatives of the moneyed class who would soon forget their promises to the masses and the poor.

There would be the so-called “alternative candidates” whose chances depend only on the little money they have to be able to send their message across and be rightfully heard, that is if voters are willing and able to discern what are being promised them and not be swayed by what are being given them.

In the end, however, it is still money which will speak loudly and clearly.

While politics is admittedly local, local government leaders would act correspondingly with the largess they receive, both from the national coffers and from other candidates with more money to spend.

It is a circuitous journey that would take us back again to where we’ve been since democracy was said to have been re-introduced in 1986, when all these started but had failed to take Philippine politics to maturity.

It remains an illusion to see a perfect president soon. But one that is good enough will never be enough.

Some say they will vote for the so-called “lesser evil,” which, if we follow their analogy, is still evil. Or maybe because we cannot find the perfect choice, even from this 2010 set whose campaign slogans and promises seem fake and illusory.

But here in our country, it seems easier to become a president than an astronaut.

We’ve had more than our share of presidents, really.

Finding the right one, however, is like finding a tiny gem in the murky Pasig river.