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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

As Inquirer headlined recently, foreign vessels have been poaching in our rich waters for marine resources, leaving our marginalized fishermen to fish in nearby shores. Over the years, vital AFP resources have been marshaled to combat communist insurgency and rebellion in the South. Result: a Philippine Coast Guard frightfully ill-equipped to handle piracy in PH waters.

One month after the "allision" between the Filipino fishing boat and the Chinese trawler in the West Philippine Sea, controversies continue to hound both sides. In fact the central issue---the right or the absence of it of the Chinese trawler to fish in PH's 370-km EEZ---continues to be debated. Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. raised the issue in the United Nations in New York City, but as the Chinese side put it, the allision happened as the Filipino fishing boat had no lights while parked in the sea.


Of course the fact of the Chinese boat fishing in PH waters was our  supervening argument, but this fact of the PH boat without lights puts us on the defensive and considerably weakens our claim for damages. This is a small detail but it should be a great lesson for Filipino fishing crew---you need perimeter lights around our boats if another collision is to be avoided at sea. 

The Philippine Coast Guard should be alert in enforcing proper safeguards on PH vessels such as ensuring their being well-lighted. The fact, however, is that many of our fishing boats come from marginalized regions in PH and are operating under-budget---so that perhaps perimeter lights would be the least of most Filipino  fishermen's concerns. But it has now become an absolute must.

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Still and all,  the central issue that continues to jar Filipino sensibilities---six weeks after the allision---is that the Chinese crew of the colliding trawler quickly abandoned the scene of the crime, and did not bother to help save the 22 Filipinos thrown in the sea.  The Chinese crew's excuse was that they were afraid of being mauled---given that, according to their spokesperson in that colliding boat, there were around five other Filipino boats in the vicinity of the allision. 

The implication is that because there were other Filipino boats in the area, the Chinese crew was afraid to come to the rescue of the imperilled Pinoys. This palusot cannot be credible, for if there were a good number of Filipino boats in the area, then there would have been no need to make a distress signal to a passing Vietnamese vessel. It was the Vietnamese boat that rescued our fisher folk, who struggled to survive for nearly four hours in the water. Thank God no one perished.

XXX

But a bigger reality has surfaced, as bannered by the Inquirer yesterday, Friday, July 5, 2019. This is the fact that as PDI put it , "thousands of foreign fishing vessels encroach on Philippine waters and their activities, if left unchecked, could result in a devastating depletion of the country's marine resources." PDI published seismic maps in the West Philippine Sea over a three-year period in the Recto Bank in the Kalayaan Group and the Panatag Shoal, that showed whole areas shaded in red, indicating innumerable foreign vessels in the WPS.  

According to the PDI account, since April 2012, an average of 11, 261 foreign vessels have been invading those waters rich in marine resources and high-value fish in the WPS. The legitimate fear here is that if this continues unchecked, the Philippines stands to suffer from depletion of high-value marine resources and Filipino fishing communities would be deprived of meaningful livelihood. 

XXX

I think that we all have exhausted this allision tragedy in our EEZ to the hilt and the thing is to learn some truly expensive lessons from it. Our fishing boats must be well equipped--- and lighted well enough, so as to avoid collision at sea, which could be most hazardous to the Pinoy crew.

Politically the sea accident has exhausted the adverse consequences to the Duterte administration. To many Filipinos, it was irritating to see  President Duterte sounding quite subservient to the Chinese powers. This perception actually commenced when he began allowing tens of thousands of undocumented Chinese to enter the country and compete with Filipino labor. In many people's perception, this seeming deference of Mr. Duterte to the Chinese---Premier Xi Jing Ping is his very good friend---has lost him quite a lot of political mileage, as far as his countrymen are concerned.

XXX

Our country faces a terrible problem in our West Philippine Sea due to the seemingly unimpeded and limitless access of foreign vessels in our part of the world.  This was highlighted with the allision that happened last month when the Chinese trawler smashed into the smaller fishing boat operated by Filipinos in Recto Bank, and then scooted away without coming to the rescue of the Filipinos scattered in the sea. 

But as things turn out now, that allision accident was just the smaller problem. The bigger headache is how to enforce our sovereignty in our waters, to prevent the Chinese, Taiwanese and Vietnamese vessels from poaching in our waters and thereby seriously depleting our marine resources. 

The foreign encroachments of superior vessels of our wealthier neighbors have gravely affected the livelihood of our own fishermen, who cannot afford to go into deeper areas because of the lack of sophistication of their boats. In turn, this has serious impacted on the welfare of their fishing communities and ultimately on the country that's highly dependent on marine resources. 

XXX

The biggest problem at the moment, however, is the fact that through the years, the Philippine Coast Guard---a vital enforcement organ of the Philippine Navy---which has the duty of protecting our seas from foreign encroachment, is the least developed of our various armed services. 

Over the many decades that our armed forces have been battling local insurgency as well as the secessionist movement in the South, it's the Philippine Army that has cornered the biggest chunk of  resource allocations. As a result of this, of the three major services, the Philippine Navy became the least endowed, despite the fact that we are an island nation.

 Now we see how this reality has crippled the Coast Guard that should have the sophisticated boats to drive away encroaching foreign fishing vessels---but which it doesn't have. 

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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

UST fratman Atio Castillo's senseless death finally gets some degree of justice from the court. Had the Chinese fishing boat helped rescue the Filipino fishermen whose stationary boat it had rammed, Phil-Chinese relations wouldn't have sunk this low.



When I first met the parents of UST fratman Horacio "Atio" Castillo III at the penthouse dinner given by art patronness Lyn Ilusorio some months back,  the pain in the eyes of Atio's mother was so palpable that I lost my taste for eating much. I just wanted to hold her hand or something. 

Two years ago, Carminia "Minnie" Castillo got a call from someone that her 22-year old son, who was undergoing a law fraternity's  initiation rites that day, had died at the Chinese General Hospital in Manila from a massive heart attack---induced by severe beating of his body with a paddle.  

XXX

To help cheer up Minnie, a few months later I invited her and her  husband, Horacio Castillo Jr., to the concert of young classical violin virtuoso Joaquin "Chino" Gutierrez at the BDO Concert Hall in Makati.  They came and loved Chino's playing, but again I saw the pain in Minnie's eyes and her wan smile. Her husband appeared more stoic but doubtless was grieving as much. 

Today, perhaps Minnie feels a bit lighter in her heart as a member of the UST frat was sentenced by Judge Carolina Esguerra of the Manila Metropolitan Court from two to four years in prison for obstruction of justice, in misleading police investigation of the September 2017 fatal hazing of Atio Castillo.  The trial is not yet over, and I imagine that more suspects would fall into the clutches of the law. 

XXX

I recall a similar episode that rocked the UP just before I entered it decades ago, with fiery Irish Jesuit Fr. John P. Delaney leading the fight against fraternity violence in the campus. A scion of the well-known Albert family had died from hazing and there was so much uproar that it finally reached Congress, which decided to outlaw hazing by passing R.A. No. 8049, the Anti-Hazing Law. Under this law, hazing is a non-bailable offense with a penalty of reclusion perpetua.  
But though it was already illegal, reports buzzed around various campuses about fraternity violence still lurking in dark corners of the country.  At one point, the Philippine Military Academy was also rocked by hazing.  
Recall that the US had been rocked by its own share of campus brutality in decades past. 
XXX
Brutal initiation is obviously anchored on the belief that violence makes men out of boys, but I do not subscribe to that stupidity.  What brutal hazings succeed in doing is to transmogrify young men--- who are normally good and upright, but frequently under the influence of liquor and a twisted concept of manhood---into unrecognizable animals.   
I can understand the sense of belonging that fraternities and sororities  want to inculcate in their members;  but to dehumanize their neophytes and reduce them to brutes cannot be acceptable in, ironically enough, institutions of higher learning where men are taught nobler values in life. 
What Atio Castillo's death has taught us is that initiation rites should never brutalize frat candidates---they can be made to look silly, such as run around campus in their underware or deliver insane song-and dance acts in Plaza Miranda.  The sillier the better--- but NEVER  brutality, as this destroys body and spirit and turns young men into soulless animals.  
XXX
When I recently read Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles term what happened in Recto Bank between a Chinese vessel and Filipino fishing boat "Gem-Vir 1" as an "allision" and not a "collision," I immediately ran to the "New Oxford Dictionary of English" that the late Sen. Blas Ople had gifted me one Christmas many years ago. I looked for that word and there was none. A helpful Facebook friend pointed out that the term "allision" is rather new and Merriam Webster defines it as a clash between a moving object and a stationary one. 
What took place in Philippine waters was indeed an "allision:" the Pinoy boat was STATIONARY while fishing, when the Chinese boat collided with it. President Duterte tried to make light of this calamity by referring to it as "a small maritime incident" even if the "allision" happened in Recto Bank, which is within our 300-km. exclusive economic zone (EEZ). 
XXX
Indeed such incidents do happen on the high seas from time to time, but several things have to be pointed out in this particular episode, aside from the stationary status of the PH vessel. One is that it was fishing in PH waters clearly demarcated by the UN Arbitral Court in Geneva in July 2016. It was the Chinese vessel what was poaching in PH waters.
Second, and this is the graver sin of the Chinese vessel: granting that the ramming of the PH fishing boat was an accident---the Chinese vessel shouldn't have done a hit-and-run act.  Instead, it should have helped  rescue the Filipino fishing crew who were thrown into the waters by the crash impact. Accounts say the Pinoys were left in the water for three, some say even five hours. Thank God that a Vietnamese vessel rescued them, so that no one perished.
XXX
President Duterte tried to make light of the episode and even hinted to Navy officers during a conference to simply regard it as a "small maritime incident." This is truly the tragedy about our island nation that's surrounded by water: it has a very lightweight Navy, thus provoking such reaction from Mr. Duterte.
What most Filipinos doubtless expected from the President was to pick up the phone and complain to his Chinese counterpart---who has become his good friend---about how Filipino fishermen were abandoned in the high seas after the "allision"--- and how they would have perished, had not a Vietnamese trawler responded to the SOS.  Mr. Duterte, usually very vocal about his sentiments, failed to inform his counterpart about the feelings of his people. 
Interestingly, the captain of the wrecked fishing boat, Junard Insigne, doubtless felt what many in our nation,  led by Vice President Leni Robredo, felt---that Filipino lives were nearly jeopardized right in their own fishing waters. According to the news, Insigne gave no indication that he'd honor the President's invitation for a chat in the Palace. The skipper should be given time to recover from the horrors his men suffered. 
Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Monday, June 10, 2019

I'm not for capital punishment, but I'm willing to make exception for crooks who absconded PhilHealth funds worth a whopping P154B for bogus dialysis patients, some even already dead! Dynasties continue to bastardize party-list system.

President Duterte was quoted in the Inquirer as ready to order the NBI to arrest the "idiot" who schemed about allocating PhilHealth funds for ghost dialysis patients. The President was quoted as wanting to throw the guy into the Pasig River---though he ultimately relented by asserting that the criminal would be rescued from drowning.

If you ask me, throwing the guy into the Pasig would be too kind a punishment. 

XXX

 I have always taken a stand against death penalty in the belief that human life is sacred and that only our Maker has the right to take it away. Reading about the hideous schemes uncovered by the Inquirer, however---the absconding of PhilHealth funds worth a staggering P154B intended for dialysis patients---I feel that perhaps the only way to scare criminals who deprive poor Filipinos of this very vital health service is to revive the death penalty. 

The question that hurts so much at this point is, Why have our people gone so corrupt? 

With corruption seemingly so inured in the Filipino way of life, perhaps only the death penalty would scare some citizens who have grown so brazen as to pass off patients long dead as continuing to receive dialysis. It's most likely that crooks in both hospital and PhilHealth have long been conniving to steal the funds intended for this procedure for the needy.  

XXX

Dialysis is a means to alleviate malfunctioning of the urinary bladder, and it often hits poorer folk who have an overdose of bagoong and other salty stuff, as well as poor quality hard drinks. But the problem with dialysis is that it's a most expensive medical procedure to cleanse the body's wastes arising from organ malfunctioning.

PhilHealth enables those in the lower-income bracket to utilize this life-saving procedure by footing the bill;  but sadly, a staggering P154B was lost from the PhilHealth funds for bogus dialyses of bogus patients---a good number of them even already dead. 

XXX

Obviously for this kind of racket to prosper in staggering proportions of P154B, there has to be wide and longtime collusion between staff of PhilHealth and personnel of participating clinics and hospitals. The crime has left a paper trail, but what is most unbelievable is how far it has gone and how bold and fearless of the law the corrupt bureaucrats have become!  

Mr. Duterte, who fashions himself as an anti-corrupt President, has to crack the whip as it not only involves staggering amounts of squandered government funds, it also victimizes especially the neediest citizens who need dialysis the most---and who presumably are dearest to the President's heart.  

Yes, I realize that it's unpopular to invoke capital punishment which has already been outlawed in our country. But it seems to be needed in this case, if only to sow fear among very corrupt bureaucrats.

XXX

A week after the elections, my radio partner, Cecile Guidote Alvarez, and I invited to our "Radyo Balintataw" weekly Sunday program over nationwide dzRH Prof. Bobby Tuason, who heads the political science department of UP Manila and is the Executive Director of the Center for People Governance (CENPEG). We asked Prof. Tuason to give us an idea of how the party-list system fared in the recent elections.

True to our fear, he showed us that political dynasties continue to  maintain a tight grip on the party-list system, just as much as on the regular constituency.  Thus, in effect, this dynastic grip noted in various parts of the country bastardizes the innovation supposed to have been provided by R.A. 7941, "The Party List Law." The laudable rationale behind this law is to give proper representation to "Filipino citizens belonging to the marginalized and under-represented sectors, organizations and parties, and who lack well-defined constituencies." 

XXX

The aim of the Party List Law as envisioned by our Constitution drafters was noble and democratic, but the result of the recent elections shows that we have a long way to go, to truly democratize Philippine society. Herewith are the overall records to prove it, as furnished by Prof. Bobby Tuason, director of the CENTER FOR PEOPLE EMPOWERMENT AND GOVERNANCE (CenPeg):

SENATE

* Sixteen out of the 24 members of the Senate belong to political dynasties, which means 67% of the Senate members.

* 9 out of the 12 newly-elected senators are members of political dynasties, which means 75% of the newly-elected senators are dynastic in origin. 

* 7 out of 12  "continuing senators" (whose term will end on June 30, 2022) are members of political dynasties. This means that 58% of these "continuing" senators are members of political dynasties.

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

* At least 149 out of the 304 new House members come from political dynasties---that's at least 49% of the House.  

* On district representation, at least 129 representatives out of 243 new district representation are members of political dynasties---that represents 53% of the new district representatives.

* On party-list representation, at least 20 party-list nominees who will become new members of the House of  Representatives come from political dynasties. 

* They  represent at least 33% of the 61 party-list seats which will be held by nominees who are members of  political dynasties.

* At least 34 out of those 61 Party-list seats were allocated to party-list groups linked to political dynasties.

Many thanks for these data, Prof. Bobby Tuason and the CenPeg secretariat.