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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.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Renowned architect Felino Palafox proposes to keep Marawi---now a huge heap of rubble after five months of ferocious fighting---as WAR MEMORIAL and construct a new city elsewhere. But restoring Marawi to pre-jihadist glory would not only be a triumph of technological skills but also a symbol of Filipino indomitable spirit. Alay sa Kawal Foundation faces huge financial strain from Marawi fighting



World-renowned Architect and Urban Planner Felino "Jun" Palafox
Faced with the daunting task of rebuilding once-beautiful and idyllic Marawi City which nestles by scenic Lake Lanao, President Duterte recently brought world-renowned Filipino architect-urban planner Felino “Jun” Palafox there---even as the smoke of battle still rises from the vast heap of destruction in the bloody urban warfare the city has undergone.  

Already, at this point, talk is bruited about massive reconstruction and restoration effort for Marawi City that’s akin to the gigantic Marshall Plan to rebuild the destroyed cities and economies of Western Europe in the aftermath of  World War II.

Architect Jun Palafox has offered to undertake Marawi's reconstruction and no one is better qualified for this daunting task than he, as he has gained vast international reputation as a hot-shot architect and urban planner.  But just as important, Jun Palafox has the heart and patriotism to restore this city to what was once the country’s Islamic citadel by the shores of Lake Lanao.

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That said, I also read that Architect Palafox is toying with the idea of recommending preservation of  Marawi city in its current state of total ruin--- and instead build an entirely new city further up the shores of Lake Lanao. From what I gather, Jun Palafox’s idea is to make the heart of the city---now in total ruins---into a WAR MEMORIAL  and just create a new Marawi elsewhere. 

I can understand where Jun is coming from:  as a memorial to man’s folly, downtown Marawi, where fiercest fighting had taken place for five months, would have few equals in the world in its ruinous state. But a memorial is just that: a memorial.  I personally would prefer to see that our most famous Islamic city rise again from the ashes of war---and through the collective effort of all who had loved and rhapsodized her in past eras, recapture her beauty.

Restoring Marawi to her glorious past would not only be a show-piece of architectural and urban skills, but more importantly, A TRIUMPH OF THE FILIPINO’S INDOMITABLE SPIRIT.

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Alay sa Kawal Foundation officials, led by its Chair, former VP Jejomar Binay, meeting last Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, with widows and parents of AFP enlisted personnel killed in action in various encounters with dissidents.

Yesterday morning, Oct. 19,  the Alay sa Kawal (ASK) Foundation, which I founded 30 years ago after my husband was badly wounded in an encounter with the NPAs in Cagayan Valley, awarded cash assistance to 30 spouses or parents of AFP enlisted personnel killed in various encounters with enemies of the state around the country.

I was inspired to found ASK in 1987, after I realized from the example of soldiers who had perished or were badly wounded in that encounter with my husband,  how much their widows  needed financial assistance to raise very young children orphaned by their soldier-fathers.  

Since then the Foundation, led for some years now by our chair, former Vice President Jejomar Binay, has continued with its checks to the widows or parents of soldiers who have perished all over the country.  In the scheme of things, the checks ASK gives out are small (P30,000 per family) and to date ASK has helped  some 5,500 soldiers’ families already.

The donations, small as they are, however, must be viewed as a token of civilian concern for our men in uniform---the ordinary soldiers---raised from the civilian sector to help alleviate in a small way the plight of their widows and orphans.

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At yesterday’s ASK donation awards, I realized how pitifully young are most of the wives who were left behind by their soldier-husbands, and how the burden of rearing children orphaned by fathers would be such a burden to these young mothers.  I also realized that with the war in Marawi against jihadist elements over the past five months, the list of our soldier-beneficiaries will be increasing.

At latest count some 162 soldiers of the state have lost their lives in fighting hundreds of jihadists who had invaded and sought to conquer Marawi for ISIS.

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This means more efforts on the part of the Alay sa Kawal Foundation to raise funds for these new families recently orphaned.  It should be pointed out, however, that never before have the Filipino people regarded their soldiers with so much affection and respect as in the battle for the re-conquest of Marawi from jihadist terrorists.  

That saga has brought about untold heroisms, but alas, it has also brought so much suffering among families that have been orphaned of fathers, brothers and sons. How these families are now deprived of love and care because of the senseless war among fellow Filipinos, instigated by a few jihadist foreigners.

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Our cash donations for widows of ordinary Filipino soldiers killed in action have continued since 1987, as fund-raising has been conducted through the years  by a board of professionals. Aside from former VP Binay,  they include lawyer Ramon Pedrosa, former Postmaster General Cesar Sarino, businessman Hermie Esguerra, Alfonso “Boy” Reyno of the Manila Jockey Club and others---who are  dedicated to honoring our heroes who have fought against jihadists and leftist elements.  We hope that the Alay sa Kawal Foundation would continue to be supported in its fund-raising by our fellow Filipino citizens.

But more than cash donations, we hope and pray for peace to descend on our beloved country, so that Filipinos need not kill fellow Filipinos. Instead, we pray that we could all unite to make our country ever more progressive---assuring each and every Filipino of a just and peaceful existence, where families can rear and educate their children for a bright future.


Friday, October 6, 2017

In his address before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Davao Chapter, President Duterte was caustic and angry one moment, and philosophical and musing the next. He invited Morales and Sereno to resign with him, next moment he stressed that it will have to be the army/PNP to cause him to resign or stay.

President Duterte applauding a number at the IBP Davao Chapter oath-taking last Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017


I stayed up late a few nights ago listening to a re-broadcast of President Duterte in a long rambling speech at the Davao SMX Convention Center, during the oath-taking of new members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Davao Chapter.  He ranted and raved in a monologue for what seemed like two hours, during which the lawyers about to take their oath were largely stony silent---not knowing how to react perhaps to some of the things he was saying.  Just stony silence, punctuated once in a rare while by some applause.

To be sure, Mr. Duterte had eloquent passages, such as when he quoted the saying, “I only pass through this world but once, so all the good I can do, let me do it now.” Also, the oft-quote from Ecclesiastes about a time to live and a time to die. At some point he mused that “If God is perfect, why is there so much imperfection.” And how “life is so incongruous by itself...but that it depends on you”  and “A thousand lies run everyday acquires the semblance of truth.”

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But most of the time, the President was caustic and angry about how two or three policemen are being killed every day in the drug war, and how “people take so lightly the addiction that has now run into four million people involved.”  He said he would not take the drug war sitting down---“if you indulge in it, it will bring out the worst in me” and “I can match your insanity also.”

Mr. Duterte peppered his ramblings with the usual curses, which the broadcasters sought to soften by papering it over with some visual effects or  rendering some utterances garbled;  hence that night the studio technicians were the busiest folks in Davao City. 

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What seemed to irritate the President most---quite understandably---was an earlier suggestion from Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and upheld  by IBP National President Abdiel den Elijah Fajardo, that Mr. Duterte should not be “onion-skinned.” It's interesting to note that the Ombudsman is the sister of Mr. Duterte’s "balae" (the father-in-law of Davao Mayor Sara Duterte). 

Thus, Morales' admonition to the President not to be "onion-skinned" must be  particularly irritating, considering that they are really just one family. Mr. Duterte vehemently objected to the allegations raised by Morales about possible bank accounts here and abroad owned by the Duterte family.

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But Mr. Duterte’s arch-critic, Sen. Antonio Trillanes, had hurled the challenge to the Ombudsman to scrutinize those supposed accounts, and under the rules of her office, she was duty-bound to look into these allegations of hidden wealth. But the President stressed that he will not submit to the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman.

Mr. Duterte has admitted that he probably stored up some P40 million maximum in banks---“lifetime savings”---and he exhorts Land Bank in the process to come up with the right figures about his salaries over many years of public service, beginning with his 22 years as mayor of Davao.  He has accused the Ombudsman of fabricating evidence “illegally obtained,” in order to make it appear that he has hundreds of millions in banks. The accusations, said, he, “are pulling down and eroding his leadership,” “an attack on my honor,” adding that “What happened to (the late Chief Justice Renato) Corona is happening to me.”

The President stressed that all that’s being raised about hundreds of millions of pesos allegedly in his bank accounts are pure lies.

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It was at this point that the President raised the proposition that the three of them RESIGN together, simultaneously---he, the Ombudsman and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.  He challenged the two highest women officials to go to Congress---“the three of us---and let us sign letters of resignation." Mr. Duterte stressed that the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) has denied releasing any documents about his funds; hence, he said, the figures being bandied around by Morales and her staff were pure fabrication.

Here Mr. Duterte seems to reserve his biggest ire for Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang, who, he asserted, has given the Filipino public the impression that the AMLC had shared pertinent documents about his alleged bank accounts, when, in fact, thundered Mr. Duterte, Carandang, under tremendous duress, later admitted that he got the figures only from media.

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A while longer into the presidential monologue in the Davao SMX Convention, he retracted his earlier offer to the two most powerful women he was at odds with, to resign with him. “I will not resign,” he said categorically. But who will decide on the issue of the leadership of the country? Duterte said without hesitation: it will have to be the Police and the Armed Forces.

And to Deputy Ombudsman Carandang he had a parting shot: "Pag nagka-leche leche ang Pilipinas, uunahin kita (If something happens to the Philippines, I will make sure I’ll get you first).”  And as though for emphasis, Mr. Duterte said: Ilang pulis dito ang binimbang ko, ang ilan ay sinampal ko.

He did not spare the family that had owned the Inquirer for some 25 years.  Said the President: Any amount collected from government property should be surrendered to the government. "Kayo pala ang magnanakaw, i-surender na ninyo ang property na yan at gagawaan ko ng bahay iyon para sa mga mahihirap."

His parting shot to the Inquirer owners: You who have enjoyed the fat of the land, time to go.


Thursday, September 28, 2017

What turns youths studying law into brutes who maim and kill co-fratmen? Recalling short story by US author William Carlos Williams, “The Use of Force,” where doctor treating a child’s diphtheria transitions from “cool professional” to “animalistic assailant.” Was this what happened to Tau Gamma fratmen in Castillo case?

Hazing victim Horacio "Atio" Castillo III and the emblem of the fraternity he dreamt of joining


When I was entering the UP’s Liberal Arts College decades ago, the university was rocked by the death by hazing of a scion of a prominent family, as well as by wars between the Upsilon and Sigma Rho fraternities. That was my first exposure to the terrible reality of hazing.  Congress was up in arms and efforts were made to prevent its recurrence.

Since that time, however, and up to now, the evil of hazing, conducted in utmost secrecy under the iron-clad oath of “Omerta,”  has reared its ugly head from time to time---such as what happened to freshman Horacio “Atio” Tomas Castillo III of the UST Law fraternity, the “Aegis Juris” who died from violent hazing, and who had dreamt of being a lawyer. Unfortunately, however, the uproar and the national breast-beating subsides---until another victim dies.  

Police investigations reveal that Horacio Castillo died from a heart attack after severe beatings with thick wooden paddles on his body. At the funeral mass at the Santuario de San Antonio Church yesterday, the mass presider,  Fr. Winston Cabading, stressed that “A brotherhood that seeks to harm does not come from God, but from the devil.”  Calling on the young victim’s man’s parents and friends,  he begged them “not to be buried in darkness when we are filled with anger and hatred.” Fr. Cabading admitted, however, that to the question of the meaning of young “Atio” Castillo’s death, “There is no easy answer.”

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When I was a literature student at the UP long ago, we studied a short story titled, “The Use of Force” by American author William Carlos Williams, which narrated in first-person how a doctor, treating a young  child of suspected diphtheria, sought to get some specimen from its mouth. When the child resisted, the struggle became rather ugly, with the doctor this time inserting a spoon into its mouth with more force than seemed needed and still the child refused to cooperate.  At that point, author Williams, himself a doctor, clearly portrayed how the doctor in the story (was it Williams himself?) transformed “from cool professional to animalistic assailant.”

In seeking to make sense of the various hazing episodes that resulted in unintended deaths, should we theorize that there is perhaps this same element, whereby, even among friends, there is transformation from being friends to being “animalistic assailants” who lose control of themselves.

This could be the case especially if the hazing rituals are conducted under the influence of liquor and very likely even drugs in isolated places like a remote beach resort---plus very little supervision from the frat's elders and the school.

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Consider all the accidents from hazing:

* State-run military academies such as the elite Philippine Military  Academy in Baguio, the Philippine Marine Academy and the Philippine National Police Academy all had their past share of hazing victims. At PMA, plebe Monico de Guzman was believed to have died from “beat attack” upon seeking entrance in the boot camp. The premiere military academy continued with hazing in secrecy.

* In some secular schools, hazing continued to take place as well, and what focused national attention in February 1995 was the death of a neophyte of the Aquila Legis Fraternity at the Ateneo Law School named Lenny Villa. His mother carried a brave campaign against hazing from then on.  

* It should be noted, however, that brutal hazing occurs too in the Ivy League schools in the US. I read an account by a student of Dartmouth University who spoke not of physical brutality, but of being sadistically forced to imbibe excrement of all sorts during hazing.

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The rash of deadly violence due to hazing prodded Congress to react in the '90s.  Following the huge uproar over the death of law student Lenny Villa in initiation rites, Sen. Joey Lina, then chair of the Senate Committee on Youth and Sports,  authored R.A. 8049, “An Act Regulating Hazing and other forms of initiation rites in Fraternities, Sororities and other organizations, and providing penalties thereof.”  Prior to the passage of R.A. 8049 what was operative on student organizations was the Revised Penal Code.

 As former Sen.Lina  recounted to Cecile Alvarez and myself during our dzRH program, “Radyo Balintataw” last Sunday, hazing is absolutely forbidden under Sec. 2 of RA 8049, the Anti-Hazing Law.  In fact, MERE PRESENCE at such forbidden rituals is enough to implicate a person as an accomplice to the crime. Punishment includes life imprisonment or reclusion perpetua;  reclusion temporal (17-20 years) and the lightest, 4 years and one day imprisonment for mere presence at such ritual.

The Supreme Court upheld circumstantial evidence as stiff in its landmark decision in Dungo vs. People of the Philippines 2015, raising  punishment to nine years.

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Obviously, however, the current law punishing hazing is still deemed very weak, as physical violations continue to exist. There is now a clamor to enforce more safeguards in fraternity initiations, to ensure that physical violence is not resorted to, and elements of the community, the police, the fiscal’s office and the courts are enjoined to attend and monitor fraternity activities closely. Cecile Alvarez and I opined that officials of the school where the fraternity members are enrolled have to be present at initiation rites.

Morerover, I proposed more creative ways to undertake initiation rites such as for example, making neophytes dress like garbage collectors and actually sweep trash in the Luneta or by Manila Bay, or have them garbed in beggar’s clothes and actually beg by Quiapo Church, the begging proceeds to be donated for soup kitchens.

Any initiation ritual except violence which kills.