.
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.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Controversy over automation’s source code

Last Sunday I wrote in this blog about two important protest cases that were among the first to be filed after the automated elections of May 10, 2010, on allegations that electronic fraud was committed against the losing candidates. One case in filed in Manila by former Mayor Lito Atienza against incumbent Mayor Alfredo Lim, and the other in Pasay City, filed by former Rep. and losing candidate Consuelo Dy against former Vice-Mayor and incumbent Mayor Antonino Calixto.

Atienza seeks a recount in the votes of some 6,653 precincts in Manila on the ground of alleged manipulation of electronically-generated election returns, while Dy alleged that while 183,618 voters actually cast their votes, the sum of all votes for all the mayoralty candidates, including former Mayor Peewee Trinidad who garnered the third place in the recent elections, was only 175,304. Dy alleged that the missing 8,314 votes in the tight Pasay City contest were not counted by the defective and/or pre-programmed CF cards and the PCOS machines. Ballot boxes for 370 clustered precincts will be covered by the protest of Dy, who wants at least eight committees to work on the recount. But her protest won’t come cheap, as she’s being asked to pay P1,500 per protested precinct as well for the various expenses involved in the recount over perhaps weeks and months.

Dy's allegations of fraud and irregularities

What’s significant is that Comelec Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer has asserted that candidate Dy was able to show in detail alleged electronic frauds and irregularities committed in the voting, counting and canvassing of votes, in addition to the alleged massive vote-buying in that city. But in addition to the two protests filed in Metro Manila, protests from various provinces are also being filed. Last Sunday I mentioned the electoral protest filed by former Rep. Glenn Chong against his opponent in the tiny island of Biliran in Region VIII. Ferrer has also approved the filing of a new protest case against Mayor Christian Tinio in Gapan City, Nueva Ecija, by losing candidate Juanita Natividad, where only a slim 6,300-vote margin for Tinio is under dispute.

The need for a comprehensive review

The increasing electoral protest cases at various levels that are being filed at the Comelec highlight the need for a comprehensive review of our first automated election system (AES). The review of the AES within a reasonable time before the elections has been the position that Filipino IT professionals, led by the UP-based Center for People Empowerment on Governance (Cenpeg), have strongly advocated since June 2009. But in view of so many errors and deficiencies which surfaced in the post-election period, especially in the House hearings of the Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms of the 14th Congress, a review has become even more necessary at this point; but it cannot be intelligently done without the source code for the elections on various levels.

As defined by the Automated Elections Act, RA 9369, the source code contains the “human-readable instructions that define what the computer equipment will do.” In other words, it’s the road map to the path taken by the PCOS machines. During the House hearings chaired by former Rep. TeddyBoy Locsin, IT experts like Bettina Quimson, vice president of a professional group, kept pressing to go back to the source code in order to understand the reported aberrations of these machines, as claimed by losing politicians. But as Cenpeg recently stressed in a paper titled “17 Reasons Why the Comelec must Release Vital Public Documents,” by IT Consultant Angel S. Averia, Jr., the poll body has adamantly refused to release the source code, along with 21 other vital election documents.

Conflicting views of IT professionals and Comelec

What’s difficult to reconcile are the conflicting views of the IT professionals and Comelec on this matter. Cenpeg first began pressing to get the source code in June 2009 and Comelec at first agreed to have them ready by November, 2009. But later it reversed itself and refused to make the source code accessible altogether, saying that it’s being used in processing the list of voters, which is not part of the voting, counting and canvassing systems under RA 9369. In October last year, Cenpeg filed a suit before the Supreme Court to demand the source code’s release to it but before the SC could rule on this issue, the Comelec quite suddenly said in February this year that it had already deposited the disputed document in the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas;  I heard poll officials repeat this claim at the House hearings last May---the source code is in the BSP.

Last Sept. 21, 2010, the Supreme Court, after nearly a year, finally ordered the Comelec to release the code to Cenpeg, but the poll body is singing a different tune. Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal, in answer to the SC order, now insists that the Comelec had not been remiss in following RA 9369 to make the code accessible; that in fact it had sat down with certain political parties and civic groups before the elections and gave them “many opportunities” to conduct a review of the code, but that “no one wanted to do one.”

Is the Comelec hesitating?

The way I see it, the Comelec appears to be quibbling here and it might be telling only a half-truth about making the source code truly accessible. I can understand its hesitation to release it to the IT professionals through their political parties, especially since it claims that the code was also used in checking out the voters’ list;  perhaps the Comelec did not distrust the IT professionals, but it has little trust in the political parties. After all, the latter have had a record in finagling with the voters’ list in past years (remember the flying voters and the dead who vote repeatedly?).

But safety measures could have been installed to prevent tampering with the voters’ list, just so that a proper review of the source code by the experts could have been undertaken well before the elections---that is, if the poll body did not aim to hide anything.

Part of a grand plot?

I can’t help but think of the thinly-veiled accusations hurled during the House hearings about the possible involvement of some Comelec personnel in electronic fraud manipulations in the last elections. The controversy kicked up by “Koala Boy,” as TeddyBoy Locsin nicknamed the masked man who surfaced for a while to denounce alleged e-frauds in the elections, was too recent to forget. But though Locsin made fun of Koala Boy, he himself gave as much allowance to frauds in his committee report.

The question is: were the attempts to make inaccessible the source code, so vital to the understanding of the AES, part of a grand plot to enable some cheaters in the Comelec to operate in high-tech electoral fraud last May 10 and beyond?  



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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Early protests against e-fraud


In the next few weeks two very significant electoral protests are expected to move under the auspices of the Comelec. These are the protests filed by losing Manila mayoralty candidate and former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza vs. incumbent Mayor Alfredo Lim, and by losing Pasay City mayoralty candidate Consuelo Dy against incumbent Mayor Antonino Calixto. These protests, which will be expensive for Atienza and Dy, are significant not only because they put into question the electoral results in the capital and another major city in Metro Manila, the center of this nation’s political power, and under the nose, so to speak, of majority of media outlets in the country. They are significant because they are the first protests to be filed after the first automated national elections last May 10, which have been hailed here and abroad as peaceful, honest and clean. The protestants are out to prove they are victims of high- tech fraud, contrary to the Comelec’s claims that it was insignificant. 


 
Protests outside of Manila

It’s also noteworthy that protests have been filed outside Manila too. Most notable is the protest of former Rep. Glenn Chong against reelectionist Biliran Gov. Espina. Chong testified on his complaint of cheating in Biliran during the hearings conducted in the 14th Congress by the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms chaired by former Rep. TeddyBoy Locsin, and his ardent supporters guarded his ballots in the provincial capitol since the elections. Since Chong’s protest was filed, the sealing of ballots has been accomplished in four towns of the tiny island province.
     
Suffice it so say that the local protests around the country could have significant implications on the recent national elections. If there were frauds in local elections, it is unlikely that there were no significant frauds too in the national polls. One protest that definitely would have a bearing on the national contests was the one filed by losing LP vice-presidential candidate Mar Roxas against Vice-President Jojo Binay, but so far nothing much has been heard about it. Whatever happened to it?

MIGHT e2010

These early protests in Metro Manila and the provinces are being assiduously monitored by various organizations of IT professionals as well as a NGO that was activated in the post-election period precisely to monitor frauds. It’s aptly called the “Movement for Integrity in Governance, Honesty and Truth” in the May 10 Elections” (MIGHTe2010). The lead group among the professionals is the UP-based Center for People Empowerment on Governance (CENPEG), which has sought to involve itself with the Automated Election System (AES) even while the law authorizing it, RA 9369, was still being drafted. In the interest of public welfare and transparency, CENPEG has monitored the various steps taken by the Comelec regarding the May 10 elections---from the planning of the AES to the contracting of the hardware and software, and the integrating and implementing systems of the AES to foreign companies, and in the conduct of the elections and the post-election review.

   Dissatisfaction of the CENPG

CENPEG has been far from happy about the way everything went, noting, as IT consultant Angel S. Averia, Jr., put it “Errors and deficiencies in the AES observed or discovered during the elections, on election day itself, during the consolidation and canvassing of election results and the conduct of the Random Manual Audit...” The most serious question this NGO has raised is the persistent refusal of Comelec to release the AES source code to political parties and interested groups for review. Last Oct. 5, 2009, seven months before the May 10 elections, CENPEG filed a petition for mandamus with the Supreme Court, to compel Comelec to release this source code. Last Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010, nearly a year later, the High Court, in a resolution, granted CENPEG’s petition; but we voters have the right ask, why only now?

Stonewalling by the COMELEC

    
In addition to its refusal to make available the source code to rightful parties, Comelec has also stonewalled the release of 21 other documents CENPEG considers vital to the AES and the comprehensive review needed to guide future automated elections. Why? The logical question CENPEG now raises, in view of the black-out from the poll body, is: “Did the AES operate properly, securely, and accurately?”
    
More on Tuesday about the grave points its IT professionals have been raising in various forums and articles. This includes valid points raised by IT expert Gus Lagman in his column in a business daily, titled “To take a stand,” posted Sept. 20, 2010. Lagman questioned from the beginning the award by Comelec of the AES contract to Smartmatic and the poll body’s “distrust of Filipino IT professionals.”

Claims of Lito Atienza 

In Manila Lito Atienza is questioning the results of the May 10 elections that showed  rival Lim drawing 403, 621 votes against his own 184,415 votes, or a margin in Lim’s favor of 219,206 votes, greater than Atienza’s own total, when, as pundits noted, various surveys indicated a really tight race between them. The losing candidate, however, is not banking on totals, but on the declaration of the Random Manual Audit (RMA) that while voting was “99% accurate nationwide,” there were “large variances” in the Manila mayoralty race that were traceable to “voting-machine error.”

As Manila Standard Today columnist Jojo Robles pointed out recently, the “variances” noted by the RMA in Manila’s 3rd district seemed to have been “caused by a foreign object that got unintentionally lodged in the scanner of the voting machine during the voting and scanning process.”  The discrepancies in Manila amounted to double-digit inaccuracy, according to the PPCRV which led the RMA nationwide, and this is doubtless the basis for Atienza’s confidence.

Demands for a manual recount

He’s demanding a manual recount of 6,653 precincts clustered into 1,441 polling places. This will require two months of work by ten Comelec recount committees, for which his P10 million “protest down-payment” would just be the start of expenses (Comelec rules  that losing candidates demanding a recount should pay P1,500 per precinct. The steep price is obviously aimed at discouraging protests, as these mean more work for it). At the House committee hearings conducted by Locsin, Atienza also submitted an affidavit from a City Hall employee who attested to having witnessed actual  computer-issued electoral returns manipulated in favor of  his rival days before the elections. As though to make the Lim-Atienza contest more exciting, ballot boxes containing the votes of two Manila congressional districts, which were under the safekeeping of the City Treasurer in City Hall, “got mysteriously damaged by water” during a typhoon, as Jojo Robles noted. Lim has denied having anything to do with the destruction of vital protest evidence, but as they say, Only in Da Pilipins.
(On Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010, stay tuned for the Pasay recount.)


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polbits@yahoo.com

Weather-weather lang

Like many other media people, I am appalled at the shock-and-awe treatment of former ABS-CBN TV host Willie Revillame by the giant network. I have never been a fan of Revillame as oftentimes in the past, I found his brand of low humor so degrading to women. Then the stampede occurred in Ultra some years ago, I lamented in my column in the Inquirer that he got away with only a slap on the wrist when he deserved to have been sacked for good, along with a couple of high officials of the network. But the ABS-CBN counter-suit against him now cannot be read as anything but harassment and the media collectively ought to denounce it.

Revillame slapped the network with an P11 million lawsuit to protest what he considers its unjust removal of him over a contract. Had the giant network counter-sued with, say, P20 million, it would have been credible and perhaps a fair legal battle. But to slap Revillame with a NEARLY HALF A BILLION peso-countersuit (and without paying the gigantic filing fee) can only mean, as his lawyers stressed in their press statement, that ABS-CBN is not serious about its lawsuit, and is out to just harass him. The network’s message seems to be that it’s God and how dare that little insect fight God. Its incredible arrogance in this unprecedented suit should send a chilling message to the media world that no one, but no one crosses ABS-CBN. But are there media practitioners protesting loudly? Where are the media organizations?


P-Noy government hires a PR firm

A US-based global public relations/communications firm was hired by the administration to handle the image-aspect of President’s seven-day official visit to the US , and the idea has run into controversy in the local media. Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, who appears to be the brains behind this move to hire the PR firm, has said that it’s a “one-shot deal” and that the cost is not as astronomical as is being portrayed in the media now. Purisima quoted the amount of $15,000 as the price of the PR handling, which, he said, was very reasonable, and denied that it was P45 million as is being bruited about.


Purisima complained loudly that the Aquino government is floating a billion-dollars worth of global peso bonds and is in the process of doing a $3 billion bond exchange, and yet, all the local media could talk about is this $15,000 contract with the US PR firm. He said that the lead agencies in these floats, the Department of Finance and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, need to communicate to their stakeholders who are mostly outside the Philippines. Nakakapikon, said Purisima.



"Weather-weather lang"


I chuckle over the controversy that the hiring of this PR firm has kicked up, for it proves that public controversies are indeed cyclical; to quote former President Estrada, “weather-weather lang.” I distinctly remember how the Arroyo administration was clobbered in the media by the then opposition, led by the Hyatt 10---now the administration in power, ---for the former’ s plan to get into a pricey contract with a PR and planning American outfit called, if my memory serves me right, “Venable.” The anti-GMA media rode on the sudden disclosure of the PR contract, and before it could be consummated it had to be scrapped. Now the shoe is in the other foot and the Aquino administration is defending its own PR contract.

But all administrations have this problem. Recall that during the US elections, candidate Barack Obama was so critical of the “Bush war” and promised to bring home US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. A year and a half later he shipped out 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and there’s no telling whether the surge would stop there.

The lesson for all presidential candidates the world over is, don’t be too quick to moralize on the campaign trail, for the situation inside the corridors of power can be so different from the outside. What you condemn now, you embrace tomorrow.



Philippine government officials in New York


I found too defensive Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras’ posturing about the difficulty of trying to get attention for the Philippines and P-Noy in New York City where the UN anniversary drew the biggest leaders from all around the globe. Almendras was quoted as saying that the people handing P-Noy’s visit to New York and D.C. are “in competition with a lot of people. We’re not the only one coming here.” To be sure, it’s the toughest time of the year to be visiting the US , and Almendras could be worrying that P-Noy’s young fans might have thought that his visit with Henry Kissinger was no big deal (e.g., is he all they could get? A few days later P-Noy was able to meet with current US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but Obama remained an elusive target for him).

To the young people, Dr. K., the brilliant émigré from Germany and a Harvard summa cum laude, is doubtless a relic from the distant Nixon years. They might have learned in school that Nixon, who resigned in 1974 for fear of being impeached over Watergate, had appointed Dr. K. as his Secretary of State in 1973, and the latter was credited with the opening of diplomatic ties between the US and China. But young Pinoys may react to Dr. K. pretty much like many Americans did in the 2008 US presidential elections, when Republican candidate John McCain presented him as the guru of his short list of foreign policy advisers---they were unimpressed, largely because he seemed to be a voice from such a distant era.


Henry Kissinger's PR firm

To the young people the 87-year old Nobel Peace Prize winner (1973) may indeed be a relic of the past, but the New York-based international consulting firm that he founded in 1982 and still chairs, Kissinger and Associates, continues to be influential in world circles. One reason is the prestige of the people who had served in its staff, among them the financial whiz kid Timothy Geithner, Obama’s Secretary of the Treasury, who’s credited with helping ease the US somewhat out of a recent recession which could have been worse. Another reason is the prestige of the firm’s list of top multinational clients, which has leaked out from time to time in US Senate hearings despite the firm’s strict secrecy policy. Many of these clients are in Fortune’s top 100.

But speaking of the PR firm that the P-Noy government had hired for this September official visit to the US , perhaps there was little need for its services to arrange that call on Kissinger. The former Secretary of Foreign Affairs in the Ramos era, Roberto Romulo, might have fixed it for free for P-Noy. Recall that Romulo resigned two years ago as GMA’s adviser on global competitiveness after he accepted an appointment to represent the Philippines in Kissinger and Associates.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Usec Puno should resign irrevocably



It’s only right that Local Governments Undersecretary Rico Puno should tender his resignation. Not just a courtesy resignation, made perhaps in the hope that the President would reject it, but an irrevocable resignation. In just a month Puno has been implicated in two big controversies, the Black Monday botched hostage-taking where he was the highest official in supervision of the police forces; and the other day at the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing, where retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz implicated him and other administrative and police officials in jueteng. Over the early evening news the other evening, a young TV reporter quoted Puno as saying that despite the two episodes quite damaging to him, he still enjoys the confidence and trust of President Noynoy. But this reporter correctly riposted: the question is, does Puno still have the trust of the public?

Question of public trust

On the question of public trust he doesn’t have it, for it’s his word against that of Archbishop Cruz. While this aging prelate has gotten on everyone’s hair at one time or another in the past, he still enjoys tremendous credibility with the public; one reason is that, to borrow a favorite phrase of a major TV-radio network, wala siyang kinikilingan. In fact, it might be rightly asked what the outspoken retired prelate has to gain from getting into this fresh controversy---and at the public hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee at that. Cruz is putting his life in danger in a business where there’s a lot of payola, including for silencing the media and outspoken critics. Let’s pray that he’d be safe from harm.

Grand demolition job?

An internet reader has raised the observation that with Puno’s resignation, it’s “one down. Who’s next?” He opined that the problem is that P-Noy’s appointees are based “on palakasan, (or are) classmates or as bayad-utang na loob, not on character or personality.” In fairness to those being branded as involved in the illegal numbers’ game, we ought to give allowance for the fact the allegations being raised could be part of a grand demolition job against these officials, as Puno has asserted. It could be that Oscar Cruz was taken for a ride, although that possibility is remote, considering that he has been looking at this problem for quite a while.



Obama and P-Noy have a lot in common 

The problem of P-Noy is very much like that of US President Barack Obama as they  both have very limited administrative experience. Obama was a very junior senator who spent his two years in the US Senate campaigning for other officials, in the hope of sowing collectible favors. But his personal charisma, his over-arching eloquence, and the fact that America was at a cultural crossroad that its media became so infatuated with this first black candidate for president, helped him conquer the White House.

P-Noy fell back on the memory of Ninoy and Cory. Like him Obama began his administration by recruiting people who had helped his political campaign over the years, such as his Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanuel, and senior adviser David Axelrod, his chief campaign strategist. But Obama had the good sense to ask the  Defense Secretary of the Bush administration, Robert Gates, to stay on in the light of the critical Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and his bitter Democratic rival Hillary Clinton to be his  Secretary of State.  He saw the intrinsic value of experience in certain critical fields.

By the same token, it is natural that P-Noy tends to trust only people he knew from way back, given his limited administrative background (more experienced administrators get to develop this knack for spotting talent). But in the process P-Noy has kept out experienced hands and the neophyte character of his government is taking a heavy toll. Sen. Joker Arroyo put it quite vividly when he queried whether or not a “student government” is in the Palace, which it denied quickly.

Actually, if and when the two Presidents finally meet in the US , they’ll realize they have more in common than just kicking the smoking habit.

Shining star of Aquino administration

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has emerged as one shining star in the Aquino administration. When I was still in the Inquirer, I endorsed in my column this former election lawyer’s appointment to head the Commission on Human Rights in the GMA administration. One factor that impressed me truly was the fact that her various colleagues in the election lawyering field came as one to endorse her. At first I felt that she was too lime-light seeking, but in the hearings of the “incident-investigative” committee that Aquino constituted to investigate the hostage-taking fiasco, De Lima impressed many as no-nonsense and sensible, out to do a good job. Certainly there was less of the circus attending the Senate in hers, and P-Noy termed the IIRC report, which listed eight major blunders by the authorities and the personalities who ought to be charged administratively and/or criminally, “comprehensive.”

Worrying handling of IIRC Report

But one aspect of the handling of the IIRC report is worrisome. The President, before he left for his one-week official visit to the US the other day, said that the report is “recommendatory in nature” and that he has sent it to his legal team composed of the Executive Secretary and the Chief Legal Counsel, for a thorough review and recommended course of action. He stressed that he had ordered it disseminated to the public in the interest of transparency and that a copy was turned over to Chinese Ambassador. But he also said he would decide on whether to approve the filing of charges against the recommended individuals when he gets back from the US .


The problem is that the report had already been turned over to the Chinese authorities and while they praised the completion of the initial report, the autonomous Hongkong government urged Manila to take action versus the negligent officials, and to continue working “until the call for justice can be answered.” The HK government knows what the IIRC report wants done. Secretary De Lima was quoted as saying she hopes the President does not deviate too far from its recommendations. But what if he does deviate, given the nature of his friendship with some personalities mentioned? Would that worsen the relationship with HK?

Implications for Mayor Lim

One of those who could be adversely affected is Manila Mayor Fred Lim, who was quite instrumental in Noynoy’s victory in the capital (recall how he allowed the Cory/Ninoy yellow banners in the city for many months on end, defying the Comelec’s ban on propaganda material). His startling emotional outburst before nationwide TV last night shows how much he has been affected by all the criticisms that have assailed him and the Manila police he once headed.

Ironically, Fred Lim suffered his worst drubbings in the two Aquino administrations he helped install (his pot-bellied policemen guarded the government TV station during the first coup attempt against the Cory government in August 1987).. The first was the Mendiola Massacre of Jan. 22, 1987, which saw the MPD forces under him mowing down demonstrating farmers at Mendiola in the first major crisis of the Cory administration, a huge blow to her touted comprehensive agrarian reform program. Then came the botched rescue operation of Aug. 23, 2010. A third disaster for Lim could be the historic electoral recount in Manila between him and longtime rival Lito Atienza---the first formal protest filed after the first automated elections in this country. More about this on Friday.




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Monday, September 20, 2010

P-Noy government could learn from Gillard’s move

For those watching closely the fate of 33 Chilean miners still trapped in the bowels of the earth, the birth of a baby girl to a miner and his wife, aptly named “Esperanza,” seems to have brought even more HOPE to them. A third drill, far bigger and more powerful than the first two drills being used to bore into the earth, has been added to the rescue effort. Because it can pound through 60-90 feet of hard rock a day, experts estimate that it can reach 6,000 feet beneath the surface, much closer to where they are trapped. The new hole being bored into the rocks, through which the men will be pulled up one by one, will be bigger and reinforced with iron tubing to prevent the surroundings’ collapse.

The hopeful news is that the experts now estimate that barring unexpected developments, the miners could be rescued far earlier---the timetable of Oct. 18 is now being cautiously mentioned. Praise God.


XXX

The world has keenly followed the miners’ plight since they were found alive two weeks after their tunnel collapsed, and all kinds of support have poured into the tiny Chilean town where they are trapped. Another instance of such stirring concern and support for them is that, as California-based writer Isabel Allende narrated to the miners via video communication late last week, 33 people were scheduled to swim from Alcatraz, the near-impregnable island-prison in San Francisco Bay, to shore, each of them bearing the name of a Chilean miner on his chest. Allende comfortingly assured them: “If those guys can manage to ‘escape’ from Alcatraz , you are also going to get out from where you are.” To date, only one man is on record as having escaped from Alcatraz but no one knows if he ever survived the shark-infested waters surrounding it. In this episode that Allende narrated, the swimmers would be defying the odds, all in the name of oneness with the miners---a toast to the greatness of human nature.



XXX


An observer remarked that it has been over 100 days since President Aquino was proclaimed by Congress and yet over 4,000 positions remain unfilled up to now. Could it be, said this observer, that P-Noy’s intellect has been undeveloped for the past 50 years and that “We have a puerile President? It seems like it,” he opined.

In a news item about a month President Aquino himself admitted that he’s having difficulty filling up all those positions, from director level up to the top, especially in the GOCCs and GFIs. One reason, he said, is that he has to have the nominees screened rigorously so that they are really qualified and in conformity with his platform of government announced during the campaign (:kung walang kurakot, walang mahirap”) and “not continue the age-old and wrong platforms.”

During the campaign his handlers and strategists promised an Aquino administration so radically different from the previous GMA regime, especially on the corruption issue. It was also obvious that they picked this line of campaigning to captivate voters’ attention away from his lackluster record in the House and the Senate. And it did work: to millions of voters the contrast he presented to GMA was like night and day. The problem is that now, 100 days after his proclamation, positions must be filled to enable government run properly and efficiently, but they remain unfilled. An end result is that P-Noy is coming across as indecisive and weak.



XXX

To me there are a number of reasons for this difficulty in filling up positions. For one thing, Sen. Franklin Drilon’s finance committee went on a rampage against the various GOCCs, portraying officials appointed by GMA as largely thieves and robbers who plundered government coffers; compounding the problem was the fact that sensationalist media fed on Drilon’s distorted facts and figures. Whereas the bigger problem was really the lack of clear-cut, judicious policies to govern the relationship between the GOCCs and their officials, such as the proper and reasonable sharing of benefits from private corporations set down by government. The result was that a number of officials saw their hard-earned lifelong reputations helplessly torn to tatters.



XXX

If Drilon were just and responsible, he would have reviewed the records of GOCCs from the Cory regime, of which he was very much a part, and would have put today’s “scandals” in the perspective of earlier controversies that began in post-EDSA and continued in subsequent administrations. In other words, the Senate committee could have opted for institutional approach to reform, instead of going into a hate and shaming campaign against GMA appointees.

For instance, the media were already rife mid-way into the Cory years about the plunder of some government-sequestered corporations (I recall the memorable intonation of the late Louie Beltran, impersonating Cardinal Sin during a National Press Club Gridiron Night, about the PCGG: “Lord, may we have more good government and less commissions.”). Toward the late ‘90s, reports went around about how some government-appointed directors attempted to plunder the UCPB, so much so that it nearly went under. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas had to come to its rescue, lest a bank run ruined it.


XXX

What Drilon’s committee achieved mainly in over a month of hearings was to sow fear in the hearts of prospective business leaders who would otherwise be only too happy to lend their expertise and prestige to running the GOCCs in this administration. To be sure, there were corrupt officials in GMA’s time as in other previous regimes, but that is not to say that all her officials were corrupt.

The problem with the Aquino administration is that to look pogi, it has to seek to destroy its predecessor regime totally and entirely. Which is a pity, as this administration could effectively work with some of the former officials, who could lend some badly-needed maturity and experience to the current crop. The Palace officials’ inexperience and immaturity became so obvious in the Black Monday crisis. Instead of helping the President who suffers from a very limited exposure to public administration, his officials became a drag---no help at all amid the chaos and confusion of that terrible event. The current landscape appears quite barren and infertile.



XXX

In this regard, we can look at the experience of Australia with envy. Prime Minister Julia Gillard, its first woman leader, called general elections just three weeks after taking power last June 24 in what media termed a “sudden and ruthless coup.” What was interesting was that Gillard had ousted her own party-mate in the left-center Labor Party, PM Kevin Rudd, who had held Australia ’s top post since winning in a landslide victory last November 2007. After a series of policy slip-ups and as he began to skid in poll ratings, Gillard moved in against Rudd after a bitterly fought fight in parliament, and she grabbed power.

In the recent general elections, however, she could only muster a minority government--- Australia ’s first in decades---and moved to consolidate forces. During the campaign she had promised to recruit Kevin Rudd if she won, and one of the first things she did when she came into power again was to appoint the 52-year old Mandarin-speaking former diplomat known for his interest in global affairs, as her foreign minister. There was some criticism from the public when Rudd accepted the post from Gillard after such an acrimonious fight before; but he reasoned that ‘the national interest of this country goes beyond over personal interests.”

Rudd’s appointment as Australia ’s top diplomat was greeted with world-wide favor and that country is the better for it. In our country, the P-Noy administration is so busy trying to look so different from the old regime, so that its officials don’t seem to have time to grow up. In the past 100 days this government seemed to have simply lurched from one crisis to another.

Do you have a comment?
Email Bel Cunanan at
polbits@yahoo.com

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Esperanza

For all those folks around the world who, like me, are keenly following the plight of 32 Chilean miners and one Bolivian trapped 701 meters beneath the earth for a month and a half now, last Tuesday was a red-letter day. For once, what emerged from the deep hole was a message of hope and joy, and not enormous concern and anxiety, demonstrating once again the indomitable human spirit. Elizabeth Segovia, wife of a miner by the name of Ticona, had given birth to a healthy baby girl. Before the mining accident the couple had agreed to name the baby “Carolina,” but after receiving the news of his wife’s delivery, Ticona sent a message to his wife through a video recording, to change the baby’s name to “Esperanza,” the Spanish word for hope--and to give her “a long-distance kiss.” Interviewed by a TV channel for her reaction to the change, Elizabeth said she had exactly the same thought---“Esperanza” it should be. Hope.

Hope only in November

That little episode is so incredible, considering the depth of the miners’ current entombment in the mountains of Copiapo, Chile, and the uncertainty of their extremely dangerous rescue as yet, despite the furious drillings being undertaken by the Chilean government. The various international news networks are avidly covering the rescue efforts, but reports say that the earliest that the last man could be raised up would be early November, or nearly a month and a half from now. The Chileans’ prolonged “captivity”--- the longest recorded in the international mining industry---raises grave concern among the millions of people who are following this continuing saga of endurance---about how much the men’s morale can take by that time. It truly boggles the mind.

And yet, the parents of that new-born baby girl have not lost one bit of hope that they could be reunited one day soon. Indeed, as the saying goes, hope springs eternal in the human breast. For all those who are tight situations that may seem hopeless, it’s good to remember the courage this couple inspires. Viva la Esperanza.


Important days for UK Catholics

These four days from Sept. 16-19 are also red-letter days for Catholics in Great Britain, as Pope Benedict XVI conducts his four-day visit to England and Scotland. His visit is being fully covered by the international press as this is the first time by a Roman Pontiff in 28 years and the first-ever state visit by a Pope to the UK, which is the seat of the Anglican Church, otherwise known as the “Church of England,” the UK’s official religion, with the Queen as its head. Thus, Benedict’s visit augurs well for inter-faith dialogue. It’s also timed for his beatification of John Henry Cardinal Newman, a major Catholic intellectual figure in the 19th century, in his native Birmingham in England this Sunday. Not only did Newman tower in the Christian world because he lived for 89 long years (1801-1890) but also because of his vast contribution in religious writings. In the Catholic faith beatification is a step away from canonization, which is the raising of the blessed to the altar of the saints.
Cardinal Newman’s biographer, John Cornwell, posted in his homepage that that the process of the late prelate’s canonization began some 50 years ago. Pope John Paul II declared him “venerable” and “servant of God;” the present pope, reportedly a keen student of Newman’s works, pushed for his beatification, following the reported miraculous instant recovery of a Boston deacon named Jack Sullivan, who was unable to walk and in great pain after a spine surgery. The “miracle” met with mixed reviews in Britain, despite the attestation by Sullivan’s neurosurgeon, Dr. Robert Banco, that it was indeed an inexplicable and incomparable recovery he hadn’t seen in 15 years’ practice; but the controversy did not deter Benedict from declaring Newman blessed. Sullivan plans to be at Birmingham for the big day. 

 Popularity of Cardinal Newman
The popularity of Cardinal Newman as a major thinker, as Cornwell points out, is witnessed by the fact that so many colleges and associations have been named after him in the English-speaking world. My husband, for instance, was a member of the “Cardinal Newman Forum” at the US Military Academy at West Point, a study club that interacted with other student forums in the US.  Newman is known worldwide for his “Lead Kindly Light,” one of the most popular religious hymns, and the great English composer, Sir Edward Elgar, set his poem, “The Dream of Gerontius,” to music.
But perhaps the most interesting fact about Cardinal Newman is that he began his career as an Anglican churchman and scholar and ended it as a Roman Catholic Cardinal. In his early years, said his biographer, Newman was a major figure in the “Oxford Movement,” a High Church effort to return the Church of England to its Catholic foundations. Eventually, he noted, Newman’s studies in history persuaded him to become a Catholic. At the very least, therefore, his beatification on Sunday by Benedict XVI will not be met with indifference in the UK.

Founder's Day at ERDA



Today the Erda Group, led by Erda Foundation, also celebrates a red-letter day, its Founder’s Day in honor of the French-born, naturalized-Filipino priest Pierre Tritz, who also marks his 96th birthday on Sunday, Sept. 19. The half-day celebration, with its theme of “Becoming the Best of Ourselves in the Service of Children, for the Greater Glory of God", is being held at the Erda Technical-Vocation High School compound in Pandacan. It kicks off with a mass celebrated by the still-ramrod straight Fr. Tritz, who at 96 remains perhaps the oldest working Jesuit anywhere in the world.

Involvement with ERDA

This blogger has been involved with the Erda Group for decades now, since Erda VP Susan Sulit, my fellow Upscan, first invited me to a lugawan fest to raise funds for Erda’s streetchildren. Erda’s cause immediately tugged at my heartstrings. Blessed with a good education by very hard-working parents, I had been convinced long ago by Fr. Tritz’s advocacy: that education and training are the only way to break the cycle of poverty gripping many Filipino families. Erda has proved this philosophy time and again. At Erda Tech, students from the poorest families in Metro Manila are given free five-year high school and training in any of several technical skills, plus on-the-job-training in private companies and precious values education. After graduation they are able to get employment in various firms and some go on to college at night. But most of them become skilled assets to their families. On the other hand, Erda Foundation supports almost 25,000 public school students in the pre-school and elementary level with school materials, transportation and uniforms each year, thus preventing them from joining the big dropout statistics. 

Exclusive club of Jesuits

Each year as Erda celebrates its Founder’s birthday, Fr. Tritz and I go through the motions of keeping track of the exclusive club---and getting more exclusive by the year---of Jesuits above the age of 90. Tritz ended up here quite by accident from China, where he was stationed as a young Jesuit until the fall of China to communist hands in 1949. China’s loss was RP’s gain and he never left since. A psychologist by training, he saw early enough the alarming dropout rate in this country and began to investigate why it’s happening. He realized that it’s the lack of material and sociological support in tuition-free public free public schools that causing children to drop out. In 1974 Fr. Tritz set up Erda and God only knows how those tens of thousands of children who managed to stay in school with Erda’s support since 1974 would have fared, had he not gotten to work.

Give your help to Erda as a gift to Fr. Tritz on his 96th birthday. Call him at 732-3198 and 732-4327.
 



Do you have a comment?
Email Bel Cunanan at
polbits@yahoo.com

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pyschology 101 the hard way

In the current hearings conducted by the panel headed by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on the Black Monday crisis, ranking police officers admitted that there was no psychologist trained and experienced in hostage negotiations during the Luneta episode. It has been noted that had there been such an experienced psychologist who had negotiated with hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza, it might have spelled the difference between success or failure in overcoming the crisis, saving many lives as well as our horribly-tarred international image.

Hostage-taking, it has been noted, is an act of desperation and experts point out that “hostage negotiation is all about psychology, and successful crisis negotiators are among the most skilled practical psychologists...” They point to the necessity of marshalling all the tricks in the psychology trade. These include the need to calm down the hostage-taker, to open critical lines of communication with him, to get him distracted and appeased in order to prolong the dialogue and negotiation, enough to enable competent security authorities to execute a successful plan of overcoming the hostage-taker and rescuing his victims.


The Luneta fiasco


But in that Luneta episode there were only bungling police agents and even more bungling politicians and bureaucrats. The redeeming thing is that at least one of them, Undersecretary Rico Puno, was candid and humble enough to admit he did not know anything about hostage crises. His admission has brought to the fore the need for a well-trained psychological team in the security forces of government and what it will take to develop such a team to meet the demands of crisis situations.

It’s true that each crisis varies from one to the other in circumstances and there can never be 100 percent assurance that the response would be adequate from the psychological sense, or the military/police end for that matter. Oftentimes, security forces are forced to become on-the-spot psychologists.
But as in everything in life, spontaneous experience is a good beginning, but training makes all the difference.  


Crisis management in households



Any housewife who has ever run a household and managed a domestic staff composed of people from various regions of the country and all kinds of temperaments and backgrounds perhaps understands how much mediation can matter in averting a real crisis in her home. Over the past nearly 45 years of being married and raising a family I have had my own fair share of mediation in our daily life---both physical and psychological---between cook and washwoman about to pull each other’s hair, or between the gardener and the driver about to come to blows, etc.  But the biggest lesson in psychology 101 I had to learn the hard---and frightening---way in a small crisis situation that confronted me many years ago, when we were living in Camp Aguinaldo.


Bandolero ready for action



The Honasan coup attempt of 1987 had ended with the young rebel flying out of the camp into hiding;  but my husband, then a full colonel commanding the 202nd Brigade of the Second Infantry Division, stationed in Caliraya Laguna, felt that there was still so much tension in the camp that he deemed it wise to leave two soldiers to keep an eye on his family. We had a little bahay kubo outside, on one end of the lawn, and the soldiers slept there and would play cards and tell stories in the daytime.




One day into the first week, however, the two of them quarreled and one ran into the house, quite pale with fright, saying the other guy was out to kill him. He asked me to quickly lock the house.  Peering through the curtains from the living room, I could see the angry soldier outside in his fatigue pants and white T-shirt, his chest crisscrossed with two rows of long bullets, called “bandolero” in soldier parlance, carrying his Armalite with his finger on the trigger. He was pacing back and forth across the lawn, cross-eyed with anger as he tried to search for his arch-back enemy. I sent the children, then quite young, to hide in the laundry area in the rear of the house with the other soldier and our two house-helpers, while I pondered what to do.



Calming down an angry soldier


My first instinct was to call the military police, but if I did that, they’d come swooping down on the house in several jeeps and they’d shoot him down. Cornered, he’d probably shoot at them too--- patay kung patay ---and probably shoot his way through our house, hunting down his enemy and everyone else. There would be killings right in my house. It would be all over the papers. I didn’t want that.
I was so nervous I could have suffocated. But after a few minutes of praying for enlightenment, I felt I had no choice but to get out of the house and talk to him.  I locked the door behind me and in my gentlest voice, but with my knees shaking terribly, I approached him and invited him to sit down with me on the long antique bench in the driveway. At first he didn’t want to come, but I took his hand and ever so gently led him to the bench, his gun still held akimbo. We talked and slowly he poured out his anger to me --- his companion had cheated him in the card game and he vowed to get even. We Muslims do not cheat, he said. Of course you don’t, I retorted.


Putting down a gun


But first, I said, let’s put down your gun so we can talk better. I was sitting very close to him by that time, virtually embracing him and patting him on the head. Neighbors looking out must have been scandalized and some might have thought: why, that crazy woman was carrying on with the young soldier in broad daylight!  Slowly he lay down his Armalite beside him and we continued talking, with me holding his hand and massaging it gently. Then he began to cry like a little boy, and I assured him that I was going to tell Col. Cunanan how bad his fellow soldier was and I guaranteed that his commander was going to punish this rascal. When he calmed down, I asked  him about his folks back in Mindanao.  He began telling me about his father who was a coconut farmer and about his brothers and sisters whom he was helping to send to school with his soldier’s salary.


A successful ruse


At that point our driver, Sgt. Fred, arrived in our family car and I heaved a sigh of relief. But then the next worry was, he might see the Armalite and try to get it and that might rouse up the young soldier all over again. I tried to signal Fred with one hand that he should not approach and just stay put in the car, but he couldn’t get the message.  Finally, I got an idea: why not send the soldier with Fred to Caliraya on some pretext. At that time I had already founded the Alay sa Kawal Foundation for the benefit of war widows and orphans, and we were giving out TV sets to various camps. There was one box left inside the house.

I told the soldier, why don’t you go with Fred and present the TV set to Col. Cunanan yourself, and tell him all about this bad guy who cheated you, so he gets punished right away. Mauna ka nang mag-istorya ki Sir. He lighted up. But first, I told him, let’s put your Armalite inside the car as you’ll need it for security---lots of NPAs in Laguna. I picked up the gun and handed it to Fred and motioned him to lock it up inside the car. Then within earshot of the soldier, I told Fred to run inside to get the TV set for the Caliraya camp.
         
While the soldier completed his uniform in the bahay kubo, I whispered fast to Fred about the little crisis we had and how he should just keep the soldier in good humor all the way. Buy him something nice to eat, I said. They were off quickly and I phoned my husband about what had happened. In the process I became quite angry that he’d leave a crazed guy like that with us. Then I collapsed on the sofa.

Do you have a comment?
Email Bel Cunanan at
polbits@yahoo.com

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Psychology 101 the hard way

In the current hearings conducted by the panel headed by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on the Black Monday crisis, ranking police officers admitted that there was no psychologist trained and experienced in hostage negotiations during the Luneta episode. It has been noted that had there been such an experienced psychologist who had negotiated with hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza, it might have spelled the difference between success or failure in overcoming the crisis, saving many lives as well as our horribly-tarred international image.

Hostage-taking, it has been noted, is an act of desperation and experts point out that “hostage negotiation is all about psychology, and successful crisis negotiators are among the most skilled practical psychologists...” They point to the necessity of marshalling all the tricks in the psychology trade. These include the need to calm down the hostage-taker, to open critical lines of communication with him, to get him distracted and appeased in order to prolong the dialogue and negotiation, enough to enable competent security authorities to execute a successful plan of overcoming the hostage-taker and rescuing his victims.

The Luneta fiasco

But in that Luneta episode there were only bungling police agents and even more bungling politicians and bureaucrats. The redeeming thing is that at least one of them, Undersecretary Rico Puno, was candid and humble enough to admit he did not know anything about hostage crises. His admission has brought to the fore the need for a well-trained psychological team in the security forces of government and what it will take to develop such a team to meet the demands of crisis situations.

It’s true that each crisis varies from one to the other in circumstances and there can never be 100 percent assurance that the response would be adequate from the psychological sense, or the military/police end for that matter. Oftentimes, security forces are forced to become on-the-spot psychologists.
But as in everything in life, spontaneous experience is a good beginning, but training makes all the difference.  

Crisis management in households

Any housewife who has ever run a household and managed a domestic staff composed of people from various regions of the country and all kinds of temperaments and backgrounds perhaps understands how much mediation can matter in averting a real crisis in her home. Over the past nearly 45 years of being married and raising a family I have had my own fair share of mediation in our daily life---both physical and psychological---between cook and washwoman about to pull each other’s hair, or between the gardener and the driver about to come to blows, etc.  But the biggest lesson in psychology 101 I had to learn the hard---and frightening---way in a small crisis situation that confronted me many years ago, when we were living in Camp Aguinaldo.

Bandolero ready for action

The Honasan coup attempt of 1987 had ended with the young rebel flying out of the camp into hiding;  but my husband, then a full colonel commanding the 202nd Brigade of the Second Infantry Division, stationed in Caliraya Laguna, felt that there was still so much tension in the camp that he deemed it wise to leave two soldiers to keep an eye on his family. We had a little bahay kubo outside, on one end of the lawn, and the soldiers slept there and would play cards and tell stories in the daytime.

One day into the first week, however, the two of them quarreled and one ran into the house, quite pale with fright, saying the other guy was out to kill him. He asked me to quickly lock the house.  Peering through the curtains from the living room, I could see the angry soldier outside in his fatigue pants and white T-shirt, his chest crisscrossed with two rows of long bullets, called “bandolero” in soldier parlance, carrying his Armalite with his finger on the trigger. He was pacing back and forth across the lawn, cross-eyed with anger as he tried to search for his arch-back enemy. I sent the children, then quite young, to hide in the laundry area in the rear of the house with the other soldier and our two house-helpers, while I pondered what to do.

Calming down an angry soldier

My first instinct was to call the military police, but if I did that, they’d come swooping down on the house in several jeeps and they’d shoot him down. Cornered, he’d probably shoot at them too--- patay kung patay ---and probably shoot his way through our house, hunting down his enemy and everyone else. There would be killings right in my house. It would be all over the papers. I didn’t want that.
I was so nervous I could have suffocated. But after a few minutes of praying for enlightenment, I felt I had no choice but to get out of the house and talk to him.  I locked the door behind me and in my gentlest voice, but with my knees shaking terribly, I approached him and invited him to sit down with me on the long antique bench in the driveway. At first he didn’t want to come, but I took his hand and ever so gently led him to the bench, his gun still held akimbo. We talked and slowly he poured out his anger to me --- his companion had cheated him in the card game and he vowed to get even. We Muslims do not cheat, he said. Of course you don’t, I retorted.

Putting down a gun

But first, I said, let’s put down your gun so we can talk better. I was sitting very close to him by that time, virtually embracing him and patting him on the head. Neighbors looking out must have been scandalized and some might have thought: why, that crazy woman was carrying on with the young soldier in broad daylight!  Slowly he lay down his Armalite beside him and we continued talking, with me holding his hand and massaging it gently. Then he began to cry like a little boy, and I assured him that I was going to tell Col. Cunanan how bad his fellow soldier was and I guaranteed that his commander was going to punish this rascal. When he calmed down, I asked  him about his folks back in Mindanao.  He began telling me about his father who was a coconut farmer and about his brothers and sisters whom he was helping to send to school with his soldier’s salary.

A successful ruse

At that point our driver, Sgt. Fred, arrived in our family car and I heaved a sigh of relief. But then the next worry was, he might see the Armalite and try to get it and that might rouse up the young soldier all over again. I tried to signal Fred with one hand that he should not approach and just stay put in the car, but he couldn’t get the message.  Finally, I got an idea: why not send the soldier with Fred to Caliraya on some pretext. At that time I had already founded the Alay sa Kawal Foundation for the benefit of war widows and orphans, and we were giving out TV sets to various camps. There was one box left inside the house.

I told the soldier, why don’t you go with Fred and present the TV set to Col. Cunanan yourself, and tell him all about this bad guy who cheated you, so he gets punished right away. Mauna ka nang mag-istorya ki Sir. He lighted up. But first, I told him, let’s put your Armalite inside the car as you’ll need it for security---lots of NPAs in Laguna. I picked up the gun and handed it to Fred and motioned him to lock it up inside the car. Then within earshot of the soldier, I told Fred to run inside to get the TV set for the Caliraya camp.
            
While the soldier completed his uniform in the bahay kubo, I whispered fast to Fred about the little crisis we had and how he should just keep the soldier in good humor all the way. Buy him something nice to eat, I said. They were off quickly and I phoned my husband about what had happened. In the process I became quite angry that he’d leave a crazed guy like that with us. Then I collapsed on the sofa.


Do you have a comment?
Email Bel Cunanan at
polbits@yahoo.com


 

Pyschology 101 the hard way

In the current hearings conducted by the panel headed by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on the Black Monday crisis, ranking police officers admitted that there was no psychologist trained and experienced in hostage negotiations during the Luneta episode. It has been noted that had there been such an experienced psychologist who had negotiated with hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza, it might have spelled the difference between success or failure in overcoming the crisis, saving many lives as well as our horribly-tarred international image.

Hostage-taking, it has been noted, is an act of desperation and experts point out that “hostage negotiation is all about psychology, and successful crisis negotiators are among the most skilled practical psychologists...” They point to the necessity of marshalling all the tricks in the psychology trade. These include the need to calm down the hostage-taker, to open critical lines of communication with him, to get him distracted and appeased in order to prolong the dialogue and negotiation, enough to enable competent security authorities to execute a successful plan of overcoming the hostage-taker and rescuing his victims.


The Luneta fiasco


But in that Luneta episode there were only bungling police agents and even more bungling politicians and bureaucrats. The redeeming thing is that at least one of them, Undersecretary Rico Puno, was candid and humble enough to admit he did not know anything about hostage crises. His admission has brought to the fore the need for a well-trained psychological team in the security forces of government and what it will take to develop such a team to meet the demands of crisis situations.

It’s true that each crisis varies from one to the other in circumstances and there can never be 100 percent assurance that the response would be adequate from the psychological sense, or the military/police end for that matter. Oftentimes, security forces are forced to become on-the-spot psychologists.
But as in everything in life, spontaneous experience is a good beginning, but training makes all the difference.  


Crisis management in households



Any housewife who has ever run a household and managed a domestic staff composed of people from various regions of the country and all kinds of temperaments and backgrounds perhaps understands how much mediation can matter in averting a real crisis in her home. Over the past nearly 45 years of being married and raising a family I have had my own fair share of mediation in our daily life---both physical and psychological---between cook and washwoman about to pull each other’s hair, or between the gardener and the driver about to come to blows, etc.  But the biggest lesson in psychology 101 I had to learn the hard---and frightening---way in a small crisis situation that confronted me many years ago, when we were living in Camp Aguinaldo.


Bandolero ready for action



The Honasan coup attempt of 1987 had ended with the young rebel flying out of the camp into hiding;  but my husband, then a full colonel commanding the 202nd Brigade of the Second Infantry Division, stationed in Caliraya Laguna, felt that there was still so much tension in the camp that he deemed it wise to leave two soldiers to keep an eye on his family. We had a little bahay kubo outside, on one end of the lawn, and the soldiers slept there and would play cards and tell stories in the daytime.




One day into the first week, however, the two of them quarreled and one ran into the house, quite pale with fright, saying the other guy was out to kill him. He asked me to quickly lock the house.  Peering through the curtains from the living room, I could see the angry soldier outside in his fatigue pants and white T-shirt, his chest crisscrossed with two rows of long bullets, called “bandolero” in soldier parlance, carrying his Armalite with his finger on the trigger. He was pacing back and forth across the lawn, cross-eyed with anger as he tried to search for his arch-back enemy. I sent the children, then quite young, to hide in the laundry area in the rear of the house with the other soldier and our two house-helpers, while I pondered what to do.



Calming down an angry soldier


My first instinct was to call the military police, but if I did that, they’d come swooping down on the house in several jeeps and they’d shoot him down. Cornered, he’d probably shoot at them too--- patay kung patay ---and probably shoot his way through our house, hunting down his enemy and everyone else. There would be killings right in my house. It would be all over the papers. I didn’t want that.
I was so nervous I could have suffocated. But after a few minutes of praying for enlightenment, I felt I had no choice but to get out of the house and talk to him.  I locked the door behind me and in my gentlest voice, but with my knees shaking terribly, I approached him and invited him to sit down with me on the long antique bench in the driveway. At first he didn’t want to come, but I took his hand and ever so gently led him to the bench, his gun still held akimbo. We talked and slowly he poured out his anger to me --- his companion had cheated him in the card game and he vowed to get even. We Muslims do not cheat, he said. Of course you don’t, I retorted.


Putting down a gun


But first, I said, let’s put down your gun so we can talk better. I was sitting very close to him by that time, virtually embracing him and patting him on the head. Neighbors looking out must have been scandalized and some might have thought: why, that crazy woman was carrying on with the young soldier in broad daylight!  Slowly he lay down his Armalite beside him and we continued talking, with me holding his hand and massaging it gently. Then he began to cry like a little boy, and I assured him that I was going to tell Col. Cunanan how bad his fellow soldier was and I guaranteed that his commander was going to punish this rascal. When he calmed down, I asked  him about his folks back in Mindanao.  He began telling me about his father who was a coconut farmer and about his brothers and sisters whom he was helping to send to school with his soldier’s salary.


A successful ruse


At that point our driver, Sgt. Fred, arrived in our family car and I heaved a sigh of relief. But then the next worry was, he might see the Armalite and try to get it and that might rouse up the young soldier all over again. I tried to signal Fred with one hand that he should not approach and just stay put in the car, but he couldn’t get the message.  Finally, I got an idea: why not send the soldier with Fred to Caliraya on some pretext. At that time I had already founded the Alay sa Kawal Foundation for the benefit of war widows and orphans, and we were giving out TV sets to various camps. There was one box left inside the house.

I told the soldier, why don’t you go with Fred and present the TV set to Col. Cunanan yourself, and tell him all about this bad guy who cheated you, so he gets punished right away. Mauna ka nang mag-istorya ki Sir. He lighted up. But first, I told him, let’s put your Armalite inside the car as you’ll need it for security---lots of NPAs in Laguna. I picked up the gun and handed it to Fred and motioned him to lock it up inside the car. Then within earshot of the soldier, I told Fred to run inside to get the TV set for the Caliraya camp.
           
While the soldier completed his uniform in the bahay kubo, I whispered fast to Fred about the little crisis we had and how he should just keep the soldier in good humor all the way. Buy him something nice to eat, I said. They were off quickly and I phoned my husband about what had happened. In the process I became quite angry that he’d leave a crazed guy like that with us. Then I collapsed on the sofa.


Do you have a comment?
Email Bel Cunanan at
polbits@yahoo.com

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A peep into the Muslim world

The Holy Month of Ramadan came to a dramatic close abroad last Sept. 10 with tensions provoked by the insane plan of Pastor Terry Jones of a small church group in Gainesville, Florida, to burn hundreds of copies of the Koran on the 9th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington. Jones planned the burning to protest the plan of an American-Muslim couple promoting interfaith dialogue to construct a Muslim cultural center and mosque, called “Park51,” two blocks away from Ground Zero in New York City. This was the site of the World Trade Center that was bombed and destroyed by Muslim extremists in 9/11.

Jones demanded that the project be moved elsewhere or he would go on with his plan to burn Koran copies.

Protests from around the world

His threat drew howls of protests from around the world for its bigotry and religious intolerance. President Obama appealed to the pastor to abort his plan, as Gen. David Petraeus, top commander of US armed forces in Afghanistan, warned that the Koran-burning could trigger retaliatory attacks on the forces out there. Jones’ move, however, also helped fan demonstrations against the project from those who feared that setting it up right near Ground Zero would offend families of the nearly 3,000 people who were killed there in 9/11. Politicians who had earlier supported the mosque project fell silent after protests against it grew.

Thank God Jones did not push through with his move, but as Ramadan came to a close throughout the Muslim world on the eve of the commemoration of the 9/11 attacks in New York, how Islam is faring vis-à-vis the rest of the world became the subject of introspective commentaries and studies.

Worsening attitude towards Muslims

A Time Magazine issue timed for Ramadan asserted the observation of experts studying the subject that “Attitudes toward Islam have worsened perceptibly in the past two years, perhaps because of a string of terrorism-related incidents involving American Muslims,” such as the would-be Times Square bomber and a military shooter. These recent episodes apparently rekindled fears that were already being assuaged in the years after 9/11. As Time Magazine noted, terrorist episodes in the past decade have led some people to sadly conclude that “Islam must be a violent creed.”

Moreover, publicity about gruesome punishments, such as the stoning of adulterers in Third World countries and the shocking Time cover featuring a young woman whose face was badly mutilated by the Taliban, serve as proof of Muslim savagery and backwardness. While Time noted that religious intolerance is not limited to Islam, as Jews, Mormons and other groups still experience “hate speech,” evidence of inequality of treatment keeps cropping up.

For instance, those protesting the building of new mosques in US communities argue that “Saudi Arabia doesn’t allow churches and synagogues, so why should the U.S. permit the building of Islamic places of worship?” Time points out that ignored is the fact that “the U.S. is not, like Saudi Arabia, a country with a state religion, or that America was founded on ideals of religious freedom and tolerance.

Difficulties of practicing one's religion

This blogger has heard this complaint from Filipinos working in Saudi, as they relate how rosaries are confiscated in the airport and they have a difficult time trying to even gather for Sunday mass; whereas in the Philippines, they argue, mosques are present in just about every provincial capital and major city. It’s obvious that religious tolerance has to be taught everywhere in the world, but it’s growing. Statistics from Time Magazine noted 1,900 mosques for the U.S. Muslim population of 2.5 million, 2,600 in Germany for its 3.2 to 3.4 million Muslims, 2,100 mosques for the French 5.5 million Muslims and 1,500 mosques for the U.K’s 2.4 million Muslims. In Spain there are only 454 mosques for nearly a million Muslims, for understandable historical reasons: Muslims and Christians bitterly fought for political domination of that country for centuries.

Hoping for less discrimination against Muslims

Last Sunday Cecile Alvarez and I had our own way of observing Eid’l Fitr, the close of Ramadan. We featured two comely young women, in fact near-identical twins, named Nesreen “Nes” Cadar Abdulrauf and Tasneem Cadar Abdulrauf, who recently graduated from the UP Cebu as cum laudes. We joked Nes, who majored in mass communications, and Tasneem, a political science graduate, that not only are they near-identical twins, but also twins in brains, with just points apart in their graduating average.

The young women expressed the wish to see a world with less discrimination against the Muslims and more integration into a society that respects the religious beliefs of every citizen. Nes and Tasneem confessed to feeling some discrimination against them since they were young students. Nes said their headgear makes them stand out from the rest of the campus population, and how they would just look on as they join their friends at lunch in the cafeteria during Ramadan. But they also spoke of the communalities between Christians and Muslims such as a great reverence for the Virgin Mary.

Cecile and I agreed with their observation that much of the discrimination stemmed from a lack of real knowledge about the Muslim world, due in part to the inability of Muslim communities to integrate into society. Most of them continue to live in enclaves. We also agreed that culture and education are perhaps the best way to break down barriers, beginning with the popularization of heroes such as Sultan Kudarat, the Muslim leader who successfully resisted Spanish colonization and after whom the province in ARRM is named. The Abdulrauf sisters pointed out that the prejudice against Muslims is palpable in the media, so that it became a challenge for Nes to explore this subject,; she made her thesis in college the comparative study of the anti-Muslim slant in the three top newspapers in Cebu. I asked for a copy of her thesis and will write about it soon.

Muslims in public service

As we commemorate Eid’l Fitr, which was signed into law by former President Macapagal Arroyo, it’s notable that a number of Muslims have come up in public service. Only recently the Judicial and Bar Council nominated two justices of the Court of Appeals, Jafar Dimaampao and Abdul Wahid, as part of the short list submitted to President Aquino for the vacancy left in the Supreme Court by the appointment of Chief Justice Renato Corona. We also recalled such prominent leaders as former Sen. Santanina Rasul and her daughter, civic leader Amina Rasul Bernardo, and Saeed Daof, chief of the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development. In past years there were giant politicians Domocao Alonto, Ali Dimaporo, Salipada Pendatun and Mamintal Tamano, father of Adel. But we agreed with young UP cum laudes Nes and Tasneem Abdulrauf that a crying need of the Muslim population is to widen the education base to include more youths, as this is the only way for them to succeed in the world and break the barriers of prejudice and discrimination.


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