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.

Monday, November 29, 2010

SC’s ‘Writ of Kalikasan’: a welcome activist

Cecile Alvarez and I had for some time now wanted to show our commiseration with the residents of the West Tower Condominium in Makati. Last Sunday, we gave them a chance to tell the whole nation
their story over our dzRH Sunday 8 pm. program, together with the condo owners’ feisty lady lawyer, Lorna Patajo Kapunan. It was one of the liveliest shows we’ve ever had.

The saga of West Tower
Some 100 families in the West Tower were forced last month to evacuate their homes after deadly fumes emanated from fuel leaks into the basement. They came from the gas pipelines used by the First Philippine Industrial Corporation (FPIC) to transport fuel for Shell, Chevron and smaller oil players from Batangas to Metro Manila since 1969, renewed 25 years later. We also wanted to commiserate with the 47,000 residents of Barangay Bangkal in that area, who, unlike the owners of the West Tower Condo, couldn’t move anywhere else because of their limited means, despite health hazards posed by the fuel leaks.

While we were arranging the show, Atty. Kapunan, who has filed a suit against the FPIC board and some “John and Richard Does”----a total of 49 respondents---for the damage to the West Tower families’ wellbeing and health and to the environment, said “you have to hear the story of the homeowners.” She brought Manny Chua Unsu, vice-president of the residents’ condominium association, and Volney Ricafort, whose daughter Rosanna used to live in that condo, until she was forced to evacuate her family to her father’s place.  “My infant grandson was the youngest of the West Tower refugees,” says Ricafort. “What future is there for their early return to their home?  I’m worried about my grandchild’s health.”

First signs of the deadly fumes

Unsu and Ricafort recounted how fumes were first detected in the condo parking lot last May; by July pure fuel had seeped into the condo’s basement, with over 800 barrels being scooped in dust pans over weeks.

But Unsu and Ricafort noted how the FPIC remained in denial in the ensuing months, pointing to various hypothesis, e.g., that the fumes came from a gas repair station nearby, or from fuel stock of the
homeowners, or even those left by the Japanese during the war! In fact, as Dr. Carlos Arcilla of the UP Geological Society noted in a recent article, the FPIC called in a foreign consultant firm which ruled out a gas leak (the moral of story, said Arcilla, is don’t rely too much on foreign consultants).

Corrosive FPIC pipelines

But by last month the FPIC finally admitted that the leaks in the FPIC’s pipelines came from corrosive holes the size of mongo grains. By then, some 203,400 liters of mixed fuels had been collected from the West Tower Condo. The homeowners were evacuated and various agencies of the national and local government as well as qualified local professional groups, such as Arcilla’s UP group moved into action to study and do something about the damage. The Senate environment committee under Sen. Miguel Zubiri called hearings.

The West Tower homeowners, however, are unhappy about the fact that repairs were mainly limited to coating the pipes with fresh cement, and that after the”repairs” fresh leaks of mixed fuels continued. The FPIC earlier had told the homeowners they could return to their units in three or four months, but that time frame has lapsed and relief is nowhere in sight. Some experts have calculated that the rehab work could take as much as 30 years. Where would this leave the families whose lives have been disrupted by the spillage?

Dangers to other areas from Batangas to Manila

The logical move would be for the FPIC, which is owned 60% by the Lopez Group that also owns ABS-CBN, and 40 percent 40% by Shell UK,  to thoroughly inspect the entirety of the 117 km. pipeline from Batangas to Manila for possible leaks in other areas, especially since scientists
have warned about the dangers of possible explosions in fuels in compressed areas. Muntinglupa, through which 9 kms. of these pipelines pass, has recently began to join to agitation for thorough inspection.

But such action would entail huge expenses for the Lopez Group, not to mention the traffic jams in the metropolis and possible inconvenience of residents in affected areas. Plus all the talk about fuel scarcity owing to the disruption of the pipelines.  But there seems no other way.  The FPIC’s fuel pipeline to Manila has been delivering some eight million liters a day, for a net income of between P1.6 million to P2 million a day. It’s time that FPIC dip into its huge profits since 1969 to
maintain those pipelines in better condition. Anything less is criminal.

The Writ of Kalikasan

Last November 18 the SC issued its first “Writ of Kalikasan” containing three orders directed at the FPIC, in response to the class suit brought before the Court  by the West Tower residents. These were, for the FPIC to stop the pipeline operations altogether until further notice; to ensure the structural integrity of these pipelines, and to adopt measures to safety the welfare and health of those affected by the leakage.  It imposed a compliance report from FPIC of  60 days.

It is no secret that Chief Justice Renato Corona himself took a direct hand in its promulgation.

SC stand on environmental damage

The “Writ of Kalikasan,” accompanied by the “Temporary Environmental Protection Order” (or TEPO, which is equivalent to the TRO in ordinary jurisprudence), is the first-ever interpretation of the landmark “Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases,” which was promulgated by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno in April this year, as he prepared to wind up his tenure at SC’s helm.

To quote the SC, the “Writ of Kalikasan” is a remedy available to “ a natural or juridical person, entity authorized by law, people’s organization, non-governmental organization” or other groups or persons “whose constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology is violated…involving environmental damage of such magnitude as to prejudice the life, health or property of inhabitants in two or more cities or provinces.”

To show how serious the SC is about damage or violations to the environment, the “Rules of Procedure” on which the “Writ” is based does not allow even a motion to dismiss the complaint, or a third-party complaint;”  and except for the SC, “no court can issue a TRO or writ of preliminary injunction against lawful actions of government agencies that enforce environmental laws or prevent violations thereof.”

Bold and brave move

The SC’s “Writ of Kalikasan” is a bold and brave move, given the fact that the Lopezes who own majority shares in FPIC are also the owners of the giant ABS-CBN network. In the words of an SC document, it is “judicial activism.”

But it’s also clear that the SC action is tailor-made for the court suit of the West Tower residents against the FPIC, for as lawyer Lorna Kapunan opined in our dzRH program, were it not for the SC’s Writ, she and the West Tower complainants would have had to file a suit in every municipality or city covered by the 117-km. FPIC pipeline!  Besides, who would pay attention to a couple of condominium home owners complaining against a utility company?

Now, with the SC Writ catching headlines and imposing a deadline on the accused firm, things should get moving. The nation is watching---“Bantay Kalikasan” in reverse.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Campaigns & Grey does a 'hugas kamay' and 'i was pusoy'

If I were in the team of President Aquino handling his media image, I’d be extremely worried about the perception of incompetence hounding his administration less than 200 days into its life. His image-builders doubtless are aware of all the adverse reactions in FaceBook and other social network media. The problem is that such perception is very difficult to reverse once it becomes a downhill trend. For instance, one FB message wrote: “Our government is getting worse by the day…now we have an incompetent trial and error president. Please, God, save the Philippines.” Others have played around the “student council” criticism of Sen. Joker Arroyo.

Malacanang’s image-builders had better get their act together before this administration goes into a total downward spin.

A botched re-branding job

Over the past few days I’ve been trying to analyze why the incredible outburst of disgust and frustration from the citizenry over the botched re-branding job by the Department of Tourism in “Pilipinas Kay Ganda,” that has since been scrapped. In the scheme of things, this fiasco is not as big as, say the Luneta hostage-taking or certain blunders of the past Arroyo administration. Yet the outcry from media as well as the citizens especially in the social networks on this logo issue was so strong.

I can only ascribe it to the fact that many citizens feel, yun ba namang maliit na bagay na bagong promo logo hindi pa magawang tama? One executive went to the heart of the issue: why did the DOT have to plagiarize it from the Polish emblem, when there are so many creative Filipinos who could have done it better? That remark appears to mirror the frustrations of the citizens with the series of setbacks and blunders of the administration and what appears to be an amateurish bunch running it in the past four months.

P-Noy needs more competent people

The problem is that expectations that things would be better under P-Noy were so high. To be sure, as the recent survey indicated, majority of the people are still with him, and there is no doubt that they want him to succeed. But the frustration is palpable and growing, and the question now on many minds is, why doesn’t the President get more competent people to help him? As Sen. Miriam Santiago put it, they are all lightweights.

It shows in the inadequate staff work they have done for the inexperienced President, resulting in atras-abante pronouncements and projects. To cite a few examples, there's the Amnesty Proclamation that was returned to the Palace after senators pointed out that it cannot be promulgated without the concurrence of Congress, and several defective EOs that got snagged in the Supreme Court. Look at the high political cost to P-Noy of the unthinking PCSO order for Child Haus to evacuate its premises without providing for an alternative site, making him look so heartless toward cancer-stricken children.

Another ill-timed removal

Why was Climate Change Commission vice-chair Heherson Alvarez removed summarily on the very eve of the opening of the World Climate Change Summit in Cancun, Mexico, this Monday? It also came as a big inter-faith dialogue on this critical issue that Alvarez himself convened in Manila opened. What did he do so wrong that his summary execution had to be done on the eve of these big events? Why was he fired just like that, while other officials who have committed big booboos are allowed to stay? Some malicious minds suspect that it may be because some huge funds for C-C may be coming our way soon.

Infighting in the Palace

Compounding the incompetence issue are reports of infighting and turf-wars between factions in this administration. There’s the growing observation from various quarters that Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, his PMS-Chief daughter Julia and his congresswoman wife Henedina, the senior vice-chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, comprise the real power in this government, not Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa (despite the fact that, as rumors have it, the latter gave a new meaning to CESO---“classmates of Executive Secretary Ochoa”).

In GMA’s time, there was so much talk about a shadowy group headed by former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo which allegedly cornered business deals, but there was never any doubt about who was in charge in the Palace. No one but GMA.

Dick Gordon on radio

Last Sunday Cecile Alvarez and I were able to drag former Tourism Secretary and Senator Richard Gordon to tape that evening’s segment of our dzRH 8 pm. program, even as he evaded other media seeking interviews on the Pilipinas Kay Ganda fiasco. Dick couldn’t say no to us, I guess, because our ties go decades back. Cecile’s husband, Sonny Alvarez, and Dick were both delegates to the 1971 Constitutional Convention called by Marcos (Dick was its youngest member), while I was Kate Gordon’s suki for antiques in those days and my brother, novelist Roger Olivares, used to coach Dick in Latin in the old Ateneo.

Dick noted with pride that imitation being the highest form of flattery, his “Wow! Philippines” brand for DOT has been adopted now by Syria in its “Wow, Syria” promo campaign, while Malaysia has also incorporated it in its own promo. He refused to comment on the re-branding controversy out of delicadeza, except to admit that “Wow,” which won as the most aggressive promo ad in the Berlin tourism summit during his watch, can still pull them here. He recalled the "permutations" that “Wow” had undergone, with his watch pushing the concept of “more than the usual,” then “beyond the usual” in Ace Durano’s time, and what would have been “more than the usual Asia,” had it been continued in the P-noy administration. He noted that in those days Malaysia spent $180 million for its tourism ads whereas he spent only$660,000, but the “Wow” promo gave our neighbor a run for its money, adding that our provinces still have to exhaust their “Wow” potential.

I might add that sadly, however, the P-Noy administration is always too eager to throw out anything associated with the Arroyo era.

Spending brings in business

Gordon stressed that with the global tourism industry involving almost a billion tourists who spent a trillion dollars last year, its prospects for economic growth cannot be overestimated. He said that every P1 million the Philippines sinks into tourism will bring in $1 billion in return. Noting that tourism is really all about telling a story about a people, Gordon stressed that Australia boasts of its aborigines, but our country has 110 different indigenous communities. To stimulate tourism, he said he authored in the Senate the Tourism Act of 2009, which will ensure P500 million annually for at least five years from the time of the law’s enactment, as a special “Tourism Promotions Fund” (TPF) to finance the activities of the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) that will take charge of promoting and marketing the Philippines as a primary tourism destination. It should be noted that apart from this special fund, the TPB will have its own authorized P250 million capital from the national government.

From the Tourism Act of 2009, it’s clear that there’s a lot of funds to establish adequate tourism infrastructure and provide incentives to private entrepreneurs engaging in tourism; their availability should also put the Philippines on a more competitive footing with other aggressively-marketed countries, provided these funds will be properly used and the right talents are tapped. Thus, there should be little room for promo fiascos such as the recent DOT faux-pas. 

Washing their hands off a botched job

I’m among those who took umbrage at the way the advertising agency called “Campaigns and Grey” is resorting to “hugas-kamay” or to use street parlance, “iwas pusoy,” about responsibility for that “Kay Ganda” promo. Ang kiss-and-tell tactic kailan man ay hindi maganda. The fact is that Campaigns, which handled the marketing strategy for candidate Noynoy Aquino in the recent elections, made that ad but it was only after its work reaped enormous criticisms that the agency now says that DOT ignored its warnings about a “premature launch.”

Like DOT Secretary Bertie Lim, Campaigns and Grey misses the point: whether the promo was launched last week or to be launched next year, or whether it was a big or soft launch is not the issue. The ad it made was no good because it copied (plagiarized, to use a tres courante word) the logo of a Polish ad, and used native language which is unintelligible to the foreign market. The agency should have stood its ground and not agree to the DOT’s insistence on those points, to begin with, if it did not think there was merit to them. Campaigns' weakness is being passed off now as innocence.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Live trial coverage will exacerbate tensions

I feel very sorry for the nation and for Secretary Heherson Alvarez, until recently the Vice-Chair of the Commission on Climate Change (CCC) for the lack of grace and finess with which he was dismissed from his job. Media reports said President Aquino removed Alvarez and relegated him to the position of mere commissioner in the three-member CCC, and appointed in his place Lucille Sering, herself a commissioner. Aquino did not outright remove Alvarez as he has a fixed term of six years, but replaced him apparently without hearing his side on Sering’s accusation that he made “critical decisions for the CCC without consulting other members and (displayed) a lack of transparency in his dealings within the Commission.”

President Aquino’s failure to allow Alvarez to air his side, the essence of fair play, is hard to understand, given the closeness of Alvarez and his wife Cecile to P-Noy’s parents, especially to the hero Ninoy Aquino. Sonny Alvarez and Ninoy were leading lights in the fight against the Marcos regime and Alvarez spent a lot of time in Boston. In fact, among Ninoy’s memorable last photos showed him and a young Alvarez sharing deep thoughts together during a walk, just before Ninoy left for Manila that fateful August.

Sering who?

The question is -- Sering who? She was a former undersecretary of the Department of Environment & Natural Resources during the tenure of Secretary Lito Atienza and ironically enough, she had served as a staffer of former President Macapagal Arroyo in the Senate, and it was GMA who appointed her to CCC. It seems that the removal of Alvarez is in line with the Aquino administration’s intention of erasing every trace of the GMA era, but it’s good to ask, just what qualifications does the new CCC Vice-Chair have to replace him? Alvarez espoused the cause of climate change long before it became a domestic byword and a global advocacy of leaders like Al Gore, and perhaps he knows this issue more than any other contemporary Filipino.

In 1995, in the Ramos administration Sen. Alvarez convened the very first gathering of leaders in Manila, among them the late Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, to discuss this issue two years before the Kyoto Protocol was promulgated. Since then he has represented the country in various international summits on climate change. In Poland in 2007, Alvarez led small independent nations in taking a strong stand against the big industrialized polluters of the environment.

Loss for the Philippines

Alvarez’s blueprint for C-C for the country is far-reaching and long-range, and his replacement by an environment nobody will certainly send shock waves in the international C-C community. Only recently, the new chief of the UNFCCC, the international organization tasked to handle the C-C problem globally, Christianne Figueres of Costa Rica, who replaced former chief Yvo de Boer, paid tribute to Alvarez as “one of my heroes.” Now he’s being dismissed summarily. With his stature in the international community, Alvarez can easily get a job as consultant to another country, but it's the Philippines' loss.

Rumor has it that Sering is being backed by the group of former DENR Secretary Elisea Gozun, who’s identified with the powerful Hyatt 10. Talk is that former Bukidnon Rep. Nereus Acosta is sitting out the one-year moratorium on appointments for losing candidates, but that come May 2011, he’ll assume the top DENR post vice career guy Ramon Paje. The appointment of Sering falls into that group's plan for total control of the environment, never mind her lack of stature and qualifications.

Transparency and the people's right to justice

The Supreme Court is under tremendous pressure to amend its decision not to allow live coverage of the Ampatuan trial before Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes’ QC Regional Trial Court Branch 221. President Aquino wrote a formal letter to SC Chief Justice Renato Corona asking for reconsideration of the Court’s en banc no-coverage decision in the interest, he said, of transparency and the people’s right to justice in the mass murder case. Aquino is joined in his plea by DOJ Justice Leila de Lima, who, however, qualified her support by candidly admitting that there should be “careful evaluation” of certain considerations of live coverage, such as the effect witnesses' televised testimonies could have on other witnesses. It’s a valid concern: note that in the US members of the jury are “sequestered” with no TV or newspaper access whatsoever pending a trial.

Other significant groups favorably weighing in on live coverage include a few high-ranking Church prelates and some leaders of Congress. Their battle-cry: greater transparency under the people’s “right to know” and justice for the victims and their relatives. Survey results were also released indicating that one year after the gruesome mass murders, seven out of ten Filipinos are unhappy that the “trial of the century” is going so slow.

Trial by publicity?

It would appear from media coverage that more groups are for live coverage of the trial than against it, but the more thoughtful and sober media commentators fear that live coverage could deteriorate into a trial by publicity where the accused do not stand a chance at fair play, which is guaranteed by the Constitutionbecause of the overwhelming media attention.

It should be noted that the SC’s decision to reject live coverage has had at least two precedents. One was the en banc resolution of Oct. 22, 1991 whereby the SC rejected open trial in the libel case filed by President Cory against columnist Luis Beltran of the Star. In that celebrated case, the SC’s decision was easy to comprehend, as the respondent was no less than the President of the Philippines and she couldn’t be subjected to trial by publicity.

Another was the 8-6 vote decision by the SC under Chief Justice Hilario Davide on June 29, 2001, rejecting a petition to allow live broadcast coverage of the plunder case against former President Joseph Estrada before the Sandiganbayan. Given the heat of the moment, following the overthrow of Estrada earlier that January, the SC wisely refused to fan public agitation further. Recall that several thousand policemen had to be stationed along the highway every time the jailed former President was brought to court.

Reasons for banning live coverage

The media appear to be divided on this issue, with some commentators batting outright for no coverage to avoid a trial by publicity, while others call for a “regulated” form of coverage according to rules defined by the SC. I personally am not for live coverage by radio and TV for a number of reasons.

First, the print media are already doing extensive coverage of the trial. Second, live coverage could exacerbate the already super-high nationwide tensions over the mass murders, sapping the national energies further and making independent judgment impossible for a judge already boxed into an extremely difficult position when she accepted the Ampatuan case. Moreover, as De Lima correctly noted, live coverage could violate the court’s rule prohibiting the witnesses from hearing the testimony of their fellow witnesses.

Issues with TV coverage

I’ve been a journalist for 28 years and I know only too well, from covering both houses of Congress, what TV coverage does to normal people, including lawyers. Recall, for instance, how the politicians went crazy when TV cameras started to grind. I think we don’t need radio and TV coverage. What we need is a trial that’s fair and just, sober and rational and devoid of grandstanding, so that judicial officials could do their job---not a circus trial that could be rendered even more artificially raucous perhaps in order to lure public attention from other problems in the coming months.

This trial could have an estimated 500 witnesses re to be presented by both sides and easily over a hundred accused; this means that it could drag on for years and interest could subside considerably. Recall how Estrada’s trial lost its verve after a few weeks, so that only the die-hards led by Ronald Lumbao would show up at the Sandiganbayan. All the more reason to go easy on media coverage.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Pilipinas Kay Ganda" -- not just about 'wrong grammar

 Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim was quoted as opining that the reason for the controversy kicked up by DOT’s new P200 million promotion line, “Pilipinas Kay Ganda,” is that it’s “ungrammatical.” If Secretary Lim can only view it from the grammar perspective, then our Tourism promotion is in trouble.

An axiom in advertising is that if a promo line will sell, who cares about grammar? But the problem with “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” is that it’s unintelligible to the foreign market, our target, because the foreigners don’t know what that phrase means. Kay Ganda, which was obviously inspired by ABS-CBN’s “Umagang Kay Ganda,” was meant to replace the eight-year old promo campaign, “WOW Philippines,” created by then Tourism Secretary Dick Gordon, but the new line can only work with domestic tourists or our balikbayans. This is because, chances are, the P200 million DOT promo budget would already be finished, but the hordes out there whom we want to lure to our shores still couldn’t figure out what “Kay Ganda” means.

Remember that our campaign promo will be competing stiffly in the international media networks such as CNN, News Asia and BBC with dozens of other countries’ promotions. If the foreign listener doesn’t get ours at first blow, he or she won’t get it at all.

Campaigns of competitors

Contrast this with the old but still fantastic “Amazing Thailand,” or the newer “Incredible India” or "Malaysia Truly Asia" promo lines that one savors and remembers. The best argument against “Kay Ganda,” however, is that, to borrow from wrong grammar, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? DOT successfully pushed tourism arrivals here over the past years in large part due to the “WOW Philippines,” and just because it belonged to the GMA era doesn’t mean it can’t work anymore. I believe that the full potential of this ad campaign hasn’t been explored yet, and there could be new variations of “WOW” projecting the rich wonders of our provinces.

As Gordon explained it some years ago over our dzRH program, it could mean “Wealth of Wonders,” or “Walk our Walls” in Intramuros, or “Watch our Whales” in Donsol, or "Wild over Water" for shooting the rapids in Cagayan de Oro or Pagsangjan. In Siargao surf-lovers could go “Wild Over Waves” and in Subic they could be "Wacko over Wildlife." I would add that since we’re internationally known for our musical talents such as Charisse, Arnel Pineda and Lea Salonga, music fests could be thrown in as tourist events, so that WOW could mean “World of Warblers.” Or we could capitalize on Tourisim's new Poster Boy Manny Pacquiao in promoting slug-fests here, in the tag, "Warriors of Worth." Gordon admitted in that program that with the beauty of the Filipina renowned all over the world, it’s easy to push “Wacko Over Women” but of course he wouldn’t, lest it be misinterpreted by feminists. Agreed.

Are they spending CDF funds?

Every time our boxing champ Manny Pacquiao stages a fight in the US, dozens of members of Congress as well as a couple of local officials fly there to watch it. In last Sunday’s fight Ilocos Sur Gov. Chavit Singson was briefly seen in the ring behind Pacman as he knelt to pray before the fight. The trips of these public officials have stirred a lot of controversy every time and the major bone of contention is the huge expenses they incur, even though the House of Representatives periodically issues statements that these officials are paying their way. People don’t buy that disclaimer, as they believe that the House members spend from their CDF funds.

History being made

In the dzRH interview Cecile Alvarez and I had with Paranaque Rep. Roilo Golez last Sunday (8-8:45 pm.) right after the Pacquiao-Margarito world welterweight fight, Golez gave a different perspective on this issue. He said that his son, Paranaque Councilor Rico Golez, justified his trip to the US for that fight, along with a couple of local officials, by saying that history was being played out as the Pinoy champ fought his way to his eighth title, and the officials who travelled to Texas did not want to miss out on history. Rep. Golez, a boxing aficionado and champion boxer since his student days at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, who stressed that he had never joined his House colleagues for any of the Pacquiao fights abroad, said that after listening to Rico, he felt the latter made sense. Maybe next time Pacquiao fights, said Golez, he’ll be beside the ring too, cheering lustily.

Thrilla in Manila in 1975

Golez recalled how he paid P1,000 in 1975, a princely sum then that was nearly half of his salary, to witness the fight in Manila between two all-time boxing greats, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, billed as the “Thrilla in Manila." To this day, he stressed that that fight is regarded as a classic event in world boxing, and in fact he still meets people who feel awed that he was able to witness it personally.

I told Golez that I can understand the craving for not wanting to miss out on history. I recalled how Cecile and I joined the Philippine group flying to the Vatican, led by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (as part of the secondary group of media, Church ecclesiastics and others) to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II in April 2005. I paid a princely sum for the plane fare, but I did not hesitate, as I was fully aware that I was witnessing an event involving perhaps the best-loved Pontiff in history, and which comes probably only once in 200 years. To this day, whenever I recall the sights and sounds of JPII’s funeral in Rome, my listeners are still awe-struck.

But I stressed to Golez that the issue of government officials travelling to Las Vegas or Texas for a Pacquiao fight will remain always controversial. How do you readers feel about this issue? Email this blog at polbits@yahoo.com and let our public officials know.

Young but needy musicians

My niece, Maja Olivares-Co, daughter of my late advertising executive brother Rudy Olivares and noted interior designer Sonia Santiago Olivares, has a most laudable advocacy: “to find new creative ways to keep the joy of Filipino music alive.” She and her friends in the “Young Musicians’ Development Organization” (YMDO) seek to achieve this in the Philippine Youth Symphonic Band (PYSB), composed of talented and young but needy musicians who are helped in their music studies and whose activities the YMDO promotes.

One “creative” way is for the PYSB to hold the "Laro! Child's Play at the CCP," a concert at the CCP Main Theater next Saturday, Nov. 27, at 6 pm., during which the PYSB will be recording live CDs that will reintroduce to the audience the country’s rich heritage of folksongs. How? By “resetting,” much like old heirloom gems are reset, says Maja, familiar and well-loved children’s “play songs” and folk ditties, such as “Sarung Banggi,” “Leron Leron Sinta” “Bahay Kubo” and "Tong Pakitong-kitong” into reggae, jazz, latin, pop and rock arrangements. Hopefully, says Maja, in their new setting, these best-loved songs of yesteryears “will reclaim their place in our children’s memory.” Joining the PYSB at next Saturday’s concert will be such music and entertainment celebrities as Sylvia la Torre, Sarah Geronimo, Andrew Fernando and Charlie Green.

Let's bring our families down memory lane again in the "Laro!" Concert this Nov. 27, and help keep our native ditties alive and thriving. Tickets for this most interesting and laudable concert sell as follows: orchestra center, P2,500; orchestra right and left, P1,500; parterre boxes, P2,500; upper boxes, P800; lower boxes P1,500; balcony 1 center, right and Left, P600, and balcony II, P400. For more information, call 0927-3910-762, or email Maja Olivares-Co at majaco_ymdo@ssoa.ph.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Pinakyaw na ni Pacquiao and lahat ng titles

I watched the Pacquiao-Margarito fight earlier this afternoon at the Fort Bonifacio General Hospital’s Multipurpose Hall, together a few hundred soldier-patients in their blue hospital gowns. Many came in wheelchairs and others carried their own dextrose bottles, but their cheers were just as lusty as those from Filipinos across the nation and all over the world, as they reveled in the latest glory of Manny Pacquiao in wresting the world super-welterweight title from the Mexican Antonio Margarito. It was especially meaningful to watch the fight with the soldiers, as boxing ranks high as a favorite sport among the military.


As a soldier filing out of the hall put it, “Pinakyao na ni Pacquiao ang lahat ng mga world titles.” To hear it from the sports writers, from the beginning it was no contest, for as one put it, “Margarito was never there.” Heavy and slow of movement, his six-inch longer reach proved no match for the lightning speed of Pacquiao’s jabs and his incredible footwork, which made all the difference. But as Paranaque Rep. Roilo Golez, who was a skilled boxer in his midshipman’s days at the United States Naval Academy in the late ‘50s---he was the first student to garner the title of boxing champ for four straight years, a Pinoy against American challengers---stressed at the program Cecile Alvarez and I recorded for tonight at dzRH, there was palpable tension in today’s fight nonetheless up to about the 9th round. This was because everyone realized that with Margarito’s sheer size, had he succeeded in landing that one great big fist blow that he dreamt of and aimed at Pacman’s head---as we say it, kung napuruhan si Pacman--- it could knock our champ out cold on the floor.


Margarito strode into the cavernous brand-new Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas, magnificent in his multi-colored robe, looking imperious and unbeatable, and exuding flamboyant confidence. The sight of him made his opponent from Sarangani look so puny that it drove fear into the hearts of Pinoys everywhere. Women in our crowd gasped. Later, during our dzRH taping, I complained to Rep. Golez that should there be a next fight for Pacquiao, he should wear one of those fancy capes like Margarito’s, to add drama to his puny height, instead of the yellow bathrobe-like thing he had on. Golez laughed and said, “When you’re starting to be famous, you need all the borloloy. But when you’re already an icon like Pacman, you can afford to look simple.”


Once in the ring, Manny proved once again, as Golez put it, that he is the “compleat boxer,” very scientific in his approach. He never let Margarito corner him (in fact I chuckled that because of his short height he could duck under his charging opponent’s arms, like a naughty child escaping from an upset father). Golez acknowledged that Margarito had a psychological advantage because of his build, but as he told fellow spectators, if the Mexican failed to connect his jabs to Pacman in the first two rounds, panalo na si Pacman. And that’s what happened—for every blow Pacman took from Margarito, he returned it with shorter but faster and more numerous jabs that left the Mexican’s face looking like it had been repeatedly beaten with a club. As Golez put it, in boxing the good big guy always beats the good small guy, but this time, the big guy took all the beating from the small guy.

But ferocious as Pacquiao was, he showed his compassion. In the 11th round he motioned to the referee to call off the fight already as Margarito was bleeding badly in the face, but the latter said Mexicans fight to the end. From then on it was obvious that Pacquiao just aimed to tire him out so as not to hurt him more. I found it quite amusing that both fighters kept making the Sign of the Cross as they strode to the ring center for each round; I said to myself, Wow, God faces a tough choice here. But of course, He went for skill.


Last night, Cecile and I agreed that whether Manny wins or loses, we’d discuss boxing at tonite’s weekly Sunday program, even though it’s a subject women don’t normally “analyze.” We contacted Annapolis boxing champ and now Paranaque Rep. Roy Golez to be our expert on board and he readily agreed to the interview. My late brother-in-law, Carlito Y. Cunanan, Roy’s upperclass at that renowned institution (who later became rear admiral and Philippine Navy Chief), held the champ record for one year, and Golez admitted that Carlito was his inspiration when he decided to train in boxing at Annapolis. Another champ there was the famous (infamous to some quarters) Oliver North who got involved in the issue of arms shipments to Iran, while another boxer who didn’t quite become a champ was Carlito's classmate, John McCain, now the multi-termer senator from Arizona and presidential candidate of the Republican Party in 2008. Today at the Annapolis Gym, the names of all the boxing champs of various years are emblazoned in one wall, including Golez’s.


In our taped kwentuhan with Golez after the Pacquiao fight, he revealed that early on he realized that God gave him a fast jab and footwork that proved advantageous over taller opponents; we noted that he really could have turned boxing pro, but he chose government service instead (he’s now on his second round as congressman, serving his 6th term). Golex said he is an avid reader of various sports magazines such as “Boxing Illustrated” and “Ring Magazine,” and he noted how foreign sports analysts and commentators began going into superlatives over the “Pacquiao Phenomenon” as he conquered one weight division after another, beginning at 105 lbs., or 45 lbs. ago. He noted how the superlatives crescendo-ed especially after his fight with Morales, and how Pacquiao is perking up the sport like no other, as witnessed by the incredible crowds his fight packed in Texas this morning.


Cecile and I queried Golez on whether he would advise his House colleague from Sarangani to now hang up his gloves and go fulltime into public service and serving the poor with his billions. We stressed that most women share Mommy Dionesia’s sentiment about her champ-son’s calling it quits while he’s way ahead. Golez was ambivalent, stressing that “it’s hard to advise him,” as he noted that there are still two or three boxers for Pacquiao to fight, and that “it’s good for the sport.” He also stressed that as the boxing icon, Pacquiao serves to inspire an entire generation of Filipinos to excel, to a higher degree than previous Filipino boxing legends such as Pancho Villa, Flash Ilorde and Leo Espinosa succeeded. But Golez also stressed that an international icon like Pacquiao can only come from a huge population base.

At this point the Paranaque representative, who is a staunch leader of the anti-RH Bill bloc in the House, lost no time in reiterating what former US President Bill Clinton had stressed here last week: that there are distinct advantages to a huge population, such as the vast human resources that a nation can put before the world.  Add these resources to the Philippines' vast natural resources and Filipinos cannot but win, Clinton said.
 I agree, but side by side, we also have to marshal the right infrastructure for education, health and other social services. This means using our precious financial resources dutifully and not waste them in frivolous spending like Congress does oftentimes.


As promised last Wednesday, here’s the Prayer for Private Devotion for the Servant of God, the late Bishop Alfredo Ma. Obviar, whose cause for beatification is now in Rome:

“Almighty and ever-loving Father, we thank you for granting your Church an exemplary shepherd in ALFREDO MA. OBVIAR. May we learn from his prayerful life, faithful and silent endurance in suffering and humble obedience to the Church. In your merciful love, grant us the grace of raising him up to the altars, so that in him You may be glorified. We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit One God, forever and ever. Amen

(Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be.., Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Pray for us. St. Joseph, Pray for us. St. Therese of the Child Jesus, Pray for us).

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lucena’s & Lipa's candidate for Blessed

Not too long ago my husband and I stayed for a relaxing weekend at the beautiful Malarayat Golf & Country Club in Lipa City, Batangas, with our son Conrad, his wife Myra and their bouncing baby boy Christopher. We went for evening mass that Sunday at the cavernous San Sebastian Cathedral in Lipa City and we passed through a city street bearing the name of the late Bishop Alfredo Ma. Aranda Obviar. That street was a timely reminder for me to devote a blog column to Bishop Obviar, whose cause for beatification has already been submitted to Rome.

 The Lipa Connection

Bishop Obviar is being honored by Lipa City not only because he was born there on Aug. 29, 1889, but also because he began his priestly career as parish priest of Malvar in Batangas and later of Lipa City. Later he was appointed Vicar General and still later as Auxiliary Bishop of the huge Archdiocese of Lipa, which once had jurisdiction over the provinces of Batangas, Quezon, Laguna, Marinduque and Mindoro. In 1951, ecclesiastical jurisdiction over Quezon was removed from Lipa and the new Diocese of Lucena was created. Obviar was transferred there that March to serve as its administrator for the next 18 years and in 1969, he was appointed as Lucena’s residential bishop until his retirement in 1975 as its Bishop Emeritus.

The model for Philippine priests

Today the late Bishop is being honored not just in the Archdiocese of Lipa and the Diocese of Lucena but throughout the country for being, as his fellow Batangueno, Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, put it, “the model for Filipino priests in the Episcopal and priestly ministry.” In fact, so long is the shadow now cast by Bishop Obviar over the Catholic priesthood in the Philippines, that Lipa and Lucena, where he spent several decades of his 89 years on earth, have taken interest in recognizing his apostolic holiness.
Obviar was declared "Servant of God" on March 6, 2001, with saint protocol no. 2389 and as Iloilo Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, former CBCP President, noted in his new biographical work on the Bishop, Lipa and Lucena introduced his cause for beatification in Rome in 2005---27 years after his death in Tayabas. Wrote Lagdameo: “The historical portion of Obviar’s cause has already been submitted by the Diocesan Tribunal and Postulator in 2005. Once this is approved, they will proceed to examine the manifestations of holiness of the Servant of God.”

Educated at the Ateneo, priesthood training at Sto. Tomas 

My good friend, Col. Rene Bala (res.), who as a young seminarian years ago had served as Obviar’s personal secretary in Lucena, gave me the interesting biographic pamphlet on the prelate’s life, as compiled by Archbishop Lagdameo. Reading it, I note so many interesting facts about Obviar, apart from his having the best of both worlds: education from the Jesuits at the old Ateneo de Manila in Intramuros and priestly formation at the Seminary of Sto. Tomas where he was ordained in March 1919.

One is that he had always advocated a strong emphasis on the need to evangelize and form the conscience of Catholics, by training more competent catechists. Obviar early on demonstrated this vision when as Auxiliary Bishop of Lipa, he made the main thrust of his ministry the formation of rural voluntary catechists; he helped his superior, Lipa Archbishop Alfredo Verzosa, set up the Missionary Catechists of the Sacred Heart. Assigned to Lucena as administrator, Obviar went to work building up the new diocese. In 1958 he founded the Missionary Catechists of St. Therese (MCST), whose sisters today, led by their Superior-General Teodora G. San Juan, faithfully keep alive the zeal and diligence of their late Bishop in the task of evangelization.

As Obviar used to say in his elegant Castillian, “La ignorancia de la fe es la cancer social, que no puede encontrar remedio en los presidios y en las constituciones humanas, sino solo en leccion del catechismo…”

The "Holy Hour"

Side by side with training catechists to push the task of evangelization, he  saw to it that his priests were “contemplatives in action” by keeping them close to God. He instituted in his diocese the nightly “Holy Hour” whereby the priests, led by himself, were encouraged to spend one hour before bedtime in front of the Blessed Sacrament, or at least in prayer in their rooms. As Archbishop Lagdameo put it, “It is a tradition that Bishop Obviar imbibed from the example of Jesus Christ in the Gospel, who after a day’s work, would go into the solitude of the mountain to pray.” For his priests, mealtime with the bishop would mean partly reading from sacred passages or significant works, although they attested to his thoughtfulness in always ensuring little goodies such as ice cream afterwards.

 Obviar was also quite concerned about the physical health of his priests as well as the poor of his diocese, and this led him to establish the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Clinic, now an expanded hospital in Lucena. Accompanied by his personal physicians, he would often visit the poor confined there. His people called him “Ang banal na Obispo.”

 Pillars of the Catholic Church

It is a testimony to Obviar’s towering influence in the Church’s life that he contributed so much to the formation of prelates who became pillars of the Philippine Church, led by no less than the three present Cardinals. Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales did not directly serve under him but his father, Dr. Godofredo Rosales of Batangas, was Obviar’s doctor, so they became quite close. In his message in Lagdameo’s book, the Cardinal attested to his fellow Batangueno’s  priestly holiness as a moral model to his prelates. Rosales wrote that “this holy man from Lipa… would always lose no time to speak of priestly holiness as being at the root of priestly life and ministry. For him holiness is the foundation of every Christian’s life.”

Humility of Obviar, according to Cardinal Vidal

On the other hand, Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, who very early had served as Bishop Obviar’s secretary in Lucena, later served as the rector of the Mt. Carmel Seminary there.  From that post Vidal became Coadjutor Bishop of Malolos (with Obviar consecrating him in 1971) and then Archbishop of Lipa, before he was appointed Archbishop of Cebu, the eminent post from which he just recently retired. Vidal testified in Lagdameo’s book to the humility of Obviar. He narrated that when he became Archbishop of Lipa, a post that at that time had jurisdiction over Lucena, he made a visit to Obviar for the first time as his arch-diocesan superior and the bishop quickly offered his chair to his former secretary. 

Jose Cardinal Sanchez, who continues to serve until today as the top Filipino prelate in the Holy See, once served was Obviar’s Coadjutor in Lucena and later succeeded him as its bishop. Archbishop Lagdameo served as Obviar’s secretary too and years later he witnessed Obviar’s holy death on Oct. 1, 1978, the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, the patroness of his Congregation. Death came to Bishop Obiar  peacefully, amid the inexplicably mystifying scent of roses, in the same Mt. Carmel Clinic that he had founded to care for the diocese’s poor and its priests, and where he spent the three years of his retirement in 1975.

The Bishop was buried in the compound of the MCST in Tayabas where his tomb has become the object of pilgrimage from all over the country. This blog will print next time the prayer for private devotion to this Servant of God.

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Taming rivers run wild

In recent weeks floods have afflicted Pakistan, India, China, Thailand and even RP’s own Isabela province, as well as in other countries on the other side of the world. Scores of lives have been lost, thousands were rendered homeless and property worth many billions destroyed. Ironically enough, in the wake of all the floodings, plus recent earthquakes and the ongoing volcanic eruptions in Sumatra, the world will be celebrating “Climate-Change Consciousness Week” from Nov. 19-25.

In this light, we thought it best to guest on our regular Sunday dzRH program Mr. Climate Change himself, vice-chair Heherson Alvarez of the Climate Change Commission (President Aquino is the CCC Chair), so we could discuss what’s causing the great floods around the world and how best to tame those wild rivers in our country (catch it tomorrow night on dzRH from 8-8:45 pm).
Our chat was very timely too, since a big conference on “risk reduction and risk prevention” opened yesterday, Friday, in Albay and continues through this weekend, attended mainly by governors from around the country who, after the recent 260 kph-power packed by typhoon “Juan,” are now most seriously concerned about mitigating disasters in their areas.

Floods caused by the great rivers

Alvarez, who hails from Isabela in the Cagayan Valley, which has been stricken with huge floods in recent years, cited the great rivers of the world that are causing them---the Ganges River in the India-Pakistan area, the Yangzte River in China, the Mekong in the Thai, Cambodian and Vietnamese areas. Much of the flood problem in the Asian continent in recent years, he stressed, is caused by the melting of the ice caps in the Himalayas as global warming increases.

Here at home, Alvarez noted that the 25, 469 sq. km. Cagayan River, the country’s longest, is the life support for the Cagayan Valley’s rich agricultural lands, which in turn, supplies l/3 of the country’s grain requirement and 40 percent of Metro Manila’s supply. But he stressed that this big river system has to be managed, together with the other twelve major river systems in the country, among them as the Marikina River of “Ondoy” fame that wreaked havoc on the metropolis, so that destructive annual floods brought about by climate-change triggered typhoons do not continue destroy lives and our agriculture.  

The role of forests in flood preventon

Alvarez, whose CCC is in charge of coordinating RP’s programs and projects on climate change, stressed that once upon a time, our forests served as “huge baneras” to hold cascading waters when the typhoons used to run at 150 kph. But because our forests have been denuded over time and typhoons now strike at 250 kph, there’s now need to build “protective measures” and “defense mechanisms.” Among them, he stressed, are “impounding systems” along the rivers, which are like mini-dams or water sheds that could divert and hold water during the rainy season so as to prevent the disastrous overflowing of the rivers; but during the dry season, these mFini-dams could serve as irrigation basins to address severe droughts that kill agriculture.

But Alvarez explained that other bodies of water in this country also need management, especially Laguna de Bay, which has some 27 towns around it.  He cited how the 52-km. Han River in Seoul has become a model of urban development, creatively combining subdivisions and water management.

Funding needed to finish project

He stressed that work on the Cagayan River basin program has begun, but he  admitted that this would need plenty of funding to finish. He pointed out, however, that there are funds that the country could avail of for such projects. One is the $30 billion Fast-Start Fund under the auspicious of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which the Philippines is qualified to gain access to, in support of its adaptation programs for vulnerable communities affected by global-warming. Alvarez said RP’s appeal for this particular fund is being negotiated, with the Land Bank to serve as its fiduciary vehicle.

The task of risk reduction and risk prevention was uppermost in the minds of the Asean leaders in their recent Summit in Hanoi, and it will continue to be among the top agenda in the Global Summit in Cancun, Mexico next month, and all through the next one in South Africa in 2011. This is as it should be. As nations continue looking for lasting solutions, they will continue fighting and pointing fingers at one another; meanwhile peoples will continue trying to survive each environmental crisis that seems to get deadlier by the year. 

 Successful Dia del Galeon

The other half of the Alvarez power couple, Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, president of the Philippine chapter of the International Theater Institute, had handled the planning and preparations for the highly successful “Dia del Galeon,” early last month, in coordination with the Unesco and the NCCA. Unfortunately I was in Guangzhou at that time to accompany my husband for his treatment at Fuda Hospital, and so I missed all the festivities, beginning with a visit to the beautifully crafted replica of the galleon of old, the Galeon Andalucia, that had sailed from Seville via Acapulco to Manila.

Over radio, Cecile and I recalled the highlights of that festive interaction between the three Hispanic relations---Spain, Mexico and the Philippines---and the prime importance of the port of Manila in world maritime trade and the launch of Filipinos as a sea-faring power. But what I liked most---and unfortunately, what the media had failed to highlight---were the “close encounters” between historic religious images.

Encounter with the Black Madonna

As Cecile recounted it, Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales celebrated a Te Deum at the Manila Cathedral after the Galeon Andalucia successfully docked at Pier 13. Part of the celebration was that the image of the black Madonna, the “Nuestra Senora de la Paz y Buen Viaje,” would journey down from the hills of Antipolo to meet her guest, the “Nuestra Senora de Esperanza,” whom the sailors of the Andalucia had brought with them from Seville to ensure a safe journey across the ocean.

 Few would probably recall that the much-venerated Virgin of Antipolo had once also been brought here safely aboard another Spanish ship four and a half centuries ago, so that she became for Filipinos down the centuries the patroness of safe voyage. At the Manila Cathedral, the two Virgin images stood side by side as hymns of thanksgiving soared to its rafters. 

A few days later the Andalucia sailed for Cebu, and this time the “host” to meet the Esperanza was the image most beloved by the Cebuanos, the Sto. Nino de Cebu. History tells us that it was brought here by another conquistador four and a half decades earlier, Ferdinand Magellan and gifted to the native Queen Juana; this gift, accounts say, became quite instrumental in the queen’s conversion.

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Tea Party ‘tidal wave’ in US

The recently concluded mid-term elections in the US were closely followed by political analysts and enthusiasts around the world, especially perhaps here in the Philippines, for a number of reasons. For one thing, the capture by the Republican Party of control of the 435-member US House of Representatives represents the first time in the two-year old Democratic Obama administration that there is a split of power between the presidency and the two chambers of Congress.

In the elections of November 2008 these three major political institutions all fell under the control of the victorious Democratic Party led by President-elect Barack Obama, as they mercilessly clobbered the Republican Party that was dwarfed by the shadow of the controversial George W. Bush. In last Monday’s elections the Republicans bounced back to wrest control of the House and a significant number of gubernatorial posts in pivotal states. The  100-member US Senate, however, remains in Democratic control in a race  down to the wire (52 vs. 46 with two undecided at this time of writing).

What this means is that many pet legislations of the Obama administration such as the crucial climate change bill and additional economic and tax measures, could be derailed---further increasing President Obama’s woes until 2012, when his reelection is up. 

 Referendum on Obama Government

In fact, the significant victory of the Republicans in the House and across the states, especially in a traditional battleground state like Ohio where the three Democratic big guns---President Obama, VP Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton---had campaigned up to election eve--- is rightly read as a referendum on the Obama administration. Pundits point to how different the mood of November of 2008 was, compared to November 2010 for Barack Obama---one high on the euphoria of victory for the breakdown of racial barriers, as first US black President was elected despite his utter inexperience in governance, and the other somber and sobering for him and for an America weary of economic woes.

 To Filipinos watching the fate of Obama turn sordid after only two years, the possibility of a parallel case in our inexperienced President at some time in the future cannot be lost.  Let’s hope P-Noy learns from his US counterpart’s plight.

50% don't want Obama to run again

Pre-election polls had indicated that about 50 percent of Americans do not believe that Obama should run again in 2012, and the recent elections reflected this sentiment. Now the speculation is that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Republican VP candidate Sarah Pailin could face off for the presidency in 2012:  America’s two famous women---one a brilliant and cool intellectual and the other a flamboyant, fly-off-the-handle  populist. 

Increasingly Americans have become disenchanted with their first black president, and the key issue that damned him obviously is the economy. With America in the worst recession since the 1930s, one out of every ten Americans remains without a job and the US unemployment rate nationally is 9.6 percent. The disenchantment, however, is not only with Obama but with both political parties as well as with government in general---the voters appeared to have rejected big government and big spending, all that Washington has symbolized for decades.

 The rise of the Tea Party Movement

This rejection is reflected in the unsurprising strength of a new political movement that was likened by an elected American official to a ‘tidal wave’ that hit the US---the Tea Party Movement. It was born as a grassroots movement out of the conservative opposition to Obama’s health care and financial stimulus legislation in 2009; in amazingly record time the movement was able to launch a nationwide organization with chapters in various states and cities, on the battle-cry of “Save America.” Thus, key gubernatorial candidates of the Tea Party Movement were able to beat veteran politicians in such states as Kentucky, Utah and Florida, while over 30 of its candidates running as Republicans plucked significant seats in the House.

Roots in a protest movement

The Tea Party derives its name from the “Boston Tea Party” of December 1773, which saw American patriots dressed like Indians throwing overboard 342 chests of tea from three British ships docked in Boston Harbor, in protext of the tea tax slapped by the British Parliament on the overseas colonies. As every American elementary student knows, that Boston tea-dumping decidedly helped usher in American independence in 1776.

Like its historic predecessor, the Tea Party is a protest movement that calls its followers “rebels,” “patriots’ and ‘warriors.” For the moment, it’s considered a ‘fringe organization” within the Republican Party, but it’s easy to see that ultimately the Tea Party could split off if GOP stalwarts eventually don’t adhere to its advocacies and ultra-conservative agenda. Already a recently elected representative sounded this alarm.

The Tea Party’s advocacy of a return to the ultra-conservative values of America is exemplified in stands such as an all-out support for the military establishment, in direct contrast to the flag-burners protesting the various wars the US has gotten embroiled in (e.g., for every donation to the movement above $200, a percentage goes to the “wounded warrior project” for injured US troops). Tea Party is a a protest against big government that includes both political parties, and the gargantuan government spending that has incurred debts into the trillions.

Like its historic predecessor, the Tea Party could change the political and socio-cultural landscape of America drastically in the next few years. The incredible thing is that as per the exit polls in the recent elections, some 40 percent of the voters considered themselves supporters of Tea Party. Given what looks like mounting frustrations with Barack Obama, the movement could grow and grow. At the moment its most visible leader is Sarah Pailin.

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