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

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Many centuries ago Christ told the first Francis, “My house is in ruins. Go and repair it.” Today Christ gives another Francis similar marching order about today’s Church with all its problems and difficulties. As Argentine writer Carlos Caso Rosende advises today’s clergy, “Watch him do it and learn.”

Tomorrow Christendom celebrates Easter Sunday, which commemorates the resurrection of Christ and His conquest of death. Easter is both very spiritual as well as physical especially for the temperate countries. For it  always falls on the Sunday after the first full moon in Spring, and after the long dark winter which, in the Western world was particularly harsh last season, now comes glorious spring---when the shrubbery, hitherto lain fallow and seemingly dead, begins to exhibit new leaves, heralding renewed life.

In New York City, for instance, joy is uninhibited as people stage the annual Easter Parade downtown, with the women donning all their finery and beautiful and interesting hats. There is an unmistakable headiness in the  “spring-fever” which we in the tropics may not fully comprehend.


We Pinoys are particularly notorious around the world for our special way of celebrating the longest Christmas in the world---beginning in September and ending in early January.  As our spiritual guide in the Holy Land in year 2000, Fr. Rene Lopez, told our group: we are very much a Christmas people, more than an Easter people. But theologically Easter is held perhaps more significant for one good reason that St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, explains in his book, “In Conversation with God.”  Said St. Josemaria:

“The glorious resurrection of the Lord is the key to interpreting his whole life, and the ground of our faith. Without this victory over death, says St. Paul, all our preaching would be useless and our faith in vain (cf 1 Cor 15:14-17). Furthermore, the guarantee of our future resurrection is secured upon the resurrection of Christ, because although we were dead through sin, God, full of mercy, moved by the infinite compassion with which he loved, gave us Christ…and He raised us with him (Eph 2:4-6). Easter is the celebration of our Redemption, and therefore the celebration of thanksgiving and joy.”


Looking for an inspirational piece suitable for Easter Sunday, I read this article by Argentine writer Carlos Caso-Rosende. Titled “He walks with Mary and St. Francis,” emailed to me by friends, this piece reflects on what Pope Francis brings to the papacy. But first and foremost, it speaks of the deep influence the former Cardinal Jorge Ma. Bergoglio had wielded on the local clergy during his reign as the Primate of Buenos Aires.

May it inspire our local Church officialdom to imitate the Christ-like humility and simplicity of the Pope, his charity and his profound devotion to Mary from the very beginning, that have now taken the world by storm.  Enjoy this piece from Carlos Caso-Rosende:


“It seems like yesterday when the news of the abdication of our beloved Benedict shocked the world. It was Feb. 11, the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes. I think that was a significant date, full of meaning, and definitely a Marian date.

“The news came to me as I sat at my computer early in the morning, Buenos Aires time. The "Pope Resigns!" headlines woke me up before I could take the first sip of my morning coffee. I started making quick calculations. A glance at the calendar revealed March 13 as a possible date for something big.

“The 13th of each month is the day of the Mystical Rose, Our Lady, Queen of Priests. Since the priesthood in the Church is in sore need of healing these days, it seemed natural (or rather supernatural) that a new pope, a Marian pope, would be called to be Vicar of Christ on that day. “When the conclave began March 12, I knew in my heart it was going to be short — and the white smoke on the second day did not surprise me at all. When I learned it was Cardinal Bergoglio, that was no surprise either. And when I heard the name Francis, I said to myself: "Of course!" Here in Buenos Aires, we know him as the archbishop who takes the bus to work, cooks his own meals and talks to everyone in his own folksy manner.

“Pope Francis is Peter, a fisher of men, for our times. But I expect him to spend more time working on the nets than holding the helm. His favorite kind of net is prayer, and his guide is Mary, the Morning Star.

“Francis will be more apt to kiss the wounds of the leper on the road to
Assisi than to have his ring kissed. He ascended to the throne of Peter on
the Feast of St. Joseph because he is also, like that saint, a man of few words, a man who leads by silent, manly example. The lukewarm and complacent in our Church are about to experience the power of his sanctity.

“Like many Argentines, Pope Francis descends from Piedmontese immigrants, and I believe his strong Marian traits are part of his upbringing: La Madonnina was part of the family back then, and Pope Francis never ceased walking with her. He has repeatedly consecrated the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires to the Immaculate Conception, and it was no surprise that, in his brief address to all of us the night of his election, he mentioned his intention to also entrust the city of Rome and the life of Pope Emeritus Benedict to the loving care of our Blessed mother.

“When I attended Mass at my neighborhood parish later in the evening on that historic day, I noticed that the entire parish priests where there. I happen to know that they were all formed as priests at the side of Cardinal Bergoglio. It was an unseasonable cold afternoon, and I saw a young boy begging by the main entrance to our church. He must have been about 11 years old, and he was shivering, dressed as he was only in a t-shirt and short trousers. One of the priests walked by, and I noticed he gave a quick glance to the boy. He went into his office and returned with a long-sleeve cotton shirt and a sweater taken from the charity boxes. Moving quickly, because Mass was just about to start, he gave the boy the items and made sure he put them on.

“The whole thing took about a minute, and I was the only witness: I don’t think Father noticed that I was standing there. I recall this because that is a gesture of genuine care by a man who grew as a priest under Cardinal Bergoglio’s watch. That is the spirit of this archdiocese.That is what the careful example of Francis has sown in this big, unforgiving city at the end of the world.

“The following day, I was having lunch with a friend not far from church when I overheard a group of Jewish neighbors at the next table talking about the new Pope. They loved him, and one of them was talking about the priests the cardinal sent regularly to the slums and shantytowns to say Mass and help the poor in any way they could. Someone interrupted the story at that point and quipped: "I wonder how many socialists go there to deliver a cup of soup after elections are over." "That is seed falling on fertile soil,” I thought.

“A long time ago, another Francis used to walk through the villages without uttering a word, letting his tattered habit and simple sandals do the talking. That Francis once heard God say: "Francis, go and repair my house. Don’t you see it’s in ruins?" Francis was not strong, rich, impressive, eloquent or erudite. That is why, once the house was rebuilt, everyone knew that the power of God had done it through him.

“Another Francis comes to us today. He faces a colossal task, armed only with the simple habits that some in the Church forgot long ago: prayer, simplicity, charity and a serene manliness. There is no doubt in my mind that he will know how to shepherd his flock in these turbulent times. Watch him do it and learn.”

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Few photos more touching than that of two Popes---predecessor and successor---kneeling side by side in Castel Gandolfo chapel during their historic meeting, the first in 600 years. Their humility is awe-inspiring. “To be converted, you must climb via humility, along the path of self-abasement.”---St. Josemaria Escriva

In the incredible plethora of stories, photos, mementos, etc. that surrounded the recent election and inauguration of Jorge Maria Cardinal Bergoglio of Buenos Aires as Pope Francis, Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church, perhaps my favorite photo was the one taken last March 23. This showed Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI kneeling in prayer side by side, almost shoulder to shoulder, in their white cossacks in the private chapel of Castel Gandolfo, the summer residence of the Pope on the edge of Lake Albano, not far from Rome, where Benedict is temporarily staying while his apartment on the Vatican grounds is being repaired.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. That photo of the two Popes kneeling side by side in the private chapel is fraught with immense symbolisms. It’s a snapshot of the strength of continuity in the 2,000-year papacy, despite a few historic aberrations such as the nearly seven-decade “Great Schism” in the 14th century, when there were two claimants to the Throne of Peter, one in Rome and the other in Avignon, France.


The visit of Pope Francis to his predecessor by helicopter was one of his first acts, with Benedict meeting him at the landing site—the first such meeting in 600 years between predecessor pontiff and successor. As  Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi related it, there was a “moving embrace between the two” and getting into the rear of the car for the drive to the papal apartments, Benedict yielded the place of honor on the right side to Francis.

Once inside the apartments they immediately went to the chapel, and there the Pope Emeritus again offered the place of honor in front of the byzantine image of Our Lady at the altar to Pope Francis, and Benedict would take the rear pew. But Pope Francis said: “We are brothers,” and insisted for them to kneel together in the same pew. After a moment of prayer, they went to the private library where the private meeting began, with Pope Francis gifting his successor with a beautiful icon of Our Lady of Humility, in recognition of Benedict XVI's great humility.


In an afternoon full of meaning and symbols, it was noted that the Pope Emeritus wore a simple white cassock without a sash and a mantilla that his successor wore as symbol of his current office. After the private and confidential meeting, said the account, the Pope Emeritus took Pope Francis back to the heliport for his return to the Vatican.  

Fr. Lombardi’s account said that the historic Castel Gandolfo visit by Pope Francis was their first face-to-face meeting since Benedict left the Papacy and Francis was elected pope last March 19, Feast of St. Joseph; but it was said that Pope Francis had many times already addressed his thoughts to the Pope Emeritus, during his first appearance on the central Loggia, and then in two personal calls on the night of his election and on St. Joseph’s Day. 

The account also said that the retired Pope had already expressed his unconditional reverence and obedience to his successor at his farewell meeting with the Cardinals, February 28. Certainly, it said, that noon’s Castel Gandolfo meeting—“which was a moment of profound and elevated communion”—was the Pope Emeritus’ opportunity to “renew this act of reverence and obedience to his successor,” and certainly too, Pope Francis “renewed his gratitude and that of the whole Church for Pope Benedict’s ministry during his pontificate.” 

Why was this blogger so touched by that photo of the two Popes kneeling side by side in the private chapel?  I thought that Pope Francis, in insisting that “We are brothers,” was telling his predecessor, “Stay with me. Don’t abandon me, as I am so nervous with the weight of the world and the responsibility of leading the Church on my shoulders.” Francis now has a powerhouse ally in Benedict who had told the world earlier that he would spend his last days praying for the Church.

The humility of the two Church leaders is awe-inspiring. May it touch the hearts of all clergy and the faithful as well.


As my own “Lenten Special,” allow me to feature here three small oil paintings from the series of the “Via Crucis” by our own National Artist Ang Kiu Kok that has been in my collection for many years now. One day many years back, Mrs. Purita Kalaw Ledesma, longtime president of the Art Association of the Philippines, saw these small paintings individually done on kamagong tryptich style. She said that never again was the artist able to do another such series, with the Christ figure lean and gaunt in His agony.

I thought the Via Crucis series by Ang Kiu Kok would be a perfect companion to a meditation on Lent, titled “Lent, A New Conversion,” delivered by St. Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus Dei, first given on March 2, 1952, First Sunday of Lent, and reprinted in his book, “Christ is Passing By.” Space here permits only a reprint of a portion of that homily by St. Josemaria:

 “Imitators of God"

“Let’s remind ourselves, this Lent, that the Christian cannot be superficial. While being fully involved in his everyday work, among other men, his equals, busy, under stress, the Christian has to be at the same time totally involved with God, for he is a child of God.“Divine filiation is a joyful truth, a consoling mystery. It fills all our spiritual life; it shows us how to speak to God, to know and to love our Father in heaven. And it makes our interior struggle overflow with hope and gives us the trusting simplicity of little children. More than that: precisely because we are children of God, we can contemplate in love and wonder everything as coming from the hands of our Father, God the Creator. And so we become contemplatives in the middle of the world, loving the world. “In Lent, the liturgy recalls the effect of Adam’s sin in the life of man. Adam did not want to be a good son of God; he rebelled. But we also hear the echoing chant of that felix culpa: “O happy fault,” which the whole Church will joyfully intone at the Easter vigil.

“God the Father, in the fullness of time, sent to the world his only-begotten Son, to re-establish peace; so that by his redeeming men from sin, “we might become sons of God,” freed from the yoke of sin, capable of sharing in the divine intimacy of the Trinity. And so it has become possible for this new man, this new grafting of the children of God, to free all creation from disorder, restoring all things in Christ, who has reconciled them to God.

"It is, then, a time of penance, but, as we have seen, this is not something negative. Lent should be lived in the spirit of filiation, which Christ has communicated to us and which is alive in our soul. Our Lord calls us to come nearer to him, to be like him: “Be imitators of God, as his dearly beloved children,” (Eph. 5:1) cooperating humbly but fervently in the divine purpose of mending what is broken, of saving what is lost, of bringing back to order what sinful man has put out of order, of leading to its goal what has gone astray, of re-establishing the divine balance of all creation."
 (Christ is Passing By, 65)

“A new conversion"

“I advise you to try sometime to return... to the beginning of your first conversion, which, if it is not becoming like children, is very much like it. In the spiritual life we have to let ourselves be led with complete trust, single-mindedly and without fear. We have to speak with absolute clarity about what we have in our mind and in our soul."
(Furrow, 145)

“To be converted you must climb via humility, along the path of self-abasement."
(Furrow 278)

“Never lose heart, for Our Lord is always ready to give you the necessary grace for the new conversion you need, for that ascent in the supernatural field."

(The Forge)

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

“Coalition of Anti-Pork Advocates” challenges P-Noy to stop using pork barrel for political leverage, and for members of Congress to reject it. But this is like asking for the moon. Pork issue tied up with political dynasty proliferation and kapit-tuko tenacity, argues Movement Against Dynasty (MAD). Recalling heroic Visayan saga of MLQ’s escape to Negros Island and setting up provisional gov't. 71 years ago this month.

A group of prominent citizens that calls itself the “Coalition of Anti-Pork Advocates” has asked President Aquino to stop the existing practice of pork barrel as it is a “root cause” of corruption and the “loss of integrity in our government service.” The Coalition also opined that the pork barrel “frustrates the full implementation of the Local Government Code of 1991” as legislators usurp the functions of the local development councils (LDCs)” ---“thus hindering the empowerment of our people in the barangays to make their own decisions.”

The Coalition of Anti-Pork Advocates called on P-Noy to “be emboldened” by the people’s popular support for him, to stop resorting to this “baluktot na daan.” And just as significantly, it challenged the congressional and senatorial candidates in this May’s midterm elections to “publicly declare their opposition to the continuing pork barrel practice.”


But just over a month before the May 13 elections, the Coalition's petition for P-Noy to give up using the billions of pesos in pork barrel funds as political leverage, and for  the members of both chambers of Congress to publicly reject this continued pork tradition may be asking for the moon.

For as media have noted, how could P-Noy extract what he wants from Congress, such as the majority votes on CJ Renato Corona’s impeachment and passage of the RH Law in the recent past, if there’s no pork to twist arms with. How can campaigning members of Congress recover the many millions they’re throwing to bag votes if no pork is forthcoming?


As many citizens have long realized, there’s a very direct connection between existence of the pork barrel (P70 million annually for each member of the House and P200 million for each senator, for a total of over  P24.6 BILLION for both chambers) and the kapit-tuko tenacity of politicos to bag elective local and national posts---THE PHENOMENON OF THE ENDURING POLITICAL DYNASTIES. As the March 7 AIM Forum on political dynasties pointed out and cited by Star columnist Dick Pascual today, 178 dynasties rule 72 out of 80 provinces and as Dick concluded, “they have been reaching farther and wider with their tentacles.”

Political dynasties often will fight to the death in order to hang on to their power precisely because of the gold mine that the pork barrel assures them for generations. As Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo put it, “Kung tanggalin yan, wala nang masyadong tatakbo.”  


Predictably the Palace’s reaction was that, as spokesperson Abigail Valte stressed, it’s not necessary to abandon the pork barrel “as there are systems in place to ensure transparency in use of pork” and make its spending “efficient.”

Recent horror stories from the Commission on Audit itself, however, cite ghost projects and foundations of a number of members of both chambers of Congress. Moreover it’s no secret that Congress members’ requests for projects are sent by the Budget Department to the “implementing agencies,” and the practice is for senators and congressmen to get a percentage of costs---thus often resulting in sub-standard PW projects, sub-standard medicines and the like.


Valte also insisted that the Palace’s thrust is “to make sure the PDAF is used in accordance with the purposes set by law” and that there is “no politics” in the recent tightening of its releases to all congressional districts. But last year alone, five members of the opposition in the House, led by Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay, failed to get their PDAF.

Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda zeroed in on the cruel political fate Mitos suffered, exhibiting such unbelievable temerity in admitting thus, “(Mitos Magsaysay) is against the administration, she is against our policies. Our concern is, if you’re not helping us in our programs, in our policies, we might as well go straight to your constituents and help them.” As though the Palace owns the pork when it’s taxpayers’ money!

Like the Movement Against Dynasties (MAD), the Coalition of Anti-Pork Advocates ought to continue battling the pernicious pork, and perhaps citizens would join their patriotic clamor against this contemporary symbol of corruption. Get in touch with them today: antiporkadvocates@gmail.com.


In my recent visit to the Heritage town of Vallehermoso in Negros Oriental, at the foot of Mt. Kanlaon, hosted by civic leader Tess Lopez, I learned about the historic escape of President Manuel L. Quezon and his family from Corregidor to the Visayas, weeks before that island bastion’s fall to Japanese invaders in May 1942. I was particularly curious because a member of MLQ’s party was his then youthful chaplain, Fr. Pacifico A. Ortiz, who later was my boss at the Ateneo de Manila College of Law in the early ‘60s, where he was its Regent.

The Vallehermoso account of Quezon’s trip to Negros Island, condensed from “The Zero Hour: The Personal War of Basilio Valdes” by Ruel. S. de Vera (as edited by Jose Ma. Lorenzo and Rene Javellana, S.J) helps us commemorate that danger-fraught escape of MLQ to the Visayas, where together with Gen. Douglas MacArthur he set up a provisional Commonwealth government,  and his onward airlift to Australia to help coordinate the allied forces’ counter-attack on the Philippines.

This is only fitting and proper, as this Visayan saga of multiple local heroisms in protecting our highest leadership at that time happened exactly 71 YEARS AGO THIS MONTH OF MARCH. 


As Ruel de Vera narrated, in 1942, with the threat of Japanese conquest imminent as Corregidor’s defense fast deteriorated, the top US- Philippine leadership decided to move the seat of government to the Visayas, by then under control of USAFFE forces. MLQ and family quietly boarded the US submarine “Swordfish” in a super-secret operation together with Gen. Basilio Valdes, Manuel Nieto, Vice President Sergio Osmeña, Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos and Fr. Ortiz, arriving in Antique on Feb. 22, 1942.  From there they sailed to Iloilo aboard the SS Don Esteban, where MLQ was housed by the Lopez family and he met prominent citizens there. He then proceeded to Guimaras.

Meanwhile intel reports said the Japanese had discovered Quezon’s escape and were in hot pursuit, compelling him and his party to move to Bacolod in next-door Negros Occidental, aboard the SS Princess of Negros. There he was hosted by Manuel and Letty del Rosario, after which they moved to Isabela, lodging in the house of Enrique Montilla, his wife and his mother-in-law Jesusa Lacson vda. de Arroyo.


Pres. Manuel L. Quezon
De Vera continued narration that from Isabela MLQ made a brief stop at Panubigan (then a part of Vallehermoso) en route to San Carlos where he stayed in Hacienda Fortuna of Don Juanito Ledesma. Gen. Basilio Valdes made an official visit to a certain Gen. Villanueva and with MLQ they assessed the situation in Negros Occidental.

On Feb. 28, 1942, MLQ arrived in Bais in neighboring Negros Oriental, staying at the headquarters of Bais Sugar Central. On March 2, his party headed for Buenos Aires in this province, where after a few days’ rest they arrived at Hacienda Panubigan owned by Luis Perez Samarillo. By this time, narrates De Vera, Quezon’s health was failing, “but another threat was looming”---the Japanese were closing in on Negros Island.

While MLQ sought to recuperate in Panubigan, enemy destroyers were spotted along Tañon Strait (between Negros and Cebu, where last year an earthquake fault wrought havoc in Guihulngan, Negros Or.) and enemy planes hovered overhead. Gen. Valdes and Vice President Osmeña decided to go to Cebu via San Carlos, proceeding first to Vallehermoso to confer with a certain Col. Ballesteros on latest intel reports on the Japanese. He informed them that an enemy vessel was in the Strait and that he Princess of Negros was forced to hide in Refugio Island, thus unable to ferry them to Cebu.

Vice Pres. Sergio Osmeña Sr.
As narrated by De Vera, Valdes and Osmeña returned to Panubigan and on March 16, 1942, President Quezon and his party departed for Bais, then proceeded to Dumaguete and Zamboangita where he was immediately shuttled off to Mindanao by PT boats under the command of Capt. John D. Bulkeley. On March 26, 1942, exactly 71 years ago tomorrow, President Quezon was safely airlifted to Australia.

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Stunning SC vote for TRO of RH law. Makikiramdam ang mga SC justices in next two months on pulse of the people on RH. Lessons for youth and nation in the story of two students---Kristel Tejada and bar top-notcher Ignatius Michael Daza Ingles.

The recent 10-5 vote of the Supreme Court to put the RH Law on status quo ante for 120 days---in layman’s language a TRO---is stunning and convincing, given how Court votes could be as tight as 8-7 in some landmark decisions in the past. This kind of vote makes movement from one side to the other difficult---and yet the unexpected really can happen.

Thus, equally stunning here are the implications of the SC magistrates' votes on coming events. For one the Court ordered oral arguments on June 18, more than a full month after the May 13 elections. It's clear that the justices want to have a full sense, a complete picture, of what the people feel and think at this stage in the RH issue’s long history---and this they would gauge from the mid-term elections on May 13.

If Team Buhay wins against Team Patay, and more anti-RH representatives are reelected,  the magistrates would be greatly encourage to uphold their original vote. As one veteran Court observer  puts it, gone are the days when the magistrates would rule exclusively on the merits of the law; much is now political. Makikiramdam ang mga justices.  

To be sure, it won't be a walk in the park for the Bishops, the clergy and their followers---given the awesome power and resources of this administration. They have to work very hard.


What accounts for the 10-5 vote on the RH Law---the majority decision said to have been penned by Justice Jose Catral Mendoza while the dissenting opinion was reportedly written by new Justice Marvic Leonen?  Events secular as well as religious obviously conspired.

For one thing, the Catholic World was absolutely energized by the election of the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires who fought ferociously for Life and the right of the Unborn. Pope Francis was just swallowed up by the love of an adoring world, the SC magistrates included.  There's renewed fervor ennervating the Church, pretty much like the reign of the charismatic John Paul II. 

Then there was the play-up in media of the hard-ball game staged by the Cabinet members during the two crucial votings in the House. The magistrates are only human: they doubtless resented naked use of power by Malacanang.

Mercifully the SC vote prevented what would have been the height of irony and a supreme insult to the Christian world as it celebrated the euphoric inauguration of Pope Francis. The Department of Health had earlier announced that full implementation of the RH Law is to take place this  Easter Sunday, when the Christian world commemorates Christ’s resurrection and conquest of death at the close of the Lenten Season.

DOH Secretary Enrique Ona explained prior to the SC TRO vote that full implementation of the RH Law “just happens” to fall on Easter Sunday (it dictates that implementing rules and regulations (IRR) be published and enforced  within 60 days from its promulgation). To some observers, it was obvious that God just couldn’t allow this desecration of Easter, which the Church holds more meaningful than Christmas. He worked through the justices.

Let me speak of two recent two faces of student life: one a terrible tragedy that has shaken the nation, and the other a triumph and celebration by a family and a "barkada.'. Both situations  hold clear and precious lessons which our people, especially the youth, could draw from and imbibe.

16-year old UP Manila student Kristel Tejada, a student of behavioral sciences committed suicide a few days ago by drinking silver cleaning solution---shattering forever her dream of becoming a surgeon someday. Reports attribute her suicide to her being disallowed to take the final exams despite her good class standing, surrender her student ID and take a forced leave---owing to her inability to pay her tuition obligation of P10, 000. Kristel had earlier applied for two student loans but her applications were turned down by the UP administration, despite a promissory note she was willing to make and her parents’ plea. What weighed heavily against her was that her move was already beyond the deadline.


The initial defensive reaction of UP authorities was to stress that there could have been other circumstances that might have caused Kristel to take her life. Of course there were contributory factors such as the depressing condition of her family life. Being the eldest of five children of a part-time taxi driver in Tondo who’s trying to get back his old job aboard a ship, Kristel wanted so much to break the cycle of poverty gripping her family by becoming a doctor, so that she'd be able to send her three siblings to school. But it was not meant to be.

UP President Alfredo Pascual has since ordered a review of the State University’s “Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) and dropping of the “no late payment” policy, as the clamor to help students in dire need reverberated nationwide. The tragedy of Kristel has forced the nation in this Lenten Season to undergo deep soul-searching for the old core values, particularly in view of the fact that a great percentage of our student population comes from OFW families---young people physically and emotionally bereft of one or both parents and the normal guidance from them.

The review of the STFAP, which began in the first post-EDSA UP presidency of Dr. Jose V. Abueva, is most welcome. There are assertions that after Kristel and her parents raised her predicament to the UP Manila authorities, she should immediately have been transferred to bracket D to E-1 which means free tuition. 


 Other observers also rightfully point out that the slashing of P17 billion from the budgets of State Universities and Colleges last year has made things difficult for them. Doubtless this budget cut was added to the P45 BILLION mobilized this year for the Conditional Cash Transfer supposedly for doleouts to the poorest of the poor families; but the CCT is so unmanageable especially in curbing graft and corruption at ground level. 

I contend that the P45 billion CCT could be more effectively used to fund the education and training of our poor students. As Dr. Aristotle Alip, who operates a nationwide credit-lending system, once put it to me, "You allow one member of a poor family to graduate and he or she automatically will lift it up."


But in addition, there’s the obvious need for deeper psychiatric guidance especially for disturbed students.
Consider the onus Kristel had to bear: her family’s poverty already put her in grave social straits in the UP that now caters more to the upper classes which come from better preparatory schools. A forced leave of absence meant having to repeat her subjects---most humiliating. But in the gigantic university system nobody seemed to notice the deep emotional turmoil Kristel was going through, as she felt the hopelessness of her family’s poverty.

I discussed Kristel's plight with Prof. Ileana R.F. Cruz, former UP Manila faculty member and now Dean of the Emilio Aguinaldo College’s Pharmacy Dept. Ileana stressed that at EAC they are on the lookout when a student is absent for several successive days; contact is made to find out what’s wrong. 

But on this element of empathy for the poor the UP has been judged in the life and death drama of Kristel Tejada---and found badly wanting. Hopefully this is addressed not just in the UP but in other schools.


2013 bar top-notcher Ignatius Michael Daza Ingles
The story of Ignatius Michael Daza Ingles, son of my co-ERDA Board member Marites Daza Ingles and lawyer Enrico Ingles, and grandson of my longtime friend, Teresa Villegas Daza, is justification of the famous dictum of the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Thales, adopted and used in Satire X of  Roman poet Juvenal (10.356-64). This is “mens sana in corpore sano” or “a sound mind in a healthy body.”
Many centuries later, this "mind-body" philosophy was adopted by the founder of the Jesuit Order, St. Ignatius of Loyola.
29-year old Ignatius, or Mickey as he’s called, topped this year’s batch of bar examinees, said to be the toughest in the last 12 years, with only 17 percent passing (of the top ten, two of whom tied at 5th place, Ateneo bagged six, UP four and Aquinas U one).

But Mickey is doubtless equally proud that for two years in his pre-law stint he was captain-ball of Ateneo University’s football team, succeeding his elder brother David, who held it for a year---for a three-peat of sorts in that field.  In fact Mickey admitted to media that sometimes he’d rather be on the playing field than in the library.

Football, though, is a family thing, for dad Enrico, also a football afficionado, is a corporate lawyer who also lawyers for the Court of Arbitration in Switzerland on sports issues, and Philippine representative for FIFA, the world organization for football. Now Mickey is thinking of going into sports law.


There’s also the three-peat story of three Ateneo law classmates and barkada who became bar topnotchers in three succeeding years: Cesareo Antonio Singzon in 2011, Raoul Angelo Atadero in 2012 and now Mickey in 2013. Every bar exam they'd cajole one another to push hard and all made it to the top (landing next to Mickey at the top of this year’s bar exams is Catherine Kay King, who was their Ateneo class valedictorian, while Mickey was class salutatorian and winner of the St. Thomas More Award as “most distinguished law grad.”

Interestingly, Mickey, who was in the Ateneo honors class from first year high school, waited two years to take the bar because he chose to first go to a school in Shanghai to take up Chinese language studies with his wife, the former Carla Michelle "Micki" Blaylock. As mom Marites Ingles puts it, Mickey and Micki have been “happily married” for three years now (no kids yet).

You readers might say this blog is glamorizing brains, persistence, drive for the wide world of learning, and athletics---all combined. You bet.

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) should drop use of association with church, as it seems to have lost its effectiveness as election watchdog, appearing to be partial to Comelec. Intellectual property violation by PPCRV vs. Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan

There’s a joke circulating that the two happiest people with the recent election of Pope Francis are President Aquino and Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes. For the unabated flood of stories about Pope Francis that the public laps up has virtually eclipsed the crisis in Sabah which P-Noy mishandled, and the shenanigans of the Comelec on the PCOS issue that Brillantes brazenly does nothing about.  

Indeed Pope Francis has grabbed generous space in the media, but this does not take away the fact that Comelec continues to defy public opinion and has the temerity to assert that, as Brillantes put it, “the PCOS machines are in tip-top shape.”


How can these machines be in tip-top shape when up to now there is no source code---the operating instructions for these machines have not been released by Dominion Voting Systems, the real owner of the AES technology. Moreover, as the elections near, COMELEC has indicated NO INTENTION---despite clamor from all quarters, including politicians of all hues and Church leaders--- of restoring the three main safeguards for the integrity of the AES that it disabled or disregarded in 2010, leading to the questionable conduct and RESULTS of those elections. 

These three features are:  the digital signatures of the Board of Election Inspectors (that tell us that the results transmitted to Central HQ indeed come from the claimed precinct), the use of UV lamps (that determine the authenticity of the ballots fed into the machines), and voter verification (that tells you whether your vote was indeed counted).


In addition---and this seems to be the height of defiance---a recent Comelec resolution now provides that the precincts to be included in the Random Manual Audit (RMA) will be selected TWO DAYS AHEAD OF THE ELECTIONS. The RMA is so crucial to establishing the authenticity of automated results transmitted to central server, but why give away the identity of the precincts that will be pre-selected for audit?  Wouldn't such pre-announced selection of precincts fatally compromise the integrity of the RMA?

In the light of these aggravations and continued defiance by Comelec to install imperative safeguards in the elections of 2013, there is a move among various citizens’ groups to drastically seek support for the restoration of these safeguards and of conditions for a REAL RMA.

Petitions are snowballing for such moves, including a return to manual voting if prospects for a flawed-free AES are well-nigh impossible.  However, if this flawed condition comes to pass and still the Comelec ignores the call for credible manual elections in 2013, the point may be reached when influential groups such as the Church or within the Church may be called upon to withhold recognition of the election results.


 Then there is the issue against the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) which, if unresolved, may provoke calls for Catholic Christian dioceses, if not the CBCP, to dissociate its election watch and electoral reform efforts from the PPCRV. And if possible, to ask PPCRV to desist from using the phrase "Parish Pastoral Council" as its name.

There appears to be serious reasons for this appeal, considering PPCRV’s ill-disguised (by now) partiality toward Comelec, when it's supposed to act as an election watchdog.

A recent crease between PPCRV and Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan (SLB) has given new impetus to these growing calls from certain quarters to re-evaluate the role of the PPCRV and the need for CBCP to distance from this organization---in view of its too-partisan stance toward Comelec.


The SLB is a Catholic-Church based, Jesuit-led organization composed of religious, priests, seminarians and lay individuals committed to the service of the Filipino church and people. It recently crafted a voters’ education manual called "Pinoy Big Voter," which PPCRV adapted for its own voters’ education program.  You readers might say so far so good, but many things went wrong in the PPCRV-SLB relationship, so that we are now staring at what appears to be an intellectual property violation on the part of the PPCRV. Some members of the SLB are upset and rightly so.


What happened was that PPCRV appeared to have made several amendments to the manual without the knowledge of SLB. PPCRV eliminated the SLB logo on several pages, omitted several pages from the original SLB-crafted manual and inserted 30 ADDITIONAL pages, beginning on pg. 69 that now comprise an entirely new section on the PCOS.

There are ongoing protests within the Church itself and from civil society sectors and the IT community about the unsatisfactory performance and preparations of the Comelec for the coming elections, and the questionable legality of using the highly-flawed 2010 PCOS technology once again in 2013 (in view of the continuing court case between Smartmatic and Dominion). The additional pages in what’s now the PPCRV’s voter’s education program, however, mislead the voters into thinking that the flaws of the AES have been adequately addressed.

But the fact is that COMELEC has refused to address the glaring flaws of the PCOS system.

It will be noted that in the original SLB manual, discussion of the PCOS election system was intentionally NOT included because of the unresolved controversies surrounding it. 


In the outside back cover of what’s now the PPCRV voter’s manual, it printed the logos of the more prominent member-organizations of TASK FORCE 2013, giving the impression that they provide direct endorsement of the altered manual. It appears, however, that these organizations WERE NEVER CONSULTED AT ALL.

This is what appeared in the site of TASK FORCE 2013: "the biggest nationwide consortium of academic institutions, electoral watchdogs and stakeholders that aims to continue the efforts and initiatives of the latter in broadening venues for the maximum electoral participation of the seven (7) vulnerable sectors—namely: (1) First-Time Voters, (2) Overseas Absentee Voters, (3) Elderly, (4) Persons with Disabilities, (5) Indigenous People, (6) Internally Displaced People and (7) Detainees and the Filipino Electorate in the 2013 and 2016 elections”.

Member organizations of TASK FORCE 2013 include:  CBCP-NASSA, Namfrel, Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan, Lasallian Justice and Peace Commission, Christian Convergence for Good Governance,  CODE-NGO,  LIBERTAS, LENTE, Ateneo de Manila University, Ateneo de Naga University,  Ateneo de Davao University, Xavier University,  Ateneo de Zamboanga University, Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC), Citizens Coalition for ARMM Electoral Reform (C-CARE),  Institutional Network for Social Action, Miriam College, Confederation of Independent Unions in the Public Sector, Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines,  First-Time Voters Network, Sanggunian ng mga Paaralang Loyola ng Ateneo de Manila and Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines.


Recall that PPCRV was the lead agency in the triangular group tasked to conduct the Random Manual Audit (RMA) of the May 2010 presidential and local elections. RMA was supposed to have been conducted of randomly selected precincts across the country within 15 hours after polls closed. The aim was to validate authenticity of poll results in those precincts---a most critical aspect of the AES. But PPCRV, in fairness, undoubtedly because it was the first automated exercise in PH, failed to complete the task, and submitted only 75 percent of audit results a month after the elections. This is one of the factors that led to the questionable results of those elections.

For the 2013 elections, “Government Watch” under civic leader Raul Concepcion has advocated that Namfrel be tasked for the crucial RMA job, undoubtedly because of its nation-wide organization and long track record in our electoral exercises. I support that call.


Frankly it’s difficult to second-guess the game PPCRV is playing with recent moves such as its seeming partisanship toward Comelec and the intellectual property violation vs. the SLB voters' manual. The day after the results of the first---and judging from Chair Brillantes’ comment---what's going to be the only simulated election and testing of the PCOS machines for the coming elections---it will be recalled that PPCRV Chair Henrietta de Villa came up right away with the verdict about the smooth and flawless dry-run, when it turned out to be studded with shortcomings light as well as serious.   

By now it should be clear to Church authorities that PPCRV should no longer be allowed to carry the name “Parish Pastoral Council” as it has become quite secular and devoid of the distance from Comelec needed of a church-related watchdog---especially in the light of the highly critical stance the Church had taken in its Jan. 28, 2013 Pastoral Letter regarding the AES.

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