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

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Danny Olivares tells us about his two trips in recent days, one to Northern Cebu and another to isolated towns and islands of Northern Capiz, to bring relief goods raised by his Ateneo HS class '58 and College class '62, Salt and Light Catholic Charismatic Community and Gawad Kalinga. Danny's long narrative about his journey to these areas devastated by Yolanda constitutes gripping first-person account of how it was in places not covered by media.



I’m down with flu---low-grade fever and aching bones---and my doctor has advised me to take it easy and drink lots of fluids. Allow me then to yield this space to my brother, Danny Olivares of Movement Against Dynasty (MAD) who made two trips, one to Northern Cebu and another to Northern Capiz in past weeks, to distribute relief goods raised by his group for some isolated areas in those regions. His first-person account is most gripping: 

“As I sit now before my computer to compose a story of how Ateneo High School (AHS) Grupo ‘58 and College '62, the Salt and Light for Christ Catholic Charismatic Community, at a few days noticed, scrambled to raise funds and organized a team to reach out to our countrymen whose lives had been devastated overnight by one of the strongest typhoon in recorded history, I become dumbfounded, struggling for words, just too emotional.



“How can a people, a government, the world rebuild the lives of millions of people who have nothing but the clothes on their back?  All their belongings are gone, loved ones who hours ago were by their side are now dead or missing, many washed and carried away by the surge of tsunami-like waves; and their homes blown away or flattened by the most powerful winds ever experienced by Filipinos.


“Fishermen have lost their bancas.  Farmers have lost their livelihood- not one banana is left standing. Coconut trees are either toppled down or still standing but their leaves and coconuts are fallen.  Fruit bearing mango trees are uprooted.  Even concrete, wood or steel/metal lamp-posts are down so that the pitch-black darkness of night made their existence more miserable.  Day and night, children and adults stand by the highway begging for food and water.


“The trauma is very evident in peoples' faces. What one sees on television is nothing compared to being on the ground, mingling with the desperate folks.


“Southern Cebu, Cebu City and a few towns towards the north escaped with very minor damage. But Northern Cebu---from the town of Sogod up to the tip where Daan Bantayan is located, including Malapascua Island and Bantayan Island---is as devastated as Leyte and Samar, but were luckier or shall I say, more blessed.  This area except the islands is reachable by land with excellent highways; Cebu City still has its airport and seaport practically intact and operational; and malls, stores, restaurants, factories are running. But most important of all, the people of Cebu City and nearby towns are awesome! 


“We can say that we did not see the presence of government anywhere from Sogod to Daan Bantayan at the time we were there.. But since over the weekend after the typhoon, non-stop stream of cars, vans, pickups and trucks, and Cebuanos---whole families, church or social groups, friends and neighbors---can be seen in the highways, stopping by the road, turning into  inner barangays, giving out bottles of water, canned goods, rice,etc. We felt so proud of our Filipino people.  Priests, church workers, and student- volunteers work with the barangay captains and kagawads.  


“My Ateneo classmate since grade school, Ed Misa, a basketball star during our days, an Ilongo married to a Cebuana, picked me up at the airport and we headed straight to S&R to pick up sardines he had ordered ahead, then to the plastic bags supplier and the water-refilling station.  By noon, we went to the Sacred Heart Parish, where my first year high school mentor at the Ateneo, Fr. Ramon Mores, was waiting for us.


“Together with Fr. Sim, brother of Arturo Sim who was one year my junior, Fr. Saniel who would be coordinating with us throughout the mission, a layman named Boie Chy, and and a French resident of Cebu,  Alex Scott (friend of our classmate Choy Arnaldo), we had a hurried lunch and then joined over 25 student volunteers from the Sacred Heart School--now called Ateneo de Cebu.  


Repacking started immediately, with Alex Scott manning the production line.  Ed and I rushed out to buy more stuff and packing was finished by 10pm.  The volunteers were able to eat only then with a burger and a tetra-pack juice each.  Ed and I were treated by another classmate, a former PAL pilot, to dinner.


“Each plastic bag contained two kilos of corn grit, the main staple of Cebuanos, one kilo of rice, two sachets of Tide, two packs of noodles, two sachets of coffee and a bottle of water.  The biscuits were packed separately to be given away to children along the highway.


“After loading all the stuff in Ed's pickup and Izusu Elf, the parish's L300, the barangay's L300 and a rented multi-cab, we departed for Northern Cebu.  The traffic of so many relief vehicles along the road slowed us down, then the multi-cab overheated and broke down, slowing us further.  


Along the way.aside from the private-citizen brigades, we saw Americans on several 10-wheeler trucks loaded with generators and other goods, an Israeli contingent taking over a demolished elementary school grounds for their medical mission and distribution of relief goods, and a Swiss Panel distributing goods.  

I really wanted to go to Bantayan Island, but because of unforeseen delays, we scrapped the plan. The ferries could not take our 5-vehicle convoy, and we would be caught by dusk and pitch darkness.  We met with Fr. Richard in the parish at Daan Bantayan, 128 kilometers from Cebu City, who was already contacted by Fr. Saniel. Distribution started only by 2PM and nobody had eaten lunch yet. We were able to buy spaghetti and burgers at a Jollibee outlet so many kms. from Daan Bantay which was running on a generator. But we could not eat in front of all the starving people milling around us, and were able to do so only at 5:30pm! As we prepared to leave afterwards the volunteers opted to stay and bring the remaining bags to Barangay Maya, a few kilometers away.


“They had dinner somewhere at 10pm. while Ed, Alex, the driver and I had ours in Cebu City by 10:30. Dead tired, all of us, but we did not hear a single complaint from the student volunteers. That night, volunteer leader Sheila texted me "Sir Danny, what time do we report tomorrow morning?" Wow, awesome!  I told her tomorrow we old men need to rest after two days of hard work, morning till almost midnight, so they should rest too.


“That Friday Nov. 15 Ed rested at home. I visited the priests at the Sacred Heart Parish, paid the bills for gas, driver and rentals and had pictures with them. I then took a taxi to Mandaue to have lunch with an American friend from Hawaii who was importing coconut milk from a supplier in Cebu. After lunch, I rushed to the PAL office downtown to rebook my 11am. Saturday return flight to 9:30pm. ---necessitating the forfeiture of my earlier ticket and my having to buy another one for the evening flight which was more expensive by P600. I later had dinner with a doctor friend to work out how we can avail of the offer of a colleague in the Salt and Light Community to get a container load of medical supplies that a contact in the US is offering to the Philippines through a hospital or an NGO.


“The priests asked me why I was doing this relief work---do I have friends or relatives affected by the typhoon?  Their question made me realize that I volunteered to do this because of my training at the Ateneo.  In high school, we had our annual competition called “Christmas Package Drive,” where we were given authorization letters to knock on doors, stores and offices to solicit and beg for money, clothes and canned goods for the poor.  We went house to house and even to provinces like Pampanga, Tarlac and Pangasinan to beg.  After the competition, win or lose, we helped in the distribution.


“I told the Sacred Heart Parish priests that their young student volunteers will never forget their experience in the past two days and this will make them better persons and better citizens who will not hesitate to help their fellow men even if they’re not paid to do so. Fr. Sim reacted and told me he will repeat what I said in his homily on Sunday. Since we were told not to pay them for their volunteering, I left P2,500  so that the volunteers could have a cook-out lunch after the Mass at the parish center.


“The following day's distribution was as eventful as that on Thursday, this time in Medellin municipality, where Ed has his Mercedes Golf and Country Club.  From Medellin, we almost did not make it to the airport in Mactan for my 9:30pm.  flight.  Too tired, I just stayed at the Mabuhay Lounge where I had pica-pica for dinner.  The flight was delayed and I arrived home only by 2am. Sunday.


“All in all, we distributed 3,100 bags broken down as follows:  Daan Bantayan—bgys. Tonijao 300 bags, Pajo 300 bags, St. Martin 400 bags,Tupilak 250 bags, Maya 250 bags;  the highway between Daan Bantayan and Medellin 300 bags, and the highway between Medellin and  Tabogon 300 bags.  In Medellin, bgys. Dayhagon 350 bags, Lamintak Norte 350 bags, and Mercedes plantation’s 300 caddies and their families who are all without work because their Korean clientele left as a result of the typhoon.


“The whole experience was awesome.   I was blessed to have been given the opportunity to help our fellow men.  But the Lord is telling us something when He allowed this tragedy to happen.  And I will never stop quoting 2:7 Chronicles until we Filipinos change: "If only my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and ask for forgiveness, I will hear their prayers from heaven and forgive them and I will heal their land."


XXX

 
Danny (behind banner at right, in blue shirt)
with Capizenos who waited for hours for arrival of the relief goods..

Following is Danny Olivares’ second account on his group’s mission a few days later to Capiz:                                 


“As I was about to start on my story about the Thursday, Nov, 21 to Saturday, Nov. 23 humanitarian mission Part 2 to Capiz, I mistakenly switched TV channel in my hotel room in Cagayan de Oro.  It was TV Maria and Fr. Catalino Arevalo SJ of the Ateneo was giving a talk on "Personal Devotion and the New Evangelization."  He said that the poor, in their own way, are so personally and specially devoted to the crucified Christ, the Santo Entierro and Our Mother of Perpetual Help.  The crucified Christ because they are suffering like Him, the Santo Entierro because death comes so often to the poor in the blink of an eye, and the Mother of Perpetual Help because they know they can always run to and depend on Mother Mary for help in their poverty.


“I immediately realized that, although Fr. Arevalo gave the talk after the Bohol earthquake, he could be referring to the poor in Capiz who bore the brunt of the 270 km/hour winds, rain, floods and 20-foot storm surges of Yolanda. Despite the sufferings, loss of loved ones, homes and the little possessions and livelihood they had, and desperation over their future, we saw in their faces hope as they cling to their faith that God will help them, and appreciation and gratitude for answered prayers when they saw us with truck-loads of relief goods.


“In the few houses that we entered, including those of the barangay captains (barangay halls were destroyed), we saw this personal devotion to the crucified Christ and Our Mother of Perpetual Help. 

In the Capiz mission, on Friday, Nov. 22, two weeks after the super-typhoon, I chose to be with the teams that went to the hardest hit and least accessible areas of Capiz:


“a. In the municipality of Mambusao, according to the office of the mayor, there were 2 deaths and 12 injured, 4,266 homes totally destroyed and 3,444 partially destroyed and P1.1Billion estimated damage to infrastructure.  Among these is their beautiful church which they said is even older than Bohol's Baclayon Church. After the typhoon, they immediately did a cleaning operation of the debris and wrote UNESCO and the NCCA for help in restoring their beautiful church. 340 relief bags and water were given to two barangays.


“b. Municipality of Sigma, in the upland barangay of Magsacol (220 families). As soon as our five-vehicle convoy started the ascent over the worst road condition I have ever seen, I thought to myself: what group would dare go up these God-forsaken places when there were more accessible places which also needed help. True enough; the people said we were the first ever to bring aid to them. Tony Ortiz's 2x4 pick-up where I was riding and his Izusu Elf truck loaded with bags were no match for the muddy rugged mountain road and had to be pushed twice by the people.


“We arrived past 2pm. The people had waited, lining up for more than two hours. 


“After distributing 220 bags and 220 liters of water, we went further up over  more rugged, muddy and rocky barrio roads which punished Ortiz’s pick-up further.  We arrived early evening at bgy. Matinabus (260 families)
and we had to use cellphone flashlights as soldiers, policemen and volunteers unloaded the bags and water from the army truck and the Elf.  Our Gawad Kalinga people immediately organized the bgy. folks into five lines and we distributed the goods again, using flashlights to check the list of recipients against the people actually receiving the goods. I was the flashlight boy because I brought a tiny flashlight with me. The return trip was slower because it was pitch-dark already. 


“Around 10 in the evening, the two GK leaders, my host Jessica Ortiz Uy and I had a late dinner of Roxas City's famous talaba, scallops, barbecue and tulya soup just as the restaurant was about to close.


“c. Day 2 Nov. 23 of the distribution, we arrived at the Pan-ay pier on board two army 6x6 trucks by 1pm. which meant we would have to skip lunch. Our five teams split up immediately, three teams inland and two teams to the islands.  Pan-ay had the highest number of deaths in Capiz-- 10 casualties.  Farming and fishing were the main livelihood, but 15 carabaos died in the floods and the people's harvested rice was washed away by rushing waters and the still-to-be-harvested palay was destroyed. As per provincial statistics, in the poor town of Pan-ay, 6,264 houses were totally destroyed and estimated damage to infrastructure was P 431.6 million, to agriculture P 141 million, and fisheries P 190 million.


“Soldiers and volunteers loaded the 600 bags and 600 one-liter bottles of water to a big pump boat and by 2pm., our two teams sailed to the island one and half hours away by banca. We were like sunbathing in open waters, sitting on 3-inch narrow bamboo slats. Upon our arrival several smaller boats met us and split the goods for two barangays---Bantigue and Butacal, both with 300 families each.


“Tony's daughter, GK's team leader Jessica, five GK volunteers and I formed the Butacal team.  We walked over destroyed rice paddies to the barangay captain's home, as the boat people unloaded the sacks and boxes. People have been waiting for us since late morning!  We started distributing right away with the help of the captain’s wife and a few volunteer residents. The streamer ATENEO GRUPO ‘58 AND GAWAD KALINGA was strung over the relief goods for people to see (sorry Salt and Light, hindi ako ang nagpagawa nito).


“Residents by the shore reported how wave surges 20 feet high demolished their homes and their bancas and carried the debris 2 kms. inland, where neck-deep waters flooded the fields. Although the floods receded shortly, their homes, crops and trees were destroyed by the waters and the strong winds. Aside from the Channel 7 crew which visited the barangay and brought around a token ten sacks of goods and a Japanese medical team who promised to return the following day, we were the only ones who had come since the typhoon; they were specially thankful that we brought clean bottled water.  


“The people did not leave until we left.  They wanted to say goodbye to us and thank us as a group. They even picked a few surviving buko from the trees and gave us fresh buko juice.  The women were embracing us and we decided to have a group picture with the villagers, and they gladly obliged.  Feeling movie stars kami! 


“In the makeshift shelters that we passed going back to our pump boat, we saw two houses where an altar was placed in the center--- the Crucifix and the picture of Our Mother of Perpetual Help that they were able to save. Tagpi tagpi na nga na tarpaulin and roofing ang kubo nila, may altar pa!  Such faith, such devotion! With the help of the people who care and the promise of God na "Walang Iwanan" (Gawad Kalinga's battle cry), hope springs eternal for these impoverished people. 


“We set sail by 5:30pm. to a beautiful red sunset in the west sprinkled with a slight drizzle, the end of another God-blessed, Spirit-filled day---anticipating the dawn of a new day when the remaining stocks of undelivered relief goods would be distributed to other parts of Capiz.  All told, Ateneo/Salt and Light Community and Gawad Kalinga bags totaled around 4,000 bags.


“It was already evening when we reached the Pan-ay pier.  Jessica and I decided to treat the volunteers and soldiers who untiringly worked with us through the night for three days to a farewell combination lunch-dinner. Our generous and gracious hosts, Jessica's parents and my classmate since grade school, Tony Ortiz and his wife Cora, a very religious couple, joined us.


“I take this opportunity to thank them.  I was picked up at the airport by Tony at 6am., Thursday, I ate lunch and dinner with them on my first day and Cora fed me talaga, crabs, and scallops! Although their San Antonio Resort Hotel was probably 50% damaged by the typhoon, they allowed us to use one of the least damaged pavilions for repacking and storage for four days.  The pickup and truck were at our disposal. And my three nights stay was free!  Thank you Tony and Cora, God bless you even more. 


“To end this narrative, one thing still haunts me and I ask for your prayers.  As we were passing through the uninhabited mangroves on our way to the island last Saturday, we saw a laminated, worn-out graduation picture of a boy, maybe ten years old, hanging by a branch protruding over the waters. It was purposely hanged there, why I do not know.  I can only speculate that the boy is missing or may have died and his body was found there.  Please pray for this boy, whoever he is. On our return trip, I wanted to take a picture but it was already too dark I could not remember exactly where it was hanged


“The need for food and water, rehabilitation of their homes and reviving their means of livelihood will take months/ years.  The government and foreign aid in cash and in kind will come.  But we must do our part.  I hope Northern Cebu and Capiz will not be our last humanitarian activity.  I am willing to go anywhere where our help is needed.  Let us keep giving until it hurts.


“God bless Ateneo Grupo ‘58, Salt and Light for Christ Community and Gawad Kalinga.”

                                                       



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Sunday, November 24, 2013

In Pacquiao’s splendid victory over Rios, parallelism with plight of our hapless land couldn’t be lost on Filipinos everywhere. Our Champ knew he had to rout Rios or stay out of ring for good. Despite all deserved criticism and skepticism about rehab plans for Visayas---given administration’s incompetence in Yolanda’s aftermath---we Filipinos know we have to prevail---and get it right.


Tacloban City rooting for Manny Pacquiao,
as published by Philippine Star
Today Manny Pacquiao fought not only to keep himself alive professionally, but to be able to stage a comeback after his disastrous, nationally devastating KO by Juan Manuel Marquez last year. Today he handily won over Brandon Rios for the WBO international welterweight title in a unanimous decision---which means he'll go on to fight other bouts for some time.

Had he succumbed to one of Rios’ long power jabs, it would have spelled the end of Pacquiao’s illustrious boxing career. But he overcame the odds by means of his legendary speed as the Yolanda of the Ring, vs. the taller, heavier but slower Mexican opponent, and just as important, serious, disciplined training as the Champ has not exhibited before.

XXX

Like Pacman who overcame and prevailed, the Philippines, devastated by a super-typhoon of unparalleled destruction in the Visayas, faces grave uncertainty about how this region could be reconstructed and rehabilitated. Many political pundits are plainly questioning what the administration proposes to do about the mind-boggling problems there---given the colossal incompetence it had shown in the post-typhoon rescue and relief.

But the good thing is that like the Champ, there are enough Filipinos determined to pull up from the calamity, with the help and support of all our friends from around the world, including our latest rah-rah boy, one-time James Bond Roger Moore. After the devastation, as the whole world watched how our country had to struggle to its feet in the face of our Third World (or is it Fourth World?) unpreparedness, we Filipinos want to get the recovery right. 

Pacquiao’s victory serves as inspiration for our national struggle.  

It also comes after two Christmas victories for the Filipino people: the Supreme Court's striking down legislators' pork barrel as unconstitutional, and the House committee on suffrage and electoral reform's passing the anti-dynasty bill---the first time this happened since the 1987 Constitution was passed. The bill may never squeeze into law, but it's victory alright. Now we await the SC's ruling out of presidential pork.

XXX

World leaders have assured President Aquino that all he has to do is ask for help. But such help cannot be infinite, for the administration has to show as well that it has the determination and competence to plan and execute the reconstruction and rehabilitation of devastated Visayas---beyond the relief goods stage.

As Star columnist Babe Romualdez put it, “Yolanda aftermath: what do we do next?” Or as Chit Pedrosa queried: “Where do we go from here?”

World nations and international agencies have put together a relief and reconstruction fund unprecedented in history---touched by the unbreakable spirit of the Filipino under adversity. The World Bank alone has offered nearly $1 billion in financial aid package and it’s helping put together a program for reconstruction.

XXX

Given unprecedented world generosity, the Aquino administration has to show two things. One is that these huge funds will not be squandered through corruption and meaningless and ineffective projects. P-Noy promises to give full accounting of all contributed funds, and well this should be to the last centavo---given the terrible reputation for corruption and wastage that government has become notorious for.

Second, there ought to be a national blueprint for immediate as well as long-term recovery, as otherwise, efforts would be helter-skelter.

XXX

To meet the demand for effective and meaningful projects to be funded by foreign aid, there’s need to fill up the wish-list of crucial equipment this nation that's in a seemingly perpetual state of natural calamity ought to have, but doesn’t---and that Yolanda exposed to the max.  

Over the two weeks that relief and rescue effort got slowly underway, I listed some things that can be purchased with foreign aid. This include additional C-130s to the three the government has now, to ferry troops, equipment and relief goods, and evacuate local folks; more helicopters to fly mercy missions from one isolated town to another; Pag-Asa equipment for measuring super-typhoons (the lack of it explains why information was sketchy, contributing to the unpreparedness of local officials and people); generators as well as at least one satellite phone for each of the critical municipalities (such phones cost about P30T each); solar-energy equipment kits for as low as P1,200 a set, all locally available, in each barangay, so that there could be some light in prevailing disaster darkness, etc. etc.

XXX

With the help of foreign funds we need to equip the Engineer Corps of the AFP, so that with training and full support they would be the first organized group to move into calamity areas---to clear blocked roads and airports and connect towns.  And if you want to push this wish-list to the max, we can dream of a hospital ship---perhaps not as sophisticated as the Peace Ark of China or the USS Mercy, but something that can rush to devastated areas to perform basic operations when local hospitals conk out.

Many of these wish-list items pitiably failed to get funding as political corruption swung full-scale in various administrations. With the abolition by the SC of the P25 billion PDAF in the 2014 budget---and hopefully, the presidential pork by next month or early January---many of these critical items could be attainable, while big-ticket items could be gotten with foreign funding (let’s test world leaders’ promise to help).  

XXX

As to the master blueprint for reconstruction and rehab, the Cabinet of P=Noy by itself cannot be entrusted with drawing this up as it had failed to prepare for the super-storm. I suggest that P-Noy call a quick, two-day summit on the Visayas crisis---where the Cabinet would be joined by the best management, economic, financial and engineering minds in the private sector.

The summiteers could be sequestered for two days in, say, the Development Academy of the Philippines in Tagaytay City where they could throw ideas around toward a master-plan for rehab and reconstruction. The main question they'll wrestle with is how folks in devastated areas can go beyond the "naka nga-nga" stage and be able to stand on their own feet economically---amid the wiped-out agriculture and fishing. The idea of rebuilding houses with paid local labor is an enlightened first step.  

Without this master plan the administration would be worse off than local folks without power in the Visayas. In fact this blog has early on repeatedly proposed the appointment of a Reconstruction Czar for the Visayas, preferably from the private sector, and readers have proposed a combination of engineering and management skills for this enormous job.

I read somewhere that DPWH Secretary Babe Singson was appointed recently to handle this super-job, though the report is unconfirmed. Singson has a better reputation than most of his colleagues in the Cabinet, but I still think it's better to have a private-sector person in that post, as there seems to be a paralysis in the Cabinet.

XXX

Unfortunately, politics will always rear its ugly head. Rght now, the race for 2016 appears to be affecting the rehab process, with the administration keen only in putting its party people in the forefront and local opposition officials are complaining of being kept out of the relief/rehab loop.

Toddler carries an even smaller boy
 out of harm's way
  during  Zamboanga Siege
How I wish politicos could put aside their ambitions and act like the toddler shown in this ABS-CBN photo, who carried a smaller toddler, virtually a baby, to safety with these words:  "Hindi ko po siya kapatid. Baka po siya mawala o masaktan kasi madaming tao sa linya. Kukuha na lang po ako ng para sa kanya." 

As the person who posted this photo on FB put it, the toddler’s parents “must be truly good, loving and caring parents and evidently, this helpful boy got their virtues of generosity, love, and selflessness. God bless them both!”





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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

SC’s unanimous vote on PDAF's unconstitutionality boosts sagging Filipino people’s morale-- at its lowest in collective memory---and augurs for what citizens hope would be new era of reforms: an end to political patronage and hopefully, dynasty. But would SC strike out DAP too, or would it yield presidential pork as atoning favor to Palace?



Supreme Court of the Philippines

The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) as unconstitutional was a most welcome fresh wind amid the two-week calamity atmosphere in our country.

The SC's decision to permanently scrap the annual PDAF, amounting to P25.2 billion in next year’s budget, and order prosecution of all those legislators who abused it in past and present regimes, was just the right boost to a sagging people’s morale. 

The nation has been at perhaps its lowest ebb in our history---not only because of the crippling devastation of the super-typhoon and our government’s failure to respond adequately, but also due to the damaged credibility of our leaders on account of the pork barrel scandal that rocked Congress and the Palace over the past four months.

Never before has our standing in the international scene been as challenged as now---thanks to the PDAF scandals and lousy government response to the super-typhoon crisis.

XXX

Consider, for instance, the UN directive to assisting US marines not to course any relief delivery to government officials. Consider too, the remark of the Pinoy editor of a New Zealand newspaper for Filipino migrant workers who chose to ignore the advice of our embassy there to course typhoon relief to government bank accounts in PH, preferring the Red Cross instead.  “I’m not going to mince words,” said Mel Fernandez, “We would like every cent to reach those poor people rather than get waylaid.” 

A Singapore newspaper’s banner, “Philippine corruption magnifies effects of typhoon,” gave the universal impression that our government cannot be trusted.

Thus the SC decision came like a fresh wind boosting our people’s spirits, and promising the twilight of political patronage and ultimately of the political dynasty system. As an FB entry put it, the birth of a new era of reforms.

XXX

There were many things remarkable about that 14-0 vote, something that does not come easy in the Court where each justice is an island unto himself (the last time such a vote was arrived at  was on the Hacienda Luisita issue in early 2012, which became a direct factor in the impeachment and conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona).

For instance, the 14 votes included those of five justices appointed by President Aquino, led by Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno.  The anti-PDAF decision was penned by another P-Noy appointee, Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, and the majority included Justice Marvic Leonen who had often sounded like a repeater of the administration on issues.

XXX

But on the unconstitutionality of the PDAF all 14 of them were united---and a popular theory is that the Court was on a mercy mission to save our nation’s reputation, in the wake of the Napoles scandal that provoked the biggest rally in the second Aquino reign, and the beating of our respectability in the Yolanda aftermath.

Had the PDAF not been scrapped more rallies were being projected, and a move to legislate its abolition through the constitutionally-mandated People's Initiative, led by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, would have gained ground.

XXX

As an aside, note that the SC's 15th vote was a prudent abstention from Justice Presbitero Velasco, whose wife, Lorna Q. Velasco, is an incumbent party-list member of the House and therefore affected by the PDAF issue.

By the way, it’s not correct, as reported in the media, that the reason for Justice Velasco’s abstention is that his son, Lord Allan Velasco, is an incumbent representative, for his opponent last May, Marinduque Rep. Gina Reyes, was proclaimed rightful winner by the local Comelec Board and then by Speaker Sonny Belmonte. Velasco's protest is now in the jurisdiction of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal. 

XXX

That all 14 justices came together to legally strike down the PDAF---after upholding this issue three times in the past--- and ensure that the multi-billion Malampaya Fund will be used only for energy promotion purposes, as the law expressly provides, may have been their collective reaction to the moral and political urgency of our time.The SC justices were particularly aggrieved at the lump-sum nature of the pork and legislators’ ability to signify recipients (fake NGOs pala ang karamihan!) with zero accounting.

Of course the legislators are fighting back, while Justice Secretary Leila de Lima intrudes once again into SC territory by warning the magistrates that curtailing the Disbursement Accelerating Program (DAP), now pending before the Court, would seriously affecting typhoon rehabilitation effort. 

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, a rabid Pro-Noynoy ally, bitterly complained that the SC decision only saw the ”bad side” of the PDAF, and “not its good effects,” such as funding scholars and caring for sick people. Frankly this argument about their scholars stinks, for many supposed beneficiaries are fictitious or the kin of their ward leaders---hardly the poor of society. Besides, as Senior Justice Antonio Carpio retorted, such funds can be drawn from other legal sources. 

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Some solons hit the justices’ ‘insensitivity’---accusing them of playing to the gallery and capitalizing on the people’s outrage after the Napoles scams exploded.  Doubtless there is this factor, for how can the justices ignore the poverty gripping the countryside from where the PDAF was stolen---how the number of those who admitted to self-rated hunger has risen in recent months.

Now the solons are out to rescue their unspent PDAF for 2013---all P14.5 billion frozen by the SC earlier---and channel it (daw!) to areas devastated by Yolanda, through a “supplemental budget” they plan to rush in time for this year’s budget.  The public will, of course, be suspicious of Congress’ move, especially since DBM Secretary Butch Abad came out openly looking for ways to skirt the Court’s ruling. 

In the public mind, all this could be a mere palusot for the pols to get their hands on those funds again.

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But more than any other factor, what influenced the SC justices to throw out the PDAF and unauthorized use of the Malampaya Fund was the government’s snail-like response to the calamity spawned by the worst-ever typhoon---that affected all of us Filipinos.

In a text response to a query forwarded to me after the SC decision was announced, I opined that “the SC’s unanimous decision is a repudiation of our rotten political system which impacted, too, on the government’s inability to respond decisively to the unprecedented crisis spawned by Yolanda. Instead of investing in, say, choppers and C-130s crucial to relief operations in calamities, unfortunately many billions were squandered by our politicians. “

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What was gratifying was that the justices united on an issue that goes to the heart of the P-Noy administration. The pork barrel was a weapon the Chief Executive had used to exact votes from members of Congress on crucial issues he had pushed, such as the RH bill and the impeachment and conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona. 

Without the PDAF, however---and perhaps soon, with the good chance that the SC would also strike out the DAP, a.k.a. the "presidential pork," President Aquino---so conscious of his popularity rating and political power---would be rendered a lameduck.


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The issue now being argued before the SC is the future of the DAP, amounting to P1.3 trillion (that includes, aside from Malampaya Fund, the PCSO and Pagcor Funds, a.k.a.the “President’s Social Fund”), which became the logical target of numerous citizens’ petitions for abolition after PDAF.

Anti-DAP petitioners argue that if PDAF was ruled as unconstitutional, all the more should the presidential pork be struck out as it arrogates unto the executive the prerogative reserved for the legislature to pass the budget. Moreover, it has been noted that the Constitution allows savings to be realigned only within the same department. But President Aquino gave P50 million in additional funds from DAP to 19 senators, after they convicted CJ Corona---clearly a violation as well as a bribe, highly immoral.

There is nagging fear that while the SC dealt the PDAF a blow---it could look the other way with regard to DAP, as a atonement to Malacanang. A legal luminary opines, however, that should the SC do this, it would destroy itself.

Citizens’ vigilance has to continue on this child of the PDAF.



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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Up to late last Saturday evening--- a day after Yolanda mercilessly battered Visayas--- there was still no indication that Palace security group’s shooting fest scheduled for that Sunday would be cancelled. Still no sense of urgency in Palace. PAL/SMC Chief Ramon Ang agrees with idea of Reconstruction Czar for Visayas, but argues that setting up such czars for Eastern, Central and Western Visayas would be more effective---as they would compete with one another. What about him as Super-Czar?





Palace supporters are upset about criticisms being generously dished out by citizens and foreign and local commentators on the conduct of government’s relief efforts in the past ten days.  But it should be pointed out that those very criticisms had helped jolt the administration to move, after days of seeming paralysis and its inability to cope with the reality of Nov. 8’s super-typhoon.

One indication is that as per Palace sources, there was a scheduled shooting fest for the security people, to be participated in by the President that Sunday, Nov. 10; interestingly, as of late Saturday night, Nov. 09, there was still no indication that this Sunday fest would be cancelled. That day the President rushed to Tacloban for his visit of a couple of hours, and promptly returned to Manila, presumably to be at that shooting fest. Still no sense of urgency.
It took the administration more than an entire week to try to crank up its disaster relief machinery. Three days after Yolanda walloped the Visayas, it sent out an urgent appeal to the world community for help, and an incredible show of massive succor never before seen on the face of the earth turned up.

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The barrage of criticisms from international media, led by veteran CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, helped focus world attention to this disaster of biblical proportions and triggered an unprecedented outpouring of international aid and relief---which now ought to be structured to utmost effectiveness, long-range planning and transparency. If not, God help us all.

International media, unbiased and unafraid, raked up serious criticisms of  PH government’s failure to deliver faster response to save lives; the chaos and disarray, in turn, pushed private organizations and citizens’ groups here to launch their own moves to help devastated Visayas.

But the chaotic government response has extracted high political costs from President Aquino---as it triggered intense scrutiny of his capability and preparedness to effectively lead this country out of seemingly unending disasters.

The respected New York Times picked up the jabbings of CNN’s team at Ground Zero and Christiane Amanpour’s restrained but unmistakable insinuations about P-Noy’s incompetence. NYT asserted that P-Noy is “now facing the biggest challenge of his presidency, and even allies say he appears to have been caught off-guard by the scope of the crisis.”

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On the local front Standard columnist Francisco Tatad asserted it was time for an incompetent national leadership to go and yield the reins of government to more capable hands. A number of folks in social media, including this writer, echoed this line, questioning the lack of preparedness of our President for what's now--more clearly than ever--a job demanding only the FITTEST OF THE FIT. 

It was not astonishing that such posts would draw an unprecedented number of reactions.

The question now in many citizens’ minds is, where do we go from here? Talk before the super-storm struck about a “transition council” and a “systems change” being tossed around among thoughtful but disconcerted citizens has received enormous boost in the past 10 days. This idea would doubtless gain traction in coming weeks, despite frantic efforts by the Palace machinery to counter it. 

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In my blog of Wednesday, Nov. 13, I wrote---way ahead of other commentators--- that even as we all yearn for immediate assistance and relief for the victims of the super-typhoon, it’s imperative that reconstruction and rehabilitation of devastated Visayas be carefully planned and undertaken. I was thinking, among other things, of so many thousands from there being airlifted to Cebu and Metro Manila in past days as Visayas is unable to cope--- aggravating grave problem for these metropolises that are already bursting at the seams. 

I proposed in that blog that a Reconstruction Czar be appointed by the President to undertake the tortuous mind-boggling task of rehabilitating the disaster areas and lives of people who will need not just housing, hospitals, schools and more infrastructure; more importantly, they would need stable sources of livelihood and income other than from the flattened agriculture and fishing.

The problem with the current evacuations to Manila and Cebu is that many Visayans would not want to return, unless they see a more than even chance of surviving and thriving in their original areas. I proposed a sort of mini Marshall Plan---not unlike that which brought about the reconstruction of Western Europe in the aftermath of World War II---for devastated Visayas.

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I called on readers to think about this idea of a Reconstruction Czar and suggest who could fit the job description. I was aghast at the response. Thousands upon thousands accessed the blog and many dozens of entries in FB threw names that have been associated with action and competence---in direct repudiation, obviously, of the failure of Aquino administration officials to show quick response and decisive action.

The names of Richard Gordon, former Marikina Mayor Bayani Fernando, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City, former Defense Chief Gilbert Teodoro and Tony Meloto, the prime mover of Gawad Kalinga, cropped up repeatedly in my informal poll---although many readers begged that Dick Gordon be kept at Red Cross’ helm as he is doing superbly there. Some readers asserted that being an engineer should be the lead qualification, not political connections. 

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PAL & SMC President Ramon Ang


I argued that the mind-boggling enormity of the  reconstruction and rehabilitation of devastated Visayas demands an out-of-the-box position separate from any Cabinet post, but invested with tremendous powers and full confidence of the appointing power. He or she should have full access to the various line agencies if he is to be fully effective.

Last Thursday evening I ran into PAL and San Miguel Corporation Chief Ramon Ang at the reception tendered by former Speaker Jose de Venecia and Congresswoman Gina de Venecia for a delegation of civil society and business leaders from Turkey (who represent the large Turkish manufacturing conglomerate called “Elginkan”). I decided to test my idea of a Reconstruction Czar with Ramon Ang.

The aggressive industrialist agreed with the need to place the battered areas of the Visayas under such an emergency office. But Ang opined that reconstruction of this entire region would be too large a job for one person, no matter how much of a superman he or she would be.

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Instead, Ang thought this job should be broken up among the various afflicted regions---e.g., one for Eastern Visayas (Leyte and Samar), one for Central Visayas of Cebu and Bohol, and another for Western Visayas of Panay and northern Palawan. This way, he argued, the various czars could be pitted against one another “and you achieve faster results from their competition.”

As one can see, Ang’s philosophy in business---keen competition---he wouldn’t hesitate to apply to rehabilitation. Let’s hope that the President and Congress would see this need for a Rehabilitation Czar---or czars. 

By the way, Ramon Ang also agreed with me that what we sorely need are helicopters that could hop from one isolated town to another with relief goods, doctors and medicines, etc. Toward this end, way before various foreign governments could dispatch their choppers here, he and his friends had put together eight helicopters on the 4th day after Yolanda struck, and they went swinging fast into the devastated regions.

Perhaps Ramon Ang could be Super-Rehabilitation Czar. Just thinking.


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