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.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Classical pianist Jovianney Emmanuel Cruz jabs at conscience-less politicians amid troubling images of Filipinos surviving Friday's great floods. Rep. Toby Tiangco,demanding full disclosure of DAP from Abad, went to answer Nature's call and came back to budget session quickly suspended. Next time, he thundered into House records, "If I take a leak on the floor, you can't castigate me for disorderly conduct."

Classical Filipino pianist Jovianney Emmanuel Cruz, the Manhattan School of Music-trained founder of the Orchestra for the Filipino Youth (OFY) and memorable to scores of fans for his incomparable renditions of Chopin, had a mouthful to say about the great deluge that sank Metro Manila last Friday. Jovianney’s statement echoes the sentiment of all Filipinos:

“It's perplexing to realize that no administration has solved the flooding issue in the Philippines. Aren't the current images of Filipinos going through floods enough to wake up anyone's conscience or do we need another Typhoon Yolanda? 

"Maybe if the top 100 politicians with the highest statements of assets and liabilities took 10% of their pork barrels or better yet, their salaries and placed them in a 'flood solution pot', there could be less Filipinos suffering. Only then could they call themselves nationalistic because nationalism partially means sacrificing yourself for the nation, Referring especially to those who have much to let go: "Whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." 

"But then again, I'm just a musician. What do i know?”

My reply to Jo-Em Cruz: plenty, for as an artist with highly sensitized feelings you see and feel the misery of our people. It’s also interesting that reaction to all the misery around us in this hapless country is coming from all quarters---be it a multi-award-winning classical pianist, the tricycle driver braving the floods to make a living, the mother providing safe-hand to her beleaguered family, a soldier heroically trying to save others with just a rope over treacherous waters, or a teacher continuing classes with half-submerged students. 

Sadly it is catastrophes such as last Friday’s that are the regular binders of the nation and our people, when we could use more communal blessings instead.


Thus, the protest demonstration by UP students against Budget Secretary  Florencio Abad outside the UP School of Economics last Wednesday evening, Sept. 17, can be considered one such binder in our national misery.  After the student-organized forum where this most controversial Cabinet official spoke, the protest deteriorated into violence as he was leaving the premises---with some blocking his way and shouting invectives and slogans, and some pelting him with coins and paper balls, and one or two of them even grabbing Abad by the collar. 

23 members of the UP Economics faculty deplored in “the strongest terms” the “hooliganism” of the protesters and called on University authorities to impose corresponding punishments on the demonstrators. One wonders, however, why the UP Eco faculty did not join the demonstrators nor other protest gatherings, nor even issue statements denouncing the abuse of public funds by this administration. 

More than anyone of the disciplines, it's the economists who ought to understand the hooliganism that Palace manipulators of public funds did. 


This is the kind of instance when each Filipino is asked to make a stand, and indeed, in the social media there’s an avalanche of comments, mostly  hailing the action of the angry UP students. 

I must emphasize that I never encourage violence in expressing feelings or reactions; over decades of participating in historic events I have always espoused peaceful demonstrations and dialogue as the rationale approach is more effective. Re the UP confrontation the students had every right to vent their anger and protests---through placards and slogans--- over the notorious dissipation of public funds by Secretary Abad and his and his boss' destruction of state institutions through bribery and corruption. But I lament  the manhandling he underwent from one or two students who obviously lost control of their senses. 


Unfortunately, it's also clear, as history has shown us, that mass actions indeed deteriorate into violent reactions. In fact Abad should thank his lucky stars he wasn't dumped into a trash bin like that unfortunate Ukraine parliamentarian. 

For the fact is that out there is a whole lot of people angry and upset with this administration, but the latter obviously remains oblivious to the prevailing sentiments---preferring until now to believe the lullaby-inducing data of survey groups with inter-locking directorates, or political sycophants out for more pork barrel. 

But it’s obvious that demonstrations with varying intensity will be part and parcel of our times, and in fact even as Abad was hounded by the UP students, the President he serves has also been on the receiving end of demos in various parts of our country, as well as in Europe on his state visits, and expectedly in New York and Washington D.C


I’ve always admired Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, he of the smart, well-tailored suits and salt-and-pepper hair and preppy, au courant hairstyle. Chatting with him on the phone, Toby told me with a laugh that he already gave up that hairstyle and is sporting a more  conventional look, to distinguish him from the preppies.  But never mind, I sense that this young (he’s turning 47 this November) two-term representative, who’s the Sec-Gen and articulate spokesperson of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), will be the same principled guy whose career I’ve followed for a while now.

Toby  first impressed me  during the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona over two years ago, when he offered to be witness against the railroading of the majority vote vs. the Chief Magistrate---by certifying that he refused to sign the impeachment complaint because he was not given time to read it. That took courage, given the vengeance of the administration against CJ Corona, but Toby was again on the losing side during the RH bill debates and voting.

In a chamber where support for an issue often depends on the size of the bribe envelop, it does help that Toby comes from a wealthy family whose fortunes were built on the fishing industry in Navotas---thus he could be truly independent of the dictates of the powers that be. But I suspect that swimming against the tide comes naturally to this young legislator regardless of outcome. 


Over the weeks of deliberations on the 2015 budget Toby has been pressing to get full accounting from DBM Secretary Abad on his "diabolic" invention (as Times columnist Bobi Tiglao terms it)--- the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). Toby's math is simple: if some P10 billion was set aside from the P144 billion DAP (or roughly 7% of DAP) for the Corona impeachment for both chambers in mid-2012, and if P1.88 billion was spent for the impeachment vote of 188 representatives and some P2 billion for 20 senators' conviction vote, what happened to the P7 billion unaccounted for in Abad's list? Toby suspects it went to the Palace duo's contingency fund. 

Tiangco pressed Abad for the list of solons and how their DAP was spent, and after weeks of being badgered, Abad finally gave him a supposed 139-page photocopy of what was submitted to the House leadership. Well and good---except that there were less pages and a lot more blanks in the names of solons in his copy. There were also generic headings for where solons' funds went--- ranging from the prosaic: "Various infrastructure and local projects (VILP)" to the more enigmatic and sentimental: "Protective services for individuals and families in especially difficult circumstances."  Nakakaiyak, di ba?


House leaders handling the budget proceedings would get quite upset at queries on specifics, but Tiangco found a way to force the issue: by questioning quorum at each hearing (majority of Aquino's allies did not care to attend anymore, as they knew it was already a fait accompli), and splitting hairs between "suspension of hearing" and "adjournment." Suspension of hearing means that even if the event was ended it could resume next day even without a quorum as it was only a continuation; whereas adjournment means another struggle for the House leaders vs. absenteeism. 

But after some time it was all-out brazenness: Toby just went to answer the call of Nature and immediately hearing was suspended. Next time, he thundered into the record, "If I take a leak on the floor, you cannot blame me for disorderly conduct." 

The budget with all those mysterious and unexplained lump sums will be passed by the steamroller House next week, but voters will remember how Toby Tiangco put up a good fight. Already in the internet, citizens are saying they want him in the Senate but he just wants to finish his third and last term. Citizens will remember him. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

100-year-old Fr. Pierre T. Tritz, S.J. shows our politicos how to be truly a "man for others"

In September 1914, the world was in turmoil as Europe was caught in the grip of the First World War, termed the last "Trench Warfare,” and pretty soon the US declared war against Germany. The world order was changing and so did traditional values and mores, and lifestyles. Dancing was very much a craze in a world worried sick about the war; cars and the radio were very popular.

In September 1914 our part of the world, the Philippine Islands, under US colonial rule, was coming to grips with a new representative system of governance in the emergent Philippine Assembly, while the educational system was being cobbled together from the pioneering days of the Thomasites.

On September 19, 1914, Pierre Tritz was born in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France near the German border. As the oldest living Jesuit today in the Philippines at 100 years of age and doubtless among the longest-surviving of some 22,000 Jesuits around the world, Fr. Tritz, still ramrod-straight, still reports to  his office at the Erda Foundation in Quezon City three times a week, with a much-reduced load. He’s also on call once in a while to bless the sick at the Infant Jesus Hospital in Sampaloc, Manila, which is his residence.

With eyes twinkling he used to brag to this writer some years back about being a member of the most exclusive club of Jesuits over 90 years of age in Manila, who were still alive and kicking;  but over the years he began to be the third oldest, then the second and now finally the oldest.


Fr. Tritz was to make his mark on education here, with his advocacy for the training of impoverished Filipino youths as the best way to prepare them for the future. As he likes to tirelessly say: “To allow a child to go to school is to give him HOPE (l’espoir, as he’d say in his native French). As he views it, education is the best way to break the cycle of poverty gripping Filipino families.

With this firm belief, Fr. Tritz founded the Educational Research and Development Assistance (ERDA) Foundation over 40 years ago, that has enabled tens of thousands of young people across the country to continue in school---thus allowing them to crash through the barrier of poverty.


Over ten years ago in a TV program, the late Press Secretary Cerge Remonde asked Fr. Tritz, "Is there hope for this country?"  The French-born naturalized Filipino Jesuit, who was once called by Cory Aquino the "Mother Teresa of the Philippines," answered Cerge without hesitation: "Sure, there is hope." But he also stressed that "we have to develop cooperation among the many people who can afford, so that they could give more attention to those in our midst who are in extreme poverty."

A controversial reality in our present-day society has been the existence of bogus NGOs to which many politicians have channeled many billions in public funds, which ultimately disappeared into their own pockets. But as Tritz argued nearly four decades ago, real and meaningful NGOs such as the Erda Foundation can change the lives of people and combat grinding poverty. And he proved it.

As the citation for the St. Ignatius Award given by the Ateneo University in 2000 said, “Pierre Tritz just went on and on, and the world has to make way for this man who knew where he was going.”


Pierre Tritz entered the Jesuit Society at age 19 and in 1936, he began his lifelong dream of becoming a missionary in China, where he was ordained priest in Shanghai in 1947 (his 81st year as a Jesuit will be this Oct 3).

Young Jesuits in the 1930s such as Tritz were inspired by older missionaries like the famed Fr. Matteo Ricci, SJ, who blazed a trail in China. Tritz insisted on being sent to that country, where he spent most of his Jesuit formation and taught in various schools for 12 years during a most turbulent political era.

The fall of China to the communists in 1949 caught the young Jesuit while on his tertianship in Europe, and upon his superiors’ orders, he arrived in Manila in October 1950 to await – or so he thought – reassignment to China. But he got stuck here and China's loss was PH's gain.


                             Playing chess with Erda boys in Tondo

In the mid-60’s, Fr. Tritz became very disturbed upon reading a published Department of Education study on the alarming rate of school dropouts among Filipino children. Of those who started in first grade, 12-15% dropped out in second grade and the dropout rate got bigger in the higher grades (a malady that persists in our day).

With his first volunteer, Betty Reyes of the Aristocrat Restaurant family, Tritz began in the late ’60s to persuade families in the Juan Luna Elementary School area in Sampaloc to send their children back to school. He offered to shoulder their schooling expenses himself.

In 1974 he organized a “Balik-Paaralan” program with 200 beneficiaries from Tondo. Then, forsaking his teaching activities at the Ateneo de Manila, Araneta University and FEU, he formally organized ERDA Foundation--- an NGO that provides poor pre-school and elementary schoolchildren with school uniforms and supplies, as well as social services to their families. Tritz clearly saw that while public schools offer free elementary and high school education, the lack of school requisites caused children from poor families to drop out---mostly out of shame.

He maintained that if a child is not developed in its early years, “it would be too late.”

Thus, long before the law enforcing pre-school education was passed, he already set up such schools in poor communities across the country. To date ERDA Foundation has assisted well over half a million students. 


Firmly espousing that the best way to break the cycle of poverty is to provide poor young people with adequate skills, he began to lament in the early ‘90s that so many able-bodied youths were idle and out of school; he wanted them to ride on the country’s growing need for industrial skills.

In 1993, Tritz established the ERDA Technical and Vocational Secondary School (ERDA Tech) in a depressed area of Pandacan in Manila, where students from poor families, through sponsorships, would obtain a free five-year high school education--- as well as special training in a technical skill that would enable them to find gainful employment upon graduation.

 ERDA Tech’s current technical courses for its 450 scholars include automotive servicing, machining, electrical installation/maintenance and food technology; on their 5th year they spend 680 hours of in-plant training with partner companies. Studies are underway to perhaps shorten while intensifying Erda Tech's students' training to two years only, in conformity with the K-12 program of the government. 

So poor are some of ERDA Tech’s students  that they come to school without breakfast  every day---and fainting spells by mid-morning became apparent. Thus the school set up a feeding program to help these needy kids stay in school and this year it counts some 105 students. 


Perhaps the best thing that happened to ERDA Tech and the Foundation was the formal adoption of the school, at the Jesuit Provincial’s request, by the Jesuit-run Xavier School in San Juan, following the deceleration of the aging Tritz from active involvement (he now holds the title of President Emeritus).

Assuming the presidency of ERDA in 2012 was Xavier’s president for 12 years, Fr. Johnny C. Go, SJ, who had been ERDA’s chair since 2007. Fr. Go left earlier last year on a much deserved sabbatical to complete his doctoral studies. Xavier’s new president, Fr. Aristotle C. Dy, SJ, was elected ERDA President, with Atty. Anthony Charlemagne C. Yu as Chairman of the Board.


The partnership between ERDA and Xavier School has resulted in the upgrading of facilities and curriculum of ERDA Tech, as well as the injection of new blood into the faculty, led by its first two Xavier-“loaned" principals, first Jane Natividad and currently Peter Marc Magsalin, and a vigorous faculty development program.

The synergy between ERDA and Xavier has begun to bear fruit. As Jane Natividad pointed out last year, ERDA Tech improved its school standing in the National Achievement Tests where it once ranked 36th, then 23rd and eventually 12th place among high schools of DepEd’s Manila Division. The school also had its graduating students in selected specializations undergo TESDA Competency Assessments for two years now, each time with close to 100% passing rates.

But more important, doubtless, is the increasing concern for the poor that the Pandacan school has stirred in the minds and hearts of well-off Xavier parents. Many of them have generously responded in various ways, e.g., scholarships for ERDA Tech students (P32,000 per year), support for its feeding program, donations of basic school equipment as well as out-of-their-closet items. Xavier parents organized a successful fund-raising concert for ERDA Tech students last year and also raised generous donations during the farewell concert for Fr. Go. 

The school was pleased to note that the topnotcher in the 2012 mechanical engineering board exams, Kenneth del Rosario, began at ERDA Tech. An ERDA-supported child from Iloilo, John Paul Claudio, was appointed by President Macapagal Arroyo as Child Commissioner of the Children Basic Section of NAPC (National Anti-Poverty Commission), and he was succeeded by another ERDA youth from Tondo, Bernardo Sumaya.


But so inclusive has been Fr. Tritz’s love for the underprivileged that in past decades he also organized the Albert Schweitzer Association Philippines (ASAP), which assisted poor orphaned and abandoned youths who ran into conflict with the law.

In 1978 he established the Foundation for the Assistance to Hansenites (FAHAN) which helped those afflicted with leprosy to seek treatment and cope with its stigma in society, and provided educational assistance for their children.

ERDA Foundation and ERDA Tech thrive principally on the element of hope: that the children of our streets would one day walk out of the darkness of poverty, despair, ignorance and lack of opportunity, and into the bright light of prosperity, justice and basic human rights. In other words, a fighting chance at survival.

As we in the ERDA family celebrate today the centenary of this wonderful educator and defender of marginalized Filipino children, we are proud to hold him up as a model of the selfless and compassionate human being---especially in contrast to the terrible breed of Filipino politicians who have all but forgotten their oath of public service.

Until advance age grounded him, Fr. Tritz used to set off on his yearly “begging” trips abroad for ERDA kids. The joke among his staff was that it was hazardous for anyone to sit next to Tritz in a speeding train in Europe – as his seatmates invariably ended up forking over sums of money or later sending him checks after hearing his story about impoverished Filipino children.

This writer innocently attended an Agape fund-raising dinner for ERDA in the early '80s--- and got hooked to serve ERDA in perpetuity as its PRO.


To work more effectively, Tritz joined 11 other foreign-born Jesuits in taking the oath of allegiance as Filipino citizens before President Marcos in 1974.  As he recounted to this writer with a laugh, the French government couldn't understand why this French-born priest would choose to become a Filipino citizen when thousands of Filipinos were renouncing their citizenship abroad!

But years later, the French government forgave him for quitting on his native land and honored him with awards, including the prestigious Officier de la Legion d’ Honneur (2007) for his humanitarian work with Filipino children.

Tritz's inspiring work has not gone unnoticed, especially abroad. European TV has produced many documentaries on him and various books have been written about him in France.

He has received many awards here too, such as the Golden Heart Presidential Award (1993) from President Fidel Ramos, the Aurora Aragon-Quezon Peace Award for Education (1993), the Mother Teresa Award (1998) from the Jaycees’ AY Foundation,  the Congressional Medal of Merit from the Philippine House of Representatives (2004) and a formal Commendation by the Senate of the Philippines (2011).

 Foreign awards include the highest decoration from the German government, the Bundesverdienstkreuz Award (2004), and the Raoul Follereau Prize (1983) from the French Academy.

After decades of fulfilling his self-appointed mission of rescuing impoverished Pinoy children from the pit of hopelessness and despair, Fr. Tritz still enjoys reading newspapers everyday without need for eyeglasses (!) and yes, he still loves to eat his favorite chocolates. He no longer celebrates Mass as he suffers bouts of forgetfulness and at times has to hold on to the altar; but he attends mass daily. 

Fr. Tritz had served for a long time as Night Chaplain in the Hospital of the Infant Jesus in Sampaloc, Manila, and to this day  he remains on call---from his wheelchair---for an emergency baptism or to bless a critically ill child-patient. 

Truly a man for others in his 100 years.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Politicos of various hues gather for wake of former Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez and inevitably conversation veers toward paralysis of governance in just about every aspect of nation today, especially on rising criminality. One for Ripley’s: Raul Gonzalez was sought to be arrested last week for illegal possession of firearms dating to his Tanodbayan days, as he lay dying in NKI.

Last Tuesday evening, I attended the wake at Heritage Memorial Park of the late Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, who had been my friend for a long time. Raul was one of the Cabinet officials of President GMA who had always been accessible to the media; he treated us all fairly and was always ready to explain issues to us in an unpatronizing manner and his usual brilliant way. Above all, he dealt a fair shake toward everyone, unlike his present-day successor whose vision, like that of the Luneta carretela horse, is governed by blinders: it must always point toward the opposition. 

As would be expected of a former politician and Cabinet member, Raul’s wake drew all manner of politicians from various persuasions and interestingly, that evening I dropped in, the topic was how terrible things had become in the country---the paralysis of governance at just about every level.

These conclusions were not the surprise as we run into these problems every day of our lives. What was surprising was the admission even by those politicos who had supported President Aquino in 2010 about how grave and serious the nation’s problems have become in the present regime. At the Gonzalez gathering the huge traffic pile-up at NLEX was at its worse and the politicians agreed about how severely the snafu was affecting the economy. The MRT issue also came into fore, adding to the daily nightmare of commuters. 

I ventured how tens of thousands of commuters suffer queuing up for jeepney rides daily that snake for kilometers on end,  often in the rain. I put myself in the shoes of working mothers who must feel so terrible arriving at their homes late in the evening when their children are already asleep---only to leave very early to get to work by 8 o’clock, their children still asleep.

Then came the current concern of the season among citizens: how depraved the rank and file of the police force in the country has become, with many rogue cops involved in various crimes and syndicates, threatening the peace and lives of citizens in their homes and in the streets.

At that gathering of high leaders at the late Secretary Gonzalez’s wake, there was a general feeling of hopelessness in dealing with the country’s deep problems---stemming largely from realization that the top leader was not only incapable but sorely lacking the inclination to meet the grave problems head on. For instance, the President cannot seem to fire anyone of his top people even if their office has become so controversial either from corruption or inefficiency.

Then a former lady representative, known for her outspoken views and confrontational manner, blurted out, "Dapat talaga alisin na si P-Noy at palitan na." Her sudden outburst was met by diplomatic and uneasy smiles from the other politicians, but no verbal objections---not even from P-Noy's former supporters. I thought to myself, if these leaders feel this way, how do the humbler elements about the problems of the nation?  What is the powder-keg that would set afire this tinderbox situation?

I note, for instance, that even a mild-mannered man like the defense lawyer of former Chief Justice Renato Corona, the seemingly unflappable Atty. Rico Paulo Quicho (who now writes a column for the Daily Ttribune) was quite angry that P-Noy would not even consider letting go of PNP Chief Alan Purisima, despite all the news about how rogue cops are involved in many shenanigans.

Speaking of cops, this one's for Ripley’s: As Secretary Raul Gonzalez lay in near-death at the National Kidney Institute, some days back, six policemen arrived at his Valle Verde home in Pasig to enforce an arrest order issued against him for supposed illegal possession of firearms. Interestingly, this order referred to the time when Gonzalez was still Tanodbayan in the late ‘80s under President Cory Aquino, and his family opines that it actually referred to a firearm issued to one of his security forces in the past. The case itself, however, was just recently filed (2012), when Raul was already a private citizen---and many decades removed from his old Tanodbayan post.

This leads to either or both of two conclusions: that the police force is so utterly inefficient, so that it failed to update its files. Secondly, it was meant more to harass Gonzalez as a former ally and Cabinet member of former President Macapagal Arroyo (many ex-GMA Cabinet members are being harassed one way or another for graft these days)---never mind if the illegal possession of firearm being charged pertains to his old Tanodbayan post in the Cory years. 

What makes this episode more bizarre and CRUEL is that as former Iloilo Rep. Raul Gonzalez Jr., son of the late DOJ Chief, suggested to the six arresting cops, would they like to serve the warrant in the NKI where he was in the intensive care unit and in fact dying? The cops quickly apologized and scampered for the gate pronto.


In the light of various political leaders’ deep dissatisfaction with the grounding to a halt of political governance, which is reflected in the sentiments of the people in general, an FB reader answering to the name “BenignO” raises a sequential reaction query: "Why is it that despite widespread poverty and injustice, there is a  'lack of appetite for revolt?' "

Continues FB reader BenignO: “Why is it that even if the people are complaining left and right, crying about their suffering, yet they are not revolting? “ Is the suffering of the people not enough to compel them to revolt?

“The Filipinos cry about social abuses, the slow justice system, massive corruption in government, inept public service, high unemployment, the alarming peace and order situation, high prices of commodities, services and public utilities plus among the worst traffic jams in the world. The list goes on. In short, the Filipinos are indeed suffering.

“Yet all these are not enough to make us rebel against the government."

This FB reader answers his own query: “So, why is it that we are not revolting? Filipinos lack the COURAGE and DESIRE to CHANGE---to be in better state than we are in right now. We are hungry and angry but still LAZY.”

Obviously this FB reader has in mind the massive lightning paralyzations recently in places like Hongkong or Istanbul that have sent tens of thousands into the streets over a seemingly small trigger issue. 

Your reaction, dear blog readers and friends. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

AFP Chief Catapang meant well, but used wrong term: Pinoys' "greatest escape" from Golan Hgts more the "great disengagement" (well within parameters of UN Disengagement Observer Force). Controversy hounds Catapang's use of term as well as Singha's verdict of Pinoy "cowardice." Both playing on different stages: Catapang to AFP and local media, and Singha to UN family and Indian military. Episode shows off Pinoy as non-team player.

I must admit that when the Filipino contingent guarding UN Position 68 in the Golan Heights in Israel "escaped" under cover of darkness last weekend, while the enemy slept, I felt bad and knew it would spell trouble for our peacekeeping forces there. 

True, our troopers won plaudits here at home and abroad for having gallantly defended their position against advancing Syrian rebels for seven hours, despite their running low on ammo. Then AFP Chief of Staff Gregorio Pio Catapang toasted the Pinoy soldiers' feat as "the greatest escape," and commended them "for exhibiting resolve even while under heavy fire."


But exactly that phrase---"the greatest escape"---from the AFP Chief became the meat of controversy, for sure enough, the Chief of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singha of the Indian Armed Forces, immediately lambasted our Pinoy troopers for countermanding his order to stay put in their assigned area in the Golan Heights. 

Worse, he said, they exhibited "cowardice" by escaping from the enemy. 

To the average Filipino soldier, who would probably prefer to die in battle than be labelled a "coward" that would shame his family for generations, that label from Singha is, a real ouwie, as my grandchildren would say. In the annals of Filipino battles, be it at Tirad Pass or in the Bataan and Corregidor, defense was most gallant, except that in the case of those last two theaters of war, the fighting soldiers were ravaged by disease and lack of ammo---forcing them to surrender to superior forces after months of seige and starvation. 


Actually, Catapang meant well but he used the wrong term. The Pinoys' "great escape" was actually the "great disengagement" which is well within the parameter of the very name of the UN Disengagement Observer Force. In military parlance, especially in Philippine setting, our troopers' "escape" from their Golan Heights post was actually just "withdrawal" or "extrication" from a conflict site. 

According to generals I spoke to recently, such action is well within the rules of engagement that local military understand very well, vis-a-vis the NPAs or secessionists in the South. In case of conflict, those rules state that extricating and transferring the battle to another locale---to live in order to fight another day, as the saying goes---holds.

By using the term "greatest escape," Gen. Catapang was trying to please local media and more importantly the command he leads. Then too, the Aquino administration could be seeking to regain lose ground from the Palparan issue which left military ranks disgruntled about what they termed undeserved ill treatment of the once-fugitive general. It's easy to imagine how President Aquino, who had already earlier disclosed his intention to recall the troops from the Golan conflict, would have suffered further tremendous drop in ratings had a massacre happen to the troopers.


In the process, however, Catapang obviously wounded the pride and service reputation of the Indian three-star general who commanded UNDOF, and who therefore was playing to the world stage---the UN family---and the Indian Armed Forces. The daring escape of the 40 Pinoy troopers under cover of darkness made Gen. Singha look quite inept by seeking to subject troops under his command to more danger---when they could have escaped naman pala without much trouble. 

Obviously the AFP Chief of Staff and Gen. Singha were operating on two different stages. To Catapang, from the statements he has made since, without the direct order in black and white from Singha to his troops to surrender their arms---and thus be at the mercy of the Syrian rebels, just like the Fijian troops---his immediate concern was to get his people out of harm’s way. He was doubtless thinking of the backlash here if the Pinoy troopers were slaughtered by the Syrian rebels.


The issue of the "greatest escape" has been beclouded by various side controversies such as, did Singha really order the Filipino troopers to surrender their firearms to the rebels? Singha now denies making such an order and his UN superiors are backing him on this.  But the Filipino troopers insist there was that order---which doubtless made them very nervous and so they called their superior at home via skype. 

Now various local politicians are making capital of it---and pat the Pinoy troopers on the back for not being stupid and for disobeying Singha. Sen. Bongbong Marcos is filing a formal complaint to the UN.

It was tough for the Pinoys to obey Singha's order---assuming there was one---for they already knew what had happened to the Fiji  contingent which had earlier surrendered its firearms to the Syrian rebels and until now languishes in captivity. If Singha indeed gave such order, it would appear as his effort to appease the Syrian rebels, who are part of the Al Qaida terrorist group---and worse, to replace the Fiji troops with Pinoys as captives. 

Apparently the Pinoys used their brains to put two and two together---and decided to "disengage."  Lost in the controversy is the fact that Gen. Singha's Filipino chief of staff, Col. Ezra Enriquez (a PMAyer) had felt something was wrong with his boss' order to the Pinoys to surrender their arms. After consulting by skype with Manila GHQ, Enriquez defied Singha's order and later filed a leave of absence and resignation that still has to be acted on by higher UN command.


A retired Filipino general was quoted by the Daily Tribune as opining that “no country member (of an international peace-keeping force can issue orders to its own peacekeeping contingent under the UN peacekeeping rules, as it is the UNDOF commander, an Indian general, that issues all orders for all the peacekeeping forces." 

The Tribune story quoted this retired general as opining that “countermanding the UNDOF commander’s orders places the lives of all peacekeepers in peril.”

Gen. Singha lamented after the Pinoys' "greatest escape" that their precipitate action imperiled cease-fire negotiations with the rebel forces and even the lives of the Fiji troopers. Perhaps.


But this again points to the peculiar character of the Filipino---be it in the military or economic front, or almost any other consideration. The Pinoy is just NOT A TEAM PLAYER, and this is so evident especially in our politics which is a sordid mess.

Some comparison was recently made with the Japanese who have such a strong sense of nationhood, evident even in their lowest level of community existence and from childhood. Walk in a Japanese neighborhood, for instance, and you cannot but be impressed by the fact that each homeowner realizes that he has to keep all his surroundings neat and clean. 

Had the Japanese troops been assigned in Golan Heights, some insist, ythe world would find them defending their position till kingdom come. Look at that solitary guy in Lubang Island who thought the war was still on.