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, August 19, 2017

Death of 11th-grader Kian de los Santos in Caloocan at the hands of supposed lawmen in civvies causes nationwide outrage and fear that cure is worse than drug malady. Speculation that House "super-majority" abandoned support for left-leaning DSWD Secretary owing to PRRD's disappointment with the Left in Netherlands talks.

Police at crime scene, viewing body of
17-year old Kian Lloyd de los Santos in Caloocan (Manila Standard photo)
Former DSWD Secretary Judy Taguiwalo defending herself before the Commission on Appointments

The ongoing battle of our country against the drug menace goes into a cycle of boom and bust---of paroxysms of anger and then long periods of quiet, as though of surrender to reality. Right now the nation is undergoing extreme paroxysms of anger and outrage over the brutal death of 17-year old Kian Lloyd de los Santos, an 11th grader at the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel College in Caloocan City,  last Friday night at the hands of supposed law enforcers. 

The circumstances are truly troubling, for the CCTV cameras in the neighborhood caught the boy as he was being dragged by two men who were not in uniform and then he was shot from behind. The story peddled by the police is that Kian was armed and they were forced to shoot him down. However, as the Inquirer pointed out, the footages showed that the arresting men already had the boy in custody before he was killed. A witness described how Kian was told to run real fast, after which they shot him from the back several times. . 


This most recent segment in the long telenovela of our nation's bloody battle against drugs does not seem credible at all, for the young boy is not an NPA in the hills who would be sporting arms. He has a family. In fact, as the mother, a domestic helper in Saudi who had to rush home upon hearing of her son's ill fate, revealed in tears:  just the night before, Kian had asked her for a bike, which she promised. That doesn't sound like a drug pusher to me. 

Two days ago, the President was quoted in the Manila Times as declaring that the Philippines "has turned into a narco country as policemen in Manila shot dead 25 drug suspects in a series of raids overnight." No one is saying that the rut our country has fallen into as a result of the conspiracy of forces in various administrations is going to be a picnic. But right now many citizens are questioning whether the policy of shooting even just mere suspects involved in drugs---specially young people---WOULD NOT CREATE A CURE WORSE THAN THE MALADY. 


A culture of violence and impunity is enveloping Philippine society, and the sad thing is that in case of an error of the killing machines, life cannot be brought back. WRONG MISTAKE PALA, as the street lingo goes.  I feel especially for the youth being slain, for I sincerely believe in the possibility of REHABILITATION---if only the STATE AND THE COMMUNITY would show the patience and political will---and creative ways of handling rehabilitation. 

AND LASTLY, CITIZENS ARE ASKING: WHY CAN'T THE TRAFFIC IN DRUGS BE STOPPED AT THE SOURCE---FROM ABROAD? The mind-boggling P6.4 billion worth of shabu that passed through Customs from abroad recently was an eye-stopper. Logic dictates that the authorities close the supply faucet before anything else. 


The failure of Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo to get the required minimum 13 affirmative votes in the powerful 24-member Commission on Appointments to secure her post may be attributed to a number of reasons.  From reports reaching this blogger from insiders in the House of Representatives, she failed to accommodate the request of House members for her to set aside contingency funds in the DSWD budget for their home provinces. 

According to reports I gathered, members of the "super-majority" in the House wanted Secretary Taguiwalo to just put aside a certain amount in the DSWD yearly budget for EACH OF THE PROVINCES throughout the country---particularly those prone to disasters---so that in case of emergencies, funds would readily be available to them.


Ex-Secretary Taguiwalo was quoted in media as asserting, however,  that the representatives were simply after pork barrel or restoration of the PDAF that members of Congress lost after the Supreme Court RULED THE PORK BARREL FUND UNLAWFUL AND ILLEGAL THREE YEARS AGO. They just want it back,  it's their sense of entitlement over these funds, rued the ex-DSWD Secretary to media after she was sacked.  Her stance was resented by Congress members who decried Taguiwalo’s "one-track mind" about the funds.

I can understand why Taguiwalo would be suspicious about the congressmen’s wanting their pork outright; for members of the House have gotten used to pork barrel as  political entitlement But with the pork barrel outlawed by the Supreme Court, they have had to seek assurance of funds from the DSWD for "contingencies."  . 


Then there is the issue of Judy Taguiwalo--- a former UP professor from 1992 to 2015 and former faculty regent of the UP Board of Regents for a year---as being leftist, which she does not deny. Her leftist leanings came into play owing to speculation from some leftist House members that President Duterte refused to "sway" his super-majority coalition in the chamber to her side in the CA---because of presidential disgust over the recent bog-down of talks between the government and the Left in The Netherlands. 

In fact, as a senior congressman put it, Mr. Duterte later sort of gave the impression that the congressmen could do what they please with Taguiwalo's fate in the CA, and he wouldn't meddle. . 

The voting in the CA tells it all. If Mr. Duterte wanted to push for the DSWD Secretary, he could have ordered his party, the PDP Laban, WHICH HAS 113 MEMBERS IN THE HOUSE---a clear super-majority---to support Taguiwalo. Consider this huge bloc vs. the NP's 33, the NPC's 29, the LPs' 27, the NUP's 23, Una's 4, Lakas' 3, the LDP's 1 and the Bukidnon Paglaum, 1. Had the President gone full blast for Taguiwalo she doubtless could have squeezed through the CA. 

As it turned out in the final voting on Taguiwalo, of the 13 votes to REJECT her, A FULL 9 VOTES CAME FROM,THE HOUSE AND THE FOUR OTHER VOTES FROM THE SENATE.  Of the 11 votes FOR Taguiwalo, 1 vote came from the leftist Makabayan bloc and the rest from the Senate. But the House vote was enough to oust her.  

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The current imbroglio between Comelec Chief Andy Bautista and estranged wife Trisha does not follow the traditional pattern, for Andy’s mother-in-law, the glamorous Baby Cruz Vasquez, is his biggest defender. This case is expected to result in an impeachment trial if only to divert public attention away from some of the administration’s deficiencies

The Andres Bautistas and Andy Bau's mom-in-law, the beautous Baby Cruz  Vasquez in happier times

Indeed, nothing like a public tussle between husband and wife to rock the media--- especially if the former is a prominent official and the wife is the aggressive and assertive kind who wants half of the wealth. Last Monday, the Inquirer broke out the story of the on-going dispute between Comelec Chair Andres Bautista and his estranged wife, Patricia Cruz-Bautista, and it has been pecking plate for tri-media---with the audience or the readers following every twist and turn of this melodrama being played out especially on the TV networks.

I feel sad and truly sorry for any marriage break-up, as I subscribe to the belief that a marriage under God is indissoluble except by death. This time I feel sorrier because I know Andy Bautista and his mother-in-law, the ever-glamorous Baby Cruz-Vasquez.  I felt very sad to hear from Andy over TV recently how his sons have stopped going to school because of the shame that front pages of newspapers and prime-time TV of their parents’ very public quarrel have brought them. In any marriage break-up especially of the frightfully acrimonious kind (from Trisha Bautista’s end) the real victims of the word war are the children---more so in this case, as it is so high-profile.  Truly tragic


There are interesting facets to the controversy, such as the query on everyone’s mind after Andy Bautista called for his first press conference  to answer his wife’s allegations about ill-gotten wealth in---of all places---the condo unit of his mother-in-law, Baby Vasquez, and her husband Danny Vasquez.  Both Vasquezes were very visible by his side. The query: bakit kakampi ni Andy Bau (as his friends call him) ang mother-in-law niya, when  by tradition and old wives’ tales, mother-in-law and son or daughter-in-law have little love lost for each other. Here Andy Bau has the full support of his mom-in-law, which doesn’t seem to go by the traditional Pinoy drama script.

In fact, Baby Cruz Vasquez released a statement just now that reads:

“I am greatly saddened by recent events involving my daughter Trisha and her husband Andy. AS a mother, you always wish happiness for your daughter and her family. Sadly, fairy tales sometimes do not always come true.
“It also pains me to see my grandchildren go through this trial that was not of their doing nor their fault.
“I have known Andy for years and I know him to be an honest, upright, God-fearing husband and father. He is a man of unquestioned integrity, the kind of man any mother would entrust her daughter to. THIS IS WHY I CANNOT BELIEVE THE ACCUSATION AGAINST HIM, EVEN IF THEY ARE FROM MY OWN DAUGHTER (emphasis BOC’s).
“I continue to pray for Andy and his family, that they stand fast and find the strength to face this storm. I also pray for my daughter, that she realizes what are truly important in life.”

In turn, Baby, we your friends are praying for strength for you and your family amid this cross that you are carrying.


Judging from public reaction of friends and people I know, the sympathy seems to be tilting toward Andy Bau especially after he appeared on TV a second time with his eyes swollen and he spoke about his sons.  The good feeling toward him comes from the fellow’s easy friendly manners even with media, but I also gather the same sentiment from people who know him well.

For instance, Dr. Jason Roland Valdez, son of SSS Chair Amado Valdez, narrates that when his grandmother died, Andy Bau was the first one to arrive at the funeral parlor---ahead of the Valdezes and even of the corpse in the viewing room---to condole with the bereaved family. J.R. Valdez asserts that he would never forget this episode about their family friend.


Actually the friendship among three former deans of law schools is indicative of Andy Bau’s easy manners and nice-guy image. Andy was dean of the FEU College of Law, while Amado Valdez was dean of the UE College of Law, and Nilo Divina the current dean of the UST College of Law. The three men were once very active in the Philippine Association of Law Schools (PALS).

This friendship between Bautista and Nilo Divina has come into play in the current controversy, as Trisha Bautista's allegation is that Andy Bau was receiving what amounts to “lagay” for referring PCGG cases to Nilo’s office, and the sums are alleged by Trisha as part of monies stacked up in Bautista’s numerous bank accounts here and abroad---which wealth, as the stories go, she wants to be divided evenly between them.


With the allegations against Andy Bau hurled by Trisha before President Duterte in Malacanang earlier, and later in a press conference that she held, talk of impeachment---the only manner in the Constitution whereby the chair of a constitutional commission such as the Comelec could be removed for cause---has surfaced.  As per the Constitution, the resolution to impeach a public servant comes from the House of Representatives and if the sufficient votes are secured, the case goes to the Senate for open and frequently bloody trial, as in the case of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Because Bautista was an appointee of ex-President Aquino, President 
Duterte’s men in both chambers of Congress may be expected to get into full throttle on the trial. Moreover, as Comelec chair, Bautista doubtless has left one political party or the other aggrieved in the elections.  An impeachment trial  is also a way of diverting attention from the problems bedeviling the administration such as the increasingly sluggish economy, the insurgency war and the bog-down of the peace talks with the Left, the still unresolved trouble in Marawi and environs, and the insufficient budget needs for big-ticket items such as implementing free tuition in State Universities & Colleges, that has recently been passed into law.

Aside from the trials and tribulations of a contemporary marriage in the elite class, what’s happening to Comelec Chair Bautista is enough to frighten any thinking citizen about entering public service.  I join his mom-in-law, Baby Cruz Vasquez, in praying for enlightenment for the estranged couple. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

The slaying of the Parojinog family in Osamiz City bares a lot of symptoms of the illnesses of the Philippine body politic. Cancer-stricken Republican Sen. John McCain displays his maverick reputation anew as he shows enviable political independence in raging controversy over "Obamacare."

A dawn raid carried out by police forces on the compound of the ruling Parujinogs in Ozamiz City

Arizona Senator John McCain: political maverick

The slaying of Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog, Sr., his wife, son and nine others in a dawn raid yesterday, Sunday in Ozamiz City, and the arrest of the mayor's daughter once again focuses national as well as international attention on the brutal anti-drug war of the President. But the raid of the Parojinog compound as well as the slaying of family members and followers constitute only a tiny corner of the local crime world now being shaken to its roots by our President. 

The Parojinogs of Mindanao are said to be the leader of the notorious Kuratong Baleleng crime syndicate associated with strings of criminal incidents such as bank robberies, kidnappings and a rub-out case versus ranking police officers. 


Sociologists studying this political clan's case would doubtless note a pattern in its rise and fall that's common to a good number of all the dynastic political clans. Statistics show that 74% OF ALL THE SEATS IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ARE OCCUPIED BY MEMBERS OF LOCAL DYNASTIES. To be sure, there are dynasties that have had a non-controversial record of service, even if many of their members have had forgettable achievements in terms of bills authored. 

The other side of the coin, however, shows how a good number of these dynastic families in the country have been linked to big-time crimes and associated with great wealth---that can buy almost everybody in a given locality: public and police officials, rival politicians to desist from running, and voters, etc. On top of it all, however, they manage to unfailingly---and repeatedly---get elected to various offices, including as kingpin of the city or province. 

Sociologists would inevitably conclude that the political dynasties display a perceptible pattern in various localities around the country. They are oftentimes warlords who seek political and social acceptance as honorables but who, in reality, retain all the trappings of warlordism in guns, goons and gold, corrupt trade practices such as drug-dealing, as well as corrupting local and perhaps national officials, and God knows what else. 


A thoughtful commentary in the Inquirer today by Hermenegildo C.Cruz, former Philippine ambassador to the UN (1984-1986) very timely asserted that while the war on drugs has thus become an obsession of Mr. Duterte in his "Single Issue Presidency," it has been carried out "to the detriment of the two other wars"---namely, the war on poverty and the war vs. terrorism. Ambassador Cruz argues that to alleviate poverty we need foreign assistance in developing our own resources, but in several instances, he asserts, "We have given up foreign assistance due to concerns expressed by donors over human rights violations in our country." 

As the former envoy suggested, all these criminal happenings in our country as well as the warlordism and political dynasties are very much related to the gripping poverty in our midst, especially in the hinterlands of Mindanao. Or should I say, the gripping poverty is very much due to the warlordism and the political dynasty set-up, as well as the proliferation of drugs (as an escape from poverty for users as well as income for pushers). 


Many Filipinos cotton to corrupt politicians and warlords because of their grinding poverty; with few exceptions, however, the politicians. specially of the warlord variety, want to keep their constituents poor and largely ignorant, so that come election time they can simply buy the poverty-stricken electorate's votes and give out bags of goodies. It's a vicious cycle---with election spending on the up and up each time---and presto! the political clan members get to keep their posts where they can get away with murder---by terrorizing, bribing and whatever else.  

Our political situation is really depressing. How different it is in the more progressive societies where the broad masses are better educated and economically situated---and therefore more independent of their politicians. The solution to less dependence on political warlords is a more-educated and economically-situated electorate. Will that day ever come for this country? 


I have always been interested in the career of Arizona Sen. John McCain for a number of reasons. He comes from a distinguished American military family that produced two four-star admirals in the US Navy: his grandfather and father. Moreover, John McCain was a classmate at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, of my late brother-in-law, Admiral Carlito Y. Cunanan of the Philippine Navy.  McCain was a war hero imprisoned in North Vietnam for over five years, after his fighter bomber plane was shot down over North Vietnam on his 23rd bombing mission, and he almost drowned in the lake where the plane fell. McCain was badly tortured while in prison, and to this day he cannot lift both arms too high as they were broken by constant beating with a rifle during his imprisonment. 

John McCain ran as the Republican candidate for president in 2008 vs. the Democrats' Barack Obama who won and was subsequently reelected in 2012. The 2008 presidential campaign ran on two opposing themes: a vote for a genuine American war hero vs. the first black American to seek the presidency. More than his youthful age and eloquence, it was primarily the black vote that catapulted Obama to the presidency in 2008, and his reelection four years later. .  


After his presidential defeat John McCain continued to perform as senior Republican senator from Arizona and earlier last week, he captured the American---and the world's---imagination in the US Congress' deliberations over President Trump's appeal to repeal the "Affordable Care Act"---more popularly known as "ObamaCare"---that was passed during the second Obama administration. Republicans had dreamed for seven years of dismantling that health program and indeed, with unrelenting push from Trump, it seemed destined for Congress' wastebasket---until Sen. McCain suddenly showed up from the dead, as it were.  

McCain had been diagnosed with cancer in the brain--a recurrence from his earlier bout with it some years back. On the day of voting for Obamacare, however, the maverick Republican senator left his hospital bed and dramatically showed up in the session hall. To the total surprise of his fellow Republicans, he voted an emphatic No to Obamacare's repeal!  His argument was that there is still no proposed measure that can assure a better performance for the American people's health care. 


The entire Senate and the nation were stunned by McCain's move---his Republican colleagues were flabbergasted; what's more, two Republican female senators also turned about and voted no---to the wild applause of the Democrats. Speculation is rife that McCain was just dishing it to Trump for his having assailed the war hero's record in the past and what McCain considered his fellow Republican's disrespect to all American veterans of war.

There could be some truth to this tit-for-tat rumor, and there is no certainty about the future of Obamacare, as the Democrats appear rejuvenated by their unexpected Republican ally. But what it did was to speak volumes about McCain's independence of mind---that for him country comes first before partisan considerations. 

This is something that many Filipino politicians have seldom exhibited. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

President Digong to speak for 2 ½ hours at tightest-security SONA ever, as Palace appropriates 280 tickets (for pala?). SONA to zero in on Marawi recovery and clamor for abrogation of peace talks in the Netherlands owing to renewed hostilities in Negros.

Marawi City, seat of Islam in the Philippines, goes up in smoke.

Peace talks participants in The Netherlands in a jubilant pose

From what I gathered, security for tomorrow’s State of the Nation Address at the Batasan would be the tightest in recent memory—which is expected, given various controversies these days. The buzz too is that invitations to tomorrow’s SONA are as premium as gold (1,800 invites out, delivered by authorized personnel and non-transferable---no changing of seats). Malacanang alone had asked for 280 invites. 

All the guests are asked to be in the Plenary Hall by 3pm. and all entrances to it shall be closed at 3:30 pm. As is customary,  the guests are enjoined to come in Filipiniana attire although, since the President is from Mindanao, spotlight will be on attire from the big island. Ladies of Congress will be mostly in Mindanao-inspired outfits, as they seek to coordinate with the dress design of presidential partner Honeylet AvanceƱa, who is said to come in a Mindanao outfit.  


The crowning bit of it all: President Duterte is expected to speak longer than the usual hour and 15 minutes with applause interruptions in past SONAs. In fact the buzz is that he’ll speak for 2 ½ hours, so diabetic guests are enjoined to bring candies or biscuits to assuage hunger. Last year Mr. Duterte peppered his hour and 20 minutes with homey quips that kept the audience rolling on their side; this time, however, the mood is expected to be pregnant with seriousness as he tackles two main preoccupations of the nation: the IS challenge in Mindanao and the incredibly vast damage and proposed rehabilitation of once-beautiful Marawi City, and the lack of progress in the peace talks in The Netherlands between the government panel  (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). PRRD is expected to denounce renewed hostilities by NPA guerillas in some provincial areas.


What we’ll see tomorrow is a Congress feeling good about itself over the overwhelming triumph of the side advocating EXTENSION of the martial law proclamation in Mindanao until Dec. 31 this year---261 VOTING FOR, VS. 18 AGAINST. My readers will recall how I castigated both chambers of Congress for passing up their OBLIGATION under the Constitution, TO DELIBERATE JOINTLY on and approve OR reject the proclamation of martial law in Mindanao by President Duterte soon after Marawi was invaded by Maute elements.

What the two chambers did at that time was to meet SEPARATELY to discuss the merits of the martial law proclamation  in Marawi---when the Constitution is very clear: both of them are MANDATED TO MEET  JOINTLY to approve or throw out the President's martial law declaration in Mindanao, and the latter couldn't do anything about it if Congress disapproved it. I called Congress’ failure to hold a joint session a DERELICTION OF DUTY by the honorables. 

In last Friday's jam-packed JOINT SESSION of Congress to approve or disapprove the martial law extension by the President, however, the members of both chambers redeemed themselves and their institution. Congress overwhelmingly approved that extension, and listening to the individual solons recite their stand---and from time to time debate the issue among themselves--I felt proud of Congress, something I don’t feel everyday.  


Traditionally, on the eve of the SONA, the Center for People Empowerment in Government (CENPEG), an umbrella group of UP professions from various disciplines, would conduct an assessment of the “State of the Presidency” (S0P) over the past years at a forum in UP Diliman. I have always attended these sessions over the years as I have found them quite stimulating. Last Thursday was CENPEG’S “9TH SOP and predictably the two major topics I mentioned above were taken up. I shall deal with them here first, and in the next few days the rest of the topics taken. 

The reconstruction of Marawi and environs might well be the center of attention of Mr. Duterte’s five years in office from hereon, for as Prof. Julkipli Wadi put it, “Apart from war on drugs, the Marawi crisis is THE SINGLE MOST DEVASTATING CHALLENGE THAT IMPACTED HEAVILY ON THE FIRST YEAR OF THE DUTERTE ADMINISTRATION.” I agree with Prof. Wadi on this point. While the drug war preoccupied the Duterte forces and led to the killings of some 7,000 Filipinos as well as protests here and abroad about human rights violations, the Marawi crisis killed thousands of Filipinos on both sides, combatants and civilians, destroyed the mecca of the Muslim faith here and left so many people homeless and the economy ruined. 


Interestingly, Prof. Wadi opines that the Marawi problem could have been averted had there been “clear and coherent policy and strategy of the AFP in addressing the rise of new Moro radicalism, including the so-called ISI-Maute Group.” He asserts that with the “peace lull” on the Bangsamoro peace process as government became too focused on the war against drugs, the Moro fronts for months remained “in the waiting mode on what the next steps in the peace process (would be)---untapped to serve as government partner in the war vs. terrorism." Thus, Mr. Wadi insists, INTO THIS LULL ENTERTED THE MAUTE GROUP, THE ABU SAYYAF AND THEIR ISI AFFILIATES, TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE "UNCERTAIN SITUATION  IN MINDANAO." 

Prof. Wadi also cites what everybody knows---the failure in AFP intelligence in that conflict area---and he fears that the lack of long-term vision of reform “would politicize even more the bureaucracy in the autonomous region,” even as it could potentially open a void in Moro struggle with more splits to ensue and new radicals fitting in new role.” Wadi asserts that the war in Mindanao will take perhaps another generation to fathom and solve. 


Prof. Bobby M. Tuason, CenPeg Director for Policy Studies, in his paper titled “Prospects and Intricacies of a Peace Agreement in the GPH-NDFP Negotiations,” laments that while the peace talks resumed last year in an upbeat mood---with both sides agreeing to fast-track the process---the talks lost their steam due to several reasons. Among them, he argued, were “military intransigence and President Duterte’s POOR GRASP OF THE PEACE PROCESS, on one hand, and the NPA holding its ground to resist AFP operations on the other.” 

Prof. Tuason traced the quickening pace to sue for peace in the post-Marcos era, starting with Corazon Aquino in 1986, with the NDFP, which represents the CPP and its armed component, the NPA. Binding the negotiations with the government over the past 30 years of protracted peace talks, as hosted by the Netherlands and later Norway, asserts Prof. Tuason, has been the pressure on the Armed Left to capitulate while launching total wars resulting in human rights abuses, and of late, refusing to honor previous agreements.


Prof. Tuason paints the two protagonists:  "On one side was the GPH panel representing the state whose role is to preserve the status quo of the dominant class of oligarchs, an unequal alliance with the US, and a political system legitimized in principle by a constitution which is otherwise mocked by the ruling oligarchs themselves."  

On the other side, he argues, "was a revolutionary organization that envisions, so its program claims, to overhaul the class system, implement a genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization en route to establishing a socialist state." 

Tuason asserts that a window was opened under President Duterte when he appointed a few progressives to the Cabinet and released some key political prisoners temporarily to allow them to participate in the negotiations in Europe. The President's panel also agreed with the NDFP to reaffirm previous agreements on human rights, security and immunity guarantees. But as is now evident, all these have come to naught and in the countryside there are renewed hostilities by the NPAs. Thus, points out Tuason, last May the 5th round of talks in The Netherlands was unilaterally put "on hold" by the GPH panel, with President Duterte's consent.  

(More speakers’ views to follow)

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The war vs. drugs---candid snapshot after the recent horrifying San Jose del Monte slayings---so brutal that provincial governor and mayor felt constrained to put up sums to flush out the killers. What can be done with drug addicts within ambit of the law?

One of the more horrifying episodes in recent times in our drug-proliferated country involves the slaying of two women and three children in San Jose del Monte, Novaliches---a crime so dastardly that the governor of Bulacan and the mayor of the town felt constrained to put up reward money that would lead to the arrest of the killers. While the father of the family, a security guard, was away, apparently two drug-crazed men got into their shack in San Jose del Monte and raped the women: first the elder woman, the children's grandmother,  and then her daughter, the mother of the three children. Afterwards all five of them were slain and the killers fled.

After a few days the story emerged: the two assailants were high on drugs and committed the rapes and murders. “It seemed like fun at that time,” was all one assailant could say with a weird smile and glazed eyes. Of course no one in his right or station mind would commit such horrible crimes, but it demonstrates concretely what hideous drugs can do to transform people into beasts. Co-conspirators here are the widespread poverty and the lack of education and opportunities for advancement of the very poor in society. Drugs become an escape mechanism.

It’s also used by those in occupations that tax health but enable the users to stay awake---such as bus-drivers especially for long distances, security guards and apparently, judging from the huge catch in Marawi, rebels fearful of impending death but who have to soldier on.


Soon after reading about that episode, I had a conversation with an established psychologist trained abroad and who has worked abroad in dealing with such societal aberrations. He stressed several things. One is that the drug problem remains so prevalent and widespread in our country despite the Duterte administration's campaign against it, cutting across social strata---it is as bad at the very lowest rung of society, the balut-vendors, street-sweepers, jeepney drivers and security guards--- as it is in the rarefied atmosphere of the exclusive villages in Makati and Pasig. What’s sad about it, this psychologist stressed, is that many prominent parents of such delinquent children are not even aware of their involvement with drugs.

He narrated that in a visit to an affluent home where the father of the family had asked for help for his drug-involved children , he also interviewed the house staff about their wards, and the staff didn’t know if the kids had hidden forbidden stuff anywhere in the house. The psychologist took a look at a mirror on the wall and sure enough there was neatly taped at the back---a small package with whitish stuff, shabu. He stressed that parents have to befriend their children and know where they hang out and with whom, but that he has been to homes where a mixed crowd play mahjong all night in one level of the house, while the kids and friends smoke pot and eventually graduate to sterner stuff later.

This psychologist also noted that with the crackdown on drugs in the market, prices have gone up, and this means that supply is getting more critical as the anti-drug campaign continues. On the other hand, let us hope that the police campaign against drugs---now secretly sold in little sachets that look more like innocent salt or “Magic Sarap”--won’t proliferate.

Get involved with your children’s lives, this psychologist advises, and get to know their friends, where they go and what they like to do. Spending more time with your children has been a time-worn advice to parents since forever, but never has it become more needed and more sensible than in our present day and age.


The psychologist stressed how prevalent the drug menace has become in Philippine society. Recall that tens of kilos of drugs were seized by government soldiers in two successful captures of lairs of the Maute-led rebel group in Marawi recently. What it underlines is that the rebels have access to not only arms but drugs in our very porous Southern backdoor---and it's very likely that the drug trade funds the invasion in the South; thus a double whammy. 

The supply of both contraband goods has to be sealed if we are to lick our drug problem as well as the illegal firearms, or reduce them at least to the minimum. The drugs found in huge quantities in several places in Marawi indicate the ease with which prohibited stuff get to enter the country---the Southern backdoor is only one entry point---and this has to be sealed no matter how tough it is to do so. I had always wondered how come the drug supply in Luzon has seemed inexhaustible---now we have a good idea.

It’s easy enough to see how rebel soldiers have to take the prohibited drugs to overcome fatigue and fears of impending attacks by the Armed Forces, where they could die; thus; it would help tremendously if we could seal the Southern borders----despite the obvious difficulties such work would entail, given wide-open entry to Mindanao via the high seas. 

We citizens also hope that the huge quantities of drugs seized from rebel forces in Marawi would be destroyed totally and not smuggled back into the market.


Secondly, the psychologist emphasized how ill-equipped our country is in combating the drug menace---especially in facilities needed to house and reform the addicts, with staff trained for the urgent but very delicate work badly needed. He narrated how some police officers have admitted candidly to him that while they did try to turn the drug addicts over to the responsible suitable agencies, in some cases the cops seem to have no choice but to shoot them down because they did not know of places equipped enough to handle drug rehabilitation. Wrongly handled, these addicts could only worsen and infect other people with their affliction. 

With the lack of properly trained personnel and rehab centers, thus was born the ugly phenomenon of the EJK denounced all over the world, and giving the Duterte administration an unnecessary black-eye internationally.


The brutal truth is that the drug menace had become so pervasive and prevalent, stresses this psychologist, that society and the law-enforcement agencies were caught totally unprepared to handle this problem of the drug-crazed people. It was ignored by the Noynoy Aquino administration and it took Rodrigo Duterte to dramatize the campaign---unfortunately  in many cases, with EJK.

The psychologist admitted that to in order give the government and society---hand in hand---a fighting chance to win the battle against drugs, it would entail more effort than what is being exerted now. I think of the successful battle being waged by Argentine-born Fr. Luciano Felloni, now a Filipino citizen, of the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Caloocan, with the cooperation of the city government. I can think of what the Brazilian sisters are doing to help drug addicts in Masbate in the Azenda di Esperanza---a rehab place without fences where youngsters are being successfully helped on to recovery. 

But those are very few examples. More has to be done to win the ugly war vs. drugs.

Monday, June 26, 2017

We mourn the destruction of Marawi City, but at least it’s young and history still to be written---unlike in ancient Iraq and Syria, with wrecked cities like Palmyra, the “Venice of the Sands,” whose precious relics of civilization are being destroyed wantonly. As a prominent cultural anthropologist put it: "Heritage, like human life, is irreplaceable."

The historic and symbolic grand al-anuri Mosque in Iraq's second largest city of Mosul, together with the Pisa-like Minaret at left.
After ISIS burned down the Mosque last Wednesday night, the 840-year old Minaret stands by its lonesome.

Colonnade ruins in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria's second largest, which was savagely destroyed by war between ISIS and government forces. 
The Roman Theater in Palmyra where government forces celebrated re-capture of the city, destroyed by ISIS forces..After its recapture, the Russian forces brought in the Mariinsky Philharmonic Orchestra from St. Petersburg to play at this theater, even though it is very badly damaged, as photo shows.

Five weeks into the fighting in Marawi between government forces and IS-allied Maute rebels, our most beautiful Muslim city that lies on the banks of Lake Lanao is in total ruins---just like in epic war movies.  Its destruction is the kind one cannot adequately put a price tag on, nor fashion a timetable on how long it would take to restore and rehabilitate---or to heal the trauma its people have undergone in these five horrifying weeks.  

Destroyed were the Catholic Cathedral and its statuary, beautiful mosques, the Protestant-run Dansalan Colleges, parts of the city hospital and countless homes and buildings that were bombed for suspected hidden terrorists.  
But what should comfort us at least is that Marawi is a young country in terms of history and cultural artifacts, compared to the Middle and Near East---ancient countries like Iraq and Syria that have been  bombarded and ransacked heavily in recent times, their populations scattered  with terrible trauma, AND PRICELESS ANTIQUITIES, SOME DATING BACK TO THE DAWN OF RECORDED HISTORY, NOW DAMAGED BEYOND REPAIR. 


Take the recent blowing up by Islamic State rebels of the historic mosque in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which government forces are trying to wrest back from the IS. The symbolic Grand al-Nuri Mosque in that town was blown up by IS forces as government troops were advancing---ironically. on the holiest night of the year for Muslims, the Laylat al-Qadr, which commemorates the revelation of the Koran to Prophet Muhammad.. Luckily, the al-Hadba leaning minaret right next to the Mosque, which is 840 years old and often compared to the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, was spared and now standing by its lonesome.

This ancient Mosque just blown up was where, in the summer of 2014, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi “ascended a pulpit and declared a caliphate after his fighters took control of Mosul and swept through other parts of northern Iraq and Syria.” This edifice and its leaning minaret have  dominated the Mosul skyline for centuries and in fact this landscape is even featured in Iraq’s currency (the 10,000 dinar).

So many other ancient cities in this part of the world were destroyed and plundered by the IS, among them Simla Havoc and Nimrud in Iraq as well as Samarra and Hatra. The  Syrian city of Tadmir was likewise plundered.   


But perhaps the most heartbreaking of all was the destruction of the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria’s second largest city---which probably has few rivals in its tragic cultural fate amid the seesawing battle between government forces and the IS over the past two years.

Palmyra, declared by UNESCO since 1980 as a World Heritage Site, was an ancient oasis city with lavish gardens, 20 varieties of date palms and monumental white limestone buildings---one of the best-maintained complexes of antiquity. Known popularly as the “Venice of the Sands,” Palmyra also came to be recognized as the “historic city,” as it was the former capital of the legendary rebel warrior queen Zenobia (240-275 A.D.).


Prior to the destruction of Palmyra starting in 2011, historic accounts sang paeans of praise for this city because of  its oasis setting and well-preserved architectural mix of ancient Semitic, Roman, Greek and Persian motifs. Experts pointed out that this ancient city was a favorite watering-hole of traveling caravans since the beginning of time. Thus, "it stood at the crossroads of several civilizations (and) married Graeco-Roman techniques with local tradition and Persian influences.” Palmyra would lure more than 150,0000 tourists a year.

Unfortunately, its reputation as one of the Middle East’s best-preserved remnants of the ancient world didn't last long, for as an account put it, "Syria’s civil war made it a battleground and the IS decided to blow it up.” 


To us Christians, Syria is particularly significant---and second only to Jerusalem in importance. Recall that the Lord had ordered the pagan Paul, whom He blinded for a while, to journey to Damascus and look for Ananias who was to restore his sight.  Moreover, the Sermon on the Mount was delivered by Jesus Christ in Mt. Hermon, said at that time to be in Syria, while the Transfiguration occurred there too.

Antioch, the ancient Roman capital in the Middle East, was where the disciples of Jesus were first termed “Christians.” It was also said to be the starting point for the ministry of Apostle Paul, Barnabas, Luke, Mark and others, who were all to suffer persecution and martyrdom. Thus, it is said that the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the Church, and much of it sprouted out of Syria.  

World pressure on the IS led to its oath that while “IS will break the idols that the infidels used for worship,” it would not touch the historic buildings erected between the first and third centuries, nor the antiquities. But destroy Palmyra the IS did, beginning with three tower tombs dating from the 1st to the 3rd centuries---in what had seemed like a systematic on-going eradication of pre-Islamic structures undertaken by IS since mid-August of last year. Early last September, the rebels blew up the Mesopotamian Tempel of Bel, described by Ross Burns, an ancient history professor of Australia’s McQuarie University as “the most significant building in Syria from the Roman period" (roughly 63B.C. to 500 A.D.).

This was followed by the destruction of the Phoenician Temple of  Baal Shanim, Palmyra’s second most important religious shrine---a terrible feat  termed by experts as analogous to the “Stone Age Communism” of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in 1975-1979.

In 2001, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda destroyed famous Buddhas of Amiyan in Afghanistan. Then significantly, what IS did not destroy, it looted and sold through a “highly methodical, highly efficient excavation operation to finance its twisted ambitions,” as US Deputy Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken put it.


So what can be done about all the horrible destruction of irreplaceable antiquities? It had been pointed out that the Mali, Africa-born citizen Ahmad Al Mahdi Al Faqi, a member of a militant Islamic group and deported from Niger, was to stand trial before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, for the “war crime of the intentional destruction of historic monuments and buildings in Timbuktu (Africa) in 2012". The suit against this Mali citizen was to be the first of its kind to be brought to the ICC.  The world should keenly watch how far this "war crime" of destruction of antiquities before the ICC would go.

Meantime, it's good to remember the words of Dr. Clemens Reichel, a prominent cultural anthropologist, Said he: 

Heritage, like human life, is irreplaceable. If you blow up the Temple of Bel, it’s not going to grow back in 100 years, just as if you wipe out a human being, he or she is never going to grow back. This is not like the gold from the state bank that can be replaced over a number of years. It’s gone, it’s a unique piece that disappears, and more to the point, it’s part of the very cultural heritage of the humans living there.”