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, April 19, 2018

Human rights in limelight again. US Supreme Court nixes deportation of Pinoy immigrant accused of burglary, as it asserts that “vague provisions” risk “arbitrary enforcement,” in violation of US Constitution. Pinoy lawyers appeal to UN prosecutor to take notice of Duterte's human rights “violations” vs.judiciary and threat to lawyers' safety. 71-year old Aussie nun, 27 years in PH, ordered investigated and detained by President Duterte for “disorderly conduct” at rights rallies.

Two recent episodes involving Filipino personalities illustrate the critical essence of the law---one demonstrating its majesty, as interpreted by the US Supreme Court, and the other protesting what appears to be the deficiency in reverence by the Duterte administration for the supremacy of the law and the Filipino lawyers' appeal to recognize this truism.

The treatment of the law in these two separate cases presents most interesting human contradictions as well as keenly opposing legal angles.


A Filipino long-timer legal immigrant in the US,  James Garcia Dimaya, was protected by the US Supreme Court from deportation to the Philippines, after he was convicted of two burglaries in California.  The US High Court, through ponente Justice Elena Kagan, had termed Dimaya’s impending deportation after his conviction under the Immigration and Nationality Act as “unconstitutionally vague.” Kagan feared that the ambiguity  of Dimaya’s supposed crime of violence could create confusion in lower courts---and she decided to hold the deportation and four of her colleagues upheld her ponencia.

Thus, rather than give rise to “uncertainty over which crimes may be considered violent, RISKING ARBITRARY ENFORCEMENT IN VIOLATION OF THE US CONSTITUTION" (emphasis this blogger's),  the US lady justice ruled that the Filipino burglar be freed from deportation.  His lawyer, Joshua Rosendranz, ecstatically said that “The (US) Supreme Court delivered a resounding message today. You can’t banish a person from his home and family without clear lines announced up front.”


Interestingly, US President Donald Trump’s “conservative” appointee to the US Supreme Court, Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined this 5-4 majority ruling that termed the legal definition of violence too vague.  Trump was reported to be disappointed in this ruling as well as in Gorsuch, as he has been pushing for deportation of what he considers dangerous foreign criminals. 

Obviously, in the US, legal moves are not allowed to be undertaken for as long as there are ambiguities in the laws invoked, as lives of people are involved in such moves.  It was THE MAJESTY OF THE LAW AS AFFECTING ORDINARY CITIZENS, RATHER THAN THE EGO OF A PRESIDENT, that was upheld in this instance.


Across the seas, several Filipino lawyers yesterday filed a motion with the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego Garcia-Sayan, to investigate the Duterte administration’s alleged actions that, in the lawyers’ opinion, undermine the judiciary and threaten the lives of legal practitioners. The lawyer-complainants, led by Integrated Bar of the Philippines’ national president Abdiel Dan Fajardo, included former opposition Rep. Neri Colmenares, Ateneo Prof. Tony La Viña,  Arpee Santiago and Ryan Jay Roset. 

Their 16-page report complained that the Duterte administration’s “infringing” on judicial independence “jeopardizes the very essence of democracy in the Philippines.” The complainant-lawyers noted particularly the President's pronouncements relating to the immediate ouster of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and against the legal profession that, the lawyers argued, is only performing its duties under the Code of Professional Responsibility.

Mr. Duterte has publicly goaded the House of Representatives to get on with the impeachment of the CJ so that the Senate trial could commence. The House Committee on Justice voted affirmatively on the impeachment complaint, but the entire House still has to vote on it when session resumes next month. . 


Political pundits like former diplomat Ado Paglinawan assert that while only 90 votes are needed for the House to impeach CJ Sereno, the likelihood is that there would be over 200 votes against her in that chamber---given the PDP-Laban super-majority there. But it is in the Senate where the CJ would face trial that the math becomes more complicated. 

As Paglinawan pointed out in our dzRH public affairs program last Sunday, of the 23 senators, 15 votes are needed to convict Sereno. Ado also acknowledged that impeachment being a political process, at the end of the day factors other than her guilt or innocence would come in---e.g., coercion,  vote-buying and party loyalty would figure in the Senate, as in the trial of the late much-loved and much-lamented Chief Justice Renato Corona. 


If the ouster move vs. Sereno gets only 14 votes, or if only six senators would vote to convict her or this number would absent from the trial, feigning illness, then Sereno walks away a free CJ. 

Doubtless it's the uncertainty of the Senate vote that has prompted those against Sereno in the High Court to push the quo warranto resolution filed by Solicitor-General Jose Calida against her---as a means to invalidate her appointment by former President Aquino. As the name implies, this resolution would allow the 13 other SC justices to vote on Sereno's qualifications from the very start---"ab initio"---thus ignoring the vetting done by the Judicial and Bar Council prior to her appointment. If majority of the SC justices vote against her, then she is ousted. 

This quo warranto vote, however, is held as unconstitutional by some legal luminaries who maintain that the only way to remove a SC justice is through IMPEACHMENT, as the Constitution provides. Fear was also expressed by SC Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa that the quo warranto petition could weaken the SC as it could be used against any justice. EXPECT MORE LEGAL UPROARS IF THE QUO WARRANTO PROSPECTS IN THE SC 


Interestingly, the deportation of Filipino immigrant James Dimaya was aborted by a US Supreme Court justice's argument that this move was vague. Here in PH, however, an incident that staunch advocates of justice protested as an infraction was the President’s recent admission that he had ordered immigration authorities to pick up, investigate and detain Australian nun Patricia Fox for “disorderly conduct.” Mr. Dutertet was publicly quoted as assuming full responsibility for his order.

Sr. Patricia Fox of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, 71, has been in the Philippines for 27 years now and though her visa is valid until Sept. 9, she incurred the ire of Mr. Duterte after she participated in various human rights rallies. He said that the nun exhibited “disorderly conduct” and insulted this country, which he won't tolerate. Sr. Patricia asserted, however, she just joined rallies advocating human rights and protecting the farmers.  

These are familiar refrains from a past regime, but they are focusing WORRIED ATTENTION ON MR. DUTERTE'S BRAND OF JUSTICE.   

Monday, April 9, 2018

Boracay as Paradise Lost---can it ever become Paradise Regained? Challenge for new PNP Chief Albayalde is to rehabilitate the 90% of drug addicts who, as police admitted to Cardinal Tagle, could still be rehabilitated.

Former PNP Chief Ronald "Bato" de la Rosa and new Chief Oscar Albayalde

In the latter half of 2017, then NCR Chief Oscar Albayalde addressed a gathering of foreign diplomats at the Manila Peninsula, to which I was invited by the consul of Estonia, Dr. Juan Peña. At that time the PNP under Chief Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa was under heavy fire for his command's summary executions of drug addicts by the hundreds. The heavy-set “Bato de la Rosa” lived up to his monicker and could have been easy recruit as character actor for the stereotyped executioner in vintage Shakespeare films. 

At that luncheon, PNP NCR Chief Albayalde, looking trim in his blue uniform and sounding more like a lawyer than a fire-breathing police officer---stressed the determination of the police organization to adhere to the law in carrying out its mandate vs. the drug menace. His foreign audience immediately liked his “clean” image and felt relaxed with him. “Okay ‘to,” said Consul Fernando Peña to me.


NCR Chief Albayalde is now in the PNP Chief's saddle and the citizens will keenly follow how he handles the drug problem---pitted against the controversial moves of his predecessor. Agbayalde told media a few days ago that he would cooperate with all investigations into the drug-killings, most notably those conducted by the Commission on Human Rights, as well as the Supreme Court order to the PNP to submit all case files on its Tokhang operations. 

What apparently won the President’s nod for Albayalde was his reputation for  being “strict.”  While NCR Chief he used to personally go around the metropolis nights by himself on a motorcycle and conduct surprise visits to PNP outposts. He would give hell to lawmen he found drinking or gambling at their posts.  Albyalde's nocturnal visits to the NCR police is credited with the drop by nearly 18 percent of the crime rate in the metropolis during his watch. 


What’s interesting now is how he would balance force with reason in handling drug pushers, addicts and errant lawmen. In his Holy Saturday talk at the Tagaytay Highlands that I attended, Luis Cardinal Tagle of Manila stressed that lawmen have admitted to him that of all the drug addicts apprehended so far, only 10% are incorrigible while 90% can be rehabilitated.

In the light of this revelation, it's interesting to see how new PNP Chief Albayalde would handle the 90% who could be returned to society as law-abiding citizens. Would the police force have the patience and the conscience  now to stretch the humane arm of the law toward these 90% strayed souls who can still be saved?

Another question, quite commonsense for new PNP Chief Albayalde from ordinary citizens: can he close the faucet of drugs, so that less Filipino youths would be victimized? Being caught and killed by the lawmen are the small drug couriers and pushers, but the big drug suppliers and smugglers are scot free. The release of two big and notorious drug suppliers recently caused such an uproar and rightly so---especially since the killing of small drug pushers and addicts continues. This lopsided leniency in favor of notorious drug smugglers over small drug users has to be explained to the public.


At our dzRH Sunday program last April 08, Cecile Alvarez and I invited former UP Regent and Dean of Mass Communications Georgina Reyes Encanto, who spoke about how impressed she was during her recent visit to Japan. She praised the way ordinary Japanese carried on their day-to-day living efficiently and with discipline, as well as the order and cleanliness of Tokyo and environs.

Cecile and I also agreed with Georgie Encanto’s observation about how the Japanese care for their environment and surroundings,  and we concluded that such virtues ought to be instilled from the tender years, as is the case with the Japanese .

The once pristine and beautiful Boracay, the once verdant jewel of Philippine tourism

Filipinos' less than admirable attitude toward the environment becomes more acute in view of the destruction of Boracay, the once-verdant crown jewel of our tourism program. No less than President Duterte recently called Boracay "a cesspool”---owing to the faulty sewage from various resorts that has been allowed to flow into the once clean emerald waters of the island, contaminating them. I have returned again and again to Boracay over the years, and I feel quite depressed about its sorry fate today.  

No less than the New York Times also has mourned its degradation. But the sad thing is that it isn’t just Boracay that has gone to seed. Reports from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources indicate that Puerto Galera, El Nido, the Ilocos beaches and other resorts around the country have also violated our environmental laws. 

The DENR and Tourism have apparently been sleeping on their job of making sure these resorts comply to restrictions. President Duterte's order to shut down Boracay for six months pending rehabilitation has resulted in mass lay-offs---a stiff price to pay, but it must be paid.   


Recall too how a huge fire resulting from the careless disposal by some campers of a portable butane stove recently resulted in the destruction of some 5.9 hectares of grassland and various rare species of ferns and bird-life in Mt. Pulag---the third highest mountain in the country, that borders Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya.   Experts assert that it would take many years to rehabilitate that area of Mt. Pulag.

Charges are going to be filed against seven mountaineers under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS), as provided by PD. 705.  Dapat lang. But more than that, our families, the schools and mass media have to engage in values formation, like the Japanese do---advocating that a crime against Mother Nature also should also constitute a crime against Humanity.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

ICC’s Fatou Bensouda will be on President Duterte’s back for one whole year yet, as provided by the Rome Statute that set up the ICC---even though he really hates her guts.

President Duterte touches on  his conflict with the ICC at the recent PMA Graduation in Baguio City

ICC Special Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, President Duterte's nemesis

Three months ago, my dzRH partner Cecile Guidote Alvarez and I were at the Clark Exposition Center in Pampanga, to attend the big celebration of the famed Kapampangan Culture and Cuisine, at the invitation of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.  President Duterte, the guest of honor, arrived very much late but the guests waited for him. When he spoke, I thought it was one of the finest I had heard from Mr. Duterte.

He spoke obviously quite from the heart---no expletives whatsoever!---only soft and seemingly sincere words to describe his anguish over the rampant drugs destroying the flower of our youth.  At some point I thought he would cry. The audience in the cavernous hall hung on to his every word. 


After his speech, Cecile and I decided to break through the security cordon until we came face to face with the President.  With the PSG virtually glaring at us, I confessed to Mr. Duterte that while I didn’t vote for him for President,  I was quite touched by his very sincere remarks---his sentiment for Filipino youths who are being wasted away by drug devastation.  We stood eyeball to eyeball and then instinctively I grabbed his hand to make mano po, just to show him how touched I was by his expletive-free, straight from the heart speech about saving our Filipino youths. In turn the President grabbed my hand and returned the mano-po gesture.  

I remember telling myself later: if only Mr. Duterte and International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda could indulge in the gesture Mr. Duterte and I exchanged in Clark, how amiable it would be all around---instead of his hating her guts and I suppose she his. 

Fatou Bensouda is one tough cookie. A Gambian lawyer and international criminal law prosecutor, she was former Minister of Justice in The Gambia, a state in West Africa entirely surrounded by Senegal, except for its western coastline on the Atlantic Ocean. Bensouda subsequently became ICC deputy prosecutor from 2004, and eventually its chief prosecutor. 


That Clark speech where Mr. Duterte spoke straight from the heart was some months back. In recent days, he's back to spewing acidic remarks like a volcano---this time his target is the International Criminal Court that, he says, has hurled “baseless accusations” against him and failed to accord him due process. His violent reactions came a month after Fatou Bensouda had declared that she would start preliminary examination of a complaint accusing Mr. Duterte of crimes against humanity---in connection with his bloody war against drugs that has resulted in the killing of thousands of Filipinos.

Calling the accusations against him rude and intended to paint him “as a ruthless and heartless violator of human rights,” Duterte also blasted the European Union for leading the international clamor for an independent investigation of the drug killings here.  Actually moves to investigate our drug situation came after Filipino lawyer Jude Sabio, who had rendered legal service to self-confessed Davao Death Squad hit-man Edgar Matabato in times past, filed his complaint vs. the President before the ICC.


Following the ICC decision to investigate Sabio's allegations, the President ordered Philippine permanent representative to the UN Teodoro Locsin Jr. to submit to the Office of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres last March 16 a note verbale containing Mr. Duterte’s decision to withdraw the Philippines from the ICC   

UN officials and those of the ICC tried to appeal to the President not to follow through on his decision to withdraw, inasmuch as the Philippines is considered an important party to the ratification of the ICC. This is true, for this blogger, at that time a columnist of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, had followed up on the various negotiations that led to the ratification of the Rome Statute by 120 countries on July 17, 1998. The Statute led to the setting up of the ICC, with the Philippines in fact, leading the countries of Southeast Asia in campaigning for its ratification and setting up the ICC.


But Mr. Duterte, very much piqued by the relentless efforts of Fatou Bensouda to push investigation into the Philippine drug war, has already decided to pull the country out of the ICC.  What’s more, he went public in encouraging other nation-signatories to the Rome Statute to do likewise, saying, “I will convince everybody now who is under the treaty to get out, get out. (The ICC) is rude.”

But there are several complications he must first reckon with. One is that the Philippine Senate, which is empowered by the Constitution to ratify any treaty or international agreement by a 2/3 vote of all its members, should ipso facto be also empowered to agree to Mr. Duterte's avowal to withdraw from the Rome Statute. But the Senate has not yet done so---hence, our commitment stays.  

Secondly, while UN Ambassador to the UN Teodoro Locsin has already notified the UN Secretary-General of the country's withdrawal from the Rome Statute, Article 127 of this document provides that such withdrawal will take effect ONE YEAR  AFTER THE OFFICIAL NOTIFICATION. This means that any action taken against the withdrawing country by the ICC will continue to take effect for one year.

Thus, Mr. Duterte hasn’t seen the end of the feisty Fatou Bensouda yet.

Monday, March 12, 2018

There’s growing sentiment that even if CJ Sereno survives the Senate impeachment trial, she should resign as the highest patriotic duty---if only to hasten healing of an institution now so torn apart by dissension and prejudice.

As I wrote earlier in a Facebook blurb, the impeachment case against Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, predictably to be followed by trial in the Senate, promises to be the high drama of this season---as on the carpet will be the highest official of the third branch of government, the Judiciary. It’s something I do not view with eager anticipation, as there are folks who’d be terribly affected by it, such as the family of the Chief Justice  (I saw it up close in the distraught family of the late, much-loved Chief Justice Renato Corona). 

Moreover, expect the overwhelming attention of the nation to be glued again to this high drama--- to the detriment of other issues just as important.

There are those who---perhaps in an effort to avoid another soul-wrenching experience similar to the impeachment and conviction of the late CJ Corona nearly seven years ago---are asking CJ Sereno to resign now rather than teeter to the edge of a terrible crisis for her and the nation. Her detractors are throwing in everything they’ve got, including the unprecedented testimony of senior SC magistrates before the House Committee on Justice, about their chief’s supposed wrongdoings.  Never before had "the gods of Padre Faura” descended on Congress to rat publicly on a colleague, their chief. This has created waves of disbelief and disgust in some sectors.


This was followed by the rather malicious disclosure of a most confidential matter---the results of psychiatric tests run on Sereno as a serious candidate for the top SC post---a move assailed by members of the psychiatry profession themselves.  Subsequently, officials and rank and file employees of the SC have joined anti-Sereno demonstrations in Padre Faura, all of them wearing red.

But the lady chief is hanging tough.  In fact, in recent days she has asked the House of Representatives to quit delaying sending her case to the Senate for trial.  C’mon, bring it on now, CJ was quoted as daring in media, instead of folding her tent. She gives the impression of extreme confidence in exonerating herself, instead of looking pitifully scared.  


The Sereno impeachment is polarizing the nation unlike any current issue.  Yesterday morning, even as a group of lower-court magistrates joined the SC justices in calling for her resignation, former Sen. Rene Saguisag  asserted in his Inquirer column that CJ Sereno “cannot lose no matter how the Senate votes; by simply taking all the blows with grace and courage, she’s a winner already. If convicted she could only fall into the arms of the people.” Earlier, Inquirer columnist Solita  Monsod came out swinging for her too, and the newspaper bannered SC Justice Marvic Leonen’s lone stand against impeachment, vs. the condemning move of his colleagues. 

Already people are weighing in on both sides of this high drama with intensity.  There’s no denying, however, that with the perceived bullying of Sereno by the Duterte  administration, with whom she crossed swords over what she considered victims of its injustice, Lourdes Sereno is gaining sympathy by the day. Pinoys truly love the underdog. 


A few days ago the national president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Atty. Abdiel Dan Fajardo, took issue with the quo warranto case filed by the Duterte administration’s chief lawyer, Solicitor-General Jose Calida, against Sereno. As the Latin term states, Calida questioned what authority warranted  Sereno’s appointment to the High Court’s helm by President Aquino five years ago, to replace convicted Chief Justice Renato Corona. The IBP president dismissed Calida's move as "a political act, not justiciable." One might add that this quo warranto argument is ridiculous, considering that Lourdes Sereno has been at SC's helm for over five years now.  

Last Sunday evening, Cecile Guidote Alvarez, and I invited the Dean of the Lyceum of the Philippines College of Law, wh also chairs the 126 member-Philippine Association of Law Schools, Ma. Soledad Mawis, to our regular dzRH program. Among the issues we focused on was Calida’s quo warranto case vs. Sereno.  Dean Mawis explained that while this issue  had previously been invoked in Philippine jurisprudence vs. other constitutional officials, e.g., vs. former Comelec Chief Vicente de Vera in 1950 and more recently against former COA Chief Reynaldo Villar, the quo warranto issue has never been invoked before regarding the fitness for office of the Chief Justice, who's likewise a constitutional officer.

Those who questioned this principle with regard to efforts to oust the Chief Justice, such as IBP prexy Adel Fajardo, maintain that the only way to remove a constitutional official such as the Chief Justice  is by impeachment. Hence, to dissenters such as Fajardo, the quo warranto issue assails the independence of the judiciary, as guaranteed by the Constitution.   


President Duterte has publicly stated that he is above the fray in this burning issue of the CJ's fate, but to many minds, including this blogger, the fact that his appointed Sol-Gen has filed that quo warranto case vs. Sereno makes it difficult to believe that Mr. Duterte  has nothing to do with this ouster move against CJ. This is especially since his closest ally, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, personally pushed CJ’s impeachment in the 38-2 vote of the House Justice Committee.  

Following the House vote to impeach Sereno, a smaller group will prepare the Articles of Impeachment, to be submitted to plenary vote in the House. If the minimum 98 votes out of the total 292 House members are obtained on these articles of impeachment---and few doubt that the “super-majority” in the House won’t be able to muster that number---then Sereno automatically goes to the Senate for trial. Then defense lawyers she has carefully selected will be expected to cross legal swords with House prosecutors, and finally there’s the vote of the senators for either conviction or exoneration---as we saw in the trial of the late CJ Corona seven years ago.


The forthcoming trial of CJ Sereno will be the super-drama of the season and one reason heightening it is the incredible spunk of this lady justice in her “lay it on” challenge. It’s hard to predict how the Senate would go in the end---whether the anti-Sereno bloc could muster the 16 votes needed to convict her or not. The rumor mills seem to foretell that they won’t get the 16 votes as there are already 10 LP votes solid for Sereno and they might be able to get six other independent votes.  Is this the reason for Sereno’s confidence or is she really an incurable optimist?

Even assuming, however, that the first lady Chief Justice in Philippine history survives the Senate impeachment and manages to remain a free woman, there are those who argue that she should still resign after the Senate trial, as the highest form of patriotism from her. Such move on CJ Sereno's part, they argue, would hasten the healing process in a Supreme Court now so bitterly torn apart by dissension and prejudice, as to become ineffective already. 
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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Senate committe on public works should conduct hearings into the construction of high-rises all around the country, following alarm raised by structural engineers on use of Quench-Tempered steel bars

Last Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, the Consumers' Union of the Philippines, headed by its president, Atty. Rodel A. Taton, organized an excellent forum at the Quezon City Sports Club on  a most important and urgent topic: "Earthquake Preparedness., Are We Ready for the Big One?"

The guest speaker was Civil Engr. Emilio M. Morales, MSCE, F.ASCE, F.PICE, F.ASEP, Chair of the National Structural Code Committee of the Association of Structural Engineers of the Philippines (ASEP). Engr Danilo Domingo, incumbent ASEP President, was also present.

Engr. Morales obtained his bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering from Mapua Institute of Technology and his Master’s degree in Civil Engineering from the renowned Carnegie Institute of Technology, Carnegie-Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, USA. Morales is the principal partner of EMZA Partners & Co.. the first Filipino Consulting Company accredited under ISO 9001, He is also connected with the Philippine GEOANALYTICS, Inc., the first Philippine laboratory accredited under ISO 17025 and the First laboratory outside Continental US accredited under US NVLAP. 

Engr Emilio M. Morales
Engr. Morales' message, presented in a paper titled "A Clear and Present Danger 2---The use of QT or TMT Rebars in Seismic Zone 4”--was so timely and I'm glad I heard his talk, so that I can now pass it on to you, my readers, and hopefully you could pass it on.  This is not to seek to cause undue alarm to prospective investors in  high-rise buildings now mushrooming not only in Metro Manila but also in various other business and economic centers all around the country.

My purpose in raising this subject here is to call attention to the dangers posed by the use of the reinforcing bars in high rise buildings and also to seek remedial measures---so as to prevent a bigger disaster in our country from happening, in case a magnitude 7.2 earthquake will hit Metro Manila or other parts of the country ,similar to what hit Taiwan over three weeks ago.


Morales anchored his talk on the crucial element in the construction of high rises---the steel bars that form the skeletal backbone of the skyscrapers' structural members, such as beams, columns and shear walls. 

Morales contended that in the past 10 to 12 years, the technology called the "Quench Tempered (QT)," steel bars---also known as the Thermo-mechanically Treated (TMT) rebars---has crept into the construction market. These QT-TMT rebars have almost totally replaced the more expensive but more reliable "Microalloyed (MA) steel bars which was being used at that time---without the attendant concerns connected with use of those QT or TMT rebars.


From what we laymen gathered from Engr. Morales' lecture-- which I pursued further with him in last Sunday's 6 pm. dzRH program that I regularly co-host with RM Awardee Cecile Guidote Alvarez---the introduction into the construction market of the QT rebars is a most WORRISOME development, almost passing unnoticed until ASEP made representations and qualified such use in the NSCP 2015. ASEP stressed that the Philippines, with the exception of Palawan, lies in the Seismic Zone 4---which means we are in a region beset by severe earthquakes
In the Consumers' Union forum, Engr. Morales stressed that the summary paper he issued there is aimed "at alerting the Engineering Community and the public to the uninformed use of QT/TMT rebars, and to reduce the dangers posed by such usage."


Unfortunately, this is a matter very few people seem to be aware of, not to mention that it is rather technical and therefore above the heads of lay minds. This is why I assert that THERE SHOULD BE A SENATE HEARING ON THIS ISSUE BY THE COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC WORKS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Let the truth be ferreted out---before an unthinkable catastrophe is upon us.

The prospect of a new Ruby Tower tragedy is heightened in our era by the fact that so many skyscrapers have mushroomed all over Greater Manila as well as in various other big cities in the country---not to mention the important projects in the  "Build, Build, Build" battle-cry of the Duterte administration.


As Engr. Morales explained, the outer part of these QT rebars---also known in engineering parlance as the "SKIN" of those steel bars---should hold a significant share  of the strength of those bars, while the CORE of the bars itself holds the remainder strength.  This outer skin, however, could be damaged and rendered brittle when subjected to the inevitable welding and even the threading of steel rebars (when joining one rebar to another by splicing). Similarly, these rebars, when bent by using heat, can be affected,  thus removing the effect of the Tempering process.

If this outer core is damaged, THE STEEL BAR'S STRENGTH WOULD BE REDUCED SIGNIFICANTLY. In residential structures such strength could hold even in a moderate earthquake. In high-rises, however, where it is hoped that the various structural elements could hold together LONG ENOUGH TO FACILITATE THE FAST EVACUATIONS OF PEOPLE, this could indeed pose quite a problem---especially if the quake is as big as what hit Taipei weeks back.


According to Morales, the QT rebars crept into the market in the last 10 to 12 years and appeared to have replaced in many sites the "Micro-alloyed Steel" (MA) which has proved superior in performance, without the attendant weaknesses of the QT/TMT rebars. MA rebars, as he explained, derive their strength from the addition of rare alloying materials, specifically "vanadium" which is mined in Russia, and "Carbon" which are added during the steel-making process.

The end result, as structural engineers stress, "is a bar which, unlike the QT bar, has the same consistent hardness, strength and flexibility right across the whole cross-section of the bar."

The MA rebar derives its strength from these rare alloys, but unfortunately, says Morales, this fact has also made the MA rebars more expensive than the QT rebars. This may be the reason why various steel producers in our country quickly resorted to using the QT rebars despite safety issues involved in the latter.


It is significant to note, however, as Morales points out,  that Japan, which is very earthquake prone, does not use the QT rebars and that Taiwan has reportedly banned it after the recent big quake Also notable is that, as the Structural Engineering Association's paper points out, "...even international codes such as the New Zealand Code and the Australian Standards prohibit the use of QT/TMT rebars (which involve) Welding, Heating, Bending, Threading and even Tack welding of QT/TMT rebars." Similar studies in other countries highlight the vulnerability of these rebars to normal construction activities during rebar erection. 

In addition, full-scale tests of reinforced concrete under simulated earthquake-loading conducted in the University of Padova, in Italy have shown that premature failure can occur, compared to ordinary MA rebars. Thus, the ample evacuation time that structural engineers are building into their design could be lost with the use of QT /TMT rebars and a SUDDEN catastrophic collapse could occur.


I think it is imperative that the construction industry take a more serious look at what has been going on, and certainly the Senate should open a probe into the use of the QT/TMT rebars before it's too late.

The structural engineers' advocacy is "to encourage the Philippine Steel Industry, through the Philippine Iron & Steel Institute (PISI) to again bring the MA rebars into the market---to provide a choice for designers by categorically specifying this in their design and categorically stating that QT/TMT rebars are not to be supplied as an alternative in Seismic Zone 4 Building Designs."


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Sereno refuses to resign. Digong has to rev up economy to prevent Pinoys from flocking to Middle East illegally,due to poverty at home. Boracay has to shut down for urgent repairs so as to prevent further deterioration as "cesspool" .

Pinay workers jubilant upon arriving on chartered flight from Kuwait
Urgent measures should be taken to prevent this emerald paradise from becoming a total "cesspool." 

I knew Ma. Lourdes “Meilou” Sereno long ago, when she was teaching at the UP and a corporate lawyer, and from time to time, our paths would cross on various social occasions. I haven’t seen her socially for many years now, and I only managed to read about her and her work with the late former Justice Florentino Feliciano in the PIATCO case. Later, after she was appointed to the Supreme Court as its Chief, I’d drop in on various hearings in the session hall. 

CJ Sereno was recently quoted in the news as standing pat at the SC’s helm---refusing to resign despite tremendous pressure from various quarters, and despite a good number of her colleagues in the High Court having testified openly against her in the House hearings.  

I am not surprised about CJ Sereno's resolve to stay in her post---in fact I would be more surprised if she suddenly throws in the towel.  That’s how I knew her in the past: very sure of herself and tough as nails. At this point I wish Meilou Sereno the best of luck in this biggest battle of her life.


I feel awfully sad, though, for the Supreme Court that we once held in such high esteem, as we remember all the personalities who had passed through its hallowed halls---many of whom were regarded as demi-gods whose pronouncements on various issues were always ex-cathedra. In contrast, I felt great distaste over the mud-throwing we citizens witnessed in recent months in the House of Representatives and in media, among those once-upon-a-time demi-gods of the SC who testified against the CJ in public..

In recent weeks that once-venerable institution has suffered immensely and I doubt if it could recover its lost glory soon---given all the public mud-slinging among Their Honors in recent House hearings. It has been heart-breaking for those of us who believe in old-fashioned reverence for esteemed institutions, especially the SC.  The whole controversy involving CJ Sereno and her colleagues---laid out before House members many of whom are themselves not exemplars of ethical behavior---has left a bad taste in the mouth.

I note, however, that Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has distanced himself from openly joining the fight---refusing  the House invitation to testify against the Chief Justice, unlike their other colleagues. It was a smart move on Justice Carpio’s part, making him look statesmanlike.


Two issues now facing the Duterte administration---the sorry plight of Filipino workers in Kuwait and the destruction of our island-paradise of Boracay--- will have tremendous repercussions on the nation’s economic life. Both issues have to be handled with decisive authority by the President. .  

On the situation of our OFWs in Kuwait: the DFA estimates that there are some 250,000 Filipino workers there, employed mostly as domestics. Stories of physical abuse and humiliations against our OFWs there are not new, but the shocking revelation about a dead Filipino woman kept in a freezer for a year in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait exploded like a time bomb and shook our nation to its roots in its unimaginable horror. 

This is a situation that cries to high heavens for justice and President Duterte has done the right thing in sending planes to repatriate all our workers from Kuwait. But that doesn't solve the huge problem of our OFWs in the Middle East. It has only begun. 


The horrible treatment of our OFWs, especially our women, in Arab countries stems from the fact that many of them or perhaps most of them are illegal entrants---victims of unscrupulous recruiters here who prey on their ignorance and  acute poverty.  Because many of these OFWs are illegally staying in Kuwait, and other Arab countries, they are logical targets for harsh treatment and abuse from their employers---who would otherwise turn them over to the authorities as illegals if they protest.

In the case of the late Joanna Demafelis, the Filipina stored in a freezer, it is obvious that despite  her sister Jessica’s efforts  to locate  her for a whole year--- seeking help from POEA and OWWA--- these agencies did not lift a finger to find her (it was the Kuwaiti police who found her in the deserted apartment). President Duterte should order heads to roll in those two agencies for their unspeakable indifference. 


The episode of the frozen Filipino woman emphasizes a central point: many of our people, in their abysmal poverty, are kapit-patalim. They know all the abuses that citizens especially in non-Christian countries commit against them but still they leave in droves--- because of the grinding poverty in many regions of our country. What is needed is for government to truly rev up the economy so that our citizens could find employment here--- instead of exporting especially our women as toilet-cleaners and yayas of the world, most prone to abuse. 

Three decades ago, it was Indonesians, Thais and Indians who were exported as domestics, but now those countries have progressed while we still rely heavily on exporting especially our women, who are subjected to abuse in the Middle East. This is a reality that our economic geniuses must remedy. 

I would advocate pushing the training programs under TESDA full throttle---so that our people get to acquire skills that locally-based industries could absorb, as PEZA Chief Ching Plaza emphasized in our dzRH interview recently. 


As for Boracay, the Tourism Department has to enforce rules and regulations to ensure that better sewage systems and garbage disposal are constructed---no two ways about it.  Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu stresses that 51 tourist establishments on Boracay would have to be shut down as their sewage is channeled directly to the sea---in violation of the Clean Water Act of 2004. But the 51 resorts are only part of over 200  found with faulty sewage facilities that threaten to cause epidemics.  

Obviously  local officials in Malay in Aklan, which has jurisdiction over Boracay, have not been enforcing the laws. Mr. Duterte mulls closing down the island to international tourism for some period while total clean-up and rehabilitation are undertaken. There's worry, however, that closing down the island would greatly affect our tourist industry---and the economy. But there seems to be no other recourse  as otherwise, that world-famous paradise island would be forever damaged.

In both cases of our OFWs in the Middle East and the rehab of Boracay, the political will of the Duterte administration will have its acid test. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Dengvaxia hysteria triggers fear of all inoculations, in fact even of deworming, lament medical practitioners in full-page ads. Investigation of this anomaly ought to result in court charges. President Duterte should not ignore growing antagonism of UP students.

UP Students rallying in Diliman against the Duterte Administration

Yesterday, February 06, some 200 of this country’s most prominent medical practitioners as well as a few other concerned professionals lent their names to a full-page statement published in leading newspapers, titled “Statement on the Dengvaxia Controversy.” The professionals denounced the confusion and hysteria over the reliability and integrity of the Dengvaxia vaccine as well as the unfortunate attacks on the integrity of some professionals involved in its study and implementation.

The signatories wholeheartedly supported the suspension by the DOH of the Dengvaxia program implementation, pending full-blown investigation and accountability of this mess.  


To my mind, however, the most significant point that the medical practitioners stressed is their justifiable concern about how the death of some children, supposedly attributed to Dengvaxia, has brought up what could be A MORE DISASTROUS CONSEQUENCE.  This is the fear spreading especially among lower-income families about all kinds of vaccine inoculations---so that there is now a palpable resistance to them where there was none before.

The medical professionals asserted in their full-page ad a very crucial point that was also raised earlier by Dante Jimenez of the Volunteers against Crime and Corruption when he guested in the dzRH Sunday 6pm. program that Cecile Alvarez and I co-hosted a week ago. Jimenez stressed the fear of the medical community that because of the disinformation/misinformation and mass hysteria “that is allowed to rule over logical and scientific judgment” in the Dengvaxia case, other vaccination programs of DOH have also become suspect. In fact, parents are now afraid even of de-worming.


The medical professionals are validly apprehensive that as a result of the prevailing fear about Dengvaxia’s ill effects, many parents are now afraid of “the (other) life-saving vaccines that our government gives.” The parents’ refusal could lead to “outbreaks of debilitating and life-threatening diseases that we have already been able to control through our vaccination programs,” said the medics.  In other words, epidemics.

If you ask me, this situation whereby the trust of parents in the government inoculation program has suffered is MOST SERIOUS AND ITS REPERCUSSIONS ON PUBLIC HEALTH CANNOT BE OVER-ESTIMATED.  Thus, it is imperative that those officials in the previous administration who caused this Dengvaxia mess through sloppy diligence---and it’s almost inevitable to conclude---their eagerness to raise campaign funds through possible kickbacks from the P3.6 billion vaccines---be brought to justice.


I was in Hongkong in 1997, during its handover by Great Britain, represented by Gov. Chris Patten, the last British governor of colonial Hongkong; it subsequently became a special autonomous region (SAR). Prince Charles represented the British Royal Family in the ceremonies and I remember feeling strangely sentimental when the royal yacht “Britannia” carrying Charles blew its horn for the last time in Hongkong Harbor before sailing away. Fireworks displays burst in the skies afterwards.

Now I read an article published in Inquirer, titled “In defense of democracy,” authored by Chris Patten, now the chancellor of the prestigious Oxford University in the UK.  In his article Patten traces the challenges to democracy in various places, notably in Russia under President Vladimir Putin and in the US under President Donald Trump. He asserts that “In a real democracy, free and fair elections are complemented more broadly by the rule of law, due process, an independent judiciary, an active civil society, and freedom of the press, worship, assembly, and association.”


Chris Patten then cites examples of the lack of adherence to democratic norms in both Russia and the US, zeroing in specifically on Trump’s sins: “He assaults the freedom of the press, implicitly encouraging supporters to attack journalists, say, by tweeting…(and) he attempts to subvert America’s system of checks and balances.”  Patten asserts that “While some parts of America’s democratic political system---for example, the judicial check on executive authority---have proved resilient, others are breaking down.” He opines that President Trump “is a consequence of this breakdown, not its cause.”

Patten concludes that the problem over the years is that “both Democrats and Republicans seem to have abandoned their commitment to governing by consensus,” so that “the constitutional breaks that America’s founders created to prevent the election of a huckster like Trump have failed.” Patten’s indictment of the US system is severe: “Propelled by popular discontent with rising inequality and seemingly self-dealing elites, the (US) political system is spinning out of control.”


Patten’s observations about the failing check and balance system in the US raise some similarity with our system here. President Duterte, a most forceful leader, has been at odds with Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and this came to a climax when he ordered Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang placed on 90-day suspension---after he started probing the President’s alleged unexplained wealth, in response to Sen. Antonio Trillanes’ petition for this probe.  

The feisty Morales refused to suspend her deputy, citing the “clear affront to the Supreme Court” which made a ruling last Jan. 28, 2014 declaring as unconstitutional the Ombudsman Act’s provision that gave the Office of the President disciplinary powers over the Ombudsman’s deputies. 

Corollary to this was the advice recently given by Mr. Duterte to Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi in New Delhi, to ignore criticisms from human rights groups over her government’s treatment of the Rohingya Muslims. This "advice" was unfortunate as it only reinforced the President’s assailable reputation on human rights.  


Then too, Mr. Duterte reacted badly to the protests of the UP students in Diliman over human rights violations in recent weeks (doesn’t he realize that UP students throughout history have always been in protest of one issue or another). Because of his pique, he has threatened to replace the protesters with lumad students, which has only riled up Diliman even more.  

A big protest is scheduled by a campus political party called “Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights” (STAND UP) on Friday, Feb. 23 in Diliman where the students would insist that it should be Mr. Duterte who should vacate his position, not them.