Saturday, November 22, 2014

Five Years After the Maguindanao Massacre: No Resolution in Sight

A few days before the fifth anniversary of the infamous Maguindanao massacre, Dennix Sakal, a key witness to the massacre, was killed by unidentified gunmen, while on his way to meet with prosecutors. His death illustrates the culture of impunity that continues to exist and shield the perpetrators of one of the most heinous crimes in Philippine history. Five years after the massacre, the court case continues to move at a snail's pace, with defense lawyers doing everything they can to delay the case.

Last August, the lead defense counsels of the Ampatuans, led by lawyer Sigfrid Fortun, withdrew from the case, leading the public to speculate that it was yet another delaying tactic by the defense, which, of course, was denied by the defense counsels.

If the Ampatuans were truly innocent of the charges, they should instruct their lawyers to expedite the case as quickly as possible. Instead, their delaying tactics suggest that their guilt is implicit.

At the same time, the government should take greater measures to protect witnesses such as Sakal, else the Ampatuans be absolved of the crime, not because they are not guilty, but rather that there are no more witnesses to testify against them. There are still 87 suspects out on the loose, and any one of them could be responsible for Sakal's death. Aside from ensuring a speedy trial, the government should work harder in protecting the remaining witnesses.

In a related incident, it's funny that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said that the slow resolution of the Ozone Disco tragedy is an isolated case, considering that the biggest case of this century is moving at the same, if not slower, glacial pace.

It's likely that, at the rate the case is moving, it will take the 100 years that private prosecutor Harry Roque estimated to resolve the case. By then, everyone involved in the case will have died, and there will be no justice for the victims. Justice delayed is justice denied.

The Fall of Bill Cosby

Bill Cosby in a moment from "The Cosby Show"

To those of my generation, we saw him in "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids", "The Electric Company," and "The Cosby Show." To those of my generation, he was a father figure, dishing out wisdom and advice. To his victims, however, he was a serial rapist.

It apparently was not a big secret, but we and Hollywood chose to turn a blind eye to the crimes of Bill Cosby, once known as "America's Dad" because of his successful run as obstetrician Dr. Cliff Huxtable on his eponymous "The Cosby Show." Over the years, however, Cosby apparently raped around 15 women, and managed to evade prosecution for his crimes.

Rape has always been a touchy subject in society, wherein, oftentimes, the victim is even more blamed by the rapist. One of Cosby's victims, Barbara Bowman, wrote about how it took 30 years before people believed her. Bowman was 17 years old when she was assaulted by Cosby. Below is an excerpt of Bowman's article in the Washington Post:

"Over the years, I’ve struggled to get people to take my story seriously. So last month, when reporter Lycia Naff contacted me for an interview for the Daily Mail, I gave her a detailed account. I told her how Cosby won my trust as a 17-year-old aspiring actress in 1985, brainwashed me into viewing him as a father figure, and then assaulted me multiple times. In one case, I blacked out after having dinner and one glass of wine at his New York City brownstone, where he had offered to mentor me and discuss the entertainment industry. When I came to, I was in my panties and a man’s t-shirt, and Cosby was looming over me. I’m certain now that he drugged and raped me. But as a teenager, I tried to convince myself I had imagined it. I even tried to rationalize it: Bill Cosby was going to make me a star and this was part of the deal. The final incident was in Atlantic City, where we had traveled for an industry event. I was staying in a separate bedroom of Cosby’s hotel suite, but he pinned me down in his own bed while I screamed for help. I’ll never forget the clinking of his belt buckle as he struggled to pull his pants off. I furiously tried to wrestle from his grasp until he eventually gave up, angrily called me “a baby” and sent me home to Denver."
 Bowman bemoans the fact it took a male comedian, Hannibal Buress, to make the charges stick. In Burress' act at the Trocadero last October, the comedian blasted Cosby, saying,
“He [Cosby] gets on TV, ‘Pull your pants up black people, I was on TV in the 80s! I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom!’ Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches.”

"I guess I want to just at least make it weird for you to watch Cosby Show reruns," Buress says later. "I've done this bit on stage and people think I'm making it up.... when you leave here, google 'Bill Cosby rape.' That sh- has more results than 'Hannibal Buress.'"
The act went viral, and now, Cosby is under fire for the numerous rapes he had committed over the course of his career. Yahoo! columnist Lisa Belkin observes that the fact that people now believe in Cosby's crimes is an effect of our current context. Belkin notes,
Now we accept that the football player who says “she fell and hit her head” can be proved wrong by the videotape. Now we have heard — really heard — the voices of too many college women telling us they don’t feel safe from their classmates on campus. Now we see the same facts differently. As Hanna Rosin wrote in Slate, “now that we know what we know, or, perhaps now that we know it at a time of heightened awareness about sexual assault….”
 Perhaps it is the heightened awareness about rape that has helped a growing number of people be more willing to believe Cosby's victims now. Of course, the fact that rapes still occur with frightening regularity indicates that we still have a long way to go.

For Cosby, with the public eye so condemning and focused on him, perhaps he can come to terms with what he had done, make amends for his heinous acts, and, somehow, redeem himself from his past.
Bill Cosby. Image from  Thy Black Man

As for me, until that happens, I don't think I can ever look at reruns of both "The Cosby Show" and "The Electric Company" the same way again.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Long Overdue: The Sandiganbayan's Decision on the Ozone Tragedy

If there's any clear example of how slow the wheels of justice turn here in the Philippines, one only need look at the snail-like pace of the Sandiganbayan's resolution of the Ozone fire tragedy. The decision was released yesterday, more than 18 years after a fire gutted the Ozone Disco near the Tomas Morato-Timog rotunda, and resulted in 162 deaths, most of them young high school or college graduates celebrating their graduation.

Found guilty beyond reasonable doubt were: Alfredo Macapugay, Donato Rivera Jr., Francisco Itliong, Feliciano Sagana, Petronillo De Llamas and Rolando Mamaid, who were sentenced to six to ten years in prison. The guilty were city officials who were involved in issuing a permit to Westwood Entertainment, which owned the disco. However, it was discovered that the guilty officials did not personally inspect the disco as they were supposed to. If they had, they would have discovered the numerous building code violations which contributed to making the Ozone tragedy the worst fire disaster in Philippine history.

Also found guilty were Westwood Entertainment board members Hermilio Ocampo (president) and Ramon Ng (treasurer) whom the Sandiganbayan found to be guilty of violating section 3 of Republic Act No. 3019 (the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act), which apparently deals with bribing officials to issue permits even without the necessary inspection.

Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Ma. Teresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta, who penned the decision, was quoted as stating in the decision,
 "There can never be a slapdash approval of a building permit and certificate of occupancy. To shrink from this duty will certainly run at risk all safety standards contemplated by the National Building Code."
However,even though the Sandiganbayan has handed down its decision, the accused can still raise the matter to the Supreme Court. Here's hoping that the Supreme Court doesn't dilly-dally in deciding this case. The victims and their families have suffered long enough; they shouldn't have to wait another eighteen years to receive the justice that has long been overdue to them.

At the same time, the glacial pace at which the case has moved should galvanize the judiciary in making sure that this sort of situation is not repeated. There has to be a way to try cases such that the decision doesn't take decades to decide. As the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ebola Scare: The Visit to the Peacekeepers

Based on the picture, there appear to be problems behind the visit of acting Health Secretary Janette Garin and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief Gregorio Catapang, Jr., to Caballo Island, where the Philippine contingent of United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping force to Liberia, is currently being quarantined.

Military and health officials visit Caballo island on Sunday, Nov. 16, where peacekeepers from Liberia are kept for a quarantine. / PHOTO FROM AFP
Picture from the Inquirer news story. Photo from AFP.

The reason for the quarantine is because Liberia is one of the hotspots for the deadly Ebola virus, which has spread throughout the regions of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, and has made landfall in various parts of the globe. 

If one looks at the picture, we see Secretary Garin and Gen. Catapang in the midst of the U.N. peacekeepers, identified by their distinctive light blue headgear. Neither Garin nor Catapang are wearing any protective gear, and one should note that people contract Ebola via close contact or exchange of fluids; luckily, Ebola is not an airborne virus, or else the casualty rating would be a lot higher.

While Palace officials claim that both national officials observed World Health Organization (WHO) protocols, Ebola is a scary enough sickness that it's hard to discount the possibility of getting infected, so it's important for Garin and Catapang to take precautions. At the same time, so far, none of the peacekeepers have shown symptoms of the virus, although one soldier probably created a small panic after getting sick, only to discover that he had malaria. It should also be noted that one is only truly infectious once one is exhibiting symptoms, according to the WHO FAQ.

Also, according to Palace officials, the two officials apparently wanted to reassure the public that the soldiers were safe. Given the ostracizing Ebola survivors have received in Africa and abroad, the public relations act should be helpful, although it would have been better that Garin and Catapang timed their visit as the quarantine was ending, not during the middle of it. 

Of course, administration opponent Sen. Tito Sotto was quick to criticize Garin and Catapang's visit, and claimed that Garin had violated her own protocols. He also said that Garin and Catapang should be quarantined because of their visit. It should be remembered that, so far, none of the peacekeepers have shown signs of Ebola, so they shouldn't be infectious at the moment, although Ebola is a relatively unexplored virus that all of its characteristics haven't been conclusively established. Still, what is already known about the virus is enough for people to take precautions.

It is important for us to be able to educate ourselves about the Ebola virus, and, the more we know, the more we are prepared for the possible entry of this deadly sickness into our country. Now is not a time to spread panic and fear; that is counter-productive behavior.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Remembering Bro

Last Tuesday was the 79th birth anniversary of one of my mentors, the late Bro. James P. Dunne, S.J.

"Bro", as we high school students were wont to call him, was a tall New Yorker, who came to the Philippines in the mid-60s, and was well-known and well-loved by the high school community. He first served in the now-defunct Ateneo de San Pablo, and then came to the Ateneo de Manila sometime in the late 70s-early 80s (I'm writing this from memory. For those who remember, please let me know.). At the Ateneo de Manila High School, Bro. Dunne was a guidance counselor, assistant principal, principal (for a year), and, most of all, a friend.

Bro. Dunne is probably best known for starting, and leading, the "Days with the Lord" weekend retreats for third- and fourth-year students. The "Days with the Lord", which lasted from the early 80s to the late 2000s, was instrumental in the formation of many a student, including myself (batch 36).

I was in the last batch of "Dazers" in my third year of high school, and it was such a transforming difference in my life. It helped revitalize my spiritual life, and make "Kuya Jess" more real to me. During my senior year, I was often in the high school on weekends to help staff the "Days" and make the participants' experience as uplifting as it could be.

When I came back to teach at the High School, I almost immediately started assisting Bro. Dunne during the "Days" weekends. This assistance was primarily in the form of making sure that the participants and the staffers behaved themselves.

By this time, in the early 90s, Bro was already showing the effects of the multiple sclerosis that afflicted him. He would walk around the corridors with the aid of a cane, and, in his waning years, he would get around on a little motorized scooter. Still, he was determined that the sickness wouldn't faze him, and he was always present during the major events of the "Days" weekends. It would be up to those of us younger teachers to make sure order and discipline were observed during the nighttime activities.

It wasn't his multiple sclerosis that made him give up the "Days", but a severe stroke in 2001 that affected his body and his memory. I remember visiting him in the Jesuit infirmary, and it was clear that his memory was not what it was, as he would mention the past week's events as if they had just happened the day before. Still, his knowledge of baseball was as sharp as ever (one of our common interests), and, every time I would visit, that would be the subject of our conversations.

Bro passed away on July 14, 2004, and was buried in the Jesuit cemetery in Sacred Heart Novitiate in Novaliches. He's been gone for ten years, but he still has a special place in my heart, for, without him, I wouldn't be who I am today.

Belated happy birthday, Bro. Dunne. I miss you.


"Yolanda": A Year Later

There must be something about the start of the month that makes it almost impossible for me to sit down and write. The work just seems to pile up at the start of the month, and peter out as the days go by. At any rate, it's been more than a week since my last post, and so much has happened since then. I'll be playing catch-up in the coming week.

"Yolanda" is the most devastating typhoon ever to hit landfall, and it cut a wide swath of destruction across its path through the Philippines. Hardest hit were the provinces of Samar and Leyte, with Tacloban City recognized as the Ground Zero of the storm. Thousands of people lost their lives, and hundreds of thousands more were displaced by the fury of the storm's wrath.

The Aquino government was widely pilloried for what is perceived to be its weak response to the tragedy, with politics rearing its ugly head, as the mayor of Tacloban happens to be a relative of the President's political enemy, the Marcoses. At the same time, there seems to have been a case of being too close to the subject, as others commented that the government did what it could given the resources it had on hand.

A year later, people in affected areas are still putting their lives together, as they cope with the storm's aftermath, some better than most. However, on the anniversary of "Yolanda"'s path through the Philippines, recriminations are, of course, still being heaped on the government, with some of the loudest noise coming from Tacloban, which the President did not visit on the anniversary. I agree with the Philippine Daily Inquirer's editorial criticizing the President for not recognizing the symbolic  significance of being at Tacloban, as it would have signaled a possibility of reconciliation with the Romualdezes, who, of course, were loud in their condemnation of the President's apparent snub. They also continued to criticize what they saw as the weak efforts of rehabilitation in Tacloban.

However, the Asian Development Bank lauded the Philippine government's efforts to get everything back on track, noting that rehabilitation efforts normally take 4-5 years. Former Senator Panfilo Lacson, currently the "Yolanda" rehab czar, noted that Tacloban had gotten a lion's share of assistance in various forms, and questioned its mayor as to how this assistance was distributed.  Lacson also noted that other areas affected by "Yolanda" were not like Tacloban, in the sense that no protests were organized in other areas.

It's disappointing that politics will continue to play a negative role in the rehabilitation efforts in the Eastern Visayas area, as it will only slow down and hamper these efforts. Of course, it's possible that that would be what the President's enemies would want, that the negativity be blamed on the Aquino administration.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

A Look at the Republican Win

It always seems to me that the first week of the month is so busy that it makes writing anything difficult to impossible. This month is no exception, but I thought I'd try to get some thoughts in before they go stale.

Yesterday's win by the Republican Party looks to be a demonstration of dissatisfaction with the administration of President Barack Obama. For the first time in a while, the Republican Party holds both the Senate and the House, which could spell trouble for President Obama, whose Democratic Party suffered the consequences of this dissatisfaction. The Democratic Party lost around twelve seats in the Senate, giving the Republicans a majority in that chamber, while the Republicans strengthened their hold on the House, winning 243 seats.

The bottom line, it seems, for most Americans is the state of the U.S. economy, which is actually improving, although the effects of this improvement have yet to affect the general populace; it's similar to here in the Philippines, wherein improvements to the economy have not reached the poor.

Aside from this, based on perceptions, President Obama is perceived to have failed in a number of issues, such as the efforts to control the entry of the deadly Ebola virus into the country and the inability to deal with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a terrorist organization which has become notorious for beheading its captives, notably American photojournalist James Foley.

At the same time, Americans are tired of the gridlock that has epitomized the way the U.S. Congress has operated. Perhaps, by voting Republican, Americans felt that it would send a strong message to the Obama administration, although it's debatable how delivering Congress to the Republicans is going to change things.

Another thing to consider is that, with the presidential elections just two years away, it's possible that the Republican win might be short-lived. While the Republicans have the majority in the Senate, they don't have the prerequisite 60 votes in order to stop any filibusters, which will be a weapon the Democrats will wield, albeit carefully, since I doubt the Democratic Party will want to be identified as the ones stymieing legislative work. However, if the Republicans are unable to get anything done between now and 2016, it's very possible that the balance of power may shift back towards the Democrats.

The challenge going forward is how the President and Congress will interact with one another. Will the Republican-held Congress take strong measures to revise or even repeal some of Obama's key legislation, such as the universal health care act, which has been much reviled by the Republican Party? Will Obama refuse to find ways to cooperate with Congress, and simply veto whatever measures they may make?

So far, the tone from both sides appears to be conciliatory, as the likely Senator Majority Leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell, has indicated that he's willing to work with Obama, provided, of course, that the President is willing to play ball. Obama, for his part, seems to demonstrate that willingness as he said, "You know, actually, I would enjoy having some Kentucky bourbon with Mitch McConnell." For the sake of the American people, here's hoping that that is the sign that both sides will work together, instead of against each other.

Friday, October 31, 2014

World Series 2014: Giants Win!

This is a little late, I know.

While the San Francisco Giants may not be as fabled as the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox, the Giants are still a team to be reckoned with, and, by winning their third World Series championship in five years, they've established themselves as a dynasty.

It's a pity, though, that they had to beat the Kansas City Royals to do it. The Royals, which has been one of those teams that have been toiling in futility for so long, had not been to the World Series since 1985, when they last won it. So, when they won a staggering string of ten playoff games entering the Series, a lot of baseball fans, including myself, found themselves rooting for this Cinderella team.

The Series itself was historic, since it would be the first time that two wild card teams would be vying for the championship. While Kansas City had a nice narrative going for them as they romped into the Series, San Francisco's journey was no less epic, having to go through powerful teams (the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals) to make it to the Series.

In the Series, the Giants immediately put an end to the Royals' streak, beating the Royals' ace pitcher James Shields, in commanding fashion. However, the Royals managed to pay the Giants back in similar fashion in Game Two, and went on the road to San Francisco, needing to win at least one game to send it back to Kansas City (Games Three to Five would be played in San Francisco).
The Royals managed just that, winning one of three games to head back to Kansas City, needing a Game Six win to send it to a sudden-death Game Seven.

The Royals feasted on Giants' pitching in Game Six, winning it handily, 10-0, and set the stage for the winner-take-all Game Seven.

In Game Seven, both starting pitchers didn't last long, as Giants manager Bruce Bochy yanked Tim Hudson early, while Royals manager Ned Yost pulled Jeremy Guthrie with the game tied.
Then, after the Giants managed to gain a slim, one-run lead, Bochy sent in his ace, Madison Bumgarner, winner of Games One and Four, to pitch in relief. Bumgarner, nicknamed "MadBum", delivered, as he pitched five solid innings on two days' rest to gain the save,  the Series MVP, and the championship for the Giants.

With his stellar performance, Bumgarner joins the roster of legendary players who have excelled in the Series. Over the three World Series in which he has pitched, Bumgarner has compiled a 4-0 record, and a minuscule 0.25 ERA (earned run average), with an equally minuscule WHIP (walks and hits per 9 innings) of 0.556; it's a record that could stand the test of time.  Not bad for a pitcher who's only been pitching for six years in the majors. At the young age of 25, he has all the opportunity to build on this year's astonishing performance.

As for the Royals, the off-season will be one of retrospection and reflection, as they plan for next year's season's pennant run.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Requiem for the Doctor to the Barrios

I first started reading about then-Dr. Juan Flavier through his Parables of the Barrio, which appeared regularly in the Philippine Star. They were simply written, and easy to understand, making their points without belaboring the insight too much.

Dr. Flavier then rose to national prominence when he was appointed as Health Secretary by former President Fidel Ramos in 1992, and served for three years. During his tenure as Health Secretary, he instituted a number of programs, although he would probably be best remembered for his Doctor to the Barrios program, wherein new doctors were encouraged to serve in the poorer regions of the country, and his then-controversial stance on the use of contraceptives to combat AIDS, for which he was pilloried by the Catholic Church.

Dr. Flavier then ran for Senator in 1995 under the administration ticket, and won. He would then run for a second and last time in 2001, won again, and served until 2007. Among the laws he authored and sponsored were: Traditional Medicine Law, the Poverty Alleviation Law, Clean Air Act, Indigenous People's Rights Act, Anti-money Laundering Act of 2001, Barangay Micro-Business Enterprise, National Service Training Program for Tertiary Students of 2002, Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, Plant Variety Protection Act, Philippine Nursing Act of 2002 and the Tobacco Regulation Act.

Throughout his career as a public servant, Sen. Flavier served with distinction, as nary a hint of corruption ever tainted his career. He worked tirelessly both as Health Secretary and Senator; in fact, according to a factoid article on him by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Sen. Flavier attended the most number of committee meetings, and was never absent (Reps. Manny Pacquiao and Jules Ledesma could learn a lot from this man.).

Sen. Flavier was also known for his sense of humor, which was probably the inspiration for his "Let's DOH it!" slogan for the Department of Health, and his "Yosi Kadiri" anti-smoking campaign.

It is with great sadness, then, to note the passing of this great man, as Sen. Flavier joined his Creator this afternoon from multiple organ failure due to pneumonia. He was 79.

Requiescat in pace, Sen. Flavier. You will be missed.

Back in Gear: A Visit to the UP Dojo

So, after a very long while, I managed to visit the U.P. Judo Club again.

I've been away from judo for about six years now. In those six years, I've only managed to visit the dojo maybe two or three times, and only suiting up once. After my visit to the dojo last night, I realize that I miss it.

The occasion was World Judo Day, in honor of the birthday of judo's founder, sensei Jigoro Kano, which was on October 28. To celebrate the day, the U.P. Judo Club posted an invitation to an open house practice, scheduled yesterday, for alumni and non-judo practitioners to come over and teach and learn judo. Being on term break, I decided to pay a visit.

I arrived late, having come in from visiting a friend who had been hospitalized, but, as soon as I donned my judogi and tied my belt, I was quickly assimilated into the practice.

When I entered the dojo, the only one I knew, and a little vaguely at that, was the women's team coach, coach CJ. The dojo was full of young players, all of whom weren't even alive when I started practicing in the summer of 1984.

After warming up, I was paired off with one of those who had just come in that day, and, as I taught him the rudiments of the one-arm shoulder throw (ippon-seoi-nage), it was like riding a bicycle, in the sense that I fell back easily into the teaching mode, lecturing about the throw's nuances and pointing out the key movements.

After the teaching of the throw, coach CJ shifted the lesson to grappling, which used to be my specialty when I was still actively competing. Once more, the nuances of the technique came back to me, rather smoothly, as I taught my partner, Biboy, about how to properly position oneself when grappling, and about what to watch out for when on the ground.

The session then moved on to sparring (randori), and, to demonstrate it to the newcomers, those of us who were adept were asked to play a few minutes of actual sparring. I was paired off with Chi (I hope I got the name right; getting back into gear means getting to know the people with whom I'll be practicing), a member of the women's team. The last time I sparred, all I had going for me was guile and experience, and it was the same case for this match. So, it was mostly counter-throwing for me, as my attacking techniques were rather rusty (an understatement) and I lacked the necessary speed to get the timing right. As a result, I managed to throw mostly when Chi would attack, and I wound up going down a number of times.

And that was it for my training session, as I found myself breathing hard after the randori session; one of the many aspects of the game I will need to work on is my stamina. The remainder of the session was spent re-hydrating myself, and watching the new players try out randori movements without throwing.

All in all, I enjoyed my return to the dojo. I could feel my desire for the sport, long dormant, awakened by the energy and verve displayed by the members last night. At the same time, I do need to get some regular exercise, and going back to judo might be the impetus I need to jump-start my fitness training. With coach CJ inviting me back on a regular basis, I think I will take up that invitation and reintroduce myself to the sport that I love.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Hijacking of the Jennifer Laude Murder Case

It's clear that the Jennifer Laude murder case is being taken over by those with an ulterior agenda, which is the scrapping of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the U.S. and the Philippines.

Harry Roque is the lawyer representing and speaking for the Laude family, but, based on his public statements, it's unclear as to whether he's actually representing the Laudes, or simply using them to further his anti-VFA stand. He decried the supposed inability to obtain fingerprints and DNA samples from the murder suspect, Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, and blamed the VFA for this inability, but he conveniently overlooks the fact that the whole case is in the preliminary investigation stage.

From what I understand, Pemberton has not yet been charged with the crime; thus, he should be presumed innocent until proven to be guilty. Admittedly, there's a lot of evidence that pins him down as the prime suspect, but, until he is actually charged in court, he is still considered to be innocent. Roque is being disingenuous when he said that "in my 25 years of practicing criminal law, this is the only case where there are no fingerprints [of the suspect]." There are no fingerprints because Pemberton has not yet been formally charged (although I do hope that, when he is charged, the necessary gathering of personal information and fingerprinting will be done.).

Roque, however, has made it clear that he has already sat in judgment of Pemberton, and has declared him guilty beyond reasonable doubt, a narrative that the militant left, and the Laudes, have latched on to.

It's likely that it was either Roque or the militant leftists fighting against the VFA who egged on Jennifer's fiance, German Marc Sueselbeck, to climb over the fence during a recent rally, and shove a soldier. As a result, Sueselbeck is facing formal deportation charges for his actions. In response, Roque stated that the parents wanted to charge Pemberton as an undesirable alien, and "to subject him to the same humiliation that they subjected Marc Sueselbeck and they want the BI to demand Pemberton to appear before the premises of the Bi in the same way that they demanded Sueselbeck to appear." Again, I'm not sure whether this decision is the Laudes', or something suggested by Roque.

At the same time, the request is clearly based on revenge, and not justice. "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" is what the Laudes apparently want, and, in doing so, it lessens them in the public eye. As it is, it has not been conclusively proven that it was Pemberton who killed Laude; the court has not even begun trying the case. For the Laudes, and Roque, to call for blood at this point prejudges the case, and demeans them.

I don't blame the Laudes for expressing their anger and frustration. They've lost someone dear to them; it is their grief that is driving their emotions, and that's understandable. What I find reprehensible is the propensity of people such as Roque and the militant left, who will think nothing of exploiting a personal tragedy to further their own agenda.

I'm still hoping that the case will be resolved quickly and by the book. If Pemberton is guilty, let him suffer the consequences of his actions. However, if he is not, and the decision is fair and by the book, let the anti-VFA crowd respect the decision.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Back and Forth: Reactions to the SC Decision on Online Privacy

Of course, it didn't take long for reactions to the Supreme Court decision on the girls' school controversy to surface.

Just a quick recap: In 2012, five girls from a private girls' school in Cebu were barred from participating in their school's graduation ceremony after pictures of them smoking cigarettes and drinking liquor in their underwear surfaced on Facebook. Citing violation of online privacy, the girls and their parents sought redress from the courts, to allow the girls to attend the graduation. The lower court ruled against them, which prompted the aggrieved parties to elevate the matter to the Supreme Court. The SC decision affirmed the lower court's decision, and ruled that the fact that the girls' photos were accessible by other users shows that the students' claim that the pictures could only be viewed by themselves was "self-serving." As a result of this accessibility, the students could no longer "invoke the protection to the right to informational privacy." Thus, their petition was denied.

One lawyer, J.J. Disini, stated that the SC decision was scary because, for him, "The Supreme Court is saying that even if you attempt to limit the privacy and set the privacy, as long as another person can see it, you no longer have the right to privacy on those things you have posted." Perhaps it is scary, but only to those who post images or text which may be troublesome.

Disini goes on to say, "They are saying that in a social network, if you have 100 friends and your friends have 200 friends, you are essentially sharing your information to 300 friends. It is the same with email. If I email you, does that mean you can forward that to all those in your address book?" Well, no, since email is not a social network, so messages sent through there are assumed to be private, unless one adds an address to the "Cc" portion of the email. Disini's argument is fallacious because he makes a comparison between two unequal structures.

The thing is, with a social network, unless one is careful with the privacy settings and what one posts, it is relatively easy to find stuff, as Ellen DeGeneres demonstrated on her show, "Ellen", as she presented photos she found of the members of her audience. Of course, she rewarded the people she embarrassed with iPads, and, fortunately, it looked like they were good sports about it, but, it simply demonstrates what can happen should one post embarrassing material of oneself online.

I'm not surprised that two leftist lawmakers, Rep. Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna, and Rep. Terry Ridon of Kabataan, also raised a furor over the SC decision. Part of me suspects that they didn't read the decision in its entirety, and based their reactions on the news reports on the decision.

Rep. Colmenares argued that "There was a minimum expectation of privacy on the part of the students. Walang intensyon na lagay sa public." However, the SC decision notes that it's unclear whether the students exercised that privacy, for, while they claimed that the pictures were only accessible to them, their friends were apparently able to see the pictures, and reported the matter to a teacher,

Rep. Ridon, on the other hand, stated that the decision "implies that there is no more user-determined safe harbor in cyberspace." Perhaps Ridon should read the Facebook data use policy, how information posted on Facebook is used, and how privacy works on Facebook. The notes on privacy settings are interesting because it notes, "Always think before you post. Just like anything else you post on the web or send in an email, information you share on Facebook can be copied or re-shared by anyone who can see it." Also, the Facebook page on privacy notes that, if one is tagged, then one can be seen by oneself and his/her friends.

Furthermore, Ridon notes, "online rants of employees may be used by the management as basis for administrative cases." If I'm not mistaken, that's already happening. Besides, it's unprofessional to go online with one's complaints about one's company, since there should be clear lines of communication within the organization for feedback.

Ridon, rather dramatically, ends with the statement, "The SC decision clearly spells the end of Internet freedom as we know it." His definition of freedom is the type of freedom without limits, but it's clear that there a limits to one's freedom online. As it is, those of us who choose to use social networks such as Facebook or Twitter should be aware that both companies deal with information gathering, and anything we post or share on the sites is open to public usage.

As I mentioned in my previous post, if one doesn't want something going public, it would be best not to post it at all. Numerous people have gotten into trouble for irresponsible or careless usage of social networks. As the SC decision noted, self-regulation is the best way to go, as we ourselves are the best judges to determine what goes online.

On the Subject of Online Privacy

Last summer, we teachers attended a talk by education law expert Ulan Sarmiento. During the course of the talk, Atty. Sarmiento expounded on the right of the school to impose disciplinary sanctions on students who negatively affect the good name of the school. As an example, he presented the case of the five students of a private girls' school in Cebu who posted pictures of themselves online, wherein the students were only clad in undergarments and some of them were either drinking or smoking. As a result of this becoming known by the school, the five girls, who were seniors at the time, were barred from joining in the school's graduation rites, although, if I understand it correctly, the girls were allowed to officially graduate, meaning they still received their diplomas.

 Atty. Sarmiento defended the school's right to impose the sanctions, as he argued that the girls' actions were in violation of school policies. Apparently, the Supreme Court agreed with Atty. Sarmiento, as it upheld the ruling of a lower court dismissing the parents' petition to allow their daughters to join in the graduation rites. One can read the full text of the decision here.

In its decision, penned by Associate Justice Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr., the Supreme Court noted that the invasion of privacy as claimed by the parents was invalid, because the friends of the students were able to access the pictures and report the matter to a school official. In the first place, the pictures were posted on Facebook, a social media network, and, depending on the privacy settings set, would be accessible to anyone who was either tagged or was a friend of those who posted the pictures.

Moreover, on the subject of responsible posting online, the Supreme Court notes,
"...'the best filter is the one between your children’s ears.' This means that self-regulation on the part of OSN users and internet consumers in general is the best means of avoiding privacy violations. As a cyberspace community member, one has to be proactive in protecting his or her own privacy. It is in this regard that many users, especially minors, fail. Responsible social networking or  of the “netiquettes” on the part of teenagers has been the concern of many due to the widespread notion that teenagers can sometimes go too far since they generally lack the people skills or general wisdom to conduct themselves sensibly in a public forum." (G.R. 202666)
As a teacher, I am well aware of this fact, since I have seen a number of my students post all sorts of material online, not all of them good. It's probably a good reminder for those of us teachers to educate our students properly on the correct way of using the Net.

As an online user, I am careful about what I post online, since I am well-aware of the consequences of inappropriate usage. For example, in this blog, and even on Facebook or Twitter, I don't rant about work or family, since those are professional and personal limits. I do try not to rant in general, since I my views would be more respected if I don't present them in an overly emotional manner.

At the same time, it's interesting to note that the parents are more concerned about the alleged violation of privacy and appear unconcerned that their daughters, who were either minors or, at the very least, students subject to the school policies, were either drinking or smoking, activities which, in most, if not all, high schools, are banned. There appears to be an unwillingness on the part of the parents to own up to their daughters' misconduct; hence, the attempt to make the school liable for sanctioning them.

While not specifically mentioned, the SC decision also, in a way, upheld the right of a school to impose disciplinary sanctions on erring students. The parents' filing of a case in court was an attempt to subvert the school's policies in order to get what they wanted, even though, in enrolling their daughters in the school, they would have agreed to the school's policies. If they didn't agree with the school policies, they probably should have enrolled their children elsewhere.

The decision seems to have started a discussion on online privacy, with one lawyer already saying that the SC decision was 'scary'. 

I disagree; there's nothing scary about the decision. The bottom line is: if you don't want anyone to view your photos or something private, it is best not to post them online at all, especially not on sites such as Facebook or Instagram, where anyone and everyone may have access to them.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Tears and Prayers for Marysville

The scary thought about gun-related violence in U.S. schools is that it's getting to the point that it's almost commonplace.

This time, it happened in Marysville-Pilchuck High School, a school near Seattle. The shooter was 14-year old Jaylen Fryberg, who, a week ago, was feted by his peers as a prince in their school's homecoming court. It's difficult to understand how such a well-liked young man would, yesterday, take his father's .40 caliber handgun, and begin shooting in the school cafeteria. By the end of it, four people were injured, three of them critically, and two, including Fryberg, were dead; it is believed that Fryberg killed himself.

According to Eric Liu on CNN, quoting the gun reform group Everytown for Gun Safety, this is the 50th gun-related school incident this year, and it is the 87th since the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook, in Newtown, CT, where 20 children and 6 adults lost their lives to the senseless actions of an insane shooter.

One has to wonder about America's love affair with the gun, and what should be done in order to stop these senseless incidents. Of course, the National Rifle Association (NRA) will continue to fight against measures that will control guns in the U.S., and probably make inane suggestions that teachers should be armed in order to deal with the situation.

Being a teacher, school-related violence such as that which happened yesterday at Marysville-Pilchuck strikes a chord close to the heart. I am thankful that, so far, none of our students have attempted such a terrible and heinous action. At the same time, I find myself thinking about what measures we would have to take should such an event take place here in the Philippines.

In the meantime, my prayers and condolences go out to the victims of this newest incident, and here's to hoping that U.S. officials will take a harder look at the guns proliferating in their society.

Friday, October 24, 2014

On the Subject of Custody in the VFA

With the murder of Jennifer Laude, allegedly by an American soldier, calls for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States have stepped up, with notables such as Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago joining the chorus for scrapping the VFA.

Admittedly, the touchy issue of custody is the focal point in the Laude murder case, because the primary suspect is an American soldier, Private First Class (PFC) Joseph Scott Pemberton, and, as such, is subject to the custody provisions of the VFA. Currently, Pemberton is being detained in Camp Aguinaldo, but he remains under U.S. custody.

Reading the VFA's text, it appears that section 6 of Article V is the pertinent part for the custody issue:
The custody of any United States personnel over whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with United States military authorities, if they so request, from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings. United States military authorities shall, upon formal notification by the Philippine authorities and without delay, make such personnel available to those authorities in time for any investigative or judicial proceedings relating to the offense with which the person has been charged. In extraordinary cases, the Philippine Government shall present its position to the United States Government regarding custody, which the United States Government shall take into full account. In the event Philippine judicial proceedings are not completed within one year, the United States shall be relieved of any obligations under this paragraph. The one year period will not include the time necessary to appeal. Also, the one year period will not include any time during which scheduled trial procedures are delayed because United States authorities, after timely notification by Philippine authorities to arrange for the presence of the accused, fail to do so. 
I'm not sure why American military authorities retain custody; perhaps some of my friends who are more legally-inclined can explain it to me. Maybe it's for the protection of the personnel who is involved, or maybe it's to protect American security; being part of the military, it's very possible that the person could be privy to military secrets.

Whatever the reason, at this point, the U.S. has shown that it is cooperating with the Philippine government, and, hopefully, it will continue to cooperate until the trial has been resolved. In the meantime, Pemberton cools his heels in his detention facility in Camp Aguinaldo, as he awaits trial. For the sake of Jennifer Laude, here's hoping that our justice system works swiftly to decide the case.

At the same time, those calling for the scrapping of the VFA should note, as Dean Bocobo of Philippine Commentary noted on his Facebook feed, "if we unilaterally abrogated the VFA today then tomorrow the US could legally remove the accused from the Philippines as the US would have no legal obligation then to hold him in custody for trial under Philippine jurisdiction." Bocobo goes on further to observe that "Abrogating the VFA would be the surest, quickest way to PREVENT Justice being done for Jeffrey "Jennifer" Laude."

It's something the leftists, Senator Defensor-Santiago, and other anti-VFA advocates should chew on.

The President and Jennifer Laude's Wake

I agree with my friend Jo-Ed Tirol that the President not attending the wake of Jennifer Laude is a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation.

Quick aside: In case you're unfamiliar with the case, Jennifer Laude was a transgender woman who was allegedly murdered by an American soldier, Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton. Pemberton was the last person seen in the company of Laude, whose body was found afterwards; autopsy reports indicate that Laude's cause of death was "asphyxia by drowning." 

The case has generated a number of controversies, particularly the matter of custody as per the provisions of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). 

Going back to the matter of the President's visiting the wake, the President said 
“In general, I don’t attend wakes of people I don’t know. I find it – and I’m speaking for myself – I’m uncomfortable in trying to condole with people who don’t know me,” he said.
“It’s like how can I say that I really sympathize with their loss and have some relevant discussion with them on trying to assuage their loss at that point in time?”
Admittedly, it's a difficult situation for the President. If he attends the wake, some will say that he's trying to make political capital out of it. If he doesn't attend, people will see him as insensitive.

Some netizens have pounced on the President's words, and even came up with the following infographic:

I can't help but feel though, that there's something fallacious about the graphic. It's one thing to attend a wake, and mingle with the people present, and it's an entirely different thing if the said person is a national figure being feted by the people. If I'm not mistaken, the above picture is not from the wake of the late Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr., but from the funeral procession that would bring him to his final resting place. It's not exactly an equal comparison.

Perhaps, the best thing the President can do, not that it would silence his detractors, is to make sure that the case against Pemberton is thoroughly fair and just, so that, even if he was not able to show his personal concern for Laude at the wake, he will be able to ensure that Jennifer Laude and her family receive the justice they expect.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Manny's PBA Debut

The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) began its 40th season last Sunday, with two expansion teams, Kia Sorento and Blackwater Elite, making their debut, playing against each other.

The game was also noteworthy because it was the debut of congressman-boxer- Kia playing coach Manny Pacquiao.

While Pacquiao's debut as a coach was successful, his debut as a player was what could be expected of an undersized, 35-year old rookie. Pacquiao played 6 minutes and 46 seconds, or, at the very least, he was on the court for 6 minutes and 46 seconds. He had no field goal attempts, nor was he fouled. He did give up two fouls and committed one turnover. Not an auspicious start.

Still, his Kia Sorento, possibly buoyed by the boxing congressman's fighting spirit, managed to come back from behind and win 80-66 , so it wasn't a fruitless night for Pacquiao.

However, not everyone was congratulatory about the win. Yahoo! sportswriter Kevin Iole scored Pacquiao for risking a possible injury during the game, which would have put the kibosh on his November 22 match with Chris Algieri. Had Pacquiao been injured, it would have also meant possible financial losses for everyone involved in the fight. Both Iole and Algieri thought that what Pacquiao did was "arrogant."

On another front, House Speaker Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte asked Pacquiao, along with other absentee congressmen, to perform his mandate as congressman, and be present in the House deliberations on various important bills, notably, the Bangsamoro Basic Law, and the national budget.

As for me, it's bad enough that Kia Sorento wasted its first-round pick on Pacquiao, when it could have gotten a player who could actually help the team. At the same time, with Pacquiao gearing up for his fight with Algieri, he will not only be absent from Congress, he will also be absent from coaching or playing for his team, a situation that could spell disaster for his team. The blog Hoop Nut noted that last Sunday's win could have been a result of Manny's presence egging his team on. Without him, the Hoop Nut continues, Kia will be "little more than newly-minted underdogs." With that in mind, here's hoping that Pacquiao reconsiders his playing in the PBA.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ebola Musings

The current Ebola outbreak raises the local question as to whether our health officials are prepared to deal with the deadly disease.

As it is, while countries such as Nigeria and Senegal have been declared free of the virus, three other African nations, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, continue to battle the outbreak, as the three countries lack the necessary resources to deal with Ebola. So far, more than 4,500 people have died from the disease in the three countries.

The disease has also arrived in the U.S., with one fatality, Thomas Eric Duncan, who had come from Liberia. Since the hospital where he went to apparently did not take enough precautions, two of the nurses who treated Duncan were also infected by the virus, and are currently being treated. This article on CNN explores the possible reasons why people such as Duncan died, while others survived.

Another Westerner, Spanish priest Miguel Pajares, died in Madrid, after contracting the disease while treating patients in Liberia.

The outbreak in West Africa, and its subsequent transfer to the U.S. and Madrid, have caused pharmaceutical companies to ramp up their efforts in creating drugs and vaccines that can treat Ebola. However, it should be noted that all of the drugs that have been used on patients are still experimental in nature, and it will take some time before these can be commercially produced.

Meanwhile, fear of a possible epidemic has created enough misconceptions of Ebola, that one media analyst has dubbed it, "fear-bola," noting that more people have died of the flu than Ebola. While it is a deadly, contagious disease, Ebola is not an airborne virus, and it is possible to avoid infection. At the same time, it is important to be well-informed about the virus: how it is transmitted, what its symptoms are, and so forth. This way, one can be better prepared.

Here, in the Philippines, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) has been working hard in preparing for the possible entry of Ebola in the country. According to Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Enrique Ona, the RITM has "rapid detection technology, laboratory, hospital facilities, and trained personnel in responding to the threat of new infectious disease agents." Also, Ona noted, the RITM has started training personnel and developing screening and evaluation practices in preparation for this disease.

In the Philippines, one can only imagine the horrors that could happen if the Department of Health became lax in its vigilance on the possible entry of the Ebola virus. Our health system is still better than those in West Africa, it's likely that, as long as there are no slip-ups, we should be able to avoid an outbreak of that disease here. Still, I shall only feel truly safe once the World Health Organization declares that the outbreak is over.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Requiems: Elizabeth Pena and Jan Hooks

It's Thursday, and, as a throwback, I'd like to focus on the recent passing of two actresses whom I remember best from the past.

I best remember actress Elizabeth Pena for three roles: as Detective Tania Johnson in the movie "Rush Hour", as a Mexican-American reporter in the TV movie "The Second Civil War", and as the voice of Mirage in the movie "The Incredibles".

Of course, looking at her career, she has played more roles than these, having been active as an actress since 1979.

Elizabeth Pena, sadly, passed away on October 14, 2014, of natural causes after a brief illness. She was 55.

*   *   *

The cast of "Saturday Night Live" I grew up with was the cast that included, among others, the late Phil Hartman, Kevin Nealon, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Dennis Miller, Julia Sweeney, Jan Hooks, and Adam Sandler. 

I remember Jan Hooks for playing a number of roles in the show, particularly Bette Davis, Jodie Foster, and Kathie Lee Gifford. I remember being impressed with her versatility in acting and comedy.

After Hooks left SNL, she joined the cast of "Designing Women", although I didn't watch that series, and lost track of her. She also was on "Third Rock from the Sun", and voiced Apu's wife, Manjula, for a few episodes of "The Simpsons".

Jan Hooks passed away on October 9, 2014, reportedly of cancer. She was 57.

Requiescat in pace, Elizabeth Pena and Jan Hooks. You will be missed. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

UAAP 77: Bulldogs Win!

For the longest time in the UAAP, the NU Bulldogs have been synonymous with futility.

Not anymore, as the Bulldogs ended 60 years of no titles in the men's basketball division, by trouncing the FEU Tamaraws, 75-59, to finally win the UAAP men's basketball crown. 

The Bulldogs join their women counterparts, but, unlike the Lady Bulldogs, who clinched the crown with a perfect 16-0 season, the Bulldogs had to be every bit as scrappy as their namesake mascot, as they clawed their way up the ranks to reach the Finals.

They first had to overcome a feisty UE Warriors squad for the right to enter the Final Four, and they did, by a hair, 51-49.

Then, they had to overcome the twice-to-beat advantage of the Ateneo Blue Eagles, and they did, winning both games, 78-74, and 65-63. The indelible image at the end of the second game was NU big man Alfred Aroga swatting away league MVP Kiefer Ravena's desperate drive.

In the Finals, the NU Bulldogs were once again pushed to the brink, as they lost the first game to FEU, 75-70. All it took was one more win, and the FEU Tamaraws would regain the crown they last held nine years ago.

However, one must never underestimate the strength of a fighting heart. Earlier in the year, the Ateneo women's volleyball team managed to win its first ever crown; their coach's  exhortation was for them to be "heart-strong". It could very well have been the Bulldogs' battle-cry as well.

Faced with elimination, the NU Bulldogs came alive in Game 2, as they walloped the Tamaraws, 62-47, to send the Finals to a third and deciding game. Once more, the Bulldogs would play another do-or-die match; this season, it would be their fifth.

As in Game 2, the Bulldogs managed to scrap for the lead, although it was close in the early going. Thanks to the efforts of Aroga (Finals MVP, 24 points, 18 rebounds) and his teammates, particularly, Gelo Alolino (12 points, 5 rebounds), and graduating captain Glenn Khonbuntin (10 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal), the Bulldogs managed to have a huge third quarter that took the fight out of the Tamaraws, and the Bulldogs coasted to victory.

With the championship, the NU Bulldogs have demonstrated what a focused sports program can achieve. Backed by the powerful Sy family, NU has risen to prominence with a stronger athletics program. Hopefully, the school can provide continuity, and maintain its adherence to excellence, not only in athletics, but in academics as well.

So, congratulations to the NU Bulldogs! Good luck for next season!  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Missed Opportunities

As I mentioned in my last post, the challenge of writing about current events means that the posts have to be written quickly and well, so that, when posted, they are of relevance to the event. Once a long period of time passes, the event becomes stale, and, oftentimes, writing about it isn't particularly useful.

Over the past ten years of this blog, there are probably dozens of posts I could have written, but didn't, mainly because of the lack of time. However, I do keep notes of posts I planned to write, and, looking back on my notes, here are a few possible posts that will probably never be written in full.

1. China Crisis

While I've touched on this topic once or twice, and have collected copious notes on the issue, I've not managed to write with more detail about it. It's a case of a topic being too large and daunting, and I would have to do more research than I have time for in order to do it justice. It's still an ongoing issue, though, and it's still possible that I will come back to this topic in the future. That being said, the bottom line is that China is acting like a bully, and it's important for us to continue insisting on our rights to the disputed region; as it is, even with our protests, China continues to encroach on our territory, and has even built permanent structures in our region.

2. Domestic violence in the NFL

This is primarily about former Baltimore Ravens' running back Ray Rice, how he clocked his fiance (now his wife) and how the NFL dropped the ball in dealing with it, and other instances of domestic violence committed by its players. At this point, enough has been said about the topic, and the NFL has taken steps to ensure that it will not be caught with its pants down on the issue of domestic violence.

3. The embattled PNP chief

The story of PNP chief Alan Purisima has been touted as the President's inability to impose his "daang matuwid" (straight path) on his friends and allies. It's not the first time that the President has stood up for his friends in sticky situations, but, reading about Purisima's house and learning about the huge discount he got on buying an expensive SUV, I find it difficult to accept that Purisima is staying on. It's just another example of how the "daang matuwid" is apparently not applicable to the President's allies.

4. UAAP sports

I would have liked to have written about the high school's various athletic teams and their triumphs, as well as the current UAAP basketball finals between FEU and NU. I still might be able to write about tomorrow's penultimate game, which will be for all the marbles.

When I look at my other notes, on the exposure of the Binay family's corruption and the possibility of Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago's running for President in 2016, these are still fresh issues, and, hopefully, I will find the time to write about them in the immediate future.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Requiem for a Rainbow

Another busy week meant another enforced hiatus from writing. As I'm sure that I've mentioned this before, any hiatus for a writer who focuses on current events like myself means a good number of unwritten posts. Before I go into that, however, I'd like to share a post for a special requiem.

Throughout my life, I've had a number of pets, most of them cats and dogs. A number of them have made such a mark that they've stayed in memory.

However, for my eldest daughter, she has really had just one pet that meant something to her. Rainbow was her first dog, gifted to her when she was four by a member of the household at her preschool. Originally, being four, my daughter named the puppy Rainboney, which, eventually became Rainbow.

Rainbow was a smallish sandy brown dog of mixed breed. She had an affectionate and energetic nature, and was generally a handful to handle.

Of the various dogs we've had, Rainbow was probably one of the most active. She was always getting out of her pen, and out the gate; it would take a while before she would wander back, and she would often be pregnant, as a result. We'd always talked about getting her spayed, but never got around to getting it done. Our other two dogs, Victoria and Maverick, are her progeny whom we've kept.

This past weekend, we went to Batangas to attend the birthday of our nephew; my eldest felt she was too old to participate, and decided to spend the weekend with her favorite aunt, my sister.

Apparently, even before we left, there was probably already something wrong with Rainbow, for, a while ago, my sister and my daughter had to bring her to a vet, who said that Rainbow had an infection in her uterus which spread to other parts of her body. According to my sister, my daughter made the brave and mature decision to let Rainbow rest, and had the vet put her to sleep. I'm thankful to my sister, who was there for my daughter at a critical point in her life, when we could not be there.

Rainbow had already been buried by the time we arrived from Batangas, so we weren't able to see her anymore. However, we will always remember Rainbow, for her energy, and for being my daughter's first pet.

Requiescat in pace, Rainbow. We will miss you.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

So, You Think You Can Coach?

In the aftermath of Ateneo's loss to National University (NU) came the criticisms, particularly of Ateneo coach Bo Perasol.

A number of posts on social media focused on what Perasol should have done in the end game, instead of having star player Kiefer Ravena drive to the basket, which was pilloried as a predictable move. This prompted others to observe that there seemed to be a lot of expert coaches on social media feeds.

Particularly scathing was an article by Pio Garcia published in the Philippine Star, who scored Perasol for being predictable in his offensive plays, for not giving rookie Arvin Tolentino enough touches, and for not being former coach Norman Black.

I'm not a basketball expert (I'll leave the more exacting analysis to the likes of the Hoop Nut, Enzo Flojo), but I found Garcia's article to be offensive in the sense that maybe he should take the reins of coaching the Blue Eagles, since he seems to know so much about how the team should have played.

He seems to have forgotten that Black took four years before Ateneo began its 5-year winning run. Yes, according to Garcia, Black was a tactical genius, but even he needed time to build a championship team. As a friend of mine pointed out, Perasol is in his second year of coaching, so there's time to make adjustments. Cut the man a little slack.

Garcia also seems to ignore that this is a team that overachieved. Last year Ateneo missed the Final Four for the first time in years. This year, Ateneo got the top seed, but it should be noted that a lot of the wins this year could have gone either way, since the winning margin was so close. To not give any credit to Perasol for having steered the team to the no. 1 spot seems a tad unfair.

Garcia ends his article with a string of "I want"s, and comes off sounding like an entitled, spoiled brat. After winning five years in a row, it's not surprising for someone like Garcia to expect the same result every year. However, I remember a time back in the 80s when Ateneo was going for a three-peat, and I remember visiting a friend in the old Colayco Hall, with people waving shirts proclaiming "We're going for the three-pear! Ateneo 3-time Champions!" Well, we all know how that worked out; hubris can dish out a painful lesson.

Seriously, though, since he appears to know so much about coaching Ateneo basketball, maybe Garcia should try coaching the Blue Eagles and see whether he's successful or not. His staff should be composed of the others who have displayed their coaching expertise on social media. That would be fun to watch.

Perhaps there is reason to be critical of Bo Perasol's handling of the Blue Eagles, but the opinion would be better appreciated if delivered with a more objective tone.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

UAAP 77: Bulldogs Triumphant

For the longest time, the National University (NU) Bulldogs were the doormats of the UAAP men's basketball tournament. The last time NU was in the Finals was 1970; the last time the Bulldogs won a title, it was 1954. For the generation that grew up in the 80s and 90s, NU was always outside looking in at the UAAP basketball finals.

Then, Henry Sy, the SM tycoon, decided to buy a controlling stake in NU in 2008, and began an overhaul of the university, including its sports program. That's when the NU Bulldogs fortunes began to change.

First, Bobby Ray Parks, the son of the legendary Shell import Bobby Parks, joined the basketball team in 2010. However, despite winning two MVP titles and carrying the Bulldogs to the Final Four, Parks was unable to will his team into the Finals.

This season, sans Parks, coach Eric Altamirano has achieved the almost-impossible: he has helped lead the Bulldogs back into the UAAP Finals after 44 years. To do this, he and his players had to overcome the twice-to-beat advantage of the Ateneo Blue Eagles.

Going into yesterday's game, the Blue Eagles, despite the twice-to-beat advantage, were considered to be the underdogs. In five tries prior to yesterday's game, Ateneo, coached by Bo Perasol, has been unable to beat NU. And yesterday was the do-or-die game for both teams. NU had won the previous game, 78-74, to neutralize Ateneo's twice-to-beat advantage, and set the stage for yesterday's knock-out game.

NU struck early, leading Ateneo by as many as 12 points in the first half. I missed out on the third quarter, since I had org duties, but, when I came back, Ateneo apparently was able to make a run, and even took the lead 49-46. However, NU stayed focused, and continued to match Ateneo basket for basket, until the Bulldogs took the lead for the last time, 65-63, with 9.3 seconds to go and Ateneo in possession.

Then, the game was delayed due to power fluctuations caused by the strong thunderstorm that hit in the afternoon.

When play resumed after around 30 minutes, King Eagle Kiefer Ravena drove to the basket, only to be denied by NU's Alfred Aroga, who swatted Ravena's lay-up away to preserve the Bulldogs' slim lead.

As coach Altamirano noted, the lull worked in NU's favor, and said after the game, “It was favorable for us kasi defense naman kami e. It was hard for them because napahinga sila, they’re like starting from scratch, natuyuan sila ng pawis.”

The NU Bulldogs deserve the win, having fought hard and playing cohesively as a team. At the same time, the Ateneo Blue Eagles have nothing to be ashamed of, having overachieved all season and fighting hard in every game.

Now, coach Altamirano and his gutsy squad must hanker down again and prepare to face the FEU Tamaraws, who had a similar nail-biting game against La Salle yesterday and upended the defending champions, 67-64, on Mac Belo's dagger-in-the-heart 3-point buzzer-beater.

While I like the heart displayed by both teams, I'll be rooting for the NU Bulldogs to win their first championship in 60 years.

It's been a long journey back to the Finals for the NU Bulldogs. Here's hoping they have enough left in the tank to win it all.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

MLB 2014: End of An Era

New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter started his major league baseball career 20 years ago, as part of a trio of super shortstops, the other two being Nomar Garciaparra (14 years with four teams) and Alex Rodriguez (20 years with three teams). While Garciaparra eventually succumbed to injuries which short-circuited his career, and Rodriguez, who has the best career numbers among the three, is currently suspended for violating the major league drug agreement and labor contract, Jeter has managed to stay relatively injury- and controversy-free. With the 2014 regular season in the books, Jeter's long stay with the Yankees comes to an end, as he retires with full honors, leaving behind a gaudy career.

In his last at-bat during his final game, Jeter went out with a bang, hitting an RBI single in a 9-5 victory over the Yankees' bitter rivals, the Boston Red Sox. After reaching first, he was pulled for a pinch-runner, and, with that, ended his career. The Yankees, despite ending the season with a winning record, failed to make the playoffs for only the third time in Jeter's career, so his remarkable run is truly over.

And what a career it was.

Among the many highlights in Jeter's career are: 
  • 3465 career hits (6th most all-time)
  • 14 All-Star Game appearances
  • 1996 Rookie of the Year
  • 5 Gold Gloves
  • 5 Silver Sluggers
Aside from these gaudy numbers, Jeter is one of the last few players who have stayed with the same team throughout their career. I'm not even sure who the next one-team player with the longest tenure is. In this day and age of free agency, wherein players move according to how much they will get paid, Jeter's achievement is no small feat.

At the same time, Jeter was also known for his professional attitude towards the sport, which made him a classy competitor, and earned him the respect of fans and players alike. Even fans of rival teams, such as myself (Baltimore Orioles), recognize the greatness of Derek Jeter; it's possible we will not see his like again.

Jeter's retirement ends an era in Yankee history, as he is the last of the so-called Core Four, comprised of Jeter, catcher Jorge Posada, relief pitcher Mariano Rivera, and starting pitcher Andy Pettitte. While Pettitte played for the Houston Astros for three seasons, Jeter, Posada, and Rivera played together with the Yankees for an amazing 17 seasons. Together, the Core Four won 11 American League East division titles, seven AL pennants, and five World Series championships.

So, as the various teams which qualified make their preparations for the coming playoffs, we take time to remember Jeter, the Yankees team captain, and reflect on his amazing career.

Goodbye, Derek Jeter. You will be missed.

UAAP 77: Do-or-Die Wednesday

While Ateneo and Far Eastern University (FEU) may have gotten the twice-to-beat advantage, both teams have found out that, so far, it has simply staved off an early exit from the UAAP men's basketball Final Four.

De La Salle Green Archers logo
La Salle Green Archers logo
Ateneo got off to yet another slow start, and, while the Blue Eagles made a furious run, in the end, the National University (NU) Bulldogs held on to win 78-74, to forge a knock-out, winner-takes-all game tomorrow at 2 p.m. Sophomore Bulldog guard JJ Alejandro came off the bench to have a break-out game, scoring 20 points and making 4 assists and no turnovers. NU's starting guard Gelo Alolino chipped in 16 points in the Bulldog win. On the other side, King Eagle Kiefer Ravena scored 24 points, but taking 35 shots (and making 9) to get there. Ateneo players Chris Newsome and Nico Elorde provided adequate support by scoring 14 and 12 points, respectively.

In the other Final Four match-up, La Salle finally nailed a win against FEU this season after three straight losses, and buried the Tamaraws, 94-73, to forge a second knock-out, winner-takes-all game tomorrow at 4 p.m., after the Ateneo-NU game. La Salle's star player Jeron Teng showed no ill aftereffects from a mild bout with dengue, and paced the Green Archers with 25 points, while FEU's Mac Belo had a career-high 32 points in the loss.

Now, the stage is set for two possibly exciting match-ups, as all four teams will attempt to play their A-game tomorrow, or else they will be going home for the season.

Ateneo Blue Eagles logo
Ateneo Blue Eagles logo
NU decidedly has a clear advantage over Ateneo, as Blue Eagles coach Bo Perasol, having lost five straight games to NU, has yet to figure out the Bulldogs. While the Blue Eagles are talented, they have been notorious for their slow starts this season. They cannot afford that against NU tomorrow. It's either the Ateneo Blue Eagles come out guns a-blazing, or they may find themselves in a hole from which they may not be able to escape. As for NU, it's important for them to continue playing as a team, and listening to their coach, Eric Altamirano, who seems to have Perasol's number so far.

FEU Tamaraws logo
FEU Tamaraws logo
I can't help but feel that FEU coach Nash Racela is letting things such as the officiating get to him, and this could be a distraction that will lead to the Tamaraws' demise tomorrow. Two days ago, Racela was quoted as his team not being allowed to play defense, which was a not-so-subtle knock on the officiating. From Racela's point of view, La Salle has all of the advantages over FEU; therefore, FEU must be allowed to play physical in order for them to compete. It's very possible that, if coach Racela continues to allow the officiating to get to him, it will hamper his ability to lead his team. As he said, La Salle has a number of advantages in terms of height and ability, and, if Racela is unable to coach effectively, he might as well hand the Green Archers the win.

NU Bulldogs logo
NU Bulldogs logo
Admittedly, majority are hoping for yet another Ateneo-La Salle rivalry series, but, all of the teams are competent enough to make it to the Finals. Another possible storyline is to have both La Salle and NU, technically the underdog teams, to make it to the Finals, something that has never happened in the UAAP's Final Four era. For the Bulldogs, making it to the Finals will be particularly sweet, having been there last more than four decades ago.

It's clear, though, that before the Finals, all four teams had better bring their best game to tomorrow's match-ups, since tomorrow's games will determine who gets to go to the Finals. Whichever teams make it will definitely be the two best teams.