Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Two Events: Sydney and Peshawar

In the span of two days, extremist Muslims have reminded us how much of a threat they pose to the world at large.

On Monday, in Sydney, Australia, Man Haron Monis, an 50-year old immigrant from Iran with a long history of crime and mental instability, held people in a cafe hostage at gunpoint, and kept police at bay for 16 hours. The hostage situation ended early Tuesday with the police storming the cafe after hearing gunshots coming from inside. Monis, along with two hostages, Katrina Dawson, a lawyer, and Tori Johnson, the cafe manager, were killed; unconfirmed reports indicate that Dawson and Johnson were killed trying to protect their fellow hostages.

It's speculated that Monis was either a lone wolf terrorist, or just a madman using the terrorist tag to justify his actions. At this point in time, it's still unclear what Monis hoped to achieve with his actions. CNN has posted key questions regarding the hostage taking here.

In Pakistan today, gunmen belonging to the Pakistan Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar, in northwestern Pakistan. At least 126, mostly students and children, were killed in the attack. (UPDATE: According to the CNN report, 141 people - 132 children, plus 9 school staff members, were killed. The seven militants who perpetrated this atrocious act were also killed.)

Both incidents are shocking in their scope and location; in the Peshawar attack, teenagers and children were targeted, indicating that the Pakistan Taliban are not discriminating in their attacks. Anyone is a target.

The two incidents are just the continuation of the narrative of extremist Muslim attacks on civilians, and, until something is done about it, sadly, it is likely that there will be future incidents with more deaths.

The challenge of dealing with individuals such as Monis is that, as a lone wolf, such terrorists are difficult to track; I doubt any government has the necessary resources to keep track of every possible terror suspect.

President Noynoy Aquino was quick to condemn the Pakistan attacks, saying it was “an act of terror and savagery (that) deserves nothing less than our condemnation.” Furthermore, the attacks "dishonored Islam." At the same time, the Philippine government extended its condolences to the victims of the Sydney siege.

I'm hoping that our local Muslim leaders will join the President in condemning these horrific incidents, and stress that violence should never be the means to effect change. At the very least, it would send a clear message to those in our country who may be thinking of committing the same atrocities as Monis and the Pakistan Taliban, that such actions will not hold favor with the Filipino Muslim community.

Corruption in Bilibid

The recent raid by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on the national penitentiary simply validated that the rich and powerful remain rich and powerful, even in jail.

In one detention area, there was a jacuzzi, while, in another, a sauna. As the Inquirer story put it, the quarters "could pass for high-end condominium units".  Furthermore, many of the high-profile inmates, a number of them drug lords and gang leaders, appeared to be living it up in the New Bilibid Prison, as they were discovered to have wads of cash on their person, and their living quarters showed obvious signs of luxury. 

What's worse is that, for the drug lords, their criminal activities were apparently not curtailed by their incarceration, as they continued operating their drug syndicate from behind bars.

As a result of the raid, 19 inmates were moved to the NBI headquarters in Manila, their communication devices taken from them, and their visiting privileges suspended. Here's hoping that they be properly imprisoned, without any of the luxuries with which they surrounded themselves.

At the same time, the Justice Department, the NBI, and the Bureau of Corrections, which oversees the prisons, should conduct a thorough investigation to determine the prison officials' culpability in this sorry state of affairs, because this would not have happened if the officials had not allowed it to happen. As it is, the officials in the Bilibid Prison should already be relieved of duty, and replaced, so that any investigation can push through without any hindrance. 

The revelation of luxurious living in prison is a blow to the correctional system, since it's apparent that those who should be punished for their crimes have found a way to corrupt and circumvent the system. It's clear that serious reforms are needed to cleanse the system of corruption.

One of the challenges here is that it's likely that these drug lords have powerful backers, either in politics or the military or the police, so any reform to the prison system will probably face strong obstacles. However, if we, as a society, want to demonstrate that crime does not pay, then we have to compel our leaders to institute these changes.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Musings on "Ruby"

There's really something about the start of the month that makes it difficult to impossible for me to get any writing done. Throw in Christmas and a much-hyped and awaited storm ("Ruby"), and December is doubly challenging. It's a pity, since there are a number of events and issues to comment on.

The week before "Ruby" (International name: "Hagupit") made landfall, much was made of its strength, which was comparable to last year's "Yolanda", which is the strongest storm ever to make landfall. The strength of the storm evoked memories of the horrors "Yolanda" wrought on the Philippines, particularly the Visayas region; as it is, the areas hardest hit by "Yolanda" are still in the process of rehabilitation.

While the Aquino administration's response to "Yolanda" was weak, for which the President and his closest advisers were heavily criticized, the government made sure that, this time, it would be prepared for the wrath of "Ruby". Response teams were prepped, and relief goods were better secured. People living in the predicted path of the storm's fury were evacuated, and, instead of resisting evacuation, they readily complied. "Yolanda" had provided an extremely bleak lesson.

Of course, stupid is as stupid does, and ABS-CBN media personalities Korina Sanchez, Noli de Castro, and Ted Failon, drew heavy social media flak for their response to "Ruby", especially Sanchez, who hoped that "Ruby" would just go straight north and hit Japan instead of the Philippines, because, she opined, the Japanese were better prepared to face the storm. Sanchez's faux pas was exacerbated by the fact that: one, she had been pilloried last year for criticizing CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper, and, two, she is married to Interior Secretary and possible 2016 presidential candidate Mar Roxas, who had his own set of stupidities dealing with "Yolanda" last year.

My Facebook feed was inundated by calls for prayer, that "Ruby" spare the Philippines. Whatever one's beliefs may be, the prayers must have worked, as "Ruby" weakened as it made its way across the Philippines. By the time it passed close to Metro Manila, it was downgraded into a tropical storm, and its presence was hardly felt by a metropolis that had hunkered down in anticipation of a strong storm.

The amount of preparation, both by the government and by the Filipino people, is laudable, as it demonstrated our ability to learn from mistakes, and prepare better for the storm's wrath. It is an ability that will be needed in the future, since it is likely that storms such as "Yolanda" and "Ruby" will continue to affect our country.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

UAAP 77: The Coming Foreign Players' Ban

One of the issues hounding Philippine sports is the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP)'s decision to gradually ban foreign players from the league. While the obvious targets of the ban are those players playing in the men's basketball division, the ban has far-reaching consequences, since the ban's impact will not only affect men's basketball, but also all other sports. Once more, the league's board has managed to come up with a rule that goes backward instead of forward.

While it's not the only questionable rule the UAAP has formulated, the two-year residency ban on students transferring between league schools from high school to college is the most recent example of the league's backward-thinking. As with the ban on foreign players, the residency rule was made to affect    FEU high school player Jerie Pingoy's transfer to the Ateneo, but it also affected players such as swimmer Mikee Bartolome, who went to court to obtain a temporary restraining order (TRO) so that she could compete in the swimming competition last school year, only to be met with a boycott from the other member schools.

A number of sports pundits have weighed in on the matter. Bill Velasco in his Philippine Star column last week questioned the message being sent by the ban, saying,
What are we saying to our students? We are patronizing them simply because of their nationality. We are not teaching them to be globally competitive. Rewarding mediocrity is not an act of patriotism. It is sending the message that it is okay to achieve less, simply because you are a Filipino. It is condescension. Elsewhere in the globe, you see student-athletes contributing mightily to their school programs even if they are foreigners: Japanese leading the way in judo and karate, Koreans doing likewise in taekwondo, Cubans in baseball, and so on. What is wrong with that? We are teaching the next generation to feel entitled. Entitlement already plagues our country in politics and business, which is why we have term limits and anti-dynastic laws, even at the price of lumping together good eggs with the bad.
Enzo Flojo, the Hoop Nut, weighed in on the issue in his blog, and summed up the effects of the ban in three points, but his last point warrants repeating:  
More Pressing Issue #1 is unregulated recruitment. Let’s not kid ourselves. Complimentary condo units? Six-figure allowances? Guaranteed jobs for relatives? We’ve all heard the stories, right? I’m not outright saying that these are wrong, but that’s simply because there aren’t any rules with which we can work. Who’s to say offering a condo violates any rule when there are no rules in the first place? Should there even be rules? My answer is YES. Collegiate leagues should regulate recruitment because making offers that are way above and beyond educational scholarships and student-level allowances tend to make cutting corners as a student-athlete a lot easier. After all, why should a student-athlete who already has all the fruits of being a professional (e.g. a residence, a car, regular income) continue studying in school? The intrinsic motivation to finish school and earn a degree is diminished to a great degree. For the record, I’m not against student-athletes earning income from, say, endorsements, but getting them straight from schools (or their boosters) is another thing altogether.
Rick Olivares, of Bleachers' Brew, noted that the influx of Fil-foreign players into the PBA improved the level of play. Olivares notes
In the 1990s, when people were up in arms about the presence of Fil-Americans playing in the PBA, there were all sorts of rules about the number of Fil-Ams. But they arguably improved the league much more than the imports ever did. They significantly raised the level of play to the point that the homegrown players got better.
 Itunu Kuku, an alumnus of the Ateneo who hails from Nigeria, shared his thoughts on the issue last year. Kuku notes
Another element to this debate that is quite problematic is how the presence of imports is immediately seen as a threat and never as an opportunity. Perhaps this has to do with an unfortunate Filipino characteristic of underestimating Filipino abilities or a colonial mentality that sees anything foreign as inherently better. I don’t believe that a foreign center will automatically be a better player than a Filipino center, or that an import’s presence will instantly challenge the local’s place on the team. Controlling for size and experience, it will be hard work that makes the difference between the two athletes and not their nationality. If indeed the foreign player is better, then the local ones can learn from their teammate and improve their skills by matching up against him in practice. As this practice begins to pay off, surely a smart coach will reward it with increased amounts of playing time in the games that count.

The reactionary nature of the manner by which the UAAP formulates its rules brings to mind an analogy of the American South before and after the Civil War. First, the residency rule smacks of slavery, wherein a school can control a student's fate as early as high school and treat him/her as a commodity, and, second, the foreign players' ban is akin to the "Whites Only/Blacks Only" rule perpetuated in many areas in the South after the Civil War.

As it is, there are already rules which limit the entry of foreign players into the UAAP; before the change, each school was allowed to add two foreign players to their teams. To limit it further will only push the UAAP backward in its development as a premier collegiate league.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Week's Round-up

It's been another busy week, and I suspect that, as we approach the holidays, it's going to get busier. As it is, while there have been interesting topics to write about, there's been no time to devote to them. Until I can manage to post a full article, these are some of the interesting bits in the news I picked up over the past week or so.

U.S. riots over Ferguson grand jury decision

On August 9, police officer Darren Wilson shot black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Depending on whom one listens to, it was either self-defense, or a case of a white officer shooting a black man in the continuing racial tensions that grip the U.S.

Last week, a grand jury ruled not to indict Wilson, which inflamed protests across the nation. Brown's family and friends were, understandably upset over the decision, and decried what they believed was a racially-imposed decision; after all, the jury was composed of nine white and three black persons.

It didn't help matters that, in Cleveland last Saturday, Tamir Rice, a 12-year old black boy, was shot by police after he had been brandishing a pistol that turned out to be an air gun. The two incidents, among many, have been used to illustrate how officials practice a racial bias against African-Americans and other minorities.

Conservatives have downplayed the race card, and have pointed out the dangers police face in the various situations they deal with, but, of course, majority of these pundits are white, so their opinion is skewed, at best.

It's not certain how the events will play out; for now, the situation remains tense. U.S. President Barack Obama has condemned the violence the protests have sparked, and has called on police to practice restraint.

Ray Rice suspension over

Earlier this year, former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended for two games after it became known that he had punched his then-girlfriend, now wife, Janay, in an elevator. After a more graphic video of Rice clocking Janay was released, Rice was then cut by the Ravens indefinitely suspended by the NFL.

Rice apparently appealed the decision, and, yesterday, an independent arbiter ruled in his favor, noting that there was no change in the circumstances which would necessitate a longer suspension. In other words, if the NFL was serious about domestic violence , it should have imposed a longer suspension immediately, instead of pussyfooting and waiting for the video to be released.

As it is, while Rice is free to play and be signed by a team,  it's unclear whether he will  be signed, given his poisonous situation. Perhaps there may be an owner willing to face the backlash from signing Rice, since Rice is a premier player, but I'm not placing any bets at the moment.

MMDA enforcer vs Maserati driver

A story that went viral recently is that of a Maserati driver mauling an MMDA traffic enforcer. Apparently, last Thursday, MMDA constable Jorby Adriatico took a video of John Russell Ingco, for having made an illegal left turn at the intersection of Araneta and Quezon Aves. As Adriatico did this, Ingco then made a u-turn to confront Adriatico. Ingco then allegedly made a rude gesture at Adriatico with his middle finger, which the MMDA enforcer asked Ingco to repeat. Ingco then, again allegedly, grabbed Adriatico by the shirt and began pummeling him, as he began to speed off. As a result of the altercation, Adriatico suffered a broken nose.

Since the Maserati is a rare car in Metro Manila, it didn't take long for police to identify Ingco as the driver of the car. Ingco has since gone into hiding after the incident, only to surface Friday to be interviewed by television networks to give his side of the story.

In his retelling of the story, it was the other way around. Adriatico had threatened and held him,  Ingco claimed, and his punching the MMDA enforcer was "out of fear." Ingco, who will face charges of assault and robbery, said he will file his counter-charges against Adriatico.

At this point, it's unclear whose side is the correct one. Obviously, there was a lot of support for Adriatico because his story came out first, while Ingco's story, while plausible, might be difficult for people to believe. Some will remember tobacco executive Robert Carabuena who was caught on video assaulting an MMDA enforcer two years ago.

MMDA chair Francis Tolentino is standing by his enforcer, and has challenged both of them to take a lie detector test, although I'm not sure how valid the results will be. What will be helpful will be for independent witnesses, if any, to come forward, and give an objective account of the incident.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pacquiao's Victory

As trainer Freddie Roach said, the master took the student to school.

Manny Pacquiao reestablished himself as a premier boxer, as he pummeled challenger Chris Algieri for 12 rounds, and knocked him down en route to a unanimous decision. Algieri, who had the greater height and reach, seemed to be unwilling to go toe-to-toe with Pacquiao, after receiving several hard blows in the first round, and tried to keep out of the Pacman's reach. However, Pacquiao was relentless, and, while he wasn't able to secure a knockout, he demonstrated that he had regained the power that made him a dangerous opponent.

Of course, after this resounding win, the next question on everyone's mind is whether Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s will finally find the courage to make the fight of the century, and agree to fight Pacquiao. All this time, Mayweather has ducked and avoided facing Pacquiao, who has an excellent chance of putting an end to the American's 47-0 unbeaten streak.

One can only wonder how much longer Mayweather can avoid the fight. As it is, many believe that he is a coward for not having the guts to match it up with Pacquiao, although Mayweather plays this down by insulting and putting down Pacquiao by saying that the Pacman is not in Mayweather's league. Given the tremendous effort he has put into avoiding Pacquiao, it may be more the other way around, that Pacquiao does not need to fight Mayweather to cement his legacy.

Whatever happens, the Pacman and his supporters can revel in the fact that he's back on top of the boxing world.

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 is a limit 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!