Friday, February 27, 2015

A Look at the Mayweather-Pacquiao Fight

So, the fight that everyone has been clamoring for is finally pushing through. On May 2, 2015, Floyd Mayweather, Jr., puts his unbeaten record on the line to face Manny Pacquiao, in a match that pits the top two pound-for-pound fighters against each other.

It is a fight that is long in coming, thanks in a large part to Mayweather's perceived ducking of the fight. Over the past few years, Mayweather has done everything he could possibly conceive, from drug issues to promoter conflicts, to prevent the fight from happening. Mayweather has also been incredibly arrogant, engaging in taunt after taunt after taunt against Pacquiao; in doing so, Mayweather has earned the ire of many boxing fans, both for his arrogance, and for his perceived cowardice. One can only wonder why Mayweather has finally agreed to the fight.

Perhaps it's because he sees Pacquiao has having lost his killer instinct, as Pacquiao has won all of his last few fights via judges' decision. Even Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's expert trainer, has admitted that Pacquiao may have lost his desire to pummel an opponent into senselessness, saying, "He feels that to beat a person, you don't have to kill him or knock him out." If this is the case, it could be one reason why Mayweather consented to the fight, since he may no longer be in danger of being knocked out by Pacquiao. This may be to Mayweather's advantage, since he is known to be a skillful ring tactician.

Pacquiao's faith may also contribute to his more compassionate nature, although Pacquiao demonstrated some hubris when he declared that God was on his side, and that God would deliver Mayweather to him. It probably would have been better for Pacquiao to keep quiet about how his faith will come into play, for, if he should lose, his rash words may come back to haunt him.

At the same time, it's no secret that Pacquiao's priorities are not all with boxing at the moment. As it is, he's splitting time (if one can call it that) between his duties in Congress (almost non-existent, being one of the most absentee representatives), his ludicrous basketball career, and his role as an entertainer, aside from his boxing training. The divided attention may mean that Pacquiao's focus may not be as it used to be, and this will give an opening to Mayweather.

While the apparent lack of killer instinct and his divided priorities may be factors in Pacquiao's fight against Mayweather, it should also be noted that Pacquiao is coming off a number of impressive victories, albeit via judges' decision. Also, it's no secret that Pacquiao has had Mayweather in his sights for so long that the fight may trigger dormant feelings and skills that may come into play in the fight.

Pacquiao still also has Roach in his corner, and his trainer's expertise in the sport, and his ability to mold Pacquiao into the fighter Roach envisions, will be one of the key factors in the fight.

It is clear to many that, while this fight was much desired, this fight is less than what it should have been had Mayweather agreed to fight Pacquiao when both were at the height of their boxing prowess. This knowledge will not detract from the fact that this will probably be one of the richest, if not the richest, payoffs in boxing history. Here's hoping that, on May 2, Pacquiao will emerge victorious.

Sobriety on the Fallen 44 Issue

Much has been said and written about the 44 Special Action Force members of the Philippine National Police (PNP-SAF) who were killed last month as a result of their operation to hunt down an international bombing expert. In social media, the hashtag #fallen44 was trending as a result of the deadly encounter. There have been fund-raisers and special events held in the name of the fallen 44. However, tragic as the case may be, they are not the only victims who should be mourned. In fact, there has been quite a bit of overreaction over the gravity of the deaths of the 44 PNP-SAF members.

First of all, it should be correctly noted that the death toll from the deadly Mamasapano incident was around 65-69, since there were also 18 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), as well as 3-7 civilians who lost their lives in that battle. Inquirer  columnist John Nery, in his February 17, 2015, article, scores Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago for her insistence on repeating the phrase "44 Filipinos," since it creates the impression that the Moros, as well as the civilians who were killed, are not Filipinos (only Marwan, the bombing expert, is not Filipino; he is Malaysian.). Writes Nery:
Santiago’s phrasing may have been a subconscious tell, but whether deliberate or not, it served to emphasize the us-versus-them divide that runs through the assumptions of too many of our senators and congressmen like an ugly sneer. Is it a coincidence that the civilian and the MILF dead that Santiago forgot or ignored were all Muslim? There is a rhetorical power in referring to the 44 SAF troopers as “44 Filipinos,” but it is an arrogant power gained at the expense of (yet again) minimizing the Moro experience. 
 Sen. Santiago is not the only one who has engaged in the "us-versus-them" mentality. The late publisher of the Philippine Star, Max Soliven, was notorious for his anti-Muslim slant in his columns. Ramon Tulfo, of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, has also written columns that suggest that Moros and Muslims are of a different ethnic group, or even species, from us.

Aside from the exclusion of the slain MILF and civilians, it should be remembered that the 44 PNP-SAF are not the only ones who have fallen in the line of duty. Soldiers, police, government officials, and civilians have all suffered losses in the ages-long conflict. While the deaths of the 44 are tragic, how is their situation different from previous deadly encounters?

Perhaps it's because the government is currently attempting to push through the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), that the deaths of the PNP-SAF members gained more significance. Certainly, the deadly encounter has thrown a monkey wrench into the peace process, with Congress deciding to shelve deliberations on the BBL.

I have yet to read the text of the BBL. so I will refrain from commenting about it. A good number of netizens have already spoken out about it, saying that the BBL will do everything from sundering the country to betraying the Constitution. I hope they have read the whole text of the law, so that their comments are based on fact, and not on hysteria.

Furthermore, the 18 MILF members are not the only Moros who have fallen in the long rebellion
against the government. In a MindaNews article Herbert Docena, a PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley, suggests the hashtag #Fallen120000, as this is his estimate on the number of people who have died in the conflict, of which he cites instances dating way back to the 1900s.

This is not to belittle the deaths of the 44 PNP-SAF members who bravely gave up their lives in doing their job. By all means, let us mourn their deaths, but let us also make sure we do not go overboard in our lionizing their sacrifice. If we are to remember the fallen 44. let us also take a moment to remember and pray for those who have died in the past, or are currently affected by the state of affairs in Mindanao.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Further EDSA I Musings: Nothing to Celebrate?

A Facebook post from one of my former students caught my attention. He was complaining about the traffic caused by the closing of EDSA for the celebration of the 29th anniversary of the EDSA I People Power Revolution.

Admittedly, he's not the only one complaining, since the closing of EDSA caused a major traffic gridlock. I myself am wondering why the government only called off classes, and not work; perhaps officials were concerned about there being too many holidays, or perhaps, as some anti-Aquino sectors claim, the government wanted to stave off possible anti-government protest actions.

I'm not inclined to believe the anti-Aquino crowd, which has had difficulty in gaining traction in terms of attracting people to their protest rallies. Whether it's because majority of Filipinos still believe in the President despite his many missteps, or whether people don't think protest movements are effective, or whether people are turned off by the strident cries of the leftist crowd, I don't think government officials are too concerned about the effects protest movements may have in the political arena.

As for the traffic, once more, admittedly, it's something the government could have done something about. Declaring the day a non-working holiday would have helped immensely.

Going back to my former student's post, it was his comment that caught my attention. In response to one of his friends asking "Why celebrate it at all?", my former student responded, "Yup, nothing to celebrate."

Nothing to celebrate?

Many Filipinos, including the late Senator Ninoy Aquino, former Antique governor Evelio Javier, and Bayan founder Lean Alejandro gave up their lives to secure the freedom we now enjoy. We are able to express our disgust at the government fairly freely, without fear of reprisal from the said government.

During the Marcos dictatorship, one could be jailed, tortured, or even killed, for speaking out against the government. Now, all one has to do is to type in his or her protest or disgust in any social media outlet; in my case, I'm not sure if my blog would have survived the Marcosian era.

The fact that we are free to express ourselves is nothing to celebrate, according to my former student. I'm hoping that my student's comment is a voice in the wilderness, but, unfortunately, there are many of us who have forgotten the cost others have paid to be where we are today.

This is where we are, 29 years after EDSA, wherein people have forgotten the fight for freedom so much that they don't see any reason to celebrate freedom's return.

Such is our memory and appreciation of history: extremely short.

Musings on the 29th EDSA I Anniversary

Thanks to the needs of my academic work, it's been another unexpected hiatus from writing, but, with the school year winding up, it'll be a little less busy for me, and I'll probably be able to write more often.

It's the 29th anniversary of the EDSA I revolution, and, based on current events, we seem to have taken a step backwards in growing as a nation. Instead of respecting democratic processes, there are those, such as the conveners of the so-called National Transformation Council, that would short-circuit the process.

The flashpoint is the tragic Mamasapano incident wherein, in the process of neutralizing (e.g. apprehend or kill) bombing expert Zulkifli Abdhir, a.k.a. Marwan, 44 members of the Philippine National Police's Special Action Force (PNP-SAF), around 16 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and around 5-7 civilians were killed. The ongoing investigations over the incident have shown how involved President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III was in the operation, although, to be fair, official investigations have yet to release their respective reports on the incident.

As a result of the Mamasapano incident, perceptions about how much President Aquino knew about the allegedly botched attempt to apprehend or kill bombing expert Marwan have leaned towards the negative. President Aquino has not helped matters by reportedly acting rude and unfeeling towards the grieving families of the 44 PNP-SAF members who were killed in the encounter.

Anti-Aquino critics, such as the Philippine Star's Alex Magno and Bobit Avila, as well as the Philippine Daily Inquirer's Amado Doronilla, have scored the President for this point, and the militant Left, led by Bayan and several party-list representatives, have called for the President's resignation. Note that the Left have not called for the resignation of Vice-President Jejomar Binay, who is perceived to be as corrupt, if not even more so, than the former Presidents Estrada and Arroyo. This dilutes the resignation call, for, as Inquirer columnist Solita Monsod has said, "Are you out of your minds?"

In the wake of the Mamasapano incident, the National Transformation Council (NTC) has stepped up its efforts, and once more called for not only the President's resignation, but also the entire political leadership. Instead, the NTC would then form a council to institute political reforms and then restore elections once these reforms are in place.

Nothing could be more anti-democratic. At least Marcos was elected, initially, before he made himself a dictator. With the NTC, there is no one, except themselves, to vet their reform council, so who will oversee them?

What the NTC wants to do is to take a short cut, and do away with the messiness of democracy, but, by doing so, the NTC takes away freedom of choice to choose our leaders, something for which people such as Ninoy Aquino and Evelio Javier gave up their lives. For the NTC to take over the country would be revolutionary, and counter-productive to the democratic process.

The path to true democracy is through proper political education. Those of us who are concerned about the state of our country would do well to exert our efforts on that front. Many Filipinos are unaware of their political rights; many are more than willing to get paid for their votes. This is the process we have to short circuit, and not the actual electoral process. We must find a way to stop the corrupt practices of politicians who have only their selfish reasons to be in power.

If one was to look at history, particularly at the U.S. style of democracy, one would note that, in the earlier days of the U.S., politicians were just as corrupt and greedy as ours, and practically got away with wholesale murder. Even now, as the U.S. has become more developed, we still see incidents of corruption going on, which means that a democracy is always a work in progress..

Our democracy is barely 29 years old in its restoration, and it will take much longer before political reform will take root. We Filipinos have to exercise patience, and not resort to short cuts, in order to grow democratic ideals in our countrymen. Admittedly, taking the long view is not a popular one, when one sees what is going on in our country today. However, it is the saner, safer path.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Alternate View on President Aquino: Netizens

This is the last part of three posts focusing on those who have taken a supportive stance of President Aquino's dealing with the deadly and tragic Mamasapano incident, where 44 members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF), along with around 16 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and 4 civilians, lost their lives. The first post focused on blogger Joe America's take, and the second focused on economist Solita Collas-Monsod's views. This post will focus on the various netizens who have taken up the cudgels to defend President Aquino.

Admittedly, defending the President, at least based on my feed on social media, is not a popular task. Thanks to an apparent lack of empathy and an inability to choose his words carefully, the President has set off land mine after land mine of anger. Of course, while this may make the President appear unfeeling and insensitive, there are those who take the a more objective perspective, and look at the achievements of this administration with an unemotional eye.

Among those whose posts I've read, my own co-teacher, Jay Hernando, has been heroic in his defense of the President on Facebook. In the aftermath of the Mamasapano incident, when the negative emotion against the President was running highest, Jay, who's an Araling Panlipunan teacher, thought to look at history as he made his defense of the President.

Writes Jay,

History is replete with accounts of great presidents and leaders who had military commanders who had committed much greater blunders. Roosevelt had MacArthur losing the Philippines because of his ineptness and over confidence, Churchill, the generals before Montgommery in the Desert War around whom Rommel ran rings, Lincoln, the Union generals before Grant, and even Bonifacio who had Sancho Valenzuela losing his blockade of Sta. Mesa that enabled Spanish reinforcement to attack the KKK in Pinaglabanan from behind. History has also put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the military commander and not on the commander-in-chief. And here you are, Noynoy bashers who are calling for his head as if you knew everything about this military operation. (January 30, 2015)
 Trust history to point out that the military commander in charge of the operations or battles was to blame for the failure. Of course, the investigations have still not yet conclusively proven that the President was in charge of the PNP-SAF operation, although anti-Aquino critics such as the militant Left want the public to believe so.

Jay also writes about how President Aquino has helped both the police and the military, as compared to the previous administrations:

Among the last few presidents of this country, I think PNoy has done the most for the AFP and the PNP. Under his administration, the country was able to buy a couple of modern warships (when was the last time the PN was supplied with crafts of the size and capabilities of the BRP del Pilar and the BRP Alcaraz? Marcos' time?), and several aircrafts, with negotiations for our first jet fighters in several decades still going on. AFP and PNP personnel were supplied with new rifles and pistols which are of more modern and reliable than the old ones our soldiers and police had. Their salaries were also increased and other benefits such as houses were given to them. This president was also in Zamboanga City while the battle there against the MNLF was still going on. And for the valiant police officers who fell in that last Maguindanao encounter, he has declared today as a day of national mourning and has scheduled to join and lead the necrological services to be given for these fallen heroes. And yet, his critics never paid attention to all these and are now even accusing him of not caring enough for his soldiers. (January 30, 2015)
Of course, Jay conceded that the President probably should have been at Villamor Air Base to receive the bodies of the fallen SAF troopers.

At the same time,  the points Jay raised demonstrate that the critics' point that this administration has achieved nothing is without basis. Of course, there are lapses that this administration has had, although, compared to previous administrations, these are not as grave as those perpetrated by previous administrations (I can imagine a number of people disagreeing with me on that point, but I'm prepared to agree to disagree.)

Another netizen, Niccolo Vitug, a former student of mine, and a professor in his own right, tries to analyze the President's constant references to his own context, a practice which has been roundly bashed on Facebook. Writes Niccolo,

I do think that being in the elective position does not provide opportunities to examine the shadows in one's psyche. I assume that there is very little time to do self-examination - something that all of us are, indeed, called to do in order that we can relate to others beyond the shadows of our own perceptions.
Somehow, I relate being President to other highly regarded offices, like the priesthood or the episcopacy of the Catholic Church. In the religious life, self-examination and processing with someone who can help is regularly done; however, as we can see, there are still many things that need to be healed in the church. I've seen people become kinder and more sensitive and accepting, and even more critical in a helpful way, over the years; the self-examination and processing does help. But indeed we need much more. Indeed, we need lots of grace.
And so it is with being nation. Looking at him during his eulogy, I saw, just like my FB friend, the young man who lost his father, who probably still has a harder time than many dealing with death. I really think that, alongside our being critical, we should also - if not stop criticizing the President - look at ourselves, and look where are criticisms come from. Are there angers in us that are transmuted into our commentary? Let us try to be honest about these matters, all in light of working for peace.
And, one last note: if the President is the symbol of the nation, doesn't he reflect us as a people? Perhaps the negative things that we see in him, these are things that are also in ourselves. The President and his people are like mirrors to each other, I think.
Perhaps the Pope's message of mercy and compassion should be applied to the President. Do we judge the President too harshly? I believe so, as social media has a way of amplifying emotional responses. Strengthened by the sight of others posting sentiments with which we relate empowers us to either like or express our own response to the world around us.
As Niccolo concludes in his post, "If in good conscience you have to be very critical, then proceed. But let's proceed with an attempt to be more aware since that can really help out with gaining peace." While he is referring to the peace process in Mindanao, which has been short-circuited by the Mamasapano incident, his insight can also be applied to the manner by which we deal with the President.  

Requiem, Father Bu


While much attention has been given to the Congressional hearings over the incident, last Tuesday, it may not have been noticed by many that Fr. Jaime C. Bulatao, S.J., also known as "Father Bu" to his students and colleagues, had passed away at the ripe old age of 92.

Father Bu is considered to be one of the fathers of Philippine Psychology, a subject I had wanted to take when I was in college, but wasn't able to due to constant scheduling problems; my last chance was in the last semester of my senior year, wherein a registration glitch meant that I had to take one of my required subjects during the same time when the only class on Philippine Psychology (Psych 108) was being offered.


Still, as a high school teacher, I would often hear Father Bu's name mentioned, either because of psychology or because of hypnotherapy, of which he was an expert. I also remember his strong connection toward the mystic, as he was known for his 'astral flight' sessions.

Ateneo's Department of Psychology has this to say about their founder:

Fr. Bulatao introduced group dynamics in the Philippines and wrote The Technique of Group Discussion (1965). He advocated the importance of understanding of the Filipino psyche, and undertook studies on Filipino culture, and the phenomena of spirituality and consciousness.  This led to his seminal Phenomena and their Interpretation: Landmark Essays 1957–1989 (1992).

As a clinical psychologist, Fr. Bu aimed to find the kind of therapy best suited for Filipinos, experimenting with different alternatives that combined both his knowledge of Western methods and his understanding of the local culture. He used hypnosis to understand these occurrences and other related paranormal phenomena such as ESP, clairvoyance, and telepathy.  Fr. Bu undertook experiments about altered states of consciousness and taught hypnosis and hypnotherapy. In 2000, he published the book Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy.  At the turn of the century, he devoted most of his time grounding his thoughts about relationships through numbers and quantitative methods.

Although Fr. Bu has received many awards and recognition for his contribution to Psychology, he claims that his best achievement is in teaching.

Even just a few years ago, he was still active as a professor in college, since he was awarded for 50 years of service fairly recently. What I remember is how frail he seemed, as he was escorted, and supported, by a lady cadet as he made his way to the stage.

While I was not fortunate to have been in his classes, I know quite a few who were, and they will miss him dearly.

Requiescat in pace, Father Bu. You will be missed, but you will finally join the Lord whom you have served so faithfully.

Go with God.


Fr Jaime C Bulatao SJ, 92
Photo from PHJesuits official Facebook page





Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Tale of Two Houses: Congress Hearings on Mamasapano

As I write this, the TV set in the coffee room is set on the Senate hearings on the Mamasapano incident, wherein 44 members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF), along with 16 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and 4 civilians, were killed. Currently, Senator Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan is posing questions about the botched operation. The manner by which Sen. Honasan asks his question, along with the entire demeanor of the Senate hearing, is a stark contrast to the circus the House of Representatives perpetrated yesterday.

To be frank, I didn't watch the House proceedings, and I've only seen snatches of the Senate hearing, but, based on what I've seen, there is a remarkable difference of decorum between the two houses.

In the Senate, while it's clear that some Senators have axes to grind over the Mamasapano incident, and some Senators are simply grandstanding in order to gain "pogi" points with the viewing public, the atmosphere in the Senate, while tense, remains somewhat controlled. Of course, there are exceptions, such as Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who has been prone to speak her mind without fear, or even decorum, but, by and large, the Senate hearings have been fairly organized and each person is allowed to speak in turn.

In contrast, the House hearing yesterday, which lasted seven hours, was, as the Inquirer article put it, "a circus," as House committee leaders Negros Occidental Rep. Jeffrey Ferrer (public order and safety) and Basilan Rep. Jim Hataman-Salliman (special committee on peace)  failed to keep their colleagues, who apparently numbered 100 or so, in line. As a result, it was absolute chaos, as each district representative jostled and pushed to be able to get a turn at either asking questions, or simply ranting.

The picture by Lyn Rillon that accompanied the article clearly illustrated the disorder present in the House yesterday:

CRYING  ‘HAVOC’ House members fall all over themselves during the congressional hearing on the SAF mission to capture Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” in a botched operation that resulted in the death of 44 police commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on Jan. 25. LYN RILLON
House hearing on the Mamasapano incident. Photo by Lyn Rillon in the Philippine Daily Inquirer


















From the picture, it is unclear who is in charge; Rillon captures the chaos of the entire proceedings perfectly.

If there is any consolation over the hearing, at least the representatives didn't come to blows, such as the representatives of the Taiwanese parliament are wont to do. However, for those who keep a close eye on politics, it is a disappointing picture of how low to which the level of political discourse has sunk.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Alternate Views on President Aquino: Solita Collas-Monsod

When it comes to insights on the Philippines, one of the sharper minds would have to be former National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) head, U.P. economics professor, and Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Solita Collas-Monsod. Well-respected because of her somewhat balanced views on the nation, Professor Monsod has weighed in on various issues, and, recently, has spoken out in defense of President Noynoy Aquino, over the tragic Mamasapano incident last January, where 44 PNP-SAF police commandos lost their lives in their successful attempt to neutralize Jemaal Islamiya bomber Abu Marwan.

Because of the President's unclear role in the bloody incident, which also claimed the lives of a number of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) guerrillas, as well as a number of civilians, as well as the alleged participation of suspended Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima in the operation, despite his being suspended, have caused anti-Aquino critics, particularly those of the militant Left, to call for President Aquino's resignation.

Anti-Aquino critics are also using the recent decision of the Supreme Court to affirm its initial decision over the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) to bolster their calls for Aquino's resignation.

In her column yesterday, Professor Monsod has strong words for this call: "Are you out of your minds?"

While Monsod has taken the President to task over a number of issues, particularly, his "excessive loyalty" to those close to him (Purisima, former undersecretary Rico Puno, and former LTO head Virginia Torres), as well as the President's handling of resigned Health Secretary Enrique Ona, who may have been a victim of politics, Monsod lauded the President for his selection of a number of "great appointments," such as Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and recently-resigned Commission on Audit (COA) head Grace Pulido-Tan (I disagree with Professor Monsod over the appointment of Bureau of Internal Revenue head Kim Henares.).

For Monsod, however, the main reason why she thinks those calling for President Aquino's resignation are insane is because, should Aquino step down now, the main beneficiary will be Vice-President Jejomar Binay, whom Professor Monsod has written about extensively, particularly about his corruption.

Monsod then compares the two:
"Say what you will about P-Noy, he is not at all tainted with any charge of corruption or of unexplained wealth. And he has waged an unrelenting, albeit sometimes reluctant, war against it. And the results of that war are shown by the country’s generally improved status in international indexes of corruption and overall competitiveness. Now, judging from past experience, would Jojo Binay do any better?
"Have you heard of P-Noy benefiting from stock market movements or freebies from friends? Have you heard of him breaking bread with possible contractors for multimillion-peso projects, or taking cuts from winning contractors? No. And, of course, because of his unmarried state, his name has not been connected with mistresses who take advantage of his position. Can we say the same for Binay?"
Given Binay's questionable acquisition of his wealth, and his apparent arrogance at assuming that the Presidency is his for the taking, it's safe to assume that Binay will not be like Aquino if he wins in next year's elections.

Like blogger Joe America, it's likely that Professor Monsod will be accused of selling out, of becoming an Aquino hack, but, once more, her words ring true. If Aquino were to step down, or be ousted, it's very likely that someone worse will step into his place.

Alternate Views on President Aquino: Joe America

In the aftermath of the PNP-SAF tragedy in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, there was an outpouring of rage against President Aquino, much like the emotional response to typhoon "Yolanda" two years ago. Social media, in my case, Facebook, was inundated by a flood of emotion, either grieving and commiserating with the loved ones of the 44 SAF police commandos who were killed in the operation, or raging at the President for the perception of being callous and insensitive to the deaths.

In particular, the President was taken to task for not having been present when the bodies of 42 of the 44 arrived at Villamor Air Base last January; netizens were even more enraged when it was learned that, while the bodies were arriving at Villamor, the President was inaugurating a Mitsubishi car plant in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

Up to now, details about the supposedly botched operation are still sketchy, and the inquiry board formed to investigate it has not come out with its findings, but those critical of the President have already latched on to every detail that puts the President in a negative light as if it's been proven that the President deserves all the scorn he has received as a result of the SAF operation.

It should be noted, however, that the SAF commandos were able to achieve part of their objective, which was to either arrest or neutralize Jemaah Islamiya bomber Zulkifli Bin Hir, a.k.a. Abu Marwan. DNA tests have conclusively confirmed Marwan's death at the hands of the SAF, which should provide some measure of comfort to those grieving over the SAF deaths.

While a good amount of social media has been negative towards the President, there have been some who have been more forgiving and understanding of the President and his actions. In particular, the blogger Joe America, Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Solita Collas-Monsod, and a number of people on social media, have spoken up in defense of the President, and have done so in a fairly objective manner. After some reflection, I'll be dividing up the thoughts into separate posts (Joe America, Collas-Monsod, and the Facebook posters), so that I can deal with each as well as I can; otherwise, this is going to be a very long post. Let's start with Joe America.

I have been reading the writings of the blogger whose pseudonym is Joe America for some time now, and I have found his writings to be insightful, objective, and worthy of reflection. On the matter of the Mamasapano incident, two of his posts bear some careful reflection about how we treat the President.

In his post "Way Too Many Filipinos Are Looking for Culprits; Grief is Personal" (January 30, 2015), Joe notes the differences in the manner by which Filipinos and Americans deal with death. In the Philippines, he observes the presence of "malasakit", or the "expectation of hand-holding over grief such as the loss of a loved one," whereas, in the U.S., his context of being a Viet Nam veteran made it too painful for him to attend baseball games. 

For Joe, grief is personal, and, for him, it seems that Filipinos "want to make it go away by dumping it on someone else." However, for Joe, there is no one to blame for the operation; it was a command decision, and, unfortunately, it did not work out the way it was planned. If the PNP-SAF were able to subdue or kill Marwan with little or no casualties, they, as well as the President, would have been roundly commended for their achievement. Instead, something went wrong, and, for Joe America, finding someone to blame for it, isn't the solution to the problem.


In another post, "The Philippines: Promise on the Brink" (February 6, 2015), Joe seems to show despair over the emotional manner by which Filipinos are approaching the Mamasapano incident, because, for him, the President has shown much courage in being stoic and calm in the presence of such emotion. For Joe, President Aquino has managed to steer the country into calmer waters of economic prosperity and peace by holding his course.

All this is lost in the clamor for his head by people Joe believes are too emotional to see what their President has accomplished, and he notes,
"...this unrestrained emotionalism is a bed of fertilizer for dissent and disruption driven by crooks, political opponents, leftists and malcontents. There is no barrier stopping them now because the good people are shouting their grief and anger, and inviting disaster to step right in.
"Lost to the emotional is the vision of a Philippines on the rise in Asia and the world, of strong economic fundamentals and the kind of growth that could assure better care for the poor IF IT WERE MAINTAINED. Of a peaceful, law-based approach to conflict that seeks to avoid the tears of war. ITLOS, a courageous act, for peace. BBL, an inspired thrust for peace. All led by this same hard-hearted, honest president with his calm, determined eye on a better way to do things.
"But you will not read of that in the tabloids. The tabloids will not point out that this man wants peace and stability and better care and fewer dead. No, in the tabloids, the crooks, political opponents, leftists and malcontents are actually JOINED by the emotional to raise the pitch of discontent to a fevered wail.
"And in the noise of that wail, all the good things don’t matter. The President’s honesty does not matter. His desire and work for peace and a better life for the living don’t matter. Keeping the economy running smoothly does not matter.
What matters is this guttural cry of a wounded nation seeking to put their entire burden on one man."
It's enough to make a person despair.

It's likely that some will attack Joe America for hiding behind a pseudonym, and insinuate that he's probably a paid Aquino hack, but, if one really takes an objective eye, his writings remain fair and objective. They do provide an alternate insight into how we view the President, and whether we're being too hard on the President (we probably are.). It's food for thought, and, hopefully, cause for reflection.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Remembering the Fallen: The PNP-SAF

Tomorrow will be a National Day of Mourning for those who gave their lives in the bloody encounter of the PNP-SAF with elements of the MILF and the BIFF. For remembrance's sake, I am reposting the list one of my friends posted of the fallen. May their souls be with God, and may their families and loved ones find peace in their hearts.

Members of the PNP-SAF, we salute you!

1. PO2 Omar Agacer Nacionales
2. PO2 Ephraim G Mejia
3. PSINSP CYRUS PALAEN ANNIBAN
4. PO3 Andres Viernes Duque
5. PO1 Loreto Guiyab Capinding II
6. PO3 Rodrigo Fernandez Acob
7. PO3 Robert Dommolog Allaga
8. PO2 Franklin Cadap Danao
9. PO2 Joel Bumidang Dulmuan
10. PO2 Richelle Salagan Baluga
11. PO1 Oliebeth Ligutan Viernes
12. PO3 Junrel Narvas Kibete
13. PSINSP MAX JIM RAMIREZ TRIA
14. PO1 Windel Llano Candano
15. PO1 Romeo Cumanoy Cempron
16. PO3 John Llyod Rebamonte Sumbilla
17. PO1 Joseph Gumatay Sagonoy
18. PO2 Nol Nebrida Bacala
19. PO2 Rodel Eva Ramacula
20. PO2 Glenn Berecio Bedua
21. PO1 Mark Lory Orioque Clemencio
22. PO2 Amman Misuari Esmula
23. PO3 Jedz-In Abubakar Asjali
24. PSINSP RYAN BALLESTEROS PABALINAS
25. SPO1 Ladao Lover Inocencio
26. PSINSP JOEY SACRISTAN GAMUTAN
27.PSINSP JOHN GARRY ALCANTARA ERANA
28. PO3 Victorio Nacion Acain
29. PINSP TAYRUS RENNIE LUMASAG
30. PO3 Virgel Serion Villanueva
31. PO2 Chum Goc-ong Agabon
32. PO2 Godifredo Basalo Cabanlet
33. PO2 Romeo Valles Senin II
34. PO1 Gringo Charag Cayang-o
35. PO3 Noel Onangey Golocan
36. PO2 Walmer Faustino Danao
37. PO2 Nicky De Castro Nacino, Jr
38. PO1 Angel Chocowen Kodiamat
39. PO3 Peterson Indongsan Carap
40. PO2 Jerry Dailay Kayob
41. PO2 Noble Sungay Kiangan
42. PSINSP GEDNAT GARAMBAS TABDI
43. PO1 Russel Bawaan
44. PO2 Roger Cordero


Requiescat in pace. 

Nasaan Ang Pangulo? President Aquino's Absence at Villamor

The social media was abuzz over the news that President Noynoy Aquino was not present when the bodies of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) police commandos arrived today at  the Villamor Air Base; as a result, the hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo was trending on Twitter. Netizens were then enraged to discover that, instead, President Aquino, was attending the inauguration of a Mitsubishi car plant in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

Admittedly, it has not been a stellar month for the President in terms of political statesmanship. Earlier this month, during the visit of Pope Francis to Malacanang, the President, in his address, decided to use the opportunity to attack the clergy, decrying their alleged silence during the excesses of the previous regime. The speech drew condemnation from netizens who felt that it was in bad taste to do so in front of the Pope. Pope Francis, for his part, did not seem to be affected by the President's address, and continued to stress the clergy's role in fighting corruption.

Yesterday, in his address to the nation about the massacre of the PNP-SAF forces, the President appeared to distance himself from the massacre, and said that, while he was aware of the SAF operation,  the SAF commander Police Chief Supt. Getulio NapeƱas was responsible for giving the go-signal for the tragic operation. His seeming  washing of hands off the matter did not sit well with people, although Communications Secretary  Herminio Coloma claimed that, based on their own assessments, majority of people did not think the President was avoiding responsibility over the tragic incident.

Coloma also tried to downplay the President's absence at Villamor, saying that it was not part of the President's schedule; one of the President's spokespersons Abigail Valte, said that the President instead be at the services for the 44 fallen policement on Friday.

This, however, did not go over well. As one netizen Markk Perete observed,

"I am bothered by the justification being peddled for the President's absence at the arrival honors for the fallen police officers at the Villamor Air Base.

"His absence cannot be explained away by merely saying that he was not scheduled to be there. I fail to understand how, with the immensity of its powers, the Office of the President cannot organize the arrival honors with him in attendance.

"Neither can it be justified by saying that the majority were not averse to the President's absence. As I stated elsewhere, the issue is not the number of critics or the extent of criticism for the absence, but whether the absence is, in the first place, justifiable.
It would, of course, be a different matter, if the possible repercussions to the peace process of the President's presence in the rites were considered. But even then, I do not think the MILF is too short sighted to equate the President's presence in Villamor as a renunciation of the peace process.

"Or is there a security threat to the President because of what happened? Is there a brewing conspiracy to instill political instability? If so, are we not entitled to know?

"His absence is perplexing, painful even to a public needing comfort. And it does not help that those who are supposed to manage the public perception about the current leadership are underestimating the deluge of sentiment generated by the atrocities in Maguindanao.

For our sake, I hope they soon get their acts together. The tolerance of those who observe from the margins is not endless. And there is no telling how close those with vested self-interest are to realizing their schemes."
I couldn't have said it better. By raising the issue of scheduling and by belittling the rage over the President's absence, the President's handlers may have unleashed a wave of disgust and anger that may make President Aquino's last year a difficult one, indeed. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Second Maguindanao Massacre

In the wake of the bloody encounter between police special forces and elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), wherein at least 49 police commandos (the MILF claims 64.) were killed, a lot of finger-pointing is being made as government officials and MILF commanders attempt to ascertain what happened, and, if ever, who is to blame for the horrific massacre.

The members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) were hunting down a Malaysian bombing expert Zulkifi bin Hir, a.k.a. Marwan, as well as another terrorist Abdul Basit Usman, in the area of Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Apparently, the SAF managed to kill Marwan, although this remains to be confirmed, but, as they were leaving the area, they were attacked by a group suspected to belong to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway splinter group of the MILF. While trying to evade the MILF, it appears that the SAF entered MILF territory, which triggered another firefight. Outnumbered and outgunned, the SAF policemen were slowly obliterated.

MILF chief peace negotiator Mohaquer Iqbal was quick to blame the SAF for not coordinating with the MILF, since the area which the SAF entered was under MILF control. Said Iqbal,
It is unfortunate that some people died. It cannot be undone. Next time, it is important to have coordination so that these things won’t happen again.
What I found distasteful with Iqbal's statement is the apparent lack of compassion and concern for the slain SAF police. Coupled with a survivor's account that guerrillas belonging either to the BIFF or the MILF finished off wounded policemen by shooting them where they lay, it's unfortunate that Iqbal didn't choose his words more carefully. Unfortunate? Tragic is a closer word. Also, for Iqbal to assert that the ceasefire between the government and the MILF still holds is laughable in the face of the bloody encounter.

One also has to wonder what the MILF has to say about the BIFF, which is currently an outlaw group. For the MILF forces in Maguindanao to join up with the BIFF raises all sorts of questions.

What made the encounter even more tragic was that military forces knew about the SAF operation, but were unable to lend aid or reinforce the police to the ongoing peace process. Admittedly, if the SAF did coordinate their efforts with the MILF, perhaps the police forces could have gotten reinforcements from army units; instead, those forces were unable to assist the police. The inability of the armed forces to protect what are essentially civilian forces adds another dimension to this tragedy.

While it's likely that negotiators on both sides will continue to work on the peace process, it is the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that may be a casualty of the Maguindano encounter. Already, Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and J.V. Ejercito have withdrawn support from the BBL, making its passage in the Senate problematic. Add to that the Philippine Constitution Association's (Philconsa) assertion that the BBL violates constitutional provisions, and it looks like a rocky road ahead for peace in Mindanao.

It's disheartening to realize that this is the second massacre to occur in the province of Maguindanao in five years, the other one being the infamous Maguindanao Massacre in 2009, wherein armed thugs led by the Ampatuan clan waylaid and then massacred 40 people, including women and journalists. Up to now, the victims of this heinous crime have yet to receive justice. How long will it take for the families of the slain SAF policemen to receive theirs?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Hiding the Poor?

In the aftermath of Pope Francis' visit to the Philippines comes a disturbing issue regarding how the Aquino administration dealt with some of the poor during the visit.

The issue cropped up after the British tabloid The Daily Mail ran a story which claimed that street children were being rounded up and 'caged' in preparation for the Pope's visit. Government officials, including Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, denied the report; Roxas, who also heads the National Police Commission, which oversees the police, said that there were no such reports that were made to the police regarding the issue. Secretary Corazon "Dinky" Soliman, head of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), also echoed Sec. Roxas' denials, and said, "We do not tolerate this practice, we put child abusers in jail."(sic)

However, the DSWD was compelled to admit that a group of poor families, numbering around 600,  were brought to Chateau Royale, a luxurious resort in Nasugbu, Batangas, during the days when Pope Francis was here in Manila. Sec. Soliman claimed that the event was part of the modified conditional cash transfer (MCCT) program of the government, Sec. Soliman also said that the families were brought out of Manila for their own safety, as she noted,
"It’s not to keep them out of sight, but this is an LGU effort to take them from the areas which were identified where people will be mostly congregating. For safety. They didn't want these families to be in those areas.
"But no, it was not for keeping them out of sight. We do reach out to families even before the announcement of the pope coming."
While the move may have been well-meaning, it was ill-timed, and the motives behind the event were soundly questioned, since it was scheduled to coincide with the Pope's visit.

Senator Bongbong Marcos was in full revisionist mode when he questioned the government's move, ignoring the fact that his mother, former First Lady and Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos, did worse when Saint Pope John Paul II visited the country in 1981. During that visit, walls were erected in front of the squatter shanties in Metro Manila, so that the Pope would not see the poor during his visit. At least, some of the homeless were given a plush vacation; the Marcoses helped put many into poverty with their plunder of the country.

Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon was also livid, and rejected the DSWD secretary's explanation, saying,
"In an effort to look good while under the international limelight, the government just swept the problems it cannot solve under the rug. Jailing street children or stashing their families away in a resort speaks volumes of the Aquino administration’s stage-managed style of leadership."
It should be noted, though, that, aside from the Chateau Royale controversy, Pope Francis was able, not just to glimpse, but to experience the poor of the Philippines. After he celebrated Mass at the Manila Cathedral, he managed to squeeze in a visit to an orphanage, and hundreds of street children performed for him. He was speechless when a young girl asked him why God allowed people to be poor. Thus, it cannot be said that, as Rep. Ridon implies in his statement, the poor were completely concealed from the Pope.

Inquirer columnist Rina Jimenez-David seems more sympathetic with Sec. Soliman, and notes
One of the motivations for organizing the outing, it was explained, was to evaluate the families and see who could be eligible for the Pantawid or 4Ps program. The program provides monthly subsidies for poor families with school-age children, to enable the children to go to school, and the mothers (especially those who are pregnant) and children to receive regular healthcare and follow-up, and then gather the beneficiaries to regular sessions on different aspects of family life and gender relations.
In other areas of the country, the evaluation is done on site, with DSWD personnel visiting the homes of potential beneficiaries. But perhaps because the folks brought to the resort are street people and thus don’t have permanent addresses, there was a need to gather them in one location, one occasion.
Perhaps there is merit to what Sec. Soliman claimed the Chateau Royale trip was. It will be interesting to see what happens now, considering Sec. Soliman claimed that the resort visit was just an initial step in helping the poor. It will be important for the media to follow up on these families, and see whether whatever help was promised to them was given.

At the same time, the government could have been more conscious of the timing of its events, so that it does not have to waste time having to answer for its actions.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Requiem, Mr. Cub

Just as the late Tony Gwynn was "Mr. Padre," Chicago Cubs great Ernie Banks was "Mr. Cub." Known for his ebullience on and off the field, Banks brought a liveliness to the game, which was probably necessary for the Cubs, who were hapless during Banks' tenure with the team. His personality made him popular with the fans, proof of which was his being part of 14 All-Star teams.

On the field, where he played both shortstop and first base, he brought surprising power; he was the eighth player to crack the 500-home run barrier. Aside from power, he was also graceful as a fielder; his Gold Glove is testament to that.

Here's what the Yahoo! news report had to say about Banks as a power hitter:
Tall and thin, Banks didn't look like a typical power hitter. He looked even less so as he stood at the plate, holding his bat high and wiggling it as he waited for pitches. But he had strong wrists and a smooth, quick stroke, and he made hitting balls out of the park look effortless.

When he switched to a lighter bat before the 1955 season, his power quickly became apparent. He hit 44 homers that season, including three against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Aug. 4. His five grand slams that year established a major league record that stood for more than 30 years before Don Mattingly hit six in 1987.
During his career, Banks was voted Most Valuable Player in both 1958 and 1959, becoming the first National League player to win the award back-to-back. After he retired in 1971, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977, his first time on the ballot.

Even after his career, Banks was a person who looked on the brighter side of things. According to Cubs chairman Tom Rickett,
"Approachable, ever optimistic and kind hearted, Ernie Banks is and always will be Mr. Cub."
Sadly, Ernie Banks passed away yesterday at the ripe old age of 83. To his many fans, he will be missed.

Requiescat in pace, Mr. Cub.


Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks dies at 83
AP File photo - Banks posing in 1970

Monday, January 19, 2015

Pope Francis' Visit: What Happens Now?

I've been trying to figure out how to parse the visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines, because it's simply impossible to get everything down into one post. I'll probably wind up writing several posts so that I'm able to express everything I want to write about the visit.

Earlier this morning, Pope Francis boarded his plane back to Vatican City, and, with him, he brings back some incredible memories, including his saying Mass in Tacloban and in Luneta in the middle of the pouring rain. At the same time, we Filipinos, at least those who were affected by the Pope's visit, are currently experiencing a state of euphoria due to the wonderful experience of meeting the Vicar of Christ, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, in the flesh, and of the many words of wisdom he imparted during his various appearances.

It's at this time we have to be wary of this euphoria, because there's still the daily grind of everyday life to go back to. Those of us who have gone through the "Days with the Lord" know this, and have a term for it: the fourth day.

In a nutshell, the "Days with the Lord" is a weekend seminar-retreat that high school juniors and seniors went through in the Ateneo High School, and in other schools. During that weekend, the participants are reintroduced to the love of Christ, and experience a euphoria similar to what Filipinos experienced during the Pope's visit, and probably similar to what the devotees of the Black Nazarene felt earlier this month. However, on the last day of "Days," participants are reminded of the so-called Fourth Day. One of my high school friends, Jay Javier, sums it up in a recent FB post:
"Good luck sa 4th day, mga kababayan," sabi ng kaibigan ko.
Ito'y bati nuon pagkatapos mong maraanan ang tatlong araw ng Days with the Lord. Oo, high ka sa saya at hiwaga sa luob ng tatlong araw na 'yun. Kung anu-anu ang makikita mo. Mauunawaan mo. Ipangangako mo.
Pero ang tunay na pagsubok ay magsisimula lamang duon sa binanggit na "ikaapat na araw." Ito ang mga susunod na araw at gabi kung saan tapos na ang recollection. Babalik ka na sa realidad ng pangkaraniwang buhay.
Kung saan wala na ang "high."
Kung kelan tumigil na ang kantahan.
Kung kelan ubos na any drama.
Kung saan haharapin mo araw-araw ang pagtupad o pagbale wala sa mga ipinangako nuong tatlong araw na nakalipas.
Ngayong nakalipad na pabalik ng Vatican ang Santo Papa, magandang bati ang nagpaalala sa akin ng kahalagahan ng ika-apat na araw.
Good luck sa 4th day mga kaibigan. Kaya natin ito.
In short, the real challenge for us Filipinos is what happens now, now that Pope Francis has left us. Do we take his words to heart, and make a palpable change in our lives for the better? Or, do we just go back to the humdrum and just continue to accept the poverty of the soul that has pervaded our society?

The Bukas Palad Christmas song, "The Work of Christmas," echoes the same message as the Fourth Day. The lyrics of the song go:
When the song of angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost, to heal the broken,
To feed the hungry, free the prisoners,
To rebuild nations, to bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.
That is the big question: are we just caught up in the euphoria of Pope Francis' visit, or are we fired up enough to make his words a reality?

The optimist in me is hopeful that we will rise to the challenge. Of course, the realist in me remembers that we had two visits by Saint John Paul II, and we are still in the same boat.

It's a reminder to me that change, especially social change is hard. Here's hoping that Pope Francis' visit bears real fruit.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Pray for Nigeria: The Baga Massacre

While world leaders marched in solidarity with the killings of the journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, they have been largely silent about the brutal massacre that happened in Baga, Nigeria. There, almost two weeks ago, armed members of Boko Haram,  an Nigerian Islamic fundamentalist group, attacked the small town of Baga, resulting in a death toll estimated to be around 2,000, composed mostly of women, children, and the elderly. The attack is said to have been a strategic one, as it allows  Boko Haram access to neighboring Chad.

Boko Haram was the center of attention last year, when it attacked a Nigerian school in April, and abducted 276 schoolgirls. Many of those abducted were reported to have been married off to Boko Haram members. As a result of the abduction, the hashtag #bringbackourgirls trended worldwide, although to little avail.

It's only now, two weeks after the massacre, that attention is being paid to the issue, due in part to the sketchy bits of information coming out of Nigeria, whose leaders have attempted to downplay the scope of the massacre. Others question the attention given to the Charlie Hebdo murders, and ask why no outrage or media focus has been done for the victims of Baga.  Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, the president of the Nigerian Bishops Conference, accused Western leaders of showing "solidarity," but doing not much else.

 The Guardian, in an article, explored this lack of attention, and identified several factors for this seeming indifference, which include: the apparent lack of concern from Nigerian politicians, and an indifference from the West. There are some who dismiss the Baga massacre as a local problem, although Archbishop Kaigama fears that, like ISIS, the terror of Boko Haram has the potential to spread out from Nigeria.

For us Filipinos, as we prepare for the visit of Pope Francis, perhaps we can include in our prayers all those who have been affected, not only by Boko Haram, but also by any terrorist group which has not hesitated to include civilians in their depredations. Fortunately for us, the terrorist groups present in the country have been unable to manage attacks on the scale of Boko Haram and ISIS, but, that should not make us complacent to possible terrorist attacks on Philippine soil. We are also affected by the Baga massacre, because there is still a possibility, however remote, that such a horrific event can occur in our country.

Je suis Baga.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Pacquiao's Accomplishment: Most Absent Congressman

It's really a plum job when one is a Philippine Congressman. One of the perks is that one only has to be present in Congress 70 days out of the 365 days in the year, less than 20% for the entire year. And yet, despite this, only 65 members of Congress, out of the 290-strong Congress (22%), were able to register perfect attendance.

Excused from having to be present are Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo, who has been under hospital arrest since 2012, and Lanao del Norte Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo, who has been under hospital arrest since 2013.

The most glaring absences are those of Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao and Negros Occidental Rep. Julio Ledesma IV, who only registered attendance for seven of the 70 session days. The two are among 36 lawmakers who have double-digit absences.

Attendance in Congress is necessary, since the legislative body requires a quorum in order to get any work done. By being absent, the district representatives are unable to participate in the crafting and passing of laws, and, as a result, do their constituents a disservice by not adequately representing them in Congress. Important laws, such as the national budget, cannot be passed if there is no quorum.

Former Sen. Rene Saguisag stirred a hornet's nest when he wrote a letter published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, calling for Pacquiao's suspension. In particular, Sen. Saguisag criticized Pacquiao for treating his work in Congress as "a hobby or a sideline." In addition, Sen. Saguisag took Pacquiao to task for damaging both the House and the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), where Pacquiao currently plays and coaches for Kia Sorrento.

The head of the Sarangani Mayors' League, Glan mayor, Victor James Yap, scored Sen. Saguisag for calling for Pacquiao's suspension, and proceeded to enumerate Pacquiao's acts of patronage for Sarangani. In doing so, Mayor Yap simply exposed the culture of patronage present in Sarangani, as well as his ignorance of a Congressman's actual duties, which is to consult his constituents and propose laws in Congress that will help not only his/her constituents, but Filipinos at large.

Two Congressmen were quick to defend Pacquiao's absences.  Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez cited Pacquiao's boxing training as the reason for his absences, and called on people to be more understanding of the Filipino boxer, also known as the "Pambansang Kamao." If Pacquiao is more focused on boxing, why did he run for Congress in the first place? His absences leave his constituents without any proper representation in Congress.

Pampanga Rep. Joseller Guiao shifted responsibility of sanction to Pacquiao's constituents, since they voted him into office to begin with. So, for Rep. Guiao, it's okay to abandon one's responsibilities to Congress, if the people want that person in Congress?

If anything, the various absences, that of Pacquiao, Ledesma, et al, should be a wake-up call for House leaders, especially House Speaker Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte, to impose strict sanctions on all House members who are frequently absent, if only to remind them that their work in Congress is important, and should not be cast aside.

Of course, it'll probably be a pipe dream if that happens, since Congress has been notorious for closing ranks around their erring members. It's likely that the current state of affairs, the absenteeism, will continue, since both House leaders and voters condone such behavior.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Charlie Hebdo Attacks: An Attack on Free Expression

There really is something about the start of each month that makes it practically impossible for me to post anything.Oh, well. C'est la vie.

Whenever journalists are attacked and murdered, it is an extreme form of censorship. In order to stop the writer/artist/photographer from having his or her work published, those who are offended by the possible publication simply murder the journalist. Such is what happened last Wednesday, when two armed gunmen entered the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo (or simply Charlie to its followers), and proceeded to murder 12 people, among them the editor and several cartoonists.

The gunmen were Islamic extremists who were probably expressing in the most brutal way their opposition to the magazine's portrayal of the prophet Mohammed; according to a CNN report, for Muslims, any frontal depiction of the Prophet is apparently considered to be possible idol worship, which is why there is a prohibition.

According to Philippine Star columnist Alex Magno, Charlie Hebdo, has had a long history of irreverent satire, which, in turn, has a long history in the country of France. After the attacks, other publications, as well as those in social media, published or posted examples of Charlie Hebdo's satirical cartoons. I will have to say that they are not to my liking. I do find some of them to be too offensive and insulting, but, at the same time, I would not go as far as to murder the ones who created these cartoons. There is still such a thing as freedom of expression.

Writes Magno in his column today,
This is not just an attack on an irreverent magazine. This is an attack on free expression everywhere. This is therefore an attack on all who dare think freely.

The extremists who mounted this attack intend to inflict fear on all who dare question their most morbid beliefs. This is censorship by the barrel of a gun, literally. They intend not only to silence a band of irreverent cartoonists. They intend to silence all who might question what they stand for.

There is evident irony here. The attackers might justify their actions by saying their creeds were not respected. But by shooting their critics, they show incapacity to respect adverse opinion. 

If we all succumb to fear of fanatical reprisal, then free thought will not be possible. That runs against the core ethic of liberalism that guides modern civilization: question everything.

This heinous attack on Charlie Hebdo should be an opportunity to reaffirm our faith in a free press and reinforce our defense of free thinkers. Inconvenient they may be, satirists have a special place in our civilization.

Our freedom rests on a fragile foundation: the acceptance that everything should be subject to ridicule. Otherwise we are enveloped by dogmas held as unquestionable.
Over two thousand years ago, a Greek philosopher set down the maxim that defined modern civility: the unexamined life is not worth living. Unfortunately, there are those who fear constant examination of whatever belief they hold dear. They are only too willing to inflict violence to prevent any such examination.
At this point in time, the two gunmen who perpetrated this massacre have been killed by French authorities; they were cornered in a printing shop, and apparently died in battle with the police. A third person who claims he was involved in the attacks has surrendered to the police.

The Charlie Hebdo massacre was not the only violent crime committed by an Islamic extremist in France this week, as a French policewoman was shot and killed by two people, who have been shown to have ties with the two Charlie attackers. One of the two was killed, unfortunately with four hostages he had taken, in a battle with police; the other, a woman, remains at large.

These attacks strike very close to home, since we do have an active Muslim uprising, which has led to similar violent incidents, although, thankfully, we have not had any suicide bombers launch attacks here. Also, attacks on media are, sadly, fairly common, with some media personalities paying for their outspoken views with their lives.

These attacks should not be used to paint the entire Muslim community as a bunch of violent, radical extremists; majority of Muslims are peace-loving and God-fearing, the same as Christians are. These attacks should also not cow us into not expressing our views, for fear of violent reprisal.

Unlike Magno, however, I am hesitant to use the slogan, "Je suis Charlie," ("I am Charlie.") as a display of free expression. Like it or not, some of Charlie's work was still offensive, and I am loath to be associated with it. I will defend the slain journalists' right to publish, though.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Baseball Hall of Fame: Three Pitchers and a Catcher-2nd Baseman

It's fitting that the first post of the year revolves around baseball, one of my favorite spectator sports.

The Baseball Hall of Fame has released the results of the voting, and, for the first time in decades, four players, July, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Craig Biggio, three elite pitchers and one catcher-second baseman, will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame come July.

It's a excellent group of enshrinees.

Johnson, also known as the Big Unit because of his height (6' 11"), was a five-time Cy Young Award winner, and is a member of the 300-win club.

Martinez, a three-time Award winner, had a career winning percentage of 69% (219-100), and was instrumental in helping the Boston Red Sox win their first World Series in 86 years.

Smoltz, the 1996 Cy Young Award winner, is the only pitcher with 200 wins and 154 saves, and he joins his former Atlanta Braves teammates Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, with whom he formed Atlanta's Big Three group of pitchers. 

The accomplishments of Craig Biggio, who made it on his third try, are as unique as Smoltz's, as Biggio is probably the only player who played effectively both as a catcher, and as a second baseman. He is also a member of the elite 3000-hit club, having accumulated 3,060 hits over the course of his career.

While I'm happy about the results, there are at least four players I'd like to see voted in, although one of them has virtually no chance. Catcher Mike Piazza fell short by 28 votes, but could possibly make it in next year. First baseman Jeff Bagwell (55.7%) and centerfielder Tim Raines (55%) still have an outside chance to make it in, but shortstop Alan Trammell (25.1%) isn't likely to make it, which is a pity.

So far, the group of players who have been accused of steroid use has not gained any traction in the voting. For Barry Bonds (36.8%), Roger Clemens (37.5%), Sammy Sosa (6.6%), and Mark McGwire (10%), it's clear that majority of baseball writers believe that their gaudy numbers were artificially inflated because of their steroid use. It's very likely that none of them will make it in.

Next year, outfielder Ken Griffey, Jr., and closers Trevor Hoffman, and Billy Wagner, will be on the ballot. It's very possible that Piazza will probably join Griffey, Jr., and Hoffman, as inductees next year.

Congratulations once again to this year's Hall of Fame inductees!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Looking Forward to 2015: Resolved

It's the last day of 2014, and, as the year comes to a rousing end, it's time to look forward to the year 2015, and make resolutions in preparation. While there's always a possibility that these resolutions will not be met, resolutions are important, in the sense that they serve as a rough road map to follow. Planning for the year is key. 

Off the top of my head, the following are my resolutions for the coming year. I may continue to add to them, but these are the ones which stand out.

1. To lose weight and get back in shape - I started on this in November, when I rejoined the UP Judo Club and started swimming again. I'm hoping to regain a modicum of the fitness level I used to have. Of course, this also means that I have to begin watching my diet; between this and exercise, this is the harder resolution. There's just too much good food out there, but I just have to be more disciplined about my eating habits. Here's to a healthier me.

2. To always maintain a positive outlook on life - I'm an optimist by nature, but, sometimes, the events in the news and in life can be overwhelming. I just have to look on the bright side, and keep on going.

3. To practice my faith more - the coming visit of Pope Francis is a reminder for me to keep my faith life in order, but it shouldn't take his visit to spur me. Practicing one's faith is a constant effort; we're only human, after all, and prone to mistakes. We fall, but we get up and go on.

4. To write more often - I'm happy that, with my last few posts, I've actually managed to increase my posting from the previous year, albeit by a little. For a blog entitled,"Daily Musings", though, I do have to try to put more effort into it. We'll see if I'm able to be more productive next year.

5. To be more organized - this will be a boon if I can keep this resolution, as there are a number of things in my life that need to be more organized. Here's hoping that being more organized will help me to be more productive next year.

Five resolutions should be enough for now. If more come to mind, I'll write them down in my notebook, and, come the end of 2015, I'll revisit them and see how well I was able to keep my resolutions for the year.

This should be the last post for the year 2014, so, to all who visited this blog this year, a most Happy New Year to all! May your own New Year celebrations be safe and joyful!

Looking Forward to 2015: Expectations

With 2015 just a little more than a day away, one can only wonder what the new year will bring. From my vantage point, these are probably some of the few items we'll can expect from the coming new year.

1. Gearing up for 2016

We can probably expect that those politicians who have an eye for the Presidency in 2016 will be gearing up their efforts, both in propping themselves up, and tearing their opponents down. Already, some of the potential candidates have already seen their fortunes rise or fall this year. Expect more of the same for next year.

2. The Pope's visit to the Philippines

So far, Pope Francis has inspired the faithful with his clear words and actions of humility and love. His visit to the Philippines this January is likely to attract millions to attend his Masses and listen to his speeches. It would be nice, though, if the Pope's message truly reaches the hearts and minds of our countrymen, and inspire them to real action. Here's hoping his visit will help that, although in the back of my mind, the parable of the rich businessman and Lazarus comes to mind. Well, here's hoping for hope.


3. Continuation of low gas prices

This year saw a perceptible drop in gas prices, which shed an average of 15-16 pesos in value, apparently because of the oil price wars between the members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the U.S. While this has been a boon for drivers, we have yet to see this translated into lower prices of consumer goods. Predictably, supermarket and grocery owners have stated that there are other factors besides the price of oil which affect consumer goods, but, since prices of goods seem to go up almost immediately after gas prices go up, that statement is an empty one. Considering the huge drop in gas prices, we should see a lowering of the cost of consumer goods, as well.

4. Continuation of Pacquiao-Mayweather teasing

Boxing fans have been clamoring for the fight between Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and Manny Pacquiao for years, but, the go signal has yet to come, particularly from Mayweather, Jr., who has done everything he could to avoid this fight, from putting all sorts of requirements to quibbling over purse money shares. He has even gone on record as saying he would rather be a "rich coward". So be it. While Mayweather may have that spotless record to boast of, as long as he ducks Manny Pacquiao, he will always be a diminished unbeaten fighter; there will always be that asterisk with the label, "was afraid of fighting Pacquiao."

5. Continued inaction by the President and other flaws

While, personally, I don't think the President has done all that badly, if he has one gaping flaw, it's that he will not call for the resignation of those who are close to him. While he was relatively quick to accept Health Secretary Enrique Ona's resignation, he dilly-dallied on Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima's removal; as it is, Purisima is only suspended for the moment. President Aquino's loyalty to his friends has made his "tuwid na daan" a running joke, since there are obviously two standards to which government officials are held: one for his friends and allies, and one for his enemies. I'd like to hope that this will change in 2015, but, given that he's already in the twilight of his presidency, I doubt it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 Year-Ender: Saying Goodbye

WWith 2014 rapidly coming to a close, it's time to look back on what we will miss about the year.

One of the things we will miss about the year 2014 are all those who left us, leaving us sadder for their loss.

From comedian Robin Williams to MMDA traffic enforcer Sonny Acosta, from the great to the less-great, from the prominent to those not as well known, death is something that is always with us, and we look back fondly on what those who left us this year leave behind as their legacy.

On a personal note, this year, I said goodbye to a dear neighbor, a former teacher, my wife's cousin, my sister's mother-in-law, and my daughter's dog of eight years. They will all be missed.


Particularly, for 2014, I remember the following:

1. Jerry Coleman, baseball player and sportscaster
2. Philip Seymour Hoffman, actor
3. Arvin "Tado" Jimenez, comedian
4. Justice Serafin Cuevas, former Supreme Court Justice and lawyer
5. Shirley Temple Black, actress and diplomat
6. Roy Alvarez, actor
7. Ralph Kiner, baseball player and sportscaster
8. Harold Ramis, actor, writer, and director
9. James Rebhorn, actor
10. Harry Gasser, newscaster
11. Bryan Gahol, basketball player
12. Mickey Rooney, actor
13. James Hellwig, the Ultimate Warrior, professional wrestler
14. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, writer ("100 Years of Solitude")
15. Bob Hoskins, actor
16. Jack Ramsay, basketball coach
17. Ruben "Hurricane" Carter, boxer
18. Maya Angelou, writer and poet ("I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings")
19. Chester Nez, WWII Navajo code-talker
20. Casey Kasem, disc jockey and TV personality
21. Tony Gwynn, basketball player
22. Daniel Keyes,  writer ("Flowers for Algernon")
23. Fr. Jack Carroll, S.J., Jesuit priest
24. Robin Williams, actor
25. Stan Goldberg, cartoonist
26. Mark Gil, actor
27. Jimi Jamison, singer, Survivor
28. Kurt Bachmann, basketball player
29. Richard Kiel, actor
30. Luis Avalos, actor (Luis in "The Electric Company")
31. Lee Chamberlin, actress (Brenda in "The Electric Company")
32. Elizabeth Pena, actress
33. Jan Hooks, comedienne
34. Sen. Juan Flavier, politician and Doctor to the Barrios
35. Joe Cocker, singer
36. Sonny Acosta, MMDA traffic enforcer
37. Steve Viksten, writer and voice actor (Oskar from "Hey, Arnold!")
38. Tommy Ramone, musician (The Ramones)
39. R. A. Montgomery, writer ("Choose Your Own Adventure")
40. Hiroo Onoda, Japanese WWII straggler
41. Bob Casale and Alan Myers, musicians (Devo)
42. Ben Starr, comedy writer, director and playwright ("The Facts of Life", "Silver Spoons")
43. Ildefonso Santos, Jr., landscape architect, National Artist
44. Arthur Rankin, Jr., writer, director, and producer (one half of Rankin/Bass productions)
45. Nelson Frazier, Jr. a.k.a. Viscera and Mabel, professional wrestler
46. H.R. Giger, artist ("Alien")
47. Mitch Leigh, composer ("Man of La Mancha")
48. Dave Trampier, artist and cartoonist ("Dungeons and Dragons", "Wormy")
49. Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., actor
50. Walter Dean Myers, writer
51. James Garner, actor ("Maverick", "Space Cowboys")
52. Joan Rivers, actress and comedienne
53. Edward "Buster" Jones, voice actor ("The Real Ghostbusters", "Superfriends", "Transformers")
54. Carol Ann Susi, actress ("The Big Bang Theory")
55. Christine Cavanaugh, voice actress ("Rugrats", "Babe", "Dexter's Laboratory")

Looking at the list, I wish I had been able to write requiems particularly for Trampier, Garner, and Jones, but, lacking time, I'm including them in this list of people I'll miss.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

2014 Year-Ender: Feeding My Mind

Admittedly, I don't think I got much reading done, although I was able to watch a passel of movies and TV shows. Here's my list of favorite reads and views for the past year.

Books

1. Only Human by Gareth Roberts
2. Beautiful Chaos by Gary Russell
3. The Silent Stars Go By by Dan Abnett

The three books are part of the 11-book celebration of the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. Each Doctor had his own story;  the books above are those of the Ninth to the Eleventh. Relatively light reading, but engaging, because each writer was able to capture the essence of each of the three Doctors; to me, at least, the books read as separate episodes in the series.

4. The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

While "The Fault in Our Stars" was a tearjerker at the end, it presented very real characters, fleshed out by John Green, with whom I'm more familiar because of his "Crash Course History" web series.
 
5. Divergent - Veronica Roth

Dystopic young adult books have long been in place ("The Giver" and "The House of the Scorpion" come to mind), but it seems to be only after "The Hunger Games" came out that the genre truly went off. "Divergent" is engaging, although I've been warned about its sequels, "Insurgent" and "Allegiant", which I have yet to read. We'll see how it stands up in the genre.


Movies

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
2. Guardians of the Galaxy
3. Big Hero Six
4. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
5. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
6. How to Train Your Dragon 2
7. Malificent
8. X-Men: Days of Future Past
9. Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno
10. Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends

When I go to movies nowadays, I'm more of the mind for light entertainment; I'll catch the deep Oscar-pick ones on the small screen. Of the movies above, "Guardians" and "Big Hero Six" are the two best ones.

TV Shows/Series

1. Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin)
2. Rurouni Kenshin
3. Gundam Wing

It's been a year of being introduced to anime; "Rurouni Kenshin" and "Gundam Wing" are old series, for one. "Attack on Titan" is a bloody gorefest, but it's also very engaging.
 
4. Doctor Who (Series 9)
5. Legend of Korra (Books 3 and 4)
6. Big Bang Theory
7. Marvel Agents of SHIELD

If some of you are going to ask, no, I haven't gotten around to watching any of the DC shows ("Constantine", "The Flash", "Gotham" and "Arrow"). There's just not enough time at the moment.

This coming year, I am planning to increase my reading list; hopefully, I'll actually be able to read more next year.

Friday, December 26, 2014

2014 Year-End: Most Viewed Posts

With the year almost over, it's time to start looking back at what was memorable this year of 2014.

In terms of posts, I just have to be resigned to the fact that it is just impossible for me to get out a post on a daily basis. There is just too much going on, and this is really more of a hobby for me than something I'm truly focused on.

With that in mind, though, I'm happy to say that I've managed to hold my own this year, and I've been able to keep close to last year's post total, with a mind to surpass it.

At the same time, I'm not sure what the reason is, but there's been an uptick in the number of views my blog has been getting. After toddling around at around 30 views per post, last September, the views more than doubled to around 70-80 views, with a high of around 500. Of course, that's still miniscule compared to other blogs, but, for me, it's a bit gratifying to know that there are more people looking in to what I write.

That being said, these are the most viewed posts for this year:

1. 'Mario' Musings

It's a good thing "Ruby" weakened as it hit landfall, or else it would have done as much damage as "Mario" or "Glenda". Still, the increasing frequency of these super-storms should compel our government to reassess how we deal with these weather disturbances.

2.  So, You Think You Can Coach?

 One of the challenges any coach must face is the fact that he or she will always be second-guessed by those who think they can coach. Pio Garcia's bratty rant on the Philippine Star is one such second-guesser, but he did it in a way that I, at least found, offensive.

3.  Estrada's Graduation Speech: Classless

It's never a good thing when a person accused of a crime is asked to give a speech; invariably, it seems, he or she will weave in details of the case into his or her speech. Sen. Estrada did so, and it was a disservice to those graduates who deserve better than a self-serving speech.

4. In the Aftermath of Imelda's Visit

I would like to think that Imelda Marcos' visit to the Ateneo sparked some reflection as to how we should treat the Marcoses, and how the current generation sees them. Sadly, owing to the Filipinos' fleeting memories of history, all the Marcoses have to do is wait it out, and, when the dust settles, they will have been completely rehabilitated into society without any admission of their crimes.

5.  The Hijacking of the Jennifer Laude Case

Even with Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton being recently charged with murder officially,  there was no guarantee that the U.S. would release custody of him to the Philippine government. Unfortunately, the anti-Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) crowd focuses on that issue rather than on the gruesome murder of Laude, which tells one where their actual priorities are.

6.  Charter Change? Say It Ain't So, Mr. President

Charter Change has always been a contentious issue in the Philippines, even more so when the reasons for it appear to be self-serving. Because of this, it's unlikely that Charter Change will ever fly. 

7.  UAAP 77: Do-Or-Die Wednesday

The run-up to the UAAP men's basketball finals was rife with drama, and it was interesting to explore the possibilities.

8.  Musings on the DAP and President Aquino

How one views the President will color one's opinion of him, but his defense of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) seemed aimed at threatening the Supreme Court. Even if I am nominally supporting the President, I will have to say that that speech was out of bounds.

9. Carmaggedon in Katipunan

When the MMDA decided to forgo the U-turn slots, and restore the traffic lights along Katipunan Ave., as well as other major roads, there was quite a bit of anxiety coming from those who regularly travel along Katipunan Ave., including myself. The initial implementation was a nightmare, hence, the carmaggedon, but, after tweaking the system, and adding traffic enforcers during rush hours, traffic has been more manageable since that fateful day. However, there has got to be a way to reduce the volume of vehicles, and the MMDA, and the schools along Katipunan Ave., have yet to figure that out.

10. UAAP 77: Ateneo's Stunning Comeback




After missing out on the Final Four last year, the Ateneo men's basketball team managed to bring the school back, with a stunning overtime win over FEU. Of course, Ateneo eventually bowed to NU, but seeing the team back in the Final Four, and with a twice-to-beat advantage to boot, was an uplifting experience.