Survival mode

GMA in the U.S.A., not in Portugal.


SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan
Monday, July 28, 2008
The Philippine Star

In her State of the Nation Address today, President Arroyo will reject calls to scrap the value-added tax on oil imports. This is the SONA part where she will stand against populist moves, as Palace officials put it yesterday.

The President will then announce the many subsidies, mainly for the poorest of the poor, that will be funded from VAT collections. This is the “caring administration” part – reportedly the theme of the SONA.

She is expected to promise that the nation will survive the food and fuel crunch, which she thinks is worse than the Asian financial crisis that struck in 1997.

There is no doubt that the country will survive. Filipinos are a resilient people, and it takes so little to make us happy. We have perfected the art of grinning and bearing suffering.

The question is where the country will be situated in the Asian economic hierarchy by the time noon of June 30, 2010 rolls around.

We have been on a protracted survival mode. Under the watch of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, our national competitiveness has steadily dropped in all international surveys. Under her watch the country has dropped far behind Thailand and now even Indonesia and Vietnam in attracting foreign direct investments (FDI).

This situation continued in the first six months of the year, with FDI dropping by nearly 50 percent, according to official records. Cambodia, whose tourism industry is booming and which is competing with China in offering low-cost manufacturing, may one day overtake us in luring FDI and in economic growth.

Under the President’s watch, the number of Filipinos working overseas has also reached a record high, with more continuing to pursue the Filipino dream of leaving their own country.

The billions of dollars remitted annually by those workers make the peso strong and account for a hefty chunk of economic growth figures. But the continuing exodus is also one of the biggest indicators of economic hardships; the benefits of economic growth are not trickling down.

All is not rosy in this exodus. The country is now suffering from a continuing brain drain. We’re running out of doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, pilots, workers with specialized skills for many industries – the human resources needed for economic development.

The Philippine diaspora also has its social costs: children growing up without parents, OFWs traumatized by abuse at the hands of employers, broken families.

* * *

It surely isn’t just coincidence that in recent years, the Philippines has consistently ranked low in all international surveys on transparency.

The administration likes to point out that all the corruption allegations under President Arroyo’s watch have yet to be conclusively established in court. But this does not prove innocence, and is largely due to the weakness of the country’s judicial system. Also, those behind the Corruption Index take the Philippine government to task not for engaging in specific cases of corruption, which could take decades to prove with finality in this country, but for not doing enough to promote transparency.

When she does what she does best – namely implementing fiscal discipline and tackling economic problems – Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo can show conviction and leadership. This is the no-nonsense workaholic on whom the nation pinned such high hopes for change when she replaced Joseph Estrada in 2001.

Too bad even the nation’s best and brightest eventually get swallowed up by a system that rewards fealty rather than merit. This is a system where the best players learn quickly that if you’re going to steal, you better steal big, because then you have a bigger chance of getting away with it.

This is another thing that has been institutionalized over the past seven years: the failure to hold public officials accountable for official acts. Sure, an anomalous project gets scrapped here, a public official resigns there. But overall the failure to instill accountability in government has developed a culture of impunity that will take years to eradicate.

Patronage politics, the absence of a merit-based social system and the rule of law, crony capitalism and the corruption of weak democratic institutions are likely to put the country near the bottom of the Asian totem pole, ahead of only Laos and Myanmar.

* * *

The task of cleaning up after nine years of this administration will be enormous. The Chief Executive, who had hoped to be remembered simply as a “good” president, will instead be remembered for “Hello, Garci,” the fertilizer scam, ZTE and Northrail, unexplained killings and disappearances.

There are the smaller matters: an unknown company with paid-up capital of about P65,000 bagging a coal supply deal worth almost P1 billion, thriving businesses in used vehicle importations as well as smuggling of oil and motorcycles.

The investment climate is so bad one of the country’s top industrialists is downscaling operations in all his companies and setting his sights on further expansion instead in China.

Another top industrialist as well as a banker and real estate developer have moved many of their assets to Australia.

The buzz is that certain individuals implicated in large-scale corruption are also preparing to relocate to hospitable countries in 2010, taking their money with them.

They will be carrying on a tradition of pillage, started by the Spanish bureaucrats who were sent here during the colonial period, enriching themselves and then returning to their country to enjoy their wealth amassed from Filipino suffering.

The tradition was continued by the Marcos regime, which stashed its billions in overseas accounts.

Instead of transparency, we have a perverted application of executive privilege, upheld by no less than the Supreme Court. Even our culture of mendicancy has become tainted with corruption: foreign aid, where auditing and accountability requirements are relaxed, has become a favored source of fat commissions.

We are giving democracy a bad name. As surveys have shown, many Filipinos would leave the country if they see a good opportunity.

This is the state of the nation today. Can President Arroyo still make a difference?


The handwriting on the wall

The handwriting on the wall

by Liling Magtolis Briones

And so it came to pass that King Belshazzar of Babylon gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles. In the midst of Belshazzar’s revelry with his nobles, wives and concubines, the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the wall: mene, mene, tekel, parsin. Terror filled the heart of the king and all those in the palace.

All the king’s wise men could not read the handwriting on the wall. Finally, the prophet Daniel was summoned. He told the king the meaning of the words. Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Parsin (or Peres): Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

Today, July 28, the President will address a gathering of her nobles and satraps. She will deliver the annual Sona or State of the Nation Address. Whatever she says, however she says it, cannot erase the handwriting on the wall which is there for all to see.

There is more than one Daniel denouncing and exposing the perfidy of the present administration. As early as July 18, Social Watch Philippines started its series of statements and briefings on the national budget, the state of the economy and its impact on the social sectors.

This week, more Daniels spoke out—academics, think tanks and progressive organizations, particularly the youth. On Friday, former Cabinet members from four administrations (FSGO) issued a powerful statement, which was prophetic as well as poetic. It highlighted the seven curses which the present administration had inflicted on our hapless country: the food crisis, worsening poverty, deteriorating basic social services, corruption, wanton abuse of presidential power and illegitimacy.

Today, Social Watch Philippines, a convener of the Alternative Budget Initiative composed of 48 civil-society organizations, is presenting its position regarding the handwriting on the wall and the state of the nation:

• Mene, Mene: Your days are numbered

The latest that this administration can last is up to 2010. There are speculations about constitutional change, either to extend the term of the President or change to a parliamentary system. The public strongly rejects this move. Efforts to generate support for constitutional change at this time have been roundly rebuffed. The people refuse to give the smallest opportunity for the President or her anointed successors to stay one minute longer.

End of days is coming!

• Tekel: Tinimbang ka ngunit kulang

For seven years Social Watch Philippines has weighed the accomplishments of this administration in social development, particularly the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and found them grossly wanting. Mention has consistently been made of poverty, inequity, increasing hunger, deterioration in education, stubbornly high levels of infant and maternal mortality, low levels of health, environmental degradation and global problems related to trade and debt.

Inadequate financing

Lack of adequate financing partly explains the appalling failure in social development. Dr. Rosario Manasan of the Philippine Institute of Development Studies calculated that for four MDG goals alone, P94.9 billion in additional resources would be needed this year. The actual additions to the 2008 budget are nowhere near this amount.

For 2009, Manasan has calculated that additional resources of P100.4 billion should be added to the national budget for education, health, water and sanitation and poverty reduction. Again, this amount is not likely to be generated, considering escalating deficit levels.

Slowdown in the economy

Most of the counter-Sona assessments focused attention on social-development impacts. Social Watch Philippines has already issued extensive papers on nonattainment of MDGs. This is partly explained by the slowing down of the economy.

Official data on the growth of the economy indicate a clear downward trend in the gross domestic product (GDP). In 2007, the President called for a special conference crowing about a 7- percent GDP growth for the first quarter. During the first quarter of 2008, this has gone down to 5.2 percent.

The growth of agriculture, fishery and forestry has gone down from 4 percent in the first quarter of 2007 to 3 percent, also in the first quarter. Even worse, the industry sector has gone down from a hefty 6.6-percent growth during the first quarter of 2007 to 3.9 percent in 2008.

A breakdown of the industry sector shows numbers which are not for the faint-hearted: Manufacturing went down from 4.1 percent during the first quarter of 2007 to 2.3 percent in 2008. But wait! Construction went down from 21.7 percent to—que horror!—4.5 percent from the first quarters of 2007 to 2008!

Global crisis no excuse

The usual excuse is that the crisis is global. How come Vietnam has 7.4 percent growth rate, Malaysia 7.1 percent, Indonesia 6.3 percent, Thailand 6.0 percent and the Philippines a meek, embarrassing 5.2 percent?

The crucial factor is governance.

What employment?

Last week, the government paid for a full two-page ad and issued a series of press releases on its so-called accomplishments. A claim was made that 9 million jobs were created from 2001 to 2008. These extravagant claims are totally erased by the fact that unemployment now stands at 8 percent and underemployment at double-digit levels.

Even as so-called millions of jobs were created for street cleaners, canal diggers, flower trimmers and the like, millions of jobs were also lost in manufacturing and construction. This resulted in a net loss of 168,000 jobs since April last year.


The present administration has been measured and found most wanting in the area of governance. No less than the World Bank has pronounced this government as the most corrupt in East Asia.

• Parsin: Reform is blowing in the wind

The people refuse to listen to the Sona and its claims. Change and reform are on the way. They already know the truth, and it will set them free.


Whatever happened to Belshazzar? He was thrown into the dustbin of history. Darius took over the kingdom of Babylon.

Wings of Desire

by Danton Remoto

Two weeks ago, I won the Third Prize in the Nick Joaquin Literary Awards for a short story called “Wings of Desire.” It is a very brief story I wrote 15 years ago. It was published in the Philippine Graphic magazine. I have received e-mail letters asking for copies of the story, and I am reprinting it here. Thank you.


Like me, my cousin Ramon was also the first-born child of my Uncle Conrado and his wife Emilia.

Papa woke me up early that summer. He told me to wash my face because we would go to Manila. My heart jumped with delight, especially when I saw that some of my clothes had already been stuffed in my Papa’s blue overnight bag.

Papa’s eyes were sad. He kissed Mama good-bye, and then we were gone. We took a pedicab that brought us to the gate. The young soldier on duty gave my father a crisp salute. Behind him stood the statue of a pilot cast in concrete, his eyes raised to the sky. Soon we were aboard a jeep bound for Guagua. As usual, the driver maneuvered the jeepney as if he were in Indianapolis 500. His jeepney zipped through the barrio road, the town’s main road, and finally the highway at the same suicidal speed. Huts and wooden houses and buildings and sticks of sugar cane blurred before us. It always frightened me.

I closed my eyes and dredged my mind for prayers. Miss Honey Joy Tamayo of Catechism class said that if you died with a prayer on your lips, you would go to Heaven straight away. So I began praying the rosary, over and over again, the three mysteries repeated for the nth time from Floridablanca to Guagua, a distance of 20 kilometers, using my fingers to count the Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and Glory Bes. If I did not go to Heaven, I thought, at least I’d be good in Math. The driver would suddenly step on the brakes, then rev the engine up again, swerve here and there, weaving in and out of our lane, the true king of the road.

On the dashboard above him, a strip of mirror ablaze with decals. Basta driver, sweet lover. Jingle lang ang pahinga (I only rest when I piss). Basta biyuda, walang aray (If it’s a widow, then there’s no pain). And directly in front of him, two women. On the left is a decal of a vamp, her overripe body spilling out of her glossy, red bikini; the other is the Blessed Virgin Mary, wearing layer upon layer of white clothes, a blue sash around her waist.

After 45 minutes, the jeepney swung around the big plaza of Guagua, and then we got off and waited for the bus bound for Manila. Usually they were air-conditioned Victory Liners, rare in those days, and once we had settled on our seats and paid for the tickets, Papa would begin to sleep, or rather, snore. I would be terribly embarrassed, but nobody seemed to mind, for almost everybody would lapse into sleep as the morning sun climbed higher in the clear sky of summer.

I would try to close my eyes, too, but from my shut eyelids, I could see the tiny red spots formed by the sunlight. So I would open my eyes again, then open the window and watch the world blur past me.

Three big, covered carts pulled by a bull traveled slowly on the shoulder of the road. The carts contained wicker chairs and small tables, mirrors and hammocks, shelves and baskets. The farmers from the North traveled down south after the harvest was over and the fields would lie fallow for months. Down south they hoped to sell the things they wove and plaited. They were framed by a billboard advertising the many legendary bounties of the country: the Banaue Rice Terraces and the Mayon Volcano, the swift-sailing vintas of Zamboanga and the Santo Nino of Cebu City, luring the tourists to this calm and peaceful country.

The other billboards were from Filoil and B-meg Feeds, Warren Briefs and Ajinomoto Vetsin, Vitarich and the Mobil gas station with the flying red horse. Rice saplings newly transplanted from their seedbeds, the young leaves stirring in the wind. On the left would rise Mount Arayat, a mountain shaped like a stump, smothered by the whitest of clouds. The fields would give way to nipa huts alive with the laughter of barefoot children with big bellies. Yellow rice grains left to dry on the sides of the road. White hens cackling. The morning melodrama from a transistor radio with its volume turned up so everybody could hear other lives endlessly twisting and turning. The nipa huts giving way to the grand, abandoned mansions of the sugar barons, the dry fountains and wide gardens choked by weeds, the heavy wooden doors now closed forever. And then the baroque churches: covered with moss and lichen, cratered by wind and rain. And in the air, the heavy, cloying smell of molasses from the mills of PASUDECO, inducing me finally to sleep. Ahhh, such lethargy, such a sweet sweet smell.

Manila would burst upon you like a bucket of icy water thrown on the face. The Bonifacio Monument loomed (the proletarian hero in a voiceless scream), the bus deftly circling the rotunda, and down we went to EDSA, the unbearable smell of the Cloverleaf Market, the diesel fumes darkening the air. We got off in a Cubao that still had no shopping malls, just small specialty shops and a row of movie houses. Then the jeepney ride to Sta. Mesa, so very fast, the miniature steel horses on the hood seemingly clop-clopping in the wind, the thin plastic strips of many colors flying, the jeepney swerving, going up and down a bridge, then here we were.
My uncle lived in his in-law’s house on a strip of government land behind the motels of Old Sta. Mesa. Gardenia, Seven Seas, Rose Tattoo, Exotica—I could still recall their names in a breathless rush, these places where supposedly illicit love happened between people not married to each other. Down we went, down, down the rough steps hewn out of stone. The wooden houses seemed to breathe into each other. One’s kitchen ended where another’s bedroom began. The alleys coiled round and round, like intestines. And when the rainy season came, everything turned muddy and a perpetually green slime covered the ground for days.

After Papa and I had turned this way and that, poking into someone else’s living room and scanning another’s open bedroom, we reached the place—a one-storey affair at the foot of the stairs of an old wooden house.

Even at noon, bright lights burnt in the living room. The candelabra’s fingers glowed. Under the lights, the coffin of my cousin Ramon.

My Aunt Emilia broke down at the sight of Papa. “Manoy, Mon is gone. What will I do?” Sobs tore from her chest, and the old women around her also began to cry. They were all in black. Like a flock of crows. Papa let her go on. She babbled that if she only knew Mon would sustain a bad fall and bash his head, her son who was torn away from her by the doctor’s forceps—

“I shouldn’t have allowed him to play basketball the previous afternoon. Manoy, should I tell Conrado?”

Silence. Papa seemed to weigh his words very carefully. Then, looking straight into my aunt’s eyes, actually looking through her, he said: “I think it’s best not to tell Conrado. I know my brother very well. He’ll take it badly. He might—” Papa sighed deeply. He suddenly looked tired, and very old. “He might even jump from the ship if he hears about it.”

My aunt sank silently on the sofa. She cried wordlessly. It was painful to look at her. I stood up and walked over to the coffin of Ramon.

Atop the glass was his photograph taken a month ago, so very young, his eyes like clearest water. The gold First Honor medal shone on his white polo shirt. Leis of white jasmine buds and yellow-green ylang-ylang flowers were hung around the photograph. And then, I looked down at him slowly.

In my dream my Uncle Conrado comes home. He has left behind him the North Sea cold enough to break even your bones. Now he is borne by waves that have slowly shaped themselves into the whitest of wings. The world below is a blue nothingness. The bird glides slowly, reaching an archipelago of the greenest islands, until it reaches the brown filth that is Manila. The bird alights finally at Old Sta. Mesa, and my uncle slides down its furry body. He waves farewell to the strange, magnificent bird. And then just as suddenly, the bird is gone.

Down, down, down the steps hewn from stone. The air closing in around my uncle, darkness descending, a door opening and closing on its one rusty hinge. Ramon? Ramon? where is my son Ramon? Words from the palest lips. The electric volt of pain crackling from one nerve ending to another.

Sometimes, when we call out a name, even the very wind crumbles.

Young Turks at Silliman

Hello friends. Here are some pics of the Young Turks’ Forum at Silliman University. It was good fun and we hope that you can invite us to your University or campus in the future.


Representative Lorenzo “Erin” R. Tañada III (Liberal Party, 4th District Quezon) called on Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila and Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap to personally go, attend, fiercely negotiate and use the country’s veto power in the WTO talks to ensure that the country’s interest is fought for in the WTO mini-ministerial meeting in Geneva starting Monday, 21 July.

“I am saddened to hear that not even our supposed chief negotiator on trade talks, Secretary Favila is going. I hope I heard wrong. While I do not doubt the negotiating capacities of most government bureaucrats we have sent in the mini-ministerial, still, the privilege to take the floor and make a point during the talks is given first and foremost to ministers. Undersecretaries are second priority there,” Tañada said.

The solon who is likewise Vice Chair of Congress’ Special Committee on WTO and Globalization and Chair of the Committee on Human Rights lamented that at the time when the country is having a serious food crisis, Secretary Yap likewise chose to remain rather than personally wage a battle to ensure that the outcome of the talks advances the country’s food and livelihood security as well as rural development.

“Our trade negotiators should capitalize on the claims that the Doha Round of Talks in the WTO is dubbed as a ‘Development Round’. As such, we must see significant reduction in the domestic subsidies given by developed countries – the US, EU, Australia, Japan – in their agriculture and similarly, recognition that the food crisis that part of the reason why there is a global food crisis is the untrammeled trade liberalization. Further, the draft text governing industrial goods does not exempt any sector from the tariff-cutting schedule which effectively prevents developing countries from developing their own industry champions. Finally, I am wary of the “silent operator” in the negotiations which is that of services. As they go via “request-offer” modality where the US and EU are most aggressive, side deals can be made to open up critical sectors in the economy like water and energy distribution, operation of public utilities, etc. which might go into a flow-blown negotiations if there are enough requests and offers.” Tañada pointed out.

“There is so much at stake in this round. Indeed, there are opportunities in the offing but similarly, there are real threats to our economy. No less than our supposed, incumbent trade and agriculture ministers should be in Geneva battling it out. And again, I repeat, they should be prepared to scuttle the talks if the deal is not favorable to our country’s interest,” he ended.

Young Turks in the grand Silliman Church

We spoke in a chapel, a presentation room for business students, and the great church — all in one day. We hope the Sillimanians had a grand time, the way we did too, in our first campus tour.

At Silliman University

The bright students of Silliman University asked questions and we tried to answer them with substance and with style, with wit and cheer and laughter intact. It is because their questions seemed to deal with lack of hope, of being betrayed by their leaders, of abandonment. I hope we kept the spark plug of hope alive.


Image from Pelikula 76

Column by Lito Banayo
Ang Pahayagang Malaya

Ayan na. Kahit gaano kalaki at kakintab ang tarpaulin, kahit gaano karami ang nakakalat nito sa Metro, imbyerna pa rin ang mga tao. Tama si National Artist for Literature and Theater Rolando S. Tinio: “Hindi naman talaga tanga ang mga mahihirap. Naghihintay lang sila ng tamang panahon para rumesbak.” At eto na nga ang resbak: – 38 percent sa SWS survey, the lowest of the lowest of the lowest, since the time of Herr Ferdinand Marcos.

And wait, just you wait, for the full fury of the people’s anger when the 2010 elections come. And then you will see how pure, how magnificent, the people’s anger would be! — Danton


Doña Gloria’s net satisfaction rating dives to negative 38, and the indictment cuts through all regions, all ages, all social strata. Nothing she does ever seems to be right by her people.

Her imperious executive secretary says it’s not the surveys, but the people who should judge his president. The poor who are benefitting from her subsidies should be the ones to judge her, Eduardo Ermita says.

When she was running in the 2004 elections, surveys that showed a neck-to-neck race between her and FPJ were bible truth to Malacañang. When the same surveys showed at the tail-end of the campaign that their Boss Woman had overtaken the movie king, they were ululating with joy. “Happy times are here to go on and on and on,” they chorused among themselves. The surveys had given perfect cover for what the shadows at the Comelec headed by Virgilio Garcillano and Roque Bello, with the imprimatur of Ben Abalos, were about to commit.

Before, surveys were the perfect gauge of vox populi. Now Eduardo Ermita seeks in vain for another vox populi. Tell you what, Mr. Ermita – try manufacturing hao shiao surveys. With your money, you could even put up some. But who will you fool but yourselves?

Rep. Joseph Santiago of the lone district of Catanduanes wants Sulpicio Lines, and all other shipping companies that ferry more than a hundred passengers in their vessels, to seek a franchise from Congress before they can operate.

As if a franchise would prevent sea accidents and disasters.

All it will make certain is that legislators, especially those in the committee on franchises, will laugh all the way to the bank.

What the Malacañang boys cannot seem to accept is that their boss woman’s dissatisfaction rating has gone down to 56 even in the Visayas. “The heartland is lost?” Cerge Remonde of Cebu asks in anguish. This Wednesday, his Doña will go to her political heartland, and will try to woo the Cebuanos back to the fold. Of course Gwen and Tommy and maybe even some clerics will be there to assist, but whether in Bantayan to its north or Oslob in the south, or Pardo and Tabunok in the city, the question that persists is “nganong gigutom na kita?”

Neither Gwen nor Tommy, nor Raul or Eddie Gul, not even Pabling Garcia, can give the right answers. Unsa’y ilang itubag? “Mag-antos lang kamo ug dyutay, kay nagpalambo na ang atong ekonomiya kang GMA?”

He, he, he. Wala mo kuyapi?

As Erap keeps saying, “hungry stomach knows no law”.

As an economist, the Doña must know that an extremely huge population would be a drag on the economy’s ability to grow and develop, and to distribute properly the fruits of any growth. That’s in the Economics 102 course.

But the economist in her yields to the politics of appeasing the princes of the Roman Catholic Church, who, whether they themselves believe in their heart of hearts the logic or reason of the Vatican position on population planning, simply have to obey. It is a question of dogma, and the Pope is infallible when he speaks of faith and morals. Before this latest konfrontasi, she was throwing the matter of population management to the discretion of local government units. So Pangasinan under Vic Agbayani and Butuan City under Boy Daku Plaza made strides in lowering the growth rate in their constituencies. But in Lito Atienza’s Manila, condoms and pills were verboten for a straight nine years. Go to Parola and Isla Puting Bato and see the results of Atienza’s policy of the more the merrier.

Sa madaling salita, para kay Donya Gloria, basta’t hindi siya ang gumagawa, at hindi siya ang tinatamaan, okay lang ang population control. But now that the bishops are putting the squeeze, and they are propping up her wobbly control over the State, she kow-tows.

What a hypocrite.

Thus does FVR twit her lack of political will. “She is the president of all Filipinos, not only the Catholics,” FVR reminds her.

It’s not a question of political will, Mr. President. It’s a lack of any sincerity on anything.

Ang tagal mo namang magi-sing, sir!

This bigot from Ozamis, Bishop Jesus Dosado, threatens denial of the sacred host to those who push what his Church keeps deliberately mislabelling as an “abortion” bill.

I wonder, at the height of the Kuratong Baleleng depredations, did the Ozamis bishop deny communion to the well-known Baleleng masters who controlled then, and control even now, the underground economy of his diocese? Or perhaps they contributed generously to the diocese? Robin Hood kasi ang papel nila, di ba, Señor Obispo? Just like the Pinedas of Lubao, di ba, Bishop Paciano Aniceto?

And may I pray ask, if denial of the sacred host is to be made against legislators pushing for sane population management, how about denying the host to unrepentant and hopelessly irredeemable crooks and plunderers in government? That, as a Roman Catholic, I would wholeheartedly applaud.

‘They have to shoot me’- Villa-Ignacio on ouster move

Nagkakabukingan na po. Ang baho-baho na talaga ng Office of Ombudsman. That is what Malacanang got for appointing a friend of Mike Arroyo in that sensitive office. Somebody’s house is falling down, falling down, falling down. Buti nga! — Danton



The battle lines between Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio have been clearly drawn.

If push comes to shove, Villa-Ignacio said he will go to the Supreme Court and inform the justices of the underhanded tactics aimed at forcing him to resign his post.

In a hastily called press conference shortly after a show of force by subordinates of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, Villa-Ignacio, in a rare show of pique, said “they will have to shoot me” if Gutierrez’s allies would have him removed from the Office of the Special Prosecutor.

Deputies of Ombudsman Gutierrez closed ranks behind her and said the row between their boss and Villa-Ignacio should be resolved internally. (See Other Top Stories, Ombudsman rallies support from staff)

Villa-Ignacio is known to be a quiet person and rarely gives media interviews. But he told that he can no longer keep quiet because it is his integrity that is being impugned. “They can fault me for my litigation skills but not my integrity,” the said in an earlier interview.

“I am sure they are going to suspend me,” Villa-Ignacio said during the press conference, referring to the estafa case filed by former prosecutor Elvira Chua against him before the Ombudsman’s Internal Affairs Board. “A foul scheme is being foisted against me.”

GMA wants new SP?
He said he “will go to the SC and explain the unthinkable things happening in the (Office of the) Ombudsman.”

Spilling the beans on the motive for his ouster, Villa-Ignacio said Malacanang wanted him removed to give the President a free hand in appointing a new Special Prosecutor.

He said his term as Special Prosecutor will lapse on Feb. 14, 2010, a period covered by the 90-day ban in the appointment to government positions before the May 2010 presidential race.

“(The President) will not be able to appoint my replacement (if that happens),” Villa-Ignacio said.

He said he is determined to stick it out even as he urged Gutierrez to resign as Ombudsman “if there should be a call.”

Ronaldo Puno’s case
Villa-Ignacio questioned the Ombudsman’s quick move to give due course to the estafa case filed against him when “there are other significant cases rotting in her office.”

He pointed out that the complainant, prosecutor Elvira Chua, had an axe to grind against him after he “disciplined” her, together with another prosecutor, for bungling a huge case.

This case, he said, was the Motorola communications contract involving Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno. He said Chua conveniently failed to attach a requirement in appealing the case to the SC, causing its dismissal by the High Court due to technicality. “They also resorted to the wrong mode in appealing the case.”

As an experienced prosecutor, Villa-Ignacio said it was unlikely that Chua committed an honest mistake, other than to ensure that the case is dismissed. “When Gutierrez found out this incident, she took the two to her office.”

He also pointed out that it was Chua who was behind the defective case filed against Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay which the Court dismissed for lack of probable cause.

The estafa case, Villa-Ignacio said, is part of a series of harassment moves by Gutierrez. These include disapproving the recruitment and employment of new prosecutors, denying a move to transfer the OSP’s office to a bigger space which will only cost government P1 a year, and keeping him out of the decision-making process in the filing of cases.

As to the OSP’s transfer, Villa-Ignacio said the Commission on Audit offered to lease its 3rd and 4th floors for the OSP’s use for P1 a year. But the Ombudsman, for some reason, denied the transfer.

It began with Megapacific
Villa-Ignacio said the tension between him and Gutierrez started when the Ombudsman moved to dismiss the P1.2-billion MegaPacific computerization case against officials of the Commission on Elections.

The panel, which Gutierrez created and was headed by Overall Deputy Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro, agreed to charge certain officials for the failed project, recommended further investigation as to other officials, and dismiss those with no evidence to indict them for the anomaly, Villa-Ignacio said.

But on orders of Gutierrez, Villa-Ignacio said the panel, of which he was a member, decided to drop the case against all officials. Villa-Ignacio protested and told a colleague that “it would be the last time that I would lend my name and credibility (to an Ombudsman report).”

(It will be recalled that Gutierrez created the Casimiro panel to disabuse allegations that the investigation on the MegaPacific case would be rigged. Gutierrez inhibited herself from the investigation).

Villa-Ignacio said the press conference called by Gutierrez’s allies to prove that there is no demoralization creeping into the ranks and the show of force “is a sign of insecurity.”

“Was there ever an instance where (former) Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo called for a show of support? There was none. You need not do that if you feel you have the support of the staff,” Villa-Ignacio said.

Belittling the show of support behind Gutierrez, Villa-Ignacio said there are those who feel otherwise “but they cannot come out in the open.”

We earlier reported that demoralization has crept into the ranks of the Ombudsman as a result of Gutierrez’s centralized management style. The disenchantment is worsened by the Ombudsman’s dismal performance in the Sandiganbayan where the former’s conviction rate has gone down. The dip in the conviction rate is being blamed on Gutierrez’s centralized decision-making process and her clipping the OSP’s role in the evaluation and assessment of cases.

An Affair with English

By Danton Remoto
Business Mirror Newspaper
Front Page
July 21, 2008

This column is part of the series on Planet English sponsored by the British insurance company Pru-Life to promote the use of the English language and English writing in the Philippines.


HOW did you begin to write? And why in English?

Friends and strangers alike would ask me that question. But the notion of beginning still surprises me until now.

As a child, I loved to draw, to memorize in my mind’s eye images of the passing day. I also loved to read—I would finish reading my English textbooks in one week, when we were supposed to read them for the whole year. I read ravenously and I read everything—the ingredients in a can of soup, the newspaper my father bought every day, the Philippine Journal of Education my mother subscribed to, the ten-volume Children’s Classics that an uncle had given to us.

I grew up in Basa Air Base, Pampanga, in a small white house with a sloping roof and French windows. My father was a soldier, when soldiers were still honorable, and my mother taught Music in school. The Distance to Andromeda and Other Stories by the peerless Gregorio Brillantes was the first book I bought with my own money. Listen to the reasons he writes, spoken in the third person.

“The answer . . . was tied up somehow with the town in Tarlac where he was born, and the acacias beside the house where he grew up, the sounds that wind and rain made in them. In that house, its rooms suffused with a clear white light in his memory, he learned that words, combinations of them, could unlock the doors to fancy and fable: the strange lands visited by Gulliver, Lord Greystoke shipwrecked on the African shore . . . .”

Memory is the mother of all writing, it has been said, and many of my memories are tied up with the books I read in English, or imprinted in my mind in English. I was born of a generation when you were fined five centavos if you spoke a word of Tagalog in school, and you did not only learn in English—you also had to be excellent in it! Essays written with a good hand in perfect English were marked 100 and tacked on the bulletin board for the entire world to see.

After my father resigned from military service, we moved to Quezon City. Our textbooks included the Philippine Prose and Poetry series, published in the 1950s and constantly reprinted. It collected the brightest and the best writing in English done by Filipinos, and I was amazed at its quality. I still remember “The Scent of Apples” by Bienvenido N. Santos, where the photograph of a Filipina in a terno is slowly fading in a crumbling house. I remember “May Day Eve” by National Artist Nick Joaquin, whose long, first sentence is also its first paragraph—a startling, shimmering train of words that sinuously moves from page to page. It left me breathless.

I went to college at the Ateneo—my prize for winning the plum spot in a nationwide essay-writing contest for high-school students, in English. The prize said I could go to a school of my choice, and I went to the Ateneo, because it was the school nearest my house and I could walk to and from school. One day in college, the writer Linda Ty-Casper came and gave us a workshop.

Mrs. Casper was the valedictorian of her class at the UP College of Law and has an MA in Law from Harvard, but she chose to write novels about Philippine history—in English. She affected no airs, was quiet and dependable, like the maroon Volkswagen that picked her up from her parents’ house in Malabon and brought her to Ateneo every day. I was young and shy, given to dark moods I could never understand, but the words of Mrs. Casper were most instructive.

“We can survive almost anything, as long as we know that what we are suffering has been suffered before. When our time comes to falter, we can take comfort in the small, triumphant gestures that rendered someone, very much like ourselves, indestructible despite death. Or we can ignore literature and banish ourselves from our own lives.”

When you are young and in love with English, these words could make your day. I knew, then, that I wanted nothing else in the world, except to write. My days began to blaze with happiness because I could put order to the chaos—even the sadness—of life.

I was dazed with words. I kept a journal where I wrote poems, shards of memory, the tug of dreams. During those days, as Marcel Proust would put it, “an hour [was] not merely an hour. It [was] a vase filled with perfumes, plans, sounds and climate.”

I was in love with English and I was in love with words. I knew, then, that I was finally home.

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