Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Archive for the ‘Cebu’ Category

Corona Impeachment Trial: A Pandora’s Box

Posted by butalidnl on 24 April 2012

The Corona impeachment trial is not an ordinary trial. By its nature, and due to the national attention to its proceedings, it is turning out to be a Pandora’s Box – bringing to the fore issues about corruption and abuse of power beyond that of the trial itself. While these issues may not be resolved during the trial; they have been raised, and will have to be addressed by the Philippine political system.
The campaign against corruption will advance more through resolving these issues, rather than on whether Corona gets impeached or not.

SALN. Attention has been given to SALNs (Statement of Assets,Liabilities and Net Worth), which are formally required of all government officials and employees. Before the trial, filing it was only a routine procedure; but now we realize that not only should government officials file SALNs, but that they should also be accurate. And that the assets claimed should be ‘explainable’ given the officials’ income.
In discussing Corona’s SALN, the question has been raised about how accurate  SALN entries should be, and the conventions for making SALN entries (e.g. date of ownership, market values etc.)

Implementation of SALN rules will surely be more strict from now on. There will also be calls for the publication of SALNs of all elected officials.

Bank Secrecy. The existence of strict Bank Secrecy Laws (too strict, actually) has been brought to the public’s attention. People have seen the ridiculous extent to which these laws could be implemented. Congress will now have to pass a new Bank Secrecy Law that will allow government (especially the courts) to access bank accounts, including foreign currency accounts.

Executive Discretion. The issue of whether the Executive Branch can simply choose to disregard a Supreme Court order is also under discussion. Can a Cabinet Secretary ignore a Supreme Court order on the grounds that she thinks it was biased? What will happen to ‘rule of law’ where people can simply ignore laws that do not favor them? Shouldn’t Cabinet officials be sanctioned for disobeying the Supreme Court (I think they should, but I don’t think they would). In the future, Cabinet officials will be more careful before they decide to defy SC policies.

Courts will have to be more strict regarding violators of TROs. The De Lima precedent was followed recently by the administration of STC (a Catholic school which punished students for posting photos of them in bikini in Facebook) which ignored a TRO by a Regional Trial Court because the they said that they had filed a motion for reconsideration. This is partly the same logic that De Lima used.

Just Means. “A just struggle has to be fought with just means”- Mohagher Iqbal, 2002. The Corona impeachment process may be what is called a just struggle, but the means with which the pro-Aquino forces are fighting it are not just. The Corona trial will probably be determined by patronage, personal loyalties and wheeling-dealing, rather than by the facts of the case. And most people expect it to be so. The Aquino government is merely pulling strings in the old, politically corrupt way things have always been done.

But the people, who have been watching the trial on TV everyday, will not accept the old ways of politics as easily as before. There will have to be at least a semblance of a real trial, as a result of all the media coverage, It will set a standard for transparency in politics, which even the most hardened political wheeler-dealer cannot fully negate.

President Power over PDAF
Representative Tobias Tiangco said that his PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund ) allotment was not released after he refused to sign the impeachment complaint versus Ombudsman Guttierez last year. This use of Presidential prerogative in releasing (or withholding) Representatives’ ‘pork barrel’ raises the question of whether such control is justified. There would be calls to limit presidential discretion on the release of PDAF.
Another question would be whether PDAF allotments should be made in the first place. After all, the PDAF is used by Representatives in order to build patronage.

Lying About CV
Corona has also be accused of lying in his Curriculum Vitae, claiming honors that were never his.
This charge is rather trivial. After all, who does not ‘pimp up’ their curriculum vitae? The question, of course, is on the extent of ‘pimping up’ that will be allowed.

Hail Marys
‘Hail Marys’ is a term from American Football, when the quarterback throws the ball at no specific receiver And then, he just prays that it will be caught. This is seen as an act of desperation, as when the game is almost over.

The Corona impeachment is a case of a ‘Hail Mary’ thrown by the Aquino administration. They didn’t have a case at all against Corona, but they filed for impeachment anyway, under the logic that since most government officials are corrupt, Corona must also be corrupt, Since Supreme Court SALNs were not public, they assumed that they contained something improper. They calculated that Corona would most likely just resign if an impeachment case was filed. Well, he didn’t; and the prosecution had to be formed, even when they didn’t have a case.

So, they threw a ‘Hail Mary’ again, fishing for his SALN in the hope that some illegally accumulated wealth will show up. Now, it seems that this is being parried successfully by Corona’s defense. What will happen is what often happens with Hail Marys in football – the defense intercepts the ball, and the offensive side loses the game.

The whole Corona impeachment trial shows the folly of trying impeach someone just because Aquino dislikes him. The next time around, Representatives would demand much more proof of wrongdoing, before they impeach somebody else.

Posted in alternative media, Cebu, Philippine politics, Philippines, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Continuing FB Bikini Case

Posted by butalidnl on 31 March 2012

The administration of St Theresa’s College (STC), an exclusive girls school in Cebu had decided to bar 2 students from attending their graduation ceremony. This was because the nuns said that the girls had posted pictures of themselves in bikini on Facebook. The parents of one of the girls filed a case in court, asking it to overturn the STC nun’s ruling. The school declared that they were actually being lenient, since the girls would still graduate, and that they would simply not attend the graduation ceremonies.

RTC Judge Wilfredo Navarro decided on 29 March to issue a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to overturn the STC administration’s decision, saying that the girls should attend the graduation, but also that she be treated with respect, and accorded all the courtesy during the ceremonies. But on 30 March, STC guards refused to accept the TRO being served by the sheriff, and also blocked the girl and her parents from entering the campus. According to the STC administration, the TRO was ‘inadequate’. So, the STC pretends to know the law more than the judges; or, is it just a matter of their arrogance at disregarding any court order that they consider inconvenient.

The girl’s father said that they will continue with the case, even if the damage had already been done.

Violation of Privacy
The issue over inappropriate photos posted on Facebook is first of all a matter of the school’s violation of the girls’ privacy. Posting a picture on Facebook is akin to showing one’s photo album to friends. This is private. For someone who is not on one’s friends list to take issue with a posting on Facebook will be – to say the least – highly inappropriate. They should be the ones ashamed, in the first place, for having peeked without permission at the posting. It is the STC administration who should apologize for its voyeurism in peeking at a student’s Facebook page.

Violation of the Department of Education Rules
The disciplinary action of the STC administration violates the rules of the Department of Education, specifically Dep. Order 88 “2010 Revised Manual of Regulations for Private Schools in Basic Education”. In this Order, Section 131. Responsibility on Student Discipline: Limitation.  “The administration of each private school shall be responsible for the maintenance of good discipline among students inside the school campus, as well as outside the school premises whenever they are engaged in authorized school activities.”

The family outing when the photo was taken was clearly not an “authorized school activity”, and thus the STC administration had no jurisdiction over it, nor over the subsequent posting in Facebook.

The STC administration should not cite the Student Manual as the basis for their action. If a provision in the manual is in conflict with the relevant Department of Education ruling, then it is invalid. It should be amended accordingly. To claim that their Manual provision should prevail over a Dept of Education rule is wrong; the Dept of Education specified in Order No. 88 that schools should adjust their rules to conform to it.

I have not seen the photo in question. But it seems that the photo was one of the girls wearing a bikini with a towel wrapped around her waist. If one was to consider this lewd, it would be more a reflection of one’s own dirty mind, rather than of the one in the photo. How could we expect nuns, who are sheltered from society, to be good judges of what constitutes appropriate states of dress. The RTC judge said that he does not consider the photo to be lewd. I would tend to rely more on his judgement than that of nuns.

The standard of ‘lewd’ is one on a slippery slope. If we let the nuns have their way, very soon all skirts above the knee will be lewd, as will all tops held up by spaghetti straps. (Note that the nuns appropriate upon themselves to judge what students should wear anywhere, not just at school.) We could end up worse than the Wahabi religious police in Saudi Arabia.

Next Steps
The children have been wronged; the graduation is over. The only appropriate penalty for the STC administration would be for them to issue a public apology, and perhaps reparations for the unnecessary emotional damage they had caused. But beyond this, there should be a thorough revision of all Student Manuals to ensure that they do not extend to behaviour outside school premises and activities.

The STC administration should also be sanctioned by the RTC for contempt of court. We can’t have school administrators who simply disregard the law whenever it does not please them.

Posted in alternative media, Cebu, Philippine education, Philippines | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Integrate the Informal Economy

Posted by butalidnl on 10 September 2011

Squatters have gained some kind of legitimacy as a result of the Philippines’ political process. In exchange for electoral support, many mayors protect squatters in their municipalities from demolition.  Economically, however, squatters and others who take part in the ‘informal economy’ are far from being integrated. This means that the country does not get the maximum possible benefit from their economic activities.

It may seem strange to collect rent from squatters. Local Government Units (LGUs) don’t collect rent from those squatting on government land because they fear that by doing so, squatters acquire some sort of right to stay.  They also feel that this is an added burden on the poor people.  Reality does not support the latter argument. Gangs regularly collect ‘rent’ from squatters, and the people readily pay them. They have the money to pay rent.

Collecting rent does not bestow renters a right to stay indefinitely. People who rent rooms or apartments can be told to leave, and so should people who rent land. The municipal government could make it clear that the land could still be used for another purpose, and that it will give something like a 3-month notice if it decides to do so. Collecting rent, however, changes the status of people from ‘squatters’ to renters; and this makes it easier to deliver other services to the area.  Part of the rent collected could also be shared with the local barangay (perhaps 1/5 of the rent). They could help ensure that nobody else collects rent from the people. The share of the rent could partly be used to pay for part-time barangay tanods to help police the neighborhood (who, among other things, would make sure that the gangs don’t collect ‘rental’ money anymore).

Street vendors of all types should be licensed. And the license fee should be rather high; after all, it would not be possible to collect VAT or business taxes from them. With the license, the vendors will no longer be harassed by the police. Corrupt police regularly milk vendors, and if they don’t pay they are arrested. The license fee will be welcomed by vendors, just to avoid paying the informal tax to the police. Licensing vendors also clears the way for the government to enforce health standards for food sales and some other regulations.

Public Parking
Many people suffer from the hassle of street kinds forcing their ‘Watch Your Car’ services on them. If you don’t pay the kids, something bad may happen to your car. In Cebu City, the government issues parking ticket booklets, which are sold through street kids. The kid who sold you the parking ticket also watches over your car; because the moment your car leaves, another car would need to be sold a parking ticket. The city gains money from this arrangement, and so do the street kids. And the car owners at least have a structured way of making sure that someone is watching over their car. I think that this is an example that other cities could emulate.

Water and Electricity
Extending water and electricity services to slums helps to improve the quality of life in slums, and greatly reduces illegal taps on water and electricity lines. But measures need to be made to make this work well. The barangay, or a barangay-level organization, should ‘buy’ electricity and water from the wholesale providers and distribute these within a given slum area, and collect the payments. The cost of illegal taps or leaks will effectively be distributed among neighbors, providing people with an incentive to report illegal taps, and to demand action against these.

Posted in Cebu, Philippine economics, Philippines, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Compel Lawmakers to Understand Filipino

Posted by butalidnl on 25 August 2011

On 24 August, during the House debate on the RH Bill, Representative Apostol of Southern Leyte demanded that Rep. Bag-ao be compelled to speak in English. Bag-ao replied that Filipino is an official language and that she had all the right to speak it in Congress. This was upheld by Deputy Majority Floor Leader Magtanggol Gunigundo who said that indeed Filipino is an official language. To this, Apostol said Filipino is not his official language, and that if Bag-ao persisted, he would then demand to have an interpreter.

This exchange may sound quite trivial, but it has bigger implications. Filipino IS an official language, and one of the implications of this is that government officials should be fluent at it. Being an official language also means not only that Representatives are allowed to speak it; but that the other representatives should be able to understand what she is saying. Otherwise, it would not effectively be an official language; because why have it as an official language if it cannot be used?

In Switzerland, they have four official languages ( German, French, Italian and Rumantsch). While the parliamentarians are not required to be fluent in all four, they ARE required to understand other parliamentarians speaking them. It is fascinating to attend such sessions, where the MPs speak in German (actually, the Swiss dialect of German), French, Italian or Rumantsch, and they don’t have interpreters! (When Italian or Rumatsch speakers want to make sure the others understand the nuances of what they say, however, they speak in either German or French) I think it would be unthinkable to have a lawmaker there who cannot speak fluently at least two languages.

I believe that Philippine government officials need to be fluent in Filipino, and not merely be able to comprehend it. I applaud PNoy’s consistency in speaking Filipino during his speeches. I note that he is speaking ‘ordinary’ Filipino, and not the version that is too ‘deep’ or ‘classical’. It has many borrowed words from Spanish and English.

The use of Filipino as an official language should also extend to our foreign relations. Erap Estrada was the first, I think the only, Philippine president who talked to US officials in Filipino; forcing the Americans (Sec. of State Albright) to hurriedly look for an interpreter. I think PNoy should follow Estrada’s example and talk Filipino to Americans, just to make the point. Talking in English to the Americans is a courtesy; the Americans should return this courtesy sometimes by listening to us speaking Filipino. I suggest that when Filipino officials talk to Americans in the Philippines, they speak Filipino; and if they talk to the Americans in the US or elsewhere, that they talk in English.

I understand the sensitivity of people like Apostol, who is a Cebuano speaker, to the predominance of the mainly Tagalog-based Filipino over other languages such as Cebuano. I am a Cebuano myself, and my father raised me to be English-speaking. But c’mon: Representative Apostol lives in Manila; he speaks colloquial Filipino every day. Why can’t he learn just a bit more Filipino to understand official talks in it? It isn’t really that difficult, a couple of months of study should do it. I know, I did it too.

The barrier to learning Filipino is more a question of arrogance, rather than difficulty. I bet that Rep Apostol couldn’t also make an official speech in Cebuano (his native tongue) either. He does all official duties back home in Southern Leyte in English (even though he surely speaks colloquial Cebuano fluently.)  It is really a question of an ‘air’ that he is educated, a lawyer, and speaking Filipino or Cebuano in official functions is below him.

I think this is a matter for the Supreme Court to decide. We could not have lawmakers declaring that Filipino is not THEIR official language. They should declare that having Filipino as an official language means that lawmakers should be able to comprehend it. They should decide to compel Apostol and other lawmakers to understand Filipino.

Posted in Cebu, Philippine education, Philippine politics, Philippines, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by butalidnl on 10 January 2011

The Sinulog is an annual festival held every third Sunday of January, in honor of the Child Jesus (Santo Nino). The celebration of Sinulog takes 9 days, culminating in the Sinulog Grand Parade.  The days leading to the climax are marked by parades, novenas, and a whole array of concerts and other events all over the city. The whole city, even province of Cebu is fully into Sinulog – people greet each other with “Pit Senyor”; and houses retain their Christmas decorations till Sinulog – making Sinulog an extension of Christmas. And families hold parties in honor of the Sto Nino. It is a grand fiesta in the best of Philippine tradition.

While it may seem like a huge  touristic event, it has grown into something much more than that.  It is religious, cultural and very modern.  The Grand Parade features groups from all over the Visayas who present their versions of the Sinulog Dance. But the Grand Parade is not all that is Sinulog. In fact, we could say that the Novenas and the Procession are integral and very important parts of the Sinulog celebration. Sinulog combines religion, politics and show-bizz, and in this is its power – there is something for everyone.

The Sinulog theme “One Beat, One Dance, One Vision” is not just just a slogan, it is literally true. The Sinulog beat and dance are literally the same all throughout, and by the end of the festival you will have heard it literally a thousand times. It is indeed “one beat and one dance”. The vision is one of continued progress for Cebu/Visayas; this is a semi-political message that permeates Sinulog: about Cebu/Visayans self-confidence and optimism about the future.

This vision is also what I think makes the Sinulog a very modern festival. It is optimistic, it is a thanksgiving celebration. It is not the and penitence-driven kind of religious festival in other regions (e.g. the Black Nazarene). It is a celebration of God’s bounty bestowed on Cebu and the Visayas. And indeed, Cebu is booming; and there is much to be thankful for.

Posted in Cebu, Philippines | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »