On the “ouster” of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno

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I don’t understand the hullabaloo over the “ouster” of Sereno as Chief Justice, which, thanks to media, is perceived by the general public as a “decidedly manipulative” move of the current administration. Well, bad news people the “ouster” isn’t wrong, not in the way you thought it.

In this country, the position of Chief Justice is an appointed position by no less than the President. On that note, if I’m appointed into a position, more so if it’s the highest and most coveted in my industry, I’d feel beholden to the person (or, committee) who appointed me. I’d feel very grateful toward that person. I’d bless that person every minute of my waking day. I’d swear loyalty to the person (even to his or her kin) who has power over my appointment. The dynamic, on the whole, mimics the relationship between creature and Creator. This is the nature of appointments.

On the other hand, if the person who appointed me is leaving the organization or moving away, I’d expect him or her to be responsible enough to discuss with me (including HR) my future with the organization. Does my appointment still stand, is it still valid, when he or she leaves? If not…well, these details should’ve been spelled out and mutually agreed on right from the start. Like, a prenup agreement. In the absence of a written agreement or specifics to that matter, the appointment is valid only until the term (or, whim) of the appointing party. Afterward, appointees are subject to the will of the wind.

In that situation, I won’t wait for when I’m told to my face to get out for lack of provision on continuity. I’d be proactive about it and go, grateful for the opportunity, deserving of it or not, to have been trusted with the position at all.

Sereno is an appointee of former President Noynoy Aquino who’s not exactly chummy with the current one (at least that’s what we know). Sereno, obviously, isn’t either.

Following the nature of appointments, the incumbent President has the prerogative to make his own set of appointments which as early cues have indicated doesn’t include Sereno. Solicitor General Calida’s accusation that Sereno didn’t comply with JBC’s requirements is moot given that it’s sufficient that the incumbent President by himself rescind or terminate his predecessor’s appointments which he does not honor or does not see serving the goals of his administration.

The real hullabaloo surrounding Sereno then should be about, (a) how come it is made to appear that Sereno is ousted by the current administration, (b) how come that Congress tagged along too justifying it’s involvement by Sereno’s lack of compliant SALNs, (c) how come that esteemed UP people wete too quick to launch #BabaeAko campaign implying that the case is a gender, and most confounding of all, (d) how come that Sereno played along with what apparently is a simple game of round robin? What do these strange bedfellows make of the Filipino nation by this – if I may call it – prank?

If there’s anybody who should be called in to enlighten the nation of why it deserved a Sereno, that would have to be the one who made the appointment. And, if there’s anybody who should be called in to enlighten the nation of why it doesn’t anymore deserve a Sereno, that would have to be the one who is presently making the appointments. These two should at least have the balls to proactively make a stand for their choices. The rest need to shut up.

Yet, the most crucial issue remains: why is the position of Chief Justice a mere appointment? Is this inscribed in the Constitution? Well, it is stupid. Foolish. And it doesn’t make sense. It’s inconsistent for the Constitution to say that the person in the position is unimpeachable when she is an appointee. How would an appointee, who owes her job and position not to hard work but to somebody who has favored her with it, imbibe the objectivity of Lady Justice? The people shouldn’t even expect it. How could her co-Justices, who are not appointees but are there as a result of hard work, not resent her appoinment? How would a Supreme Court that’s headed by a Presidential appointee and divided because of this truly fulfill it’s role as an institution independent of the Executive Office?

These are the real issues that continue to eat at the country, which media, if it’s still in it’s right mind, ought to make news of.

To be truly independent, and unimpeachable, the Chief Justice ought to come to the position through objective and fair means, a point system perhaps showing beyond doubt that he or she is the most deserving among his or her peers. Or, actually why not have the CJ elected in keeping with the two branches of government wherein the elect are accountable to the people (although we’re also having problems with this concept). Then, every good and persistent lawyer out there has a fighting chance. Then, Chief Justices are the products of a rational system rather than of politics gone wrong.

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WTF! No!

National Bible DaySpecial working holiday- what does this even mean? how does Congress imagine workers getting time off to revisit and reignite affinity toward the Bible, on their lunch break? Because the classification – double pay is it? – would incentivize workers to work not take the day off in order to spend time on their Bibles. Between the choice of double pay and the Bible, workers would opt for? For the masses of unemployed or on hand-to-mouth subsistence, the law if passed has no impact on them whatsoever. They’re largely the ones already living the Bible fanatically so but where does that leave them, in the trenches (of ignorance, hunger, etc.) still. As for businesses especially SMEs struggling to establish themselves, it would be another unwanted dent on their pockets (perhaps a reallocation away from that planned much-needed capital investment). The only people to gain from such legislation would be, hands down, ass-kissing folks in Congress and their BFF-counterparts in the churches (it’s one more reason to collect “donation”). I can’t believe this Congress of today!

Regardless, there are far more critical national issues hounding this country than religion (we have too much of this already) or religiousity or a sudden love for the Bible. I’m tempted to post a long list of national concerns here but everybody, even folks cleaning the loos and sweeping the streets, know them already. We don’t want to repeat ourselves.

C’mon, people-elect in Congress, the people did not vote for you to breathe down their necks conjuring up as their pastors or priests and priestesses not even their Sunday School teachers. The nation isn’t one bible study cell, in case you need reminding.

If Congress is very much itching to promote the Bible, it’s part of the work, the public’s challenge, is to transform itself into an institution that citizens can be proud of, one that reflects the messages and spirit of the Bible! A personification of the Bible! Thou shall not impose acts of holiness if you’re unable or refuse to do them first yourselves is the golden rule Pharisees whom Christ so loathed fail to live by.

On the alleged PNP killings of young people 

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The killings of two young people, Kian and Carlos, remind me of an incident in a City in Mindanao that involved young people mostly minors who protested, on the day the President delivered his SONA, the extension of martial law in the region. We learned about it directly from two young people.

Their group, around 30 in all, were not several minutes at a spot on the main street with their placards when police came and hauled them into the waiting police vehicles (there were some in the group who were able to get away unobtrusively which caused the rest of the group to, later, accused them privately because “didn’t we say that we’d stick together no matter what?”). They were brought to the central precinct and held up there for almost four hours.

In the precinct, the police (except for one who they said treated them humanely) proceeded to verbally harass them, pressing them to own up “c’mon, who”s really behind this protest?” Media people were there but were basically useless. This treatment stopped when, first, somebody, a City resident who’s on the government’s peace panel, arrived to assist the youth group, and soon after, the lawyer for the youth group whose presence earned them their release.

The two young people had been recounting this to us in a light and humorous manner. In fact we laughed at some of their accounts while the head of my host organization interspersed the air with “congratulations!” He meant it as compliment for them being able to come out of that first experience in relatively good spirits. Still the young people’s group concluded it was the President’s mandate, that he was going against his own assurances of non-abuse during martial law.

Me, I was busy thinking. I was bothered and piqued that those policemen dared to act out of character to what no less than the President constantly reminds them to be especially during martial law. I probed the two young people further. I learned that the order to round up protesters on that particular day, the SONA, emanated locally, from the LGU, which purportedly didn’t want potential PR disasters in their backyard on such a day. A blanket official backing is cover that could justify the means, means that national government, the Office of the President or the PNP, may not be privy to. There were no similar orders from the LGUs in other areas. which points to discretion.

This is what I’m reminded of with Kian’s and Carlos’ death, the politicians’ and media people’s knee-jerk reaction, convinced as if they’ve all witnessed each and every incident first hand, as to who is behind the deaths: the President. A very dangerous and damaging thought considering

(1) the CCTV recording of what clearly are the backs of, was that, a couple of men, accosting, what appears as a younger man, is not conclusive. One wonders where the story of cops dragging someone named Kian blah blah blah popped out from. Anybody with clear vision and a brain will tell you it sure does not come from that recording;

(2) Senator Hontiveros appearing on the scene to take away the witnesses in order to protect them herself along with “another institution” promising “they’ll appear in Congress at the right time” is highly questionable, given that there are their families, the Barangay LGU, and the local social welfare office as the proper custodians. Next, we see the Senator at the Senate grilling the PNP, pressuring them to own up to their policy to kill indiscriminately, the authority coming from the President. In any case, my God, even if it was true, who is dumb enough to own up to something that’ll put your own head on the block? 

(3) the female witness who appeared in Congress has material information missing in her account, that anybody with a brain could tell. Materially incomplete accounts do more harm than good, as, one, people who are watching or listening are propelled toward wrong conclusions. 

Nothing therefore of what the politicians and media people said since the death of the teenager named Kian made sense. Who is to tell it was actually 10 men and 4 women (remember, the recording only shows the edge of the dragging scene such that there could be more than what appears on screen), two of whom were in police uniform the lucky ones caught on screen, who accosted a teen named Gian after a gang fight and brought him to a nearby alley where…in a corner they saw a dead body their age, which gave them such a scare they took off on all directions. What if that’s the true story of Kian, whose already dead body was found? Remember that reforms are like disturbing the mounds housing armies of red ants. 

On the other hand, what became clear out of these young people’s deaths are the relentless attempts to confuse the nation, to shake the people’s trust, to switch off the sunshine, to nail the country in perpetual third world mode, to usurp a legitimate Presidency. What’s even more disturbing is, this is not just in Duterte’s time, but true in past administrations as well. The first responders, citizens’ first line of defense, are the Barangay LGUs thus when residents get murdered in or abducted from their own villages the Barangay LGU is the first one accountable- what measures did they put up to make the alleys safe? to secure and protect residents? do they actually believe that CCTVs on every corner is enough? Citizens are working hard to pay their salaries but they, for instance, tanods couldn’t even put themselves in between residents and their attackers? Why are LGUs not called on the Senate hot seat? We’re moving in circles when it comes to failures of LGUs.

What is clear is, those behind these attempts are traitors, not only to the legitimate leader, but also to the republic. They’re just lucky that while the law is hostile to such acts, this government, unlike those in the rest of the world, tolerates treachery and treason. Real impunity is when people and institutions get away with words and actions that debase, divide, demoralize, and destabilize the nation and government rather than promote reflection and learning for reform and growth.

The people’s eardrums are near bursting from continously hearing of accusations against one individual, the President, Duterte and past ones, of human rights violations. What about institutionalized – politicians’ and civil servants’ compounded – violations of people’s human rights as a result of dirty politics and plain laziness?

What is clear is, no politician truly cares who or how a citizen dies as their bodies are mere playgrounds for political power.

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In the end, ang kawawa, those essentially ripped off of respect and dignity, victimized many times over, used, are people like Kian, the families they left behind, as well as the witnesses dragged into the public eye who have had no access to proper legal procedures hence justice.

How does one pick up 1001 kinds of shit?

I’ve been off the news (except for the SONA which I replayed) the past weeks, partly for my own well-being. You see, there is so much more to the Philippines and the Filipino than what’s in the news. That is the truth. What gets in the news are – I will be blunt – biases of this and that editorial team from this and that agency. Featuring a 30-second statement out of an hour of speech or report is like zooming in on just a brow out of an entire person’s face– it doesn’t help audiences form right decisions and opinions. What if the person is actually blind in both eyes but the news is talking about his brow? Does that make any sense?

Inside a taxi late one night, my companions and I were listening to the news through the radio. The anchor was reporting about a drunken man in so-so neighborhood in so-so City  One drunk. On air for a good 10 minutes. I couldn’t help myself and blurted out, “how do these people do it? why that drunk out of probably fifty million Filipino men drinking out there? and why always about drunkards? what about the other half who are sober?” There was a few seconds of complete silence and then my companions burst out laughing. I realized it was because one of them, the executive director who was sitting in front, was once infamous for his drinking ways among local partners. He has since sobered up after a health scare. But, seriously, though, whose story gets published or reported? and what about the other half of the story?

So I was taken aback when on meeting my host after the weekend, he asked if I’ve heard the news- the raid in Ozamiz City that led to the Mayor’s death. “How?” I asked (it has been an interesting time since I came here. the news about the Marawi City siege and then Martial Law and everything in between). The response was that the Mayor’s security detail fought back. Soon as I got back to my place, I re-connected and replayed the news. Here are my thoughts:

This war on drugs stems from the repeated failure of local government especially Barangay and Municipal/City Local Government Units and citizens to address community issues before they morph into monsters. Once these are out of the community’s control, it’s not just the locals who suffer but also the wider community. Like what we have right now with this. And, look, the resolution to this drug abuse problem is being commuted back to the originating communities through the community-based MASA MASID (Mamamayang Ayaw Sa Anomalya, Mamamayang Ayaw Sa Iligal na Droga) program in which local teams that also include barangay volunteer-members are put in charge of managing the rehabilitation of drug abuse-surrenderees.

community based rehabilitation program masa masid

When I was told this, I was “oh.my.god. so many years gone to waste. if only the barangays and the people did this the first time the problem popped out instead of closing their eyes to the problem and believing that it can’t be solved thus allowing the problem to grow, grow, and grow out of proportion and control. we’re all so back to square one.” If I were the President, listening to this, I would’ve gone and grab the useless Barangay Captain and his cohorts by their ears and drag them a mile. Because- my god, my god, years and years of tax money gone to waste! Not to mention wasted years of otherwise productive lives.

National government DILG’s MASA MASID program is news-worthy topic that news agencies have not given equal air time to so that all people (and other countries) know is that the drug abuse problem in the country is being resolved through EJKs (which we should note were in the news as early as then former President Noynoy Aquino’s term). This begs the question, how is journalism – the ethical search for and telling of the entire truth – helping the nation to resolve the drug problem? Whose side are news agencies on? Their investors? Their businesses? What sells? Truth should not be sold as if it were a good nor chopped into pieces that make it impossible for audiences to understand the complete whole. Truth is integral to the personhood of human beings. Journalists messing with truth is like them chopping up the human body into unrecognizable pieces that anyone buying cannot distinguish it from minced livestock meat.

Finally, the people. The masses. What’s funny about the masses is that they continue to have fiestas and dancing on the streets even when they know where the money that funded the dancing came from. They dance long and hard for fiestas but not for basic medicines and equipments for their village health centers. They sing long and hard at neighbors’ birthday parties but not for roads in their villages. They approach the throne like very meek sheep for, like, maybe, food, clothing, shelter, and curse the same throne once they’re far away and have gotten the goods. Well, this is the sort of attitude and behavior that produces shit, not freedom, as the outcome.

And so, 1 + 1 = 1001. Elected local officials who live as if they will live forever + citizens not in the proper state of mind + media that keep their cameras on perpetual zoom mode = 1001 kinds of shit.

What is the proper way to go about picking up shit like this?

In any case, the weekend incident in Ozamiz City is yet another call for the nation to reform. Something we should’ve done a long time ago, since the time of Rizal and Bonifacio. To reform, at the core, means to be authentic. STOP using the people’s money to buy collections of Birkins or Hermes bags, luxury cars, or children’s tuition into Harvard or Oxford. STOP using the masses as if slaves, your errand boys and girls. STOP knighting family members as second-liners to a throne that’s not there. We are a republic. STOP the desire for quick and easy money. We have long ago turned our backs to Juan Tamad. Let’s faithfully till the land this time to it’s full potential. STOP the thinking that this nation is comprised of just one class or tribe of Filipinos. We are many. We urgently need to learn how ‘many’ could actually become a strength. STOP everything that has gotten us to this point of in-fighting, back stabbing, and fakery. STOP trying hard to be Americans or like Americans. Let us START to embrace our identity. We are Filipinos. Let us START to listen to old folk songs if only to re-call the life of honor that Filipinos before us strove to live. Let us START to live our positive values of maka-Diyos, maka-bayan, pagtutulungan, pagkakaisa, hiya.

De-constructing IS or ISIS in the Philippines

For the many of us here who have not given a fug about IS (or, ISIS as popularized here), because why should the topic muddle our daily conversations, until the Marawi City incident, IS or Islamic State is none other than the former al-Qaida in Iraq. ISIS is acronym for Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, the self-styled Islamic caliphate that the (former) al-Qaida group “overran huge chunks of Iraqi and Syrian territory” after the demise of bin Laden.

Al-Qaida (now IS), according to several independent studies, such as J.Milligan’s Islamic Identity, Postcoloniality and Educational Policy: Schooling and Ethnoreligious Conflict in the Southern Philippines and Samira Gutoc’s Causes of “Terrorism”: The Philippine Case had “thoroughly penetrated” the country by the late 1990s. Purportedly, in 1980 the MILF “had begun sending mujahideen for training and combat experience in Afghanistan. One result of this effort was the establishment of ties with the al-Qaida network of Osama bin Laden which began…recruiting soldiers for the war in Afghanistan”.

The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a splinter group from the MNLF and Filipinos who fought in Afghanistan, appearing in the mid-90s, has been linked to the al-Qaida network. However, when this link weakened in the late 90s, the group connected with Indonesia-based Jeemah Islamiyah (JI) that has “ideological origins in the Darul Islam (DI) movement of the 1950s and 1960s” also networked with al-Qaida. JI aims to establish a pan-Islamic State in South East Asia.

Another group affiliated with the al-Qaida network which appeared around the same time, in 1991, is the RSM (Rajah Solaiman Movement). The group is comprised of Christians from Northern Philippines who converted to Islam, supports violence against Filipino Christians and maintains base in Metro Manila. Reportedly, it gets funding from JI and training from ASG. It has been alleged that the group was behind the 2004 Superferry bombing that killed 116 people

Yet another group, AKP (Ansarul Khilafah Philippines) founded by a former MILF member disgruntled by the collapse of the peace talks in 2008. It is reported that the group has direct connections to ISIS fighters and has it’s base in Sarangani and Sultan Kudarat.

Last, but only so far as this post goes, the Maute Group also known as IS-Ranao or IS-Lanao. The IPAC Report writes of the group,

The Maute Group based in Lanao del Sur has the smartest, best-educated and most sophisticated
members of all of the pro-ISIS groups in the Philippines. It is largely ethnic Maranao, and its
stronghold is Mindanao State University (MSU) in Marawi City, where it has been able to attract
students and teachers.

The Maute group reportedly began as a training unit set up by Marwan around 2011 or even earlier, called al-Ghuraba and briefly Jamaah Tawhid wal Jihad – the name used by the late Abu Musa Zarqawi in Iraq and later by the supporters of radical Indonesian cleric Aman Abdurrahman in Indonesia.

By 2012, it had become Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM), initially reported to be led by one Ust. Humam Abdul Najid alias Wai but in fact the Mautes are believed to have been the organisers even then.56 KIM was said to have been responsible for the 26 July 2013 bombing at a Cagayan de Oro bar and bistro that killed six.57 After ISIS’s recognition of Isnilon as amir, the Mautes began using the name “IS-Ranao” to indicate a division of the new as-yet-undeclared province of ISIS – just as BIFF became IS-Maguindanao and Isnilon Hapilon’s territory was IS-Basilan.

Locals call these groups “spoliers of peace”. 

But why all these splinter groups and their more extreme views relative to their more principled former organizations? Synthesizing their histories, we come to see that they have become disenchanted over the inconsistencies in the decades-long peace talks that appear to have no end, like drawn-out criminal cases in corrupt courts and we can site the massacre of journalists in Mindanao, and have taken matters into their own hands, the hard way or no way. Looking deeper, the root of their struggle is continuing injustices to the Moro/Muslim people. When you go to Mindanao, the mass of the Moro/Muslim people remain living on the edges of villages, sa laylayan as VP Robredo calls it. Mawawalan ka talaga ng dignidad living in these places, and the Moro are proud people.

” Attention grabbers” the armed groups are also called. Precisely, in the sense that their violent acts underlie and point toward the real ills in Mindanao society. Remember that once in the lives of these terrorists they believed, trusted and allied themselves with government or the rule of law. But at one point, abandoned that because of not being able to take anymore government’s failures. Pity, because their talents have been misdirected. How does one resolve such a misdirection of people? 

Government, national and especially local government, needs to re-boot it’s style and system of governance in the region. It also needs to undergo healing as what it has been extolling people in the region to do. It can start by making a sincere apology. Recall when the Australian PM offered an apology to the aborigines, “unfinished business of the nation”, for the mistreatment the natives suffered under past governments, in order “to remove a great stain from the nation’s soul”. The Filipino nation is inextricably bound to the decisions and actions of the State as the resources behind State decisions and actions come from the people. The people share in the consequences, good or bad, arising from the decision or action of their elect.

Further, when you go around the villages the common statement locals make is that government’s promises made to the people in the region have remained just promises. Nagkapatong-patong na over the decades. What do villages in the region need? Land (many migrants as well as marginalized Moro/Muslims remain without titles to the lots they occupy), jobs and access to training and capital for the masses to establish and sustain their livelihoods, barangay roads, health centers (many are without staff and equipment), inclusive education (ie. the use of Maranao as mother tongue for Maranao children and not Cebuano/Bisaya), adult education, rules and processes that do not disenfranchise the already poor, upholding the rule of law as well as TA and respect for positive traditional mechanisms eg. council of elders, etc.  Recognition of the unique culture and beliefs of the Moro people and provide for their integration in national policies. Presently, policies regard Filipinos as a homogenous people. The Cordillera is better off in the sense that each tribe has their own land or territory eg. Mountain Province for the Bontoc people, or Kalinga and Apayao for the Kalingas. This the Moro people don’t have. From their perspective, it’s now the non-Moro who’ve occupied much of their land or at least the best or most fertile portions of it. Religion is incidental.

The above , basically the MDGs or the SDGs now  are what more progressive Mindanao areas like Davao enjoy. And, with Davao, it was not national government extending it’s arm to the City that made it a premier city in the South, rather it was local government. In many provinces, however, it is local officials who are obstacles to good governance and therefore contributed to the opening up of a space right under their noses in which extremism has taken over.

The road problem in CAR

The Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) remains among the top five poorest regions in the country, primarily because it’s relatively closed off from the lack of good roads that should connect it’s towns and villages to one another, the rest of the region, and ultimately the country.

The recent typhoon, Ineng/Goni which brought non-stop extreme rain for three days has again caused damages to Halsema (Mountain Trail), the main highway connecting interior towns to Baguio City.  This is the only route available to local traders of vegetables, poultry, and other cottage based products which means if Halsema is closed for a week for repair, traders are forced to wait it out, a decision that impacts on the market and ultimately on their incomes.

It is not only Halsema.  Tadian has been closed off because landslides blocked it’s main road to Bontoc.  A colleague hiked six hours, and even counted 13 landslides along the way, to get to Bontoc.  The town is still closed to vehicular traffic as I write.  The road connecting Tadian to Ilocos Sur (via Cervantes), a project under former President GMA, is also rendered unpassable.

The Kayapa portion of the Baguio-Nueva Vizcaya Road was also closed off and then opened and just recently closed off again, prompting participants from Ifugao to an activity in Baguio City to go around via Mountain Province making their travel twice as long.

Roads are basic prerequisites for economic development.  The national government and local government units in the region must address this perennial issue once and for all.  Within the region, planning to address the problem of roads can be an avenue for cooperation among the mostly “warring” LGUs.  As mentioned in a previous post on the road repair along Loakan Road in Baguio City – which is by the way still at turtle pace – much of the road problem in this country will be addressed when anti-corruption measures are put in place and observed.

Also, required reporting of assessments after the onset of emergencies is also quite slow and only afterward did Mountain Province declared itself a calamity area in order to access emergency funds.  The news, sadly, has not provided a realistic picture of events post-Ineng.

The regional OCD on the other hand can do better to support the LGUs, given that at these times access to emergency response funds through appeals here and abroad is already standard operating procedure.  Moreover, how is it that staff of CSOs / development organizations are able to quickly deploy and produce rapid assessment reports and consequently response plans and assistance even if it meant walking through hell and putting off sleep but staff from public offices whose staff are on the people’s payroll not, relying on others’ reports instead?  If it should get a top-of-the-line chopper in order to conduct aerial assessment given the regularity of landslides in the region, then it should, or perhaps this is an instance when drones are a necessity.