More questions than answers – Lascanas retraction, EDSA people power, Duterte’s ouster

lascanas

Update: Hours after this post was published, the Senate through a vote of 10 Senators in favor against 7 who opposed, to refer Sen Trillanes’ motion to re-open the hearings on the Davao Death Squad to the Committee on public order and dangerous drugs chaired by Sen Lacson. The Senate will then meet again to discuss on how to handle Sen Trillanes’ resolution.

Yesterday, in a press conference at the Senate, lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group and Sen Antonio Trillanes IV accompanied former police officer SPO3 Arthur Lascanas where he made public the confession that the ‘Davao Death Squad’ was real, he was its leader and former Davao City Mayor now President Rodrigo Duterte was behind the DDS.

A complete turnaround of his previous testimony in a Senate investigation into the Davao Death Squad back in September 2016, that, at that time, he belied the testimony of self-confessed DDS member Edgar Matobato.

Media reports say that ‘in genral‘, Lascanas and Matobato’s testimonies match.

First question that comes to mind: Why has Lascanas retracted his earlier testimony? For sure, his lawyers from FLAG has advised that he will expose himself to perjury charges, not to mention earn the ire of Duterte’s loyal supporters. What made him change his tune? Was he being pressured back in September to deny the existence of the Davao Death Squad? Who was putting the pressure?

Will the Senate re-open its investigation into the Davao Death Squad? Sen Trillanes has already filed a resolution to do so, yet Sen Dick Gordon, chairman of the Senate committee Justice and Human rights which conducted the September investigation has given the thumbs down. For him, this matter should now be brought to before the courts.

Which brings us to the next question, can Duterte be sued for the alleged serious crimes before he became President? In other words, would Presidential immunity necessitate his impeachment first, before he can be properly charged for the murders that the so-called Davao Death Squad committed thru his orders?

This brings to mind a discussion on the Presidential or executive immunity by constitutional expert Fr Joaquin Bernas, SJ where he cited landmark cases decided by the US Supreme Court that dealt with its limits. He then moved on to a similar case closer to home: the prosecution of former President Joseph Estrada for the alleged plunder during his term, and whether he still had immunity after he has be removed from office since the alleged crimes took place while he was President. Our own Supreme Court ruled against Estrada but I don’t think it squarely applies to Duterte’s case as the allegations: murder of which he was allegedly the mastermind, are criminal offenses that took place before he became President. It seems this issue will also end up before the Supreme Court.

Going back to the impeachment of Duterte, this will not happen, yet, as he still enjoys the support of the supermajority in the Lower House. Who knows, the ever-reliable Lozano may yet again beat everyone to the punch by filing an impeachment case only to be rejected by Duterte’s allies in Congress giving the President another year of being shielded from impeachment.

What about extra-constitutional means of removing Duterte from power? Talk is ripe about a planned ouster of President Duterte that will coincide with the upcoming celebration of the EDSA People Power’s 31st anniversary. Would this happen? Is this the reason why this year’s program of commemorating the EDSA revolution has been toned down by the Palace and held within the safe walls of Camp Aguinaldo?

And what does Sec Martin Andanar knows that National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon and National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana doesn’t that he’s the only government official that’s been vocal about these so-called plans of removing Duterte from the Presidency? The press has already had its field day with Sec Andanar regarding this issue, yet the question still stands: what is the basis for his claims?

Or is this the administration’s tactic of handling the recent retraction and accusation of Lascanas? For now, we don’t know if what he has told yesterday at the Senate, that Duterte was behind the Davao Death Squad after all, or is just really another push by those who want Duterte out of power?

The lawyers from FLAG, now the laywers of Lascanas, are battle-tested lawyers for justice, human rights and accountability. They would not take on Lascanas if they think he doesn’t have the goods or he is not credible.

What will happen next? Only time will tell.

Image by ABS-BCN News

From ‘Free tuition in SCUs’ to ‘not available to all’

Oblation - UP Diliman by Deondre Ng

When news broke out that Php 8 billion pesos has been allotted to the Commission on Higher Education’s 2017 budget to allow for free tuition in State Colleges and Universities, the public broke out in celebration. At long last, the dream of a free higher education which the people specially the youth have long struggled for, was at hand.

KABATAAN Partylist even hailed the move as a ‘game-changer‘:

The Filipino youth celebrates and embraces this development, which potentially makes the Philippines at par with some of the great nations of the world – including Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Germany – when it comes to providing for free tuition in state schools.

Part of the statement was warning, that now it seems, turned out to be prophetic:

We must do everything in our power to have it implemented quickly and with a positive effect on students and the SUC community

How so? It turns out that when Duterte affixed his signature to the 2017 budget, he vetoed some items and put others under “conditional implementation“:

Yet, as with all new programs, there is a need to safeguard the proper implementation of the provision of free tuition fee. It is important to underscore that we must give priority to financially disadvantaged but academically able students.

CHED was quick to dance the President’s tune and clarified what would the “conditional implementation” be actually like, according to CHED chair Patricia Licuanan:

To bring the country closer to the reality of free college education, the commission will work overtime to ensure that the wisdom and specific intentions of lawmakers will be accurately reflected in the free tuition guidelines it is set to create.

It will be guided by fairness, cost recovery and alignment of incentives. CHED will ensure that the wide-reaching implications of this major reform in Higher Education will be brought about effectively, and any negative consequences will be minimized.

She may not have spelled it out, but it means that the Php 8 billion peso fund will no longer cover the tuition fee for all students in state Colleges and Universities, it will be used to further implement the ‘socialized tuition system’ and other scholarship programs in UP and other SCUs. No blanket free tuition for all.

With this, celebrations for free higher education may have to be cut short as these recent developments need the further vigilance and scrutiny of the public specially the youth. Php 8 billion is no small fund. It must be used as intended, to provide for free tuition in state colleges and universities. More on this in the following days.

Image by Deondre Ng

Stephen Hawking: This is the most dangerous time for our planet

the rural poor flock to cities, to shanty towns, driven by hope. And then often, finding that the Instagram nirvana is not available there, they seek it overseas, joining the ever greater numbers of economic migrants in search of a better life. These migrants in turn place new demands on the infrastructures and economies of the countries in which they arrive, undermining tolerance and further fuelling political populism.

For me, the really concerning aspect of this is that now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans.

Together, they are a reminder that we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it. Perhaps in a few hundred years, we will have established human colonies amid the stars, but right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it.

Opinion piece on The Guardian

Andres Bonifacio: Sa Marahas Na Manga Anak Nang Bayan

To commemorate the 153rd birth anniversary of Andres Bonifacio, Father of the Philippine Revolution of 1896, I share the full text of one of the manifestos, issued in his name to the Katipuneros after suffering a series of defeats from the Spanish advances in Silang, Zapote and Batangas sometime between February and March 1897:

Sa Marahas Na Manga Anak Nang Bayan:
Ang inyong ipinakilalang katapangan sa pakikihamok sa kaaway na mga Kastila buhat pa ng simulan itong panghihimagsik, ay siyang nagsasabing mataas na di ninyo ikinasisindak ang ugong ng paghahanda at pagsalakay dito ng hukbong akay ni Polavieja, na sa kaunting pan ahon ay nagpakilala na ng malabis na kaduagan at hamak na kaasalan ng alipin sa kanyang pagpapahirap at malimit na pagpatay sa makapal na kalahing hindi nagsisilaban. Yaong pagpapasunog nito sa mga bayan, yaong paglapatasngan at pagdungis sa capurihan ng mga babai na di na pinacundanganan ang canilang cahinaan, yaong pagkitil ng buhay ng mga matatandang hindi na macausad at sangol na sumususo pa, na cailan may hindi aasalin at gagawin ng sino pa mang lalaking may puri at may tapang, ay humihingi ng isang masiglang paghihiganti at matinding caparusahan.

Sa inyong pamimiyapis mangyayaring abutin ang cayo’y tanghalin bangkay sa gitna ng parang ng pakikidigma; ngunit ito’y isang kapurihang inyong maipapamana sa ating Bayan, sa ating lahi, at sa ating angkan.
Dapat naman ninyong mabatid, na ang kadahilanan ng ating paggugugol ng lalong mahalaga sa loob at sampu ng ingat na buhay, ay ng upang tamuhin at kamtan yaong linalayong Kalayaan ng ating Bayang tinubuan na siyang magbibigay ng buong caginhawaan at magbabangon ng ating kapurihan na ilinugmok ng kaalinpinan sa hukay ng kadustaang walang makatulad.

Sasagi kaya sa iniyong loob ang panlolomo at aabutin ang panghihinayang na mamatay sa kadahilanang ito? Hindi, hindi! Sapagka’t nakikintal sa inyong gunita yaang libolibong kinitil na buhay ng mapanganyayang kamay ng Kastila, yaong daing, yaong himutoc at pananangis ng mga pinapangulila ng kanilang kalupitan, yaong mga kapatid nating nangapipiit sa kalagimlagim na bilanguan at nagtiis ng walang awang pagpapahirap, yaong walang tilang pag agos ng luha ng mga nawalay sa piling ng kanilang mga anac, asawa at matatandang magulang na itinapon sa iab’t ibang malalayong lupa at ang katampalasanang pagpatay sa ating pinakiibig na kababayan na si M. Jose Rizal, ay nagbukas sa ating puso ng isang sugat na kailan pa ma’y di mababahaw. Lahat ng ito ay sukat ng magpaningas sa lalong malamig na dugo at magbunsod sa atin sa pakikihamok sa hamak na Kastila na nag bibigay sa ating ng lahat ng kahirapan at kamatayan.

Kaya mga kapatid, igayak ang loob sa pakikipaglaban at paasasahan ang pagtatagumpay, sapagka’t na sa atin ang tunay na katuiran at kabanalang gawa; ang Kastila, isyang kasuklamsuklan na lahing dito’y napasuot ang taning ipinaglalaban, ay ang maling katuirang panggagaga at panlulupig dito sa di nila bayan.

Sa lahat ng ito, ng malubos ang kabanalan at kapurihan ng ating lahi, ng tanghalin ng Sandaigdigan ang kamahalan ng ating kalooban, ay huag nating tularan ang kalabang Kastila sa pagkahamak ng asal na ugaling gamit sa pakikidigma, huag tayong makipaghamok sa kaibigan lamang pumatay, kundi sa pagtatanggol ng Kalayaan ng ating Bayan, at abutin sa mahigpit na pagkakayakap nating mga anak ng Bayan, ay maihiyaw ng buong lakas na Mabuhay! Mabuhay! Ang Haring Bayang Katagalugan!

Andres Bonfacio
Maypagasa

Source: Aguinaldo and the Revolution of 1896: A Documentary History, by Pedro S. de Achutegui, S.J. and Miguel A. Bernad, S. J., Ateneo de Manila, 1972. p. 328

As part of 20 Speeches that Moved a Nation by Manuel L. Quezon III, 2002

US Supreme Court: Same-sex marriage is a right

Ripples of the landmark decision of the US Supreme Court upholding same-sex couple’s right to marry have covered the entire world specially online. In a vote of 5-to-4 the Justices have ruled that the US Constitution grants same-sex couples the right to get married in all 50 states. A resounding victory for the gay rights movement. The New York Times has a good breakdown of the decision which highlights opinions from the Justices who dissented in the case.

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

As the LGBT community celebrate this historic victory, observers have taken notice of the decision’s ramifications both to US domestic issues but to other countries that are faced with the same controversial issue of gay rights. The Atlantic has a good rundown of how the decision would have an impact in the US – changes to adoption laws, religious freedom and more importantly, what it means to oppose gay rights.

Here in the Philippines, a growing LGBT community has been working for more recognition for their rights. The last time the issue of gay rights have been debated on the national level was when the Ang Ladlad party-list was disqualified by the COMELEC based on religious and moral grounds during the 2010 national elections. The case was brought to the Supreme Court which ruled in favor of Ang Ladlad because of the COMELEC’s reliance on the Bible and Koran in their decision, not a recognition of gay rights.

Last May, openly-gay lawyer Jesus Nicardo Falcis III filed a petition in the Supreme Court to strike down provisions of the Family Code that prohibit same-sex marriage. The case is still pending before the High Court but given that our justice system follows or uses the rulings of the US Supreme Court as a precedent or reference in deciding cases as our democratic and government institutions and laws are patterned after theirs, it’s interesting to see how the case will develop and how our own Supreme Court will decide now that American counterparts have crossed this bridge.

The debate for LGBT rights have always remained on the sidelines for years, now that the US has joined other countries in allowing same-sex marriage, will the Philippines follow suit soon?

2016 Presidential Elections – Grace Poe could be the real alternative to Trapos

Those who know me and my politics may be surprised by the title of this post. The words to follow may even be more surprising but since Binay’s resignation from the Cabinet has signaled the start of the election season, it’s high time we begin to seriously consider our options for the upcoming Presidential elections in 2016.

Surveys not withstanding, Binay would not get my vote. Let me take this moment to tell the world that I love my wife, very much. It’s no longer an issue of whether the allegations of massive corruption and plunder are true or not, Binay for me simply represents another family from a collection of oligarchs who is eager for its turn to use the highest office in the land to simply enrich themselves further and entrench their political dynasty on the back of millions of poor Filipinos.

Mar Roxas? Just look at the sad and tragic state of Yolanda survivors now and you’d be afraid of what will happen to the rest of the country if he ever becomes President. Also, the problems of the MRT now began during his term as DOTC Secretary.

So Why Grace Poe? Fellow blogger and now columnist Tonyo Cruz lays down the basic reasons why an independent Grace Poe would be our best chance of getting our country out of this sh*t hole it has been led straight into by the Aquino administration:

In one of the hearings she called on the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill, I personally saw Senator Poe lead with remarkable intelligence and humility as she asked resource speakers her questions and as she listened to their answers. So much unlike other pompous senators, her manner of leading the hearing was very organized but open-minded. Her questions were well thought of. She jots down notes and remembers important points that beg for follow-up questions. She showed and expressed appreciation for correct or better ideas regardless of the source, and thus commanded respect from the invited resource persons.

The FOI Bill remains a bill, despite Poe’s brilliant leadership in the Senate. Why? Because President Aquino and his allies in the House of Representatives continue to block the very idea of an FOI Law.

That it is unfortunate that President Aquino refused the passage and enactment of an FOI Law is a gross understatement. Not only is it unfortunate, it is one of the President’s gross acts of betrayal on his much-hyped “Daang Matuwid.”

In the Senate’s Mamasapano Massacre investigation, Senator Poe stood out along with a few other senators from some of their colleagues who loudly and unapologetically chose to be anti-Muslim, ignorant, and hysterical.

And who could forget Poe’s low-profile, under-the-radar quest to know the plight of MRT commuters? The public won’t forget that powerful gesture of empathy, and her repeated demands for government to rescue commuters from the awful MRT service.

Recently, Poe also spoke against over-dependence on the US as the Philippines fights Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea. Such patriotic stand provides a sharp contrast with the unapologetic pro-US mendicancy of the Aquino administration.

On these issues, Poe chose to be on the side of progress and to be an agent of change and empowerment.

With a lot of good things going for her: she has beaten Binay in the presidential surveys, the issue about her citizenship being a non-issue, and the clear lack of a palatable choice between traditional politicians represented by the Aquino-Conjuanco, Roxas and Binay, it is the best time for people wanting real chance, people who have been frustrated by the false hope of PNoy’s “Daang Matuwid” to rally around Grace Poe and mount a real people’s candidate with a progressive and pragmatic platform of government.

Tonyo Cruz: National ID and SIM Card registration are a scam

There’s no problem with having multiple ID cards. The real problem lies in the services linked to those cards: declining budgets, quality, coverage, scope, rising fees, and more expensive premiums. Also: the corruption and mishandling of state workers’ and private sector workers’ pension and health insurance funds. Those are the problems begging to be solved.

There’s no problem either with non-registration of SIM cards. The real problem lies in the failure of authorities to use all tools at their disposal to dismantle, arrest, and prosecute syndicates. Not to mention the massive surveillance reportedly done by the US National Security Agency against Filipinos.

If the National ID and mandatory SIM card registration get approved, the people who would be happiest are the crooks – the criminals and their forgers for the new business, the scammers in and out of government, the identity thieves, and those responsible for our real problems: the dismal state of basic services and crimes going unpunished.

The public should be warned: The National ID and mandatory SIM card registration are scams.

Tonyo Cruz gives compelling reasons why the proposed National ID and SIM card registration would be an added burden to ordinary Filipinos. Not only an added burden, it would be another tool for violation of rights and oppression.

How many more Mary Jane Velosos?

Update: Indonesia has postponed the execution of Mary Jane Veloso, based on the fact that the accused recruiter had surrendered to the authorities and will face investigation. While it did not commute Veloso’s death sentence, the postponement has granted her and her family a glimmer of hope, a second chance at life, if you will. Now, the ball is on the hands of the Philippine government, the Aquino administration to thoroughly investigate, prosecute and bring to justice the real perpetrators behind the illegal trafficking and using Veloso as a drug mule. Her life, literally depends on it.

In a few hours from now, Mary Jane Veloso, convicted of bringing in illegal drugs into Indonesia will face a firing squad. In a few hours from now, we will lose a compatriot to another country’s justice system. A few hours from now, human trafficking, illegal drug trade and poverty will claim is latest victim. We may not be able to save Mary Jane Veloso from the death penalty. After all, we have to respect the legal system and understand the political and social situation in Indonesia that is the context of this. Ultimately, the outpouring of support from all over the world through the internet and social media for Mary Jane Veloso should be the real “wake up” call for our own government to step up and do better for its citizens.

At home, it must lead the way in creating more opportunities for Filipinos to make decent and livable jobs that would feed their family, send their children to school and contribute to a better Filipino society. It should seriously re-think and stop its decades-old policy of exporting Filipino workers only to rely on their remittances to prop-up an economy that it failed to grow to begin with. Times have changed, remittances is no longer a viable long-term economic solution.

Government must double its efforts in going after human traffickers, drug syndicates and illegal recruiters.

Everywhere abroad, it must step up its efforts in looking after the interests and needs of OFWs. Numerous reports from both media and government have given the number of OFWs in foreign jails. What are the status of their cases? What steps the government, our diplomats and concerned agencies have done in order to save them or at the very least commute their sentences?

How many more times must we all go through all this again only to find out we’re too late? How many more Flor Contemplacions and Mary Jane Velosos must lose their lives?

Pope Francis: Commit to Social Justice

Pundits are saying that the President and other officials of the government was lucky when Pope Francis decided to go impromptu on his homily for the mass he celebrated in Leyte – where super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) did the worst damage when it ravaged the country a little over a year ago – and put aside his prepared speech as it contained passages that fly into the face of the ineffective and short-sighted efforts of the government.

I couldn’t agree more. Just read the most powerful portions of the said speech and I’m certain Aquino and his horde are sh*tt*ng bricks:

Above all, I ask that the poor throughout this country be treated fairly – that their dignity be respected, that political and economic policies be just and inclusive, that opportunities for employment and education be developed, and that obstacles to the delivery of social services be removed. Our treatment of the poor is the criterion on which each of us will be judged (cf. Mt 25:40, 45). I ask all of you, and all responsible for the good of society, to renew your commitment to social justice and the betterment of the poor, both here and in the Philippines as a whole.

This plus how local media has focused its reporting on the trivial things about Pope Francis – his charisma, his signature smile and his sense of humor – instead of his words on certain issues like corruption, justice, development, morals etc.

How I wish Pope Francis himself would deliver this speech with BS Aquino and other government officials in the audience before he goes back to Rome.

Photo by Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images