Posts Tagged ‘philippines’

President Aquino’s speech on the occasion of Pope Francis’ visit to Malacanang was criticized by many for being inappropriate and petty. While the Pope talked about rejecting corruption, confronting inequality and social exclusion and giving voice to the poor, the President whined about how some members of the Catholic Church continue to criticize him. He even took time to mention one bishop who criticized his hair.

The two speeches were worlds apart and again highlighted how self-absorbed the President is. The occasion could have been an opportunity for the President to show humility in the face of the message of the Pope; that much still needs to be done in the Philippines to address poverty and inequality. It could have been an occasion to discuss the need to address the root causes of armed conflict and push the resumption of the peace talks with the NDFP. Aquino could have taken the high road and announced the release of political prisoners as part of the peace initiative and as a goodwill gesture to the Pope.

But the whining President would have none of that. Instead, he called attention (again), to himself. One imagines that he is the equivalent of Kris Aquino whenever she conducts interviews. (Though his was many times more embarrassing than Kris Aquino telling Andrew Garfield how My Little Bossing trumped Spiderman at the box office.)

The speech of course does not come as a surprise anymore because it follows the Palace template for presidential speeches. This template has been duly approved by the President, so those wanting to fire last Friday’s speech writers are barking up the wrong tree.

As I posted earlier, there are 4 key elements in any Aquino speech. The first element is recalling memories of Martial Law, Aquino’s parents and how much his family suffered, and use this as a force field against any criticism of his presidency. You simply cannot criticize one who has gone through so much difficulty during the dictatorship. You just can’t.

These teachings have been central to my family’s advocacy, which is understandable considering what we, along with millions of Filipinos, went through under the dictatorship. Then-President Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, when I was 12-years-old, beginning an era in which the most fundamental rights of many Filipinos were flagrantly and routinely violated. It was in this environment that I came of age.

The second element is of course referencing the “previous administration” ad nauseam, even though he’s already five years into his term. What better way to stand out than to constantly compare yourself to the disgraced Arroyo government every opportunity you get. This is also to remind critics that, despite pork barrel corruption, failed Yolanda relief and rehab,  record joblessness and continuing rights abuses; we are still sooo much better off now than we were 5 years ago.

Hence, there was a true test of faith when many members of the Church, once advocates for the poor, the marginalized, and the helpless, suddenly became silent in the face of the previous administration’s abuses, which we are still trying to rectify to this very day

The third element of an Aquino speech is hitting back at critics, no matter what the occasion, no matter how inappropriate. Since some critics refuse to be swayed by references to Martial Law and the Arroyo regime, the President will thus have to reserve his sharpest remarks for them. We’ve seen this many times, during Aquino’s speech at the TV Patrol anniversary where he took a swipe at Noli de Castro; at the anniversary of Yolanda where he criticized victims groups People Surge and the Tacloban Mayor, and during an IBP event where he slammed the Supreme Court and Chief Justice Renato Corona who was also present at the event.

In contrast to their previous silence, some members of the clergy now seem to think that the way to be true to the faith means finding something to criticize, even to the extent that one prelate admonished me to do something about my hair, as if it were a mortal sin. Is it any wonder then, that they see the glass not as half-full, or half-empty, but almost totally empty. Judgment is rendered without an appreciation of the facts.

The fourth element of an Aquino speech is actually a direct reference to the President. Words like, “I”, “Me” and “Myself” become very useful. This seeks to underscore how awesome the President is. And so during the event in Malacanang, in classic Kris Aquino fashion, the President talked about himself, amid other more pressing issues.

Take for example yesterday’s disturbingly messianic statement on why he ran for office:

I understand I am only human, and thus, I am imperfect. I ran for the Presidency despite my discomfort with the trappings of power, because if I passed up on this opportunity to effect real change, I would not have been able to live with myself, especially if the situation worsened.

Or how he is speaking the truth at all times:

Everything I have said has not been to criticize, but to speak the truth, for the truth shall set us all free.

Or why he and the Pope share a bond:

I believe that you are a kindred spirit, one who sees things as they are, and is unafraid of asking, “Why not?”

And why joining the President puts you on the path to truth:

We would like to think that even more will join us in the truth, in the fullness of time.

Because if you’re not joining the president “in the truth”, you’re screwed. You’re either with him or against him.

Such was the experience yesterday of more than 2,000 workers, farmers and urban poor who were prevented by police from welcoming the Pope, just as the Pope was calling on Philippine leaders to give voice to the poor. Same goes for the Mindanao nuns who were accosted by police on their way to Tacloban on suspicion that they were members of the NPA.

Indeed, the President’s speech and the message of Pope Francis provided us with a study in contrast. As one religious said, there is truly a difference in the outlook of a religious leader and a politician.

Pope Francis’ message to the poor, his heartfelt speech to the victims of Yolanda/Haiyan and his critique of corruption and inequality, continue to resonate with the Filipino people. His challenge to the clergy to place the Poor at the center of the Gospel, to be with the poor to be able to understand the poor, is a most welcome exhortation towards social involvement. His call to “break the bonds of injustice and oppression” is nothing short of revolutionary.

We tip our hats to the Pope of the Poor even as we humbly ask forgiveness for the actions of our President.

Noynoy, for all his claimed achievements, truly does not know what he’s doing. ###




WikiLeaks today began the release of some 251,287 cable transmissions and memos from some 274 US embassies worldwide. The release is being described as a diplomatic bombshell for US diplomacy. It exposes many of the ‘behind-closed-doors’ activities of the US in the conduct of its foreign relations with its allies and rivals.

According to WikiLeaks’ website “The cables show the extent of US spying on its allies and the UN; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in “client states”; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for US corporations; and the measures US diplomats take to advance those who have access to them.” The WikiLeaks site has reportedly been subjected to a Denial of Service attack (hacking) on its first day of release.

Five international media outfits were given access to the complete files. You can check out The Guardian (UK), The New York Times (US), Der Spiegel (Germany), Le Monde (France) and El Pais (Spain). The Guardian has a very informative guide which includes headings and tags but not the full text of the memos. The New York Times meanwhile gives a selection of the transmissions.

Some of the more controversial memos come from the US Secretary of State. In one memo dated July 2009, Sec. of State Hilary Clinton ordered US officials to spy on members of the UN Security Council and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. All permanent members of the security council – including Russia, China, France and the UK – were targeted by the secret spying mission, according to the UK’s Daily Mail. Information the US wanted included biometrics, internet passwords and even credit card numbers.

Another leaked file gave a detailed profile of Libyan leader Mohammar Qadafi, citing some of his ‘quirks’ during air travel, choice of hotel accommodation and a description of his Ukrainian nurse as a “voluptuous blonde”.

There’s also the Saudi King pressing the US to attack Iran, and the Yemeni cover-up of US attacks where the Yemeni President said that his government will continue to claim the US airstrikes vs Al Qaeda as Yemen’s own.

The complete files will be released in stages over the next few months.

Focus on the Philippines

Around 1,796 leaked files and transmissions from the total cache are from the US embassy in Manila. The Wikileaks website indicates that there are some 65 “secret” and “749” confidential files included in the cache. Some 982 files are described as “unclassified”.

Except for two files, all the rest of the Manila files cover the period of January 2005 to February 2010, during the regime of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.  The files include “tags” or descriptions of topics such as terrorism, human rights, foreign relations, military operations, military assistance, internal governmental affairs and external affairs.

The period of 2005-2010 was the most tumultuous for Arroyo since it was during this time that protest movements for her ouster reached their peak. Many wondered how the US government treated Arroyo in the face of public clamor for her removal from office. It was also during the same period that the controversies in the VFA came to the fore with the Subic rape case and the decisions of the Supreme Court in relation to the custody of then convicted rapist Lance Corporal Daniel Smith.

It is no secret that the US embassy in Manila is actually a post for US intelligence gathering and US intervention in Philippine affairs. In the US Counter-Insurgency Guide released in 2009, the US embassy is the command center for US military operations in any country. The US ambassador is also considered a very powerful individual.

To quote the US COIN Guide, “All United States Government COIN strategies, plans, programs, and activities are undertaken in support of the affected government and managed through the U.S. Mission’s Country Team, led by the Chief of Mission (COM) in coordination with the Department of State. As the U.S. Ambassador, the Chief of Mission is the President’s personal representative to the host nation and is responsible for recommending and implementing U.S. policy regarding that country, as well as overseeing all executive branch employees there and the activities of such employees with limited exceptions. Appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, the Ambassador has extraordinary decision-making authority as the senior U.S. official present during periods of instability and crises. Where a confirmed ambassador is not present, the Charge d’Affaires represents the Secretary of State as the senior diplomat accredited to the foreign government.”

The WikiLeaks files may help us better understand how the US exerts its influence on our country in light of several domestic controversies over the past nine years.

The Philippine government should at the very least be alarmed if it is shown that the US government is actively spying on us, undermining our sovereignty and interfering in our internal affairs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s dealings with the US government should also be looked into.

The release of the files comes at a crucial moment for PH-US relations when the Visiting Forces Agreement is being reviewed by Malacanang.

The logic of US imperialism is that it thinks it can have its way with anyone. No one, not even the United Nations, is safe from their surveillance operations. And as WikiLeaks pointed out, the US employs a two-faced foreign policy. Things are not always as they seem. Official pronouncements are not always synonymous with official policy.

Maybe through these files, we can better understand the US positions on the VFA and the US troops in Mindanao. We would also like to know why the US has solidly supported the Arroyo government despite widespread calls for her ouster. The US has long been considered one of the main pillars of support of the Arroyo government, even during the most difficult period of Arroyo’s presidency.

It would also be interesting to know what really went on during the visits of US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, US CIA Director Leon Panneta and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, all of whom visited during 2009. Prior to them, US intel czar and former Philippine ambassador John Negroponte also paid the Philippine a visit.

We will have to wait though for the release of the complete files in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we should closely monitor how other countries are reacting to the potentially damaging expose of US “diplomacy”.

Australia has expressed support for any US action against WikiLeaks and Australian founder Julian Assange. US allies in the Middle East have remained silent on the matter. At any rate, the leak is considered a diplomatic nightmare for the US, and were just scratching the tip of the iceberg.

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Despite the setback faced by the 43 before the Court of Appeals (when the petition for habeas corpus was denied by a vote of 3-2), the Commission on Human Rights has announced that it will pursue its own investigation into the complaints of rights abuses filed by the 43 health workers who were arrested last February 6 in Morong, Rizal.

The CHR is set to hear the complaint of the 43 health workers on March 18 at 9am. It is not yet clear if the Armed Forces of the Philippines will comply with the CHR order to present the 43 on the said date. It is also not clear if the officials summoned to attend the hearing, Gen. Jorge Segovia, Col. Aurelio Baladad, Prosecutor Senson and Judge Mangrobang will attend.

There should be no reason for them not to attend since there is ample time for them to prepare all the necessary logistics for the 43. We surely don’t want a repeat of what they did last February 12 when the AFP defied a Supreme Court order.

Let’s show our support for the 43 by joining the mass action on March 18. Let’s show the 43 that the number of advocates is growing everyday . See you at the CHR at 8am.

Next week, we also hope for some positive updates in the appeal filed by lawyers before the Court of Appeals. The CA is supposed to elevate the appeal to the Supreme Court. This should get the ball rolling in our quest to free the 43 and have the Martial Law relic known as the Ilagan doctrine forever removed from our jurisprudence.

The 43 detained health workers went on the offensive today as they filed a complaint before the CHR, asking the commission to look into gross human rights violations in the arrest and detention of the 43 health workers last February 6 in Morong, Rizal.

The counsels for the 43, the Public Interest Law Center and the National Union of People’s lawyers submitted a letter complaint and the affidavits of the 43 which detail the various rights violations and accounts of torture during detention.

Among those being held responsible were Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, commander-in-chief of the AFP who did not do anything will the violations were ongoing, AFP chief of staff Victor Ibrado, 2nd ID Chief Maj. Gen. Jorge Segovia, 202nd IB chief Col. Aurelio Baladad and other officers who were involved in the military operation against the 43. The lawyers were also joined by the relatives of the 43 and the various groups supporting the campaign.

For her part, CHR chair Leila de Lima said that the Commission was already preparing an order for the AFP to explain the various allegations of torture, ill-treatment and violations of human rights.

The CHR will also ask the Department of Justice in particular why the 43 were denied counsel during the inquest proceedings held in Camp Capinpin on February 7. Based on the testimonies of the 43, it was only on the day of inquest that their blindfolds and handcuffs were removed. They were asked to line up and their names called. They were then informed of the charges against them. After this, the DOJ prosecutor Romeo Senson left the camp. The 43 were not allowed counsel during the inquest proceedings.

This seems to be the first time a prosecutor of the DOJ is being investigated for human rights violations. This is should serve as a warning to other prosecutors who will undertake similar legal short-cuts, denial of rights and denial of due process.

Atty. Romeo Capulong, lead counsel for the 43, said that the lawyers will also file a motion to transfer the detention of the 43 from Camp Capinpin to Camp Aguinaldo. Both lawyers and doctors contend that the continued stay of the 43 in the military camp places them at risk of torture.

Families of the 43 were also allowed to air their concerns to CHR chair de Lima. Doctors also complained that those of them identified with any of the cause-oriented groups are barred from entering the Camp.

The CHR hopes to schedule a hearing once the necessary papers are submitted.

February 27, Saturday, will mark three weeks since the 43 health workers were arrested and detained. We must press on with the campaign to FREE THE 43.

Last Wednesday was the deadline for the submission of memorandum ordered by the Court of Appeals in the petition for the writ of habeas corpus. The decision can come out on or before Wednesday next week. We must be ready.

Doctors have found it increasingly difficult to access the detainees at Camp Capinpin. Families have also complained of delays during visits to the detainees. These restrictions come at a time when the AFP is desperately trying to cover up allegations of torture and ill-treatment against the 43.

Members of the United Methodist Church Cal-Pacific delegation from the United States were first hand witnesses to the suffering of families trying to visit their relatives in Camp Capinpin.

The UMC delegation is just the latest among many international formations that have expressed support for the 43. International pressure continues to snowball with protestant churches, health workers associations, and recently, the sister of the president of the European Union adding their voices to the growing clamor for the release of the 43. The campaign to free the 43 is now global.

Local political leaders have also crossed party lines on the issue of the 43. Almost all candidates for president and vice-president have spoken out on the issue of the health workers. Senator and vice-presidential candidate Loren Legarda has called on President Arroyo to speak out on the issue. Malacanang has responded that the president does not need to speak on the issue because it is already in the courts.

Senatorial candidate and former justice secretary Frank Drilon has also given the opinion that mere membership in the NPA cannot a be basis for arrests, and that an overt act or crime must first be committed to justify the arrests of the 43. That is why the AFP has repeatedly said that they caught the 43 “in the act” of making bombs (despite the fact that the arrests were done at 6am.)

Protests have also been held the past week. Last Saturday, relatives and supporters of the 43 witnessed firsthand state fascism when they were hosed down at the gates of Camp Aguinaldo. The protesters which included the human rights group Hustisya, Health Alliance for Democracy, Bayan, Katribu and Bayan Muna merely wanted to post paper doves with the names of the 43 on the walls of Camp Aguinaldo. The disproportionate use of force was indeed condemnable.

Later that day, different artists converged in Kamuning, Quezon City for a solidarity night and fund raising for the campaign to free the 43. “Taumbayan” was the venue for Hilom, a cultural event which gathered poets, musicians and other advocates to lend their talents for the campaign. The place was packed and folks spilled over in the sidewalks. We did a re-worked version of “The Forty-Three”, a song written by Carl Lopez of Cebu, which was among the new works that have come out because of the campaign. Also look out for the new poems by Stum Casia and Kislap Alitaptap. More artists are expressing their support, through their works, for the 43.

Let’s keep those support statements, mass actions and contributions coming. On the third week of the campaign to free the 43, we thank all those who have given their all-out support. We give recognition to the families of the 43 who have been patient and unwavering through all the difficulties of this struggle. They need our support more than ever.

On the sixth day of their detention, the 43 health workers were visited by lawyers, doctors, the Commission on Human Rights and the Office of Sen. Pia Cayetano. Initial reports say their morale was boosted by the visit.

The Department of Justice today also filed cases of illegal possession of fire arms and explosives against the 43 health workers. The case was filed in Morong, Rizal. No bail was recommended.

Meanwhile, in what could be the best news so far, the Supreme Court gave due course to the petition for the writ of habeas corpus filed by the families of the victims. A hearing has been set for tomorrow, Friday at 2pm at the Court of Appeals in Manila.

The AFP continues to deny that they are subjecting the detainees to torture, calling it instead reasonable restraint. Bayan called on the Arroyo government to comply with the United Nations Convention Against Torture and the Philippines’ own anti-torture law. the Arroyo government has not done anything to address the findings of torture made by the Commission on Human Rights and the Health Alliance for Democracy.

The fight is not yet over. We still need to do all we can, here and abroad, in the courts and in the streets, to free the 43.