MANILA, December 29, 2003  (STAR) It’s just a week before the deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy for the 2004 elections, and voters still don’t have the foggiest notion of what the aspirants intend to do if they win. Although no certificate has been filed by any presidential aspirant, the nation knows those who have their sights set on Malacañang. And aside from the usual motherhood statements about bringing peace, jobs and prosperity to this land, you can hardly tell one candidate from the other. One aspirant has not even bothered to mouth motherhood statements; in fact he has said nothing at all about what he intends to do if ever he becomes president.

The aspirants can say that they are simply carrying on the Philippine political tradition of promising voters the moon. Getting down to specifics could bog down a campaign. But in the nation’s first general elections after the tumult of EDSA II, the first in the Third Millennium and the new century, it would be a welcome change if voters got more than motherhood statements from those aspiring for high office. Through the Christmas break the politicians did not rest. Realignments continued; political butterflies flitted from one party to the other. Yet it’s unlikely that anyone discussed gut issues.

Where do the candidates stand, for example, on population control? What do they intend to do with Joseph Estrada and his co-accused in an unprecedented plunder case? How do they intend to use the multimillion-dollar Marcos deposits, now held in escrow, once the government gets its hands on the money? Will they pursue peace with the double-dealing Moro Islamic Liberation Front? How do they intend to stop the rapid deterioration of the nation’s education system? How do they intend to make the nation more attractive to foreign investments, considering the competition posed by neighbors such as China?

The president wields immense power that must be used judiciously. Whatever perks go with the job are meant to ease the difficulty of performing the duties required of this high office. This early, those aspiring for the job must give Filipinos a blueprint of how they intend to make the nation a better place. Instead every aspirant is playing it safe: no talk, no mistake.

A horrible earthquake, SARS, and ‘Mad Cow’ disease BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven (Star) 12/29/2003

The most terrible, at times incurable disease, if you ask me is religious fanaticism. It’s what got Jesus nailed to the cross on calvary, ending in Jerusalem the 33-year journey of the Holy Infant born in Bethlehem. (In modern-day travel time. Bethlehem is just a 15-minute drive away from Jerusalem, but to the Israelis in the ancient Jebusite capital and the Palestinian Arabs in nearby Bethlehem the two places are a world of enmity away). Religious hatred, or, at the very least an distrust, reared its head once more, even as an earthquake-shocked Iran struggled, in tears, to cope with the magnitude of a disaster that may have killed 40,000 (they’re still counting) and rendered 100,000 homeless in the environs of the historic city of Bam. Almost all the world has been rushing to aid the grief-stricken and medically overwhelmed Iranians, even America’s George W. Bush who last year had condemned Iran as one of the "the axis of evil".

In this hour of heartbreak and dire need, what did the spokesman of Iran’s Interior Ministry announce over the government’s official news agency? Jahanbakhsh Khanjani Kanjani declared that "the Islamic Republic of Iran accepts all kinds of humanitarian aid from all countries and international organizations with the exception of the Zionist regime." Even in the hour of darkest tragedy, no Jews can be permitted to help. Raging prejudices and deep hatreds have plagued mankind through millenniums, and many of them are based on religion. (The Jews were no more magnanimous. After all, it was Caiphas and his high priests of the Sanhedrin who condemned Christ to death for heresy, baiting the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate into approving His foul execution.) "Thou shalt not have strange gods before me" is a Commandment adhered to with violent zeal, while "defending" the Faith, coupled with just a bit of avarice, provoked the cruel bigotry of the Spanish Inquisition.

But for Iran to shout that it will not accept help from "the Zionist regime" (as Arabs and Muslims refer to the State of Israel), it’s sad. The late King Hussein of Jordan – a devout Muslim himself (indeed, even during the first Gulf War, a "supporters" of Saddam Insane) – was once accused of having received assistance from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), a charge which would have aroused howling mobs to take to the Arab Street in angry denunciation and protest. The King had calmly replied: "I would take money from the Devil if this was needed to help my people." In truth, the grieving and desperately-stricken Iranians are today not loathe to receive help from The Great Satan (as the late Ayatollah Khomeini had described the United States). But never from the "Zionists". I’m reminded that Islamic fundamentalists and religious fanatics regard Christians ("crusaders," by definition) as their mortal enemies, too. Alas, the disease of fanaticism is worse than SARS or "Mad Cow’ disease. The two latter plagues can kill your body. Fanaticism and bigotry kill your spirit.

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There’s a brewing escalation of hostility between the US and Canada (even after the anti-American Prime Minister Jean Chrétien recently stepped down, and Dubya had looked forward to regaining better relations with his North American neighbor).

This is because the Americans are hinting that the Oregon cow which came down with the dreaded "Mad Cow" disease was imported from Canada. Susmareosep, Yankees! You already know that among the nations which hate you most are the next-door Canadians and Mexicans, neither of them related to Osama bin Laden – now, you’re casting aspersions on Canadian beef. The next may be Mexican jumping beans? Can no country be trusted any longer to dish up a Safe Burger or Salutary Steak?

The more proximate danger to us, however, is the resurgence of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in China. The Chinese government has been "admitting" that one Chinese freelance journalist and photographer – sanamagan, one of our trade! – is being tested for possible SARS in Guangdong province – which is adjacent, if you’re planning a trip there, to Hong Kong. (My apologies to the Hong Kong Tourist Association, but that’s life.) Very reliable sources tell us that not just one, but one hundred (yep, 100) patients are being tested for SARS in the provincial capital (formerly Canton) itself. That’s the awful reality.

The question inevitably arises: if there are 100 in the big city, can you imagine how many more SARS sufferers could be in the outlying towns and villages, undetected – or, worse, "unreported"? Don’t want to provoke panic, but my suggestion is that we in the Philippines should go to "alert" status. Is there another ongoing "cover-up" over there on the mainland? Perhaps it’s true that SARS is a cold-weather disease. That would explain its possible "re-emergence" in wintry China. But what about the case reported out of Singapore, or the other in Taiwan? I hope it’s true that the SARS microbes die as soon as they encounter our pollution here in Metro Manila. That’s the way I feel every day, each time I try to take a deep breath.

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Is this Girl’s Year!?

President Macapagal-Arroyo has been appointing ladies right and left to important positions, for instance to the Land Transportation Office (LTO), once the exclusive domain of maledom – even in malfeasance. In return, many foreign countries have been sending us Lady Ambassadors. (My arithmetic may be defective, but I think we already have seven or eight.) Now, our first woman Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Delia D. Albert, will preside over the flag ceremony this morning at the Department of Foreign Affairs on Roxas Boulevard. Delia is five-foot tall, which means she sees literally and metaphorically "eye-to-eye" with President GMA. A reputed workaholic, she has maintained her physical fitness by climbing, daily, the 14 stories to her office where, until her new appointment, she served as Undersecretary for International Relations. She recommends this "energy-saving and health-enhancing drill" to DFA personnel.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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