EDITOR'S PICK: CHILL

It was auspicious occasion, with the President of the Philippines as guest of honor. But then a student in the audience stood up to shout at the commander in chief, disrupting the proceedings. What happened next was … well, what happened next depended on who the President was at the time. In 2006, at the graduation ceremony of the Cavite State University in Indang, Cavite, President Gloria Arroyo’s speech was interrupted by the heckling of one of the graduating students. Maria Theresa Pangilinan unfurled a streamer and called Arroyo a “fake president,” among other insults. After order had been restored, however, and the handover of the diplomas had commenced, Pangilinan was still allowed to receive her diploma—albeit under heavy guard. Contrast that outcome with what happened to Pio Emmanuel Mijares. At Independence Day rites this year in Naga City, Mijares heckled President Aquino in mid-speech, unfurling a streamer and calling him the “pork barrel king.” Mijares was immediately dragged out of the hall, arrested, detained for 36 hours on multiple charges, then released on bail. The contrast is startling, in large part because the administration that overreacted was not the one whose political legitimacy came under attack but the one whose electoral mandate remains unquestioned. People may or may not agree with the substance of Mijares’ political statement, but he had every right to say it. Consider what senators in 2006 said regarding Pangilinan: “Embarrassing the president is not a crime,” Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., the Senate minority leader at that time, told reporters. Senate President Franklin Drilon, once a member of Arroyo’s inner circle but by 2006 a leader of the opposition, reminded the public that Pangilinan was “just a student and every Filipino has a right to express his or her sentiment.” READ MORE...

(ALSO) Philstar Column: VIP jailbirds

Let’s see… if a hungry, impoverished man steals P100 and is caught, he could get beaten up by a mob before he is tossed into a dingy, crowded jail, there to rot for months because he has no money to post bail. If, on the other hand, a businesswoman makes a career of thievery and steals P10 billion from taxpayers, she bags a meeting at Malacañang with the president of the republic no less, gets an entire bungalow to herself as her jail plus a month-long hysterectomy furlough in a hospital. Her alleged cohorts – legislators sworn to uphold the law – are also accused of stealing billions, not because of hunger but because they can, and because in this country, you can never be too thin, too botoxed or stem celled, or too rich. They are set to be detained in remodeled private cells, with gleaming tiled floors, private toilet and shower and kitchenette. Imelda Marcos, accused but never convicted of stealing billions, famously borrowed a line from George Orwell, that some are more equal than others, and she is living proof of this. Life is unfair, and nowhere more so than in societies such as ours where the demarcation lines between the .001 percent and the rest are as solid as the high walls built around gated villages to keep out the riff-raff. Among the residents of these exclusive villages are the thieves who steal billions. When caught, they seek to maintain their privileged lifestyles even in jail – and how easily we oblige them. Police and local government jails hold detainees who have not been convicted and are therefore presumed innocent. Those convicted are sent to the national prisons. Whether convicted with finality or presumed innocent, however, a free society that claims to be just and humane is supposed to respect certain rights of inmates. The thrust of modern penology is also supposed to be rehabilitation rather than punishment. Those rights include decent incarceration facilities. Unfortunately, we tend to remember these rights, including the presumption of innocence, only when the inmates are VIPs. For petty thieves and other riff-raff, innocent or not, grimy cells with poor ventilation, infested with cockroaches, mosquitoes and rodents will do. Inmates sleep on double and sometime triple-deck bunks, and use stinking common toilets and baths where the dirt and slime have become resistant even to industrial muriatic acid. READ MORE...

(ALSO) Inquirer: Our leaders, our problem

“When our politicians sleep, our nation moves forward.” You will find this message in many of the streets in Rio de Janeiro these days. When you reflect upon what’s happening in our country today, with many senators and congressmen and other high government officials implicated in the pork barrel scam, it is easy to agree with that maxim. It sounds true because there is so much truth to it. In fact, I have personally come to a conclusion that today’s “biggest obstacle” to our nation’s progress is our own leaders. I refused to verbalize this in the past, much less, write about it. It is very tragic. But consider the following facts. Let me begin with Ferdinand Marcos. He was brilliant and intellectually superior than many of his peers, not only in the Philippines but also in Asia. In 1968, then US President Lyndon Johnson called Marcos “his right arm” in Southeast Asia. When Marcos ruled the Philippines from 1965 to 1986, Lee Kuan Yew ruled Singapore from 1959 to 1991. Park Chung Hee ruled South Korea from 1961 to 1979, while Mahathir Mohamad ruled Malaysia from 1981 to 2003. They were all contemporary dictators, only varying in shades and degrees. But how come Lee Kuan Yew transformed Singapore from being one of the poorest countries in 1959 to one of the most prosperous in Asia by 1991? How come Park Chung Hee was able to elevate his South Korea from being an “impossible country” in 1961 to one of Asia’s economic miracles in 1979? How come Mahathir was able to do the same to Malaysia? And to think that our Philippines had a great head start in 1965, when Marcos became president. That year, the Philippines was ranked second only to Japan in the entire Asia in terms of economic performance. What went wrong? Leadership. Sincere, committed leadership. In the 2004 Global Transparency Report, Marcos was second on the list of “The World’s Most Corrupt Leaders.” He was alleged to have stolen $10 billion during his presidency. In contrast, when Park Chung Hee died in 1979, he left only one property, an old apartment that he bought before he became president in 1961. Some Koreans put up a trust fund to support his family. In 1948, then Philippine Senate President Jose Avelino was alleged to have said “What are we in power for?” Whenever I look at our present Congress, it is very difficult to see any hope. Of course, there are a few good senators and representatives. But as a constitutional body, it is not performing its mandate of passing laws to promote the common good. Last year, it passed only one law of national significance, the postponement of the national SK elections. And we spent over P35 billion for that! The present Congress has become a major obstacle for the much-needed reform legislation, like the antipolitical dynasty, the freedom of information bills, to cite two. Most of the lawmakers seem to be merely promoting their own interest and big business’ interest. They are not promoting our people’s interest. According to a 2014 study by AIM Policy Study Center, around 75 percent of the members of Congress belong to political dynasties, while around 80 percent of the governors and mayors nationwide belong to political dynasties. Under the 2014 national budget, P27 billion is allotted to Congress while P342 billion is allotted to all governors, mayors and barangays. Almost 80 percent of all these funds will go to political dynasties nationwide. In 1992, then President Fidel Ramos and Gen. Jose Almonte said that one of the biggest problems of our country is monopoly—monopoly in politics by political dynasties, monopoly in business by the oligarchs, and monopoly in land ownership by the landlords. READ MORE...

(ALSO) Philstar: Time For a new da chief, Time to let Alcala go

When Congressman Proceso Alcala was appointed Secretary of the Department of Agriculture in 2010, he projected an image of a “probinsyano” who understood farming and farmers. But he did make promises that seemed to be the answer to the age old dream of food security for the Philippines. In one press conference in 2011, this is what he said: “We must develop the entrepreneurial drive in each farmer so that they do not rely on the government. Any intervention we do, the recipients must be able to pay back by way of better production, more yield. This way, we can attain self sufficiency by 2016, not only in rice but with corn, onion, garlic and other produce.” Sometime during the middle of 2013, the National Food Authority (NFA) said there was no shortage in the supply of rice. In fact, during that period, it was reported that the Philippines had exported 35 metric tons of rice to Dubai. Then Agriculture Secretary Alcala reported that the country was exporting 45 metric tons of premium rice to Singapore. Another 20 metric tons was to be exported to the United States. This was supposed to be part of the 100 metric tons of premium rice that the government was targeting to export. In another news report in August 2013, Alcala said: “We are confident we could attain 100% sufficiency in rice by the end of the year [2013]. As we continue providing farmers needed irrigation, quality seeds, post harvest and marketing assistance.” Today, a year after all those rosy announcements, here is the rice situation. The prevailing price of well milled rice is around P42 per kilo. However, the NFA is expected to double its releases of rice to the market in order to moderate the prices. Furthermore, Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo, who chairs the National Price Coordinating Council, said there will be no further increases in rice prices because more than 800,000 tons of rice is being imported and will be arriving in August. The NFA is the primary agency tasked to ensure that there is adequate supply of rice and that there should be price stability of rice prices in the market. This agency has been in the center of controversies and allegations of corruption especially in the time of Arthur Yap, who headed the agency during the term of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. But even under Alcala these controversies and allegations did not end. READ MORE...

(ALSO) Philstar: Miserere Nobis – Have mercy on us

I hear the cries of the three senators who have been slapped with graft and plunder charges for alleged misuse of public funds and involvement in the pork barrel scam. I pity their families, their children and their wives who suffer the ridicule and humiliation of the public. But if justice must be served, then so be it. Such is the life of a politician! I remember a story told to me by my paternal grandma, Pelagia. She told me that on my grandpa Benito’s farewell blessings, moments before he died, he called my father Maximo in and strongly exhorted him never to enter politics for he will discover in the end, in colleagues whose loyalty he might never have questioned, only betrayal. It seems like Senator Enrile, Senator Estrada and Senator Revilla feel very much the same way. The question is, were they really betrayed? Or did they betray the country? In this trying hour of great mercy for the country and for our people, I share a poem written by my father, the late Maximo V. Soliven, entitled, "Miserere Nobis: Against desparing, Thou Lord of Sorrows defend me; Help me to bear for Thee a fate more dross; Master of Pities, Thy strength and courage lend me to bear my hardships as Thou hast borne Thy Cross! The night is dark, the road is steep and weary, the path untried. I slip upon the moss, yet light of heaven, though the march be long and dreary, sustain me in my hour of bitterest lost! With God and man, eternal love be blinded. Twixt man and man, eternal friendship set. Against self-pity, each suffering mortal blinded. In helping others, one’s own bleak hours to forget. The way is long, but Lord, were it still longer, strive on I will, and bear the galling loss. With every staggering step, Lord make my heart still stronger. In sympathy for those who bear a heavier cross! * * * In the Philippines, there is a distinction between “jail” and “prison.” “Jail” is a place of confinement for inmates under investigation or undergoing trial, or serving short-term sentence. The term “prison” refers to the national prisons or penitentiaries managed and supervised by the Bureau of Corrections, under the Department of Justice. CONTINUE READING...


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Editor's Pick > Chill


NAGA CITY, Philippines—President Aquino was momentarily distracted from his Independence Day speech here on Thursday when a college student suddenly yelled out his discontent with the government. The student, identified by Karapatan-Bicol spokesman Paul Vincent Casilihan as Pio Mijares, 19, was quickly taken away by members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) after he shouted, “Out with the pork barrel king! There is no change in the Philippines!” Casilihan said Mijares was a psychology student at Ateneo de Naga University. Mijares was standing 45 meters away from the stage at Plaza Quince Martires where Aquino was speaking. The President continued with his speech after PSG officers had taken Mijares away. PHOTO NEWS FROM THE INQUIRER

MANILA, JUNE 23, 2014 (INQUIRER) It was auspicious occasion, with the President of the Philippines as guest of honor. But then a student in the audience stood up to shout at the commander in chief, disrupting the proceedings. What happened next was … well, what happened next depended on who the President was at the time.

In 2006, at the graduation ceremony of the Cavite State University in Indang, Cavite, President Gloria Arroyo’s speech was interrupted by the heckling of one of the graduating students. Maria Theresa Pangilinan unfurled a streamer and called Arroyo a “fake president,” among other insults. After order had been restored, however, and the handover of the diplomas had commenced, Pangilinan was still allowed to receive her diploma—albeit under heavy guard.

Contrast that outcome with what happened to Pio Emmanuel Mijares. At Independence Day rites this year in Naga City, Mijares heckled President Aquino in mid-speech, unfurling a streamer and calling him the “pork barrel king.” Mijares was immediately dragged out of the hall, arrested, detained for 36 hours on multiple charges, then released on bail.

The contrast is startling, in large part because the administration that overreacted was not the one whose political legitimacy came under attack but the one whose electoral mandate remains unquestioned.

People may or may not agree with the substance of Mijares’ political statement, but he had every right to say it. Consider what senators in 2006 said regarding Pangilinan: “Embarrassing the president is not a crime,” Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., the Senate minority leader at that time, told reporters. Senate President Franklin Drilon, once a member of Arroyo’s inner circle but by 2006 a leader of the opposition, reminded the public that Pangilinan was “just a student and every Filipino has a right to express his or her sentiment.”

Drilon is president of the Senate again, and again is closely allied with Malacañang. Has he come to the defense of Mijares, who is also “just a student,” and who had only exercised his right to “express his sentiment”?

Pimentel has given way to his son, Aquilino III, who ran with President Aquino’s Liberal Party Senate slate last year; has he followed in his father’s footsteps and articulated the fundamental democratic truth: that embarrassing the President is not a crime?

The use of the law’s mailed fist to hold Mijares accountable for his offense is not only unseemly; it is downright upsetting. The occasion when the fist came down hard is of special moment; if there is any date on which a citizen of the Republic can voice his opinion regardless of the consequences—or more precisely, without any consequences—it should be Independence Day.

It is a terrible mistake for the Aquino administration to prosecute a student heckler, or indeed any heckler, because it sends the wrong message, because it shows a disturbing disregard for the most basic of freedoms, because it displays a worrying readiness to rationalize the unreasonable.

Malacañang says it was the Philippine National Police which effected the arrest, and that it had nothing to do with it. We do not know whether to take this at face value, but it is true that President Aquino himself could have stopped the police from dragging the student out—perhaps by engaging him in repartee, or perhaps by simply saying, Let him be.

The result is that a young man’s not uncourageous taking of a stand was demonized, rather than taken for what it simply was: the right to free speech, freely exercised.

Another senator in 2006, Panfilo Lacson, a close ally of Mr. Aquino, warned the Arroyo administration that taking punitive action against the student heckler would “send a chilling effect on anyone expressing sentiments against the government.” The exact same argument can be raised against the Aquino administration of which he is now a part. Isn’t running after Mijares, with elaborate charges such as assault on a person of authority, merely an after-the-fact justification? Wouldn’t the sequence of events that followed Mijares’ burst of exuberance create the chilling effect we have been warned about?

Let him be.

FROM PHILSTAR

VIP jailbirds SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 20, 2014 - 12:00am

Let’s see… if a hungry, impoverished man steals P100 and is caught, he could get beaten up by a mob before he is tossed into a dingy, crowded jail, there to rot for months because he has no money to post bail.

If, on the other hand, a businesswoman makes a career of thievery and steals P10 billion from taxpayers, she bags a meeting at Malacañang with the president of the republic no less, gets an entire bungalow to herself as her jail plus a month-long hysterectomy furlough in a hospital.

Her alleged cohorts – legislators sworn to uphold the law – are also accused of stealing billions, not because of hunger but because they can, and because in this country, you can never be too thin, too botoxed or stem celled, or too rich. They are set to be detained in remodeled private cells, with gleaming tiled floors, private toilet and shower and kitchenette.

Imelda Marcos, accused but never convicted of stealing billions, famously borrowed a line from George Orwell, that some are more equal than others, and she is living proof of this.

Life is unfair, and nowhere more so than in societies such as ours where the demarcation lines between the .001 percent and the rest are as solid as the high walls built around gated villages to keep out the riff-raff.

Among the residents of these exclusive villages are the thieves who steal billions. When caught, they seek to maintain their privileged lifestyles even in jail – and how easily we oblige them.

Police and local government jails hold detainees who have not been convicted and are therefore presumed innocent. Those convicted are sent to the national prisons.

Whether convicted with finality or presumed innocent, however, a free society that claims to be just and humane is supposed to respect certain rights of inmates. The thrust of modern penology is also supposed to be rehabilitation rather than punishment.

Those rights include decent incarceration facilities. Unfortunately, we tend to remember these rights, including the presumption of innocence, only when the inmates are VIPs.

For petty thieves and other riff-raff, innocent or not, grimy cells with poor ventilation, infested with cockroaches, mosquitoes and rodents will do. Inmates sleep on double and sometime triple-deck bunks, and use stinking common toilets and baths where the dirt and slime have become resistant even to industrial muriatic acid.

* * *

Businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles is detained in a bungalow at a police camp in Laguna because, we are told, there are serious threats to her life. The threat seems plausible, but a modern jail is supposed to have special maximum security cells for such high-value inmates.

Authorities fretted that Napoles might be killed when the administration was still considering her as a state witness. This was the same explanation given for her meeting with President Aquino and his key aides at Malacañang, with these top officials escorting her to Camp Crame.

But after Napoles implicated administration allies and officials led by P-Noy’s other BFF (apart from Mar Roxas), Budget Secretary Butch Abad, in the pork barrel scam, the Palace treated her as if she had late-stage MERS. P-Noy said she could not qualify as a state witness, and state prosecutors dutifully complied.

So since her testimony is no longer of interest to daang matuwid, maybe Napoles no longer needs that bungalow jail, whose maintenance is being charged to Juan and Juana de la Cruz.

As for her co-accused, perhaps the mass incarceration of lawmakers will lead to better detention facilities for all. We don’t have special facilities for white-collar offenders or even for juveniles. Our detention facilities for women are also inadequate. A young woman I know who spent four nights in a Las Piñas jail for a minor offense remains a nervous wreck many months after she was forgiven by the complainant and freed.

* * *

A problem here is that the average taxpayer will likely balk at the allocation of funds to modernize detention facilities.

The attitude stems partly from the thought that because of the weakness of the country’s criminal justice system, people think the only punishment that will ever be suffered by criminal offenders is jail time while they are on trial. Too many cases are dismissed on technicalities, bungled arrests, or lack of interest on the part of the complainant and police. Escape is also easy, especially for moneyed detainees such as notorious drug dealers.

In the case of VIP officials charged with plunder, the pardon granted to former President Joseph Estrada after his conviction has raised the specter of a mass pardon for the nearly 200 senators and congressmen who should be indicted for misuse of their pork barrel, if the documents submitted by the Commission on Audit (COA) would be given weight.

The slowness of state prosecutors in going after all those named in the COA reports is giving the three senators reason to cry selective prosecution. They are achieving some success in presenting their prosecution as something bordering on pathological obsession on the part of daang matuwid.

Already the senators are openly considering the best way out of their legal nightmare: running again in 2016. It’s not uncommon in this country, unfortunately. When a politician is convicted, he runs for public office again – and often wins, even behind bars. When told he has terminal cancer, he runs for president.

When politicians healthy enough to run for public office are arrested for a serious offense, they invoke old age and poor health to stay out of jail. But they are always healthy and young enough to seek election again.

A remedy should be a speedy trial so that verdicts on the pork barrel cases can be reached before the elections in May 2016. But a two-year trial is rocket speed for our snail-paced justice system.

Faced with the prospect that accused plunderers might be elected in 2016, there is little public support for proposals to improve the nation’s detention facilities.

And there is indignation at the provision of comfortable VIP cells for elected officials accused of betraying public trust.

The lesson people take away from such VIP treatment is that in this country, if you’re going to steal, it’s better to steal big.

FROM THE INQUIRER

Our leaders, our problem’ By Alex Lacson Philippine Daily Inquirer 1:35 am | Friday, June 20th, 2014


By Alexander L. Lacson: a Filipino lawyer, author, lecturer, philanthropist and politician best known as the author of "12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country.", and for having run in the 2010 Philippine Senatorial Election.Because of the significance of Lacson's advocacies in a country faced with as the Philippines', one biographer has noted that "Alexander Lacson is more than just an author – he is a nation-builder."

“When our politicians sleep, our nation moves forward.” You will find this message in many of the streets in Rio de Janeiro these days.

When you reflect upon what’s happening in our country today, with many senators and congressmen and other high government officials implicated in the pork barrel scam, it is easy to agree with that maxim. It sounds true because there is so much truth to it.

In fact, I have personally come to a conclusion that today’s “biggest obstacle” to our nation’s progress is our own leaders. I refused to verbalize this in the past, much less, write about it. It is very tragic. But consider the following facts.

Let me begin with Ferdinand Marcos. He was brilliant and intellectually superior than many of his peers, not only in the Philippines but also in Asia. In 1968, then US President Lyndon Johnson called Marcos “his right arm” in Southeast Asia. When Marcos ruled the Philippines from 1965 to 1986, Lee Kuan Yew ruled Singapore from 1959 to 1991. Park Chung Hee ruled South Korea from 1961 to 1979, while Mahathir Mohamad ruled Malaysia from 1981 to 2003. They were all contemporary dictators, only varying in shades and degrees.

But how come Lee Kuan Yew transformed Singapore from being one of the poorest countries in 1959 to one of the most prosperous in Asia by 1991? How come Park Chung Hee was able to elevate his South Korea from being an “impossible country” in 1961 to one of Asia’s economic miracles in 1979? How come Mahathir was able to do the same to Malaysia?

And to think that our Philippines had a great head start in 1965, when Marcos became president. That year, the Philippines was ranked second only to Japan in the entire Asia in terms of economic performance.

What went wrong? Leadership. Sincere, committed leadership. In the 2004 Global Transparency Report, Marcos was second on the list of “The World’s Most Corrupt Leaders.” He was alleged to have stolen $10 billion during his presidency. In contrast, when Park Chung Hee died in 1979, he left only one property, an old apartment that he bought before he became president in 1961. Some Koreans put up a trust fund to support his family.

In 1948, then Philippine Senate President Jose Avelino was alleged to have said “What are we in power for?”

Whenever I look at our present Congress, it is very difficult to see any hope. Of course, there are a few good senators and representatives. But as a constitutional body, it is not performing its mandate of passing laws to promote the common good. Last year, it passed only one law of national significance, the postponement of the national SK elections. And we spent over P35 billion for that! The present Congress has become a major obstacle for the much-needed reform legislation, like the antipolitical dynasty, the freedom of information bills, to cite two. Most of the lawmakers seem to be merely promoting their own interest and big business’ interest. They are not promoting our people’s interest.

According to a 2014 study by AIM Policy Study Center, around 75 percent of the members of Congress belong to political dynasties, while around 80 percent of the governors and mayors nationwide belong to political dynasties.

Under the 2014 national budget, P27 billion is allotted to Congress while P342 billion is allotted to all governors, mayors and barangays. Almost 80 percent of all these funds will go to political dynasties nationwide.

In 1992, then President Fidel Ramos and Gen. Jose Almonte said that one of the biggest problems of our country is monopoly—monopoly in politics by political dynasties, monopoly in business by the oligarchs, and monopoly in land ownership by the landlords.

But the monopolies in business and land ownership can only be addressed by laws—through Congress. Thus, we must first find a solution to political dynasties, before we can even address the monopolies in business and land ownership.

What’s wrong with our leaders?

Is it formal education that is lacking? But most of our top government leaders are graduates of the country’s top schools: e.g., Juan Ponce Enrile, Edgardo Angara and Jinggoy Estrada from UP Diliman. In fact, most of our senators, congressmen, Cabinet secretaries, and governors are alumni of top schools. Perhaps, at least 75 percent of them. Many of them studied abroad too. So if our top leaders are graduates of the so-called top schools in our country, why is our country the way it is today?

Is it lack of fear of God’s wrath and justice in hell? But most of our top government leaders are Christians, many of whom are Catholics. Most likely, at least 80 percent of our government leaders went to a Christian school either for primary and/or secondary education.

Ah, perhaps many of them have not learned the fundamental teaching of Jesus Christ when He said: “Whatever you do to the least of your neighbors, you do to Me.” God is in every person, essentially that is Jesus’ message. But many of our leaders do not see God among their fellow Filipinos. That’s why fooling them, or stealing from them, or taking advantage of their weakness does not bother their conscience.

At school and in media, there’s too much emphasis on personal success. The common good is seldom discussed. As a result, many of our graduates become too individualistic, too focused on getting ahead of the rest.

“Everything rises and falls with leadership,” says leadership guru John Maxwell.

Celebrating our Independence Day, our people need to know that our enemy is no longer the Spaniards, or the Americans, or the Japanese, or the Marcos dictatorship, but our own leaders who promote only their selfish interest.

FROM PHILSTAR

Time to let Alcala go BREAKTHROUGH By Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 22, 2014 - 12:00am


By Elfren S. Cruz

When Congressman Proceso Alcala was appointed Secretary of the Department of Agriculture in 2010, he projected an image of a “probinsyano” who understood farming and farmers. But he did make promises that seemed to be the answer to the age old dream of food security for the Philippines.

In one press conference in 2011, this is what he said: “We must develop the entrepreneurial drive in each farmer so that they do not rely on the government. Any intervention we do, the recipients must be able to pay back by way of better production, more yield. This way, we can attain self sufficiency by 2016, not only in rice but with corn, onion, garlic and other produce.”

Sometime during the middle of 2013, the National Food Authority (NFA) said there was no shortage in the supply of rice. In fact, during that period, it was reported that the Philippines had exported 35 metric tons of rice to Dubai.

Then Agriculture Secretary Alcala reported that the country was exporting 45 metric tons of premium rice to Singapore. Another 20 metric tons was to be exported to the United States. This was supposed to be part of the 100 metric tons of premium rice that the government was targeting to export.

In another news report in August 2013, Alcala said: “We are confident we could attain 100% sufficiency in rice by the end of the year [2013]. As we continue providing farmers needed irrigation, quality seeds, post harvest and marketing assistance.”

Today, a year after all those rosy announcements, here is the rice situation. The prevailing price of well milled rice is around P42 per kilo. However, the NFA is expected to double its releases of rice to the market in order to moderate the prices. Furthermore, Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo, who chairs the National Price Coordinating Council, said there will be no further increases in rice prices because more than 800,000 tons of rice is being imported and will be arriving in August.

The NFA is the primary agency tasked to ensure that there is adequate supply of rice and that there should be price stability of rice prices in the market. This agency has been in the center of controversies and allegations of corruption especially in the time of Arthur Yap, who headed the agency during the term of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. But even under Alcala these controversies and allegations did not end.

Fortunately, President Aquino removed the NFA from the Department of Agriculture and placed it, together with other agencies, under his new Food Czar former Senator Kiko Pangilinan. Hopefully we will finally witness a thorough cleansing of this agency and a more efficient and effective means of ensuring adequate rice supply and price stability.

As far back as the 1950s, rice self sufficiency has been a goal of every administration. It has been our vision for this nation to be able to provide sufficient food for its people. This has meant rice because this is the staple food of the Filipino. The goal then is to produce rice locally in sufficient quantity to meet the requirements of our fast growing population.

Unfortunately we have failed to meet this goal. Over the years, rice has also become more expensive in the Philippines than in most developing countries of Asia. Therefore, the poor have to keep paying more for this staple food. Some have estimated that those living below the poverty levels have spent around 20% of their household expenditure on rice alone. This situation is said to partly explain why there is a much higher incidence of absolute poverty in the Philippines than in Indonesia or Thailand.

This failure of the Alcala Agriculture Department is its greatest sin of omission or broken promise. But this is not the only one.

Coconuts are the Philippines’ main agricultural exports with revenues amounting to more than $1 billion a year. The country provides more than 59% of the world output of cocout oil which is used in cooking, cosmetics, soap manufacturing, and as a fuel additive.

But a dangerous insect has attacked our coconuts. These insects inject a chemical in the coconut trees. This process turns the leaves yellow and robs them of their ability to produce food for the coconut tree. Mortality rate due to infestation is 59% and fruit yield drops by an average 59%.

If the insect infestation is not stopped, the country could lose as much as $682 million a year in export earnings. Presidential Assistant on Food Security Kiko Pangilinan has estimated the losses as follows: “If left without intervention, you will have P12 billion losses in Region 4, another P13 billion losses in Region 5, and around P7 billion potential losses in Region 9, with a 58% decrease” in yield per tree.

President Aquino has issued an Executive Order imposing emergency measures in areas affected by the coconut insect infestation. The Philippine Coconut Authority was removed from the jurisdiction of Alcala and placed under Pangilinan.

There are 3.5 million hectares or around 27% of total agricultural land planted with coconuts. There are around 3.5 million coconut farmers and it has been estimated that around 25 million Filipinos are directly or indirectly dependent on the coconut industry.

Drastic steps are being taken to stop the infestation aside from pruning and spraying; checkpoints are being set up to quarantine areas infected by the disease. The infestation is expected to be stopped this year and the local coconut industry to recover in two years.

Alcala had also promised garlic self sufficiency by 2016. Now we have a sudden spike in prices supposedly due to shortages in garlic supply, and his response was a typical politician’s response. He created a National Garlic Action Team (NGAT).

But in a news interview NGAT had this to say: “Pinagtatakahan nga namin ang pagtaas ng presyo ng bawang sapagkat mataas pa rin ang nakikita naming presyo nito sa mga pangunahing pamilihan...” In short, he doesn’t know what is happening.

Under Alcala’s watch, the DA has failed to successfully meet the challenges under its responsibility. This includes irrigation; self sufficiency in rice and other food produce; coconut infestation and breaking the commodity cartels. The agencies responsible for confronting these challenges have been removed from Alcala and transferred to Pangilinan. But this is not enough.

It is time for new leadership in the Department of Agriculture. It is time to let Alcala go.

FROM PHILSTAR

Miserere Nobis – Have mercy on us AS A MATTER OF FACT By Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 23, 2014 - 12:00am 0 3 googleplus1 0

I hear the cries of the three senators who have been slapped with graft and plunder charges for alleged misuse of public funds and involvement in the pork barrel scam. I pity their families, their children and their wives who suffer the ridicule and humiliation of the public. But if justice must be served, then so be it. Such is the life of a politician!

I remember a story told to me by my paternal grandma, Pelagia. She told me that on my grandpa Benito’s farewell blessings, moments before he died, he called my father Maximo in and strongly exhorted him never to enter politics for he will discover in the end, in colleagues whose loyalty he might never have questioned, only betrayal.

It seems like Senator Enrile, Senator Estrada and Senator Revilla feel very much the same way. The question is, were they really betrayed? Or did they betray the country?

In this trying hour of great mercy for the country and for our people, I share a poem written by my father, the late Maximo V. Soliven, entitled, Miserere Nobis:

Against desparing, Thou Lord of Sorrows defend me; Help me to bear for Thee a fate more dross; Master of Pities, Thy strength and courage lend me to bear my hardships as Thou hast borne Thy Cross!

The night is dark, the road is steep and weary, the path untried. I slip upon the moss, yet light of heaven, though the march be long and dreary, sustain me in my hour of bitterest lost!

With God and man, eternal love be blinded. Twixt man and man, eternal friendship set. Against self-pity, each suffering mortal blinded. In helping others, one’s own bleak hours to forget.

The way is long, but Lord, were it still longer, strive on I will, and bear the galling loss. With every staggering step, Lord make my heart still stronger. In sympathy for those who bear a heavier cross!

* * *

In the Philippines, there is a distinction between “jail” and “prison.” “Jail” is a place of confinement for inmates under investigation or undergoing trial, or serving short-term sentence. The term “prison” refers to the national prisons or penitentiaries managed and supervised by the Bureau of Corrections, under the Department of Justice.

Jails include provincial, district, city and municipal jails managed and supervised by the provincial government and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP). Both are under the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

There are four classes of prisoners: insular or national prisoner, one who is sentenced to a prison term of three years and one day to death or reclusion perpetua (life imprisonment); provincial prisoner, one who is sentenced to a prison term of six months and one day to three years; city prisoner, one who is sentenced to a prison term of one day to three years; and municipal prisoner, one who is sentenced to a prison term of one day to six months.

Municipal and city prisoners are committed to municipal, city or district jails managed by the BJMP. A district jail is a cluster of small jails, each having a monthly average population of ten or less inmates and is located in the vicinity of the court. When the imposable penalty for the crime committed is more than six months and the same was committed within the municipality, the offender must serve his or her sentence in the provincial jail which is under the Office of the Governor. Where the penalty imposed exceeds three years, the offender shall serve his or her sentence in the penal institutions of the BuCor.

Those involved in high profile cases are committed at the NBI, Camp Crame or Camp Sto. Domingo. Political prisoners are held in Bicutan while the moneyed and powerful can have the luxury of being detained in a hospital. Sanamagan! Only in the Philippines!

There are three types of detainees: those undergoing investigation; those awaiting or undergoing trial; and those awaiting final judgment, treatment or punishment.

Prison conditions in the Philippines have been generally poor, and prison life harsh. The Philippine Jail System has been guilty of violating the human rights of prisoners by neglecting what ought to be done and just turning a blind eye on the plight of the prisoners.

There is also a certain level of unfairness in the treatment of prisoners. It is a fact that wealthy prisoners are accorded special treatment – comfortable rooms with air-condition, televisions, laptops, cellphones, good-sized beds, lazy-boy recliners and good food. On the other hand, ordinary detainees including political prisoners suffer in the miserable conditions of their prison cells.

Overcrowding, food, sanitation, health, safety (particularly women prisoners), social services are major concerns in the country’s jail system not to mention the extent of ‘freedom’ given to prisoners especially to the VIPs. Incidentally, that decision to dismiss two doctors, Dr. Gloria Achazo-Garcia, acting head NBP Hospital and Dr. Ma Cecilia Villanueva, medical specialist) at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City for allowing the private hospitalization of some high-profile inmates without the consent of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima is laudable. Also relieved from their posts were, NBP head Fajardo Lansangan; chief, NBP Escort Unit and Prison Superintendent Gabriel Magan, and 12 jail guards. This, I hope will send the right message to all those who continue to circumvent the law. But the bottom line is that, there has been no consistency in the implementation of rules.

Human rights group Karapatan and Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda) cited in a joint position submitted to the House of Representatives Committee on Justice, that the exposés on the special treatment and privileges given to VIPs and moneyed prisoners are just the tip of the iceberg of the prevalent unjust jail conditions in the Philippines.

When Martial Law was imposed my father was sent to jail. Our family cried for justice but no one listened. My father like Ninoy Aquino was locked up in a bare prison cell with a hard bed, one pillow and an electric fan. Today, government officials who are sent to jail live in comfort and yet they demand for more. So, what’s the point in sending one to jail if he or she will not suffer at all?

As for the Senator who is now in jail and for those joining him, this is the best time for discernment.

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” – Nelson Mandela


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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