INQUIRER EDITORIAL/OPINION

EDITORIAL: NOT A DINNER PARTY 

If the protesters at the University of the Philippines Diliman are “loathsome hooligans,” then why is it that until today the 1970 First Quarter Storm and the 1971 Diliman Commune are still cited as high points in the democratic struggle? These involved students either barricading a campus or pelting a president with sticks and stones. Or why half of those we honor at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani are idealistic students who took to the hills and suffered the ultimate hooliganism—death in torture chambers or by the barrel of a gun?
This is not to glorify the threat to the physical safety of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, or to deprecate the university as a sanctuary for unpopular ideas. Abad faced his critics and earned “street cred” for his courage and daring. The acts committed against him were deplorable. And if the mob had actually seized him? That would have been downright criminal.

But the students’ critics also owe us a coherent account of what makes campus protest illegitimate. We cannot isolate the Abad incident, and ignore the egg-throwing incident involving Gen. Hermogenes Esperon (because of forced  disappearances under Gloria Arroyo), or the attack on a UP Board of Regents member, retired Supreme Court justice Abraham Sarmiento, whose car was surrounded and damaged by students protesting tuition increases. Either these were all bad, or how do we pick and choose? As has been famously said, “A revolution is not a dinner party… It cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous.” Why ask the protesters of UP Diliman to debate over cocktails with raised pinkies when they’re convinced that the moment calls for raised fists?
Still we must respond to two powerful arguments against the students. One, the times are now different. Marcos is frozen in his Batac mausoleum and we are no longer under martial law. Two, the students must honor the democratic space we regained at Edsa, most especially in academia, its most sacrosanct district where reason reigns supreme. * READ MORE...

ALSO Editorial: Brutal, simplistic  

The threat posed by the so-called Islamic State is no longer confined to Iraq and Syria, or to Iraq and the Levant (as the alternative names of the insurgency-movement-group once suggested). Now the IS, or its brutally simplified ideology, may be taking root in the Philippines and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Officials are careful to say that, while they take the new development seriously, there is as yet no hard evidence that IS is in fact in our part of the world. National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia belittled the act of an Abu Sayyaf group swearing allegiance to the IS on YouTube as a “shallow show of support,” and argued that there was nothing more to that disturbing video. “We don’t think there is an organizational link between [IS] and [the Abu Sayyaf], or any Philippine terrorist jihadi group for that matter.”

The Armed Forces spokesperson, Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, said much the same thing: “We believe that there is no direct link, that they are possibly sympathizers jumping on the bandwagon to gain popular support…. To directly say that [IS] is here—there are no indications of that.” But the Abu Sayyaf has threatened to kill one of two German hostages it has abducted by Oct. 10 if Germany did not withdraw its support for the ongoing air war waged by United States-led forces on the Islamic State. And Malaysia, with whom the Philippines shares a porous border, arrested three “aspiring jihadists” at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Thursday. The frightening thing: These Malaysians, ready to die for the IS cause, were recruited only three months ago, on Facebook. Here we may see the true extent of the borderlessness of the IS threat: Beyond Iraq or Syria or indeed the geographical limits of the Middle East, the sweeping brutality of the IS cause (an absolutist distortion of Islam that justifies the wholesale slaughter of innocents, publicized in large part through the release of stark video of high-profile beheadings) seems to have an appeal that extends to, or is extended through, social media.

An exclusive report in the Star of Malaysia, a partner of the Inquirer in the Asia News Network, drew a bleak portrait: “Three would-be Malaysian jihadists … were enlisted into the Islamic State (IS) terror group by a senior Malaysian militant who used Facebook to lure members. The architect and a technician, both 26, and a 42-year-old shopkeeper were part of a wider network, all of whom joined IS to achieve martyrdom in their ‘false’ jihad.” * READ MORE...

ALSO: Let’s call a spade a spade 

Senator Francis Escudero recently proposed that the nation “move forward” by allowing the burial of dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ body at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. As a young politician appealing to young voters, Escudero appears to be courting both sides of the fence—the crony regime who will benefit from the forgetfulness, his dad being a cohort, and the majority of the exploited, misinformed and uninformed teeming masses. He is acting exactly like a traditional politician—one seemingly willing to compromise the moral compass on which good governance is based. Indeed, his proposal is a slap in the face for all the martial law torture victims, whether dead or alive, and the thousands of families left behind.

It’s a brilliant strategy I can equate with the survival instincts and cunning of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, now detained and awaiting trial for plunder. Enrile is an architect of martial law who commanded the Armed Forces but managed to rehabilitate himself to become a shrewd politician, courtesy of the education-deprived masses. It is futile to represent our entire workforce as highly educated. We know for a fact that most college graduates were not taught well about our history—hell, not even our most recent history, including the evils of the Marcos dictatorship. If the argument is that Marcos deserves to be buried in the Libingan because he served in the military during World War II (despite his fake medals being exposed), or he became president of this country, then use that argument to convince Germany to bury Hitler in a cemetery reserved for heroes. Do that for Pinochet, for Pol Pot, for Gaddafi.

Vice President Jojo Binay has recommended that the dictator be buried in the Ilocos, with full military honors. If he so believes the justification to accord Marcos such honors, then why not insist on burial at the Libingan? Or does he just want to accommodate the two sides of the divide, and the hell with what’s right or wrong? Binay was a crusader who risked life and limb during martial law, only to succumb to his taste for power. Who’s he partying with? The dictator’s son and namesake, who keeps denying that his father did anything wrong. Or partying, with all the pun intended, with a convicted plunderer, Joseph Estrada. As he accommodates the dictator’s son, he must therefore accommodate the plunder convict’s son, who is in jail for the second time around for the charge of plunder.

Chiz Escudero insists that we should have closure by putting “a dot at the end of the sentence” vis a vis the dictator’s body. Well, put closure first to the crimes committed by the operators of martial law and their crony-capitalist perpetrators. How fair is it that you want to accord honor to a dictator while damning the victims—in essence the entire country and its future generations, who have yet to get a sense of justice? We have the son, the daughter, and their mother back in power, as senator, governor and congresswoman, respectively. If that’s not enough to jolt the sanity of any self-respecting citizen of the world, I don’t know what will.

ALSO: Perspective and context of the proposed BBL 

The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is now officially introduced to both houses of Congress. In the House of Representatives, it is known as House Bill No. 4994; in the Senate, it is Senate Bill No. 2408. It is titled “An Act providing for the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro and abolishing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Repealing for the purpose RA 9054 and RA 6734.” “Public briefings, “public hearings,” fora and talk shops are being conducted by both legislative chambers and various concerned groups, prominent of which is the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG). Upon submission of the proposed BBL to Congress, IAG, in partnership with Notre Dame University and the Notre Dame Broadcasting Corp. (which operates five radio stations) and with the oldest local provincial paper, the Mindanao Cross, scheduled five talk shops in Central Mindanao (the region which also covers the present ARMM) and one national forum cosponsored by the Unicef.

The rationale for these talk shops and fora is to “unpack” the proposed BBL for people to understand, and to give platforms for people to air their views and comments on the proposal and related issues. The first talk shop broadcast live in the whole of Central Mindanao was on Sept. 18. It tackled all issues on the political autonomy that the proposed BBL aims to achieve. There are more scheduled talk shops on the economy, wealth sharing, policing and security, as well as on the basic rights and the concerns of the indigenous peoples. Last Sept. 25, the Senate committees on local government (the lead committee) and on peace, reconciliation and unity, jointly conducted the first public briefing on SB 2408. The former is chaired by Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and the latter by the Sen. Teofisto “TG” Guingona, III.

The representatives from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) and the government’s peace panels were no match to the wit of Senator Marcos and Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, both of whom asked pointed questions on the relations between the Local Government Code and the proposed BBL, particularly on the operational control of the Bangsamoro police and the administration of the internal revenue allocation or IRA. Sad to say, the dismal performance of the Opapp, the government panel and their green lawyers during the briefing did not augur well for a real understanding of the proposed BBL—an issue that brings not only “newness” and freshness into understanding decentralization but also real political empowerment and real supervision and control over local resources beyond the traditional understanding of devolution.

As an independent watcher, I simply could not fathom why government sent amateurs to explain and defend the proposed BBL. I would think that government, for this very high level of public briefing and consultation, would muster the best lawyers and consultants not only to show the difference and relations between the proposed BBL, on the one hand, and the Local Government Code and Republic Act No. 9054 or the ARMM Organic Act, on the other. * READ MORE...

ALSO: Inclusion, not exclusion  

Pope Francis has brought inclusiveness, among other things, to the Church, literally opening its doors to those it has long excluded—the lowly and the lapsed, as well as those with nonconformist lifestyles. He has brought about this great change both in word and deed, and called on the faithful to redirect their emphasis from the pompous to the practical, from indulgence to action. This stance is central to Francis’ vision of a Church that matters and cares: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.”

On our shores, a meaningful change has occurred in the yearly Feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, with Nueva Caceres Archbishop Rolando Tria Tirona ending the tradition of “elite” members of the community exclusively accompanying the venerated image fondly called “Ina” on the pagoda boat during the fluvial procession. The nine-day feast, held this year on Sept. 12-20, is over 300 years old and was estimated to have drawn over two million pilgrims to Naga City. As in the yearly feast honoring the Black Nazarene of Quiapo, a heaving sea of Peñafrancia devotees (notably male, barefoot, in various stages of intoxication) transports the image of the patroness of the Bicol region from its shrine at the Basilica Minore to the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral three kilometers away. The culminating event of the feast is the fluvial parade, in which the image is borne on a pagoda boat through the Naga River back to the basilica.

Part of the tradition of the feast was the selection of 200 members of the elite who would accompany the image on the pagoda boat. It is not clear just when this practice of limiting the privilege to the prominent and powerful—including politicians, priests, businessmen and celebrities—began. But, with Francis showing the way, the Bicol clergy led by Tirona decided that ordinary folk would now share the privilege of escorting Ina on the boat. Thus, Tirona called on each diocese and archdiocese in the region to send its representatives. Thus, on Sept 20 fishermen and farmers experienced the honor from which they had long been excluded. Farmer Primo Velasco traveled all the way from Polangui in Albay to take part in the fluvial parade. “Now that I am honored to be on Ina’s pagoda boat, I think this is a sure sign that I was right in choosing to live a God-centered life,” he told Inquirer Southern Luzon. * READ MORE...


READ FULL REPORTS HERE:

Not a dinner party

MANILA, SEPTEMBER 29, 2014 (INQUIRER) If the protesters at the University of the Philippines Diliman are “loathsome hooligans,” then why is it that until today the 1970 First Quarter Storm and the 1971 Diliman Commune are still cited as high points in the democratic struggle? These involved students either barricading a campus or pelting a president with sticks and stones. Or why half of those we honor at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani are idealistic students who took to the hills and suffered the ultimate hooliganism—death in torture chambers or by the barrel of a gun?

This is not to glorify the threat to the physical safety of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, or to deprecate the university as a sanctuary for unpopular ideas. Abad faced his critics and earned “street cred” for his courage and daring. The acts committed against him were deplorable. And if the mob had actually seized him? That would have been downright criminal.

But the students’ critics also owe us a coherent account of what makes campus protest illegitimate. We cannot isolate the Abad incident, and ignore the egg-throwing incident involving Gen. Hermogenes Esperon (because of forced disappearances under Gloria Arroyo), or the attack on a UP Board of Regents member, retired Supreme Court justice Abraham Sarmiento, whose car was surrounded and damaged by students protesting tuition increases.

Either these were all bad, or how do we pick and choose?

As has been famously said, “A revolution is not a dinner party… It cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous.” Why ask the protesters of UP Diliman to debate over cocktails with raised pinkies when they’re convinced that the moment calls for raised fists?

Still we must respond to two powerful arguments against the students. One, the times are now different. Marcos is frozen in his Batac mausoleum and we are no longer under martial law. Two, the students must honor the democratic space we regained at Edsa, most especially in academia, its most sacrosanct district where reason reigns supreme.

* The first argument is correct but easily surmountable. “The times they are a-changin,’” and they’re much better for civil rights. But liberalism says we cannot impose that premise upon the students. They protest because corruption by predatory politicians continues unabated.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. We shouldn’t demand that they agree with us and accept our conclusions as their starting premise. It is illiberal, even fascistic, to say to the youth, If you want to have your own opinion, I’ll give it to you.

The second argument is a bit more formidable.

Aggressive protest is okay anywhere else but not in our academic backyard. The economics professors said: Secretary Abad is “covered by the same blanket of academic freedom and safe passage that the University guarantees to all who set foot on campus. … The purpose of that high privilege is to guarantee a free traffic in diverse ideas … which is the lifeblood of a liberal academic institution.”

That was lyrical and elegant—and indeed it’s astonishing to discover the inner poet in the people who write soporific prose like that found in Neda’s Medium-Term Development Plan.

Their theory is correct but incomplete. Indeed, the learned guilds must be preserved as a haven for sober debate. But shouldn’t there be a place for righteous outrage in the high citadels of learning?

Have we forgotten that at the height of Marcos’ rule, when the Filipino people were still apathetic before Ninoy Aquino was murdered, that we feared the loss of our capacity for moral outrage? That we had become political eunuchs unable to lust for justice? And now we tell young people to moderate their passions?

The theory is most incomplete when it asks that, in effect, the protesters be hunted and punished despite the fact that, providentially, no one was hurt. How worrisome when those who preach the Invisible Hand in things economic call for the use of the iron hand of the state on things political.

They are very correct on one point: The university is where “debates are won not by assault but by argument, not by shouting down but by speaking up.”

Then let everyone—the faculty, students and administration—speak up on the issues of the day: corruption, human rights, hazing, rising tuition, etc.

It will be the height of irony for those who do not speak to pass judgment on those who do, and then get finicky about good manners and right conduct. They are scandalized by the crudeness of protest but not by the indecency of keeping silent.

Brutal, simplistic Philippine Daily Inquirer 12:14 AM | Monday, September 29th, 2014



The threat posed by the so-called Islamic State is no longer confined to Iraq and Syria, or to Iraq and the Levant (as the alternative names of the insurgency-movement-group once suggested). Now the IS, or its brutally simplified ideology, may be taking root in the Philippines and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Officials are careful to say that, while they take the new development seriously, there is as yet no hard evidence that IS is in fact in our part of the world. National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia belittled the act of an Abu Sayyaf group swearing allegiance to the IS on YouTube as a “shallow show of support,” and argued that there was nothing more to that disturbing video. “We don’t think there is an organizational link between [IS] and [the Abu Sayyaf], or any Philippine terrorist jihadi group for that matter.”

The Armed Forces spokesperson, Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, said much the same thing: “We believe that there is no direct link, that they are possibly sympathizers jumping on the bandwagon to gain popular support…. To directly say that [IS] is here—there are no indications of that.”

But the Abu Sayyaf has threatened to kill one of two German hostages it has abducted by Oct. 10 if Germany did not withdraw its support for the ongoing air war waged by United States-led forces on the Islamic State. And Malaysia, with whom the Philippines shares a porous border, arrested three “aspiring jihadists” at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Thursday.

The frightening thing: These Malaysians, ready to die for the IS cause, were recruited only three months ago, on Facebook. Here we may see the true extent of the borderlessness of the IS threat: Beyond Iraq or Syria or indeed the geographical limits of the Middle East, the sweeping brutality of the IS cause (an absolutist distortion of Islam that justifies the wholesale slaughter of innocents, publicized in large part through the release of stark video of high-profile beheadings) seems to have an appeal that extends to, or is extended through, social media.

An exclusive report in the Star of Malaysia, a partner of the Inquirer in the Asia News Network, drew a bleak portrait: “Three would-be Malaysian jihadists … were enlisted into the Islamic State (IS) terror group by a senior Malaysian militant who used Facebook to lure members. The architect and a technician, both 26, and a 42-year-old shopkeeper were part of a wider network, all of whom joined IS to achieve martyrdom in their ‘false’ jihad.”

* The idea of a wider network coincides with the analysis of security specialists which posit that “more than 100 people” from Malaysia and Indonesia have already gone to Syria to join the IS, and with the report from the American admiral who heads the US Pacific Command that “around 1,000 recruits from India to the Pacific” may have already joined IS.

What has drawn these recruits from our part of the world to the battlefields of Syria and Iraq? The lure of jihad, even of the false kind, has not been limited to IS. Some of the founding members of the Abu Sayyaf, for instance, had fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s, drawn (like Osama bin Laden of Saudi Arabia) by the opportunity to fight beside other Islamic fighters in a war against the heathen.

The clarity of alternative that IS seems to project is another strong source of attraction. In the black-and-white world of the Islamic State, there is no room for doubt or confusion; either you are with them or against them. And if you are with them, you are permitted any act of violence. Or, rather, any violence, even the mass killing of children, is justified. To those who think that nuance is a bad word, or uncertainty an ostentatious luxury, or democracy a messy process, this simplistic brutality can seem attractive.

There may be a third factor. IS may be recruiting through Twitter or Facebook because social media as well as digital media make such recruitment possible. Instead of opening the digital citizen’s world to diverse sources of information and attitudes, platforms like Twitter and Facebook can also drastically narrow a citizen’s range of options. What academics call group polarization happens often online, and results in partisan or ideological views being vigorously reinforced. In other words, sometimes the openness of online life can result in closed systems.

That makes many of us vulnerable to media-savvy “senior militants.”

Let’s call a spade a spade Philippine Daily Inquirer 12:09 AM | Monday, September 29th, 2014


Screenshot of Senator Chiz Escudero and the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, from News5 Everywhere video.

Senator Francis Escudero recently proposed that the nation “move forward” by allowing the burial of dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ body at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

As a young politician appealing to young voters, Escudero appears to be courting both sides of the fence—the crony regime who will benefit from the forgetfulness, his dad being a cohort, and the majority of the exploited, misinformed and uninformed teeming masses. He is acting exactly like a traditional politician—one seemingly willing to compromise the moral compass on which good governance is based. Indeed, his proposal is a slap in the face for all the martial law torture victims, whether dead or alive, and the thousands of families left behind.

It’s a brilliant strategy I can equate with the survival instincts and cunning of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, now detained and awaiting trial for plunder. Enrile is an architect of martial law who commanded the Armed Forces but managed to rehabilitate himself to become a shrewd politician, courtesy of the education-deprived masses. It is futile to represent our entire workforce as highly educated. We know for a fact that most college graduates were not taught well about our history—hell, not even our most recent history, including the evils of the Marcos dictatorship.

If the argument is that Marcos deserves to be buried in the Libingan because he served in the military during World War II (despite his fake medals being exposed), or he became president of this country, then use that argument to convince Germany to bury Hitler in a cemetery reserved for heroes. Do that for Pinochet, for Pol Pot, for Gaddafi.

Vice President Jojo Binay has recommended that the dictator be buried in the Ilocos, with full military honors. If he so believes the justification to accord Marcos such honors, then why not insist on burial at the Libingan? Or does he just want to accommodate the two sides of the divide, and the hell with what’s right or wrong?

Binay was a crusader who risked life and limb during martial law, only to succumb to his taste for power. Who’s he partying with? The dictator’s son and namesake, who keeps denying that his father did anything wrong. Or partying, with all the pun intended, with a convicted plunderer, Joseph Estrada. As he accommodates the dictator’s son, he must therefore accommodate the plunder convict’s son, who is in jail for the second time around for the charge of plunder.

Chiz Escudero insists that we should have closure by putting “a dot at the end of the sentence” vis a vis the dictator’s body. Well, put closure first to the crimes committed by the operators of martial law and their crony-capitalist perpetrators. How fair is it that you want to accord honor to a dictator while damning the victims—in essence the entire country and its future generations, who have yet to get a sense of justice? We have the son, the daughter, and their mother back in power, as senator, governor and congresswoman, respectively. If that’s not enough to jolt the sanity of any self-respecting citizen of the world, I don’t know what will.

* You want to put closure, then at least convict the perpetrators of martial law. At least recover San Miguel Corp. from the one who used the coconut levy funds for it. At least recover the wealth from the cronies. At least recover the Marcos wealth in Switzerland, estimated to be at least $10 billion. And at least put on record the Marcoses admitting the dictator’s sins and crimes against the nation. Or put them in jail. We all know they are guilty; we just lack the political will to document the misdeeds that will convict them. Only then can we talk of closure.

Bongbong Marcos talks about what could have been had his father stayed in power, that we could have been the next Singapore. But here’s the respected former prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew himself, writing in his memoir, “Only in the Philippines could a leader like Ferdinand Marcos, who pillaged his country for over twenty years, still be considered for a national burial. Insignificant amounts of the loot have been recovered, yet his wife and children were allowed to return and engage in politics.”

The global community with a sense of justice, of moral values, recognized the evil of the dictatorship, but we seem not to recognize it. If Marcos is buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, I don’t know how any self-respecting Filipino can face any foreign person again, let alone look at himself in the mirror.

I believe we should keep up the debate and the noise in fighting such an injustice. The few who have the resources—the dignity of quality education, material wealth and idle time—should keep the fire burning, to relay the message and moral logic to the nation. It’s a salute to those who shed blood to bring democracy back, to the fighting young who will inherit a country blessed in abundant natural resources but contemptibly and unacceptably poor.

Corruption eats at the core of our being. You have corrupted moral values, or even just a compromised sense of right or wrong, then it is logical to expect compromised decision-making when dealing with political, economic and social policies.

My worry is that the tiny, supposedly educated middle class which is expected to have a louder voice is falling into the trap and conceding to the martial law revisionists.

I have always doubted the facade that Escudero is parading. Now it’s clear as day. We should condemn such a breed of politicians. Let us not accommodate political expediency against our sense of right and wrong. Let’s call a spade a spade.

I, for one, don’t want to say “Chiz.”

Perspective and context of the proposed BBL Philippine Daily Inquirer
12:10 AM | Monday, September 29th, 2014



The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is now officially introduced to both houses of Congress. In the House of Representatives, it is known as House Bill No. 4994; in the Senate, it is Senate Bill No. 2408. It is titled “An Act providing for the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro and abolishing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Repealing for the purpose RA 9054 and RA 6734.”

“Public briefings, “public hearings,” fora and talk shops are being conducted by both legislative chambers and various concerned groups, prominent of which is the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG). Upon submission of the proposed BBL to Congress, IAG, in partnership with Notre Dame University and the Notre Dame Broadcasting Corp. (which operates five radio stations) and with the oldest local provincial paper, the Mindanao Cross, scheduled five talk shops in Central Mindanao (the region which also covers the present ARMM) and one national forum cosponsored by the Unicef.

The rationale for these talk shops and fora is to “unpack” the proposed BBL for people to understand, and to give platforms for people to air their views and comments on the proposal and related issues. The first talk shop broadcast live in the whole of Central Mindanao was on Sept. 18. It tackled all issues on the political autonomy that the proposed BBL aims to achieve. There are more scheduled talk shops on the economy, wealth sharing, policing and security, as well as on the basic rights and the concerns of the indigenous peoples.

Last Sept. 25, the Senate committees on local government (the lead committee) and on peace, reconciliation and unity, jointly conducted the first public briefing on SB 2408. The former is chaired by Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and the latter by the Sen. Teofisto “TG” Guingona, III.

The representatives from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) and the government’s peace panels were no match to the wit of Senator Marcos and Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, both of whom asked pointed questions on the relations between the Local Government Code and the proposed BBL, particularly on the operational control of the Bangsamoro police and the administration of the internal revenue allocation or IRA. Sad to say, the dismal performance of the Opapp, the government panel and their green lawyers during the briefing did not augur well for a real understanding of the proposed BBL—an issue that brings not only “newness” and freshness into understanding decentralization but also real political empowerment and real supervision and control over local resources beyond the traditional understanding of devolution.

As an independent watcher, I simply could not fathom why government sent amateurs to explain and defend the proposed BBL. I would think that government, for this very high level of public briefing and consultation, would muster the best lawyers and consultants not only to show the difference and relations between the proposed BBL, on the one hand, and the Local Government Code and Republic Act No. 9054 or the ARMM Organic Act, on the other.

* In the House, the special committee tasked to “pasture” HB 4994, which is chaired by Centrist Democratic Party (CDP) Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro, conducted the first session on Sept. 24. As in the Senate public briefing, the performance of the government team explaining the proposed BBL was equally disastrous. From the questions raised and the answers given, Rep. Celso Lobregat of Zamboanga City seemed to be more knowledgeable about the proposed BBL than the peace negotiators and their lawyers. This prompted the special committee to ask, by a vote of 19 to 8, the Opapp and the peace panel to submit “all drafts” of the proposed BBL that the peace panel kept secret like a “Holy Grail” for months.

It is sad to note that the first public presentation of the proposed BBL was left to “amateurs.”

I believe that it is not late in the game to bring in the real “pro,” specifically the Office of the President under Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, to explain, defend and show the positive features of the proposed BBL. Without the pro, the amateurs would not only be eaten alive by both the Senate and the House; they would be the worst proponents of the proposed BBL.

The proposed BBL should be seen, first and foremost, as a “formula” for peace and political settlements, aimed to address not only the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro but also the poverty and years of neglect.

The two issues that are dominant in the discussion are: one, real political empowerment or a level of self-determination that is beyond the traditional understanding of devolution; and two, the control and jurisdiction over the resources in the homeland and future territory. The whole gamut of relations falls under the new “concept” of asymmetry. Since this is something new in the Philippine political lexicon, it is inevitable that the word would become the subject of scrutiny, controversy and fears. For this very reason, the pro should come in and show what should be the actual workings of the proposed BBL vis-à-vis the Local Government Code, RA 9054 and the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act. The context and perspectives of the proposed BBL and its dynamic “interface” with both the Constitution and the existing laws are the expertise that government badly needs to pasture the proposed BBL in Congress. Without the pro, I fear the final outcome of the BBL when it comes out of Congress.

Fr. Eliseo Mercado Jr., OMI, is with the Institute for Autonomy and Governance, Cotabato City.

Inclusion, not exclusion 12:12 AM | Sunday, September 28th, 2014

Pope Francis has brought inclusiveness, among other things, to the Church, literally opening its doors to those it has long excluded—the lowly and the lapsed, as well as those with nonconformist lifestyles. He has brought about this great change both in word and deed, and called on the faithful to redirect their emphasis from the pompous to the practical, from indulgence to action.

This stance is central to Francis’ vision of a Church that matters and cares: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.”

On our shores, a meaningful change has occurred in the yearly Feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, with Nueva Caceres Archbishop Rolando Tria Tirona ending the tradition of “elite” members of the community

exclusively accompanying the venerated image fondly called “Ina” on the pagoda boat during the fluvial procession.

The nine-day feast, held this year on Sept. 12-20, is over 300 years old and was estimated to have drawn over two million pilgrims to Naga City. As in the yearly feast honoring the Black Nazarene of Quiapo, a heaving sea of Peñafrancia devotees (notably male, barefoot, in various stages of intoxication) transports the image of the patroness of the Bicol region from its shrine at the Basilica Minore to the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral three kilometers away. The culminating event of the feast is the fluvial parade, in which the image is borne on a pagoda boat through the Naga River back to the basilica.

Part of the tradition of the feast was the selection of 200 members of the elite who would accompany the image on the pagoda boat. It is not clear just when this practice of limiting the privilege to the prominent and powerful—including politicians, priests, businessmen and celebrities—began. But, with Francis showing the way, the Bicol clergy led by Tirona decided that ordinary folk would now share the privilege of escorting Ina on the boat.

Thus, Tirona called on each diocese and archdiocese in the region to send its representatives. Thus, on Sept 20 fishermen and farmers experienced the honor from which they had long been excluded. Farmer Primo Velasco traveled all the way from Polangui in Albay to take part in the fluvial parade. “Now that I am honored to be on Ina’s pagoda boat, I think this is a sure sign that I was right in choosing to live a God-centered life,” he told Inquirer Southern Luzon.

* This change is significant as it involves one of the country’s most important religious feasts. The shift actually began last year, when social workers and volunteers were the chosen passengers instead of the same prominent people who had enjoyed the privilege yearly. It also comes in a time of flux for the Peñafrancia organizers, who have observed a notable increase in the number of youth participants, as well as the “traditional” state of drunkenness of the “voyadores.” (A liquor ban is thought to change that for good.)

There’s much to be said for breaking tradition in favor of what makes sense, or in keeping with the Church’s more open embrace. Tirona, who was assigned to minister to the 1.8 million Catholics in Camarines Sur only in 2012, had given the Peñafrancia devotees a simple message: “I came from a small diocese. I am new here. Let’s make a fresh start and let’s change things.”

It’s a message after Pope Francis’ own heart, and particularly resonant as the Philippines prepares for the his visit in January. Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle has reminded the faithful that the visit should be the impetus for great change in the lives of Filipinos: “…[W]e must prepare the nation to receive the Holy Father by setting our minds and hearts in communion with our dear Pope Francis, the messenger of peace [and] love and the apostle of the poor.”


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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