Monday, August 11, 2008

Guard our money, Neri now in SSS

GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc, The Philippine Star, Monday, August 11, 2008

Moro rebels began pulling out of nine Cotabato barrios six-and-a-half long hours after the military’s deadline Saturday. “Whew,” sighed generals in Manila; “Congrats,” beamed the commander-in-chief from abroad.

But what of the 85 houses the pillagers had razed, plus the hundreds of livestock and sacks of rice they stole, as reported by the military? What about the villagers who are now homeless and hungry?

Manila authorities, invoking “sanctity of the peace process,” forgot all about them. But if the victims organize a posse to recover their possessions and exact justice, expect the authorities to go after them.

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Guard your money. That was Cora dela Paz’s advice to SSS members end-July as she turned over the helms of the provident fund to Romy Neri. It sounded more like an alarm. For, everything about the SSS is tempting to the immoderately greedy.

SSS is bursting with P248 billion assets, mostly forced contributions of 27 million private workers and their employers. Although a private fund, it is administered for the members by government. Malacañang picks the chief and trustees, who in turn flaunt loyalty to the appointer. A string of Presidents have abused the fund for brownie points, ordering nominees to give out doles even if unaffordable, so long as they looked good. When dela Paz assumed management in 2001, SSS barely had 12 years of life left. Erap Estrada had squandered hundreds of millions from it (and GSIS) in 1999 to prop up a crony’s sham stocks. Top managers either partook of the bounty or fell demoralized. But Dela Paz recharged the staff to nurse the fund back to health, extending its lifespan to a cozy 29 years. Members’ remittances were raised slightly and stock earnings sensationally. At present the SSS trades P200 million worth of stocks a day.

Enter Neri as unceremonious replacement. Dela Paz admitted she had long wanted out for health reasons, but that politics caused her sudden removal too. She declined to say more. Three reasons were whispered in political-business circles for her axing — all about shielding private SSS money from sticky fingers. Dela Paz reportedly had refused to have SSS subsidize the Palace’s plan for a universal ID system. This foiled some retired generals’ kickbacks from the ID cards. Then, dela Paz rebuffed a stockbroker close to Malacañang who wanted appointment as sole trader for SSS. Even for only one-percent fee from the P200-million daily trading, the influence peddler would have made a cool P2 million a day. The straw that broke the camel’s back was last May’s Meralco ownership fight. Dela Paz allegedly rejected buying new Meralco shares preparatory to wresting control from the Lopez clan. Neri had led the anti-Lopez campaign, though then with the Commission on Higher Education.

Only Neri can confirm the reasons for his hasty takeover. He pledges to run the SSS well for its members. But his role in last year’s ZTE scandal has left the public doubtful. In a Senate inquiry on the $330-million scam, Neri revealed a P200-million offer from then-Comelec head Ben Abalos to back the deal as economic minister. But when asked why his boss Gloria Arroyo approved it even after he reported the bribery, he clammed up. By invoking executive privilege, critics said, Neri gave weight to secrecy of presidential decision-making than to exposing high crime. He even risked constitutional crisis by siccing the Supreme Court on a Senate itching to arrest him for contempt. Then, he ignored pleas of whistleblower and close friend Jun Lozada for help against police abductors out to silence him.

Can a person of such character run the country’s biggest provident fund? Karina Constantino David, Civil Service Commission chief during the entire affair, perhaps summed it up best: “Like the rotten regime he serves, Neri has a gigantic perception problem. He has little credibility left — as a public official, as a technocrat, and as an academic. His name will forever conjure images of cowardly clueless-ness in the wake of high-level corruption, a failure of nerve in the existential battle with dishonesty and pretense. And now he is put in charge of the P248-billion fund belonging to millions of ordinary workers.”

The official basis for Neri’s move to SSS does not inspire confidence either. He had long wanted to return to the Cabinet, preferably his old post as economic secretary. In Dec., three months after covering up for Arroyo in the ZTE mess, he begged her for a meeting in which to plead his cause. But the boss was cold. Days before, Neri had also met with opposition Senators Ping Lacson and Jamby Madrigal, during which he thrice described Arroyo as “evil”. And there was word that he originally was to join the Nov. 29 siege of Peninsula Hotel by jailed Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim. Still came the SSS posting as Neri’s delayed consolation prize. Palace lawyers felt that he had to somehow be kept in the Cabinet (that despises him), so he can continue invoking executive privilege. Throwing him out could drive him into the open arms of the opposition, which is eager for more evidence on sleaze in Malacañang. So the SSS appointment was accompanied by an unprecedented marching order to put under Neri the GSIS, Dept. of Social Welfare and Development, and Dept. of Health. He was to lead them as a Social Welfare Task Force during the food and fuel crisis. This again sparked worries that Arroyo, thru Neri, would dip her fingers into private SSS coffers to dole to the disenchanted poor.

And so dela Paz was right to warn SSS members: watch your money.

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Kasalanan ba ang family planning? (1)

SAPOL Ni Jarius Bondoc, Pilipino Star Ngayon
Monday, August 11, 2008

TINUTUYA ang abortion sa reproductive health bill. Igini­giit na ilegal ito kaya hindi kabilang sa family-planning services sa mag-asawa. Pero may pahabol na dapat lunasan agad ang inang naghihingalo dahil nagpalaglag — makatao lang. Kaya bakit tinatawag itong pro-abortion ng mga obispo?

Sa totoo lang, kontra ang mga obispo sa birth control. Para sa kanila, ukol lang sa mag-asawa ang sex, bilang obligasyon magparami. Anomang kontra dito, tulad ng pagbunot o pagpa­pa­ ligaya sa sarili, ay kasalanan (ni Onan). Sa mag-asawang ayaw magkaanak dahil sa balidong rason, payo nila ay pagtitimpi, tila chastity. Payag sila sa Rhythm o Billings Method dahil nagkataong likas na imposible mabuntis miski nais magparami.

Binabawal ng mga obispo ang artificial na paraan. Anila, imoral ang condom, operasyong vasectomy o tubal ligation, IUD, at iniiniksiyon o iniinom na contraceptives. At dito gumu­gulo. Anila, ang contraceptives ay pam­palaglag din. Hindi ito dahil lang sa kaba nila na “kapag pumayag ang lipunan sa contraceptives, kasunod na ang abortion.” Sa pananaw nila, kapag pinigilan ang pagbuo ng fetus, pinatay na mismo ito sa fetus.

Kahibangan ito para sa mga nag-iisip na Katoliko. Pinipi­ gilan ng pills, operasyon, IUD o condom ang pagta­tagpo ng egg st sperm. Kung walang buhay na nabuo, paano ito naging pagkitil sa buhay? A basta, nagiging dogmatiko ang debate, ‘yan ay doktrina, kaya dapat sumu­nod. kundi ay magdurusa habambuhay sa lumalagablab na apoy ng Impiyerno.

Kontra-agham ang linya ng mga obispo. Pero balewala ito sa kanila. May tradisyong kontra-siyensiya ang mga sinau-nang obispo. Sinupil nila si Copernicus, monghang nakatuklas nu’ng siglo-1500 na hindi umiikit ang Araw sa Mundo. Ginulo nito ang pananaw na sa Mundo nakasentro ang Paglikha. Nu’ng siglo-1600 kinastigo sina Galileo at Kepler na tumangkilik kay Galileo. Sumulong pa rin ang agham. Ipinagbawal ang turo ni Darwin nu’ng siglo 1600 na evolution. Nilait si Freud na nu’ng siglo-1900 ay sumuri sa utak ng tao, at sina Friedmann at Hubble na bumuo ng teyorya ng Big Bang mula sa General Relativity ni Einstein.


Friday, August 8, 2008

Tiwala sa lider

SAPOL Ni Jarius Bondoc, Pilipino Star Ngayon, Friday, August 8, 2008

GULAT na gulat si Senator at dating Olongapo City Mayor Richard Gordon. Nagbayad ang 500 katao nang tig-P25,000 para lang marinig ang talumpati ng ka-initials (na RG) Rudolph Giuliani, dating mayor ng New York City, tungkol sa “leadership in times of crisis.” Sabi nga ni Navotas Mayor Toby Tiangco, isa sa mga nakinig, alam na ng mga pinunong Pilipino ang anim na katangian ng lider na binanggit ni Giuliani. Pero hayun, taimtim pa ring nakinig ang mga nagbayad.

Isa sa mga idiniin ni Giuliani ay dapat mapagka­ kati­wa­laan ang isang lider. Kaakibat nito, dapat malinis ang mga pinu-no dahil hindi pumapasok ang mga investor sa bansang maa­nomalya. Simple, hindi ba? Alam na natin ito, hindi ba? Pero bakit kinailangan pa ng isang dayuhan, na umaaming wala siyang gaanong alam sa sitwasyon ng Pilipinas, para ma­ batid natin ito muli?

Nasa paliwanag ni Sen. Kiko Pangilinan marahil ang sagot. Oo, kailangan nga ng lider na mapagkakatiwa­laan at malinis, kaya ito ang hanapin natin sa 2010. Pahiwatig ni Pangilinan wala na ang dalawang mahalagang katangiang ito si Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, kaya sa 2010 pa tayo magkaka-pagasa.

Tama si Pangilinan. Talamak na ang katiwalian at pag­bubu­laan ng Arroyo admin kaya basag na ang tiwala ng taumbayan. Sa huling SWS performance survey nitong Hunyo, 60 percent ang disgustado kay GMA at 22 percent lang ang apro­bado, kaya negative-38 percent ang rating niya. Bago mag-State of the Nation noong nakaraang Lunes, 40 percent din ang nagsabing magbubulaan lang si GMA. At lumabas din ang Pulse Asia survey na 75 percent ang naghirap nitong naka­raang dalawang taon sa ilalim ni GMA.

Bunga ito ng mga anomalya sa ZTE, Northrail, Southrail, ghost fertilizer at piglets, Hello Garci, smuggling, at marami pang iba. Lahat ito hindi maipaliwanag nang lubos ni GMA o mga kamag-anak at alipores na sangkot. Pinagtakpan lang nila sa pamamagitan ng panlilito sa media o ng executive privilege. Akala nila maloloko nila ang taumbayan.

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Lumiham sa

The man who lived RP nationhood

GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc, The Philippine Star, Friday, August 8, 2008

When I was an iconoclastic student activist in the ’70s, Sen. Lorenzo Tañada was one of few politicians I admired. He came from the landed rich yet would join radical demos, stepping out of his cozy office to be with the poor. At 72 he was tapped to study the unrest that led to the First Quarter Storm of 1970. In a report six weeks later he trashed the Marcos admin line that communists were agitating even moderate campuses. Instead he traced discontent to social ills: a vast gap between rich and poor, resistance of the economic and political elite to change, and colonial nature of RP-US ties. “Welcome dissent,” he counseled riot cops and snooty capitalists. “If we make the right decisions, with courage and compassion, in brotherhood for reform, we will find beyond these crossroads what we have been seeking for so long — prosperity and well-being of all Filipinos.” At Sunday mass our neighbors and I would come up to Tañada with a silent prayer for longer life for such a nationalist.

Tañada did live to 93, marking vital events in the Filipino struggle for nationhood. Born 10 Aug. 1898 in what is now Quezon, he was three days old when American and Spanish forces staged a mock battle for Manila. It was a bitter lesson for Katipuneros whose imminent capture of the capital was thwarted by a new aspirant for colonial reign. At UP some years later Tañada ruffled the rulers by exhorting fellow-ROTC cadets to train well to someday use their rifles against the American trainers. Even then he declared himself to be not anti-American but anti-colonialist. He even went as a government scholar to Harvard Law School to become Dean (later US Supreme Court Justice) Felix Frankfurter’s best foreign master’s student, and returned to Manila to lawyer for some American clients. The Pacific War saw the entry of yet another colonizer. Tañada joined the resistance in his Gumaca hometown. Upon Liberation a fresh appointee as Solicitor General, he brought up charges against Jose P. Laurel and Claro M. Recto for collaborating with the Japanese. A grant of amnesty overtook events. Still Tañada wondered why he couldn’t locate the records he would have needed to prosecute them. Only after reading William Manchester’s 1978 book American Caesar did he realize that Douglas MacArthur, as promiser of Independence on July 4, 1946, had hid them.

As in Rizal’s enlightenment from Europe or Aguinaldo’s defeat in open election or Mabini’s kissing the Stars and Stripes to end exile, a nationalist’s life takes ironic turns. Tañada’s too. At the height of Laurel’s trial, son Pepito Laurel (later Speaker) and several Batangueño toughies cornered the prosecutor and assistants at a cafeteria and challenged them to brawl. Prudence beat valor as Tañada retreated to another room. Pepito would later help ensure Tañada’s win as senator in 1947 and thrice more, to make him the longest-serving senator for 24 years. Tañada also received in 1982 the Dr. Jose P. Laurel Award for constitutional law, conferred at the Lyceum University run by another son, Sotero Laurel. Recto under trial had demolished the authority of Sol-Gen Tañada’s jurors, for an acquittal. In 1957 presidential candidate Recto tapped Tañada as running mate in a (losing) “nationalist alternative”. Tañada endorsed in 1969 reelectionist President Ferdinand Marcos, who capitalized on the senator’s speech in campaign materials. Marcos’s troops later struck down with truncheons, teargas and water cannons Tañada, who in his ’70s led countless marches against martial law. Tañada bore the pain of two sons in political prison, another in exile, and grandchildren underground fighting Marcos. He had the last laugh, so to speak, by way of predicting the dictator’s downfall “three or four years after” the 1983 assassination of Ninoy Aquino.

“Patriotism is not a frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime,” Adlai Stevenson said. Tañada’s numerous legislations and causes aimed to build a strong nation. He fought the US-built Bataan Nuclear Power Plant and led conferences to end US basing rights. He was at the gallery in Sept. 1991 when his son Bobby and 11 other senators voted against extending the RP-US bases treaty. By the time Tañada passed away the following year, bulk of US forces in Clark and Subic had pulled out.

* * *

Observers wonder why Gloria Arroyo would sign a peace pact with Moro separatists in Malaysia. That country secretly had funded the Islamist secession in the ’70s, to begin with, to weaken RP’s claim over Sabah as part of the Sulu sultanate. Today it acts as a “peace broker” with hidden agenda. Arroyo should have thought twice about letting the fox into the chicken coop, so to speak.

Then again, it may be deliberate. She doesn’t care about the Sabah claim, as was revealed in the autobiography of Tito Guingona, her erstwhile VP and foreign secretary, to wit:

“Before leaving, I had a talk with President Gloria. We spoke about the looming case before the International Court of Justice concerning the claim of Malaysia versus Indonesia covering two islands off Sabah. I informed her that we should perhaps have to file an action for intervention in the international tribunal in order to ensure our rights in the main case with Malaysia over Sabah itself. She remained pensive for some moments. Then she said, ‘You know, Tito, we may have to forego our claim to Sabah at some point in time.’ It was said matter-of-factly, not as a serious proposal, and I just responded that it seemed a controversial issue which would divide the nation. She did not press.

“To me, however, it was an eye opener. When a nation stakes a claim, as was done by us in the ’60s through President Gloria’s father, Diosdado Macapagal, no less, than that nation should stick to the claim because it is a right that is legal and valid.”

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