Saturday, October 27, 2007

Arroyo reaps whirlwind of protests over Estrada pardon


Inquirer, Northern Luzon Bureau, Southern Luzon Bureau, Associated Press
Last updated 00:16am (Mla time) 10/27/2007

MANILA, Philippines--PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has reaped a whirlwind of protests with her pardon of convicted plunderer Joseph "Erap" Estrada.

Ms Arroyo's allies in the Senate used strong words in airing their disapproval, and Luis "Chavit" Singson, the man who set in motion the beginning of the end of her ousted predecessor, lamented the "rush" and demanded to know if a "compromise agreement" had accompanied the move.

Even her staunch ally, former president Fidel Ramos, spoke out in China where he was attending a conference to bewail the pardon as "a terrible, terrible calamity to the great, great, great majority of the Filipino people who have suffered from the plunder."

In a press conference Friday, Sen. Richard Gordon said the President "wasted a chance to leave a legacy of justice."

"I am revolted by the whole scenario," Gordon said. "I am not questioning her right to pardon but I am questioning her responsibility. She did not use her authority properly. [You] use your power to benefit the people. You do not use your power to make yourself survive."

Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan also cited survival as Ms Arroyo's motive in pardoning Estrada.

He said Ms Arroyo's act was "meant to appease the Erap camp, score political points and ensure her own political survival."

"This is a plain and simple maneuver by the Arroyo administration to remain afloat. It does not serve the cause of justice. It is highly questionable and inappropriate for the Arroyo administration to go into a mad rush to grant the pardon just as her government faces all these serious charges of corruption and bribery," Pangilinan said.

Veiled warnings
Other reactions were veiled warnings that Ms Arroyo could face Estrada's fate.

"Let him (Estrada) have his pardon. All I can say is, 'Goodbye Gloria,'" said Eugenia Apostol, a recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism and founding chair of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net).

Carol Araullo, chair of the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and of PlunderWatch, which filed the plunder case against Estrada, described the pardon as "part of a cover-up most foul" with the immediate goal of diverting public attention from the scandals hounding the Arroyo administration.

"The more sinister objective is to draw Estrada and his followers away from the Oust GMA Movement, entice [him] to instead utilize the electoral arena to rebuild his political and economic clout, and meanwhile allow the Arroyo regime to weather its latest crisis," Araullo said in a statement.

She said Ms Arroyo would "not get away with this latest abuse of power because the people, including Erap's followers, are fed up with the poverty and misery wrought by her antipeople policies."

In a phone interview, Chavit Singson said the pardon was a mockery of the justice system that would set "a very bad precedent."

"We fought hard for [Estrada's] ouster and we offered our lives to that struggle. Now, why are we ready to forgive him when he has yet to suffer for his sins?" the former governor of Ilocos Sur said in Filipino.

He declined to comment when asked if he would withdraw support for Ms Arroyo. But his words were ominous: "Let us wait and see."

Senator Gordon said Ms Arroyo's move was a desperate attempt to win her fight with Speaker Jose de Venecia: "She must be allies with Erap now. Joe de Venecia will have to find a new ally.

"She chose to survive rather than be right, rather than be just. It's not even a question of mercy. It's a question of survival for her. It's transactional leadership at its purest form.

"We have become a laughingstock of the world. People are hungry for justice; they were robbed. This weakens the moral fabric of our country.

"Until we show our people that there are no special exemptions, there will be no justice in the country ... Is this just a game? Then let us free all the rich and powerful people in jail."

Sen. Joker Arroyo decried the President's "lightning and tasteless haste" in pardoning Estrada.

"Why did we go through six years of trial if the President was predisposed anyway to pardon Mr. Estrada the moment the decision was rendered? It rendered the trial so inutile. Remember, Erap was convicted of a political offense; he was not convicted of a common crime," Arroyo said in a statement.

He said that while the President's power to pardon was beyond question, she "must answer to her conscience and the reaction of the people to her decision to pardon [Estrada] too soon."

Ultimate betrayal
For Akbayan, a party-list group that was among those that initiated the impeachment case against Estrada, the pardon reflected, not national unity, but "honor among thieves."

"The President treats justice like a mere transaction among thieves. Who else but the most incorrigible of thieves would not hesitate to do a shameless act like this? This mockery of justice is unpardonable," Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros said in a press conference.

Hontiveros said Estrada's plunder conviction and formerly expected imprisonment were supposed to prove that high officials could be held accountable for their acts.

Freeing him is "the ultimate betrayal of People Power," she said.

Etta Rosales, a former lawmaker and Akbayan's chair emeritus, said corruption was prevailing "because we have high officials who abuse their authority to coddle corrupt officials."

"The capacity to grant executive clemency to an official convicted of corruption could only come from a President who's all too willing to commit the same crime and expect the same privilege," Rosales said.

Added Hontiveros: "This act normalizes corruption, sending a wrong message to the youth and other public officials. Who else is she willing to forgive? The Marcoses?

"In one swift act, Mrs. Arroyo demolished the integrity and credibility of our anticorruption institutions."

Black every Friday
The Black and White Movement called on Filipinos to wear black every Friday in "mourning the death of justice in our country."

"Let us paint this nation's heart black, for that is its color at its core," the civil society group said in a statement.

"Today [Friday] will be marked as a miserable day in our nation's history," it said, adding that the pardon was "a reflection of the culture of transactional politics that has characterized GMA's regime, which has brought our country to a state of moral bankruptcy."

Recalling the time and public funds spent in Estrada's four-year plunder trial, the citizens' group Maypagasa said: "It's a grand zarzuela, after all.

"Is this the concept of justice that this government knows? We will not be surprised if corruption will continue to flourish under the Arroyo administration. They just have to apply for pardon and presto, they can even enjoy their loot."

Maypagasa also said it would hold Ms Arroyo "accountable for this travesty of our justice system."

"This government has lost all moral ascendancy to talk about curbing corruption," it said.

Poet Axel Pinpin, one of the "Tagaytay 5" young men imprisoned for more than a year without charges, said the pardon "only showed what kind of government and justice system we have."

"It's simply unacceptable and deplorable. While convicts like Estrada go scot-free, innocent prisoners, especially political detainees like us, rot in jails," Pinpin said.

No difference
According to House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora, the pardon makes no difference in the opposition's plans against Ms Arroyo.

Zamora, a close ally of Estrada who once served as his executive secretary, said Ms Arroyo would still face impeachment if evidence of her culpability and the opportunity to pass a complaint in a House dominated by her allies presented themselves.

"We are not affected by [Estrada's] pardon.... We will continue to hold the President accountable according to standards of public accountability," Zamora told the Inquirer.

"[The pardon] does not make one wisp of difference," he said.

Asked if the opposition in the House would actively participate in impeachment proceedings if the evidence merited a serious complaint and if, by some way, a stronger case was allowed despite the one-year ban on new impeachment information, Zamora replied in the affirmative.

He said there was a need to look into the alleged bribery of lawmakers and local government officials in Malacañang on Oct. 11, but he expressed doubt that an inquiry into the cash handouts would prosper in the House.

House Deputy Minority Leader Roilo Golez of Parañaque said the opposition in the chamber was never a party in the negotiations for Estrada's pardon.

He said the opposition would naturally go on with its business of looking into excesses in the government.

"The minority did not join the appeal for and was not a party to the request for pardon for former President Erap," Golez said.

Asked if the opposition would continue to check the administration, Golez said: "It goes without saying. Fiscalizing is one of the principal responsibilities of the minority."

Reports from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Fe Zamora, Dona Z. Pazzibugan, Jerome Aning and Norman Bordadora in Manila; Leoncio Balbin Jr., Inquirer Northern Luzon; Marlon Ramos, Inquirer Southern Luzon; AP

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Gordon receives standing ovations at PCCI’s 33rd Philippine Business Conference and Exposition

Gordon receives standing ovations at PCCI’s 33rd Philippine Business Conference and Exposition

Senator Richard J. Gordon received standing ovations for a speech made before the 33rd Philippine Business Conference and Exposition organized by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) today even as he challenged the chamber to let its collective voice be heard more loudly on crucial issues facing the country.

While the times urgently call for “transformational leadership” in order to take the nation to the next level, our politics is hopelessly dominated by “transactional leadership.” Instead of transforming and modernizing the conduct of government to meet the challenge of global competition, our public officials are preoccupied with negotiating deals, rigging contracts, trading favors, and rank opportunism. And when they’re not cooking deals, they are engaged in their zero-sum political warfare," said Gordon.

He cited a number of instances where the PCCI’s voice should have been heard. He pointed out the times when Comelec refused to implement the amended Automated Election or RA 9369 in May 2007 and for the Barangay Elections in October 29. He said that Automated Elections would have had far reaching effects towards transforming our country’s political culture.

This single innovation in the electoral process might have had far-reaching effects not just on how we vote and count the votes, but on how candidates and parties shape their strategies and run their machines,” said Gordon.

He also pointed out that the PCCI could have raised its voice during the time when the House of Representatives had failed to work on the passage of vital bills in the last congress, including the Tourism Bill which could have resulted in higher economic growth that would have been felt directly by the people.

Nevertheless, Gordon said that he was optimistic that the PCCI could help the government catch the second wave of economic growth flooding Asia and one area that private businesses could focus on would be the field of education, particularly to address the education/employment gap as well as to address the need to equip our labor with skills that would get them better jobs abroad.

“It is not enough for us to keep sending our workers abroad and to rely on cheap labor. We have to invest in our people’s education, training and health, so that they can be more productive workers here at home and abroad. This will require more commitment than we have traditionally made in this field. We need not only more resources, we need better teachers and training facilities. And we need the public and private sectors to collaborate in meeting this challenge. I see hopeful signs in the fact that Government is moving to increase its focus on education, and that many of our taipans have moved to invest in colleges and universities and taken the lead in their modernization.

He said that by uplifting our people through high quality education, they would be able to get better jobs here and abroad. This would translate in an incease in purchasing power which would in turn enable businesses to reap higher earnings and achieve greater growth.

In response to the business sector’s calls for the jailing of big fish or big time law offenders, Senator Gordon reiterated his view on moves to grant pardon to Estrada.

He said that after the government had taken the high road in bringing former President Joseph Estrada to trial and securing a conviction against him, pardoning the former President would have the nation retreating to international ridicule and disrespect by cravenly trying to appease him.

Gordon said the law and justice should not be tempered with mercy, saying that the former President should at least have a taste of life in a real jail cell.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Opinion
Flash Gordon to the rescue
FROM THE STANDS By Domini M. Torrevillas
Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Glorietta bombing last Friday, October 19, showed us that in times of disaster and crisis, Dick Gordon of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) is someone you can rely on to always be there for you.

It was just like Gordon rushing to the scene like the MV Asuncion sinking in 1987, the earthquake in Central Colleges in Cabanatuan in 1990, and the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991.

Dick and PNRC volunteers were the first response teams to arrive at the Glorietta shortly after the blast at 1:20 p.m. Deployed were six ambulances with 20 staff and volunteers of medical and rescue teams from different PNRC chapters to provide search, rescue and medical assistance to the victims. While the law enforcement authorities had to secure and collect evidence from the carnage site, Gordon and the PNRC teams, amidst the ensuing chaos and confusion, immediately addressed the concerns of both the victims and their loved ones by coordinating information bulletins with the hospitals and funeral homes.

Ten of the injured were treated by the PNRC team on-site while Welfare Desks were installed immediately near Ground Zero and at the Makati Medical Center and Ospital ng Makati to assist those trying to locate their loved ones who might have been inside the mall at the time of the explosion. A good number of those missing or unaccounted for were successfully located by the teams.

When the rest gave up hope and called it a day that early evening, Dick Gordon returned and stayed behind to comfort relatives still waiting at the blast site for news about their missing relatives. The scene was like that of the Zambales fishermen in 2005 who were lost at sea for 19 days and given up for dead until Sen. Gordon tapped the US Navy to track via an Orion plane the whereabouts of the men to be picked up the Philippine Navy along the coast of Palawan.

At the Glorietta 4 Friday evening, Norlita Tan, looking distraught, approached the PNRC Welfare Desk to seek help in locating her husband, Renier, who had been with her inside the mall shortly before the explosion. She just had her eyeglasses repaired at an optical shop at Glorietta 4, leaving her husband to pass time by himself strolling around the area. Little did she know that that would be the last time she would see him alive.

Gordon sought clearance from law enforcement agencies and the mall management who had secured the area and were now on clearing operations before he deployed the PNRC search-and-rescue team back to the site to search for Norlita's husband.

Utilizing search cameras and an audio probe, the team found a wallet belonging to the reported missing Maureen De Leon among the debris, near where the bodies of her companions, Gee-Ann de Gracia and Carlo Niño Vigamo, were found earlier that afternoon.

Gordon inspected the wallet and found the telephone number of Gerardo De Leon, father of Maureen. On the phone, De Leon told Dick that Maureen was not home. Dick advised him to proceed to the site since Maureen was not on the list of victims taken to hospitals and funeral homes. Dick also tried to track Maureen through her employer, Tots Romualdez, who was his classmate and who also joined in the vigil for news.

At that time Norlita was waiting at the site for word about her husband, with Dick and PNRC people never leaving her side, offering comfort and encouragement in that time of uncertainty. Gerardo and his wife Mercedes also received the same kind of support and comfort while they were at the site for hours on end waiting for their daughter, Maureen, to be found. Both Norlita and the De Leons believed that Renier and Maureen were still inside the building.

Dick once again deployed the PNRC search-and-rescue team back on site this time, armed with hooligan tools, a portable chain saw, K7 circular cutters and hydraulic rescue rams, a spreader, and cutters to break through piles of concrete and steel at the pinpointed target area.

Barely an hour later, at around 2 a.m., of Saturday, October 20, the PNRC team found the lifeless body of Reinier Tan buried in debris at the foot of the escalator at the atrium of Glorietta 2. With some difficulty, Dick told Norlita that Renier had been found.

Maureen's body was found at 10:30 that evening — 33 hours after the explosion — by the joint search and rescue teams of PNRC and Makati City. Upon being informed of the discovery, Dick excused himself and returned to the blast scene, leaving his wife Kate with their friends to watch the New Minstrels show.

"Even if we can't provide relief to the family members by finding their missing relatives alive, at least we provide closure to their search. This is all part of the efforts of the Red Cross to alleviate human suffering," Dick said. "We are relentless in our search. We don't give up until we find them simply because their respective families do not have plans of giving up themselves."

Those still seeking missing relatives may contact the Social Services Group of PNRC though 5270000.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Comfort In Times of Uncertainty

Once again, the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) has proven that it is the premier humanitarian organization in the Philippines, ready to provide assistance in any way to those affected, in the light of the recent tragedy brought about by the Glorietta 2 explosion.

The death toll has now risen to 11 with the passing of Ricardo Petras, 24, at 2:23 AM, October 21 and the discovery of the body of Maureen de Leon, 24, at around 10:30 PM, October 20. Over a hundred were injured and there are a few individuals still being traced by their families and friends.

The PNRC was one of the first response teams to arrive at the scene shortly after the blast last October 19. Around 10 of the injured were treated by the PNRC team on-site while Welfare Desks were installed immediately near Ground Zero and at the Makati Medical Center and Ospital ng Makati to assist those who are trying to locate their loved ones who might have been inside Glorietta mall at the time of the explosion. A good number of those missing or unaccounted for were successfully located by the PNRC. But, as expected, not all stories in this kind of tragedy had happy endings.

Norlita Tan approached the PNRC Welfare Desk on-site, seeking help in locating her husband, Renier, who had been with her inside the mall shortly before the explosion. She just had her eyeglasses repaired at an optical shop at Glorietta 4, leaving her husband to pass time by himself strolling around the area. Little did she know that would be the last time she would see her husband alive.

At around 2:00 AM of October 20, the search and rescue team of the PNRC found Mr. Tan buried in debris at the foot of the escalator at the atrium of Glorietta 2. PNRC Chairman Richard J. Gordon had to take on the unpleasant task of informing Norlita that Renier had been found.

All that time that Norlita was keeping vigil at the site for word about his husband, the PNRC staff never left her side, offering comfort and encouragement in that time of uncertainty.

Gerardo and Mercedes de Leon also received the same kind of support and comfort from the PNRC staff while they were at the site for hours on end waiting for their daughter, Maureen, to be found. They did not waver in their belief that Maureen is still inside the building despite hours of search. Maureen’s body was found 33 hours after the explosion.

“Even if we can’t provide relief to the family members by finding their missing relatives alive, at least we provide closure to their search. This is all part of the efforts of the Red Cross to alleviate human suffering,” said Chairman Gordon to members of the press outside Glorietta 2. “We are relentless in our search. We are not giving up until we find them simply because their respective families do not have plans of giving up themselves. We can only do as much,” Godon added.

The PNRC is still providing assistance to those affected and would continue doing so long after the smoke has cleared. The PNRC had earlier sent 36 bags of blood, 18 to the Makati Medical Center and 18 to the Ospital ng Makati, right after the incident. Fortunately, they have not been used up but more would be available should there be a need in these hospitals which are still treating some of the wounded.

The Social Services Group of the Philippine National Red Cross is now taking care of assisting those whose relatives have not yet been accounted for. They can be reached thru 527-0000.
Red Cross on Continued Assessment and Aid to the Victims of the Glorietta II Bombing

It was around 1:30 PM last Friday, 19 October when the operation center of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) got the news on the explosion that occurred at Glorieta II Mall, Makati City. Upon receiving the news, the PNRC immediately deployed six ambulances with 20 staff and volunteers of medical and rescue team from different PNRC Chapters to initially provide search, rescue, and medical assistance to the victims of the blast incident. Then, three Social Workers were also sent to the Hospitals where the patients had been taken to set-up welfare desk and assist the families who where looking for their loved ones suspected to be in the blast-site and to provide stress debriefing to other affected persons.

The PNRC was the very first team to lead the retrieval operation since last night till present. Subsequently, at around 2:30 PM the PNRC rescue and medical team successfully located the missing body of Mr. Rennier Tan, buried under the debris of the ruined building.

To date, the PNRC operation center is still monitoring and assessing the needs of the victims and answering the calls of their loved ones round – the – clock. The action officers on duty had been continuously monitoring the updates and situation of the victims.

The latest report received by the PNRC from the Acute Cure Center of Ospital ng Makati as of 5:45 PM today, two patients confined in their hospital were already discharged this afternoon at around 4:45 PM respectively. The only person who is still in their care is Monie Amamag 34/F who is about to be transferred to Makati Medical Center.

In the Makati Medical Center, the persons still under their care are: Ma. Rebecca Aruyal 37/F, Cecilia Alfonso 49/F, Cesaria bajar 50/F, Kristina Dungca 19/F Bonnie Escolo 30/M, Ma. Melissa Estrada 31/F, Rolando Ganaban, 19/M, Hae Kim 24/F, Maricel Marcelo 42/F, Orlando In Ospital ng Makati, Pembo Makati, Ricardo Petras is still in their care. Robinson M, Robby Ross Serrano 22/M, and Shiela Mae Tingson 21/F.

On the latest news tonight, the remains of the reported missing person Maureen De Leon was located by the PNRC team and Makati rescue team at around 10: 30 PM. The body of the victim was excavated below the stair of the basement of the ruined building. The body was identified by Maureen’s cousin who is among the rescuer.

To date there are still two persons reported missing: Vergel Baron and Cristy Sulit. Len- len Tan and David Enriques who were reported missing earlier were already united with their families.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Restoring faith in government service

RESTORING FAITH IN GOVERNMENT SERVICE
Address of Sen. Richard J. Gordon

29th Annual National Convention

Government Association of Certified Public Accountants
Waterfront Hotel, Cebu City
11 October 2007


You honor me by inviting me to keynote this 29th Annual National Convention of the Government Association of Certified Public Accountants. And I welcome the fringe benefit that this provides me to visit Cebu City once again.

When I address your association, I am aware not only of your numbers – 10,000 members and 25 chapters nationwide – but of your great importance to the machinery of government in our country.


What is not well-known is the work that GACPA is doing to enhance the professional well-being and improve accounting and auditing practices for the ultimate benefit of our country and our people. Even less known is the fact that some in your ranks have fallen in the line of duty – the victim of violence.


No work truly is more critical to the reputation of our government today than yours. And none, I daresay, will prove more vital in the years ahead to successfully fulfilling our aspirations to progress.


A Time of Opportunity and Challenge

You convene at a pivotal time of both opportunity and challenge in our country. Opportunity because our economy is performing well for a change and there is a sense of hope abroad in the land. But challenge also because there is disunity today in our society and political lines are hardening instead of closing.

As you all know, just over a month ago, we saw the unprecedented conviction of a former president on charges of plunder and corruption by our Sandiganbayan. While it saddened me to see a popular president disgraced in this way, I was lifted also by the fact that our graft court courageously meted out justice after a prolonged and exhausting trial.

The Sandigabayan verdict was huge and far-reaching in declaring that all our public officials, however high their position, are accountable for their acts in office. Many of us long ago despaired that a big fish would ever be caught and convicted in our country. And our country has long enjoyed internationally a reputation for world-class graft and corruption.

No one expects, of course, this one act of justice to whitewash the long history of corruption in our government. But I said at the time that this verdict could usher in a tsunami of investigations and convictions in corruption cases in our country.

I think the tsunami is already here – if you have been following the Senate hearings in the Senate and the many charges being hurled in the media and being investigated by the Ombudsman. And if we can keep an eye on the ball, we have a decent chance of turning a corner in our fight against corruption.

I mention this now in your convention because our successfully coping with corruption is critically wedded to your convention theme of “Harnessing GACPA potentials for Productivity, Value and Quality Service.” And you, as trained accountants, know better than most what really goes on in the underbelly of our government, and you too long to see accounts in order in agencies and units of the government.

Understanding the Problem


Aa a Filipino and as a public official, I do not relish being told whenever I go abroad about our huge corruption headache. Whenever they rank the competitiveness of nations, we are cited for corruption. Whenever the World Bank issues its Doing Business index, we are at the bottom of the list for the corruption problem we face.

But what really are the facts? Are things really as bad as they are saying?

Is it a case of one or a few rotten apples in the barrel? Or is the barrel itself hopelessly rotten?

During the budget hearing for the Office of the Ombudsman just last week, I asked its representatives how many of the 15,000 cases or complaints they receive _________ are just cases of harassment, and how many are really cases of corruption.

They answered that 70 percent are just cases designed to harass certain officials in government. 30 percent are the real thing.

Further, under my questioning, they said that the Ombudsman’s office has a 63 percent success rate in convicting grafters they hale to court.

The percentage of success is impressive. But then comes the downer. The great majority of the cases have to do with the small fry. Most of the really big grafters never have to answer for their misdeeds in office.

The other thing that is revealing about the phenomenon of corruption in our country is that most cases don’t really have to do with the malversation of public funds. The really prevalent kind – and the costly ones – are those that have to do with bribery, cornering government contracts, and misusing the discretionary power of public office. They relate to the difficulties of doing business in our country.

Here lack of transparency and accountability runs roughshod over the public good. Project costs become inflated. Transaction costs are high. Public services become derailed. And the spectacle of graft breeds our horrible international reputation for corruption because it is usually people doing business who are asked to pay the price.

Ultimately, of course, it is the economy and our people who pay the price – in terms of lost opportunity, lost job, and lost growth.

Solving the Problem


Lamenting the problem is never good enough, however. Solving the problem is what counts.

I know that there is a lot of cynicism about the public service in our country. Whenever we advocate ambitious change – such as reforming government service in our country -- there are always be those who are ready with the arguments to discourage us.

Some preach “the perversity thesis” -- that any purposive action to improve some feature of the political, social or economic order only serves to exacerbate the conditions you wish to remedy.

Others offer “the futility thesis” – which says that any attempt at government transformation will be unavailing, that it will simply fail to make a dent.

And still there are others who will give you “the jeopardy thesis” -- which argues that the cost of the proposed change or reform is too high as it will endangers some previous, precious accomplishment.

This is the rhetoric of cynicism and reaction.

I do not concede this, however. You and I both know there is a way forward.

Whenever we talk about improving transparency and accountability in government, we don’t have to look for lessons abroad. We only have to look as far as our Commission on Audit.

I have much admiration for what COA and its government accountants have been doing in recent years to enforce processes and procedures in the expenditure of public money. I know this because I have been a Cabinet secretary and a local government official.

Indeed, COA auditors are sometimes so strict that they risk choking the life out of public service.

Given this tradition for scruples, COA I believe can have a pivotal role to play in effecting transparency and accountability in the government service. I would even venture that you can help in building more efficiency and effectiveness in government.

Beyond your focus on your role as watchdog, you could also perform a signal service in helping our public officials and public servants to do things right and better. You could assist in making them more transparent and effective.

As things stand today, our public and the world community only know only about the shenanigans in government. Little is known about the daily work that goes on that has to do with keeping agencies in check and accounts in order. We hear and read about the scandals. We know nothing about the graft that is daily being averted. Little do our people and the world know about the professionalism that goes into being a Filipino government public accountant.

It is on this tradition of professionalism that we can build the redoubt for honesty and probity in government. As long there is no moral inertia within your ranks, we can make a start toward change in our government bureaucracy

Public Advocacy of Accountability


Let us remember that all the advanced countries of the world went through their own dark nights of corruption before they were finally able to set to right their civil service.

Let us remember also that in recent years -- from Brazil to Japan, from Italy to Venezuela -- heads of state no less have been subject to charges of corruption. Corruption at all levels seems to be the hallmark not only of developing countries but also of a number of industrialized countries.

Yet at the end of the day, after all is said and done, governments are able to set things aright. Grafters are haled to court and sent to jail. And yes, even Presidents and prime ministers, are held to account. The business of the nation is able to move forward.

This is how it should be. This is what we must aspire for in our civil service.

We can’t do it all in a day. But the work must begin somewhere. And I would suggest to anyone who doubts that we can bring honesty and probity to government in this country, that they look at what our Commission on Audit and its auditor-accountants are doing. Here in your ranks can begin the transformation we all hope for.

Thank and may you have a most fruitful convention.

#

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Adventures in Sulu

Team Gordon Baguio had remarked that there was hardly anything posted on the internet about the island province of Sulu.

Scanning the internet just today brought me to this blog post about Sulu and thought I'd repost this article from the Mindanao Examiner for everyone to read.

The sad and sorry fact about common perceptions about Sulu, Basilan, and other so called 'war zones' in Mindanao is that these perceptions are fueled by anecdotes from people who have either not been to these provinces or reporters who have gone to these provinces to cover military operations conducted in these areas. Naturally, to a reporter covering armed conflict stories in these areas, the tendency is to label the areas they visit as a 'war zone' if only because that is they story they are focusing on and that is all they see. Reporters sometimes focus only on the story that will make the headlines and not necessarily the whole story. If they go to Sulu with the military, their editors or producers will expect them to come up with stories about military encounters with armed groups and not stories about the best mangosteens and durian in the pacific. These latter stories are perhaps more fit for other kinds of publications and shows, certainly not newspapers and radio or tv newsprograms. They won't sell paper or airtime or will it? This is why we think that The Mindanao Examiner should be commended for this post.

Senator Richard Gordon's recent visit to Sulu (in August and September) helped bring into clearer light the conditions in Sulu, Basilan, and other areas in Mindanao suffering from being called war zones. His vision for these areas have been talked about but have not been exhaustively discussed.

One vision is to fully harness the agricultural potential of Sulu, Basilan, North Cotabato, and other areas in Mindanao. Another vision is to promote these areas as tourist destinations.

Sen. Gordon's Fruits of Hope program has already begun to break the negative perceptions about these provinces. People tasting the mangosteens, lanzones, durian, and marang coming from Sulu and North Cotabato have begun to think of these provinces as sources of premium exotic fruits. Beyond fruit, Sulu offers the most delicious organically grown coffee and the biggest, tastiest lobsters -- better than Palawan's. North Cotabato also has great goat meat -- not the usual goatmeat you'd find in Manila with all the bits of bone and sinew, but real goat meat that is all meat and tender.

Some have laughed at the idea of promoting Sulu, Basilan, and North Cotabato as tourist destinations. But laughing at the idea just betrays more of their ignorance about tourists and tourist destinations. Consider Mexico and the idea that fugitives are always said to go for its border when they are trying to escape the law, then consider Cancun. Consider Sao Paolo in Brazil, consider places in South Africa, etcetera... A great number of tourists, besides looking for some relaxation, are also looking for exoticism and adventure.

What can be more adventurous and exotic than Sulu? Think about it. Boracay is fine on any other day, everybody I know has been there. But if you're looking for some really great pictures and some really great stories to tell, you gotta go to places that people haven't been to before and then think about Sulu.

And, while we are on this topic, did you know that Sulu was once at the center of the Majapahit Empire, which was among the greatest empires in Asia around the 15th century?

Anyway, enough of this, if you want to read more about Sulu... here's the story from the Mindanao Examiner.

Sulu Province – The Land Of Treasures


SULU, Philippines - Far-flung Sulu is the southernmost part of the Philippines, lying between the Sulu Sea on the north and the Celebes Sea on the south. With fishing as its most important industry, it is classified as a First Class Province in terms of income.

The glorious Sulu Sea is dotted with coral reefs, such as the pearl farm at Marungas Island, and provides some of the world’s best dive spots. Tubbataha Reef is its best known site, a 33,200-hectare underwater splendor drawing divers from all over the world with its marvelous marine wilderness and special ecosystem.

Because of its fabulous beauty, the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park was honored by UNESCO in December 1993 as the first natural site in the Philippines to be inscribed in the prestigious World Heritage List.

It is the best known site in the Sulu Sea, drawing divers from all over the world with its underwater splendor and the rich marine life that abounds in the reef. Snappers, sweet-lips, groupers, angel fish, and morays can be found amid huge fan corals and sponges.

Large schools of barracudas, jacks, rainbow runners, and surgeons pass by while tunas race about.

The Sulu provincial capital is Jolo town. Its walled city is the smallest in the world, with its historic brick walls that lay proof to the city’s historic past.

Another attraction of the city is the Provincial Capitol with its moorish-inspired architectural design.

The province nurtures a harmonious coexistence of the two most dominant religions in the Philippines, Islam and Catholicism. There are beautiful Muslim mosques situated in each village, most notable being the majestic Tulay Mosque which now towers the Sulu skyline.

The existing churches of Christian faith in the province are the Jolo Parish Church, Sacred Heart of Jesus Chapel, and Jolo Evangelical Church.

Geography

Sulu consists of over 400 scattered and almost isolated islands, stretching from the tip of Zamboanga southwestward towards Borneo.

It forms one of the three connections of the Philippines with Sabah. Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan is planning to convert some of these islands into world-class resorts because of their pristine and white sand beaches to help promote tourism.

Climate

Sulu is outside of the typhoon belt. Its climate is warm. Humidity is generally moist, but precipitation is constant throughout the year. February is considered the coldest month while May to August are the hottest, with mean relative humidity of 86%, one of the hottest in the country.

January to April is considered the dry period, with a monthly average of 7 to 9 inches of rainfall. The mean annual temperature is 26 degrees centigrade and the maximum is 27 degrees centigrade.

Language and Dialect

The principal dialect of the natives of Sulu is Tausug. The rest speak Samal and other dialects such as Visayan, Chavacano and Tagalog. English is widely spoken in Sulu.

Major Industries

While there is an absence of huge mineral deposits, Sulu nevertheless abounds in marine and timber resources and is believed rich in fossil fuel. Lying outside the typhoon belt, it is blessed with a year-round bounty from both land and sea.

Due to the character of the soil and climate, the province of Sulu grows a greater variety of products than any other part of the country. In addition to all the crops of the islands, which are abaca, coconut, and fruits like oranges, lanzones, and jacks, other fruits that do not grow in the northern islands are harvested here, such as the mangosteen berries and durian.

In September, some six tons of mangosteen and durian were shipped out to supermarkets in Manila and the fruits were completely sold out in hours. The shipment, Sulu Gov. Tan says, is part of the Fruits for Hope program. The international non-government organization, the Asia-American Initiative and Filipino Senator Richard Gordon also helped in the Fruit for Hope program.

Fishing is the most important industry. Sea turtles and fish of all kinds are caught. Otherwise the people engage in the industries of boat building, mat weaving, coffee processing, and fruit preservation (durian and mangosteen).

Trepang and pearls are extensively gathered in Sulu. Trepang, also called bêche-de-mer, is a sea cucumber of the genus Holothuria of the southern Pacific and Indian oceans, and is often dried or smoked for use as an ingredient in soup, especially in China and Indonesia. (Department of Tourism/Sulu Provincial Tourism Council)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Senate adjourns 4 days ahead of Oct. 12 schedule

Senate adjourns 4 days ahead of Oct. 12 schedule
Gordon wanted debate on village poll postponement By Veronica Uy
INQUIRER.net
Last updated 03:31pm (Mla time) 10/09/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- The Senate adjourned Tuesday, four days earlier than the October 12 schedule in the calendar of Congress.

The early break elicited a reaction from Senator Richard Gordon who said that he would have wanted a debate on his measure to suspend the barangay (village) and sangguniang kabataan (youth council) elections this October to May 2008.

Gordon said he wanted a postponement of the October 29 elections so that the automation of the polls might be pilot-tested in several places around the country.

Gordon referred the sponsorship of the measure to Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri last week when he, as chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross, went to Geneva for a board meeting of the international humanitarian organization.

But on the objection of Senate Minority Floor Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., the measure was set aside, killing all possibility for such a postponement. Pimentel said Zubiri could not defend the bill on the Senate floor without the corresponding committee formally delegating it to him.

Gordon belied this, saying anyone assigned by the Senate committee chairman could sponsor any bill, although he pointed out that the majority floor leader should be able to sponsor any bill.

“What’s more important, the automation of the elections or the barangay elections?” he asked.

Senate Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada presided over the session attended by Senate Majority Floor Leader Francis Pangilinan and Senators Joker Arroyo, Benigno Aquino III, and Panfilo Lacson.

Before this, the Senate suspended its session so that there would be no roll call this Tuesday. At least five senators, led by Senate President Manuel Villar, went to the Inter-Parliamentary Union Congress in Geneva. Those who went with him were Pimentel, Senators Pia Cayetano, Alan Peter Cayetano, and Loren Legarda.

Gordon conceded that the polls would push through this October 29. He said he would thus exert all effort so that the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in August 2008 would be fully automated.

Red Cross Seeks Blood Donations for Dengue Alert

Philippine Red Cross Chairman and Senator Richard J. Gordon has raised an urgent call to the public to support the Red Cross blood drive in response to the Department of Health's alert on the rise of dengue cases.

Gordon, who just arrived from a meeting of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Geneva, wasted no time in checking and reporting on the PNRC's readiness to respond to the dengue alert.

"The Department of Health's dengue alert should be taken seriously by everyone. The Philippine National Red Cross is working to maintain ample blood supplies, but we must ask the citizenry to do their part and volunteer in our ongoing blood drive," said Gordon.

The senator stressed that apart from ensuring ample supplies in areas where dengue is widespread, citizens volunteering to donate blood to the PNRC will ensure themselves and their families of blood for their own use when they need it.

For the past four months, the PNRC Blood Services was able to collect an average of 2,800 to 3,200 blood units/day. The daily national blood demand is 2,000 units per day.

Dengue hotspot cases were noted last month by the PNRC in Region 6 (Iloilo and Bacolod City) and Region 7 (Cebu City) and 5 barangays in Pangasinan. Last year's reported cases as per PNRC data for the month of August and September 2006, were 817 dengue cases as compared for this year at 1056 cases. Blood units served for August and September 2006, were 2,375 blood units against this year at 3,189 blood units.

The Department of Health declared a nationwide dengue alert after recording more than 24,000 cases and 283 deaths so far this year. The National Epidemiology Center reported that there were 4,000 infections in September alone.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies reported that as of July this year, Indonesia recorded about 68,000 cases, Thailand 24,000, and Cambodia 17,000. #

Impeachment vs GMA

Excerpt from ambush interview on October 9, 2007

ON IMPEACHMENT ISSUE

Sir, anong implikasyon na taga-KAMPI yung namimili ng boto…?

SEN. GORDON: Sa akin, kung sinasabi ni Ka Bel yun then he should file a case against them. That is the best way, kase speculative lahat yan. Pwedeng sabihin ang kahit ano until you are serious about it. Pag-file mo ng kaso. That is bribery.

Kahit tinanggihan?

GORDON: Kahit na tinanggihan. The mere offer is bribery already.

Yun taga taga-Kampi would…?

GORDON: I don’t know the guy so I can not comment on that. Hindi naman ako KAMPI, LAKAS, at hindi naman ako NP. Wala naman akong partido.

Sir political party yan ni Pres. Arroyo?

GORDON: I think LAKAS si Pres. Arroyo diba?

KAMPI sir, pero allied with PGMA?

GORDON: I don’t know who the people are and I think the proper thing to do would be to file a case against this person. It is just like Neri -- Neri should file a case against Abalos.

Sir, do you find it odd na ang KAMPI allied with GMA will push for the opposition member?

GORDON: I find it odd na si Ka Bel pa ang ia-approach nila at o-operan ( offer) ng P2M. I really find it odd.

Why sir?

GORDON: Syempre outspoken yan. Sisigaw yan kaya duda din ako doon. Kaya sabi ko para malinaw, file a case.

Pinagdududahan ninyo din si Ka Bel?

GORDON: Paano mo naman lalapitan kung maglalagay ka…Maglagay ka doon sa mga hindi maingay. Maingay yan. Kapag inoperan mo yan syempre sisigaw yan.

Pero bukod kay Beltran may iba pa yatang opposition congressman na umamin na tinangka din silang suhulan.

GORDON: Well, then they have a case. Magsama-sama sila at may kaso sila.

Paano kaya dapat mag react ang Palace sa ganito isyu?

GORDON: I don’t speak for the Palace. I am not even a member of their Coalition here. I just vote on the basis of the issues.

Pero ang naging kalakaran ay puro pera-pera lang talaga.

GORDON: Hindi ba yan ang uso sa Pilipinas. Pera-pera na lang palagi? Lahat naman diba. Tignan mo sa ZTE, may pera. Hello Garci may pera. Ganoon na lahat dito kaya nga kailangang baguhin ang lipunan.

Kahit dito sa Senate?

GORDON: I would not be surprised. There have been allegations like that with other senators in the past. Ang impeachment is a numbers game and that is why a lot of allegations will come out. Maraming ingay na lalabas dyan kaya dapat sukatin natin kung sino ang nagsasabi, ano ang sinasabi, seryoso ba yan. At para malaman nating kung seryoso, mag-file kayo ng kaso.

Senate President and Company attends IPU soiree

While important bills and contentious issues remain unattended, Senate President Manuel Villar along with Senator Alan Peter Cayetano (and wife), his sister Senator Pia Cayetano, and Senator Nene Pimentel (and wife) are cooling their heals in Geneva, Switzerland.

What follows are Sen. Gordon's reactions to the Senatorial junket. (Excerpts from ambush interview on October 9, 2007)

Sir, ilan sa senador umalis para sa IPU ang leaving hanging po yun mga dapat na gawin…?

GORDON: Kailangan ba, everybody has to go to IPU? Look at the delegations and the accompanying people. You have a session until Wednesday. We have to have session and we cancel the session yesterday. Where are they this time. Ano pakisamahan na lang. Pagbigyan na natin. Pagbigyan mo na. Tahimik lang tayo.

Anong comment nyo sa Senate leadership kapag ganito lagi…?

GORDON: Dapat magkaroon ng liderato sa Senado na matino, na mayroon priority. Hindi puro imbestigasyon ng imbestigasyon na umaabot ng 12 hours na hanggang ngayon ay wala pang committee report. Dapat pwede na tayong makakita ng linaw dito sa mga nangyayari. Di pa ba malinaw sa tao? Kung talagang seryoso yan, dapat mag-initiate na sya ng filing ng kaso doon sa mga taong involved.

Kung kayo ang senate President ganoon ang gagawin ninyo?

GORDON: Hindi naman ako nag-a-aspire ng Senate President.

Kung sakali lang, dapat ganoon..?

GORDON: Ako ang uunahin ko, ano ba ang priority ng Senado? Hindi ako sumusunod doon sa mga senador, dapat namumuno ka—ito ang priority. Wala namang priority yata eh? Tatanungin ka kung ano ang priority tapos hindi naman umaandar. Katulad nito, para bang kailangang kausapin lahat at oo bago ka magkaroon… dapat iri-risk mo. Dapat Itutulak ko ito dahil kailangan ng bayan ito. Kung matalo eh di malalaman kung sino ang ayaw, hindi yung kailangan mag-OO muna ang lahat. Hindi pwede yun. Iyan ang kahinaan ng sistema, hindi lang sa Senate President. Kahinaan ng sistema dahil hindi umiiral yung policy system.

Hindi ba kayo nakakahalata na tuwing nag-a-adjourn lagi na lang nakabitin yung bill mo?

GORDON: Okey lang yun. Dismayado lang ako dahil parang naglolokohan tayo dito. Yung iba nagagalit sa porma pero yung substantive ay hindi hinahanap.

Noon ko pa sinasabi na bago mag-election na let us prepare for barangay. Nag-election ng Mayo—let’s prepare for barangay. We keep allowing our institutions to get away with it.

Good bye automated polls, hello again garci et al

Excerpts from ambush interview with Sen. Richard J. Gordon on October 9, 2007


ON AUTOMATED POLLS

Sir, reaksyon sa barangay polls, nang binigay mo kay Sen. Zubiri ang pag-sponsor..?

SEN GORDON: He is a senator dapat iginalang nila si Sen. Zubiri. Wala naman sa rules yun at saka dapat mag-debate sila at paglabanan nila yung isyu at hindi yung hinaharang mo. Ano ba ang kinakatakot nila kung magkakaroon ng automated election? Dapat nagdebate sila, lalo’t tamang-tamang si Zubiri dahil si Zubiri daw ang nangdaya doon sa Mindanao. Dinaya daw si Koko Pimentel. Maganda talaga na sila ang maglaban dahil yun ang magsasabi kung talagang dapat o hindi na i-automate. Hindi pinagbigyan so ang nangyari ngayon ay wala na naman tayong automation.

Sinabi nga ng iba d’yan na nadaya sila hindi lang isang beses kundi dalawang beses pa. Yung pang nadaya ang ayaw ng automated elections? Hindi ko yata maintindihan yun? Ang isyu dito ay automated elections. Trabaho ng Comelec na i-automate. Sinabi ko na dito yan ng ilang beses. Pinababayaan ang Comelec to get away with not implementing the law.

Ang Senado is where you have 24 men who will debate the great issues of the day, you don’t block the debate by technicalities. Is that good parliamentarism? You make decisions. What decisions are we making here in the Senate. Is IPU more important than automation of election?

Pati ba admin block hindi sumusuporta?

GORDON: Ayaw din ng Malacanang ito. Ang totoo ang sabi ng Malacanang ayaw naming ng automation tapos nang kinausap sila ni De Venecia bumaligtad ang Malacanang. Ang sabi, ituloy uli pero ang totoo ayaw ng Malacanang itong automation. Ayaw ng Malacanang ng i-postpone. Ang ginagawa nilang isyu postponement. Hindi yun ang isyu, ang isyu dito automation. Ang isyu dito ay malayang halalan para ma-testing natin. Ang totoo ‘yan, naglolokohan lahat. Anong gagawin natin. May batas tayo—automation of election law. Hindi natin papairalin? Without anybody being accountable? There is a law and we don’t implement it? There is a goal 2010 full automation for presidential election. Hindi ba natin gusto na kapag natapos ang election ay nagko-concede yung mga presidente katulad ni Gore na nag-concede siya kay Bush kahit sinabi niyang may butas because tapos na eh. Walang gulo. Dito pag nanalo ini-impeach nang ini-impeach. Seguro nga dayaan dahill hindi nga tayo segurado sa sistema. That is why we want a system change.

Sino sa tingin ninyo ang mga humaharang?

Gordon: Pimentel. He doesn’t want it. I don’t know why?

Sir pu-push ninyo pa rin?

Gordon: No wala na eh. I came here knowing that it is never going to happen but I still attended. I’m here but my colleagues are not here. There are no debates. It was never given a chance. Do we want now a Senate that goes by consensus? “O sino ang sasama dito?” Gusto lahat dito consensus. They don’t want to debate. You don’t have a Senate. You have a consensus. There is no Senate anymore, there is no Congress anymore because paramihan lang. Wag na natin pagdebatehan. Kaya qualification anymore does’nt matter.

Iniwanan ko kay Zubiri para maka-attend ako ng napakahalagang meeting ng Red Cross sa Geneva at bumalik agad ako. Pero hindi pinayagan si Zubiri. Zubiri was the right man for Pimentel because sinabi niya dinaya siya ni Zubiri.

Sir, wala daw kayong pormal …?

Gordon: There is no such thing as formality here. We are all senators. Actually ang rule noong araw, unwritten, if the chairman or the sponsor is not around, the majority floor leader can sponsor any bill. That is the rule. Unwritten. Kaya nga may majority floor leader because the majority must be ble to push the legislation because the sponsor can not be present all the time.

Is the automation part of Sen Villar’s legislative agenda?

Monday, October 8, 2007

Senator Gordon and the barangay polls

Gordon and the IFRC

Asia: Nine National Red Cross/Red Crescent Groups Endorse Humanitarian Drug Policies

Nine national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies from across Asia last Saturday signed onto a consensus statement aimed at promoting health-based measures to address drug use and fight the social stigma attached to drug users. The sign-on came after two days of meetings among Asian Red Cross and Red Crescent groups in Manila.

The groups signed onto the Rome Consensus on Humanitarian Drug Policies, the result of a collaboration between the Senlis Council and the Italian Red Cross to push for more progressive drug policies. In a December 2005 meeting in Rome, numerous European, Latin American, Central Asian, and Middle Eastern Red Cross/Red Crescent signed onto the statement. Some 58 national Red Cross/Red Crescent organizations have now signed the Rome Consensus.

The Rome Consensus on Humanitarian Drug Policies contains the following planks:

  • To raise the profile of drug policy to the forefront of social concerns, recognizing that negative effects of drugs are felt at all levels of society.
  • To advocate a comprehensive public health, harm reduction and humanitarian approach as key elements of drug policy in the full knowledge that this approach provides the optimal way of achieving the goals of alleviating suffering, reaching vulnerable people and addressing the global HIV/AIDS crisis.
  • To acknowledge that the absence of a public health, harm reduction and humanitarian approach breeds stigmatization and marginalization of drug users, thus making reintegration harder.
  • To stress on the Red Cross/Red Crescent unique auxiliary role to governments and to make a commitment ranging from the volunteer to the leadership level.
  • To develop cooperation with the goal of encouraging public health, harm reduction and humanitarian oriented drug responses and activities, involving peers including drug users and people living with HIV/AIDS.
  • To implement carefully designed and transparent information, communication and life skill development programs concerning drug use and HIV/AIDS, with particular focus on vulnerable groups including prisoners and mobile populations.
  • To recognize the important contribution that can be made by peer groups, drug users and people living with HIV/AIDS.

In Manila last Saturday, Red Cross/Red Crescent groups from the following countries signed onto the Rome Consensus: Bangladesh, China, Fiji, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The Red Cross can play a "strategic role" in preventing drug abuse by mobilizing its volunteers to provide services that would improve the self-worth of at-risk individuals, said Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippines National Red Cross, in remarks reported in Xinhua, the official Chinese news service. "We can also advocate with the government to harmonize the policies related to drug use problems based on humanitarian values," said Gordon, who is also a Philippine senator.

It is important to move away from punishment for drug users, said Yang Xusheng, representing the Red Cross Society of China. "Violence and force will only meet resistance," he said, while conceding that China has a long way to go on that score, especially given the discrimination and social stigma faced by drug users.

"Stigma kills," emphasized Massimo Barra, chairman of the Rome Consensus Leaders Group. "Indifference and discrimination kill more than the abuse of substances. Drug users are treated more as criminals than as sick people."

With groups like national Red Cross/Red Crescent societies coming on board for progressive, humane drug policies, international drug reform's long march through the institutions of civil society and, ultimately, government, takes another step forward.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

October 3, 2007

To Babe Romualdez,

This refers to your column ‘Flashy Gordon’ which was published in the Philippine Star on October 2, 2007.

Resigned Comelec Commissioner Benjamin Abalos was not humiliated by Senator Richard Gordon, it was Abalos who humiliated himself after prominently figuring in the dubious and anomalous ZTE Broadband deal – which by the way, wasn’t the first time Abalos’ name was attached to anomalous and irregular transactions that wasted billions of pesos. And, this is not even to mention the time that he said he didn't know anything about 'Hello Garci' in 2004 and the time that he refused to implement the Automated Elections law, which eventually gave way to 'Hello Bedol' just this year.

Yet here you are, pleading sympathy for a man who hardly deserves sympathy.

You bleed for Senator Alan Peter Cayetano whose bungling of the Senate Hearing on the ZTE Broadband deal allowed former NEDA Secretary General Romulo Neri to escape further questioning and eventually reveal who else was offered a bribe. Apparently, Cayetano didn’t know that Neri could not invoke Executive Privilege unless it involved matters of National Security.

Also, if you actually watched ANC or took time to read the transcript of the hearing before firing off your column, perhaps you would have seen how respectfully Gordon had requested to exercise his privilege and how he was subsequently told by Cayetano to stop ‘quibbling’ with rules, which was actually the reason why Gordon took the opportunity to put Cayetano in his place. The Senate should have no room for people who have no appreciation for the rules that govern it and it should not tolerate the lapses of a Chairman who is still reading up on its rules.

Yet here you are, quibbling over Gordon’s temper.

Your version of the events involving COA Chairman Guillermo Carrague and Senator Gordon is inaccurate. In response to Gordon’s queries on the COA’s performance of its duties in the ARMM, it was Carrague who stood up, pointed a finger at Senator Gordon, and shouted ‘You’re a Dictator!’ Gordon rebutted that he was not a dictator, he was Dick Gordon – the humor in the pun must have escaped Carrague who people say wasn’t completely himself at that time. Nevertheless, Carrague apologized for his behaviour but only after being threatened with contempt – perhaps other people would have been more circumspect and would not need to be threated with contempt to realize how inappropriately they acted.

Gordon was the one subjected to disrespectful behaviour and yet here you are, calling him arrogant.

Near the end of your column, you had called yourself a friend of Senator Gordon but that was in relation to your act of bringing a prospective locator to SBMA ten years ago – which most of Gordon’s former staff don’t actually remember you doing. Maybe there were just too many people trying to broker deals during that time and maybe yours fell through or fell through the cracks, but that’s hardly a reason to be sore with Gordon.

In anycase, the reason why I bring this up is that your entire column speaks of misplaced sympathies and hardly gives evidence of being a friend to Gordon. I once had a notion that being a columnist meant being a journalist of the highest order, after reading your column – with its inaccuracies and absolute lack of fairness – I had to revise my notion. This only applies to some and not all columnists -- certainly not you.

Paul Farol, Manila

Babe Romualdez and his misplaced sympathies

We hope the Philippine Star prints this letter which responds to a column written by Babe Romualdez. In anycase, here it is for all the read.

Dear Mr. Romualdez,

I write in connection with your column Takin' Care of Business in the Philippine Star entitled "Flashy Gordon" yesterday 2 October 2007.

I don't know if you are indeed a friend of Dick Gordon. However, as a staff that has been with him since Subic, allow me to respond to your misplaced concern/s regarding his temper even going as far back as ten years ago in relation to his aspirations of leading our nation.

Dick Gordon is a passionate leader who does not let anything or lets anyone get in the way in doing what is best for the country and people. Such leadership style has often been misunderstood and branded as arrogance.

He was arrogant when as the youngest delegate he called for a vote on the ban Marcos re-election measure in the 1971 Constitutional Convention.

He was arrogant before the nation when he transformed the community of Olongapo that was portrayed as Sin City even though it had previously cost him his father's own life.

He was arrogant to call for a joint use of the US bases by Filipinos and Americans while Marcos and Reagan were re-negotiating the bases treaty long before the closure in 1992.

He was arrogant when he jailed some 20 policemen including a chief of police for disturbing the peace and abusing their authority in his city even during the period of Martial Law.

He was arrogant when he let the then Admiral of the US Navy walk and apologize to the community for not letting Filipino citizens of Olongapo safe passage through the base when Mt. Pinatubo erupted.

He was arrogant when he interfered and went against the wishes of Cory Aquino and the NDCC and brought down 8,000 Aetas from the mountains of Zambales as well as led a rescue team with Americans to the ruins of Central Colleges in Cabanatuan and airlifted relief goods using US marine choppers from Clark to Baguio.

He was arrogant before Congress and the Senate when he lobbied for the creation of a Freeport and at the same time take the reigns as Chairman of the SBMA.

He was arrogant when he competed against leading freeports like Hong Kong, Singapore and Labuan to make Subic an international trade and tourism destination.

He was arrogant when he refused to go before Congress to receive a budget from the national government to run SBMA and instead raised his own revenues to spare Filipino taxpayers additional burden and add more to the government coffers.

He was arrogant when he competed against Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong to host Federal Express' Asia One hub in Subic that resulted in Orchids from Davao and fresh tuna from General Santos to be brought overnight to Japan and the US markets.

He was arrogant when he reprimanded, suspended and fined foreign investors like Hong Kong Chinese of Reebok, Koreans of Hanjin Construction, Taiwanese of UIG, Germans of Alcatel and Americans of Enron and Coastal who were abusive and or have violated labor and environmental laws, respectively in Subic.

He was arrogant when he forced the longer stay of 21 world leaders of APEC in the Leaders' Summit to prove that the country was a safe and a sincerely changed nation.

He was arrogant when he was the first to stand up against the most popularly elected president, Joseph Estrada, who issued his first act of not recognizing government security of tenure and the rule of law. He still remains arrogant not to allow him pardon.

He was arrogant when he made the Department of Tourism shape up as a frontline service agency to be voted top government department in a survey by the Makati Business Club when he ended his stint.

He was arrogant to lead the tourism industry at the height of kidnappings, war in Mindanao and even more arrogant to sustain the effort to promote the Philippines amidst Abu Sayyaf, SARS, and the Oakwood mutiny. He still remains arrogant in pushing for the Tourism Act in Congress.
He was arrogant when he stood up against first world countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Australia who issued unfair Travel Advisories indirectly rewarding terrorists against third world countries like the Philippines who's economies depend on tourism.

He was arrogant when he commandeered an entire US marine battalion to relocate their joint training exercises in Luzon to assist in rescue and relief operations in the St. Bernard, Southern, Leyte landslide.

He was arrogant when he took charge and ordered various government rescue personnel and even media during the chaotic Wowowee ULTRA stampede.

He was arrogant when he defended the integrity of the Constitution, despite voting against it in 1987, before unlawful moves for CHACHA, PIRMA and PI.
He was arrogant when he summoned PCGG officials and jailed Chairman Sabio who refused to be investigated for corruption and mismanaging ill-gotten wealth that they were supposed to retrieve and protect.

He was arrogant when he debated with his colleagues to pass the Automated Election System law to ensure the sanctity of our votes and for our electoral system to modernize and become at par with democracies like the United States and India where results are decided immediately the next day. He still remains arrogant pushing the COMELEC to implement the law ASAP.

Now you add Dick Gordon's arrogance when he grilled Abalos at the Senate hearings where his litigation style of questioning unmasked the earlier grinning and sheepish former COMELEC Chair to admit that at the height of election period for the May 2007 mid-term elections he traveled on many occasions to China to play golf with ZTE executives. Furthermore, Dick Gordon unraveled the seeming pattern of anomalous projects costing billions to our people -- Php3.8Billion for the failed Voters Registration and ID System; Php 2.6Billion for the failed Voters Validation System; and Php2.3Billion for the canceled Mega Pacific computerization deal.
We must not therefore find fault and castigate Dick Gordon for being arrogant. It is about time that we elect a president with such passion and measure of arrogance to put fire in our bellies and cope with the myriad challenges of a thankless job of leading our country to overcome the social, political and economic wrought we are in.

Louis D. Pawid III, Quezon City.
AT LARGE
A window of opportunity
By Rina Jimenez-DavidInquirer
Last updated 03:12am
(Mla time) 10/03/2007

MANILA, Philippines--Now that Chair Benjamin Abalos has finally resigned from the Commission on Elections (Comelec), he leaves a window of opportunity for all well-meaning individuals, including, because hope springs eternal, the appointing power, to create a “new and refreshed” Comelec.

With the vacancy created by Abalos, and many commissioners retiring in the next few months, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her advisers have the chance to appoint a whole new board of commissioners (or at least a majority) who can truly transform the Comelec into an independent, non-partisan poll body by adopting the necessary reforms in our electoral system.
The most pressing of these reforms is computerization, reducing, if not eliminating entirely, the human “hands” that get in contact with ballots, tally sheets, canvassing forms, statements -- and in the process manage to lose, replace, revise, and reconfigure them and thus turn our elections into a sham.

True, we have been warned that computerization alone won’t be able to wipe out all forms of fraud or cheating. There are the “hands” (and duplicitous brains) involved, after all, in preparing the basic program that will run the software involved in reading and counting the ballots. Or even before then, the “hands” involved in preparing the registration rolls, which are the basic material on which clean, honest and credible elections are based. Still, computerization would make for a good start, and we can input all the protection measures we want right now, while we still have time to choose and pick among the many voting programs available.

Sen. Dick Gordon, whose pet measure has been computerized voting, says we don’t even have to write new programs or choose from among untested models. All around the world are computerized voting and counting systems that have long been used and proven successful. In Hawaii, for instance, he saw voting computers that even provided Ilocano translations of the instructions.

* * *

So what are we waiting for? Gordon said, during the run-up to last May’s elections, that there were funds available for a test run -- which the Comelec refused to implement -- as well as for the national adoption of automated elections. The mandate for computerizing voting and ballot counting is more than a decade old, and in fact has already been amended.

We have the implementing law, we have the funds, and we have many eager aspirants, Filipinos as well as foreigners, offering their software and hardware to the Comelec. Of course, we also have the MegaPacific deal hanging like an ominous shadow over the entire move to computerize the polls.

But that contract, voided by the Supreme Court, was anomalous only because it was overpriced, didn’t go through the normal legal processes of bidding, and was going to be implemented by a company that was both under-funded and incapable of meeting the technical demands of the project. The justices were of the opinion that this anomalous transaction would not have been possible were it not for the consent, if not collusion, of Comelec officials, none of whom were found liable by the Ombudsman. And that’s why the pending replacement of the present crew of Comelec leaders is really the first step toward not just computerization but broader reforms.

* * *

So what’s holding us back?

Our lawmakers, as well as Malacañang, have kept a deafening silence on the issue, which is strange because President Arroyo herself, during her first term, declared that computerized elections were a priority. And, judging from the thunder and lightning emanating from candidates and supporters in the period leading to, during and after the voting, you would think they would go for computerization at the drop of a hat.

But the reality is that cheating benefits candidates, and has become in this country a not-so-little industry in itself. The possibility of eking out an electoral victory in the last few days of canvassing by “tweaking” the results continues to tantalize moist-eyed aspirants, who would not want their defeat in the polls “prematurely” sealed by quick and objective counting machines.
And what are we to do with the watchers and representatives, as well as the members of boards of canvassers, who stand to make tidy incomes by playing their designated roles in “ensuring” the right results? Goons and guns have largely been rendered inutile in reversing election results, except perhaps in the usual “hot spots” where rivals are conveniently put out of commission, but surely even private armies would resent the loss of any extra seasonal income.

* * *

We are these days facing a real turning point in our history as a democracy. We have the opportunity, depending on the men and women chosen by the President to take the reins of the Comelec, to either turn it into an efficient, credible, and reliable poll monitor, or into the same, if not worse, business-as-usual Comelec whose oversight duties over the past elections have either been sloppy or corrupt.

But let’s say President Arroyo surprises even the cynics and finds individuals of rectitude and independence to appoint to the Comelec. These people would then have to find the motivation to go against tradition and inertia induced by familiarity, and begin the process of transition into automated polls. They would have to withstand all sorts of temptation, too, and develop enough independence of spirit to ignore the pleas of influence peddlers, whose numbers and strength seem to be increasing steadily under the Arroyo administration.

Our hope -- and it is a faint hope -- rests finally on the assumption that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will be brave enough to act against her own interests.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

It used to be that the Editorial and Opinion pages were worth reading through, but these days, I have my doubts.

On Sunday, September 30, 2007, the Inquirer lambasted Senator Richard Gordon for his heated exchange with Senator Alan Peter Cayetano over rules governing the hearings. The crappy thing about this country is that we are not allowed to behave like Gordon when it is warranted. Most Filipinos just allow themselves to be stepped on and waylaid, all the while smiling, laughing, and trying to be polite about it. Gordon won't allow himself or others to be so easily treated shoddily, that is what the whole exchange between him and Cayetano was all about.

Against Gordon, it says in its Editorial: "The lowest point was Richard Gordon acting like a petulant child, insisting on adding a full hour to the proceedings because he craved television time, when even his usually fractious colleagues had decided to go into executive session."

The writer of the Editorial should have waited for the full transcript of the hearings. (It has known to have reporters who for some reason rely on hearsay.) Gordon did not insist on adding a full hour to the proceedings or insist to do so for his own sake. He asked Cayetano to proceed with the hearing as not all senators involved had been able to ask their questions. Cayetano had previously moved to go into executive session, saying erroneously that there had been a consensus to do so and that senators had waived their right to ask questions. Gordon told him, albeit forcefully, that he had not waived his right and that going into executive session would cause the people called for the hearing to leave the Senate, thereby preventing him along with other Senators from asking their questions. The opinion as written in the Editorial, which the whole Inquirer is assumed to support, is inaccurate and unfair.

The next sentence reads, "Gordon wouldn't even give the chairmen of the committees, Sen. Alan Cayetano in particular, the basic respect due a chairman."

Kung may basic respect, may special respect ba? Ano iyon, parang mami? When you talk of real respect, no adjectives are necessary.

The writer of the editorial should be reminded that RESPECT is earned. It is not something accorded to a person because of his or her position. To be respected you have to show respect for others first and in this case, Cayetano had provoked the exchange with Gordon when he asked whether Gordon would continue to 'quibble' -- this is something which the Inquirer didn't include to say in its Editorial.

"We have seen many moments of political degeneracy in our recent Senates, but Gordon's was among the most galling debasements of the Senate. Miriam Defensor-Santiago's slur on an entire civilization came quite close in disgracefulness."

This just shows how short, narrow, and shallow the frame of reference this writer is using. Either that, or the writer's sense of magnitude is just completely skewed out of proportion. Does the Inquirer think it is wrong to stand up for yourself when you think you have been slurred or belittled or treated with anything less than respect?

Since the Editorial mentions the impeachment trials, let us remember that in 2001 some of the present members were full against Erap during the impeachment proceedings. Now we have some of them falling over one another in a tawdry race to give Erap a pardon, hardly asking themselves first if this pardon is deserved or not.

All in all, there is one phrase I think everybody should consider living by and it might sound a bit harsh on the ears but it says what I feel exactly: Give no BULL, take no SHIT!

Paul

Team Gordon 2010

NEWSSTAND
The ‘bully’ in Mar Roxas
By John NeryInquirer
Last updated 01:59am (Mla time) 10/02/2007

“Sometimes my passion is mistaken for anger.”

Sen. Richard Gordon is still smarting from the flak he has received over his run-in with Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano during last Wednesday’s Senate hearing and his questioning of (just resigned) Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos.

The continuing argument with Cayetano, the blue ribbon committee chair, still riles him, he said, because it involves Sec. Romulo Neri’s unwarranted claim of executive privilege -- and the distinct possibility that Neri would decline to make a second appearance at the Senate. “They let him get away ... The chair should have decided. The chairman let him get away with it.”

Gordon was the committee chair who detained Camilo Sabio, chief of the President Commission on Good Government, last year for refusing to testify before the Senate. Sabio sued, but the Supreme Court sustained Gordon and the Senate.

“The guy doesn’t even know his rules,” Gordon said, and of course he was talking about Cayetano, not Sabio. As for his grilling of Abalos, Neri’s alleged briber, he repeated what, in my view, is a question with unimpeachable logic: “Obviously the poisoned fruit has been distributed. Doesn’t it stand to reason [that] others have also been offered [a bite]?”