Wednesday, July 31, 2013

CULTURE: Invaluable to Nationhood

 My barber asked for my take on the “National Artist Award” controversy.  I told him that my serious interest in “Culture” has been limited to the following circumstances:

First was when I was an AFS (American Field Service) Scholar assigned to live with an American family in order to learn American customs, traditions, and of course, “culture”. Correspondingly, I was expected to impart or show our own Filipino culture to my foster family, the school, and the community I lived in.

I learned Filipino folk dances for show in school.  In Stanford University, I sang with two other AFS students the song, “Maalaala Mo Kaya” (Would You Still Remember).   I also demonstrated how to cook Filipino food like Sinigang and Adobo.

Second was when I had to do a presentation in my International Criminal Law class to earn my Master of Laws degree.  The topic was, “Crimes Against Cultural Property and the Environment”.  It was serious enough to merit a bit of research.  The value of “culture” for every nation or community is indeed immeasurable.

Third was when I got involved with the minorities (Blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, and other Asians). Together we fought for our cultural, economic/business, and socio-political rights.  Working with the American Indian Tribes defending their treaties and reservation autonomy provided me with the opportunity to learn their culture.

Fourth was when former Maryland Delegate David Valderrama requested me to develop and present to the Office of the Prince George’s County Executive the viability of having a Cultural Center serving the Filipino community and other cultures.  We wanted the Land Title of an old Fire Station building transferred to a designated non-profit organization that would build the Philippine National Multi-Cultural Center.  The latter is now operating and hosts to events that include concerts and receptions for dignitaries.

Fifth was just last night when Tina and I attended a special screening at the Philippine Embassy with the presence of Ambassador and Mrs. Cuisia.  Written, produced, and directed by Mona Lisa Yuchengco (former classmate of Tina), the documentary was about Filipino national artist Marilou Diaz-Abaya whose contribution to Philippine Cinema and to Philippine cultural enrichment is invaluable. I sat for more than an hour listening to the late Marilou Diaz-Abaya telling stories about her films and the influence of acclaimed Filipino directors like Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal plus hearing TV commentator and writer Randy David talk about Marilou.  It made me feel “cultured” a little more.

I told Lisa that her movie would surely help convince President Aquino to make Marilou Diaz Abaya a “National Artist Award” recipient posthumously.


Most recently, the Philippine Supreme Court decided to invalidate the Presidential Proclamations of four known individuals as recipients of the “Order of National Artists”.   The reason for the invalidation is that, former President Arroyo had committed grave abuse of discretion when she ordered the granting of the National Artist Award to Cecile Guidote-Alvarez for Theater and to three others.

The former President supposedly gave “preferential treatment” to the four and disregarded rules of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts and the Cultural Center of the Philippines in selecting the awardees.

I read the pertinent laws (Presidential Decrees, Executive Orders, Republic Act 7356), relating to the awarding of the “Order of National Artists” by the President.  I am not too sure if the Supreme Court made the right decision especially in the case of voiding Proclamation 1826 re Cecile Guidote Alvarez.

If I remember my law, “grave abuse of discretion refers to capricious or whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction.  The abuse of discretion must be patent and gross to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or a virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law, or to act at all in contemplation of law, as where the power is exercised in an arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion and hostility.”

The awarding of the “Order of National Artists” is a Presidential authority, discretion, and prerogative.  He has the authority to proclaim, confirm, and confer awards.  Some executive agencies like the Cultural Center of the Philippines, National Commission on Culture and Arts, and the Committee on Honors have been designated to assist in the process but the final authority remains with the President.  The latter only has recommendatory powers.  Those of the President are NOT ministerial.

The honor, award, or order is the highest award for national artists.  That is why it should be granted and conferred by the highest official of the land – the President.  It is not a Congressional Award.  Neither is it a Judicial or Supreme Court Award.  It is a Presidential/National Award!

The fact that it was President Arroyo who signed the proclamations should not be the issue.  She is the same President who signed the appointments of most of the current members of the Supreme Court.  The proclamations were signed in July, 2009 - way before the end of her term.  So, they could not  be considered midnight proclamations.

Besides, the CCP and the NCCA are not like the Judicial Bar Council where the latter is called upon to come up with a short list of nominees to the Supreme Court.  Under the law, the President is mandated to appoint one in the short list.  In the case of the short list provided by the former, there is no law that mandates the President to choose the National Artist Awardees exclusively from the list.  Otherwise, the law should have provided it.

On the merits, there is no doubt in my mind that Cecile Guidote Alvarez deserves the award.  It would have been inappropriate and even unethical for her to be included in the short list of nominees by the National Commission on Culture and Arts (NCCA) having been its former Chairman and Executive Director.  

It would not have been proper to require her to justify why she should be given the award.  It was a presidential decision – not hers.

It has been said that, “A culture is a way of life of a group of people--the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.”

In the darkest time of Martial Law where the Philippines was known for its culture of corruption, culture of impunity, and culture of jewelry and shoe collection, a group forced to be exiled abroad remained true to Philippine values, beliefs, behaviors and symbols.  They were manifested in real life even in exile and in theatrical arts be it stage or in the streets.  Cecile was a leader of that group!  After the assassination of Ninoy, the group became part of the Ninoy Aquino Movement (NAM). 

There are legitimate sources to validate Cecile’s contribution to Philippine cultural and theatrical arts.  The awards that she received brought honor not only to herself, her family, but most especially to the Philippines.  

Proclaiming and conferring her with the honor of “Order of National Artist” would have recognized such contributions.  She does not deserve to be shamed by invalidating the act of another.

PNoy should correct this injustice.  Cecile Guidote Alvarez is a National Artist that we could be proud of.  The late Senator Ninoy Aquino, former Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus, Father James Reuter, SJ, and former Education & Culture Secretary Alejandro Roces would have agreed.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

PNoy’s SONA 2013: AYEs Have It!

I like PNoy’s SONA this year.  First, by choosing to deliver his address in Pilipino, he was making sure that his target audience, meaning his “bosses” – the Filipino people, could understand in the clearest terms his report and message.  Second, he supported his address and report with specific facts and figures – numbers that everybody understands; that tell better stories; and that even the severest critics find hard to argue against.

Many did not like the speech for being lengthy (100 minutes).  My barber’s response to that is, “It better be long if you have an extensive list of achievements that your bosses should know.”

Some criticize it because it excluded many things that they believe should be included.  To them my barber says, “Then, the SONA would really be too long.”

Last year, I used ABS-CBN News Tracker of PNoy’s promises vs. performance to date as my basis for my objective analysis to go with my subjective one.   This year, I am again using ABS-CBN News Tracker but focusing on how PNoy’s bosses assess his performance based on 10 categories related to his promises.

The categories are:  1. Economy, Jobs, Asset Reform.; 2. Education, Sports; 3. Government and Ethics; 4. Health and Environment; 5. Tourism; 6. Government and Justice; 7. Urban Poor; 8. Mindanao; 9. OFWS and Foreign Affairs; 10. National Security.

The public is asked on what their view is on PNoy’s performance: aprub (APPROVE);  ayos lang (JUST OK or FAIR);  or an’yare (FAILED).

Over all, ABS-CBN News reported the following results:

APPROVE:     53%
FAIR:              17%
FAILED:         30%

Called upon to fulfill his promises in 6 years, majority of those who expressed their views approve of his 3-year performance so far.   About 17% of them believe that while the state of the nation is AYOS LANG (Just OK), they want him to do more and better.   About 30% think that he is a failure.  According to my barber, the naysayers are being true to form.  They will always think PNoy is a failure even if he performs “miracles”.

PNoy obtained the highest approval from his bosses in Tourism and National Security.  PNoy got 62% and 63% approval of his performance in the 2 categories, respectively.

I am not surprised! The “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign generated more than 4 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2012 alone.  It could generate 5.5 million in 2013.  My barber encourages his customers to “Book it!  Philippines is the place to be!”

On National Security, Aquino promised modernization of the Philippine military.  In December 2012, he signed the AFP Modernization Act that renewed, for another 15 years, the modernization of the armed forces to the “tune of P75 billion for the first 5 years.”  This means that we now see a continuous upgrading of weapons, hardware and equipment for the military. In fact, according the ABS-CBN report, the military is already acquiring Hamilton-class cutters, FA-50 multi-role fighter jets; new radar systems, close air-support aircraft, flight simulator machines, Bell 412 combat utility helicopters, armored vehicles, assault rifles, long-range patrol aircraft,  anti-aircraft guided missiles, multiple launch rocket systems, 155mm self-propelled artillery guns,  service support vessels, an anti-submarine helicopter, and AW109 naval helicopters.

The police forces are getting modernized too.  ABS-CBN says that on July 2, 2013, Aquino led the distribution of over 22,000 Glock 17-generation 4, 9-mm pistols to police officers. This is the biggest batch of firearms distributed so far of the 59,904 pistols acquired by the Philippine National Police last year.

He performed worst in the following categories:  OFWS and Foreign Affairs as well as Government and Justice.   Less than 50% of his bosses approve of his performance in these 2 areas (38% and 43%, respectively) while 15% and 18% respectively say, Ayos Lang.  Of course, the optimists would add the 2 ratings and end up with 53% and 61% and hope that better things would come.  The naysayers on the other hand, would claim hopelessness in these categories.

The expose on Sex for Flight regarding OFW women actually stains the efforts of the government and PNoy’s promise to protect them.  The wheels of justice are still slow.  There still exists that Wang-Wang mentality or Culture of Impunity in the judiciary.  Powers that be still think they can get away with murder.  Corruption in the judicial process remains unabated.

He chose to criticize publicly the performance of 3 agencies in his administration namely: Bureau of Customs, Bureau of Immigration, and the National Irrigation Administration.  These are all breeding grounds of corruption.  Many of the corrupted have been in the bureaucracy for years protected by the Civil Service System and their political “padrinos”.

I do not know about the other 2 but in the Bureau of Customs, putting honest men like Biazon and General Lim would not have been enough.  You had to provide them full support (political, legal, and logistical) to go after the well-entrenched protectors of the status quo.

The amount of responsibility that one has is always commensurate to the amount of power and resources that he possesses to meet that responsibility.  

As president, PNoy has tremendous powers and resources that he could use or delegate to his agencies to fulfill their mandates.  There are enough laws to enforce.  The government has the COA, the NBI, the DOJ, the Ombudsman, PCGG and other enforcement agencies to go after the thieves and the corrupt in government.

S.AL.N. (Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth) and other constitutional provisions brought down a very powerful but corrupt Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  The same could easily be used to remove, suspend, or reform corrupt employees not only of the judiciary but also of other agencies regardless of whether they are protected by Civil Service or by their political “padrinos”.

As I suggested earlier, lead a S.A.L.N. Revolution.  Get rid of the undesirables!

One of the better lines in PNoy’s SONA was how savings in government would be used for education, health, housing, infrastructure, and the like.  Citing examples made them very credible.  

The abolition of the pork barrel would precisely generate tremendous savings that could be used for the services mentioned.  Or as a compromise, the earmarks specified for the services could be transferred to the Local Development Councils (LDCs).  The interested Congressman or Senator could claim credit if he wants to.

The Cory Constitution already guarantees freedom of Information.  In fact, it is in the Bill of Rights and therefore, self-executing.  PNoy may choose to issue an Executive Order or push for the passage of the FOI Bill.  Either way, he would silence his critics but at the same time restricting or limiting any abuse.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

PORK Barrel, POLITICAL Dynasty, PEOPLE’s Initiative

Three of my last six articles in this column/blog had been devoted to the Battle Against Political Dynasty.  Two were on protecting the Philippine Archipelago through the use of unmanned vehicles.  One was on the surveillance programs of the NSA as revealed by fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden.  

Readers found them interesting because they are getting also the perspective of a barber, his clients who could be learned, sophisticated, of some ordinary or substantial means, and of course, me.  The topics also happened to be in the headlines when the columns were written.

Of all the responses or comments that I received on the Political Dynasty columns, there was one that caught my attention.  It came from Manuel Valdehuesa, a friend from a while back who has consistently advocated socio-political reforms for about half a century now.

He wrote, Actually this issue is intimately linked with the
‘Amass capital for elections, dynasty-building and self-enrichment.’

With an annual allocation of P200 M (half for "soft" Pork involving cash outlays, half for "hard" involving infrastructure) one term in the senate nets P1.2 billion ++ to play around with, tax-free and practically no accountability.

Same in the House though with only proliferation not only of dynasties but also of insurgency.  Imagine, from practically nothing, the front organizations of the NDF-CPP - collectively every year to subsidize their parliamentary/street-level operations, their armed depredations in provinces, and their collection of 'revolutionary" taxes and permit-to-campaign fees.

Meanwhile, relatives in government like the Cayetano and Ejercito siblings in the senate can buy all the votes they need with tax-free money and "contributions" which are actually loans payable during their terms. Pork and Dynasty are the twin issues causing dry rot in all local jurisdictions.”

This was before the news media headlined the involvement of “28 Philippine Solons Re Pork Barrel Scam.”  My barber and I agree with Manny Valdehuesa.  So do many of our readers and right thinking Filipinos!


Couched with high-sounding description, “Priority Development Assistance Fund” (PDAF), Filipino legislators are allocated large sums of the annual budget (P200M for each senator and P70M for each representative) to supposedly finance certain development projects of their choice (in the case of the senators) and/or in their districts (in the case of representatives).  The total allocation is about 25 billion pesos annually.

Most, if not all Filipinos, know that many of the legislators have always conspired with contractors, NGOs, and other beneficiaries of the PDAF so that a certain percentage of the allocation would be kicked back to the legislators.  The percentage ranges from 20-40 %.  At least, in this scenario, 60-80% are assumed to benefit the citizens even with less service and less quality for sure.

My barber describes the practice of sharing the pork as “bringing home the bacon”, “hamon pamasko”, “pulutang lechon kawali, crispy pata, or roasted pig.”  They are all great recipes for pork.  It initially benefited some members of the community; it eventually became an exclusive family affair.  Hence, the ardent desire for control – creating political dynasties.
To many of these legislators, greed and the uncontrollable desire for power and control have led them to ask for more.  Thus – resulting in the SCAM where the only beneficiaries are the legislators and the scammers.  ZERO percent went to citizens.  The latter became last priority in the development assistance funding.


Presidents always found it hard to give up this “pork barrel” practice because they use it as a leverage to extract concessions from Congress.  There are powers that only the legislature possesses that, at times, Presidents need to pursue their executive agenda.

There is rampant corruption because of pork barrel.  There is pork barrel in order to satisfy the cravings of a greedy Congress virtually controlled by political dynasties.  

Remove political dynasties as mandated by the Cory Constitution.  Remove pork barrel, which causes corruption and the proliferation of dynasties.  Use the People’s Initiative as an alternative to Congress.  The Cory Constitution provides it.  

“Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.”  Reduce corruption and you reduce poverty.  Use the pork money in the battle against poverty.

To President Benigno Aquino III: you said it before and let me, as my barber would say, “repeat it again, once more, twice for the second and the nth time” regarding the importance of legislation – “There are enough laws in the Philippines.  We just have to enforce or execute them efficiently and effectively.”

Most importantly, the Cory Constitution provides a people-powered alternative to Congressional legislation.  It does not require pork barrel or paying off legislators.  The people would gladly invest with minimal effort – SIGNATURE.  The return would be tremendous – BRIGHT FUTURE.