Friday, September 26, 2014


Beautiful Anabel
We had this picture of Ana for more than 40 years. It was taken during our wedding. She was Tina’s Matron of Honor. I took it out from the album after hiding my tears as I watched Tina mourn quietly and shed tears silently as she heard the news.

Glance at the photo. Glance it longer than usual. You would see not only a face that could launch a thousand ships but also one that is always at peace – spreading infinite love to her family and friends. You could see it in her eyes and feel it in your heart.

She was what Edgar Allan Poe called in his last poem, the envy of Angels who were “not half so happy in Heaven”.

Why would the Angels take her away?
She did everything good.
She was physically fit, vegetarian, no smoking.
Yoga, Chi Gong, mastered Ballroom Dancing.

Anabel’s family and close friends would respond using Edgar Allan Poe’s own poetic words;

“And neither the Angels in Heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.”

Goodbye Anabel! Rest in Peace!

Love, Tina and Ben

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Philippine American Bar Association (PABA): Its Role in the Rule of Law*

Last weekend, I attended a meeting of what was once a premier organization in Washington, D.C.  Formerly called the Philippine Lawyers Association (PLA), it became Philippine American Bar Association (PABA) to reflect what the first stanza of its theme song that says:

            “In the richness of its diversity
            It offers to the community
            Services full of legality
            Fighting for one’s liberty”

Seated (left to right) Ben Maynigo, Julie Watlington, Roland Lee, Ludy Cabanas, Mrs. Fernando Tonolete. Standing (left to right) Fernando Tonolete, Tony Cabanas, Dodong Tecala.

Founded in the fall of 1977 by a group led by the late Dr. Anthony Azores and Dr. Julio Macaranas, Jr. who became the first Chairman of the Board and President, respectively, the lawyers’ group had the following objectives:

1.              To serve as a medium for the nonpartisan discussion of significant            legal issues;
2.              To foster public understanding of human and civil rights secured by law;
3.              To assist in obtaining adequate legal representation for those unable to secure counsel to defend human and civil rights;
4.              To promote high standards of moral integrity and professional competence among its members; and
5.              To provide relief for the poor and distressed, and eliminate prejudice and discrimination.

Having just escaped with my family from Marcos’ dictatorial regime, it was the right group to join not just because of my profession but more so because of its given objectives.

Recognized and respected by both the US and Philippine governments, the organization freely promoted and implemented its programs and activities as its members listened and discussed with guests like the late Chief Justice of the Philippine Supreme Court Claudio Teehankee, Court of Appeals Justice Coquia who advocated the need for closer cooperation between then PLA members and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and Professor Enrique Syquia, the first Asian president of the International Law Association (ILA) who talked at length on the legal system in the Philippines and the role of ILA in promoting higher standards and greater cooperation among lawyers all over the world.

Having the Honorable Gilbert Colon, Deputy Assistant to the US President of the United States explaining to the group the intricate requirements for employment in the Federal government and also underscoring the urgency of Filipino Americans closing ranks and asserting themselves as a potent force in American life, inspired many of its members to join the US government either as civil servants, political appointees, or elected officials.

Highly motivated, the group worked very hard to elect one of its former Presidents (David Valderrama) as the first elected State Assemblyman in Mainland USA.  Some of its members (Valderrama and Maynigo) also managed to have one-on-one meeting with Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush and brought the concerns of Filipino Americans regarding the loss of freedom under Marcos.

The Fil-American Multicultural Center where we had our PABA meeting was one of Valderrama’s achievements as a politician and public servant in Maryland.

Indeed, the PABA Theme Song whose lyrics I humbly wrote during my presidency said it all:

            “PLA rich in its history
            PABA continuing legacy
            Leadership, enlightened ambition
            Membership, proud of mission

            Programmed vision, many hopes and dreams
            Projects galore deal with complaints and screams
            Legal aid and “Leadership on Wheels”
            Activities, each member feels

            Human rights and fighting veterans
            Voting rights, issues we take a chance
            Democracy equals Filipino
            Equality we share with the ‘kano”

Eating all the crabs that we could as they were cooked right then and there, accompanied by “lechon”, corn, and rice, we were ready to celebrate by biting, chewing, and swallowing all the so-called “Filipino crab mentality” both literally and figuratively.

Congress makes the laws. The President and the implementing agencies execute the laws. The Supreme Court and the judiciary interpret the laws.  Ours is a government of laws.

But laws are made for the service of, for, and by the people. If some laws do not serve the people, they are either amended or repealed.  If laws are violated, misused, and/or abused by people, the latter get prosecuted to find the truth. For this reason, defenders become necessary to protect the defendants’ rights also provided by law.

Yes, life is all about law. Law covers all facets of life. Be they Criminal, Civil, Commercial, Corporate, Employment, Administrative, Constitutional, Educational, Intellectual Property, even Cyber or Internet, Health, Environmental, Taxation, or International, there are laws that cover them. If one life behavior is not covered, it will be, sooner or later.

Indeed, we live under the Rule of Law. One profession that studies all these facets of life covered under the Rule of Law is the legal profession.  All have general knowledge with skills to find where the relevant laws are or some have specialized knowledge based on their majors, masters, and/or fields of expertise based on their practice and experience.

Reflecting on all of these, more than ever, I thought that PABA really plays a very important role in the promotion and enforcement of the Rule of Law at this point of our history – be it American or Filipino.

The Principle of Separation of Powers, Checks and Balances, Freedom of Information, Anti-Political Dynasty, International Treaties and other International Laws, Human Rights violations, Human Trafficking and Slavery, and many more require the attention of those in the know.

From the days of Martial Law in the Philippines to the time of Ambassador Gaa, the Philippine government respected, recognized and sought the cooperation of then PLA/PABA.  That is not so today. Perhaps, Ambassador Cuisia and his underlings do not know that we exist or they just do not feel the force of our existence.

This has to change.  After all, the last stanza of the PABA Theme Song said it best:

            Philippines, beloved native land
            America, adopted home in hand
            Happiness for all our families

            Number one in our priorities

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Ending Political Dynasties in the Philippines

For sometime now, I have been strongly advocating for the end of political dynasties in the Philippines.  In fact, I have devoted several articles in this column of the Asian Journal, several Blogs hosted by Google’s BlogSpot also under the title “Take It From My Barber”, and even wrote a special article, “How To End Political Dynasties” that was published by Positively Filipino.

I thought that, because of the inherent impossibility as proven in the last 27 years, Congress will never pass the enabling law for the Constitutional prohibition of political dynasties in the Philippines. That’s why my proposal was always using the People’s Initiative as a way to pass the enabling law.  This is also the proposal of fellow Bedan COMELEC Chairman Sixto Brilliantes whose agency is called upon to implement the initiative. It would take some efficient planning, organization, and substantial resources to initiate it but it must be done if we are to institute real reforms in our society.

The latest news took me by surprise but certainly elated me. First, Speaker Sonny Belmonte expressed support and assurances that the Anti-Political Dynasty Bill would be passed before the 2016 elections. In fact, the bill is now at the Plenary Session discussion and debate level in the House of Representatives. Second, Senate President Frank Drilon also publicly supported it, and in fact, expressed confidence that the Senate will pass it. Third and most importantly, President Aquino assured the public of his support, and that he will sign the bill into law as soon as it reaches his desk.

President Cory’s Constitution mandated it and her son PNoy enabled it! That would be a real legacy left by both mother and son who ironically are products of a practice that they are now trying to prevent.

If the support and assurances of the top three political leaders of the country are real, then a very expensive People’s Initiative is avoided. But of course, expect opposition from the well-entrenched political dynasties who have enjoyed political power and its benefits for so long.

The enabling law calls for a definition of what the Constitution prohibits as “political dynasty”. As I discussed in previous articles, I suggest the following:

“Political dynasty shall exist when a person who is the spouse of an incumbent elective official or relative within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity of an incumbent elective official holds or runs for an elective office, whether national or local, simultaneously with the incumbent elective official immediately after the term of office of the incumbent official. It shall also be deemed to exist where two (2) or more persons who are spouses or are related within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity run simultaneously for elective public office.”

A “spouse” refers to the legal and common-law wife or husband of the incumbent elective official.

The term “within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity” refers to the relatives of a person who may be the latter’s brother or sister, whether of full blood or half-blood, direct ascendant or direct descendant, whether legitimate, illegitimate or adopted, including their spouses.  It further refers to grandparents, grandchildren, uncles and aunts, first cousins, nephews and nieces, including their spouses, of the referred person.”

“The term ‘running for an elective office’ is deemed to commence upon the filing of the certificate of candidacy by a candidate with the COMELEC.

‘Holding an elective office’ is deemed to commence from the moment the public official takes his oath of office.”

It is very important that the prohibition includes national and local offices. While the bill in the House does include them, it must be noted the current proposals in the Senate do not.

Implementing an anti-political dynasty law is indeed, not just reformist in character but almost revolutionary in its effects.

More specifically, it would create some interesting political scenarios that give more meaning to the provision that “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service.”

Let me reiterate some of my previous examples:

1. With the election of Bam Aquino as Senator for a term of six (6) years, first cousin Kris Aquino will not be able to run for any position in 2016.  So with cousin Len-Len Aquino Oreta who ran unopposed as Mayor in Malabon; uncle Henry Cojuangco who is a Congressman; and another cousin Kit who was elected Vice-Governor in Tarlac. If PNoy is allowed to run and does run for reelection, Bam Aquino may have to resign. Otherwise, PNoy would be disqualified.

2. With the election of Nancy Binay as Senator for a term of six (6) years, her father Vice President Jojo Binay will not be able to run for any position including the Presidency in 2016.  So with sister Congresswoman Abby Binay; and brother Makati Mayor Junjun Binay.  VP Jojo Binay can still run for President if Senator Nancy Binay resigns.  The mayor and congresswoman will be ineligible to run.

3. Senator Bongbong Marcos is due for reelection in 2016.  So are Ilocos Norte Congresswoman Imelda Romualdez Marcos; Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos; Leyte Congressman Ferdinand Romualdez;  Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez; and Alfred’s councilor-wife Cristina.  The Anti-Dynasty Law would allow only ONE (1) of them to run.

4. With the reelection of Senator Alan Cayetano for another 6-year term, current Senator Pia Cayetano will be disqualified from running for any position in 2016.  Taguig Mayor Lani Cayetano will be disqualified likewise to run in 2016.

5. Senator JV Ejercito Estrada also got elected for a new term of six (6) years.  This would disqualify former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada and current Senator Jinggoy Estrada from running for any position in 2016.  So with San Juan Mayor Guia Gomez and Laguna Governor ER Ejercito.

6. In Maguindanao, the Mangudadatu clan has Toto Mangudadatu as Governor; his brother Dong as congressman; and another brother Toy as Autonomous Region Assemblyman.  The clan also boasts of four new mayors and a couple of vice mayors within its ranks.  The Anti-Dynasty law would prohibit all who are related to each other within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity except ONE.

The Marcos dictatorship destroyed the dreams and desires of many of the idealistic and bright young men and women of a whole generation.  Political dynasties created small oligarchies and dictatorships that equally devastated the hopes and dreams of public service of the young for scores and plus years.

More than ever – I am looking at a brighter future!