Monthly Archives: February 2006

Fearless forecasts

The fundamental question is: What, really, is happening? The short answer may be: The President has decided to ride the tiger.

While it pleases Malacanang to think that the President’s real constituency (or the index of her performance) is the economy, it seems more and more difficult to escape the conclusion that the real source of her mandate is the armed services. Let me rephrase that: It seems that the President thinks the real source of her continuing mandate is the support of the armed services.  She may still have a solid grip on the House of Representatives, she may continue to draw sincere and effective support from the local governments, but — at least from the way she is acting — she thinks the military and the police form her real constituency.

1. If this reading is true, then we can expect more arrests, or more harassment, of above-ground Leftist leaders. The President has tapped into growing concerns in the AFP about the scandalous success of Leftist party-list groups (scandalous to both the rank and file and the officer corps, because of the perception that pork barrel funds are used, in part, to finance the insurgency). The crackdown on Crispin Beltran, Satur Ocampo, and their colleagues in Congress, therefore, is part of the price for continuing military support.

2. We can also expect relatively lenient sanctions against Brig. Gen. Danny Lim and Marine Col. Ariel Querubin. Being stripped of command of an elite combat unit is not exactly the equivalent of 200 push-ups, but compared to the possibility of a court-martial, it is almost a pat on the back. Note that official AFP explanations of the conduct of these officers are careful to limit their liability: They had not plotted a coup, or even threatened to withdraw support from the President; they had merely informed the higher-ups that there was such a plan to withdraw support. At best, they are guilty of sympathizing with the planners. (Querubin, of course, has to answer for another transgression: complicating the issue by bringing civilians into the picture.)

3. We can expect the President to lift Proclamation 1017 before the Supreme Court rules on it. (We can also expect the President to render EO 464 inoperative, if she gets wind of an adverse high court ruling against it.) The pattern seems to be: Implement controversial measures as though they meet constitutional requirements, then withdraw them if an adverse legal ruling is imminent. This cat-and-mouse game favors an aggressive (and thick-skinned)  executive.

4. But Proclamation 1017 will continue to fuel restiveness in the ranks. I cannot quite believe that the bright boys in Malacanang do not see this; rather, it seems to be the case that for them restiveness in the ranks of the military is an acceptable risk.

5. The weighing of risks, of course, leads us back to the tiger of military intervention. Contrary to what the AFP top brass has been saying, a crack seems to have formed in the Armed Forces.



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The pushback

A direct result of yesterday’s NUJP-organized media forum on Proclamation 1017: The Inquirer ran a front-page editorial today, condemning President Arroyo for her "declaration of war on the Bill of Rights." The Star has taken an anti-1017 stance too.  I wish ABS-CBN, GMA, and ABC would also run on-air editorials in their evening newscasts today.

The Inquirer editorial was originally entitled "A declaration of war." But when news of the Marine standoff in Fort Bonifacio circulated, the title became suddenly inappropriate, a tad too incendiary. It was changed to "Defend our freedom," before the editor-in-chief finally decided to use the more resonant "Declaration of freedom."

A key passage draws the context in which it was written:

The truth is: It is Proclamation 1017 itself which has recklessly magnified the threat to the Republic. If restiveness in the ranks of the military continues, it is partly because our soldiers too can sense the fatal discrepancy between means and ends.

In contrast to Presidential Chief of Staff Mike Defensor’s increasingly lame explanations, this one seems plausible. The Marine standoff did not spoil the chances that 1017 would be lifted as early as today; on the contrary, it is more likely that 1017 made the disruptive standoff possible. It pushed edgy soldiers over the edge.

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Barracks Sunday

Was at the media forum organized by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines this morning (actually, it was more of a press conference), and wrote something in the afternoon prompted by the discussions, but the Marine "protest"  in Fort Bonifacio has changed the complexion of events completely.

The dangers to press freedom remain real; today, the Armed Forces spokesman added his voice to that of national police chief Arturo Lomibao, saying the government would take over news organizations that do not meet certain "standards." The need for media organizations to band together and protest Proclamation 1017 remains urgent. (I note that the best thing anyone said at the forum this morning came from Conrad de Quiros, who urged journalists not to act defensively, but instead to keep the pressure on.)

The situation at the Marine headquarters, however, reminds all of us that there is much more to the current crisis than the risks journalists face. The role of the military continues to vex the body politic. After Maj. Gen. Miranda asked to be relieved of his command as Marine commandant (an articulate Vice Admiral Mayuga has offered the best take on this version of  events), Marine Col. (and Medal of Valor winner) Querubin triggered the ongoing confrontation by protesting Miranda’s relief.

Querubin has since been "protected" by a group of civilian supporters (including leftist lawyers JV Bautista and Argee Guevara and La Salle official Bro. Armin Luistro); he has also issued appeals for more people support, and aired his hope that the "bishops will not forsake us."

A standoff (albeit on a decidedly smaller scale than on the first day of the Edsa revolution 20 years ago) looks likely, but because the protest site is inside a military camp, and away from a thoroughfare like Edsa, I don’t think people power would be a factor.

PS. Sheila Coronel has already filed three stories on the event. (Wow.)  In this post, she suggests that people power in Fort Bonifacio may prove a complication.

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State of emergency

Today’s issue of the Inquirer Compact. (To enlarge the image, please click on the thumbnail.) We used the front page and the back page as a spread; in other words, the headline and headline photo ran on two pages. The last time we ran a cover spread was when the Philippines topped the SEA Games, in December. By the new "standards" the national police wants the media to follow, it is likely the story on the back page ("Senga ‘open’ to Lim’s plan, but changed his mind, sources say") would be considered out of bounds.


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EDSA 20: Betrayed

The Inquirer editorial today condemns the violent option that is a military coup, but reserves most of its firepower for the President’s declaration of a state of national emergency.

the declaration is deeply, maddeningly anti-Edsa People Power. Yesterday, when it was still only a few hours old, it was used to justify the violent dispersal of a crowd that had gathered to mark the Edsa People Power anniversary, and to arrest some of the demonstrators. Here, indisputably, is proof that the Arroyo administration has turned its back on Edsa People Power.

I share that view.

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EDSA 20: Withdrawal of support

It seems we continue to learn the wrong lessons from Edsa. The overemphasis on the military’s role in the four-day miracle, in the flood of reminiscences occasioned by the revolution’s 20th anniversary, may have helped steel the resolve of those in the military who feel the time has come for them to march into the public square.

Very disturbing news indeed: the AFP Chief of Staff and the commanding general of the Army were approached last night by two highly respected combat officers and asked to join their plan to "withdraw support" from the Arroyo administration. As of 8 am, the most comprehensive lowdown available (and how!) is by PCIJ’s peerless Sheila Coronel.

What makes the latest news troubling is the identity of one of the "plotters:" Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, who commands the Scout Rangers, may be the one general coup plotters will follow to the bitter end. PCIJ reprints a Malaya column on Lim, who led the siege of Makati during the most destructive coup attempt of all, in December 1989.

Other news available on the Net:

From ABS-CBN Interactive: "This was not an attempted coup, but an attempted withdrawal of support" to Arroyo, Senga said.

From Lim and [Marine Col. Ariel] Querubin were relieved at 10 p.m. on Thursday, the statement said.

And also from, a report with a curious and soon-to-be-famous turn of phrase: ARMY chief Lieutenant General Hermogenes Esperon earlier said "misguided elements" of the Armed Forces had plotted to stage a coup d’etat Friday morning but were prevented with "preemptive force and dialogue."

"Preemptive force and dialogue." Is that like reasoning with someone after you place a gun on the negotiating table and post sentries outside the door?

At any rate, the plan seems to have been lifted from the Edsa script: For Danny Lim et al to join today’s pro-Edsa, anti-GMA rally on Ayala Avenue in Makati City, which will be led by Cory Aquino (the president Lim tried to oust from power in 1989). Let’s think about that for a moment: If a faction of armed soldiers did march in the rally,  the crowd of civilians would have masked the essential nature of their "withdrawal of support": a suddenly and painfully factionalized military, with no real prospect of healing, of Edsa-like redemption, through Edsa-like People Power.

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EDSA 20: “Parang boses ng Diyos”

I think it was a terrific coincidence, the naming of Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales of Manila as one of Pope Benedict XVI’s 15 new cardinals, on February 22 — the first day of this year’s 20th anniversary celebration of the Edsa revolution.

The timing, of course, was deliberate, but for a different reason: February 22 is the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, a decidedly appropriate time for Peter’s successor to name his new cardinals. (In fact, here in Manila, Rosales was at a Mass marking the feast at the Manila Cathedral, with Papal Nuncio Antonio Franco, when Franco made the official announcement.)

Last week, veteran Vatican watcher John Allen had already written an ahead-of-the-curve report. (I wondered, though, about his evaluation of Rosales’ chances as possible rather than probable; the See of Manila is the oldest in Asia, and since the second half of the 20th century its bishop has always been a member of the College of Cardinals.) Still, the news came as a pleasant surprise. (I had found out at around 5pm, courtesy of a colleague with contacts deep inside the labyrinth of the archdiocese.)

Pleasant, appropriate, deeply fitting: I thought the nomination helped remind many of us who needed reminding about the pivotal role of Jaime Cardinal Sin in the miracle that was Edsa. As Sister Terry Burias, one of the nuns who without meaning to stopped the tanks exactly 20 years ago, said, ever so gently, in her interview: The voice of Cardinal Sin was "like the voice of God [parang boses ng Diyos]."

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EDSA 20: “We knew nothing about People Power”

Just heard retired general Jose Almonte on Ricky Carandang’s show. By and large, he didn’t say anything new; the details of the military plan to take over Malacanang in late 1985 or early 1986 have been revealed before. What struck me, however, was Almonte’s throwaway phrase, uttered in the show’s last few minutes. "When we launched the Edsa revolution," he said … and in my outrage (I think I screamed at the TV in the newsroom) I didn’t hear him finish the sentence.

The military reform movement was certainly involved in the Edsa revolution; we can even say that the military reformists triggered the historic event. But did they "launch" it? That’s like asking whether "Kabuki," Almonte’s famous charge in the early 1990s, wears no makeup. The answer is an emphatic No.

They could not have launched it, because it was not part of their plan. That’s why it was crucial for them to get Fidel Ramos over on their side; he was their seal of good housekeeping, their badge of credibility. In the interview for the EDSA 20 documentary, Butz Aquino made a special mention of Ramos’s role, precisely as a guarantee of the Enrile faction’s good intentions.  (Of course, the Makati congressman added, that was then.) If Ramos had not been part of the defection, Aquino would not have called on people to troop to Edsa.  I doubt whether Cardinal Sin would have made his more famous appeal too.

Launch the revolution? That implies that the People Power that redeemed the aborted coup was a deliberate unfolding of events, instead of the series of inexplicable accidents that surprised all of us, and reminded us of the better angels of our vexed and vexing nature.

In his EDSA 20 interview, reformist leader and Army colonel Gringo Honasan waxed inconsistent on that very question. At certain points he would refer to the political component of the plan, which involved reaching out to Cory Aquino’s camp (We offered her security, he said, and all Cory said was, Why don’t you just vote for me?). His intention was to present a more comprehensive explanation of the events of 1986. But at certain points, he also could not deny the simple reality. Ours was "a military plan," he said. "Wala kaming kamuwang-muwang sa People Power. Wala kaming sinasandalan na People Power [We knew nothing about People Power, we did not rest our plans on People Power]."

The military rebels did not launch the revolution; like charity, which the Bible assures us covers a multitude of sins, the People Power revolution that redeemed them descended on us like a gift.

PS. Resty Odon has some choice words on the miracle of Edsa.

PS2. As Champ Reyes proudly pointed out, the Star has this heartwarming story about a man who called for People Power hours before Butz Aquino and Cardinal Sin even thought of doing so.


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EDSA 20: Gloria’s legacy

I do not mean the legacy President Arroyo will leave behind; I mean the legacy handed down to her, when she first assumed office in 2001. Like Corazon Aquino, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is a legatee of People Power. That she seems to have all but turned her back on it (this morning she has her sole Edsa-related event for the week, a wreath-laying rite away from Edsa itself) is a repudiation of her own personal history.

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Tuesday lambasted those criticizing government’s austere celebration of the February 1986 people’s uprising, even as she said the country needed a different type of people power.

“Political maneuvering has become our most active industry, deluding people who parlay their presence in Edsa a long time ago into a lifetime franchise of working against governments whose leaders do not curtsy before them,” Arroyo said in her speech before the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

It seems obvious: The President is afraid of Edsa’s shadow. She can couch her refusal to grant the 20th anniversary celebration a higher profile in Defensor-like doublespeak, but public perception is as close to actual reality as it gets. The public "knows" she fears the open crowd in Edsa. I don’t think we’re talking merely of a hooting throng, although if she does show up in any of the other Edsa rites we can be sure she will receive decidedly unpresidential treatment. We’re talking about People Power as the "only" means to ease her out of office.

[I put that in quotes, because I still maintain that the way to do it is to elect an impeachment Congress next year.]

As it is, even People Power of Edsa II proportions may not be enough to pry her grip from the lever of power; at any rate, I do not see mass actions of that scale happening anytime soon. I think even GMA knows that. So what is she afraid of? I would wager it is the mere presence of a questioning crowd; it would be the most vivid symbol of, and the clearest challenge to, the President’s own mandate.

As for Gloria’s own legacy: It may well be the quasi-dictatorial, anti-Congress EO 464; the oral arguments in the Supreme Court case against it took place yesterday — the eve of the Edsa anniversary.

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EDSA 20: “Luhod! Luhod!”

Or how the injunction to kneel before the tanks that fateful Sunday afternoon 20 years ago is being given short shrift these days, at a time when failed mutineers elect themselves as agents of change because of the arms they bear — plus a few words on the delicate dance of Randy and Karina David, husband and wife

The following news item, from today’s Metro pages (Metropolitan Manila, of course, as our friends in the provinces occasionally remind us), may make some of us jumpy. The container van full of explosives may have nothing to do with attempted coups (dynamite fishing is brutal but lucrative, or so I am told). Still, the news is enough to make us wonder about a possible February surprise — and the actual plans of restless officers who have little popular support and less capacity for governance.

A long time ago, when the military leadership was very much a part of civilian government (officers running public corporations, retired generals calling the shots in government agencies, and so on), the middle forces carefully followed the narrow and winding path of non-violence. As we in my college student government phrased our understanding of it: "ubos-lakas laban sa dahas" [loosely: fight violence, with all our strength].

I am distressed to find that, 20 years onward, violence seems to be an acceptable option for some of those I would consider natural heirs of  the same middle forces. Out of frustration over someone we have consistently underestimated, we find ourselves overcompensating, by flirting with the tantalizing possibility of a swift, armed seizure of power. On a practical level, it doesn’t make sense. If it happens, it will certainly be armed, but it will neither be swift nor successful. On the level of principle, a violent strike is fatally inconsistent with democracy. We rail against the President for stealing the elections, and then we turn around and embrace the very violence that negates the very idea of the vote.

I think what made Edsa 1 "happen," 20 years ago, is precisely the renunciation of violence, as a strategy. (Make no mistake; blood was shed during the first flourish of People Power, and four rockets were fired at Malacanang, and five loyalist helicopters parked in Villamor Airbase destroyed. These incidents, however, were, well, incidental; they were a part of the truth of the situation, but only a small part.)

Which brings me to the unusual Randy and Karina show last Sunday. In his weekly column, which he probably wrote early on Saturday, Randy dwelt  on the role of the military in politics. I think on the whole he struck a balanced note, but I must say his first paragraph gave me serious pause.

EVERY time we allow politicians to steal elections with impunity, to rule without accountability, to rob the public coffers routinely, and to lie brazenly — we are creating the conditions for military intervention. Professional armies go hand in hand with strong democracies. We are not a strong democracy; that is why the temptation to play the military card remains strong. Yet, even in the most desperate circumstances, there is no assurance that the public will automatically welcome military intervention. Much depends on the clarity with which the military defines the provisional extraordinary role it claims for itself, as well as on the trust that the people are willing to repose on their soldiers. Trust is earned.

Much depends? That seems to me dangerously close to being words of encouragement for military interventionists. But that is not my point, at least not in this post. On the same day, Sunday, Karina was also in the papers, this time in the news columns. As the keynote speaker in Saturday’s controversial alumni homecoming at the Philippine Military Academy, Karina gave what was generally regarded as a well-applauded speech. Her topic: the role of the military in politics.

The Inquirer’s report carried the following excerpt from her speech: "The challenge to all of us as Filipinos is how to create a strong and legitimate political system that makes military intervention unnecessary; [a system] that allows the military to simply become a professional corps."

But I do recall reading, perhaps in a wire story last Saturday, a longer story on Karina’s speech. One passage, I distinctly remember reading, carried the same pithy line we read in Randy’s first paragraph: "Professional armies go hand in hand with strong democracies." When I read that, I thought, How interesting. The civil servant (and as chair of the Civil Service Commission Karina is the country’s chief civil servant) studiously kept to the neutral path; she did not go beyond the line drawn by that key sentence. The intellectual (one of the country’s most eminent, no less) took more risks in his thinking, because he could.


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EDSA 20: A military plan

"Malapit na ang lusob." Or how the tragedy of Gringo Honasan is repeated as dangerous farce by Lt. Lawrence San Juan, Magdalo mutineer

I’ve been asked a few questions or received some (negative) feedback about the prominent role Gringo Honasan, the charismatic leader of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement in 1986, played in the EDSA 20 documentary. I can only say that, regardless of what we may think of the man who led the two most destructive coup attempts in our history (ask any historically minded economist, and he will tell you the economy is still recovering from the effects of the August 1987 and December 1989 coup attempts), he did play a leading role in Edsa. Giving him so much airtime, I thought, was only being true to the situation.

The "truth of the situation" is something I learned from Fr. Jose Blanco all those years ago (it was a central tenet of the creed of non-violence, one which fit neatly — the kairos! —  into the Ancient Greek philosophy Fr. Roque Ferriols was teaching at the same time). Because the idea was to tell a sort of oral history, it was important to allow Honsasan as much room as he needed to tell his story from his perspective.

It helped that he was extremely articulate (you can visualize the commas and the semi-colons in his speech).  And that he was candid and engaging. He would talk openly about, say, his group’s plan to attack Malacanang Palace (lusob) in December 1985, and then recall a personal moment (for instance, his goosebump experience while watching an anti-Marcos Apo concert, when the plan of attack was already in place). While over the 90-minute interview he proved inconsistent on a certain number of points (chiefly, on whether people power was part of the plan or not), there is no doubt that he had an integrated, "internalized" story to tell.

His charisma, his perfectionist approach to military discipline, his sense of bravado (comparing his 30 men with the 200 loyalist troops he expected to face inside the Palace, he waxes expansive: "Patas ang laban [It would have been a fair fight]," he said): I think it is important for the post-Edsa generation to realize what an effective leader he was.

It is even more important to realize, however, that even the best soldiers in the AFP can get it wrong, that the most carefully laid plans can be compromised. All that preparation, and what happened? The rebel forces ended up retreating to Camp Aguinaldo, to make a last stand.

Which brings me to Magdalo mutineer Lawrence San Juan. This morning I heard him on the radio with Ted Failon. I cannot believe how much airtime the ABS-CBN network (which of course includes dzMM and ANC) is giving him these days; does the network actually believe that this third-tier leader of a hopeless-coup-plan-turned-failed-mutiny represents the truth of the present situation?

San Juan announced, again, his group’s plan to remove President Arroyo (this mangkukulam or voodoo witch, he said, in an extended bit of revealing political analysis); he even set a date, saying something will happen this Friday (only the 20th anniversary of the first People Power revolution). When Failon asked whether he was giving away the element of surprise, he replied, curtly, in Filipino: We want to give those living near Malacanang a chance to get away from the coming violence.

This would be risible if it were not fraught with real danger. What recommends San Juan, or any Magdalo mutineer for that matter, as our country’s savior? That they were incompetent enough to botch their coup attempt in 2003? That they are two-faced enough to apologize, in public, to the President for their role in the mutiny a couple of years later? That they are hypocritical enough to lambaste corruption and cronyism in the military and yet depend on their own set of cronies and network of contacts in the military to escape detention or enjoy unusual privileges? That they are cowardly enough to find courage in their arms and makeshift bombs and other instruments of violence?

If they tell us they have the privilege of leading us into the future because they have laid their lives on the line, we should tell them: Other Filipinos also lay their lives on the line, daily, such as overseas workers who leave family and country behind to earn a decent but dangerous living abroad, but does that act of sacrifice entitle them to explode bombs and assassinate public officials?

Like Honasan and his men in 1986, San Juan and the gang that can’t think straight are in need of redemption.

PS. 3:45pm. As it turns out, it may not have been San Juan on the radio today. (Scroll down to paragraph 17.) According to AFP Chief of Staff Generoso Senga, the "real" San Juan was arrested early this morning, apparently while in a meeting with two NPA cadres.


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EDSA 20: “In our smallness …”

Moments after the documentary aired tonight, a friend sent me a congratulatory message, which included the following line: "The nuns were a casting coup." I could only reply: "It helps that God was the casting director."

Sisters Ping Ocariza and Terry Burias belong to the Daughters of St. Paul congregation. They had never attended street demonstrations before; that day they helped stop the tanks at the intersection of Edsa and Ortigas was the first time they joined a mass action. They happened to be at that exact corner because of a chain of accidents: They had signed up for the morning shift that Sunday, February 23, instead of the afternoon. When the tanks arrived they had lost track of their fellow nuns, who had gone back to their vehicle. In the confusion, they had found themselves asked (or pulled, according to Sister Ping) by others in the crowd to move to the front, right where the tanks were. (Because they had no families to look after, they had been told.) At that crucial juncture, they had found themselves leading a rosary —- without a microphone, Sister Terry recalls. ("It was probably the most beautiful rosary I ever said," she added in Filipino.)

In contrast with the thorough preparations of the rebel soldiers (which went for nought, after the planned coup was discovered), the nuns had no idea, when they woke up on Sunday morning, that they would be called to offer their prayers and their lives, at that fateful intersection. They had no inkling that, like millions of other ordinary Filipinos, they would be called to perform on history’s stage, right before the footlights. Deeply scared and yet strangely, serenely peaceful during the encounter with the tanks, they couldn’t possibly have planned on the iconic role they would assume in the Edsa story.

In hesitant English, Sister Terry summed up what happened to them in Edsa. "In our smallness, God used us as his instrument."


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EDSA 20: An Invite

May I invite you — if you happen to read this before 8:30 pm on February 20 (Manila time), that is — to watch EDSA 20: Isang Larawan? If the notice comes too late (we were working straight  till 3pm today to try to cut the documentary some more, to accommodate the, ah, unexpectedly solid commercial load), my apologies — but we are working on making it available on the Internet very soon. And, oh, it will air in the United States and in Japan on the Mabuhay Channel, on February 25, at 9pm Pacific Standard Time.

What I like best about this documentary is that, in part because we kept the cameras rolling, so to speak, we catch a glimpse of the true personality of the interview subjects: Gringo Honasan’s charismatic bravado; Charles Hotchkiss’s quiet, confidence-building steadiness (he led the defection of the helicopter squadron); Sister Ping Ocariza’s joyful innocence (she is the open-mouthed nun praying the rosary in front of the tanks on Edsa); Butz Aquino’s gung-ho, can-do spirit.

I worked on the Reuter-Mercado "People Power" book in 1986, and I believe I am up to speed on "developments" in the Edsa story, but every time I see certain images from those four days, or read or hear certain stories, I still find myself moved to tears. If I were asked for a summary of what it was we in Inquirer TV sought to do in EDSA 20: Isang Larawan, I would say: We wanted to recreate, or at least recall, that moving experience.


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Mistaken for a bird

Oh, yes. I was looking forward to this. After news spread that Dick Cheney had accidentally shot a hunting partner, I couldn’t wait to catch Letterman, Leno and Stewart. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure about their schedule on Philippine cable. Good thing AP, and MSNBC, came to the rescue.


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Now that the Department of Justice has given Task Force Ultra’s fact-finding report short shrift (the Inquirer story is here, but please scroll way down), the following question suggests itself: What was the point of the task force’s probe in the first place?

On receiving the report, this is what the country’s principal prosecutor said:

According to Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño, the report contains a mere "narration of the flow of events from Day One up to the date of the incident."

"They merely said there were people responsible for the incident, but they did not specify the names of those people who may be responsible, just [their] positions," Zuño told reporters at noon yesterday.

"That cannot be a basis for preliminary investigation. [The report] did not even cite [incidents of negligence]. We are returning it [to the Department of Interior and Local Government] for further investigation and evidence-gathering," he said.

Later in the day, Assistant Chief State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon opined that the thing to do, instead of throwing the report in the waste basket, was to turn it over to the NBI, for further investigation.

Fadullon said that in filing a complaint, "everything should be based on evidence" and not on "what people say, what people’s opinions are, how people perceive it to be."

"There are conflicting statements and opinions cited, but as far as we are concerned, we can only proceed if there is evidence. We need to have evidence to support the conduct of a preliminary investigation," he said.

Thus, Fadullon said, the report would be a "jump-off point," a "lead" on the case.

Asked how he sized up the report, Fadullon said: "I would say that given the time frame given to them, it is a comparatively good report. But as to whether it was exhaustive, that’s a different story altogether."

Give Fadullon credit for tact, which is apparently a requirement for negotiating the bureaucratic maze.

But Malacanang, which created the task force in the first place and then gave it a 72-hour deadline, acted as if the task force report had in fact met public expectations.

Last night, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye issued a statement saying President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had commended the fact-finding team led by Corpus for the "speedy" conduct of its investigation and its "comprehensive" recommendations.

"We appeal to all the concerned parties not to allow emotions to override the search for truth and justice. From hereon, let us allow the [Department of Justice] investigation to take its course," Bunye said.

Speedy, yes (with its full day of televised hearings a better exercise in fact-finding than many hearings in either chamber of Congress). But comprehensive? Even the government’s own top lawyers balked at using the word. But notice how Bunye defended the task force’s work by enjoining the public to let the DOJ investigate the tragedy. Which begs the question: What was the point of the first investigation in the first place?

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Unintended consequences

Undersecretary Marius Corpus’s emotional remarks, made when he presented (or, rather, displayed a copy of) the DILG-led factfinding committee’s report yesterday, managed to do the otherwise improbable: They turned ABS-CBN into the victim. He has since sought to explain his outburst, and even apologized to the network. But the "damage," in this strictly limited context, has been done.

(Note to other civil servants tempted by the possibilities of spontaneity: It does no good to blame someone for treating certain people "like animals," and then, in the same breath, to compare those same people to "a pack of hungry wolves.")

Not having read the committee report, I can only go by descriptions of it and excerpts from it as have appeared in the papers or on TV. If the report has not been mischaracterized, then I’m afraid the committee may have missed the true cause. It could not have been the announcement that only 300 tickets were going to be distributed; in the first place, the fact that there was an announcement is itself in dispute. And (government mentality aside), what is an organizer to do if in fact there are not enough seats left? Last Sunday, Corpus pointedly asked ABS-CBN executives why they didn’t let more people in. Perhaps because there was no more space?

I think blaming the organizer for making the necessary announcement misses the point. Such an announcement would have been unpopular, but Corpus and the rest of the committee seem to have mistaken unpopularity for culpability. But surely the responsibility lies in the lack of adequate measures to support such an announcement?

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Chilling video

While we all must be extra-careful about giving the tens of thousands that descended on Ultra their due, we shouldn’t (or at least I as a practicing journalist should not) over-romanticize the crowd.

Case in point: Last night, ABS-CBN ran some footage of what looks like the immediate aftermath of the stampede. At the back of the screen, right in the center of the now-wide-open gates, you could somewhat make out a heap or a crush of people; there is a density there that is unmistakable. But in the foreground, you could see people half-running (or in some cases, even sauntering) into the Ultra driveway. Some look relieved, some look positively triumphant that they had gotten in. It struck me that some of the very "survivors" I was looking at could have played a part in the death of others, could have done the trampling, could have, unwittingly to be sure, but also culpably, done some neck-snapping.

Of course, that is only to be expected of a stampede. Some of the "survivors" in a crowd have a fatal relationship with the victims. But in a crowd, they are anonymous. And anonymity masks the individual’s responsibility. In last night’s footage, however, some of those you could see onscreen were no longer part of the crowd. That’s what made it so chilling.


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A litany of women’s names

In the last few days, I have been trying to ignore all political or politically motivated statements about the stampede in Ultra. These do not only cheapen the lives needlessly lost last Saturday; by forcefitting reality into ideology or short-term political strategy, these also trivialize the desires, the simple dreams, that drove some 50,000 to line up outside Ultra for many hours or several days.

My main reaction to the tragedy (in these parlous times, as the Inquirer editorial on Sunday phrased it, a tragedy is something eminently avoidable) was shaped by the hour or so I spent driving from the Media Nation summit in Clark to the Inquirer office in Makati, in the early afternoon. I listened the entire time to radio  reports, on dzMM and dzBB, and for a few minutes even dzRH and RMN, which covered the developing story. I was struck most forcefully by the litany of women’s names that streamed out of the radio, the names of those already confirmed dead. Except for one Ruffa and the occasional Americanized name (such as Elizabeth), many were, could only have been, names of old women: Ofelia, Dolores, Rosalinda (this was the name that kept ringing in my ear).

Seeing politicians sink their rhetorical hooks into these flesh-and-blood names makes me sick.

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Dean, Sassed

I’m preparing to leave for Clark, to join other journalists in an annual exercise in navel-gazing, but I can’t resist writing about what is the latest — and apparently the last — encounter between Sassy Lawyer and Philippine Commentary, also known by his real name Dean Jorge Bocobo.

I found out about it when I followed a two-day-old link in Manolo Quezon’s blog yesterday, to what he called the "most star-studded" comment thread in years. (For the record, I agree with Manolo; Caloy Conde’s take on PCIJ’s unHappy adventure seems to be right on the money.)

I am not a regular reader of Sassy; following the link made me remember why.

In reply to a series of loaded questions from Dean, about the provenance of the artwork made by the inappropriately named Bulletproof Vest and which ends with a query about the country’s "Intellectual Property Rights Act," Sassy wrote (at 8:19 pm on January 25):

Since Happy might not be able to view your comment right away, Dean, let me state that Happy is a graphics artist by profession.

Your accusations suck in substance and in form.

And it’s not “Intellectual Property Rights Act”. It is LAW, not ACT. The ACT becomes LAW once a bill is signed by the president. But you wouldn’t know that.

I didn’t know that either. Not because I am not a lawyer, but because Sassy, who is one, only wanted to be snide. In the process, she forgot all about short titles. But don’t take my word for it.  Let’s take a look at a few acts, I mean laws (from the ever-reliable Chan Robles law firm).

RA 9165, anyone?


Section 1. Short Title. – This Act shall be known and cited as the "Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002."

Or RA 9160:


SECTION 1. Short Title. – This Act shall be known as the "Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001."

How about RA 8505?


SECTION 1. Title. — This Act shall be known as the "Rape Victim Assistance and Protection Act of 1998."

Do all laws, I mean acts, enjoin the public to call them, familiarly, as acts? Again, from the first few laws included in the Chan Robles virtual library (I chose the section on Criminal Law, just for the heck of it), the answer is obvious enough. No.

RA 8353, for example:


Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the Philippines in Congress assembled:

SECTION 1. Short Title. – This Act shall be known as "The Anti-Rape Law of 1997."

As it turns out, the Intellectual Property Rights Law (Sassy’s version, which apparently is not known to those idiots in Congress who make the laws and those doddering men and women in robes who interpret them) is actually called the Intellectual Property Rights Code.

RA 8293:



Section 1.Title. – This Act shall be known as the "Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines."

So, strictly speaking, Dean got the name wrong. But then so did Sassy, who, after all, is a lawyer. (And don’t you forget that, Dean!) But she didn’t stop there. She went on to declare a new legal principle: "The ACT becomes LAW once a bill is signed by the president."

After Dean posted one more time, Sassy cracked the whip, and banned him from her very (very) popular blog. On January 26, at 1:32 pm, after what could have been a disagreeable lunch (IRONY ALERT: I am, of course, being snide, just to see what it feels like), she wrote:

Dean, nice try in provoking me and trying to get me to write something with the thought of diverting attention to you.

Won’t work.

That’s your last comment in my blog.

I don’t know WHAT you are and I don’t care. You don’t deserve my time.

Frayed tried to conduct a reality check:

What I see here is a real pack mentality. The leader (Sassy) attacks, and everyone comes in for the kill. Someone comes in who you don’t agree with, and ban him from your blog (and he wasn’t even rude or abusive). Enough already. Happy & Sheila are sorting this out on their own, that’s enough for me.

But Sassy replied:

In the instant case [again, code for: I’m a lawyer, Dean, and don’t you or anyone else forget it], only Dean Bocobo got banned. Because he was abusive–the final straw in a long list of abusive comments here and in his blog in a desperate attempt to make a comeback into the blogging scene.

It isn’t for you to decide what is abusive or not; it isn’t your blog.

But did the comment in fact question Sassy’s prerogative to ban commenters from her blog? I don’t think so. It only raised — and only as a secondary point — the standards of abuse that could lead to a ban.  Was Dean, in fact, abusive? Only if raising tough questions is considered abuse. But what do I know? I think some laws can in fact be called acts.


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The temptation to excise

I don’t know what to make of this.

E. M. Cioran is one writer who has actually changed the way I think. Wait, that sounds a little too dramatic, although it is strictly speaking true. I mean Cioran (a "lapidary ironist," in Carlin Romano’s precise phrase) ruined St. Paul for me. I read the Temptation to Exist (I think the Romanian exile’s first book translated into English) almost 20 years ago, between the bookshelves of the Xavier University college library in Cagayan de Oro City. His aphoristic essays were provocative and profoundly disturbing, although altogether he presented only "a sum of attitudes" (his own description of Nietzsche’s work).

Twenty years later, it is his style (aphorisms soaked in the brine of pessimism)  I remember best — that, and his deconstruction of St. Paul’s whiny, manipulative, self-dramatizing nature. (I paraphrase, of course.) Today, when I read the great saint (I can recite certain passages of his from memory), I still hear Cioran’s daemon hovering over my shoulder, clucking.

Which is why I don’t know what to make of this bit of news. As it turns out, Cioran was running away from a nightmarish past.

Where have we seen this story before? An influential European writer and thinker, celebrated in his mature years for works of sophisticated philosophical nuance, turns out to have been an anti-Semitic, pro-Hitler creep in his 20s.

The standard query immediately presents itself: Will the nefarious politics destroy the reputation?

Marta Petreu’s An Infamous Past: E.M. Cioran and the Rise of Fascism in Romania (Ivan R. Dee, 2005), inevitably hurtles humanists of a certain age back to other names and scandals — de Man, Heidegger, Eliade — with its exposé of the expatriate Romanian anointed by Susan Sontag in her 1968 introduction to The Temptation to Exist as "the most distinguished figure" then writing in the lyrical, aphoristic, antisystematic tradition of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein.

To be sure, and unlike the unholy trinity of de Man (whom I never read), Heidegger (whom I did, in small bites, and in translation), and Eliade (whose books on myth I dipped into, as any self-respecting metaphor-obsessed poet in the 1980s had to), Cioran did not deny his Nazi past.

Cioran, by contrast, appears to have evolved from fear to regret to a mixture of self-astonishment and shame. Petreu concedes that Cioran may have been motivated by selfish reasons to distance himself from his work of the 1930s. Yet, by old age, she believes, he "had substantially reconsidered his earlier ideas and come to detest them profoundly." He described Transfiguration in a 1979 letter as "unacceptable."

First thoughts? I’m afraid it was his very style, the straining after extremes which recommended his work in his maturity, that led him astray in his (relative) youth.

PS. Here’s another article on him. And here’s a sampling from his work.

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