Murder in Puerto Princesa

JUST TWO weeks after the Jan. 24 murder of broadcaster and environmentalist Dr. Gerry Ortega in Puerto Princesa, Mayor Edward Hagedorn dramatically announced to the press that the crime had been solved—swiftly as he had vowed over Ortega’s grave.  Most of the media would buy Hagedorn’s claims hook, line and sinker.

Hagedorn pointed the finger at his political rival, former Palawan Gov. Joel T. Reyes.  He claimed that one Rodolfo Edrad, who he alleged was Reyes close-in aide, had surrendered to him and confessed to have hired the killer upon the ex-governor’s orders. He had even given, using Hagedorn’s words, “a blow-by-blow account” of how Reyes ordered the murder.

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‘Biggest what of the century’?

“BIGGEST JOKE of the century,” according to a recent banner headline in this newspaper for an article on the Supreme Court’s decision that Marcos’ ally Eduardo Cojuangco’s purchase of 20 percent of San Miguel Corp. shares in 1983 was legal and therefore wasn’t ill-gotten wealth.

The phrase was really an uncalled-for hyperbole made by senior associate justice Conchita Carpio-Morales in her dissenting opinion: “The argument that Cojuangco was not a subordinate or close associate of the Marcoses is the biggest joke to hit the century.”

Justice Carpio-Morales may have thought she was being clever in using that phrase. However, she in effect portrayed her nine Supreme Court colleagues, who voted for Cojuangco’s position, as gullible fools. Quite unfairly, as none of her colleagues in the Court argued that Cojuangco was not Marcos’ close associate. Not even the tycoon in fact, as he publicly had said that he was proud that he was at Marcos’ side to the dictator’s very end. What he had been denying is that his purchase of San Miguel shares violated Philippine laws.

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The joy of Lent

FOR MY generation, Lent was the worst week of the year. Without DVDs, cable TV and the Internet, we were all a captive audience of movies on the agony and death of Jesus the Nazarene. Most of the TV networks (and even radio stations) shut down from Holy Thursday to Saturday, and the one or two that operated aired nothing but replays of religious movies such as “Ten Commandments,” “The King of Kings” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”

The heat of summer even seemed to remind me of the Hell that I’d go to if I didn’t fast or abstain from meat, or if I failed to pray in front of the crucifix to ask forgiveness for my sins.

Two of the many Filipino Lenten superstitions were to avoid taking a bath and traveling on a Good Friday, or else something bad will happen to you. Superstition indeed can lodge itself into one’s psyche that decades later, I would still beg off from a dive in a live-aboard scuba trip on a Good Friday, and in Greece last year backed off from what would have been a marvelous motorcycle adventure on that day.

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The Enemy?

RESPONDING TO reporters’ insinuations that this administration is in a political-vendetta mode in its move to prosecute the former president’s son, Juan Miguel Arroyo III, for tax evasion, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda replied: “The best measure of good governance is to give your enemy due process and fairness.” (My emphasis).

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President prefers a mass murderer’s word

AFTER AN investigation that lasted nine months from May 2008 to February 2009, five Manila policemen were found guilty of grave misconduct for illegally detaining a 30-year-old chef, attempting to extort P200,000 from him, and forcing him to swallow a packet of shabu.

Two different independent bodies recommended that they be fired from the force, their retirement benefits forfeited, and banned for life from ever joining government: the Philippine National Police’s regional headquarters and then the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices.

Nothing more has been heard of four of the five rogue cops. Their leader, two years later, would become a mass murderer, killing eight innocent people, four of whom were women. This, of course, was former Senior Insp. Rolando Mendoza, who hijacked a tourist bus and went on a killing frenzy in August last year.

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A dime a dozen; that Porsche, again

HIS EYES moist with tears of joy, Red party Akbayan Rep. Teodoro Casiño said that the House of Representative’s 212 yes votes on March 22 to impeach Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez represented “overwhelming public sentiment” against her.

Casiño though was mum whether the resolution, two days later, of 204 of his colleagues to bury Akbayan’s arch hate-figure Ferdinand Marcos also represented overwhelming public sentiment to finally honor the dictator.  We also haven’t heard from Casiño whether the 191 votes to postpone the elections for officials of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao—which he claimed would be a travesty of justice—represent overwhelming public sentiment.

The lynch mob against Gutierrez has exploited the public’s unfamiliarity (actually even that of journalists who have not been Congress reporters) with the workings of the legislature to portray a bandwagon against her, which the Senate, they claim, cannot ignore. This of course is part of that old trick, now passé, to depict a popular groundswell against a  target  so that he or she will be so psychologically overwhelmed to just resign.

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The banalization of impeachment

“BANALIZATION” IS robbing words, concepts, things, and even principles of their original, richer meanings, and making these something trite, common or used for more mundane purposes other than its original intent.  It is, in a sense, “degradation.”

We Filipinos seem to have a penchant for it.  The latest to be banalized are spas, so that every massage parlor or whore house is a “spa.” The Left has banalized the principle of people’s direct action by undertaking demonstrations so routinely and for the most trivial of issues. The idea of representation of marginal sectors has been banalized, with even businessmen financing “parties” and giving them names that start with “A” or “1” to put them on top of ballot lists.

The latest to be banalized in our country is the process of impeachment.

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Frenzy against Merci: eyes on the Senate

IN MARCH 2006, Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, then the leftist Akbayan party’s representative, was taken by three policewomen out of a rally as a courtesy to a parliamentarian before police dispersal operations were undertaken. Baraquel must have been horrified by hoi-polloi policewomen touching her. She filed criminal and administrative cases at the Office of the Ombudsman against the three.

For the police rank-and-file, Baraquel’s complaint was particularly cruel, as she owes much to the Philippine National Police, and knows how a case in the Ombudsman can ruin an officer’s career: her late husband was a PNP comptroller, while one brother and two brothers-in-law were also ranking police officers.

The Manila city prosecutor dismissed the case against the policewomen, and Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez concurred. Baraquel didn’t appeal the decision.

Now, Baraquel is one of the leaders of the impeachment pack against Gutierrez, claiming that the ombudsman’ dismissal of her case against the three policewomen was a betrayal of the public trust. A former ABS-CBN broadcaster, Baraquel during the House hearing of the case, glanced at the TV camera and dramatically said in Filipino, “Nothing personal here, Mrs. Ombudsman.”

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Staring at the sun

IN A restaurant recently, an elderly lady in a big family dinner beside us asked a little girl, probably her grandchild: “Do you know what Purgatory is?” Even as the girl was still shaking her head, the lady explained solemnly: “It is a place where your soul goes to when you die, where you are burned of your sins until your soul becomes white, and ready to go to Heaven.”

That is a ridiculous idea that is not even a Catholic Church tenet, but developed vividly by a very good medieval fiction writer, Dante Alighieri, in his “Divine Comedy.” While the idea will probably give the child nightmares for the rest of her life, the lady made the poor girl, probably for the first time, contemplate death.

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Middle East Unpreparedness Team

IN DECEMBER 2002, or a decade go, when the US invasion of Iraq was imminent, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo organized the Philippine Middle East Preparedness Committee under Executive Order No. 159. Its functions though went beyond the Iraq crisis, and was based on the appreciation of the fact that more than a million of our citizens were working in Middle East countries, which for various reasons (as in the case of the Iraq war) could suddenly become a hostile place for them.

She gave the committee enormous powers, and its main function is exactly, eerily, what is needed now: “[It] shall, in relation with the critical developments in the Middle East, prepare the appropriate responses, formulate policies, develop modes for coordination, put into effect all plans approved by the President and monitor their implementation accordingly, in coordination with the Department of Foreign Affairs.”

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