The Alternative Budget Initiative: Phase 3

By Leonor Magtolis Briones | 09/28/2008

On Tuesday, September 30 , 2008 another milestone in the history of budgeting in the Philippines will take place. The civil society members of the Alternative Budget Initiative (ABI) convened by Social Watch Philippines will present their alternative budget for 2009 in the areas of education, health, agriculture and the environment. ABI will also present its critique of the macroeconomic assumptions underlying the proposed budget.

The presentation marks the third year of organized citizen participation in the budget process. Citizens groups have always participated individually in the budget process. ABI is significant in that civil society organizations united and went into partnership with legislators who shared their advocacy. ABI’s advocacy is supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) . Both institutions support the world wide movement for participatory budgeting.

Appropriations Committee Chair Junie Cua will continue the historic practice started by former Appropriation Committee Chair Edcel Lagman .The latter initiated the first hearing on the proposed alternative budget for the 2008 budget. Budget hearings are traditionally conducted on the Executive’s proposed budget. Last year, civil society organizations were given the opportunity to present their alternative proposal for social development to the Appropriations Committee. The legislators asked very detailed questions. They were aware of the historic implications of the hearing.

The past two experiences in participatory budgeting were different. Round 3 promises to be different also. The budget process remains the same—budget preparation, budget authorization or legislation, budget implementation, and accountability. Nevertheless, recent developments make this round interesting and different.

First, the economic environment under which the budget proposal was made is very different. The country is suffering from an economic slowdown. It is buffeted not only by physical storms but also by turmoil in the external as well as domestic economy. Thus, it is more difficult to determine with certainty the state of the economy in 2009.

Second, it is also widely believed that the 2009 budget will be an election budget. Suspicions are rife that the budget is expected to provide funds which can be diverted to finance election spending. Thus, advocates and critics of the 2009 budget are edgy. Both sides are monitoring each other.

Third, consideration of the 2009 budget is taking place amidst issues concerning the practice of “congressional insertions”. Personally, I prefer to use the words “realignment” , “reallocation” and “amendment”. Congress has the duty to carefully review the president’s budget proposal and recommend amendments. Unquestioning approval will mean that Congress is a mere rubber stamp of the Executive.

The word “insertion” appears to refer to further allocations which are made during the Bicameral Committee meetings which are not open to the public.

The bitter Senate battle on the issue of double allocations has exposed the dark side of the appropriations process which is kept from public scrutiny: the bicameral committee negotiations.

Finally, it is anticipated that the 2009 budget will provide appropriation cover for expenditures which were alleged to be without legal basis in the 2008 budget . Remember the P500 giveaway to electric consumers? It is believed that the 2009 budget will ensure that allocations for even more giveaways will be specifically mentioned this time.

It is fervently hoped that the gains in budget reform which were achieved during the last two years will be protected and even enhanced in Round 3.

The day the Young Turks sang

It was a day for music. Adel Tamano sang “I’ll Never Say Goodbye.” Gilbert Remulla crooned a popular hit. TG Guingona sang the classic Visayan song “Usahay”. Danton got away by reciting “Rain, rain go away, Bring with you, GMA.”

The occasion was the Young Turks Forum at the U.P. National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG). Adel, Gilbert, TG and Danton urged the SRO audience composed of students from U.P., Polytechnic University of the Philippines, City University of Caloocan, New Era University and the Eulogio Rodriquez School for Science and Technology to get involved in the electoral process by registering themselves as voters, participating in discussions about national issues and voting during elections.

Manila Concert Choir provided “choral music in the grand tradition” by singing “Pambansang Awit ” in martial tempo, delivering a powerful musical invocation based on Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, and singing two stirring nationalistic songs—“Kayumangging Malaya” and “Lupang Hinirang”—and the pop Tagalog love song, “Minsan Lang Kitang Iibigin.” More than one listener was moved to say “their hair stood on end” with Beethoven and “Lupang Hinirang.”

All in all, New Politics proved to be very enjoyable and palatable to the young with the Young Turks singing their advocacy while Manila Concert Choir’s soaring voices touched their hearts and reminded them of how wonderful it is to love God and country.

Thank You

Dear RainB and the rest of the gang,

Thank you for your helpful suggestions regarding the wording and text of the blog. My friend, Bambit Gaerlan-Kapauan, and I are still working to improve this blog, as well as pilot-testing my website, in the next few weeks.

As I have said, let me just finish my third and final Ph.D. exam this Friday, on Asian Literature in English, from 8 am to 5 pm, and survive next weeks' final exams' checking time at the Ateneo. After these, I can work on the blog and the website because I have three weeks of paid labor even if it is sem break. This is one of the few perks of teaching!

And thanks, too, to Kristian Cordero of the Bicol Mail for the gracious article about my visit to the Penafrancia Festival. Yes, I went there and unlike other trapos, did not hang any tarpaulin, or visit the powers-that-be, or pretended to join the devotees on the streets.

Instead, I talked to the students, the teachers, the government employees, the salesgirls, the seminarians, the priests, the old people, the teenagers, and the contestants of the Miss Gay and the Mr Bicolandia contests. I talked to as many people as I could. I wish I could also talk to all those governors and mayors and etc, but let me be blunt and say that, in the end, when crunch time comes in the May 2010 elections, these powers-that-be will only help those who could give them the biggest campaign contributions.

And since funds are my Achilles heel, I think I would rather talk to the multitudes and listen to them as they pour their tales of woe in these dark days of disquet, these nights of rage.

Extemporaneous speech of Sen. Mar Roxas, 2008 Philippine Blog Awards

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

First of all, if anyone in the audience knows who actually won between Ateneo and La Salle, I’d appreciate it. Who won? Oh, you mean the blue and white? All right. That’s good news. I left just before halftime to make it all the way over here from Quezon City, from Cubao, and I was totally out of touch already with the developments when I came in, and so I am happy to know that people through their own way were keeping in touch of that.

I’m very happy to be here with you this afternoon. It’s a very important event that gives recognition to the Philippine blog community that has been active over all of these years. This is the second edition of your blog awards, I was asking Noemi, the other organizers in fact, whether the awards were being given for content, for editorial value, or relative to the number of hits and other technical details relative to a blog. She was saying that it’s a bit of a combination of these all, and what is the Oscars to the movies, or the Emmy’s to television, this is for the Philippines's blog community, so congratulations to all of the bloggers and all of those who’ve put this evening together. Let’s give them a warm round of applause.

I just want to say a couple of things, I don’t want to take too much of your time. I’ve been engaged in a little bit of blogging over a period of time, and always I’m amazed at how such a public activity, such an engagement with a multitude of nameless, faceless people whom you don’t know, are out there and who may peruse, go over what you write, can at the same time feel very, very private.

As you sit in front of your keyboard and compose your thoughts, as you reflect on some of the ideas that course through your mind, and go through what it is that you would like to communicate, it is in a very introspective activity, at least I find that for myself. And as I reflect upon it, I think that on one hand, it’s so introspective, it’s so solitary in fact. And at the same time, you really are communicating with multitudes all over the world.

I think it’s in that sort of paradigm, that conflict, where creative tension arises and through that creative tension, all of the ideas, all of the emotions, all of the thoughts, dreams and aspirations, and tears that you all have individually in each of you, are then expressed and then can be shared by everyone. Not just Pinoys but by everyone in the world.

And truly, it is a special, unique undertaking to be engaged in blogging. It’s quite difficult; it requires a lot of discipline. I myself have not been as disciplined as all you have been. I very rarely now get around to actually sitting down and going through my thinking process and updating my blog once a month. But nonetheless, what is an individual activity is really one of sharing with the world and I congratulate all of you for your discipline, for your "committedness" and for sharing what your thoughts and hopes and aspirations with the rest of all of us. Congratulations to all of the bloggers here! Give yourself a round of applause.

The other thought that I wanted to convey to you this evening is more of just a coincidence. Today happens to be September 21. And as I was thinking about coming over here and be with you, I reflected upon our own Philippine history. Thirty-six years ago, on this very day, former President Marcos came on TV and basically crossed out, cancelled out, democracy in our country. It was a time for what George Orwell talked about of in his novel 1984; it was the beginning of groupthink, it was time for a Big Brother that was so intrusive and so controlling and wanted to intervene in every aspect of Philippine life. It was a time to use computer, or electronic language; it was a time for centralized processing, where there was one central thinking entity that attempted to do all the thinking for all of us here in our country.

And so we fast-forward to where we are today. Thrirty-six years later, celebrating what is in the history not only in the Philippines but also in the history of the world the most democratic, free, and libertarian mechanism that allows for self-expression all throughout the world. What a contrast. What an irony. From groupthink, through blogging through the net, we now celebrate individuality, of what you might even think of as the atomization of ideas, where it’s not one major big blob but really, what everyone takes away from it and then is able to express on equal terms with everyone else.

It’s been called niche-thinking, it’s been called niche-programming, it’s been called, in general, niche-ing because everyone is allowed to express his or her own inviduality. What was centralized processing, in effect, is now distributed processing. There is no groupthink, there is now only what each and everyone of you thinks, and feels, and hopes, aspires to, and in that process we are all the healthier as a society and as a team.

And lastly, relative to what we are today versus to thirty-six years ago, when this dark cloud of Martial Law descended on our country, what we have today through each and everyone of your blogs, through each and everyone of the e-mails that you write, send, and distribute and you cascade all across the globe, what we have today is a sense of personal responsibility. It is you. You put your name to those thoughts. It is you, your individuality. It is the uniqueness, the specialness, the glory of each and every one of you.

And in so doing, it is no longer hiding behind some organization, some unit, some group but actually an expression – here I stand, this is what I think is important and I share it with you. It is a more expressive way, a more expressive manifestation of taking responsibility for one’s self, for one’s thoughts, for one’s ideas. I cannot find it anywhere else in the globe. Here in the Philippines, we see it alive, we see it thriving, and we see it as a way of moving the country forward individually, and together as a nation.

Mabuhay ang mga bloggers! Mabuhay and kalayaan dito sa Pilipinas!

Senate contender graces literary fest

The Bicol Mail

Super thanks to the Bicol Mail for writing about my lightning visit to the Penafrancia festival. Dios mabalos sa indo gabos ta pinagitabangan nindo ako sa trabaho ko.


A MULTI-AWARDED writer and a teacher first before becoming one of the most promising young leaders in the country today, Professor Danton Remoto of Ateneo de Manila University surprisingly arrived and graced the 5th Premio Tomas Arejola Para sa Literaturang Bikolnon last September 13, 2008, which was held at the Holy Rosary Minor Seminary in Naga City.

Remoto, who is running as senator in the May 2010 elections, is also the Chairman of Ang Ladlad, the largest organization of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender Filipinos in the country today. Unlike other politicians now vying and realigning their political ambitions in the next election, Remoto came to Naga City without the pomposity of streamers, courtesy visits and media hypes.

Instead, the English professor of Ateneo de Manila -- who served as a judge in this year’s Miss Gay Bicolandia and Ginoong Bicolandia -- quietly mingled and then conversed with the Naguenos and asked them of their dreams and aspirations in changing the political landscape of the country still in the grip of traditional and dyspeptic politicians.

In his impromptu speech during the awarding ceremony, Professor Remoto -- who is the son of a Bikolano military officer and a Music teacher from Oas, Albay -- encouraged the students, writers, and cultural workers to continue to promote and encourage the development of Bikol arts and culture.

As a writer, Remoto is known for his landmark poetry collections and the three anthologies of Ladlad, a collection of Filipino gay writings, which he co-edited with UP Professor J. Nail Garcia. He has won various awards and scholarships abroad, among them, the ASEAN prize for the essay, 1979; the Palanca for the essay in 1987; the CCP literary award for poetry; the Stirling District Arts Council award for poetry and the short story.

He writes a regular column for Philippine Star and blogs at

Ph D Exams and the UAAP Game

This week, I began taking my three Ph.D. comprehensive exams, after I have passed the two language exams -- one in Spanish and the other in Bikolano. For Spanish I translated four -- yes, four! -- 19th century Spanish short stories. I do not know how I passed the darned exam. And for Bikol, I took a four-part exam ending with an essay -- yes, an essay! -- I had to write in Bikol. For this exam, I prayed to my Bikolana grandmother, dead for the last 12 years to write the essay for me. I think she came to my rescue, because I also passed the exam.

Last Monday I took the exam on Anglo-American Fiction in the 20th century, from ten am to 5 pm. Yesterday, I took the exam on Philippine Literature, from 9 am to 5 pm. I could feel my fingers jiggling from all the effort of answering -- even if done via the computer.

That is why I could not watch any of the UAAP games. I had to read and re-read those texts, many of which I read when I was in college, from 1979-1983. What is good about re-reading them is that I found myself experiencing, finally, the moments in those novels. What are those feelings I cannot say, here, but let me just tell you growing older is not such a bad thing.

The day of the UAAP Game I passed by the grade school and saw McBo, the eatery founded by a former chief of security of Ateneo and an old friend of mine. I went there to look for his wife, Aling Lita, but Mang Bo was there. He gave me a free meal, an Ilocano dish of vegetables and milkfish which I finished in ten minutes. The other tables had drivers and yayas and aunts and parents, and we ate merrily and noisily the great, home-cooked food.

Then I had to hit the books again, while in Araneta Coliseum, the cheers of the crowd went through the roof.

On Friday, I will take my comprehensive exams in Asian Literature. And so it is time to visit and revisit the books of Harumi Murakami and Arundhati Roy, Praomedya Ananta Toer and Kobo Abe.

If I survive this last exam and the final exams of my students next week, I will sleep the sleep of the just -- for days!

The wheels of justice

By Danton Remoto
Remote Control

In my last column, I detailed the findings of our group in the Supreme Court-initiated workshop on giving justice to marginalized groups held last July 7-8. The next items in our list of issues include the weak justice system in the fiscal and prosecution levels. The Supreme Court initiated the workshop to help hasten the administration of justice for all people. Our facilitator was the bright and efficient Court of Appeals Justice Magdangal M. de Leon.

The farmers in our group said that landowners are tolerated in filing multiple suits against farmers just to harass them. The spurious cases filed include qualified theft, although all parties know that the root cause of the problem is agrarian. Perhaps because some fiscals are afraid of these big landowners – or even beholden to them – the cases are allowed to be filed in court. The fiscals’ point is that since it is a matter of evidence, anyway, let the courts decide.

Moreover, some fiscals were scored for being abusive, meting out punishment too harsh and not commensurate to the crime. The farmers also asked for a Supreme Court directive that if a case is an agrarian dispute, the MTCs should refer it to DARAB because they have no jurisdiction over agrarian disputes. Some farmers also protested against fiscals who do not know land valuation. If the decision of the judges has been overruled many times, that means that they have a gross ignorance of the law. Therefore, our group suggested a monitoring of the decision of judges. The clerk of court should report the number of cases appealed and erroneous judges sanctioned, so they will think twice when penning their decisions.

Our group recommended that we follow the US judicial system in their anti-strategic lawsuits against public participation, or the anti-slap law. If a case is determined to be in violation of anti-slap provisions, then this is an additional ground to dismiss a case. The environmentalists in our group also said that the anti-slap provisions should also be applicable in the cases they handle. Our group also said that in some murder and rape cases against the police, the police officer is merely transferred, Mindanao being the choice spot for transfer – as if Mindanao deserves to be the hell’s pit for these scoundrels. And speaking of Mindanao, our group also recommended that the Shari’a courts be expanded to help ease the burden of the regular courts.

Our group also recommended that more judges should be hired for a more efficient disposition of cases. Moreover, there should be an immersion program for prosecutors so they would know the actual implementation of the law, not just its theoretical aspects. The various sectors must also have a voice in the appointment of fiscals and judges. And then, there was a suggestion where everybody’s heads nodded in unison – higher pay for judges and security for them, since more judges are being gunned down.

The next body – the National Labor Relations Commission – received a lot of brickbats not just from our group but also from the reports issued by the other groups. Allegedly, this quasi-judicial body handles the cases with the pace of a turtle. Therefore, the Supreme Court should issue time-frames within which cases would have been decided. Another recommendation is for the cases to go directly to the Supreme Court from the NLRC. The group also mentioned that some employees in NLRC serve as fixers; when there is no grease money, allegedly the cases ground to a halt. Moreover, the NLRC arbiters settle cases even without the presence of the workers’ lawyer, thus leading to a settlement that is way too low, to the detriment of the workers.

The complaints were so loud and vociferous that at one point, in my presentation, I said that the NLRC, in its present state, should be fumigated.

The urban poor in our group also lamented the fees that have to be paid in court, i.e., filing fees, for the cases to proceed. These fees seem to be a source of income for the courts. For example, if a laborer wants a re-computation of his back wages, he has to pay a fee of P500 again. Since the laborer is already out of work, the P500 is an additional burden.

The urban poor also lambasted some people in government for their insufficient knowledge of RA 7270, the Urban Development Housing Act. The bull’s eye of complaints was targeted at the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA). The MMDA has its own ordinances on demolition of shanties; thus, the parameters of the MMDA powers should be clarified. Moreover, they accuse the MMDA and the National Housing Authority of demolishing shanties even in private properties, with cases still pending in the courts. Our members also asked for a special court for the urban poor – or an urban land reform and housing court – to expedite the disposition of their cases.

Specifically, our group asked the Supreme Court to issue an opinion to clarify and settle conflicts in laws pertaining to the urban poor. For example, the SC needs to clarify the United Nations ES|R Report General Comment No. 7 versus Republic Act 7279, the Urban Development and Housing Act of the Philippines; and the Building Code. The Supreme Court also has to delineate the lines between RA 8975 and RA 7279, and that between the Water Code and MMDA Resolution 03-96. Our urban poor also asked the Supreme Court to remind the judges that there is an SC circular 03-72 implementing Executive Order 152, requiring a certificate of clearance before shanties could be demolished.

Moreover, our urban poor sectors are also praying for a resolution to amend OCA 72 to ensure that there won’t be displacement prior to demolition of shanties. The members of the judiciary should also be educated in the law and ramifications of the UDHA, related laws, and the international legal instruments on housing rights. This education should be complemented with fora like these, when actual cases are discussed, ideas and insights shared.

As for public-sector workers who comprise 1.5 million, our group recommended the expansion of workers’ rights. The Civil Service Commission and the government agencies handle a lot of administrative cases. The backlog can be eased if we allow paralegals of the civil service to handle the cases of public-sector workers. Only criminal cases should be left to the Ombudsman.

Moreover, paralegals should be allowed to represent cases involving farmers, laborers, and other marginalized groups. The arbiters are not aware that this is allowed under the Rules of Court, and thus frown upon this suggestion.

I was happy to be there for two days, serving as secretary and later, as reporter for our group. I saw democracy in action. Issues were raised, debated, sieved. Then they were reported, collated, and I told my friends in the Supreme Court that the next task is the most difficult – to work.

And exactly a week later, Supreme Court Justice Reynato Puno began his Justice on Wheels tour, where the justices went to the prisons to expedite cases by holding trials in buses. And two months later, the Supreme Court dismissed a Court of Appeals justice, sanctioned another one, and admonished another in connection with the attempted bribery in the Meralco-GSIS case. It was a humiliating case and I was cheering the retired justices who went through the cases and the evidence at hand with the solid, stern, and serious air of school teachers.

The wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow, but with Justice Puno as helmsman of the Court, I see some kind of hope.

I wish I could say the same thing for the Presidency or the Congress. But I would be a big cheat to myself if I do.


Last Sept 11, the Young Turks went to UP Los Banos. Adel Tamano, JV Ejercito and I made it. Gilbert Remulla was helping his boss Manny Villar parry the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes in the Senate, while Erin Tanada was out of Metro Manila for a consultation with his constituents.

Then on Sept 12-14 I was at Naga City for the Penafrancia Festival, upon the invitation of my good friend and former student Jack Hernandez, whose family owns the University of Nueva Caceres. Through Jack, Ang Ladlad donated two college scholarships to two participants in the Ms Gay Bicolandia and Mr Bicolandia, respectively. I also met with the writers of Kabulig, spoke at the awarding ceremonies of the Tomas Arejola Literary Awards for Bikol Writing and judged the two aforementioned beauty contests. I also talked with the seminarians at the Holy Rosary Seminary, beside the great Naga Cathedral. I bought lots of pasalubong from them, ranging from pili nuts to bracelets of Ina, the Our Lady of Penafrancia. They were raising funds for their graduation ceremonies and community projects. They were a polite and cheerful group.

Yesterday morning, I spoke in a Political Science class at the Ateneo. Topic: Ang Ladlad Party List. It was a happy day, with lots of photos taken afterward. In the afternoon, I spoke with the Dominican Brothers at the Santo Domingo Church. Topic: How to Write with Style, with a sub-section on writing a good sermon. The Order of Preachers are lucky when these brothers join them later, for they are bright, witty, and willing to learn. I was scandalized when one of the brothers wrote a rather, uh, erotic passage during our writing exercise. We also had photos taken at their vast garden alive with the song of birds on a bright and beautiful afternoon.

At night, I spoke at the launching of Galang, the newest lesbian and gay group in town, focusing on grassroots organization. Topic: welcoming them into the fold, insisting that the more the merrier, and And Ladlad -- unlike other groups, maybe -- is not paranoid, or unhappy, that a new group has joined the advocacy work. The work is too broad, too big, too difficult, for Ang Ladlad alone to carry. I was happy to see many lgbt leaders, especially the next generation of leaders. Which is good, since we the elder ones can move on.

When Joel, the Pol Sci teacher, asked me in the morning where do I get the energy to do all of these, I just smiled and told him that these are done by candidates without P100 million in funds for 2010.

Running only on sheer adrenaline and stunned by the brave, tireless, and enthusiastic support of the youth, I think this is the honorable way to do a campaign.

Unrealized potential

SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan
Friday, September 19, 2008
Philippine STAR

Back in 1966, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) pondered the site for its headquarters. Its choices: Tokyo, Tehran and Manila.

The Philippine capital won because the country was seen at the time as one of the world’s most promising economies.

ADB officials in Manila told this story the other day to their guest in their “Eminent Speakers” lecture series, Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Singapore-based Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and a retired top diplomat of the city-state.

Mahbubani, who remembers growing up in Singapore in a one-bedroom house with no flush toilet, told me that his country was not considered by the ADB because it was seen as a basket case.

How we can mess up our country in just four decades.
The ADB was not too far off the mark in its assessment. In 1960, the Philippines, with its gross domestic product five times greater than that of South Korea, was considered the second most promising Asian economy after Japan.

South Korea, Taiwan, and of course Singapore overtook us a long time ago. Today we are starting to lag behind Vietnam and may be overtaken even by Cambodia.

With the uncertainties posed by the ongoing global economic meltdown, wrong responses to the crisis could very quickly put us in a worse situation.

* * *
Mahbubani continues to see great potential in the Philippines. He bases his optimism on the success of Filipinos overseas.

“The Philippines has one of the most successful diasporas in the world,” he told me yesterday. “There is an enormous amount of talent in the Philippines.”

How to harness that talent is the challenge facing the nation.

China’s great reformer, Deng Xiaoping, had recognized something similar in the Chinese diaspora, and had asked the right question: Why were Chinese people succeeding everywhere except in their own country?

Deng then gave his compatriots many of the right answers, setting out to create an environment that would make economic prosperity possible for the Chinese living in China.

Telling his compatriots that “to get rich is glorious,” he made his country embrace the free market. The resulting economic growth expanded the middle class, creating not just one of the biggest producers of goods but also one of the largest consumer markets in the world.

With its political system still officially communist, Chinese society is ideally egalitarian, where everyone enjoys equal opportunities for advancement through merit.

Deng is not popular in the human rights department; Beijing is still trying to exorcise the ghosts of Tiananmen.

But human rights do not play a key role in the factors that Mahbubani cites for the rise of what he calls the new Asian hemisphere. Neither does the type of political system, he says, pointing out that communist China and democratic India are achieving economic prosperity under different systems.

Good government and a merit-based society, he says, play a bigger role. He cites “seven pillars of Western wisdom” that Asian countries borrowed to achieve economic success: free-market economics, science and technology, meritocracy, the rule of law, education, pragmatism, and a culture of peace.

Reviewing those seven pillars, it is easy to see why our country is not rising with the rest of the Asian hemisphere.

* * *
Mahbubani’s book, released earlier this year, on “the irresistible shift of global power to the East,” has so far received a cool reception in the West, with one publication describing it as “an anti-Western polemic.”

Mahbubani counters that there is a “tremendous amount of hubris and arrogance in the West,” and he wants to prick the “incestuous, self-congratulatory dialogue among Western minds.”

“You can’t use a toothpick to prod an elephant,” he said yesterday. “They have to move outside their zones of comfort.”

The seven pillars he cites are factors that Filipinos know the country has lacked for several decades, as the country steadily slipped behind its Asian neighbors in economic development.

Consider the per capita income of Filipinos working overseas, Mahbubani says, and you will have an idea of what the nation is capable of achieving if all those workers were given the right opportunities in their own land.

Asia is succeeding, he says, because it has a large pool of brainpower that is being harnessed at all levels, with countries such as China and India tapping talent all the way down to the lowest income groups.

The Philippines also has an enormous amount of brainpower but this largely goes untapped, Mahbubani observes, because the society “tends to focus on the upper classes.” In his book he cites the feudal political system that hinders the development of a meritocracy in this country.

I asked him how corruption can be eradicated and good governance promoted, and he replied with a story he heard about a street sweeper.

For a thorough cleanup, sweeping must start at the top. Even a street sweeper knows that, Mahbubani said.

But not Filipinos. This is just one of the many reasons why Asia’s second most promising economy in the 1960s is now turning into its basket case.

We can still achieve our full potential. But we must work double time if we want to catch up with our neighbors.

Beware as GMA becomes desperate

By Ellen Tordesillas
Ang Pahayagang Malaya

Gloria Arroyo is nearing the last stretch of her stolen presidency tolerated by the Filipino people thinking anyway, it’s only up to 2010. But are we sure she is stepping down in 2010?

Last Thursday, in an interview with ANC’s Ricky Carandang, former Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz warned that Arroyo might exploit the Mindanao situation and terrorist activities in the country to impose emergency rule that would justify her holding on to power beyond 2010.

Cruz, who should know Arroyo very well, said, "There is always temptation that’s why we have to be vigilant that doesn’t happen because that is not going to be very good for the country. It’s better to be on the extra side of caution in this matter."

The FSGO, a grouping of Former Senior Government Officials, which includes Cruz, is circulating a petition echoing Cruz’ call for vigilance. They say that moves to extend the term of Arroyo are very much alive.


FSGO’s call:

"We, the organizations and individuals who have signed this statement, are citizens of this Republic alarmed by current political developments. We note that in spite of various protestations by political leaders from the administration and the opposition, the talk of a brazen attempt to extend the term of Mrs. Arroyo simply will not die.

"Charter change to be initiated in Congress through a constituent assembly has seemingly been stopped in its tracks by the vocal opposition of many members of the Senate, whose two-thirds approval would logically seem necessary to convene a constituent assembly.

"Yet the House of Representatives, through the Speaker, and the chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments, has announced that it will be holding "public consultations" to elicit public opinion on charter change, whether for federalism, shift to a parliamentary system or such other excuse/justification as may later dawn on the proponents.

"Some legislators have been vocal in pushing their interpretation that ‘the Constitution requires only a two thirds vote of its members to propose amendments to the Constitution,’ an interpretation that would make the Senators’ votes almost irrelevant in the process.

"The current administration has swung violently on the matter of the conflict in Mindanao from rushing to sign the MOA on Ancestral Domain with the MILF to the abrupt cancellation of the peace talks, the dissolution of the peace panel and the attempt of Mrs. Arroyo to disown knowledge of the agreement; and now a relentless armed confrontation that is seemingly designed to goad the MILF and other groups into a combative reaction or a series of violent actions. The inevitable armed confrontations and deaths that will follow could be a ready-made platform to suspend the writ of habeas corpus or, heaven forbid, even the declaration of martial law. The Constitution requires only a vote of a majority of the members of Congress, voting jointly, to approve and extend martial law.

"We declare our commitment to a just and sustainable peace in Mindanao. We will initiate and support all possible actions that will bring about an inclusive process to begin with ceasefire and return to the peace table.

"We declare our united opposition (1) to any moves that exploit the Mindanao situation to extend Mrs. Arroyo’s stay in power, (2) to any attempt to amend the Constitution before 2010, (3) to any attempt to change the Constitution through a Constituent Assembly, and (4) to any step towards declaring martial law.

"We call on all Filipinos to be vigilant, to inform themselves, to organize with like-minded fellow citizens, and to prepare to show our leaders and officials the true power of our democracy."

A man of gold

LODESTAR By Danton Remoto
Monday, September 15, 2008
Philippine STAR
Art and Culture Section

For the month of August, David Henry Hwang’s play The Golden Child dazzled audiences at the CCP, in both its English and Filipino versions.

David also blew into town to attend the premiere of his latest play. He first broke through the tough American theater scene with his controversial play, M. Butterfly, which won the Tony in 1988. A film version of the play was also made of the play that featured a Chinese transgender lover of a Caucasian consul. The transgender lover turns out to be a spy. Both play and film version sparked a firestorm of controversy.

Remember that regnant then in the American literary scene was the notion of multiculturalism, which is like the affirmative-action policy teleported to the literary scene. But Asian-American critics panned the play and the film for depicting the Asian man as transgender, therefore feminized and weak. In short, the Chinese-American David played unwittingly into the stereotypical Asian image of passive, inscrutable, and therefore, people who could be easily contained and colonized.

David just shrugs off the criticism, like water off his back. He considers the comments somewhat valid, and agrees it comes with the territory. The most important thing for him is not what he has written — and he was written a whole archive of works. Among them: FOB (Fresh Off the Boat), Family Devotion and the Dance and the Railroad, Face Values, 1,000 Airplanes on the Roof and The Voyage with Philip Glass, The Silver River for Bright Sheng, and The Golden Child. The most important thing is what he will write next.

The Golden Child, written in 1998, was also nominated for Best Play and won for David an Obie Award for the same year. Nanding Josef of the Cultural Center of the Philippines invited David to come over, translated the play and asked Loy Arcenas to direct. Arcenas is remembered as another Obie Award-winner who brought here the May-i Theater Company presentation of Carlos Bulosan’s luminous play, The Romance of Magno Rubio, in 2003.

Like all writers, David dips into his life to create composite characters for his works. But none of the works are strictly biographical. As a writer, he is more like a painter than a photographer: he highlights and shades some parts of the narrative, the better to show their intensity and visceral power.

The Golden Child is somewhat controversial in David’s family, for it is patterned after one of his ancestors. Even his mother cautioned him to tell the media that it is just fiction, lest they accuse David’s family of being a carbon copy of the text at hand. “I fictionalized some of the scenes in my play and followed through some of the experiences of my ancestors.”

The play deals with the clashes between the present and the past, between East and West, between men and women. Telescoping time, culture and gender is a daunting task indeed for any writer, but David does loop them all together in this play. The casting is excellent: Art Acuna, Irma Adlawan. Liesl Batucan. Tina Chilip, Tess Jamias and Leo Rialp. The set design by New York University-trained Fulbright scholar Gino Gonzales was magical.

And the dialogue! The words volley around the stage, bounce into the audience and lodge themselves in the audience’s chest, leading to titters of delight at the wit and the humor of it all. And also leading to silence, to a painful silence, as the play delineates, with the shimmer of a deadly spider web, the motivations that underlie what we do. The play begins in medias res, or in the middle of things, and ends up coming full circle: ending where it began. It is a clever construction for a play rife with images of closed rooms, of tradition as constricting as bound feet, and joss sticks whose smoke vanishes into the air, to reunite with the spirits of ancestors and ghosts.

I asked David how he writes: does he have an outline, a grid, or a plan? “Before I write a play, I choose a theme and think of the problems and issues involved in that theme. Then I think of how to start and end the play before writing the whole thing. I would steal, borrow forms from other playwrights and come up with something effective.”

I tease him and tell it is so unlike what we learned in creative writing workshops, where a poet has to have an image, and a fiction writer should have heard a voice first, before the words will flow.

A smile lights up David’s face: “After I have planned everything down pat, the difficult moment of writing comes. But remember that I used to play jazz. I just wait for the sound of the words to glide, and then the play is born.”

Naga City

I just came back from Naga City where I served as a judge at the Miss Gay Bicolandia and the Mr. Bicolandia, events done as part of the month-long Penafrancia Festival. Jack Hernandez of the University of Nueva Caceres gave two full Ang Ladlad college scholarships to two deserving contestants in the said contests. I was happy to help send two young people back to school again, thanks to Jack and to UNC.

Here are some initial photos, which shows me giving an impromptu speech at the Tomas Arejola Literary Awards at the Holy Rosary Seminary beside the Naga Cathedral. There I meet some old friends like the award-winning Kristian Cordero, the one with the K, who just won an NCCA Writers' prize.

What I like about Bicol are the people's religiosity and wicked sense of humor. Photos are from zhella monserate-manrique and her blog. Super hyper mega thanks.

The road to 2010 for Villar

COMMONSENSE By Marichu A. Villanueva
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Philippine Star

It was like a comedy scene yesterday morning when Senate president Manuel “Manny” Villar was clueless while he was being attacked all over radio stations. Opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson was first interviewed in the DZMM radio program of the ABS-CBN tandem of Korina Sanchez and Ted Failon yesterday while we were having our regular breakfast forum at the Tuesday Club at EDSA Shangri-La. Villar was being raked over the coals by Lacson on The STAR headline news that day about the alleged double-entry of a P200-million project that earned the ugly title of “road to nowhere.”

After a long while he has not appeared in our breakfast club, Villar was being ribbed each time a member arrived telling him about the allegations of Lacson against him. Villar was at a loss at first to what he was being linked to. Little did he know that he was tagged as behind the inclusion anew in the proposed 2009 budget of the P200-million C-5 Road extension project from the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) to Sucat Road in Parañaque City.

By the time Villar learned about the very serious allegations hurled against him by Lacson, the usually ice-cool Senator immediately called a press conference at the Senate. Well, I would not be surprised if the Senate president was described as frothing in the mouth in righteous indignation over insinuations that he may have profited from the usual “commissions” earned out of such “insertions” by lawmakers in the budget for their pet projects.

At the Senate hearing Monday, Department of Budget and Management Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. testified under oath that the questioned budget provision was not an initiative from Malacañang Palace but were “congressional insertions” made in the Congress-approved 2008 General Appropriations Act (GAA).

The funny part of this brouhaha was that the camp of Villar even issued a press statement Monday after that Senate budget hearing. In that statement, the Senate president vowed to scrutinize the proposed P1.4 trillion budget for next year to ensure that no dubious funds will be sneaked into the approval of the GAA. As guardians of public funds, Villar committed the Senate to see to it that the proposed P1.4 trillion national budget for 2009 will pass through “a fine-toothed comb to make sure that no public money will go to wasteful and questionable projects that will only fatten the pockets of grafters in government.”

Villar, who happens to be also the Nacionalista Party (NP) president, made this solemn oath. So how could Villar be the author of such “insertion”? At his press conference yesterday, Villar strongly took exceptions to innuendoes of his complicity in the “double-entry” of the C-5 road extension project into the 2009 GAA. Villar explained the C-5 road extension was part of the P2.1-billion project of the Department of Public Works and Highways that he was advocating.

“The 42-km stretch C-5 road is certainly not a road to nowhere as this links the Coastal Road to the SLEX. This will greatly benefit the people in the South of Metro Manila, especially residents of Cavite,” Villar pointed out. This I can attest because I pass in these areas everyday and see monstrous traffic jams at the slightest rains or during El Shaddai prayer rally.

Villar, a successful rags-to-riches boy from Tondo who made good as an entrepreneur to big-time real estate business, has become a natural target after he publicly declared anew last week his intention to run for the May 2010 presidential election. Thus, he must accept the fact he is now a fair game for his rivals.

“I have made known my intention to run for President in 2010 and I anticipate that this will open the floodgates to attacks. I intend to pursue this on a platform of good governance and meaningful reforms in our political system, including an honest-to-goodness crusade against corruption. I will not taint my good name at this stage with involvement in financial shenanigans,” Villar asserted.

Of all the public officials polled for trust rating, Villar got the biggest gain as the most trusted public figure with a seven-percentage point leap from March to July 2008. Pulse Asia’s latest survey shows Villar’s trust rating galloping from 58 percent in March to 65 percent in July this year, or up by seven percentage points.

Villar’s trust improvement is the biggest compared to all public figures included in the survey, which was topped by Sen. Francis Escudero with a 75-percent trust rating from 74 percent for the same period. Coming in next according to this order were: Sen. Loren Legarda with 71 percent (down from 76 percent); Sen. Mar Roxas – 69 percent (from 67 percent); Lacson – 56 percent (from 61 percent); Vice-President Noli de Castro got 53 percent (from 49 percent).

Actually, as early as December last year, Villar already made this declaration in The Starweek Magazine where he was featured back-to-back with Roxas, who had already made known much earlier his desire to run in the 2010 presidential race. What was obviously hurting Villar was the fact that he has been under severe criticisms from Korina Sanchez, who everyone knows, of course, is romantically linked to Sen. Roxas. Although an angry Villar did not say who he was referring to, he challenged his detractors hiding from the skirts of others, or from his own words, “nagtatago sa saya ng iba.” It was in obvious digs at the lovebirds and Lacson.

In fairness, though, to Lacson, it was him who discovered this sleazy attempt of “insertions” in the proposed 2009 budget that the Senate have started to scrutinize while waiting for their House counterparts to submit their approved 2009 GAA. Lacson, however, has been careful to clarify that he was not on the attack against Sen. Villar but was merely asking the Senate President to explain. Lacson, too, has not abandoned his own possible plans to run for the 2010 presidential race.

While may be paved with good intentions, the road ahead for Villar towards the 2010 presidential elections will be a rough one. It’s the same road that everyone else with moist eyes for the presidency would take going to Malacañang Palace.

The heavy burdens of Lady Justice

By Danton Remoto
Remote Control

Last July, I was invited by the Supreme Court to join a forum-consultation with leaders of so-called marginalized groups. So there I was, with leaders from the peasant, fisher folk, factory, women, physically handicapped, elderly, indigenous peoples, environmental, and youth sectors for a two-day meeting held at the Court of Appeals.

The succinct speech by Supreme Court Justice Reynato Puno set the tone of the meeting of minds. He said that the court is aware of the importance of consultation especially with those from the marginalized groups, who are often at the receiving end of injustice. I remember them now, since controversy has rocked some justices in the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court itself has just handed its shameful verdict that NEDA Chairman Romulo Neri was exercising executive privilege when he was talking to Mrs. Arroyo about the NBN-ZTE deal. Really?

But hope was regnant on that day. Aside from the forum in Manila, a similar forum was being held in Cebu City and Cagayan de Oro City. And thanks to the wonders of teleconferencing, we were able to see and listen to what was happening to the two other cities during the two-day forum.

On the afternoon of day one, we were divided into different break-out groups, the better to list down our manifold concerns. I served as the rapporteur of Group Six. Our facilitator was Justice Magdangal M. de Leon – a justice with a good grasp of the law, but more important for me that day, a keen listener to our many words.

The next day was reportage day, and we handed our PowerPoint presentation early. But lo and behold, just a minute before I would speak, our PowerPoint could not be found. It would have made another soul quake in his or her boots, but remember I have been teaching English for 22 years, and what is a report without a PowerPoint presentation?

So I gamely strode to the stage and gave our report, which I had read ten times already and therefore memorized thoroughly. I annotated it with crisp words in Tagalog and vivid examples from popular culture. I think I woke up the audiences in Manila – as well as in Cebu and Cagayan de Oro – from their post-lunch torpor.

Lumads and mining

It turned out that we had common concerns. The issues I reported on had similar threads coming from the other groups. The framework of our discussion began with the barangay, all the way to the Supreme Court issues. Highlights include the following.

An indigenous people’s leader in our group said that the barangay justice system is run by people who do not know the culture of the IP in their midst. Therefore, they cannot understand the underlying layers beneath the issues because of cultural differences. An even more basic question had to be sieved: who exactly are the IPs? Are Muslims part of the IPs in Mindanao, or just the lumad? Our group leaders also reported on IP cases in the Davao provinces and the Cordilleras that remain undecided to this day.

The environmental leaders decried the mining going on in Rapu-Rapu island in Albay, which is a flagship project of Mrs. Arroyo’s administration. Studies have shown that the mining activities there are dangerous. There are even spills now, but no action is being done even in the barangay level. The NGOs have done technical studies.

But the burden of proof is being placed on the marginalized sectors, to show that there indeed are toxic substances being released. In short, the victims are the ones being asked to show proof of the toxicity of the environment after the spills. Too poor to pursue the case in court, they are also browbeaten by local media which, they claim, are trying to paint a scenario of low toxic levels in the area.


On the other hand, our women leaders said that the barangay leaders are not aware of the barangay protection order for women and children. Barangays play a big role in the implementation of the republic act on Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC). The barangay protection order provides an immediate shield for the women and children victims. However, in reality, the barangays cannot give the immediate protection that they are mandated by the law to do.

Instead of giving help, the barangay officials connive with the men and issue excuses and even insensitive comments, for example, that these are squabbles internal only to the family. The barangay officials lack training and act as judges when they should only be mediators. That is, if you can find the barangay officials in their posts at all. You have to go to their houses to plead your case. And our informants claim that even some councilors are not aware of the R.A. on VAWC.

For their part, our farmers complained that they are forced to attend conciliation proceedings that are done to force a settlement even before the case reaches the court. Many of them agree to forced settlements because of poverty. They have no money to pay the lawyers, and thus, no issues are resolved.

The basic problems in the law itself is not addressed, i.e., the stock distribution option in the land-reform program. Moreover, some sheriffs just demolish shanties even without any order to demolish from the courts.

They also decried the lack of a Barangay Agrarian Reform Chairman, which is part of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program(CARP). Thus, there is nobody with a technical knowledge who could settle controversies involving agrarian reform issues.

Police training

The Juvenile Justice Law is also violated when the under-aged offenders are punished even at the barangay level. Our informants even detailed cases of torture and abuse. The urban poor in our group stressed the right to have adequate housing and again, demolition with due notice.

On the other hand, our fisher folk questioned the parameters and limitations on the authority of the barangays to implement the law. For example, the military men would block the fisher folk who would go out to sea at dawn, citing insurgency problems. The barangay officials would do nothing when complaints are filed.

More IP problems involved the intrusion of military elements in their areas. The military dictates the people’s schedule, on who could come in and go out of the areas they live in. In the indigenous justice system, the old folks settled the disputes, banking on the traditional wisdom of the elderly. But nowadays, young barangay officials who know nothing about the culture and history of the IPs decide on their cases.

A solution to this is the creation of an Office for Indigenous People’s Affairs. There is already one in Quezon City, as well as in La Trinidad, Benguet; Iriga City in Camarines Sur; Davao del Norte and Davao del Sur; as well as in Talipao, Sulu. This office should fall under the Local Government Units, per the law, but it is not implemented.

Our group also protested the curtailing by the police of the people’s right to seek redress for their grievances. The no-permit, no-rally rule constitutes abuse of authority, they said, since the police cannot permit or not permit rallies – they can only re-route the rallies. Moreover, the police are color-blind when it comes to protest rallies, considering all of them as enemies of the state out to disturb the peace and bring down the government. They just blindly follow illegal orders from their officers, who are insensitive and not aware of the rights of the protestors.

Maximum tolerance should be implemented by the police, but such is not the case. The protestors are subjected to physical abuse, as we see on TV, and not follow guidelines in containing mass action, despite law and jurisprudence to this effect. A torrent of verbal abuse and excessive force is rained down on the protestors on the streets.

The police need more training in handling complaints and in inquest proceedings. Moreover, some policemen act as “hired guns” of mining companies. Truly, the time when the police were called Manila’s Finest have come and gone, along with so many things we could be proud of in the country.

Next: problems with fiscals, the National Labor Relations Commission, Court of Appeals and Supreme Court.

Pulse Asia 2010 senatorial survey, July 1-14, 2008

I was crunching the data for the July 1-14 senatorial survey of Pulse Asia. As I said earlier, my name is not included because I am not (yet) a sworn member of a big political party. Therefore, no political party paid for my name to be included in the survey. Iyon po iyon.

Anyway, the following current or former senatorial candidates made it to the top 14:

Pia Cayetano
Jinggoy Estrada
Mar Roxas
Frank Drilon
Miriam Santiago
Serge Osmena
Ralph Recto
Bong Revilla
Jamby Madrigal
Jun Magsaysay
Tito Sotto
Johnny Enrile

The only newbies were Koko Pimentel, who of course carries his father's name and sat at number 5, and Jojo Binay, who was number 14.

OK. Of this, strike out the following, for the alleged reasons cited:

Mar Roxas = running for President under LP
Miriam Santiago = wants to retire because of a heart problem
Serge Osmena = wants to retire to take care of his wife
Bong Revilla = wants to run as VP under Lakas-Kampi
Jun Magsaysay = his son Paco said his Dad is tired and will not run
Johnny Enrile = is tired and will not run
Jojo Binay = will run as VP of Erap in a possible UNO-PMP-PDP/Laban coalition.

So that leaves you with SEVEN former and current senators, who will surely win. Therefore, the field is tight. Only FIVE new senators will be elected from amongst the ten million who are aspiring for the position.

And the inevitable question. Does that scare me?


I just hope Kris Aquino does not run, because she will win by a super-mega-hyper-big landslide. Deal or no deal.

The five new ones who want to win should, beginning today, already go around the country; cobble alliances and coalitions north, south, east and west; and start massive fund-raising. Chiz, who had a huge media presence, said he spent PhP 25 million of funds raised for his campaign.

So anybody who already has a huge media presence should have at least PhP 30 million for the 2010 senatorial campaign.

My yaya has donated two carabaos at PhP 10,000 each. I already have PhP 20,000. My family gave me a van to go around. I am taking a salary loan from my job. That means I still need PhP 28 million.

And my dear friend Bambit has already done the design for my website, with a beautiful box for donations.

I think we can now start this campaign rocking.

Preparing for a nasty exit

By Ellen Tordesillas
Ang Pahayagang Malaya

In her fake presidency, Gloria Arroyo has every right to appoint anybody- scoundrels and losers -in her cabinet.

If she thinks Chavit Singson, will help her stay in power, let her be. After all, if not for Singson, she would not be in Malacañang today.

In fact, she should not stop at Singson. When Joc-joc Bolante comes back, she should appoint him agriculture secretary so he could go back to his familiar ground and continue what he does best – diversion of funds for farmers to her campaign kitty. That way, he could invoke the all- season weapon against truth – executive privilege.

If bringing back Bolante at the Department of Agriculture is too much, she may want to put him at the National Food Authority where he could see first hand the effect on food prices of his using the fertilizer fund for vote buying.

With Singson as deputy national security adviser; Hermogenes Esperon as adviser for peace process; Raul Gonzalez as justice secretary, Arroyo has the best team to bring her down.

As I have said earlier, take it from the great war tactician, Napoleon Bonaparte: “Don’t disturb the enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself.”

* * *

Philippine National Police Chief Avelino Razon Jr. has been reported to have confirmed that Deputy Director General Jesus Versoza will succeed him when he retires on September 29.

There are a number of advantages Versoza holds over his closest competitor, Metro Manila Police chief Director Geary Barias. One is his being the most senior commissioned officer in the organization’s “seniority lineal list” as cited by the National Police Commission in its resolution recommending Vesoza to the top PNP post. Another advantage is his rumored closeness to Gloria Arroyo’s husband, Mike.

But a PNP source said what clinched the position for Versoza is the fact that he will be the presiding officer of the police force in June 2010, a dangerous date for Gloria Arroyo. Versoza will be retiring in December 2010 while Barias is due to retire March 2010.

The source said if Arroyo opts for deep selection and appoint Barias, she could not be sure of the loyalty of the next PNP chief who would have the control of the police force when she steps down (supposedly ) in June 2010. A PNP chief appointed three months before a change of leadership would lean more on the incoming powers-that-be. Chances are high that it would be anti- Arroyo groups.

The source said with Versoza, Arroyo could be assured protection in June 2010 when she no longer has presidential powers to protect herself from the wrath of a victimized people.

What the source, a Versoza supporter, was conveying was, Arroyo is preparing for a scenario that Charter change will not push through and she will really have to step down in June 2010.

I believe that Arroyo has several options laid out for 2010. But given her rock bottom credibility, the numerous scandals hounding her, and the tension in , surviving the moment should be her more immediate concern .

* * *

The appointment of Singson to the second highest national security position has elicited strong reactions in my blog. Bob says “Diyos ko naman, talagang malaki ang galit ni Gloria sa Pilipinas.Talagang gusto niyang bumagsak ang Pilipinas”

Juggernaut wrote: “We are witness to the dawning of a new age where the will of the people is subverted and shoved in our faces like feces. We see people resoundingly rejected by the people being placed in sensitive positions, the likes of Recto, Chavez, Pichay et al. They are laughing at us all the way to the bank (Swiss or Cayman Islands).”

Singson is not taking the criticisms lightly. He said, “They’re just jealous. If they want the position, then it’s theirs. If they can help, the job is theirs. But if they will only add up to the troubles of our nation, then they should get out of the country.”

That’s the formula for national security, according to Chavit.

My website

My friend, Bambit Kapauan-Gaerlan, should be thanked for the new, civilized, and sassy look of my blog. I also met with her last Saturday at Greenbelt to have a go-see of my website. We will activate it ASAP.

I am now finalizing my political platform, plus the other texts (literary, political, otherwise) needed for the website. I am also sending Bambit a gazillion photos to choose from.

Plus something I learnt from the Barack Obama campaign. A slot for Paypal, so our friends here, there and everywhere can start sending in their donations.

A senatorial campaign is a super-expensive campaign. Even if a major opposition party includes me in their slate, I still have to have funds to add to the campaign.

And so the fund-raising begins.

The many petals of desire

By Danton Remoto
Philippine STAR

Heartsong and Other Poems is only the first book of poems by Felino S. Garcia Jr. But collected between its covers are some of the most amazing love poems I’ve read. There is no rawness, no rush, and no half-cooked efforts in this collection. We have to thank publisher John Iremil Teodoro of Imprenta Igbaong for coming out with this collection of poems.

The book is divided into four sections. “Coming to fruit” deals with love’s beginnings, when the days pass in a blaze of happiness. And the nights more so, as captured in a poem called “Flood.” The poem has an epigraph from the now-iconic song of Basil Valdez: “Tuwing umuulan at kapiling ka (When it rains and I’m with you).” The poem points out the overpowering presence of love, like water that drowns everything in its wake, including the lovers.

Listen: “How we drown/ in our own flooding, plunging ourselves,/ shapeless, yet with gravity, swirling/ deep/ down/ down/ in the bottomless murky-/ sweetness of our watery love/ We drown/ without any hint of an end,/ no aftermath to this wild overflowing/ this flood, this love, this flood,/ this love, this love, this . . .”

Water then and wind: the natural elements of motion and force are compared to the brute power of love. In his novel A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway seemed to say that between birth and death there is only loneliness. But Garcia points to another direction: that beneath birth and death there is loneliness, yes, but also the bright and shining possibilities of love.

Moreover, the poet implies that love is not just moored in the elements of nature, but also in the elements of the body. The face and the voice, which are staple fare in the usual love poems. The body and its sensory zones, which are staple fare, too, in the usual erotic poems. But in our poet’s book, love is de-familiarized and the “heartsong” is the snore of the beloved. From snore to song is one bold leap, but our poet has steady legs and a pole-vault surer and stronger than any other’s. Watch him trace that arc.

“How you snore, my dearest one./ I stay up all night . . . . / I can bear listening to your heart-/ Song breaking loose,/ Breaking through the throat’s/ Darkness, soft singing its way/ Through this listening silence,/ Filling the brims of my watchful eyes/ And rising like a hairline/ Of breath, or smoke gathering light/ Unto itself, air sprouting flowers. . . .”

“My skin’s terrain” is the second part of the book. Here, the poet talks about the art of cartography. But what are mapped are the slopes and seas, the coves and caves of the beloved. Such appropriation – for the poet is also a keen student of contemporary criticism and has grafted its select theories into his poetics – is also found in two other poems in this section.

The body’s desires and dreams are etched in the poem “Inscription.” Here, the body’s various vowels and consonants, the syllables that form a text, find a haven and home. This triumphant work should make the three horsewomen of French feminist criticism giddy with joy. “. . . . Must I then seek/ A quick, sudden release/ From all these beginning less and endless/ Sensations and ululations/ When you are already inscribed on my body,/ On my body’s margins and boundaries,/ On my body’s text as ecriture/ Defying, denying all forms of otherness,/ Othering and erasure/ Like love drawing us all in/ Mercilessly in its full embrace--/ Ever grasping,/ Running out of breath.”

There is also the appropriation of the poetics of Islamic mysticism in the poem “Pillow,” with an epigraph from Khaled Mattawa: “Come love like a crushing seed.” Islamic mysticism is focused on the Tariqa, or the Sufi Path. Its poetics is rife with motifs of birds and blood, of spore, semen and light, of journeys whose destination is the Beloved. Garcia weds beautifully the sensual gesture and the mystical moment in the poem “Pillow.”

“Imagine him as you close your eyes./ Imagine him in your sleep./ Imagine him as though this were your last slumber,/ As though you would no longer hear/ His voice echo the bird’s sweet singing,/ As though upon hearing him, your body, your ribcage/ Could no longer be shaken into sobs,/ Convulsed into tears as though you were cursed/ And could never be awakened./ Imagine his voice as though its sweetness/ Could no longer like an arrow/ Pierce your heart . . . ”

“Beyond this lifetime” is the title of the third part. In a homage to the finest love poems, the sensual the spiritual have become one in this poem, wedded in utter and singular bliss. The readings of the poet are varied; in this poem, he alludes to Buddhist motifs. Without the endpoints and pauses of punctuation marks and in lines fluent and fluid, the poet leads us to the heart of nirvana.

“and like the Eightfold Path fulfilled/ you came stepping in this room quietly/ as if it were a lake you dipped soaked/ your feet/ as if you were a bodhisattva/ deferring enlightenment How we learned/ to breathe in time murmuring each other’s/ name over and over like a mantra/ while we slept in this bed shaped like a lotus/ on a night made lucid by the full moon . . . .”

“The wind relents” is the last part of the book. And as if to mimic the natural order of things, it deals with endings. In “The Second Aftermath,” the persona is full even when empty, for the beloved’s presence is made even more manifest by his absence. The poem has images of wayward fish bones stuck in one’s throat, of boulders sinking deeper than gravity could hold them, of eyelids closing for the night.

I would like to end this review by quoting in full the poem “Undertow.” It is a poised, painful meditation on the pendulum of love and loss. Like a haiku, it tells us that beauty is fragile and transitory, and its very transience hurts.

“No one speaks/ Of all that was here/ All that you and him were/ All that will no longer be/ Between you and him/ In a single blink/ Final and irreversible/ And yet world of his touch/ His whispers his voice/ The sea in his mouth/ Its undertow hissing/ The sound of it all/ Still hanging in your heart.”

The tradition of the love lyric is long and diverse. Heloise wrote letters to Abelard, Robert Browning to his Elizabeth Barrett, Walt Whitman to his anonymous young men, and Emily Dickinson “to a world that never wrote to me.” It seems that the poems of Felino Garcia Jr. belong to the world explored by Whitman and Dickinson. Garcia’s poems are letters to a world that still turns a blind eye to the wonder, the majesty, and the pain of men loving other men.

Warm, witty and wise, grainy with the many landscapes of love and longing, the best poems in this collection have already earned their secure places in the many rooms that comprise Philippine writing in English.

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Villar confirms presidential bid

By Aurea Calica
Friday, September 5, 2008
Philippine Star

Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. maintained yesterday that for him, it would be the presidency or nothing in 2010.

As early as last December, Villar, Nacionalista Party (NP) president, had declared in an interview with STARweek magazine that there was “no turning back” on his plan to run for president in 2010.

He said he would be his party’s standard-bearer.
Villar reiterated on ABS-CBN television that he would seek the presidency, but added that he and his party are still working on the complete NP ticket.

ABS-CBN reported that Villar was open to having Mary Grace Poe-Llamanzares, daughter of the late actor Fernando Poe Jr., as part of his team.

Poe lost to President Arroyo in the 2004 presidential elections.

His camp alleged that massive cheating occurred, resulting in his defeat.

Villar said he was impressed by Llamanzares’ popularity, integrity and work ethic, which he claims are needed in serving the public.

Villar attended Llamanzares’ birthday party Wednesday night.

In the STARweek interview, Villar vowed to reestablish the dominance of NP as the “Grand Old Party” by making it stronger in terms of alliances before 2010.

The Senate president said he would rely on his expertise in building organizations, something he has been doing all his life.

“I think nothing (can make me turn back),” was his straightforward response when asked what could make him and the NP retreat from the presidential race.

“It’s time for NP (to be known again), especially now that we’re celebrating our 100th year,” Villar said.

Villar prides himself as being a poor boy from Tondo, Manila who sold fish and shrimp in Divisoria to help his family and send his siblings to school.

Given his experience and performance, Villar does not think NP will lag behind in the 2010 presidential elections and will even have the advantage once he begins to build it into a bigger organization.

But he warned against continued efforts to have the Constitution amended through constitutional convention or people’s initiative.

“This administration has big problems. First, (Mrs. Arroyo) was perceived to have cheated but impeachment attempts against her did not succeed. Second, it is making money (out of government deals). It should not be the case (for the next administration),” he said.

An earlier survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations showed that if presidential elections were held today, it would be a tight race between Vice President Noli de Castro and Villar.

The survey commissioned by a political party said De Castro had 26 percent preference and Villar 22 percent.

Another SWS survey released last month showed that De Castro is still the top pick among presidential bets, closely followed by Sen. Loren Legarda and Villar.

Next to them were Senators Panfilo Lacson, Francis Escudero, Mar Roxas, former President Joseph Estrada and Sen. Francis Pangilinan.

De Castro said he welcomed the results but did not confirm or deny that he was running in the forthcoming presidential polls.

He said the results of the surveys show the public’s continued trust and confidence in him.

He vowed to continue with his current duties, helping overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and providing affordable housing for the poor.