Gene Alcantara as MP for UK parliament

Dear Mae Williams and other Fil-Brits,

Yes, please campaign for Gene Alcantara as an MP for the UK Parliament. He is a friend of mine, a good writer, and astute commentator on Philippine and British affairs. Although he has lived in the gray island these past many years, he retains a deep love for our country.

In the end, that is the only requirement one should have for public officials. Love for a country that will not make you cheat to win an election, gag the media, destroy the judiciary, turn the military pilots into your own private pilots.

I lived in the UK in the early 1990s and was vastly amused by their political satires, one of which was Mr. Prime Minister, if memory serves. They skewered the members of the Upper House and the Lower House, or as they put there, the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

If these wicked and sharp satires were done here, the producer, directors, writer, crew and stars would have long been beheaded. Filipinos have a sense of humor, but we are pikon as well.

And as they say, in politics as well as in life: "ang mapikon, talo."

32 new party list reps?!

by Mon Casiple

Mon is right. This is a mixed blessing. When Comelec refused to accredit us for a variety of reasons -- first, we did not have enough members nationwide; then, we were not under-represented and marginalized; third, a woman in the dark Comelec canteen asked us for P2 million to be accredited and I refused and I am NOT saying she is a Comelec employee -- I was approached by some of these accredited party list groups. Remember, some of these party-list groups are just fronts of Malacanang, but they were desperate for votes.

So what did they tell me?

"Professor Remoto, you run with us. I will be the first nominee as party-list representative and you will be the second. With the great publicity generated by Ang Ladlad and your charming personality, we are sure to win two seats."

Of course I was not born yesterday. If they said I would be the first nominee, I would have said yes.

And my personality is charming? You wait till the debates for the 2010 senatorial candidates begin.


The Supreme Court struck down the 2-percent threshold requirement for party-list representation into the House of Representatives as unconstitutional. The decision is immediate and executory. With this single act, the highest court has thrown into turmoil the politics of the lower House.

The progressive implications are the following: 1) A substantial block can be formed among genuine party-list groups critical for reform measures; 2) More than ever, sectoral groups from marginalized and underrepresented sectors will have the incentive and higher chances of entering Congress; and 3) Premium will be placed on the quality and cohesiveness of the organized constituency of aspiring party-list groups.

The SC decision adds 32 party-list representatives to the current 22 to fill up the entire 54 seats available for the party-list system. These comes from 18 party-list groups as additional or new representatives. Based on the current list, this is a mixed blessing insofar as genuine and questionable party-list groups alike qualified for these new seats. In fact, the majority of the new party-list representatives have questionable qualification to represent marginalized and underrepresented sectors.

However, their entry into Congress further complicates the already difficult task of pro-GMA cha-cha advocates of garnering ¾ of the votes for an outright “passage” of constitutional amendments under the controversial interpretation of a “joint vote” by Congress. The ruling raises to 220 the required votes for such a scenario (out of 270 congressmen + 23 senators).

The Supreme Court ruling adds urgency to the amendments of the party-list law, particularly on the tightening of the definition of “marginalized and underrepresented sectors” and on viable restrictions of groups that are only an extension of traditional political powers. Unfortunately, this will be an uphill battle considering the overwhelming number of traditional politicians in the lower House. It does not help that the major parties are banned by the SC decision from participating in the party-list system.

The Supreme Court decision is a mixed blessing.

permission granted

i am granting permission to phil generations to reprint my blog entry regarding erap and his senatoriable. pls cite the source, which is

this group of young people are more positive and constructive. they want young, dual citizens to register and vote in 2010.

that is good. in this way, we elect young and good people in the congress and senate, and perhaps start journey to modernity that our political system badly needs.


clearly, the nitwits have begun their campaign against me. (see earlier blog entry) it just means that the campaign season has begun. and with it, the mudslinging, done viciously by cowards hiding in the anonymous world of the internet.

A certain rosanna has said that the inquirer wants to be paid for their articles quoted or reprinted in other blogs. No. The Inquirer only wants you to send a Syndication Request, and then they will give you permission. The Inquirer is not as greedy as she wants it pictured to be. I worked as an Editor of the Saturday Special in the Inquirer from 1995-96, so I know whereof I speak.

And in an insane leap of faith, she called me names and said that the enrollment in Ateneo plunged when they learned I would be teaching. So from lying about the Inquirer policy, she now says I do not have students at the Ateneo. Hahahaha. When was this? All my subjects at Ateneo, where I taught for 22 years, were fully subscribed. In fact, other teachers would ask me to ask my students to transfer to their classes so that they could reach the minimum of 12 students. Students with less than 12 students would just be paid the tutorial rate, which is low.

And no, I do not write for Philippine Daily Inquirer but for the Philippine Star. Every Monday, for the last 13 years. So how can I lift -- or in her quaint phrase, "quasi-steal"-- an editorial from a paper I do not write for? Only the unitiated do not know how fierce the competition is between the newspapers.

And if Rosanna just read the header for this blog again, I am not running for Congressman but for Senator. Do not call me "garapal" because I am not a coward like you. I know you are a paid hack, and you are not an hija but an hijo.

Hijo, as the ad for Executive Optical broadcast in the MRT said, may pagkabulag ka yata.

The season for political spoilsports have begun. Expect more snakes to crawl from the jungle.

The many petals of desire

Views and analysis

“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.

* * *

Inquiries about the book can be sent to

Estrada's senators for 2010



Six out of 12 names in Erap's list of senators will win. Jinggoy will be up there, in the top five. Manong Johnny Ponce Enrile -- the old, durable warrior -- will be down there, in the last two slots. Fate is karmic: again, he would have to contend with being in number 12, like in a previous election, or if he is luckier this time, number 11.

Motormouth Miriam will still win, in the last six of the slots, along with Mr. Clean Serge Osmena.

The young gun Koko Pimentel will also win, as well as the Young Turk Adel Tamano. I wish my dear friends well, and want them to win, just to add a burst of IQ and young blood in the geriatric senate.

That is six names.

The rest will lose.


Showing a few of his cards, former president Joseph Estrada on Monday named a possible senatorial line-up of the opposition in the 2010 elections.

At the Kapihan sa Manila Hotel, Estrada said his initial list included Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, his son and Senate Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago and former senator Sergio “Serge” Osmeña III.

Lawyer Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, who is still contesting the victory of Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, is also in the former president’s list, as well as United Opposition spokesman Adel Tamano.

He also mentioned journalist Ted Failon; Gina de Venecia, wife of former Speaker Jose De Venecia Jr.; Fernando Poe’s daughter Grace Poe; detained rebel Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, and Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro “Teddy” Casiño and Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez.

According to Estrada’s spokesperson, Margaux Salcedo, this is just “an initial list that he is considering.”

Subject to bargaining

It is subject to bargaining. Estrada said that if the opposition succeeds in fielding only one candidate for president, then those who will give way will definitely be prioritized for the senatorial line-up.

Estrada’s trial list is apparently aimed at speeding up backroom bargaining among opposition factions for a unified opposition slate.

At the Kapihan, Estrada also took a dig at the administration’s unity, saying some of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s own Cabinet members have approached him for a slot in the opposition slate in the 2010 national and local election.

Estrada said more than 20 personalities—including Cabinet members, congressmen, and senators—have as early as January this year expressed interest in running for public office under the opposition banner.

He refused to disclose names but added that Vice President Noli de Castro, a consistent topnotcher in political surveys, was “not yet” among them.

“In fairness to Kabayan, he has not yet talked with us,” said Estrada, who was ousted as president in a people power revolt in 2001, convicted of plunder in Sept. 2007, then pardoned a month later by Ms Arroyo.

A former movie star, Estrada remains one of the most popular opposition leaders.

For his part, former senator Ernesto Maceda said he was almost certain that the administration would be fielding more than one candidate for the presidency.

Kiss of death

“I am 90 percent sure there will be more than one candidate. Other administration candidates will run since no one is rating that high (in the surveys). It is possible that President Macapagal-Arroyo will bet on two horses,” he said.

Maceda said that just as in the last elections, an endorsement by the President remained a “kiss of death” with administration candidates obligated to defend her acts and decisions and assure the continuity of her policies.

Estrada mentioned Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro as the strongest administration bet, adding that “Vice President Noli de Castro has not shown any effort in declaring himself as a candidate for the administration.”

“We do not know yet his position... if he will be running on the opposition side,” he said.

As for the so-called ‘moral force’ led by Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno, he remarked, “I commend them for forming the group. But anybody can claim to be moral, even GMA (Ms Arroyo)”

On whether or not he would seek the presidency again, Estrada said his legal team has seen no obstacle to his running. He said he was still holding back on his decision to run as the opposition was still trying its best to unite under one candidate.

Estrada said that the opposition would be meeting in June to decide on a single presidential candidate in the 2010 polls.

Leftist congressmen eyeing Senate seats in 2010

Written by Carmela Fonbuena
Thursday, 16 April 2009

Confident of their three million core supporters, four congressmen from leftist party list groups on Thursday announced plans to seek Senate seats in 2010.

Bayan Muna representatives Satur Ocampo and Teodoro Casiño, Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza, and Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano said they may opt to join the senatorial slate of a presidential candidate.

Ocampo and Maza are on their third and last term in Congress.

Former President Estrada earlier announced that Casiño may be included in the opposition's senatorial slate.

Ocampo said they are talking to several possible presidential candidates and their parties for possible inclusion in their senatorial tickets.

The leftist party-list groups also launched a new political coalition, Makabayang Koalisyon ng Mamamayan or MAKABAYAN.

Aside from national positions, the group will also field candidates in the local elections. (


1. To Rosanna. If you have eyes to see, you would have read that after the title "Suicide," there is the source of the editorial: Philippine Daily Inquirer, along with the date and even time of posting.

So it is "quasi-stupid of you", paraphrasing your quaint phrase, to accuse me of stealing it and passing it off as my own. Simple logic would dictate that if I want to do that, I would not have put the source of the editorial. It is called attribution, which I have constantly practiced in the one year I have blogged.

Fair use in copyright is the use or reprint of another, written material for educational, academic, literary, or other related purposes. This blog aims to educate people in the wonderful world of politics.

Including our naive Rosanna.

2. Somebody asked how I knew that Atty Adel Tamano does not like Lorelei Fajardo. Heller. Many people don't. When Adel and I were with the Young Turks in Dumaguete, he told me that he would like to have a one-on-one debate with Lorelei. I told him there would be no contest, since the IQ of Lorelei is at the tip of her fingernails.

In short, it can be easily clipped.


Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:33:00 04/17/2009

AFTER watching the way the police have been handling the investigation of the death of Trinidad Arteche Etong, ABS-CBN news anchor Ted Failon’s wife, Filipinos have reason to be afraid -- very afraid -- of their so-called protectors.

From the time the Quezon City police began working on the case, it was clear they wanted to pin down Failon in a murder charge.

With little to go on but a fertile imagination, Superintendent Frank Mabanag, chief of the Quezon City Police District’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit, theorized that Etong could have been killed in their Pajero and brought up to the bathroom where Failon claimed to have found her lying in a pool of blood.

Right in his own house, Failon was made to undergo a paraffin test as police investigators gleefully posed behind him for souvenir photos.

Even as Etong was undergoing emergency treatment for a bullet wound to her head, the police “invited” Failon to submit to an investigation that would drag through the night up to the early hours of morning.

Eight hours later, the investigators finally let him go.

But soon after that, Mabanag announced that a “manhunt” had been launched for the broadcaster who, it turned out, had just gone back to the hospital to be with his wife.

When the paraffin test yielded a negative result, a gentler and more humane police force would have taken it as a cue to ease up a bit and give Failon, his kin and his household some space to rest and maybe try to come to terms with the tragedy.

But no, the frustrating outcome seemed only to have roused the Quezon City police to intensify their persecution of everyone closely or remotely involved in the case.

In a series of operations, policemen arrested first, Failon’s two maids, his driver and a utility man, and later, two of his in-laws.

Especially brutal was the arrest of Failon’s sister-in-law, Pamela Trinchera, who was dragged protesting and screaming out of the hospital where her sister was being treated.

The police recommended that all, except Failon’s brother-in-law, be charged with obstruction of justice, an offense the police were hard put to define.

The four house help stand accused of tampering with evidence because they cleaned up the bathroom where Etong was reportedly found and the car in which Etong was brought to the hospital.
All claimed they did it on their own (to spare Failon’s younger daughter the trauma of seeing her mother’s blood, according to the maids) and without any intention of hiding a crime.

It seems not to have occurred to the investigators that if indeed Etong died by her own hand -- a possibility they say they have not ruled out -- then no crime was committed, in which case they will have to explain what kind of evidence was tampered with -- evidence of a non-crime, perhaps?

The case against Trinchera (which the prosecutor mercifully dismissed) was even curiouser.

The police wanted her charged for blocking a procedure that the policemen themselves described as inconclusive.

That was what they said when the paraffin test on Failon yielded a negative result.

Why did they insist on doing a test that has been discredited (according to one forensic expert) on a woman who was fighting for her life?

It is not for us to say whether Etong’s death was suicide or murder.

What we can say is that what the Quezon City police have done is an overkill.

Chief Superintendent Roberto Rosales, the National Capital Region police chief, says the investigation is being conducted carefully and by the book.

But as crime investigations go, this one has been going at lightning speed for a police force that remains clueless about assassinations of two Cabinet undersecretaries, not to mention the murders of scores of journalists and activists.

It is clear that the investigators are rushing to implicate anyone and everyone on anything, and especially Failon if they can.

And the reason is obvious: Failon has been a thorn in the side of the Quezon City police, with his biting radio commentaries on the rubout of suspected car thieves on EDSA a couple of months ago and the recent upsurge of carjacking cases in the city.

This is sweet revenge for some city police officers, and they don’t care who gets hurt.

Neither do they care if the whole nation watches as they wage their vendetta in the glare of television cameras.

Their message to the media and the public is unmistakable: Don’t mess with us or else...

Perhaps it is time Filipinos began to ask whether they should continue to support with their taxes an organization that is going berserk.

Continuing to do so is beginning to look like suicide.

Ghost of Marcos past

By Mon Casiple | April 16, 2009

It is amazing to view the Quezon City Police Department, the Justice Department, and specific police officials acting like the old martial law bullies in the handling of the Trinidad Etong case. The late Ms. Etong is the wife of well-known media personality Ted Failon who died today. She died from a gunshot wound to her temple, self-inflicted in a suicide, according to her housemates.

The police so far are not buying the story. So they arrested without any warrant the four housemates and also put Failon under their custody, basically accusing them (at this time) of “obstruction of justice.” In the process, they violated a whole series of human rights enshrined in the constitution. These include violating the rights of due process, the right to be informed of the charges against them, the right to presumption of innocence until proven guilty, the right to privacy, and the right to a lawyer.

The behavior the police showed before the cameras is the behavior of the police during the martial law period when the military and police are king as minions of the dictator. Whatever moral (and possibly legal) high ground they have are lost in the reprehensible conduct.

The act of the justice department in placing Failon under an immigration watchlist (again without a case yet) on Failon is in the same vein. The question has to be asked: Is the GMA administration’s penchant for short-cutting of legal processes and the constitution extends now to toleration of fascist police practices? If so, then the police confidence in its own power relates to the GMA administration’s own readiness to break the democratic limits.

Vigilance by all democrats is called for. The Marcos ghost is still with us.

Wanted: Priests

This heckler is the best and sharpest in town. He has won a national blog award for this words that skewer, cut, and behead whose heads have become too large for their tiny bodies.


According to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, the country is facing a serious shortage of priests. Hoping to entice young Filipino men to enter the priesthood, the CBCP says the Church is giving seminarians an opportunity to free education, an opportunity to serve the Lord, and an opportunity to become a governor someday.

Despite the serious shortage of Catholic priests, the CBCP has reportedly rejected the idea of accepting gay applicants in the seminary. Senior members of the clergy do not want younger competition.

The CBCP says it is discouraging gays from entering the priesthood. Asked why, a CBCP official said, “Heller! Gusto mong ma-imbyerna ang Papa?!”

ROXAS: Police mishandling Failon case

And you think you have seen the worst from the police in the last few months -- from cold-blooded killing of children allegedly caught in crossfire, to cold-blooded killing of so-called kidnappers shot at close range while the alleged kidnappers were resisting arrest. Now they train their guns on the poor househelp of Ted Failon, on the shocked sister of his now-dead wife. You saw on TV how violative of human rights was the arrest and detention of the househelp and the driver.

No wonder they are called Pulis Patola.


Liberal President Senator Mar Roxas today took the police to task for mishandling its investigation into the case of broadcaster Ted Failon, particularly in the manhandling of Failon’s sister-in-law and others police accused of obstruction of justice.

“Nakiki-simpatiya ako kay Ted Failon at sa kanyang mga kaanak na kinailangang dumaan sa psychological torture na ito habang nagluluksa sila sila sa pagkamatay ng kanyang asawang si Trina. Nakakahiya at nakakainis na ganito na ka-bastos ang mga pulis natin (I sympathize with Ted Failon and his family who have to go through this psychological torture in the midst of their grief for the death of his wife Trina. This is a shame and it is irritating to see how rude our police are),” Roxas said.

Roxas said the police violated the rights of Failon’s sister-in-law Pamela Arteche and house maids Wilfreda Bollicer and Carlota Morbos, driver Glen Pulan and houseboy Pacifico Apacible who were arrested yesterday allegedly for obstruction of justice.

“Kitang-kita ng publiko kung gaano kagaspang ang ugali ng mga pulis na umaresto sa kanila. Bastusan na ba talaga ang sistema natin ngayon? (The public saw how roughly our police handled Ted and the others accused by the police. Is the system really as bad as this?)” Roxas fumed.

He said that while it was imperative that the truth behind the tragic incident be found out at the soonest time, the maltreatment of Failon’s relatives casts doubts on the reliability of the police investigation into the case.

“Alam ng lahat kung gaano katindi bumanat si Ted sa mga nasa gobyerno, lalo na ang mga pulis na corrupt. Nagdududa na tuloy ang marami na tina-target si Ted ng mga awtoridad sa imbestigasyong ito (Everyone knows how Ted criticizes this government, how much he abhors corrupt police officers. So now people suspect authorities are just getting back at Ted, that would explain the rough treatments),” the Visayan senator said.

He said the police have to review its procedures and train its officers and men in the proper handling of suspects to ensure their rights are always protected.

“DILG Secretarty (Ronaldo) Puno, tell your men to shape up,” Roxas said.

Can the opposition be united?

Fel Maragay
Manila Standard Today

As early as the last quarter of 2008, former President Joseph Estrada announced that he had taken upon himself the task of unifying the fragmented opposition forces to boost their fighting chances in the 2010 elections. With so many shining stars in the opposition camp dreaming of ascending to the presidential throne, it was a daunting mission to persuade them to join forces and rally behind a common standard-bearer.

The call for unity was being sounded out by various opposition quarters. But it was only Estrada who has pledged to take concrete steps to translate this into action. If he felt obliged to undertake this task, it’s because he is the acknowledged titular head, the patriarch of the opposition.

The failure of the opposition to field a single presidential bet in the 2004 elections proved fatal to it. They became vulnerable to the administration’s attempt to manipulate the poll outcome. Incumbent President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was pitted against four contenders from the opposition—movie actor Fernando Poe Jr., Senators Raul Roco and Panfilo Lacson and evangelist Eddie Villanueva. Arroyo was proclaimed winner but her victory was hounded by allegations of fraud. Even if only one of them, Lacson, had withdrawn from the race, as expressed in frantic appeals of his opposition allies, Poe would have won and the opposition would have recaptured power.

This fatal opposition mistake, Estrada stressed, should be avoided at all costs if they don’t want the debacle of 2004 repeated. He warned that even if only two candidates from the mainstream opposition would be left in the race, that would still be unacceptable because that would split the opposition votes.

The urgency and importance of this task can be gleaned from the pronouncement of Adel Tamano, United Opposition spokesman, that the recapture of the presidency is more important than sweeping the senatorial race. At a media forum at the Sulo Hotel, Quezon City last week, Tamano said that even if the opposition wins the senatorial contest by a landslide, that victory will not carry much weight if they fail to bag the presidency.

Various indications point to Vice President Noli de Castro as the most likely presidential candidate of the administration in the coming polls. If we go by survey results, no other personality from the administration has emerged a winnable contender for the highest elective post. But the opposition has plenty of bankable aspirants to choose from—Senator Manuel Villar of the Nacionalista Party, Senators Loren Legarda and Chiz Escudero of the Nationalist People’s Coalition, Estrada of Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino and Senator Mar Roxas of the Liberal Party.

Estrada says that should the opposition presidential hopefuls fail to agree on a common candidate, he will be left with no choice but to run for president. However, this would only compound, rather than solve, the problem that he had vowed to solve. At this point, it is relevant to ask how Estrada can effectively discharge his self-appointed task in the unity talks considering that he himself is gunning for the presidential nomination. Is this the reason why some presidential aspirants are lukewarm to his call for unity?

Estrada’s task is to act as referee, a one-man unification panel trying to convince the contenders to give way to the best qualified and the most winnable among them. But Estrada’s being a presidential aspirant himself may constrain him from performing such role with fairness and objectivity. What will prevent him from feathering his own nest, from telling his rivals he is the most acceptable, most winnable candidate? In other words, his task is compromised due to conflict of interest.

Probably, this is the reason why there is no visible progress in his role as unifier. He may have talked with some of the presidential aspirants on an individual and informal basis. But so far, he has not convened a meeting of all the aspirants. Just a few days ago, he said he was hoping to conduct the unity talks before June. By that time, the results of the second quarter of 2009 presidential preference surveys of the Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia would have been released already. That means the contenders from both sides of the political fence would have already known their standings in the race. And by that time too, they would have made up their mind on whether to run or not.

Because of his political stature as former president and the tremendous influence he wields, it is inevitable for Mr. Estrada to play a crucial role in mapping out the opposition’s campaign strategy for the coming elections. But insofar as the unification effort is concerned, it is a job that he cannot and should not do alone. It is expected of him to convene a meeting of all the presidential aspirants, together with the presidents and chairmen of the political parties within the opposition camp.

If the aspirants are sincere and serious in the unification effort, they should set up the mechanism on how it can be achieved. Part of this mechanism is to set up a selection committee that will draw up the criteria for choosing the common standard-bearer of the United Opposition, along with other guidelines and procedures.

Coupled with the unification effort is identifying the politicians, parties and groups belonging to the opposition and figuring out how to maintain their loyalty. This may be a complicated and sensitive process because the NPC, LP, NP, and even the ruling Lakas are split into forces allied with the administration or opposition.

Significantly, stalwarts of the ruling Lakas say that while Vice President De Castro and Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro are their leading contenders for their presidential nomination, they are also hoping to recruit Villar, Legarda and Escudero. However, the three opposition aspirants have already declared that they have no intention of turning their back on the opposition. Nonetheless, there will be persistent attempts by the administration, with all the resource at its command, to break and raid the opposition ranks. This makes it more urgent for Estrada and his allies to act fast in pursuing their unification effort.

Another factor that must be considered by the presidential hopefuls and their respective parties is the difficulty of forming a complete senatorial, congressional and local government slate if they will go for it alone. No party among the NP, NPC, LP or Puwersa ng Masa is in a position to field a complete 12-man senatorial ticket. The only problem is when they combine forces, they will have to junk some of their senatorial aspirants. But that will also mean that only the finest and the most winnable candidates will be chosen, and they will have a powerhouse senatorial lineup.

Rina, OFW, HIV-Positive

Views and analysis

The following is a direct testimony from Rina (not her real name), an overseas Filipino worker who contracted the HIV virus while working abroad. She read her testimony during the launching of the United Nations Development Programme Report called HIV Vulnerabilities of Migrant Women: from Asia to the Arab States. The launch of the report coincided with the launch of the Philippine report on Filipino women in the Arab states. The launching of the two reports was held last March 10 at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City. The Asian report was a collaborative effort of UNDP, UNAIDS, IOM, UNIFEM and CARAM Asia. It is based on interviews with 600 migrant workers from Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka who went to Bahrain, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. One of these women is Rina, and this is her story:

I was a former domestic worker several years ago. I dreamed of working abroad to help my family rise from poverty.

Year 1992. I was able to leave our small town and eventually work as a domestic worker. I was only 17 yrs old. The passport I used to go to Qatar had another surname. My age in the passport was older. The agency sent me to Qatar without asking for a placement fee. They said that this will be paid through salary deduction once I started working.

My employers were very strict. They were selfish and insensitive. They gave us very little to eat and sometimes, we would go without eating after a whole day’s work. I was also made to work for my employer’s extended family. The worst part was that they paid me less than what was stipulated in my contract.

Many other women domestic workers have similar experiences. There are even others who did not receive their salaries at all. Because they needed to send money home to their families. They had no choice but to either engage in part-time work, or sometimes, even sex work. Others would engage in relationships with other migrants or with nationals of that country to ease their loneliness, or to fulfill their need for comfort and affection. Also, their boyfriends could support them financially. Unfortunately, these situations make migrant workers vulnerable to HIV.

There were times when I got sick, but still I had to work. I was not given any medicine. I could not go to the doctor, since I was allowed only one day off for an entire year.

There were several occasions when my male employer made sexual advances to me. I was ordered to give him a massage and all the while he kept touching my private parts. I could do nothing to stop him. All I could do was endure the hardships for the sake of my family.

It was in 1999 when I worked in Dubai. I was hired by a real monster. My male employer raped me repeatedly. When I had mustered enough courage, I told my lady employer about what her husband had been doing to me. To my surprise, she believed me and helped me report her husband to the authorities. Even the police was surprised because it was their first experience to have the wife of an Arab employer on the side of a foreign domestic worker. Afterwards, she helped me return to my country. I was finally able to come home to my country after seven months’ stay in Dubai.

Unfortunately, nothing came out of the case I filed against my employer. The agency promised me that they will pursue the case on my behalf. But after I got back to the Philippines, I found out that they did not do anything about it.

Even after everything that I had endured from my previous employers, I still did not lose hope. I still believed that working abroad was the only way to make our life better. In June of the same year, I applied for overseas work again. I was about to leave for Malaysia as a domestic worker when my medical test results showed that I was positive for HIV.

When I was diagnosed with HIV, it felt like the moon exploded in my face . . . or a bomb exploded. . . I kept asking myself, what will I do? I was so shocked. I couldn’t accept it. I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to be alone. I cried every day. It was so hard to accept because at that time, I didn’t have any idea about HIV and AIDS. I thought it meant that I was dying.

One of the worst impacts of HIV infections is that I can no longer work abroad. Many migrant workers who are diagnosed with HIV are left without any source of steady income. In the Philippines, jobs are very hard to find.

One day I met a volunteer of Positive Action Foundation Philippines in the hospital (PAFPI). They provided me with the proper information about HIV. They told me about their organization and introduced me to their support group. I started working for PAFPI as a volunteer for their family support program. It took me six months to accept my HIV status.

When I got involved with Achieve’s research in 2001, they gave me an opportunity to become an advocate. They facilitated my participation in different forums as a resource speaker. My involvement with them enhanced my knowledge and my skills. I am now able to impart also to others what I have learned.

I am also a member of Babae Plus, a support group of women living with HIV. In this group, we learn our rights as women and this helps me in my relationship with my children and my husband. I also draw strength from the other members of the support group.

However, because my job in PAFPI is tied to project funding, after the project ended, I also do not have an income. We are still waiting and hoping for new projects to get approved so we can continue working. For now, I do volunteer work for PAFPI and I accept invitations to be a resource speaker in trainings and forums.

I am currently taking antiretroviral drugs, which allows me to be healthy. I am now living with my family in Cebu City, where I was, and where we hope to start a new life.

Thank you very much for listening to my story. I am also thankful to UNDP and Achieve for doing this study and coming up with this publication. I hope they continue to advocate for the protection of women migrant workers.

More information on “Unveiling Vulnerabilities: Filipino Women Workers in the Arab States” can be accessed at

Thank You

Thank you for the deluge of e-mails, text messages, and comments being sent to me about this blog and my columns that appear at (Tuesday), Philippine Star (Monday) and S [Showbiz, Stars, Scoops] Magazine every month. Some of them are belated congratulations about the nine books that I have written, published and are on sale at National Bookstore, with 130 branches nationwide!

Since mine is a campaign fueled not by PhP 100 million in ill-gotten funds, all I have are words -- blazing on paper, floating in the air, spreading nanosecond-fast in the borderless world of cyberspace.

As the days pass, you will see more candidates with blogs and columns and why, even books and autobiographies that they did not write. Thoroughly incapable of thought and even of stringing a decent sentence whether in English or Filipino, they have hired the best golden hands in the business to produce their works.

As they say, It's a fake.

Carepool, carepool.

It's a blessing in the skies.

Been there, been that.

Define 'premature campaigning,' Drilon urges Comelec

Former Senate President Frank Drilon urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) today to issue a circular “defining in very clear terms” what would constitute premature campaigning now that the deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy (COC) in the 2010 polls has been moved to an earlier date.

Drilon, who is also national chairman of the Liberal Party (LP), said he would like to know whether appearances in TV soap operas and other television advertisements by candidates before the official campaign period opens would constitute premature campaigning.

Drilon asked for the clarification as he warned that the earlier deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy, November 30, gives candidates a two-month period within which they might conduct premature campaigning. The official campaign period for national positions starts in mid-February.

Drilon explained that under Section 13 of Republic Act 9369 or the Automated Election Law that was signed by the President recently, the deadline for the filing of the certificates of candidacy for those running in the 2010 polls will be moved to an earlier date.

“I urged Comelec Chairman Jose Melo to consider issuing a circular that will define in very clear terms what activities are considered premature campaigning given the new schedules brought about by the Automated Election Law,” Drilon said.

“Such a circular could avoid the unnecessary controversies and confusions that will arise after the candidates file their certificates of candidacy two months before the start of the actual campaign period,” Drilon explained.

“During this period, can a candidate set up a huge billboard along EDSA bearing his face and name while endorsing a popular soap product or appear on frequent TV advertisements? Will that be premature campaigning considering that the candidates has already filed his certificate of candidacy?” Drilon further said,

Drilon said Comelec should issue a circular so that candidates could avoid activities that may be considered premature and illegal campaigning.

Earlier, the Comelec said it was eyeing other changes in the election calendar after it moved up the deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy to November instead of early 2010 in accordance with the provisions of the Election Automation Law.

Comelec legal department chief Ferdinand Rafanan said the poll body was looking into the possibility of moving party convention schedules to an earlier date as well.

Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said those planning to run for public office in 2010 would have to come out earlier than expected as the deadline for the filing of COCs has been advanced to November.

The deadline for filing COCs is usually in February for national posts and March for local posts prior to the elections in May. Rafanan said it was unlikely the poll agency would change the campaign period, which is from 60 to 90 days before the elections. The Comelec moved the last day for filing COCs to November 30 to give the winning bidder of the poll automation contract ample time to produce the ballots.