Insights and opinions from our contributors on the current issues happening in the region

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Historical moment for Filipinos – signing of peace agreement ending the conflict in Mindanao

Rizal Park is not for sale

What’s in a name?: Take 2

Why Torture Is Wrong?

Torturers and their victims: how the Anti-torture law is failing, and why

PCID Statement on the signing of the Annex on Revenue Generation and Wealth Sharing

Professional independence of judges and lawyers central to the protection and promotion of human rights, the rule of law and democracy in Asia

MPC Statement on the 45th Anniversary of the Jabidah Massacre

Statement on the Lahad Datu situation

Problems in enforcing Anti-Torture and Cybercrime Laws





A brief cost-benefit analysis of the Philippines’ recent arms purchases

April 19, 2014

Most Filipinos, and both the United States and Chinese governments, are being taken for a ride by the Noy Aquino administration. The only group benefitting from an American military visitation agreement and the purchase of boats, planes, and helicopters for the Philippine military is the Aquino/Cojuangco political dynasty. This can be proven by a simple cost-benefit analysis. Defined as a comparison and breakdown of a project’s price tag and its worth as a private or public good, a cost-benefit analysis is a simple way to know if a plan should push through or not.

Consider the price of two US Coast Guard boats named Hamilton and Dallas. They were refurbished for $10 million each and then bought by the Philippine government to become the BRP Gregorio del Pilar and BRP Ramon Alcaraz. Who earned the $10 million? The American shipbuilding company Huntington Ingalls Industries of the state of Virginia. This means jobs and money for American workers and businesses, the most important benefactor of the American defense industry. Yet even this $10 million is nothing compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars the American taxpayer is spending for Balikatan and other joint exercises with the Philippines military. The cost to the Noy Aquino is a nod and a signature but the benefits for his family extend beyond his lifetime. To the American taxpayers, the costs are tens of millions with the benefits limited to a few thousand people in Virginia. At least they get something.

Who paid almost 1 billion pesos for these boats? Of course, the Filipino taxpayer who will not reap any benefits from the cost of buying ships. Since no jobs or businesses were created in the Philippines after the purchase of these vessels, it is a bad investment that will only benefit the Aquino/Cojuangco political machinery. It can be argued that $10 million was spent to prepare the Philippines Coast Guard for natural calamities and typhoons. But the boats do not create jobs for Filipinos. Buying them was more for the emotional satisfaction of the nation’s population. If diminishing returns were to be considered, the cost-benefit analysis for Filipinos would even be worse.

Then there’s the $184-million loan from Japan extended to the Philippines to buy 10 waterborne vessels. A well-known practice by banks all over the world is to lend consumers money to purchase a house, a car, or to set up a business. Filipino-Americans and Filipinos in the US know this, the Americans know this, the Japanese financial system understands the processes, but the Filipino government asks for money to buy boats from the same lender and seller. With an exchange rate of $1 to P43, the cost to the Filipino taxpayer is more than P7.9 billion. All benefits go to the Japanese shipbuilding and financial industries while Filipinos are left with boats that do not create jobs or businesses in the Philippines. Again, it can be argued that boats are for natural calamities and typhoons but buying them was still for the emotional satisfaction of Filipinos. They feel good so money is not a problem even if the government does not have it. Of course, at the forefront of this pursuit of hedonism is the Aquino administration.

Added to these costs is another $100 million to buy eight helicopters from Canada, $116 million to France for five patrol boats, and $420 million for 12 FA-50 fighter jets from the Korea Aerospace Industries. The benefits to Canadians and South Koreans are immeasurable because their industries create communities – housing, schools, libraries, commercial centers, etc. – for their workers who build helicopters and planes. The cost to the Filipino taxpayers is a whopping half a billion dollars, which is about P22.3 billion. The benefit yet again is more emotional satisfaction than job generator or industry developer. Score another political gain for the Aquino/Cojuangcos.

All told, an estimated $10 billion will be spent by the Philippine government and military over the next few years. None of these expenses for the nation’s military will directly benefit the uneducated and poorest of the poor Filipinos. Unlike the shipbuilding, helicopter-making, and airplane-constructing industries of the US, Japan, Canada and South Korea, respectively, whose populations will benefit from the filter-down effects of Philippine spending, the vast majority of Filipinos will remain poor and ignorant.

How do we then solve the problem of Juan de la Cruz if the vernacular does not have anything that will translate to a cost-benefit analysis?

The answer is nothing. Since the ordinary Filipino voter is ignorant of what the Aquino administration is actually doing, Noy can use government resources to prepare for the 2016 elections. Filipinos will never know what hit them. After all, Noy Aquino needs funds to prop up his chosen successor and to prepare for his many years in retirement from politics after 2016.

Where does China get into the picture? The Filipino-Chinese Aquino/Cojuangco clan can make China look bad because they have nothing to lose. Just bombard the media with anti-China sentiments. That is cheaper and less controversial than an outright boycott of Chinese-made goods or any economic sanctions. Besides, no one in the United States, the Philippines, Canada, Japan, South Korea or France wants to consider that the combined populations of these countries amounts to only half that of China, which means they need less resources than 1.3 billion people. A cost-benefit analysis of 13 Chinese in McDonald’s or Walmart, for example, will show that the demands are far more than those for seven other customers. That’s just plain business and economic sense.

The Philippines military’s purchases are a huge cost for a country with tens of millions mired in poverty. The cost to Noy Aquino is absolutely nothing. Everything is shouldered by the Filipino taxpayer because the benefit entrenches the Aquino/Cojuangco family’s political dynasty for at least another generation.

* *Joseph Bayana has a BA Political Science from the University of the East, and a Masters degree in History from De La Salle University. He is currently in Cambridge, Massachusetts doing a documentary on American-educated business and political leaders of the Philippines.





Memories of war and an historic peace

By DANILO REYES, Asian Human Rights Commission
April 14, 2014

(Note: this article was first published in the April 6, 2014 issue of the Sunday Examiner)

Eleven years ago, I was in a small store with a friend in Pikit, North Cotabato, in central Mindanao. We were exhausted after an all day field work of interviewing people about how and why they were evacuated due to fighting. We had seen people shot dead, taken to military camps, and disappeared, rebels blocking main highways, and so on.

Indigenous villager of Mindanao
Indigenous villagers in the hills of Mindanao.

As we ate and drank beer our table shook repeatedly due to the heavy impact from artillery rounds from a 105 howitzer, inside a military camp next to us. They were firing at a marshland and riverbanks where the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the biggest rebel group in Mindanao, was camped.

As the firing continued my friend and I were too exhausted to pay much attention to it. We continued drinking. Days later, nongovernmental organisations, peace advocates, including myself and journalists, went inside what used to be the lair of Hashim Salamat, the founder of the MILF, by boat to the riverbank. It was deserted; structures destroyed.

Known as the ‘Buliok offensive,’ the scene I had just described was one of the many memories, I myself had witnessed, from late 90s to early 2000s, of the government offensives against the Muslim rebels which spanned 40 years of the armed conflict in Mindanao.

At that time, however, I thought there was no end in sight. After decades of conflict, it never occurred to me that, after eleven years from that day, I would live and witness myself the political settlement of a deep social and political division in my homeland; the island of Mindanao.

The armed conflict and insurgencies in Mindanao had been there, even before I was born. All my life I grew up hearing stories how people lost their loved ones. You learn that surviving takes the place of living.

Surviving means any person, like myself, would grow up with military and police checkpoints in every corner of a road, if not every kilometre, and believe that it was just part of the daily routing. It was normal for a family to keep a ‘bail out bag’, that is a bag, or bags containing clothes, documents and necessary items handy in case they run from an escalation of fighting. It was normal that when we went on a bus, to the markets, malls, and public places, the authorities would be checking that no bombs had been planted, and so on.

In fact, in my years as a former journalist based in Mindanao I have covered many stories of the protracted fighting, bomb blasts, arrests of individuals – whether guilty or not – accused of bombing, soldiers and the rebels showing off their fire power, and how it was the people, not the insurgents or the military, that suffered.

I know that, while journalist obtain some sort of ‘glory of by-line’, by writing exclusive stories, and getting published in the newspapers, but as a person I thought at the time, and still believed today, that it has to, and needs to change. I felt that although there were some sort of glory, to obtain glory from the misery and suffering of others, the Mindanaoans like me, was not worth it. It was one of the many reasons why I quit journalism for NGO work.

Thus, others may refer to the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), by the government and the MILF on March 27, 2014, as “just a piece of paper,” to me it was more than that. While there is truth in it, that the agreement would have meaning only when its objective is realized; however, the very symbol and gesture of conciliation itself was very powerful.

The agreement cultivates tolerance, acceptance and the concept of how to learn how to live in harmony with others who are different from us.

Of course, what will come out of this agreement remains to be seen, but for now, the Filipino people, notably the people in Mindanao, had shown that there are political solutions, even to very deep social and political differences when people make the effort to understand each other.





The Passion

April 10, 2014

NOW that we are in Holy Week, it’s good to remind ourselves of how important it is to meditate on the Passion of Christ. It’s the culminating act of his redemptive mission that covers his whole life here on earth. Everything that he is as the Son of God who became man, everything that he said and did for our salvation is contained there.

We have to understand, on the basis of our Christian faith, that the Passion of Christ is an organic whole that includes his death on the Cross and his resurrection. It is also organically linked to everything else about him.

Nothing in his life is irrelevant or unnecessary in his Passion. It should not be considered in isolation. It’s good that we realize this truth of our faith more deeply and more practically, so that we don’t develop an unnecessary distorted attitude toward it that often translates itself into a certain dislike for it.

The Passion, in spite of its ugliness, pain and gore, is actually a beautiful, desirable event that we should get attracted to. In the first place, it is an essential and necessary element in our life. We cannot avoid it without compromising our eternal destiny.

And being God and not only as man, Christ makes his Passion take place live every time the liturgy of his Passion is celebrated. This is highlighted precisely during this Holy Week, but is actually presented to us also every time the Holy Mass or any liturgical act is celebrated.

And so, when we participate in that celebration, we are actually, through the sacramental economy, living witnesses of the event, even if only in a sacramental way. We become contemporaries of Christ in his supreme act of love for us.

Therefore, while involving extreme suffering that a man can experience, the Passion actually is also a joyful event of a victory, a conquest over what is most harmful to us – sin, and with sin our eternal death.

We should train our mind and heart to capture this wonderful reality, presented to us by our Christian faith, and to react accordingly, that is, to enter into the very dynamics of loving, and thereby bringing our fondness for loving to its ultimate level, extricating it from the low, base and often fake and deceptive forms of love.

In the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ, we see in action those very consoling words of Christ: “Greater love than this no man has, that a man lays down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15,13)

What actually takes place there is Christ, being sinless, assuming all our sins and dying to them so that we may have a way to resurrect from them through his own Resurrection. This is the ultimate of love!

This much the Letter to the Hebrews affirms: “Christ offers himself only once to take the faults of many on himself, and when he appears a second time, it will not be to deal with sin but to reward with salvation those who are waiting for him.” (9,28)

This is what supreme love is all about. It is not contented with wishing others well or sharing things with others. It will go to the extent of suffering for the others, making as one’s own the burdens of the others, even if the others would not correspond. It is a love that is fully given and completely gratuitous.

Thus, when we meditate on the Passion of Christ, we have to realize the love that drips copiously. We should not forget that sin is what causes it, and therefore, we should do everything to avoid sin.

It’s good to develop a healthy hatred of sin as well as a certain dominion over it, such that as much as possible we do not allow it to affect us badly. If ever, it should make us intensify our love for God and others, giving ourselves more and more in a crescendo typical of love.

We have to be very generous in our self-giving and continuing effort of sanctification, both personal and social. We have to be ready to carry out this task competently.

And since we cannot avoid sin, the meditation of the Passion should reassure us of the infinite mercy of God. We have to be very generous in our spirit of penance, always seeking conversion, renewal and the many forms of atonement, reparation and purification.

Special attention has to be given to the sacrament of confession, that wonderful tribunal of divine justice and mercy. We need to love it deeply by resorting to it regularly.





Selfie vs. selfless

April 5, 2014

I was not surprised at all when I recently read somewhere that this selfie craze that seems to be sweeping the world these days, especially in our country, is an indication of a mental disorder.

I imagine that the practice really has to be an obsession for it to be a serious anomaly. If it’s just a passing curiosity or done merely for momentary fun, then there is not much to worry.

But the problem is that data on the ground point precisely to an obsessive craving for selfies as can be found in the social networks. Take a random look at these sites, and you will likely see a proliferation of these pictures that range from the inane and childish to the outright ridiculous and even obscene.

It may not be a big thing yet of crisis proportion, but if nothing is done about it, I’m afraid we are heading in that direction. We need to remind everyone that this fad that is fast becoming a psychological syndrome ought to be approached with a lot of caution.

It’s time to wave the flag of the virtue of temperance. Contrary to what some people say, and subtly supported by many commercials, this virtue has not become obsolete. It, in fact, has become more relevant, and even in an urgent manner, because of the storm surge of powerful instruments that can occasion this problem.

I believe this selfie syndrome is graver than smoking and drinking about which we always warn everyone to do them with moderation since they can be harmful to our health. This selfie syndrome is graver since it affects more our mental and spiritual health than our bodily well-being.

We have to be wary of the growing industry that promotes this culture, providing powerful and seemingly irresistible programs, apps and gadgets. They appear to do more harm than good since they are likely to lead people, the young ones especially, to self-indulgence and narcissism.

This selfie syndrome practically imprisons one in his own world, making him increasingly indifferent to the needs of others. It actually is destructive to our social relations. Group selfies are not genuinely social, since each member of the group would be more concerned about his own individualistic interest than that of the group.

The wings of love, of generosity, loyalty and fidelity are practically cut if not damaged. One tends to stay in the level of mediocrity and to become more vulnerable to other human weaknesses and temptations when he is afflicted with this selfie syndrome. The value of sacrifice practically disappears.

The challenge of effectively tackling this problem is quite enormous, because we have to contend with complicated mindsets and lifestyles that practically prohibit anyone from correcting anybody else or even from suggesting a better way of using one’s time and resources.

These mindsets and lifestyles have been with us for centuries now, cultivated under the atmosphere of laxity in Christian and even basic human morals, on the one hand, and of a growing tendency to justify one’s behavior using liberal and loose philosophies and ideologies, part of the culture of death, on the other hand.

What we have is a situation of a sweet poison that is mesmerizing us, leading us to a slow suicide.

Obviously in this regard, while we have to use all human and natural means to remedy the predicament, we also have to realize that we need to avail of the spiritual and supernatural means, first of all. Yes, we need a lot of prayers, sacrifice, personal guidance and collective forms of apostolate, etc.

These are very effective means, since what we are ranged against are not just natural nemesis, but spiritual and also supernatural, though definitely of the bad kind.

Again, the family and the schools play a very crucial role in this. Most of all, the doctrine of self-denial and of carrying one’s cross, as explicitly taught by Christ, should be retailed more widely and effectively.

Remember that Christ himself said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mt 16,24) He reassured us this is actually the way to save our life, to find true and lasting joy.

We should rather foster a culture of self-forgetfulness, of total selflessness, since as Christ said, “He who loses his life for my sake shall find it.” (Mt 16,25)

Let’s hope that this divine message is spread and lived in the family, schools, among friends and colleagues, and in our collective life of politics, business, etc.





Prosecute the guilty now!

A Statement on the Ombudsman’s Intent to file charges vs. suspected pork scammers by the Cebu Coalition Against the Pork Barrel System
April 3, 2014

The Cebu Coalition Against the Pork Barrel System welcomes the latest news regarding the intent to prosecute the suspects involved in the Pork Barrel Scam. However, in sieving through the information available, we find that no concrete action has actually been taken yet regarding this festering issue. The Ombudsman has released news that it intends to file plunder and malversation charges against some senators and other respondents, while the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee has only released its draft report recommending the same.

Intent simply precedes action. It is not yet ACTION itself.

The Coalition strongly calls for the Ombudsman to take the necessary steps as soon as possible. We further call that a trial commence immediately, and all efforts to make the trial commence without undue interference and delay from outside entities be undertaken.

Moreover, all public officials being tried should resign from office, not necessarily as an admission of guilt but so that the truth be known without undue influence.

At no other time in Philippine history has the reputation of the Senate been as damaged as it is now. The Legislative Branch has been subject to so much distrust from the citizenry.

The people have been betrayed by corruption and poor performance. The main reason for frustrating all the valid dreams and aspirations of a whole country has been exposed for all to see. The Philippines could have been one of the most progressive countries in the world had it not been for corruption and incompetence in government.

It is time now to make an example of the power of the Law, and thus regain the respect the Legislature once had. It is time to assure the people that this Government functions for the service of the whole country, and not just the people in power.

In this Lenten Season, we are called to conversion. Pope Francis said, “Lent is to adjust life, to fix life, to change life, to draw closer to the Lord. May the Lord give us all light and courage: light to know what’s happening within us, and courage to convert, to draw closer to the Lord.”

If we get our acts together NOW, we may yet look back to these times as the defining moment in institutionalizing our fight against corruption and strengthening our government institutions in partnership with civil society.






State power does not respect or protect our liberty

By DANILO REYES, Asian Human Rights Commission
April 2, 2014

(Note: this article was first published in the March 23, 2014 issue of the Sunday Examiner)

"He who opens a school door, closes a prison."- Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables

I was observing a trial in a crowded court room in Manila when, in a middle of packed bench, a public lawyer drew the attention of his client seated at the back with another accused wearing prison uniforms. He said:

"Tayo ka! Anong pangalan mo? Babasahin na sentensiya mo. (Stand up! What is your name? Listen, the court will read the judgment."

Shortly after, a court staff stood up, briefly read his case in English, and without elaborating, concluded, "The court finds you not guilty." In few words the faith of a young man, who spent over four years in jail for charges of robbery, was decided. He regained his liberty. But this young man showed no reaction, there was no smile on his face.

He only smiled and was visibly elated only after he heard the court staff told him in Filipino:

"Oh, naintindihan mo ba ang sentensiya? Wala ka daw kasalanan. Malaya ka na (Oh, did you understand the decision? You are not guilty. You are free now)."

In my adult life, from my days as student activist until I became a professional journalist, I have observed court trials, but what I witnessed that day was deeply profound. It says a lot about our own society. It gives rise to questions on what protection an individual has from State's exercise of power, and its obligations to respect and protect our liberty.

It was clear that the young man could not speak the language of the court: English. The question asked by his lawyer: "What is your name?" who should have known him presuming he had served his clients for many years, demonstrates that he barely knew him. His client was just one of the many accused he was appearing for in court that day.

What I witnessed was not a scene in a movie adaptation of Les Misérables, a French novel set in 1862. It was present day Manila, the heart of the Philippines.

The young man lost four years of his life in prison. What he had endured was no different to millions of Filipinos who are in police stations, jails and reformatory centers scatted all over the country. These detainees are waiting either for conclusion of trial or completion of their prison terms. While the young man was found 'not guilty,' others accused in another case who appeared in court were convicted.

After this young man was acquitted, as I stood by the bench inside the court, my curious eyes kept on looking at him. I don't know him. I smiled and nodded at him from a distance across the court room to show to him how happy I was for him. As he smiled back at me I could see the joy on his face. Why and how happy he was made me understand in a more profound way what is it to be free: priceless.

But our freedom, our liberty, and our priceless possessions, have no adequate protection from the excesses, abuse and neglect, of the government in its exercise of power. What the young man experienced is what millions of the Filipinos – men, women and children – have suffered. Those who suffer are not only those in jails inside the country; there are even Filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong whose loved ones are in prisons back home.

In our Philippine society, we condemn and fear the detainees, and not the system of justice that incarcerated them. We condemn individuals, not our State who has enormous power over us to deprive us of our liberty. We tend to assume that justice serves its course and it is being doing the right way. We fear not only prisoners, but also the prisons. Our courts are no longer a place where the poor can seek remedy and relief, but only for the rich. In our courts it is the poor, not the rich, whose liberties are deprived.

We demanded too much about codifying our rights in our laws – they must be written, but we don't pay attention in understanding what our justice institutions have now become, and how they ought to function. Our rights in the Constitution and laws: to be presumed innocent, to have to have speedy trial, free from torture, etc. remains on paper. They either no longer protect our fundamental freedoms or they are fast degenerating.

Stories of policemen torturing suspects to extract confessions, planting evidence in illegal searches and raids; and the prosecutor's evidence taken by illegal means by police are used in court trials, are all too common. It is now the way of life. We live in a social condition as described in Les Misérables in our present day.

When I appeared in court trial, my initial plan was to observe and comment on the trial of an activist, who is detained and prosecuted on evidence obtained by torture. However, what gives me profound understanding as to how the system of justice in our country operates, was how these nameless and ordinary Filipinos have to struggle to regain their liberty.

In fact, I thought the situation of the activist whose trial I had come to observe, was better off than the other detainees I had seen in court. He has legal counsel, many foreign observers were present. The court had to read quick judgments, so it could proceed to the trial of the activist. Other accused were quickly disposed off to make room for foreign observers in court.

In conclusion, while we value our freedom we have yet to understand whether or not our system of justice is founded on, operating and functioning with the idea of protecting our liberty at its core.



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