Bringing activism to the Philippine Senate


I confirm that I am mulling running for a seat in  the Senate. Vice President Jejomar Binay has offered me a slot in the United Nationalist Alliance slate and I told him that I am seriously considering his offer.

I am contemplating a run for the Senate for the following reasons:

1. After 35 years of being an activist, I believe the Philippines remains the same: the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer. I still remember the time when we rallied in front of the Liwasang Bonifacio against the Education Act of 1982, which sadly privatized our educational system. I can still vividly remember how we were violently dispersed by the Marcos riot police with sticks and water cannons. Regrettably, the same issues concerning Philippine education still hound our country. Also, the Philippines remains  dependent on the United States, and the traditional elite has remained in power in Congress and in the Executive branch. Clearly, our efforts as activists have  not been effective in changing the economic and political structure of the country. Perhaps, my participation in the policy making branch of government will make more of an impact in effecting change in our society.

2.  We need more qualified people in the Senate. Not only have I been a lawyer-activist for the past 25 years, I have also been teaching Constitutional and International Law for the past 15 years at the University of the Philippines, Philippine Judicial Academy, and American University. My role as a public interest lawyer and as a professor has taught me how to use existing tools towards the building of a more egalitarian and an open society. Certainly, my background will assist me in crafting laws for the same ends. I also want to bring back the Senate to its original purpose: to craft laws to fight poverty and to advance national development.

3. Third, because I want to prove that common citizens, including law professors and human rights advocates, can   be elected by the people to the Senate. If Jovito Salonga and Miriam Defensor-Santiago did it, I see no reason why I cannot do the same. I want to inspire ordinary Filipinos – foremost of whom are our teachers – just like myself, that they can be elected to the Philippine Senate on the strength of the Filipino people and with a vision for the people.

4. I want to make activism not only as a tool of the parliament of the street, but as the main weapon in crafting legislation to fight poverty. I want to bring activism to the chambers of the Philippine Senate, and live out the idea that every senator of the Philippines should be a continuing activist for human rights, for education, for women’s rights, for freedom of speech, for the environment, and ultimately for Philippine development.

Despite the foregoing, I am aware of the many challenges in winning a seat in the Senate. To begin with, the post will require funding of at least P300 million since the Supreme Court recently declared as unconstitutional limits on campaign advertisement spending on radio and television. There, too, is the Herculean task of building an organization that will result in at least 13.5 million votes – the minimum required for a Senate seat.

These are the reasons why I told VP Binay that I would go around with him until September but would decide with finality by October of this year. Meanwhile, I welcome the chance to see as many of our islands and meet as many of our people in the coming four months.

Anent VP Binay, I believe he is entitled to his human right of presumption of innocence, particularly in an election year. I  also believe that his background as a lawyer, a human rights advocate, and as a local executive of the country’s premier city makes him the best choice for President in 2016.

On a personal note, VP Binay has actually experienced how it is to be looked down upon and to struggle beyond one’s poverty. As I have written before, VP Binay was a former student of my mother in her geometry class. He was then bullied because of his dark skin tone and shabby clothes. My mother somehow treated the young Binay as like a son. I believe that this personal experience of VP Binay has greatly influenced his vision to help our poor and downtrodden citizens. And this has influenced me to seriously consider VP Binay’s offer to be included in UNA’s Senate slate.

Still, I know that it is the Filipino people who will ultimately influence my decision on whether to seek a Senate seat. And in that note, I will continue on to travel the country and listen to the voice of the people. And I am confident that whatever I discern from the Filipino people, I will still continue to be an activist-lawyer for them.

Yes, I am considering a run for the Senate


I confirm that I am mulling running for a seat in the Senate. VP Jojo Binay has offered me a slot in the UNA slate and I told him that I am seriously considering his offer.

I am contemplating a run for the Senate for the following reasons:

1.     After 35 years of being an activist,  the Philippines remains the same: the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer. The Philippines remains a dependency of the United States, and the traditional elite has remained in power in Congress and in the Executive branch. Clearly, our efforts as an activist have not been effective in changing the economic and political structure of the country. Perhaps, my participation in the policy making branch of government will make more of an impact in effecting change in our society;

2.     We need more qualified people in the Senate. Not only have I been a lawyer-activist for the past 25 years, I have also been teaching Constitutional and International Law for the past 15 years at the University of the Philippines, Philippine Judicial Academy, and American University. My role as a public interest lawyer and as a Professor has taught me how to use existing tools towards the building of a more egalitarian and an open society. Certainly, my background will assist me in crafting laws for the same ends.

3.     Third, because I want to prove that common citizens, including law professors and human rights advocates, can  be elected by the people to the Senate. If Jovito Salonga and Miriam Defensor-Santiago did it, I see no reason why I cannot do the same.

Despite the foregoing, I am aware of the many challenges in winning a seat in the Senate. To begin with, the post will require funding of at least 300 Million since the Supreme Court recently declared as unconstitutional limits on campaign advertisement spending on radio and television. There, too, is the herculean task of building an organization that will result in at least 13.5 Million votes, the minimum required for a Senate seat. These are the reasons why I  told VP Binay that I will go around with him until September but will decide with finality by October of this year. Meanwhile, I welcome the chance to see as many of our islands and meet as many of our people in the coming four months.

Anent VP Binay, I believe he is entitled to his human right of  presumption of innocence,  particularly in an election year. I  also  believe that his background as a lawyer, a human rights advocate, and as a local executive of the country’s premier city makes him the best choice for President in 2016.

Questions for Poe


I like Grace Poe. She is a refreshing face in Philippine politics. She was not here when Marichu Maceda and I went around town explaining how her father, Fernando Poe Jr., was cheated in the 2004 elections. I hope she heard about it and I suppose, she would  have been grateful. She did not know about my involvement in her father’s cause because she was not in the country at that time. She was then in the United States as a citizen and a resident there.

I do know that she came back when her father died. She invited    me once to her house located near mine, but I could not go. My colleagues in the Concerned Citizens Movement,    such as Pong Querubin and Betina Legarda, went. We are not friends, but we are cordial to each other. One time I bumped into her in the premises of ABS-CBN. I was then uncommitted to anyone as President. I asked her to be the alternative candidate for President. She said “No” and said “Kay Jojo Binay tayo”. I took her words into consideration when I decided to back VP Binay for the Presidency. My last time to see her was in the wake of the SAF 44. Again, I asked if she was running. She said    “maybe not”. Later, she was to publicly say that she would rather be good at her current post in the Senate. But even before our last meeting, I did text Anthony Taberna’s afternoon program on DZMM to say that in my opinion, a “Binay na Poe” tandem for 2016 would be unbeatable.

Now it appears that with or without PNoy’s blessings, she would run for President -but still refuses to declare her intentions.    I have told her political advisers, Gary Jimenez and another of her staff lawyer, Camille Sevilla, both of whom are lawyers, that she should let her intentions be known. Otherwise, people, like me cannot consider her as a contender for the top post of the land.

This is the context that I now write about my own questions about her residency and her citizenship, both of which are required by the Constitution for all candidates seeking the post of the Presidency, to wit: residence of 10 years and the status of a natural born Filipino. In other words, I genuinely seek answers to these questions because like millions of other voters, I want to consider her still as a candidate for president if and when she does declare to run for the office.

Truth to tell, I thought the controversy that would hound her would be that of her citizenship. While the Philippine Supreme Court affirmed that her father was a natural-born Filipino, her problem is that she is an alleged foundling. The status of a natural-born Filipino is acquired by one who is born of    a Filipino parent. In the Fernando Poe case, the Court construed this as being the offspring of a Filipino father or Filipino mother.

A foundling, though, does not enjoy a presumption of being a natural-born citizen. The Convention on Statelessness does guarantee a foundling the citizenship of    the foundlings parents. This is not the same as  the  natural-born Filipino citizenship required of all candidates for President, Vice-President and Congress. Filipinos who are not natural-born can run for local posts but not for Congress and the Presidency. So, I would like an answer to the difficult issue of whether a foundling legally adopted by Filipino parents enjoys the status of    a natural-born Filipino. I am not aware of any jurisprudence in this regard. I will continue my search for one.

A second truth to tell is that VP Binay mentioned to me this controversy about Poe’s residency. I had no idea what the VP was saying. I thought he was alluding to her citizenship. Neither VP Binay nor I pursued the subject matter. This is proof that, as Rep. Toby Tiangco has said, the VP has not put much attention on this issue. I heard again the issue of her residency on the radio as I was on my way back from an out-of-town lecture only the other night.    Unfortunately, I did not hear    the newscast that evening and failed to catch the information that Rep. Tiangco was referring to Poe’s own declaration that she had six months and six years of    residency at the time of the elections in 2013. Ergo, Rep. Tiangco did his mathematics and came up with the conclusion that Poe would be six months short of the prescribed 10 years residency required by the Constitution. Rep Toby reckoned that she would only have a residency of nine years and six months by May of 2016.

Senate President Franklin Drilon, Senator Francis Escudero and Dean Tony La Vina all defended Poe by saying that she had “animus revertendi,” or the intent to return which is determinative on the issue of domicile. True, such a principle exists. But    it has only been applied where the candidate    himself does not create the controversy by declaring a period of residency short of what the Constitution provides. For instance, it has been applied to one who has a green card and renounced the same before filing a certificate of candidacy for an elective post. It has also been applied to a Filipino who has become a naturalized American, acquired a dual citizenship, and renounced the foreign    citizenship before filing    a certificate of candidacy for a congressional post. This was the case of Rep. Gina Reyes of Marinduque, whom I represent. In Poe’s case, what is determinative is when she renounced her dual citizenship. This is because the rule on “animus revertendi” on residency cannot be applied to a foreign citizen. At most, it can be applied to a Filipino national with permanent residency abroad, or to one who has renounced a foreign citizenship reckoned from date of renunciation.

So for Poe, the crucial question is this: When did she renounce her dual citizenship? This is an issue of fact. I have heard her say that she renounced it when she assumed the post of MTRCB chair. If so, the point of reckoning should be 2010. Assuming she did so in 2010, she would have only 6 years of residency by 2016. Apparently, this is worse than what she declared in her certificate of candidacy for the post of senator.

Any which way, the Supreme Court can now rule on whether estoppel can be applied to the issue of residency. If so, Poe will be disqualified. I hope otherwise because I believe the Filipino electorate is entitled to as many choices possible for the position of Chief Executive.

Good luck, Senator!

Customs Chief Lina under fire for voiding Php 650-M contract won by his firm’s competitor


Press Advisory

 
For reference: Atty. Harry L. Roque, Jr. 09175398096
Roque and Butuyan Law Offices
 
Media friends are invited to attend our press conference this Monday
June 1, 2015, regarding Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina’s decision to cancel
a PhP 650-million contract to establish a new modern integrated customs
processing system and national single window already won by
a competitor of his firm E-KONEK.
Date: June 1, 2015 Monday
Venue: Max Restaurant Orosa St. Malate Manila
Time: 10:30 am

Hypocrisy on the death squads


Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s recent admission that he has   “ties” with the dreaded Davao Death Squad is old news. Those who know about the killings perpetrated by the death squads also know that somehow, the death squads operate with permission, if not upon orders of the mayor. If at all, his latest admission is warning to one and all about what he intends to do if elected into higher office. To quote the Mayor; “the 1000 (recorded killings) will become 100,000.   You will see bigger fish in Manila Bay because it is there where I will dump their bodies.”

In fact, no one should be surprised with the mayor’s recent statements. The real question is why the PNoy administration, including Secretary De Lima, has, to date, done nothing to investigate, prosecute and punish members of the Davao Death Squad, including the mayor.

As early as 2009 Philip Alston, the then-UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-legal Killings, has called the attention of the country to the malaise of the Davao Death Squad: “the vigilante-style executions that took place almost every day in Davao City was the most troubling development in the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines in the last two years…Reliable information indicates that, in 2008, such killings were almost a daily occurrence in Davao City, jumping from a reported 116 in 2007 to 269 in 2008.

Alston called on the National Police Commission to “withdraw” Duterte’s supervisory powers over the police. He further suggested that the system of having a “watch list” of petty criminals in Davao, the basis apparently for determining whom to kill, should be abolished; and that an independent investigation into the killings should be conducted.

Commenting on Duterte specifically, Alston stated: “Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has done nothing to prevent these killings”.   He noted how Duterte’s public statements suggested “he is, in fact, supportive.” Specifically, Alston cited how Mayor Duterte responded to the reported release of a big-time drug lord in Manila. Alston quoted the mayor as saying: ‘Here in Davao, you can’t go out alive. You can go out, but inside a coffin. Is that what you call extra-judicial killing? Then I will just bring a drug lord to a judge and kill him there, that will no longer be extra-judicial’,”

“The Special Rapporteur is not aware of a single conviction for a death squad killing in Davao. As a result, death squad members operate with complete impunity. Killing for hire is on the rise as death squad members become bold enough to sell their services, and some reports indicate that a killing only costs about 5,000 pesos (about US$ 100),” Alston said.

He also observed,   “Although killings take place in broad daylight, witnesses are not prepared to testify against the perpetrators.”

Alston also warned that the impunity “encouraged death squad killings to sprout up in other cities beyond Davao.” Alston stated: “since 2007, numerous patterns of death squad killings have been reported by media and civil society organizations in other cities in the region such as General Santos City, Digos City, and Tagum City, and even in Cebu, the Philippines’ second largest city.”

So why has the PNoy administration failed to act on the findings of Alston?

Clearly, the reason is that Aquino and his Secretary of Justice simply do not care. This is consistent with the reality that PNoy has not given any priority to the promotion and protection of human rights in the past five years of his administration. This is why I am absolutely disappointed at Leila De Lima. She was once Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights and should have utilized the vast powers, personnel and resources of the Department of Justice to fulfill the state obligation to protect and promote the right to life. Instead, PNoy and De Lima opted to ignore the recommendations of Alston, specifically on the Davao death squad. It is the height of hypocrisy for De Lima to now belatedly say that Duterte should be held liable for the acts of the death squads. Why did she wait   six years before she manifested a willingness to run after Duterte? And why only after the latter has expressed interest to be President?

International law provides that PNoy and his Secretary of Justice have had the obligation to investigate, punish and prosecute Duterte as soon as they obtained information that he may be in any way connected to the death squads. They have had this information since 2009 when Philip Alston said so. De Lima was then chairman of the CHR and did nothing. PNoy, on the other hand, since Day One of his administration, should have investigated Duterte for these killings, The fact that he failed to do so is a ground for him to incur criminal liability himself under the concept of Superior Responsibility – he knew that Duterte may have been involved, and he did nothing to investigate and prosecute him.

To run after Duterte in time for the 2016 elections adds ignominy to the President’s sin of omission. It also demeans the importance of human rights promotion and degrades it as yet another election issue. This is vintage PNoy.

This article was first published on http://manilastandardtoday.com/2015/05/28/hypocrisy-on-the-death-squads/.

Schizophrenia on boat people II


The Aquino administration has yet another policy schizophrenia on what to do with the Rohingya boat people crisis. Last Monday, newspaper reports quoted Presidential Spokesman Herminio Coloma saying that the Rohingya boat people will be “pushed back to sea.” Coloma made this remark in the context that today’s modern boat people do not possess travel documents. Under existing immigration laws, the country can ordinarily refuse entry to undocumented aliens or those without travel documents.

Then yesterday, another alter ego of the President, Justice Secretary Leila De Lima suggested sending rescue boats to the distraught boat people. According to her, “it would be a good gesture if we send a rescue ship or two along with other Asean neighbors and it should be a concerted effort, a regional action.”   She clarified, however, that this was only a “suggestion” as the issue should be decided by “government officials at the highest level.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs has issued a statement stating that we have to balance our obligations under our treaty obligations with “our interests, economy and security.” This sounds suspiciously similar to the position of Thailand and Malaysia in refusing entry to today’s boat people.

There should never have been conflicting positions, to begin with. As a party to the 1951 Convention on the Rights of Refugees, we are duty bound to accept and provide humanitarian assistance to those who have crossed national boundaries owing to a well-founded fear of persecution in their homelands. Our duty is to accept them  and we cannot turn them away even if they are illegal refugees. Further, under the  Palermo Convention  and its protocols, we also have the duty to provide for the protection of trafficked persons.

According to the United Nations, the Rohingya Muslims are today among the most “persecuted” minorities in the world. Largely based in Myanmar, the estimated 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims are considered as illegal settlers in the predominantly Buddhist country. Recently, one of the biggest scandals that rocked Thailand was an expose that members of the group are being employed there literally as slaves made to work in exchange for food and lodging.

The problem today is that countries such as Australia and the states constituting the EU have insisted that they cannot afford the material and political costs of admitting modern-day boat people in their territory. Australia has consistently refused entry to boat people opting to process and detain them in an offshore island. The EU, despite its proven commitment to human rights, has also tightened its border controls and has also refused entry to boat people from Africa. The EU now has to contend with the fall-out arising from a sinking of one such boat with at least 700 casualties. Increasingly, more and more countries, Thailand and Malaysia included, have refused entry to refugees precisely on the same grounds mentioned by our DFA, to wit: “national interests, economy and security.”

In fairness to De Lima, she was clear that her opinion to render humanitarian assistance to the modern-day boat people was only a recommendation. This has not prevented UN officials from praising our country for making what in reality, is a non-offer. And while the Justice Secretary appears to be rather influential in this administration since she defied the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order barring the Executive Branch from preventing the departure of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo early on in PNoy’s term; her recommendations, like her opinion that the CA TRO on the ouster of Mayor Jun Jun Binay as Mayor of Makati, is, to quote her, “merely recommendatory.” In short, we still have to come up with an   official policy on whether we will assist Southeast Asia’s modern boat people.

The Philippines opened its territory in the 1970s to the hordes of Vietnamese people fleeing the repressive communist regime in Hanoi. We did so then out of compliance with our treaty commitments and out of compassion. While we could not accept the Vietnamese as refugees into our territory, we agreed to process them until other countries could accept them as refugees. If we did it then, I see no reason why we cannot do this anew for the Rohingya Muslims.

It’s a cardinal principle under international law that in default of further legal basis, mankind shall continue to be protected by public international law, the dictates of conscience and the laws of humanity. To Asia’s only Christian nation, admitting today’s boat people is to walk the talk that Christians will give   homes to the homeless.

Let’s hope PNoy finds the heart to walk the talk.

Binay and the P600-million hoax


You have to give it to Vice President’s Jejomar Binay’s detractors. Not content with the unprecedented 21 Senate hearings against him, they have succeeded this time in freezing the assets of at least 33 individuals allegedly because they benefited from the overpriced buildings in Makati. This is a PR coup for the handlers of Mar Roxas who until today, must believe that the best defense is offense. I’m sure, though, that history will prove that politicians who aspire for higher office at the expense of simply destroying the reputation of their competitors,  rather than standing on their own merits, will not be rewarded by the people. As the surveys show, those at the forefront of destroying the Vice-President have remained in Dante’s inferno as far as  public acceptance is  concerned.

So how should we react to the freeze of P600-million worth of assets? Well, it should be viewed as yet another political propaganda against the acknowledged presidential front-runner in 2016. Consider:

One, the amount of P600 million is insignificant if we consider the number of persons involved. The Inquirer reported that the P600 million constituted the assets of no less than 33 persons. At the average therefore, that amounts to only 18 million pesos per person. That’s no big deal given  the declared net worth of our public officials. PNoy himself declared at least P50 million in net worth, while VP Binay himself declared no less than P60 million. If we were to deduct the VP’s declared net worth from the P600 million, that’s only an average of only 16 million per person. Given that some of those in the list include Ten Outstanding Young Men awardee and Xavier Alumnus Antonio Tiu, I’m sure the P600 million in frozen assets is insignificant since Tiu alone should be worth at least P600 million.

But the damage has been done. To the unthinking mind, VP Binay could not have amassed P600 million from his 25 years in public office. Ergo, many more ordinary persons may be convinced not to vote for Binay in 2016.

But the detractors of Binay are wrong. The people will eventually  conclude that the P600 million in frozen assets is just that: frozen. Unless the courts declare that the sum is actually fruits of a predicate crime under the Anti-Money Laundering Act, they enjoy the presumption of being clean money frozen due to political maneuverings.

Second, they are wrong in assuming that they could freeze the assets of a sitting vice president. While I have long advocated that impeachable officials should only be immune from suits arising from sovereign acts pursuant to the rulings in In Re Pinochet by the UK House of Lords and the US Supreme Court case of Clinton vs. Jones, the Philippine Supreme Court has repeatedly refused my pleas to charge then President Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo for corruption and for crimes against humanity. In at least two cases that I filed, the first in connection with the botched and anomalous NBN –ZTE contract and in the case of David vs. Arroyo, the Court has refused to follow the route of the UK and US in narrowing the scope of immunity of impeachable officers. In other words, the AMLA petition to freeze the assets of the VP, including the action of  the Regional Trial Court to declare these funds as proceeds of predicate crimes under the law, violate Binay’s immunity from suits. It is only a matter of time before the Supreme Court declares the freezing of the VP’s assets as being unconstitutional.

But to the VP’s detractors, the unconstitutionality of their acts simply does not matter. In typical Machiavellian manner, the task is to prevent, by hook or by crook, the commoner Binay, the dark Vader, a common Tao, from occupying the highest office of the land. These caciques clearly believe that the presidency should remain in the hands of one of their own.

But times have indeed changed. The public is no longer as gullible as the elite believe them to be.  Because of a thriving free marketplace of ideas, falsities, although welcome, have enabled the masses to discern the truth for themselves. And what is the truth? The reality is that none of Binay’s detractors can play the game of “holier than thou”. None of them can come to court, because they themselves have unclean hands. And consequently, none of their charges can stand up in a court of law. This is the reason why despite being in government for more than 25 years, VP Binay has not been found guilty even once of corruption in a proper court of law. And yes, the truth is that the frozen P600 million is only the fruit of a hoax.

Perhaps, a few words should also be devoted to the propriety of reporting on the freeze order, which according to the law should remain confidential. Here, the secrecy is for at least two reasons: one, to prevent the account holders from concealing their assets. Two, and more importantly, it is to protect the reputation of the account holders since the freeze order is not tantamount to a finding of guilt.

As we have learned from this incident, media ought to be more vigilant in upholding the law. Even public figures, after all, are entitled to the presumption of innocence; more so where a law itself requires everyone to treat information as confidential. Now more than ever, I have learned that freedoms should be balanced with responsibility and the pressing need for the media to comply with the law.

This post first appeared in http://manilastandardtoday.com/2015/05/14/binay-and-the-p600-million-hoax/