State universities


Two issues have hounded two state universities lately. The first was why, according to Malacanang, the Cavite State University required its students to watch Vice President Jejomar Binay’s True State of the Nation Address.

The other is the lack of dormitories in my university, UP Diliman.

I have previously written that the Vice-President’s TSONA was simply terrific since it outlined the not- so-good state of the nation. Predictably, Malacanang dismissed it as “charot”, or gay lingo for non-sense (I think).

Strangely though, while the palace belittled the message of the Vice-President, it engaged in witch-hunt against the officials of the state university where the address was made. This was reminiscent of Malacanang’s attempts to infringe on freedom of speech and academic freedom in UP Diliman.

I remember that at one point during the Ramos administration, then President Ramos attempted to scuttle the talk of freedom fighter and Nobel prize awardee Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor. This was to placate Indonesia’s protest since it was then in military occupation of East Timor. But pursuant to the tradition of UP Diliman, the University resisted the Malacanang intervention and even went to court to question the palace intervention. While the University won the litigation, the ruling came a bit late since meanwhile, the Horta talk had been cancelled. Years later, Horta would make a heroes welcome to the University as the founder of the newly independent state of East Timor. UP, on the other hand, also celebrated the return of Horta as its way of asserting both freedoms of speech and academic freedom.

One thing that despots in Malacanang seem to have forgotten is that freedom of though is the bedrock of universities. Ergo, not only is freedom of thought cherished in universities, it the freedom that enables freedom of thought and freedom to engage in the search for the truth. Infringe on these rights and you make a mockery of the concept of a university as a community engaged in the search for both truth and excellence.

Cleary, Malacanang’s witch-hunt of the university officials who allowed the VP to speak at the Cavite State University is because they were adverse to the truth. Fearing that the people would believe that economic development has so far benefitted only the rich, they now seek to sow fear in the hearts of academicians with the message that the truth must not be allowed to be articulated in hallowed university grounds. But did they succeed? Well, I would say no if only because the studentry has taken the cudgels for the university- highlighting the right of the studentry to information and the truth.

The other controversy that hounded another state university was a television news report that showed freshman students of UP Diliman sleeping on the sunken garden of the university. I’m happy at the condemnation that arose form the news report. It only shows that despite government’s policy of “bahala kayo sa mga buhay nyo at buhay naman kayo.” Many citizens are still of the conviction that education is a right particularly at the premier state university. While University officials were quick to dismiss the story as featuring radical students out to make a story, the truth though is there are nonetheless real students currently sleeping at the UP Union office for lack of dormitory space.

I did hear Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan admitting in a radio interview that it was lack of foresight that led to the current dormitory crisis at the state university. While the student population has grown tremendously in the past years, the University has built only two semi-private dormitories and a new dormitory for law students where monthly fees cost 3 thousand per month. Contrast this with the 400 pesos that the regular dormitories charge the lucky students who have qualified to stay at the existing dormitories.

The bigger problem is the P oy’s administration’s apparent propensity to cut the budget requests made by state universities such as UP.

My personal suspicion is this is because many in this administration are not from UP, either because they were not smart enough to pass the entrance test or because they were born with silver spoons that studying in a school like UP would be extended “slumming”. The data would speak for themselves. In 2015, UP’s budget request was slashed by P2 billion. UP has since been given a budget of P13 billion, almost P2 billion of which is earmarked for the Philippine General Hospital, the biggest teaching hospital in the country that caters to indigent patients.

Of the remaining P11 billion, P6 billion went to salaries, P3 billion went to programs, and P4 billion went to capital outlays such as new academic buildings. There was no money allotted for new dormitories. The end result of course is while the University continues to attract the brightest amongst the poor students, lack of affordable housing would mean they couldn’t afford the cost living in Diliman.

Fortunately, the end is near for this administration. I could only hope that the people would elect a new President who had the experience of being a true iskolar ng bayan: meaning bright but poor. A cacique or a princess would mean more of the bad thing: bad news for the iskolar ng bayan.

This post first appeared in http://manilastandardtoday.com/2015/08/13/state-universities/

A terrific speech


In stark contrast to P Noy’s State of the Nations Address, VP Jojo Binay’s True State of the Nation Address was simply terrific.

To begin with, it was short, concise and straight to the point. It took no more than 50 minutes, which is the right length of a major speech. It was based on data and figures on the economy, and it thanked the proper individuals: those who sacrificed their lives for the nation, the SAF 44 and not just hair dressers and yayas — with no offense meant to the latter.

It was a speech that articulated the unspoken views of a clear majority of our people: that is, from the very beginning of his term, P Noy’s administration was both palpak and manhid. VP Binay rightfully focused on three of the people’s woes: MRT, Luneta, and Mamasapano.

I would be lying if I were to say that I take the MRT and LRT regularly. I don’t. But because I deliver regular lectures, too, at Fr. Rannie Aquino’s San Beda Graduate School of Law, I would always take the LRT2 from Katipunan and get off at Legarda. One time, I was very late for one such lecture that I opted to try the MRT line from SM North near UP to Caloocan and from there, the LRT to Manila. I was shocked! The LRT was jam-packed with people, the driver obviously callous and kept on stepping at the brakes making people fall forward and backwards. It was simply hell!

The only consolation for me was that I do not take the trains regularly, unlike the ordinary person.

Yesterday, after I guested at UNTV, I saw the line at SM North. It literally should be no less than 2 kilometers long snaking through a covered walkway that crossed EDSA. How can this administration promise the straight path when people are literally stuck in the MRT queue!

The fact that Binay emphasized this administration’s neglect of the MRT and LRT was to articulate the everyday curse experiences by the train-riding common tao against daang matuwid.

VP Binay then detailed the kapalpakan of Luneta, Tacloban, Zamboanga and Mamasapano. The Luneta hostage incident illustrated early on not only the incompetence of P Noy, but his callousness as well. It so happens that P Noy and I have the same favorite restaurant for siopao along Roxas Boulevard. The friendly waiters there confirmed that as the PNP proved incompetent in dealing with the lone hostage taker, PNoy, meanwhile, had a grand time consuming our favorite siopao.

Tacloban illustrated Mar Roxas’s penchant for prioritizing partisan politics over the need to provide humanitarian assistance to the devastated city of Tacloban. People will never forget the image and words of Roxas telling Mayor Alfred Romualdez that unless he signed a sheet of paper, Tacloban should not expect assistance form the national government simply because he was a Romualdez.

That was enough for me to forever dismiss Mar Roxas from all my lists.  That incident resulted in our common conviction that we will have nothing to do with Mar since he failed to heed the dictates of humanity and pursued instead the dirty ends of partisan politics.

Anent Mamasapano, it should be clear to one and all that the SAF 44 were martyred because of PNoy’s insistence to have his trusted Alan Purisima lead an ill-planned police operation. It is also clear to one and all that PNoy allowed them to be martyred to please Ging Deles and their common friends at the MILF.

Binay also articulated what is on the mind of every Filipino on the BBL. He said that any peace agreement must conform with the Constitution, must be inclusive, and must not be rammed through Congress.

Perhaps the most noteworthy portion of the TSONA was the true state of the economy. According to Binay, economic indicators cited in the SONA were somehow deceiving because increases in economic indicators did not translate to better live for the poor. Citing the recent survey conducted by the SWS where five out of 10 Filipinos claimed to be in poverty, Binay concluded, “After five years, many are still poor”.

Binay also said that while country’s foreign direct investments (FDIs) exceeded P6 billion ($131.24 million) in 2014 this is still he lowest FDI among countries in Southeast Asia. He also decried: ““Kahit na totoong record-breaking ang foreign direct investments noong 2014, hindi rin naman ito nagresulta sa trabaho para sa nakararami,”

He said that 21 percent of the FDIs went to financial and insurance activities, which did not generate enough jobs.

But the real highlight of the speech was something that I did not expect. After castigating PNoy for thanking everyone but the martyrs of the SAF 44, Binay read individually the names of the fallen heroes. I would say that even for this alone, a recognition to the heroes made by the second highest official of the land, Binay’s TSONA would go down in history as one of the best public addresses in Philippine history.

I am happy too that some broadcast outfits carried the TSONA live. This allowed the people to make their own opinions free from the bias hurled against the speech by many commentators, disguised as journalists. As for the Malacanang reaction to the speech, Lacierda’s bad mouth was very scarce probably for the first time. This may be because it really is difficult to argue against the truth.

I do not know if the TSONA would be enough to restore VP Binay as the leading presidential candidates come September, when the pollsters go to the people anew. One thing is certain though: ordinary people who heard the TSONA can now find satisfaction in that Binay articulated their views. In a democracy, this is priceless.

Philippines should push Canada on toxic wastes


For reference:
Atty. Harry L. Roque, Jr. 09175398096
Chairperson, Center for International Law

 

 

The Philippines should vigorously pursue the liability of Canada under international environmental law – in particular under the Basel Convention – for exporting to the country without the latter’s consent 50 40-footer container vans of hazardous wastes, according to a UP professor of international law.

“It’s a shame Canada, which fashions itself to be a world leader in the promotion of the Rule of Law, is acting as if it does not know what its duties are as a party to the Basel Convention on Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal,” said Prof. Harry L. Roque Jr., who teaches international law at the UP College of Law and chairperson of the Center for International Law, a non-profit dedicated to promoting binding international legal norms in the domestic setting.

To begin with, Canada is acting deviously on the controversy as it violated the Basel Convention requirement that to begin with, it cannot export to the Philippines any hazardous waste without the latter’s written consent, said Prof. Roque.

Like Canada, the Philippines is a party to the multi-lateral treaty.

The issue has become a sore point between the two countries, with Canada eschewing responsibility over the shipment and passing it on to Ontario-based Canadian firm Chronic Inc., and its Philippine partner. Chronic allegedly shipped the vans to the Philippines in 2013 as recyclables. But the Bureau of Customs, upon inspection, found these to be filled with “toxic” wastes.

Prof. Roque said Canada is responsible for the repatriation of the wastes back to its own shores under the terms of the Basel Convention.

And while the shipment was mis-declared by its Canadian exporter and its Philippine partner as that of “recyclable plastics,” Canada cannot claim it did not know the contents of the container vans because as the state of origin, it had the obligation to inspect the contents of the shipment, according to Prof. Roque.

“In addition, under the Basel Convention, if the shipment cannot be completed under the authorized terms or within the provisions of the Convention, the state of export – Canada – must re-import the shipment unless an alternative arrangement for proper disposal can be made within ninety days of notification by the state of import,” he said.

“Thus even assuming that the Philippines legally consented to receive the shipment, by the terms of the Convention, Canada remains responsible for the waste up until its disposal, and may be entirely liable for costs if fulfillment of the contract becomes impossible,” said Prof. Roque.

The Canadian embassy in the Philippines insists it is not liable for anything.

He said that if Canada refuses to accept responsibility for the wastes, the Philippines may take the issue up to an international arbitral panel or to the International Court of Justice.

“This not a question of cost but of principle,” he said. “The cost will be recovered later on, but Canada should be made to face up to its obligations under international law not just to the Philippines but to all the parties to the Basel Convention.”

A lousy speech


That was the lousiest State-of-the-Nation Address I have ever heard. To begin with, the President showed disrespect to his listeners by speaking for more than two hours. The duty to report on the state of the nation is mandated by the Constitution itself. In the discharge of this obligation, the President should have been more considerate to the Filipino people struggling to survive on a day-to-day basis. Simply put, it was gross disrespect for the people- whom he described as his bosses- when he took more than two hours of their time largely for matters that should not have been included in a SONA in the first place.

After five years, the people have earned the right to expect that the President will summarize his accomplishments thus far in the SONA. He instead wasted the first 50 minutes of his speech engaging in his favorite pastime: bashing everyone for the mess that he found when he assumed office. This would be fine had this been his first and second SONA in order to lay the basis for the Herculean task of rebuilding. But five years later, this is wholly unacceptable. Yes, there were obstacles in the beginning of his term which could be attributed to his predecessor. But after five years in office, he should have been able to address these challenges had he only governed well. The reality is that PNoy spent a lot of time condemning the past regime because he has failed to govern.   In other words, he continues to rant about the past because he did nothing to clear the mess that he found at the beginning of his term. Ironically, his never-ending tirades against PGMA are also a strong condemnation of his own malfeasance and misfeasance.

Then he enumerated his alleged accomplishments. He began by singling out his appointees for their integrity. But shouldn’t the accomplishments of these appointees be attributed to them and not to the appointing power? He cited Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, former Commission on Audit Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan, and Bureau of Interval Revenue Chief Kim Henares as examples of his appointees with integrity.

But what about the scoundrels such as former Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority Secretary Joel Villanueva, Transportation and Communication Secretary Joseph Abaya, former Health Secretary Enrique Ona, Budget Secretary Butch Abad, Moro Islamic Liberation Front collaborator Teresita Deles, PEACE bond scam mastermind Corazon Soliman, all of whom have been embroiled in one scandal after another?

It seems clear that while PNoy cited four gems among his appointees, they simply were outnumbered by rotten appointees embroiled in never ending scandals.

He cited alleged gains in the economic front including unprecedented GNP and GDP growth, increase in foreign direct investments, and supposed increase in employment. While all these economic indicators may have indeed increased, the question is: did it benefit the poor among us? The answer is a resounding NO! Bayan Muna Party-List Rep Neri Colmenares cites that the wealth of Filipino billionaires listed by Forbes magazine increased by 250 percent from 2010 to 2015. Compare this to the increase in the minimum wage for the same period, which increased by a measly 3.5 percent. This means that while economic indicators indeed increased, it did not translate to inclusive growth. Hence, the rich became even richer and the poor became poorer.

He then enumerated one infrastructure project after another. Goodness! This should not have been included in a SONA simply because any government, provided there is a national budget, could have built the infrastructure. He also boasted about the Conditional Cash Transfer. How can he claim credit for a program started and implemented by his predecessor?

If at all, PNoy could only claim credit for legislation such as the RH Law, the Competition Law and the Cabotage Law. The problem here is that credit should go to Congress for these laws and not to the President. Moreover, for every law passed, there was a bill not enacted to law. The FOI bill is one such bill.

The worst part of the speech was the never-ending expression of gratitude to his family, hairdresser and Yaya. At one point, I thought PNoy had to thank his yaya and hair dresser because they were true members of his Cabinet, responsible for his lousy policies. Levity aside, when the Constitution required the State-of-the-Nation Address, it was not so that the President could thank everyone in his life, both private and public. He can do that as he leaves Malacanang before  noon  on  June 30, 2016.

So what did he not say? Plenty.

There was nothing on his promise to protect and promote human rights. This is consistent with his policy to completely ignore human rights, including the fight against extra-legal killings, enforced disappearances and torture.

There was no mention of what he intends to do to the SAF 44. Maybe this too is consistent with his position that the SAF 44 had to be sacrificed to appease his new BFF, the MILF.

There was no mention of how he would oversee clean and peaceful elections. Maybe because he could not care less and simply wants to end his term. Maybe because his anointed one, who is currently lagging in the polls, intends to cheat? Who knows!

Despite all the shortcomings in the last SONA, the best news is that it was indeed his last! This was the good news in the SONA.

Good riddance, PNoy, and may the nation never choose a college council President ever again, particularly one who was also a foreigner for 13 years.

This post first appeared in http://manilastandardtoday.com/2015/07/30/a-lousy-speech/

The true state of the nation


In fairness to this administration, it would be difficult to discuss the true state of a nation in a 700-word commentary. So instead of discussing all aspects of our lives under PNoy, I will focus on two particular areas, to wit: the promised anti-corruption drive of the administration under the slogan of “daang matuwid,” and the promise to uphold and protect human rights.

Pulse Asia in its Ulat sa Bayan had grim findings on how the public perceives PNoy’s promise to pursue the straight path. In brief, the public thought this was a promise terribly broken, In fact, only 29 percent of the people agreed that PNoy pursued the path that was promised. Thirty-six percent disagreed while 34 percent were undecided. Ana Maria Tabunda posited that the people perceived Daang Matuwid as a broken promise because of the discovery of the Priority Development Assistance Fund scam which involved all politicians, whether those with the administration or the opposition. The fact that charges were filed against three opposition senators only made matters worse since the people perceived these cases as evidence of selective justice. Indeed, the fact that no one from the administration has been charged for what is clearly an institutional form of corruption for Senatongs and Tongressmen contributed to the people’s perception. According to Tabunda, 53 percent of the people thought that it was unfair for the administration to prosecute only members of the opposition, while only 30 percent thought that this recourse was fair.

In truth and in fact, the people’s perceptions must have also been affected by the fact that the President has been playing deaf and dumb to the misfeasance and malfeasance of his KKK:   kaibigan, kaklase and kabarilan. There is the Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala who has figured in one scam after another. He continues to have the trust and confidence of PNoy. There too is former PNP Chief Alan Purisima, who despite SAF 44, continued to have the trust and confidence of the President. There is also Technology Education and Skills Development Authority chief Joel Villanueva and Former Customs chief Ruffy Biazon, both implicated in the PDAF scam. There is DBM Secretary Butch Abad who remains among the most trusted by PNoy despite the Supreme Court’s rulings invalidating both PDAF and DAP, both of which were implemented by Abad. Former Senator Panfilo Lacson recently claimed that Abad had resurrected both anomalies through the so-called unified accounts codified system.

Then there was his   promise to protect and promote human rights, in general, and specifically, to pursue justice for the victims of the notorious Maguindanao massacre that claimed 58 lives. This was dubbed as the single most murderous attack against journalists in the world. Under PNoy, the killings went unabated. He has utterly failed to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of these killings. Karapatan claims that there have been 262 cases of extralegal killings in the country under PNoy. Meanwhile, there has only been one conviction for these killings, the case of the hired gun man in the killing of environmentalist and broadcaster Gerry Ortega, who confessed to the killing. In any case, Justice Secretary Leila De Lima admitted in a UN Meeting in Strasberg that the conviction rate for extralegal killings in the country remains at a pathetic 1 percent.

Aquino reneged on his promise to accord justice to   the victims of the notorious Maguindanao massacre. To date, the quest for justice against the patriarch of the Ampatuan clan has been mooted with the recent death of Andal Ampatuan Sr. Meanwhile, no less than 90 of the 197 accused remain at large, while the trial is still at the bail proceedings. It took the Supreme Court to order the implementation of our suggested “First in- first out” policy, which would enable the trial judge to render partial promulgation of judgment against some of the accused, to provide hope that some of the accused, but definitely not all, could be held liable for the massacre. This too appears to be speculative given that De Lima and her classmate representing some of the victims have objected to a partial offer of evidence by the public prosecutors.

Meanwhile, PNoy has also reneged on his promise to repeal EO 546 that gave legitimacy to the private armies of political warlords, including the Ampatuans. Immediately after his election, he made a complete turn-around on this promise and justified the use of these private armies as “force multipliers” in the fight against insurgents.

So what is the true state of the nation as far as “daang matuwid”, extra-legal killings and human rights are concerned? Well, the state is dismal with the corruption and killings becoming even more rampant under PNoy. Why? Simple. For as long as the corrupt and the killers are jailed, and fear brought back into their hearts, the culture of impunity remains. The corruption and the killings will continue.

Meanwhile, we can only pray that we will not become the next victims. This, sadly, is the true state of the nation.

This post first appeared in http://manilastandardtoday.com/2015/07/23/the-true-state-of-the-nation/

Statement of Atty Harry Roque Jr,  Chairman of the Center for International Law (Centerlaw) and lead counsel for 15 victims of the Maguindanao massacre :


Centerlaw believes that justice would have been better served for both our clients and the defendants if a decision were reached before Andal Ampatuan Sr passed away. We know that the search for justice continues and we will persevere on behalf of our clients.

Making a mockery of Supreme Court decisions


We knew they would resurrect the Priority Development Assistance Fund and Disbursement Acceleration Program eventually. What we did not expect is that they would do so immediately after the Supreme Court had declared both the PDAF and DAP as being unconstitutional. Talk of being brazen. Talk of being shameless. Talk of being contemptuous.

In a talk before accountants, former Senator Panfilo Lacson unveiled the resurrection of both PDAF and the DAP. First, he mentioned that he had found no less than P428 billion in lump-sum appropriations which took the place of either PDAF or DAP. He cited the example of the budget of the Department of Agriculture amounting to P39 billion pesos. The senator then identified within this budget P6.25 billion for farm-to-market roads, which in reality would be farm-to-pocket roads of the Tongressmen.

Lacson also identified the resurrection of PDAF in the form of the so-called Unified Accounts Code Structure or UACS. According to Lacson: “Recently, the government rolled out reforms in our public financial management. The government adopted, starting last year, the so-called Unified Accounts Code Structure or the UACS, a single classification system for all our government financial processes—from budgeting to cash management to accounting and audit. UACS calls for transparency and accountability, or so they claim. As my team and I randomly analyze this coding system, say, of the National Irrigation Administration, we discovered that there were some codes missing. To our surprise, such ‘missing codes’ were utilized to insert some projects during the budget deliberation in the House of Representatives. We likewise discovered that, in the budget of the said agency alone, there is a total lump sum amounting to 11.3 billion pesos.”

Lacson further argued that “after the PDAF, we also discovered the obvious reincarnation of the SC unconstitutionally declared Budget Circular 541 which earlier gave the DBM the authority to pool and declare as savings unobligated, unutilized, and unreleased appropriations, not at the end of the fiscal year but the second quarter. We found it in Sec 70 and Sec 73 under the General Provisions of the 2015 General Appropriations Act”. This, according to Lacson, is the rebirth of the DAP.

In any case, it can be told that just as in the case of the defunct Countryside Development Fund which, due to its unpopularity as being an institutionalized  source of corruption, was renamed Priority Development Assistance Fund, it can now be told that PNoy defied the Supreme Court anew by renaming both the DAP and the PDAF as UACS. What else is new?

***

It has been reported by the media that Andal Ampatuan Sr is now comatose at the National Kidney Institute. I was able to confirm his illness because the mother of one of my best friends was confined next door to the Ampatuan patriarch.

At this point, we can only decry the snail pace of the on-going trial that may now deprive both the accused and the victims a judicial finding of his guilt or innocence. While we have not objected to the requested furlough of the Ampatuan children who are currently detained in Bicutan to enable them to visit their father, we ask the PNP and the NBI to exercise extraordinary diligence in preventing their possible escape.