In memory of Jennifer: Junk Vfa


I am in Olongapo City standing as lawyer for the Laude family in connection with the gruesome murder of Jennifer.

To set the record straight, I “did not volunteer” my services to the family. A couple of months back, we had a training here in Subic jointly sponsored by the American Bar Association and the defunct AustAid on victim’s rights advocacy. The said training was intended primarily for civil society organizations so that they will know what to do in case there is a case of extralegal killing or torture in their community. That training had members of the Kilusan Demokratikong Pilipino and the women’s group KAISA-KA, the same group also advocating the cause of the last remaining comfort women in Pampanga, in attendance. So when Jennifer’s killing became public in Olongapo, both civil society groups lost no time in assisting the family in taking steps that the proper investigation of the crime take place. Kudos to them, we now have at least three eyewitnesses who can testify that Jennifer was last seen in the company of Pemberton in the crime scene. It was also civil society that alerted police authorities about the occurrence of the crime, which led to the timely investigation by the SOCO of the PNP led by Maj De La Torre.

Yesterday, we filed the criminal compliant that would trigger the process of preliminary investigation to begin. We had doubts about whether the proceedings could move forward given that the Respondent, PFC Joseph Scott Pemberton, is still in the custody of his American superiors. We asked ourselves: where would the Prosecutor serve him with notices for preliminary investigation? We indicated the name of his ship. In reality, no process server from the DOJ could board the vessel since it is an American warship.

So the Laude family is now in a quandary. While their filing of the criminal complaint triggers the legal process, how could it proceed without Philippine custody over the person of the Respondent?

Apparently, the Daniel Smith precedent was different.  There, Smith was immediately made available to Philippine authorities for purposes of attendance in all proceedings as soon as he was identified. But for some reason, this has not happened to Pemberton. His identity was ascertained as of last Monday at the latest, and yet until today, Thursday, US authorities have not made him available for investigation purposes. Could it be that US authorities are contemplating of exercising jurisdiction over him since murder as a hate crime against a transgender relates as well to the discipline of its troops? If this is so, this is worrisome since unlike the case of Smith, American authorities may not have Pemberton available to Philippine authorities altogether.

For the record, we decided to still press charges as of last night since this will at least inform the entire nation that the ball is now in the hands of the Philippine government. The most that the victims can do under the circumstance is to commence with the filing of complaint to trigger the preliminary investigation. Unfortunately, the victims are powerless to compel US authorities to have their soldier available to attend the proceedings. We filed nonetheless at least to illustrate exactly how the VAF offends Philippine sovereignty and jurisdiction. For while Philippine laws were breached and despite the fact that the Victim was a Filipino killed in his own country, our legal system appears to be powerless against the person of a US serviceman.

The consolation is that at least, DFA Secretary Del Rosario, unike the Department’s spokesperson,  has articulated the correct interpretation of the VFA. That is, Philippine authorities should have custody over non-service related crimes committed by US servicemen under extraordinary circumstances. I join Sec Del Rosario that a murder committed as a hate crime against a transgender, suffices to qualify as an “extraordinary” circumstance to warrant Philippine custody over Pemberton.

In any case, the brutal killing of Jennifer, a apparently from drowning in a toilet bowl, should be a wake-up call to all Filipinos that the VFA, and the EDCA will never serve the Filipino interest. Unless we abrogate the VFA and reject the EDCA, more Filipinos will suffer the fate of Jennifer: victimized my bigoted US servicemen and yet denied an adequate domestic remedy.

My promise though is when we fail to get justice for Jennifer and the nation before Philippines courts, we will pursue the killer before foreign courts wherever the bigoted killer may be. Meanwhile, we should unite as a nation and assert our sovereignty: Junk the VFA! Junk the EDCA!

My Lolo and martial law


By Atty. Harry Roque Jr. | Sep. 25, 2014 at 12:01am
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I was too young to be an activist during martial law. I was fortunate though to have been raised in a family whose religious convictions include that of taking a stand for the poor and oppressed. This is why even if I did not venture to the streets to protest the Marcos dictatorship until I was a freshman high school student in UPIS, specifically in the infamous march along Liwasan Bonifacio to protest against the Education Act, I had my political education rather early in life.

Born in 1966, I, as a young child, could only remember being roused from my sleep with the commotion in our ancestral Pasay residence. My Lolo, Hipolito De Leon Lopez, announced that Martial law had been declared by Marcos. Lolo was a lawyer by training, but opted to work, together with “King” Doromal, for an American multinational company and became one of its pioneer Filipino executives. He himself was a founding councilor in Quezon City having been appointed to the post by then President Manuel Quezon. Owing though to an edict issued by of my Lola, who valued the family’s privacy, he was forced to retire early from politics. This is why among others, they moved from Quezon City to Pasay.

Lolo, despite having retired very from politics, was nonetheless still tremendously immersed in it. Lola, on the other hand, was a cousin of a rising star whom every one knew as “Mr. Clean,” Jovito Salonga. It was through this family relations that my political education began.

Lolo’s immediate concern upon declaration of martial law was an uncle, now a protestant Pastor, Uncle Rey, who was then a law student at the UP College of Law. Uncle Rey lived through the first quarter storm in UP and was a true blue activist when martial law was declared. Lolo knew that over and above our relations to Salonga, my uncle, whom he knew was active in the soon-to-be-declared illegal Kabataan Makabayan, was most at risk. Years later, the Protestant Church, through the Reverend Cirilo Rigos, would arrange for Uncle Rey to seek asylum in many monasteries in Europe where he evolved from a student activist to a seafarer’s advocate, which he remains today.

My political education was one of extreme contradiction. While my entire family was anti-Marcos, and not just because of Jovy Salonga, but primarily because Marcos trashed the 1935 Constitution and was engaged in widespread kleptocracy, my Lolo would nonetheless berate my Uncle for his student activism. Lolo himself had his share of cabal activities against the martial law regime, including late night sessions in his farmhouse in Parañaque, with journalists then residing in Fourth Estate subdivision, including its developer, a journalist who was a former diplomat whose first name I cannot now recall, Mr. Rodriguez. They would congregate for many nights reading the banned editions of the mosquito press and would take turns condemning, even cursing the excesses of the conjugal dictatorship. Meanwhile, my Ate and I would lead the siblings and cousins to our own march in the rice paddies chanting “Ninoy!” and other slogans against the dictatorship. But maybe owing to his corporate background, Lolo could not accept my uncle’s activism as if it were enough to condemn the dictatorships in secret meetings. Perhaps, it was fact that my uncle’s activism caused him to drop out of law school. To this date, I do not know if Lolo disliked my uncle’s activism because of the risk that it caused, or because it kept my uncle from becoming a lawyer. Maybe it was both.

There too were the many individuals wanted by the dictatorship, which we gave safe haven in our home in Pasay. While I no longer recall who exactly they were, one nun stands out because she used to play the piano very well. She had two favorites: Bayan ko and If a Picture Paints a Thousand Words. It was this nun, whom I never saw in a hobbit, who would lecture me on the basics: neo-colonialism, neo-feudalism and US imperialism. Looking back, it was she who explained in a manner that a child could understand why the US, because of its security interest in the region, opted to support the Marcos dictatorship. Ironically, this nun would later seek asylum in the heart of the beast: the United States.

Meanwhile, my political education continues, but with a difference. While I continue to espouse the view that only Filipinos can safeguard the Filipino interest, I have moved from sloganeering to legal advocacy. This means that while I continue to go and speak at rallies, particularly against the pork barrel and the DAP, I have gone further and actually used the law as a tool to change society. I guess I now know why my Lolo was so frustrated that my uncle gave up on his law training. Advocacy itself is important to build awareness amongst the people, but lawyers can do more for the cause when and if they use it as a tool to promote the people’s agenda.

Years from now, in the twilight of my life and when I am asked what I have done for society, I can cite jurisprudence and not just the advocacies I engaged in: David vs. Arroyo where the Court ruled that General Order No. 5 as unconstitutional since in the absence of a statutory definition for terrorism, only the President can define what it is which she can use to stifle dissent; Roque vs. de Venecia, where the Court ruled that ordinary citizens have a standing to sue to enforce a public right; Cacho vs. Arroyo, where the Court recognized that abuse of right was a valid cause of action when then FG Mike Arroyo filed 45 libel cases against journalists, Adonis vs. RP where the UN Human Rights Committee ruled that Philippine criminal libel is against freedom of expression, and the latest, Belgica vs. Aquino, where the Court ruled that the Disbursement Acceleration Program is unconstitutional.

Looking back, my political education must be the realization of my Lolo’s aspirations: the use of the legal profession as a tool to promote democracy and to spoil the day for despots.

I do miss my Lolo.

The Massacre Victims of Luneta and Maguindanao


The victims of the Luneta massacre —Chinese tourists from Hong Kong —and the victims of the Maguindanao massacre have much in common. Both were victims of multiple murders at the hands of state agents. The Luneta Hong tourists died in the hands of Rolando Mendoza and the inept PNP members, many of whom also shot and killed them. The Maguindanao massacre victims were killed by suspects, all of whom are government agents—from elected officials to state multipliers such as the civilan volunteer organizations (CVOs) and the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGUs).

Both sets of victims have been waiting for a long time for justice. In the case of the Luneta hostages, their plight is slightly worse off because no one at all has been charged for the killings. The Maguindanao victims, on the other hand, stand to wait hundred sof years for justice given that four years later, more than 80 of the suspected perpetrators still have to be arrested.

Further, while all of them are victims of violations of the right to life, not one of them has received satisfaction in the form of an apology from the state. Neither has any of them received compensation from the state.

President Aquino and his cohorts have offered identical reasons why the Philippine government has not and will not apologize nor pay compensation to them. In the case of the Luneta victims, its is because Mendoza—not Mendoza – was solely at fault. In the case of the Maguinadanao massacre, it is because it was former President Gloria Arroyo and her allies at fault, and not the Aquino administration.

The President’s refusal to both apologize and pay compensation to all victims of the violation of the right to life is a continuing breach of international human rights law. Under the articles of state responsibility, a state incurs responsibility for an internationally wrongful act when it breaches a norm of international law and when it is committed by a person whose acts may be attributable to the state. Both of these elements are found in the Luneta and the Maguindanao massacres.

Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, states have the duty to protect and promote, among others, the right to life of their people. This is a guarantee against the arbitrary taking of life. But since the Philippines no longer has the death penalty, all killings are hence unlawful in the Philippines. The only question to invoke international responsibility for these killings is this: Who perpetrated them? If it is through a state agent or a private person acting upon orders or control of the state, then the state will be in breach of the obligation anent the right to life.

It is crystal clear that the killers in both massacres are state agents. Mendoza was with the PNP, albeit then suspended, while the rest of the bullets were “friendly fire” from other PNP officers. Meanwhile, the fiasco that led to the firefight, including the decision not to take down Mendoza earlier and to use force belatedly were formulated by other state agents. For this decision, a committee headed by Justice Secretary Leila De Lima recommended that criminal charges be filed against those who formulated the botched policy. Those recommended to be charged included then-Mayor Alfredo Lim, then-PNP General Jesus Versoza, and then-DILG Undersecretary Rico Puno. Strangely enough, until today, none of these individuals have been charged for anything.

In the case of the Maguindanao massacre, there can be no doubt that while the criminal cases against the suspected murderers are still on-going, all of those charged for the multiple murder are all state agents. There were two governors: of ARMMM and Maguindanao, mayors, vice-mayors, military men, and members again of the PNP. There too were CVOs and CAFGUs whose members are auxiliary members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines as force multipliers. In fact, although these paramilitary groups consist of members of a private army, they were nonetheless conferred the status of state agents by reason of an Executive Order issued by Mrs. Arroyo which, until now, remains in force.

But where do the victims differ?

Their nationalities. And boy, this makes a hell of a big difference.

The Luneta massacre victims are of course Hong Kong residents and nationals of China. The Maguindanao massacre victims are all Filipinos. This means that while the Luneta victims can expect their rights to be espoused by their state, the Maguindanao massacre victims cannot look forward to any support from their own state. True, the latter’s criminal cases have been prosecuted in the name of the Republic by public prosecutors. Big deal. Every single one of the victims has their own private prosecutors anyway. This is evidence that the victims have not relied on the state alone even for the conviction of the suspects for murder. Moreover, given the proximity of the accused to the then-administration of PGMA, many of them believe that even the manner by which the prosecution was initiated: against 197 accused and hence, guaranteed to take forever, was a means to ensure impunity for the very influential family accused of committing the murders. But meanwhile, anent their claim for satisfaction in the form of apology and compensation, the Maguindanao victims, unlike their Hong Kong counterparts, could only fend for themselves since it is their own state that has decided against issuing to them an apology and paying them compensation.

Meanwhile, the fact that Hong Kong has already taken steps to espouse the claim of their nationals against the Philippine government can only be the source of envy for the victims of the Maguindanao massacre. For while their own government has denied them their rights as victims, at least their Hong Kong counterparts can still hope to get satisfaction and compensation. Perhaps there is solace for them in this thought.

Some clearly are luckier then others. Sad.

VHONG NAVARRO IS STILL LUCKY


It took a celebrity to call attention to the inherent weakness of our criminal justice system. By now, only Filipinos in Mars have not heard of what happened to the comedian. Apparently, he visited a woman who speaks like Melanie Marquez. Then he was beaten black and blue, probably sexually humiliated, illegally detained and made to confess to a rape. He was brought to a police station in Taguig where remarkably, the police did not bother to inquire how he sustained his injuries and was not assisted to get medical assistance. Instead, the police blottered what the alleged woman victim claimed was an attempted or consummated rape. But because a rape is a personal crime and requires the consent of the woman to be initiated, no charge of rape was made. The woman declined to press charges against him.

Navarro was also brought to the station in the company of the men who admitted to have beaten him up allegedly in defense of the woman who cried rape. The neighbors  though in the condominium unit where the alleged rape and the torture occurred have spoken to the media and said  that they did not hear any strange occurrence form the unit on the date and time involved. Of course the determination of what actually happened will still have to be threshed out in a court of law. All the actors in this real life drama are wealthy and have retained the most expensive lawyers in town. But meanwhile, and as observers, we cannot help but question the actuation of the police when Vhong was brought to their station for blotter purposes. Why for instance, did they not inquire as the reason why he sustained serious physical injuries, which on the basis of media images, could not have been missed by the police? Why was he not brought immediately to a government doctor for mandatory forensic and medical examination? Why was the woman who cried rape not referred to the woman’s desk officer so she can be counseled on the issue of whether to press charges or not? Why was the woman herself not advised to have a medical examination to document the alleged rape? But worse, given that Vhong Navarro allegedly confessed to a rape, why was he, despite his sorry physical conviction, not asked if he was voluntarily giving his statement? Why did the police not take steps to ensure that the celebrity was not a victim of torture? Torture has long been considered amongst the most serious crimes committed not only in domestic jurisdictions, but also against humanity itself. Presidents, such as Pinochet, Milosevic, Marcos, and Senegal’s Habre have been prosecuted for it despite their pleas of sovereign immunity. In Pinochet, the UK House of Lords ruled that while sovereign immunity continues to be recognized under international law, torture is an international crime and can never be a sovereign act. Hence, presidents accused of committing them should not enjoy immunity from suit. Furthermore, under the Convention Against Torture, which has been rarified by the Philippines, police authorities are under a positive obligation to investigate where information exists to suggest that torture may have been committed. Certainly, the injuries sustained by Navarro, coupled with information that he was beaten by a group of persons albeit allegedly in defense of strangers and a confession, should have prompted authorities to conclude that they are probably dealing with a case of torture. Torture is defined under both international law and our domestic law as the “infliction of physical or mental pain” for the purpose, among others, of extracting a confession.  (The Philippines has two laws with contradictory definitions of torture. RA 9851 does not require the perpetrator to be a state agent. RA  9745 does) All the elements of the international crime appear to be present in the Vhong Navarro incident. Eventually, the question is: if one of the country’s most recognizable personalities could be a victim of torture with our police oblivious to this fact; what happened to ordinary people? One can imagine the fate of the faceless and faceless detainees in our police camps why have routinely been subjected to torture by the police themselves. Already, Amnesty International and the Commission of Human Rights have declared the existence of a torture chamber in a camp intended for the Special Forces of the PNP. What these organizations have uncovered is a long-standing practice of torturing detainees, those who still have to be found guilty of the commission of any crime, for sheer fun and pleasure of our men in uniform. With this kind of a culture amongst our law enforcers, should we still be surprised that Vhong did not get any form of police assistance at a time when he actually needed it? I can only commiserate with the plight of Vhong. But still, he should still consider himself lucky. He has the support of  his fans and his television station solidly behind him. For if he were an ordinary Filipino who was tortured, he would surely have become just another anonymous number in the statistics of the number Filipinos who have been tortured and denied any and all forms of remedies.

Access to electricity is a human right


I was one of those who called over the weekend for Congress to declare a state of national emergency and grant the President the power to temporarily take over the running of both the power generation and distribution industries. This was in response to Meralco’s statement that the temporary restraining order issued recently by the Supreme Court against what could have been Meralco’s biggest increase in electricity cost will lead to power disruptions and brownouts.

I made this call amid testimony made by officials from the Energy Regulatory Commission in the Senate that there is now evidence of “detectable collusion” among power generators. This, they said, was because power generators are also players in the spot market where Meralco purchases its electricity:  “gaming in the spot market and shutting down without justification are clear indications of collusion.”

In response thereto, the chairman of the committee, Senator Antonio Trillanes, concluded: “It’s clear there’s conflict of interest. It appears you shut down here and then you sell there; it’s higher there”.

In the first place, the business of power generation and distribution are imbued with the public interest. This is because these industries sell an indispensible commodity, electricity, to the general public. This is why these businesses are recipients of a franchise to operate. This is a privilege bestowed on the state only to those who are deserving—this is not a right. This is also why when we privatized these industries through the Epira law, Congress still granted the ERC the power to fix rates for electricity. Simply put, these businesses are subject to close regulation because their business will affect the welfare of the general public who are the end users of their commodity.

But my call for the temporary takeover was not only because these companies have breached their obligations to provide a convenience to the general public. On the contrary, I advocated their temporary takeover because in addition to being mere recipients of a state privilege—which can hence be revoked when the interest of the public requires this—what is involved here is a human right, which a State is duty bound to take progressive steps to realize.

Perhaps the confusion over access to electricity as a human right is because there is a dearth of human rights treaties that explicitly mention that it is a human right. In fact, there is only the Convention on the Elimination on Discrimination Against Women that provides for it as a right: “States should take steps to ensure that … women … shall enjoy adequate living conditions particularly in relation to … electricity”.

Despite this paucity of literal sources for the right to access to electricity, it is accepted in the field that this right is covered by Article 11 of the International Covenant on the Economic Social and Cultural Right (ICESCR), which imposes an obligation on State Parties to the Covenant to “recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and the continuous improvement of living conditions.”  Essentially, this obligation requires every nation to provide human habitation with all the other accompanying facilities in it such as electricity. As opined by a leading NGO: “Inadequate power supply is one issue that generates feelings of helplessness, sometimes anger or outright disgust. Experience has clearly shown that the absence of electricity constitutes one single major factor impeding the full achievement of these rights.”

Thanks to an exposure trip sponsored by the Bertha Foundation to India, I have since discovered that a Mumbai High Court was the first to apply this right to access to electricity in domestic law. In ruling that informal settlers have the right to access to electricity, the High Court ruled: “access to electricity should be construed as a human right. Denial of it would amount to violation of human rights… Lack of electricity supply is one of the determinative factors, affecting education, health and a cause of economy disparity, and consequently, inequality in society leading to poverty. Electricity supply is an aid to get information and knowledge. Children without electricity supply cannot even imagine competing with others.”

A concurring opinion to this decision said: “Lack of electricity denies people equal opportunities in the matter of education and consequently suitable employment, health, sanitation and other socio-economic rights. Right to electricity of a person… is integral to the achievement of socio-economic rights…It is the fundamental duty of the authorities to show compassion to those who are living in huts and tenements for long. When socio and economic justice is the mandate of the Constitution, it is a travesty of justice to deny electricity to the petitioners.”

Let’ s hope that our very own Supreme Court does not only find grave abuse and discretion in this latest Meralco increase. Let’s hope it also goes further and recognizes access to electricity as a human right.

Human rights highlights in 2013


imagesThis will be an annual tradition. For as long as I have a column to write, I will devote my first column of the year to a summary of the highlights for human rights in the Philippines.

For the year 2013, here are what I consider the highlights:

1. The detention and maltreatment of Tausug Filipinos on a mission to reclaim Sabah. First on my list is the maltreatment suffered by the Filipinos as a consequence of the decision of Sultan Jamalul Kiram of the Sultanate of Sulu to reclaim Sabah. Not only is the Sultanate’s title as clear as the light of day. The arbitrary arrest of Filipinos, which really was a witch hunt, coupled with the disproportionate use of force employed by the federation of Malaysia, and the arrest of journalists from ABS-CBN, GMA and Al Jazeera covering the event, highlight the sorry state of human rights in the Southeast Asian region. I highlighted this event because it should be taken as a reason for our own state to comply with the letter and spirit of human rights law: do not do to others what you do not want to be done to your own people;

2. The challenge to the 2012 Cybercrimes Prevention Law. Not since the first quarter storm and the 1986 people power revolution have we seen the youth of this country united in their opposition against an Orwellian attempt to infringe on freedom of expression in the medium intended to institutionalize the free market place of ideas. What is noteworthy is not just the petitions filed against the law, but the use of the Internet as a medium for protest. Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on the legality of the law, the fact is the youth have rediscovered activism in a new medium—in cyberspace.

3. The Palace position that it would not pay compensation to victims of the Ampatuan Massacre. The year 2013 was the year when the PNoy administration made clear its position that it would not pay compensation to the victims of the Ampatuan massacre. This is clearly a breach of the state obligation under human rights law to provide compensation to victims of violations of the right to life. Independent of the guilt of the accused in the pending criminal cases against the Ampatuans and their cohorts, the state has the obligation to pay compensation to those whose loved ones were killed by state agents despite the state’s obligation to protect and promote the victims right to life.

4. The Philippine position not to support UN Human Rights Council resolutions condemning the attacks against civilians in Syria. Alleging that neutrality to the ongoing systematic attacks perpetrated by the Assad regime against its civilian population was the best means to protect Filipinos in Syria, the Philippine government declined to support any UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning the attacks against civilians in Syria. In adopting this position of neutrality, Filipino policy makers assumed that bullets used by the Assad regime could distinguish between a Syrian and a Filipino worker in Syria. Clearly, the duty to protect our nationals in troubled spots like Syria requires our government to support all initiatives to uphold and promote both human rights and humanitarian law in these troubled lands. This, in fact, is the only means that we can ensure that our diaspora do not fall victim to rampant and systematic human rights violations;

5. Indiscriminate violation of International Humanitarian Law in the Zamboanga siege. Regrettably, IHL, as the law applicable in armed conflicts, found additional application as a result of the Zamboanga siege. Regrettably, both the MNLF and the AFP were noted to have committed grave breaches of the law which is accepted by all countries in this planet as being non-derogable. Both parties to the conflict were observed to have been guilty of indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations.

The AFP order to indiscriminately detain individuals who cannot recite the Lord’s Prayer as possible MNLF members deserves special mention as this violates both the right of the people to be secure in their persons and the right of the people to liberty;

6. The Supreme Court decisions invalidating the PDAF, the Presidential Social Fund and Illegal Disbursement of the Malampaya funds. The decision declaring the pork barrel expenditures as unconstitutional impacts on human rights because hopefully, government funds could now be used to discharge the state obligation to take progressive steps in the realization of economic, social, cultural and economic rights. Hopefully, the hundreds of billions in taxpayers money which used to go to the pockets of our corrupt politicians can now be used to give realization to such basic rights such as the right to food, water, housing, and public health;

7. Finally, the temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court on the implementation of the Reproductive Health Law. This was a big blow to the right of the people to heath, the right of privacy, the right to make very personal decisions such as the number of offsprings that spouses would want, and the right of women to non-discrimination.

I hope that 2014 will usher in both a Happy New Year to all and better compliance with human rights and humanitarian law in the Philippines.

Fences and hope in Madiba’s South Africa


Pretoria, South Africa—Fences. They’re all over Madiba’s South Africa. They are part of South Africa’s everyday life, a testament to its recent history.

And they’re not just ordinary fences. They’re built of steel or hard concrete. Many of them do not just have spikes on top of them. Instead, they have electric wires. Nope, they’re not just intended to shoo away intruders. They have enough electricity to kill.

Sadly, these fences are considered necessities. In fact, they are installed and maintained by monolithic security companies that served as precursors to companies like Blackwater in Iraq. They’re private but are now relied upon by the rich Caucasians as key to their survival in Madiba’s Africa.

Not all is well with Nelson Mandela’s South Africa. While the nation truly mourns the loss of one of humanity’s greatest freedom icon, the future of the country for whom Mandela would have died appears to be unsettled.

Breakdown of peace and order is the primary concern. Almost everyone that I have spoken to here has been a victim of a violent crime: a consul and his wife whose room at a bed and breakfast in the good part of town was broken into, a UN official robbed at gun-point, an elderly Filipina who was hogtied by robbers who broke into her house. Senior diplomats have not been spared, triggering security concerns for Vice-President Jejomar Binay’s security who moves around town with only a handful of security personnel. There was the Thai diplomat whose vehicle was hijacked in broad daylight, the Uruguayan Ambassador whose diplomatic residence was broken into. Mrs. Yoko Ramos, our Ambassador’s wife, says that the security concern in genteel Pretoria is so bad that her “four-year-old daughter and her yaya do not venture into the secured garden of the Philippine Ambassadors residence” already located in the best part of town.

Why is there a breakdown of peace and order? Why has Madiba’s country become the crime capital of the world?

Certainly, an explanation is that South Africa remains to be a society in transition. It has only been 19 years when the icon now lying in state about 2000 meters from my hotel room became President of a country that was notorious for apartheid—the systematic racial segregation of the black and whites. I first read about this racist policy in grade school and was moved to tears when I read about it on a current affairs handout. But unless you personally see the charm of the areas intended for the whites- such as Joberg and Pretoria—and compare it with the black enclaves of Soweto, one cannot have a clear picture of how pernicious the system of apartheid was.

But beyond being a transition society, it is also an economy of such harsh contradiction.

I expected Joberg to be a giant slum area much like Mumbai which I saw in 1996. But it isn’t. For all intents and purposes, the Dutch and the British have transformed this part of Africa into a not-so-little Europe. And looks are deceiving. For while Joberg and Pretoria are amongst the most picturesque cities in the world, it has one of the harshest economy with 35 percent  of the population, almost all of whom are black, currently unemployed. And unless one ventures two hours beyond the limits of Victorian Pretoria into the wilds of the Northeast, one does not see the metal houses occupied by majority of the blacks today. Yes, they’re no different from the slums of Malabon or Pasay. But slum dwellers here, unlike in Metro Manila, have to live through very cold winters and chilly summer nights of 18-20 degrees Celsius.

But they still mourn and celebrate the life of Madiba. It was he, after all, who led the revolution against the racist apartheid regime. In so doing, he sent the message to all that people are equal no matter what their skin colors may be. And while he himself spent decades in prison and was a victim of torture, he rejected the temptation of revenge and preached forgiveness until his dying moments. By the standards of many, it was his willingness to forgive that makes Nelson Mandela a saint.

So is there hope for Madiba’s land now that he has moved on to the great beyond?

Certainly. It has the natural resources that have made it the economic powerhouse of Africa. It is the world’s second-largest producer of fruits, much of it consumed by its former colonizers in Europe. It is an industrial economy, largely because it has had to live through many years of economic isolation. But more importantly, it will survive because Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest men to have roamed this earth, taught them that freedom should come with hope and the ability to forgive.

Our Ninoy and Cory Aquino will surely relish Nelson Mandela’s company in the great beyond. Meanwhile, though, I’m sure both are wondering: why is their son, President Noynoy, not here?

***

I am here in Pretoria as coach to the UP Law Team that competed in the 5th World Human Rights Moot Competition. Our thanks to the hospitality extended to us by Ambassador Bong Vingno and his wife, Madame Yoko.