Monday, October 22




For now, I doubt it very much. It would be strangely out of character for her to do so whether out of a sense of delicadeza, remorse or because of the still not so widespread public outrage against the widely perceived corruption and hypocrisy in the highest levels of her administration's officialdom. The immediately following reprints of recent Philippine newspaper opinion columns and editorials reflect such a dire situation.

Public opinion though certainly very much against her these days, there is still not enough quantum of public INDIGNATION. Perhaps the recent bomb-caused carnage at a Makati City mall has temporarily diverted our people's attention.

But the most significant and apparent reason for such a lack of public outrage stems from the fact that a good number of our people DO NOT TRUST any of our politicians who might return to power in the event she is booted out.

I myself have ambivalent feelings about such reasoning.

But it is certainly a legitimate concern for all of us to avoid a situation where she and her already fattened coterie of corrupt officials and political loyalists will be suddenly replaced by extremely lean and hungry but even more rapacious crocodiles.

And so, extremely difficult and improbable as it may sound, many of our people wish the following developments will happen soon enough.

  1. Morally honest, credible and young or not so young civil society leaders will surface and constitute the leadership of a genuine Moral Revolution, to bring radical reform in government and in private industry as well. For there can be no corruption in government, if private industry leaders continue to initiate and/or collaborate with the usual practices of BAIHAI and SELLO. Our government almost always BUYS enormously HIGH priced sweetheart deals, but SELLS ridiculously LOW priced giveaways. In fact, many of our corrupt government agencies have had and still have at their helm, top executives who had distinguished themselves in private industry. Some of them have also been prominent leaders among Catholic laypeople's organizations. Apparently however the moorings of their moral integrity were not so solid. And so they too succumbed to the peer pressure from their habitually corrupt colleagues and biggest BOSS. Or they themselves could not resist the succulent first fruits of their own BAIHAI and SELLO thieveries.

  1. The Catholic Church hierarchy too must have their own parallel reform agenda! Otherwise and as is, the Church will not have sufficient credibility nor the supernatural wherewithal to guide secular society in the latter's own moral regeneration.

    We must clamor for and support such initiatives. To start with, now that the usual Malacañang ploy of hosting so-called send-off banquets with bagmen and bagwomen milling around to distribute huge cash “gifts”, has been unmistakably perceived as occasions of large-scale bribery, the present Malacañang agency for so-called Religious Affairs, should be TOTALLY BANNED from participation in any manner whatsoever, whether before, during or after any church function, meeting, synod, and other canonical occasions for priests, bishops and cardinals. For it is a wellknown fact that in the past, these bagmen and bagwomen may not have resorted to conspicuous paperbags, nonetheless the brown envelopes that deceptively contained official papers and not official CURRENCY, were equally insidious gimmicks and occasions of sin or inducements for SILENCE when the time for appropriate pastoral indignation would arise.

Most importantly however, none of these two wellsprings of moral and spiritual reform would be worth a spit if these will be developed out of mainly secular or even patriotic motives. Or even if a spontaneous but shallow spiritual motivation enters into the picture. For experience teaches us that WITHOUT a real and regular prayer-based spirituality, and supernatural motivation, reform movements fade as fast as goody-good intentions

And so last Sunday's opinion columns of the Reverend Fathers Jerry Orbos, SVD and Jesus V. Fernandez, S.J. on the subject of prayer, which are reproduced hereunder must be divinely providential. And I still remember the period of the midsixties when the numerous overnight converts among us graduates of the Cursillos de Cristianidad, soon reverted to what we ourselves mockingly referred to as: “As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be”. In short, ningas cogon!

Similarly, the ZENIT News report of last Sunday's commentary on the Gospel by the Vatican's resident preacher, Reverend Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM (Capuchin) contained the following statements: “St. Augustine teaches that the essence of prayer is desire. If the desire for God is constant, so also is prayer. But if there is no interior desire, then you can howl as much as you want—to God you are mute”(

Providentially again it seems, ZENIT News reported last week on October 18 that the Archbishop of Dublin, Ireland spoke before the United Nations on the topic of Human Development, wherein he focused on Popularom Progressio, the encyclical of Pope Paul VI. Thus he stressed that “It is NOT possible to talk about human develoment without talking about spiritual development and the person's RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD” (

And so unless enough of us Catholics and other Christians take to heart what we learned long ago in our Catechism classes about the basics of our Faith, and thus embrace a genuine regimen of prayer, self-sacrifice, and regular recourse to the Sacraments in order to maintain a sincere personal relationship with our God, any proposal for a so-called moral regeneration will only breed an even greater cynicism and corruption among ourselves-- whether in or out of government.

For there is no other Way, nor Life, nor Truth except in Jesus Christ, the true God and true Man who proclaimed Himself as such for our sake and for our emulation, some 2,000 years ago.


By Jesus V. Fernandez, S.J.
The Philippine Star

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bored at Mass

If you ask a group in what place they are most bored, the answer might be surprising: “Church”. Church was the answer of 29 out of 100 people surveyed on a TV show. As a priest, this troubled me. I began looking out at the faces of people at Sunday Mass, wondering which are the bored ones? How could I be a better instrument of the Lord in sharing the depth and joy of my belief in Him. Discussing this situation with my friends, they thought that it was due to a lack of personal prayer, which is the foundation of the liturgy. If both priest and people are faithful to their daily prayer, the Sunday liturgy will become more meaningful. Let us re-examine what prayer is all about and how we can make it an essential part of our lives. Let us share with you some preachers’ thoughts.

Jesus has just shared a parable about the unjust judge and the persevering widow. The word is so simple and yet so profound, “the need to pray continually and never lost heart.” How can we do this? First: a deep belief and trust in God. God is our most trusted companion. He will watch our coming and going not only in our daily activity but also as we move closer to him. Or at times, drift away from Him, whether we are aware of it or not. How can we become more aware and more sensitive to Him?

Second: Set aside the time and place for prayer. We must get away for a time each day from the business of making a living. Then we can return aware of His presence with us. Have a private place we can retreat to and be with God on a more intimate basis. Pray with others at times — with our family, friends or prayer groups — and be rejuvenated. Third: Be aware to whom we are praying. And not simply “to whom it may concern”. We pray to God our Father, through Jesus, aided by the Holy Spirit. Even as we pray alone, we are never alone in prayer, for we are praying with the help of the Trinity, who are with us before, during and after prayer. Fourth: Listen to the Sacred Scriptures. All Scripture is inspired by God. When with faith we recognize that in Sacred Scriptures God does indeed speak to us, we should respectfully and humbly listen with openness and readiness, not only with our ears but also with our hearts.

Fifth: Avoid obstacles that usually discourage a personal prayer life. Sometimes we feel that God is delaying in giving us an answer. Be patient and persevere. Like all things that may be new, it takes time to get used to it, and patience is not our best quality. Don’t lose heart. Don’t grade yourself. God is the only judge. He will supply what is lacking. Becoming a prayerful person is a lifelong journey. And the more we realize how much we need God’s help, the more we pray each day continually, and His strength never to lose heart.

St. Teresa’s analogy to the garden as an instruction in persistence in personal prayer is particularly appropriate to today’s readings. She writes about the one who begins to pray as if we were in a garden which has poor soil and is full of weeds. God prepares the soil, uproots the weeds and sets out good plants, but the garden must still be watered — and that is the purpose of prayer. She describes four ways the plants can be watered. First, the water can be laboriously drawn from the well, and that is the only option open to the beginner. This requires that you keep your senses collected in solitude, to meditate. The second way, analogous to using a water wheel in watering your garden is the Prayer of Quiet where the will alone is occupied in love, but this is not possible for beginners. Thus the need for persistence. A stream or brook that waters the ground much better is a gift from God, but still must be directed by the gardener. This and the fourth kind of prayer, analogous to a thorough drenching by heavy rain which requires no labor on the part of the gardener, is a very advanced form of prayer and a gift from God. Reading St. Teresa’s own accounts assures us that persistence is not only required by the widow before an unjust judge, but from us all.

29th S in O.T.: Lk 18, 1-8

Until when?

By Fr. Jerry Orbos
The Philippine Daily Inquirer
Last updated 03:25am (Mla time) 10/21/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- The story is told about a lawyer and a doctor who were courting the same woman. One day, the lawyer had to be away on a trip for a week. To make sure that he will not be at a disadvantage while he was gone, he sent her seven apples with a note: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

* * *

In today’s Gospel (Lk. 18, 1-8), Jesus reminds us about the necessity of unceasing prayer. Yes, a prayer each day keeps the adversary away. How regular is your prayer life? How tenacious and how persistent are you in your prayer? The Lord reminds us today to pray, to pray always and to pray without ceasing.

* * *

“Act as if everything depended upon you, and pray as if everything depended upon God.” Has there been an instance in your life when all you could do was just to really pray? Have you ever experienced utter helplessness, and all you could do was to surrender everything in God’s hands? We don’t have to go through desperate moments to pray that way. May we learn to be more trusting in God and more hopeful in our prayer day by day.

* * *

Until when should we pray? There are people who have stopped praying because they claim their prayers are not answered anyway, or because they cannot stand the delay. True prayer is surrendering everything to God’s will, including the timetable.

* * *

Instead of praying, “Lord, I want it, and I want it now,” we should learn to pray, “Lord, I want it, but according to your will, according to your plan, according to your wisdom, and in your own sweet time. Amen.”

* * *

Human as we are, we only see what immediately lies before us. Let us not forget that there is a “big picture,” and that God, because He is God, sees not only the micro and the macro of everything. It is not easy to surrender everything to God in prayer. Often, because of lack of trust or because of impatience, we do things according to our own will and according to our own time frame; and, more often than not, we find ourselves in more complications and in deeper trouble than when we first started. May we not have too many regrets later in life, may we not say to ourselves: “If only I obeyed, if only I really listened to God …”

* * *

When we look at what is happening in the world and in our country today, where evil seems to thrive and triumph, we can’t help but ask and sigh: “Until when, oh Lord?” In our desperation, we may have even asked: “Lord, are you still there?” Why is it that the plundering, and the lying, and the cheating go on and on and there seems to be no end in sight? We take consolation in the words of today’s Gospel: “Will not God then secure the rights of His chosen ones who call out to Him day and night? Will He be slow to answer them? I tell you, He will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.” So, if we want change to come, let us organize day and night continuous vigils. Let us pray as a people and as a nation unceasingly!

* * *

Until when will evil triumph? Until we learn to let go of our comfort zones and safety zones, no change will ever come, and thus we help, knowingly or unknowingly, perpetuate the people who speak, act and live out evil in our midst. There is a time for the safety pin, which is a pin that bends so as not to prick or hurt; but there is also a time for the safety pin to become “straightforward and not allow itself to be used for silencing or shutting up the truth.”

* * *

Today is World Mission Sunday. I am writing this column from South Korea where I spent four years—1984-1988—as a missionary. It is our turn now to share our faith with the world, to dialogue with other faiths and cultures, and discover our commonalities rather than the things or issues that divide us. Yes, let us all do our share in pursuing our mission for God’s kingdom, worldwide and creation-wide.

* * *

Last night, I and other Filipino pilgrims experienced “unceasing prayer” at a prayer vigil in a mountain with the Korean visionary, Julia Kim, and some 1,500 Koreans. Also present were pilgrims from the United States, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, Hong Kong and Australia. The Mass was presided by Bishop James Chang from Malaysia with 10 priests concelebrating. The autumn climate in Korea nowadays is pleasant. However, the climate in the Korean church toward the Naju phenomenon is not that pleasant yet; that’s why, all the more is needed unceasing prayer.

* * *

Remember: God answers prayers not “according to the availability of funds.” But according to His goodness and wisdom. Let us all be rest assured that God knows what is best for us. All the more reason for us to trust. And remember, in everything that happens, there is a reason, and there is a mission.

* * *

The CFM Solo Parents invites you to an Advent Recollection on Nov. 12, 2007, from 8 a.m. to 12 nn at Janssen Hall, Christ the King Seminary, 1101 E. Rodriguez Ave., Quezon City. Registration starts at 7:30 a.m. Topic: “Wholeness and Holiness” by Fr. Glenn Gomez, SVD.

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Bantay Matanda invites you to a lay forum on “Ethics in Caring for Dementia Patients” at Janssen Hall on Oct. 27 at 8 a.m. Please call 3732262 or 09174167849 for inquiries.

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A moment with the Lord:

Lord, help me to believe and proclaim “until then!” instead of doubting and asking “until when?” Amen.

Open suggestions to the President


By Jose C. Sison

The Philippine Daily Inquirer
Monday, October 22, 2007

Despite vehement denials and explanations, the alleged briberies in the ZTE broadband deal and the recent distribution of P200,000 to P500,000 “cash gifts” right inside the Palace cannot be said to be pure fabrications hatched by people with motives to destabilize this regime. The disclosures and declarations are detailed enough to inspire belief and elicit certain admissions from those implicated. If these are made in a legal proceeding, it can be said that “probable cause” already exists. This means that unless they are satisfactorily rebutted and plausibly explained, there are already sufficient grounds to engender a well founded belief that something wrong or illegal happened here.

It is definitely wrong for the Chairman of the Comelec that has no say or connection at all with the NBN project to be meeting and playing golf several times with the officials of the project proponents whether in Wack-Wack or in China. More suspiciously wrong is the presence of the President’s husband in one of those meetings, accidentally or not. To the great majority of Filipinos, these meetings are nothing more or nothing less than backroom negotiations to corner the multi-million dollar deal. Hence the claim that they were purely socials, looks so absurd, ridiculous and an insult to the intelligence of the Filipinos, more so because the threat to test its truthfulness in court has not materialized up to now.

More illicit is the distribution of those scandalously big amounts of cash inside the palace of a country where 70 percent of the people still live below poverty level. The revelation is so shocking as to leave Malacañang people running like headless chicken initially denying that there was such dole outs only to admit it later on but disclaim any knowledge or participation in it or any idea of where the funds came from. No one from the palace was allegedly even around when the bags of money were handed out. A lot of finger-pointing was simply going on. The worst part is that when the denials and finger-pointing do not seem to work, some palace lackeys and cabinet members have the gull to tell us that such cash distribution has been the practice for several years and are considered normal. With such kind of officials running our country, our politics has indeed become morally bankrupt.

But why is there no public outrage of EDSA proportions to these discouraging, revolting and nauseating wrongdoings and flimsy official justifications or explanations?

First and foremost because the opposition and those salivating for power immediately gives people the creeps that they are birds of the same feather, vultures of the same kind and politicians of the same breed that would just perpetuate the vicious cycle of bad governance we have been suffering for a long time now. Just glancing at them is enough to send a chilling effect. They “have been there and done that”, relished what they did, and thus would do it again and again. Removing those in power now through another people power revolution will just repeat the vicious cycle. People power fatigue has caught up on us.

Second and more important, Filipinos as Christians still believe in the inherent goodness of every human being. Many people, including myself still hang on to that thin thread of belief that the president is innately not that kind of person who would tolerate or actively participate in the perpetration of those reprehensible acts; that somehow she is over and above those crooked and dishonest practices happening around her except that with the tremendous burdens and overwhelming problems of the presidency, she could not really keep track of and preempt the moves and actions of her over eager lieutenants who see “destabilization” in every turn of events.

Unfortunately that thin thread of faith and trust is getting thinner and is about to reach the breaking point because of the President’s own acts or omissions. They indicate subtle attempts to suppress the truth or failure to take steps for the truth to come out.

The last minute cancellation of the ZTE contract apparently to forestall further inquiry into the anomalies surrounding it and the subsequent resort to the use of executive privilege when the inquiry remains unabated, have not strengthened that trust at all. On the contrary these moves further eroded the people’s faith in the president as they impliedly confirm the rottenness of the transaction and the president’s possible involvement in it. Invoking executive privilege to prevent Neri from elaborating on his testimony that he informed her of Abalos bribe offer and her reaction or inaction to it, speak volumes about her role in the deal.

The same is true of the recent cash giveaways at the palace. Initially, there was outright denial of the incident; that it never happened. When Congressman Cuenco confirmed it, the palace remained in a denial mode and told the people that Cuenco was merely joking. But when Pampanga Governor Panlilio showed media the P500,000 bundle of cash he received at the Malacañang meeting and Bulacan Governor Mendoza corroborated him, the palace minions like Bunye and Puno sang an entirely different tune. Bunye confirmed that some gift giving occurred but as early as the day after it happened, the President already asked PAGC to investigate them. Puno on the other hand pointed to Congress as the source of funds. Certainly this chain of events does not paint a good picture of the president.

The ball is now entirely in the President’s hands. If she does not want to resign and I agree with her that she should not resign for the sake of the presidency and our democratic institutions. But she should first, refrain from using the executive privilege and allow Neri to finish his testimony on the ZTE controversy before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee; or second, asks her allies in the Lower House not to kill the impeachment complaint filed based on technicalities and sheer numerical superiority so that truth will come out as San Luis wants it; third create an independent panel composed of well respected and highly credible individuals from the private sector to investigate the Malacañang early Christmas gift-giving.

If the President heeds these friendly suggestions she will certainly restore the people’s faith and trust in the government and enable her to move on smoothly up to the end of her term leaving a brighter and lasting legacy. Otherwise, the horizon really looks bleak.

E-mail us at


The Philippine Daily Inquirer
Last updated 02:20am (Mla time) 10/20/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- It would seem that madness reigns in the highest councils of government. From the unraveling of the National Broadband Network (NBN) project to its (still developing) aftermath, the nation has been treated to the incredible spectacle of the country’s highest officials stumbling from one dumb decision to another disastrous mistake, compounding the overpricing of a contract with a series of bribe attempts, sometimes to persons who were most unlikely to just quietly pocket the payoffs.

The madness began when some smart operators in President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration thought they could hoodwink the Filipino people into accepting a contract to build the NBN at a cost of $329 million, double its actual cost by some estimates, although the same project could have been built at no cost to the government.

To get Romulo Neri, then director general of the National Economic and Development Authority, to drop his objection to having the project built with a loan from the Chinese government, instead of a build-operate-transfer scheme as President Arroyo had originally insisted, then-Chair Benjamin Abalos of the Commission on Elections allegedly offered to give him P200 million. (Abalos was said to be the broker between the government and the Chinese company, ZTE Corp.) And to make businessman Jose de Venecia III give up his own bid to bag the project, Abalos allegedly offered him $10 million. If those mind-boggling sums look unreasonably high to many people, it is probably because, in the past, bribes of such magnitudes were reserved for presidents.

Just as crazy (or was it?) was Malacañang’s response to the invitation extended by the Senate for Neri to testify. It gave him the green light to implicate Abalos but stopped him from revealing what the President did after he disclosed to her the bribe offer. But while Neri’s disclosure to the Senate put Abalos in deeper trouble, Neri’s silence about the President only made her look complicit as far as the ZTE deal was concerned and derelict in her duty to enforce the law.

As soon as talk started about impeaching the President, her allies and subalterns moved swiftly to vaccinate her with a weak complaint. But where they sought to introduce method, only madness surfaced. For who but a fool or a desperate soul would seek out the Anakpawis party-list group’s Rep. Crispin Beltran, an outspoken if not a bitter critic of the administration, to dangle P2 million in exchange for his endorsement of the flawed impeachment complaint? But that was exactly what the second highest official of the President’s own party Kampi did.

And who but the most cynical or stupid of political operatives would not think twice before distributing cash, ranging from P200,000 to P500,000, to more than 200 congressmen, governors and mayors inside Malacañang? Considering the big number of officials gathered there that day, that was an open invitation to be exposed publicly. And they pushed their luck some more by including on the list of recipients the likes of Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio, a priest who ran on an anti-corruption platform.

Trying to extricate the Palace from the payoff scandal, Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno first claimed that the money must have come from an association of local officials, which the group immediately denied. Next, he said it came from Speaker Jose de Venecia, prompting the latter to complain that “para tayong ginagago,” meaning Puno was trying to make a fool of everyone.

But it is not just Puno doing that. Taking everyone for a fool has been the underlying assumption of Malacañang’s strategy in responding to the NBN mess. And its latest move is no different: It ordered the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) to investigate the cash gift-giving inside the Palace.

When it was last heard from, the PAGC declared that it couldn’t find any evidence to support Neri’s bribery charge against Abalos. It was able to reach that conclusion after a “quiet investigation” in which neither the accused nor the accuser was asked about the incident. Only a national leadership that believes that Filipinos are incapable of rational thought would think they would find any PAGC findings credible, including one that would say Panlilio and the congressmen who confessed planted the money in those envelopes or bags.

The old saying could be true: Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. With so much madness sprouting all over Malacañang, it looks as if the gods have been busy planting the seeds of its destruction.


The Philippine Daily Inquirer
Last updated 03:13am (Mla time) 10/21/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- Outrage and a sense of helplessness are the handmaidens of terrorism. For the nine who died and whom the nation mourns, there was an explosion, then nothingness. For the scores who were injured, there was an explosion, then darkness, then panic and a stampede. For everyone—for those directly affected and for a stunned and horrified nation—there is the reckoning, the demand for an explanation—and action.

Mass murder boggles the mind, and in the quest to make sense of a senseless act, authorities and the public demand not just answers (to which we are all entitled) but, at times, even scapegoats (which only compounds the tragedy). The public’s current unease can only get worse, as long as the public doesn’t know who perpetrated last Friday’s “Glorietta bombing.” The 24-hour mark passed, yesterday, with no one claiming responsibility for the dastardly act. All the public has, so far, is a troubling possibility: that a C-4 explosive, or at least some of its sophisticated components, may have been part of the bomb that was detonated.

Acts of terrorism can have one of two possible objectives in mind. The first is to force a government or a people to bow to the will of a minority. The second is to bring a government or society to its knees, by shattering public confidence in the authorities, and sowing division within society.

It didn’t help at all that the initial behavior of President Macapagal-Arroyo in reaction to the tragedy has compounded the public’s anxieties and uncertainties. She expended as much energy in issuing warnings to “destabilizers” as she did in condemning the bombing. At Camp Crame, she told police officials to “coordinate and cooperate with Church leaders,” a nonsensical directive, which only makes sense if seen from the perspective of cheap politics.

To be sure, one of the many horrifying aspects of this tragedy is that the list of potential suspects is extensive, ranging from Islamic terrorists to the military and to communist rebels. However, even the government itself has been put forward as a possible culprit, and what makes this significant is that such a scenario has crossed the minds of ordinary citizens, not just the usual critics of the government (though some of them, too, have been quick to assign blame to the administration).

It pains us to say this, but this harsh, cruel reality must be confronted by the administration. It is a terrible indictment of the credibility of government that the public considers its high officials among the suspects in such a ruthless crime. This means that our government must move heaven and earth to mount a credible, transparent investigation, even as it must protect the public from more terrorism amid perceptions that it may now be facing its enemies in a bloody end game or that its hand is being forced by radicals within its own ranks.

As analyst Ramon Casiple has said, only “succeeding incidents will create the patterns that make clear a decisive political—albeit extra-constitutional—strategy. Whatever happens, we have entered the final stretch of the political crisis.”

We therefore add our voice to all those that condemn this act of terror and call for sobriety and calm. But we also believe that we must steel ourselves, individually and collectively, to vanquish apathy. The calls for unity at this time are not ritual statements, they indicate a pressing need that must be addressed. What we cannot afford, at this point, is an uncritical, unthinking and unseeing posture toward what is at stake for us all as a nation.

The way forward begins with our leadership on all sides of the political aisle, committing to a timely and unflinching investigation of the circumstances surrounding the blast. We must welcome foreign expert assistance. We must insist on the full disclosure of information and on the utmost professionalism of our country’s police, military and civilian bureaucracy.

We are a people both compassionate and brave. We are a people who have faced mortal danger in the pursuit of peace, freedom and democracy. These are the non-negotiables. Each of us, and together, must take this time to vow that peace remains our ideal, freedom remains our defining cause, and democracy remains, as always, the sole means by which we confront, and overcome, national challenges.

A flagrant and arrogant scandal

By Isagani Cruz
The Philippine Daily Inquirer
Last updated 03:34am (Mla time) 10/21/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- On Oct. 11, 2007, a scandal of mammoth proportions and unmatched in the dark history of corruption in the Philippines was perpetrated at a breakfast meeting in Malacañang. It was called by no less than the official resident of the misnamed Palace of the People—President Macapagal-Arroyo.

The guests headed by Speaker Jose de Venecia included mostly members of the House of Representatives, some 190 of them from the Rainbow Coalition. They were asked to support Ms Arroyo’s sham impeachment (to prevent a valid attempt that would be barred for the rest of the year), and they speedily agreed. Their hostess then reportedly withdrew, and the real purpose of the meeting began. This was the distribution of gift bags containing cold cash for the favored recipients.

The cash gifts, euphemistically called Christmas bonuses or financial assistance, varied in amounts from P500,000 for the important figures to P200,000 to P50,000 for the minor ones. The beneficiaries included selected provincial governors and city mayors, presumably to maintain or court their admiration for the incumbent President.

As expected, Malacañang disowned any part in the scandal but, as also expected, nobody believed it. It has so lost all credibility that the people now accept, almost as an automatic reaction, not what Ms Arroyo says but its exact opposite. The Cabinet members also pleaded, but only pro forma, ignorance of the atrocity committed on their own grounds.

Practically all of the guests denied having received the presents or at least sought to describe them as honest tokens of appreciation or intended benefits for their constituents. One of them described the cash doles as simply customary although he later said he was just joking. But one provincial governor was far from jovial and took the offering seriously as a violation of law that needed to be exposed and punished.

This was Gov. Ed Panlilio of Pampanga, the same province of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, with whom the priest does not share political persuasions or moral convictions. He said he innocently received a gift bag but was surprised to find that it contained P500,000 in crisp P1,000 bills. He instructed his finance officer to keep it intact in the provincial safe, and then he announced to the media the unwelcome gratuity.

As it turned out, some of his colleagues had also received similar thoughtfulness (another euphemism), but refused to be named, much less to identify the gracious giver, as if that were an impenetrable secret.

News of the scandal headlined in the Inquirer the following day raised public outrage and even disbelief. Not that it could not be committed by the present administration, given its shameful record of prevarication, but over the openness and insolence of its commission. It seemed as if Malacañang did not care how the people would react to this latest plunder of public funds that re-echoed that cynical and devil-may-care attitude of “What are we in power for?” pronounced decades ago by an also insensitive regime.

The provenance of the public funds must obviously be Malacañang as the venue if not the principal culprit itself of the offense. But their accountability must remain a mystery unless earnest inquiries are made to unravel it. The money that was squandered was received anonymously without acknowledging receipts to support the transactions before the Commission on Audit. Or if the fortune was private, who was the billionaire who distributed it, and why?

Can the disbursements for questionably public purposes and the non-identification of the recipients (who will not pay income taxes for the unreported earnings) be simply approved by the financial watchdog of the government? Would not this kind of maneuver impair the doctrine of separation of powers through the machination of money to undermine the independence of Congress and even the Judiciary?

I am saddened that the protest against this most flagrant and arrogant scandal has not received much support from the people who seem to have resigned themselves to the abuses of this government. Even as the dictatorship of Marcos continued for all of 13 meek years but finally exploded in the fury of Edsa I, the administration of President Arroyo is no less detestable and also deserves the thunder of our rage.

Our sharpest weapon against the present dictatorship is our freedom of expression by which we can proclaim our peaceful resistance to our imminent but stoppable holocaust. We should always bear in mind that the real power in the truly democratic society belongs not to the leaders who govern it, whether wisely or not. As an inherent human right recognized by our Constitution, that power belongs to us, the ordinary citizens like you and me—the governed.

The obvious leader in this endeavor is the media, the newspapers, television, radio and other modes of communication that should articulate the desperate yearning of our people for a government released from the avarice for power and stolen wealth and dedicated only to the pursuit of the common weal. I hope the other organs of information—and of enlightened criticism—will join the Inquirer in our campaign for this achievable ideal.

Watershed in good governance

By Artemio V. Panganiban
The Philippine Daily Inquirer
Last updated 03:36am (Mla time) 10/21/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- February next year will be a watershed not only in the reformation of our electoral system but also in the battle for transparency and accountability; in short, in good governance. Come Feb. 2, 2008, the chairs of the Commission on Elections, the Commission on Audit, and the Civil Service Commission will be due for replacements. Just as important, the chief of staff (COS) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines will retire on Feb. 9, 2008.

Commissions on Audit and Civil Service. In two previous columns, I stressed the need for transparency and public participation in the selection process for the new Comelec leadership. This time, I am calling for the same degree of transparency and vigilance in the appointment of the new leaders of the COA, CSC and AFP.

Like the Comelec, the COA and the CSC are essential democratic institutions. The Constitution safeguards their integrity and independence by detailing the qualifications of their chairs and members, ensuring their fiscal independence, guaranteeing their tenure, and enumerating their “power, authority and duty” which cannot be usurped, diminished or altered by any entity, not even by the president, the legislature or the judiciary.

An independent and courageous COA chair will assure transparency and accountability in the expenditure and use of government funds and property in all public offices. A vigilant and no-nonsense COA head is indispensable in preventing and exposing graft and corruption. COA reports constitute vital evidence in the prosecution of grafters and plunderers.

On the other hand, a nonpartisan and capable CSC chief will assure the continuation of essential public services, despite the worst machinations of the political leadership. In many countries like the United Kingdom and Japan, the civil service is so entrenched and so dependable that no political leader dares to ignore or defy its recommendations and regulations.

The incumbents, Guillermo N. Carague of the COA and Karina Constantino David of the CSC, have performed their jobs quietly and competently, befitting the dignity and importance of their offices. Their successors should do no less.

Choosing the military’s top gun. Given that authoritarian rule is possible only with the support of a compliant military, the appointment process for the successor of Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr., who will retire on Feb. 9, 2008, must likewise be conducted with utmost transparency. Openness is even more pressing in this instance because, unlike the heads of the Comelec, the COA and the CSC, the tour of duty of the AFP COS can be extended by President Macapagal-Arroyo.

True, the president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. However, the Constitution mandates the AFP to be the “protector of the people,” and not the guarantor of the whims of the chief executive. The choice of a new AFP chief of staff, or in the alternative, the extension of the tour of duty of General Esperon, can signal the purity (or impurity) of GMA’s intentions during her remaining term, and beyond.

Credible officials for constitutional offices. Despite the ad nauseam criticisms hurled at the 1987 “Aquino Constitution,” still and all, at least one bright spot must be conceded: it has preserved enduring institutions, like the Comelec, the COA, and the CSC (as well as the Ombudsman and the Commission on Human Rights), that are calibrated to fulfill the Preamble’s noblest dream to “build a just and humane society” and to secure “the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law…”

To fulfill this dream, what we need are visionary men and women who will lead these sacred institutions. Between now and February 2008 are three months that should be used in assuring that only the best and the brightest, the brave and the untainted are installed in these offices, and in the highest position in our military establishment.

Of course, GMA is the key player in this effort. By agreeing to a transparent appointing process and, thereafter, by naming only the best and the brightest who pass the test of public scrutiny, she would rise above partisan wrangling and pave the way for her democratic legacy.

To accord GMA an unobstructed opportunity to ponder on this heritage, it may be prudent for all those who care—especially those in the media, the Church, the non-government groups, the academe—to grant GMA some breathing space and to critically collaborate with her in this effort to strengthen our democratic institutions through a transparent and participatory process of filling these vital vacancies with men and women of vision, gravitas and integrity.

Last chance at good governance. Who knows, GMA may yet surprise her harshest critics by naming outstanding citizens to lead the Comelec, the COA, the CSC and the AFP come February next year. Thereafter, she would still have enough time—about two and a half more years—to turn the tide of pessimism in her leadership, and to be remembered for a legacy of economic development in the most vibrant democracy in all of Asia.

However, if she fails our people’s expectations during the next three months and makes appointments that are calibrated solely to protect herself and to extend her hold on power, I think she will sink so deeply in self-gratification that even the patient people of goodwill—those of us who now are still willing to give her a last chance at good governance—will lose all hope in her redemption.

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GMA to continue sliding to 2010 cliff?
POSTSCRIPT By Federico D. Pascual Jr.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer

Sunday, October 21, 2007

MORAL VACUUM: Unless President Gloria Arroyo is able to take immediately the moral high ground, she might just continue sliding downhill all the way to the cliff by 2010.

Her big problem is how to snatch back moral ascendancy, tame obstructionism, unite the country, and lead as a President should.

Every time a scandal rocks her administration, she tries arresting the erosion of her credibility by ordering the same tired investigation — to no avail.

The moral leadership vacuum is sucking all types of crusaders and pretenders. Seeing the paralysis, even Speaker Jose de Venecia has made it known that he was drawing up a moral renaissance program or something.

Other forces, including military adventurers, might be tempted to rush into the vacuum.

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BREAKING BARRIER: Is the presidency of Gloria Arroyo doomed despite the glowing statistics she recites to convince the toiling masses that life has improved through her deft handling of the economy?

As we said in an earlier Postscript (Oct. 16), however, it seems nobody listens to the President anymore.

That is a basic problem. Until the communication barrier is broken, it may be futile for the President to send any message of reform and unity.

But how does she break down that obstacle to her convincing the public that she is clean and can be trusted?

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CUT IT OFF: Let me recall my Postscript of June 14, 2005, that may be relevant to the issues. I asked then what Ms Arroyo, hobbled by criticism, can do to salvage her presidency and save the country.

A hint of an answer comes from Christ saying in Mark 9:43, 45-47:

43 And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:

45 And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:

47 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire:

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DRASTIC MOVES: For starters, may I then suggest a few things to cut off:

President Arroyo should resign immediately from her posts, honorary or otherwise, in political parties and leave them alone. She should shun active partisanship.

She should stop giving politicians financial assistance. She should not allow any partisan group to meet in Malacañang. Neither should she attend a political meeting outside even as a guest.

The constitutional one-term limit of the President is supposed to ensure her focusing on the job — instead of harboring partisan biases or maneuvering for a followup term.

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PARTISAN DOLES: The President should order a no-nonsense audit of Malacañang disbursements that could be construed as political doles or aid.

She should report in three months the audit findings and explain any disbursement found tainted with political color. If errors in judgment had been made, she should admit the error and make corrections within the fiscal year.

Finally, she should sign an order banning forever disbursements of the Office of the President with partisan color. Who decides if a payout is partisan? The auditor.

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ZERO ASSET: Before the year is over, the First Couple may want to give up their material possessions, except the family residence. Their assets could be transferred to a foundation created to take legal possession of everything they own.

The foundation will be bound by an undertaking to reject any donation, contribution or assistance until one year after the President leaves office.

But the foundation will provide for the Arroyo couple’s reasonable upkeep, for the rest of their lives, in keeping with their status.

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ZERO INCOME: The First Couple could also make a vow to reject incomes of any nature during her term. Incomes earned by their erstwhile assets go to the foundation, not to them. The President’s salary can go straight to her favorite charity.

Then the President will be able to declare in her annual statement that she has zero assets (except for the family residence) and zero income.

For one who wants to be a “good president,” Ms Arroyo should find acceptable this arrangement which is almost a vow of poverty.

Anyway, Gloria Arroyo, 60, and her husband, 61, have more than enough to last them three lifetimes. Their children are already established and their future is assured.

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HIS FOUNDATIONS: First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo should not hold office in Malacañang or act as a business/political conduit to the President. He should not practice law or any profession.

The President should declare that her husband has absolutely nothing to do with government or any transaction involving a government agency or any project imbued with public interest.

Government personnel who accommodate the First Gentleman shall suffer severe penalty. Private parties who offer him fees or commissions shall be exposed and blacklisted.

Mr. Arroyo should liquidate before Christmas all his foundations. Meantime, the foundations should stop receiving contributions, gifts and donations in cash or in kind.

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GOOD FAITH: Once the President and her husband take these or comparable measures, she might just succeed in taking the moral high ground.

Properly executed and communicated, these moves might yet convince the people — even her political foes and critics — to grant her good faith and agree to cooperate for the sake of the nation.

Then a focused and nonpartisan Gloria Arroyo, worthy daughter of the late President Diosdado Macapagal, can devote the rest of her term to being a good president.

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