Thursday, October 8, 2009

From Toronto With Love

I have not been able to blog about Typhoon Ondoy as I was overwhelmed by helping in relief operations and by the misery that I saw in the conditions of so many.

I am posting instead this very touching narrative of my wife Charito from Mississauga and Toronto, Canada.

From Toronto With Love

by Charito S. de Vera

I have asked to "guest appear" in my husband's blog as I do not maintain my own, nor do I write regularly. In fact I do not write, period. Popoy & I just felt that my experience over the last few days needed to be journalized. Although this note was written by me, it is not about me. It's not a political analysis, it's not an opinion or a critique about something or someone. It is a story about everything and everyone, inspired by the events of the weekend of September 26, 2009.

There are and will be many stories about Typhoon Ondoy - thousands of stories of tragedy and survival, criticism and heroism, destruction and rebuilding. The story you're about to read is about hope, about family, about community, and about love.

Like many Filipinos who were not anywhere near Metro Manila when the typhoon wreaked havoc, I frantically searched the internet, social networking sites, TV and the newspapers, for ways to help and send assistance.

Thank God, I found out about the donation drive at Kapisanan Philippine Centre in Toronto. Kapisanan is a youth-led, Filipino community-based, multi-disciplinary art, and Cultural Centre that fosters artistic expression, professionalism, and positive cultural identification as a foundation for youth empowerment. When the devastation struck the Philippines, members of the Centre decided to help by sending balikbayan boxes filled with relief goods to typhoon victims. With permission from Kapisanan, I reposted their Facebook appeal for donation, and the following morning I went to work with the intention of sharing the Kapisanan link by e-mail to Filipino friends and colleagues.

I also spoke to the head of our corporate social responsibility about doing something for the victims. This Thursday, Oct 8, our company will be doing a dress down event, with funds raised going to the Canadian Red Cross special "Asia Typhoons 2009" fund.

The short e-mail to my work team and friends, entitled "Typhoon hit Philippines Needs Help" attaching a link to Kapisanan's article called "Charity is also our Second Language" was "heard" loudly, and literally moved people across office towers in Toronto. Within minutes of my plea, I received a lot of phone calls, I was arranging for pick up and drop off of food and clothing donation, and answering questions about what's urgently needed, whether they can send cash or cheque, if I would be willing to take their bags of goods, etc. and giving directions to Kapisanan.

It was overwhelming to say the least. I saw clear evidence of true altruism in people, some of which do not have relatives in the Philippines, or personally do not know any Filipinos for that matter.

The response from a very multicultural Toronto was a testament to the sense of community that's innate in all of us, from whatever part of the world we live in. We are all truly connected and we cannot deny that we experience part of our life every day through others. I have been introduced to and met many friends who prior to this donation drive were total strangers. Even the cab driver who took me on my first delivery to the centre, was moved by the cause, and promised to come back with his own personal donation. What resonated with me during this experience was everyone's genuine offer to help.

For the victims of typhoon Ondoy, the thoughts and actions of many benevolent Canadians may not offer the consolation they need for the grief, pain, losses and suffering . We can only hope that they can find healing with every donated goods they receive from caring citizens some 8,000 miles away - every piece of clothing they can put on to keep them warm and dry, every bar of soap for a clean shower, and every can of food to quiet their growling stomach.

I know for certain that the people who dispatched relief goods also sent their love and their hope. It sounds like a cliche but it is the truth.

During the four days I received and picked up donations, I saw in every person's eye and heard in every person's voice the sense of care and worry for the victims, especially the children. That's why we got cans and cans of baby formula and many boxes of children's medicine. Every tin of baby formula I received brought a happy tear to my eye as I imagine the tiny little mouths that it would feed.

It took two trips to the Youth Centre to drop off the donations that were piled high in my office. With painstaking precision, members of Kapisanan packed the goods and readied the boxes for delivery to the typhoon victims. Thank you to all the donors and thank you to Kapisanan for mobilizing the relief efforts.

This weekend we will be celebrating Thanksgiving in Canada. Although we have set a aside a special day to celebrate, the events in the Philippines and the amazing support of friends and colleagues, remind me that we should be thankful everyday - for the strength of community, the gift of energy, and especially for the power that is called love.

To the members of the Kapisanan army who have tirelessly collected, sorted, and packed boxes of donated clothes and goods - Bravo!!! I saw the video you posted called Typhoon Kapisanan vs Typhoon Ondoy, and for me you have clearly won. You're staying true to your mission and vision.

You're all role models, your parents must be proud. You have proven that with faith, with love and a lot of helping hands, you can really move mountains. I know you have all gained a lot from this experience because I apparently did.

Borrowing from a post on the Kapisanan website (or maybe this was their Facebook status from last night) "Bodies tired and in need of rest but hearts undoubtedly full".


Charito de Vera
Toronto, Canada
October 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Teroy Laurel: From Senator Nene Pimentel

by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

This is the well written and deeply touching eulogy delivered by Senate Minority Leader Nene Pimentel during the Senate necrological service.


By Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr.
Philippine Senate
September 17, 2009

I learned of Teroy's death on the plane home from Cambodia yesterday and even then my mind was swamped with images of my association with Teroy.

I met Teroy for the first time in my life when we were elected members of the Constitutional Convention in 1970-71.


Then he struck me as a pillar of the bloc in the Convention that supported the strong man rule of the president at the start of the work to revise the Constitution.

Towards the end, however, he proved me wrong as he strongly opposed the adoption of certain provisions of the proposed Constitution that would essentially justify the continuation of the dictatorial rule that was imposed in 1972. In about a year, the work of the Convention ended in 1973 - tragically in my opinion as it somehow propped up the authoritarian form of government installed a year before.

Not the End

Anyway, the happy thing about it was the fact that the end of the Constitutional Convention did not end Teroy's public life.

Teroy was a much more resilient man than the sum total of the coerced output of the Convention.

In the campaign against the dictatorship in 1985 with his brother, Doy, running as the vice presidential candidate of Cory, Teroy did his share in his usual wise, quiet, and efficient way to ensure the victory of the challengers. Cory and Doy won the presidency and the vice presidency.

There were talks of fraud on both sides that even the US President erroneously endorsed as true on the part of the opposition. In any case, people power put a decisive end to the issue and forced the authoritarian ruler to flee the country and paved the way for the installation of Cory and Doy as the president and vice president of the land.

Then in 1987 after the restoration of Congress, in the first senatorial race, as fate would have it, Teroy and I, happily landed as among the winners.

More Visible

It was during our term in the Senate that Teroy became more visible to the people as he came out of the cocoon of his scholarly style of doing things that in my opinion enveloped his life as a worthy heir working in the shadow of outstanding legislators of the land who preceded his entry into the political arena.

No Rosy Path

As a son of the nationalist Senator Jose P. Laurel and a brother to the fiery Speaker of the House, Pepito Laurel and to the outstanding advocate of the rule of law, Senator Doy Laurel, Teroy unlike other scions of political families did not have the rosy road in politics cut out for him.

He did not content himself to bask in the glory of the achievements of the macho Laurel leaders in the political arena or in the other fields of diplomacy or sports.

He struck out on his path of hard work, of scholarly devotion to the minutiae of lawmaking and proved himself equal to the task of lawmakers and, perhaps, unconsciously he must have tried to equal, if not, better the great deeds at lawmaking or in public office of his own kith and kin. And he did.

Unpopular Causes

In the Senate Teroy espoused unpopular causes that he believed were good for the country. He supported my proposal to have a logging ban for 25 years that was opposed by people who thought it was a bad idea. He backed up the Local Government Code that some thought would promote divisiveness among the people. He endorsed along with 11 of us the dismantling of the US military bases in the land. And opposed the sale or disposal of the Roppongi and other Philippine government properties in Japan as unconscionable proposals because those properties were paid to us in reparation of the atrocities committed against our people during the Japanese war and had become heirlooms of the nation.

Without my sensing it then, many of Teroy's advocacies coincided with mine.


Since I believe in the kinship of ideals over mere verbal assurances of fraternal respect, I say with all candor that I am humbled by my acquaintanceship that ultimately developed into friendship with a man who was every inch of him worthy of the title Senator of the Land, Sotero Teroy Laurel.

Of course, Teroy would not have been that good without the devoted and unwavering support of his wife, Lorna, and of their equally talented sons and daughters, and the Laurel clan which is justifiably well known for the love that unites many of the branches of their families even today.

Walking with Kings

As I end this talk, I would like to quote parts of Rudyard Kipling's "If".

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,

Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;


If you lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man

Kipling wrote the poem in 1896 or some 113 years ago. But when I revisited it this morning, it read as if it had been written for Teroy.

Yours is Our Country

My dear Teroy, yours is our country to which you gave your mind, heart and soul so full of peace, of understanding, of good will.

And, thus, you no longer belong to the Laurels. You are our people's. And we are proud of you.

God rest your soul, dear friend, even as we ask with Shakespeare, Whence comes such another?

Sen. Mar Roxas on Sen. Sotero "Teroy" Laurel

by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

I would like to share the eulogy delivered by Senator Mar A. Roxas during the necrological services for the late Senator Sotero H. Laurel held at the Senate on September 7, 2009.

Eulogy for Sen. Sotero H. Laurel
Delivered by Sen. Mar A. Roxas during the Necrological Services for the late Sen. Sotero Laurel

We are convened to mourn Sotero H. Laurel, senator of the Republic, staunch nationalist, molder of our future through his work as educator. But before all these, I knew him as Uncle Teroy, husband to Tita Lorna, father of my classmate Peter, as well as to the brood – Jojo, Bobby, Chuck, Rick, Rina (who has passed away), Sallie, Mark and Ana, who all became my good friends through the years.

He was a true gentleman of the old school: decent, honest, with no stain upon his name.

I knew him then as a kind of renaissance man. For a father of a classmate, he was actually quite fun. I spent much time with his kids, and even joined them on some vacations. And I saw and sensed his love for his family, and his being a good guiding hand in their growing up.

He had a simple, unassuming presence in the midst of a passion for music and the arts. And despite his lofty education, he held no pretensions to either knowledge or power. I was always at home with him because he was accessible, ‘yung abot ba -- the kind of uncle who would encourage you and give you a sense of what was possible.

Beneath that deep reserve of love and warmth was a steely, principled leader. From time to time, he would counsel Peter and I about our country and our responsibility, our obligation for our being.

Uncle Teroy wielded his nationalism with unswerving and boundless determination. To my mind, he loved the Filipino people with genuine care and affection.

In fact, he spent the greater part of his life mentoring love of country to a whole generation. That is one of the reasons why the Lyceum of the Philippines became a bastion of nationalism, an institution that raised fierce fighters against the dictatorship.

And he did not only teach love of country, he walked the talk.

In 1991, he voted to abolish the US bases as part of the “Magnificent 12” who voted in this chamber, led by Senate President Salonga. That was five years after the 1986 EDSA revolution, when Uncle Teroy decided to leave the sanctuary of a quiet professional career and join all those who wanted to restore democracy and freedom in our country.

It is notable, and this information is from Sen. Rene Saguisag, he emailed me this information, that Senator Teroy died on September 16, the 18th anniversary of that vote on the Bases.

Few leaders have ever graced these halls who loved their country so much, who fought for it so passionately and who mentored the rising generations to do the same thing.

We have not really lost Uncle Teroy. He lives on in this chamber just as every historic moment that has taken place within these halls—when votes were cast or signatures were written for the cause of this, our great nation—against colonial rule, dictatorship, corruption and the abuse of power; and for a stronger economy, a better life for our people and pride in our blood and heritage.

For his family, let me say this: In my mind, Uncle Teroy has received the highest accolade one can give to a public servant. Indeed, at the end of my own public service career, I would like the same to be said of me: “Respetado siya. Disenteng tao. Hindi inabuso ang kapangyarihan. Nakatulong sa kanyang mga kababayan. Minahal ang Inang Bayan.”

We pray that he rest peacefully in the palm of the Almighty; and that by his legacy and example, we will always have a good yardstick of what it truly means to be an honest and decent Filipino.

Let me state my parting words for his family:

Be honored. Be proud of his name.

Si Uncle Teroy: Walang mantsa, walang bahid, disenteng tao.

Thank you and good afternoon.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Senator Sotero H. Laurel: from the People Who Knew Him

by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

I would like to share this very nice and moving piece written by Eugene Reyes on Senator Sotero H. Laurel. Eugene Reyes and I served under Senator Laurel in the 8th Congress. He went on to become the Philippine Trade Representative to Singapore and New York. Eugene now stays full time in New York teaching at Baruch College and helping new under-served immigrants gain access to government programs.

My Fond Memories of Ka Teroy

by Eugene Reyes

Writing for Ka Teroy was a wanderlust adventure in the deep corners of his brilliant mind and personal ethos. A gentleman of the old school, he values relationships established in the course of his life, at work, in school, in the Senate, on the campaign trail. He would always emphasize to me to find that one word, that one-liner that would connect the reader of his letter to him in a very personal way. In writing memos, he would tell me to err on the side of caution, using “For” instead of “To”, the word “For” denoting more respect and equality in the position even when he was already a Senate President Pro-tempore. For him, “To” sounds presumptuous, even haughty.

I recall a time when he showed me various letters written by his father, Jose, as a senator-statesman, as president, and as Supreme Court justice. He told me to read them, and emulate the writing style and language. And as I go through each of the letters, I yearn of a gentle time when eloquence was the rule and elegance was the standard, and when politeness among men and civility in society was the way of life. He wanted for me to ensure that in writing for him, the work should capture the essence of his person and the core of his integrity.

Once he asked me to write the opening prayer that he will deliver on the senate floor. It might as well have been a policy speech addressed to the heavens, for in it, he added the phrase “and save us from the certain destruction of a nuclear holocaust”. At that time, it was the Cold War and the debate on the future of the military bases rages, he was fearful that keeping them would invite an unwarranted retaliatory ICBM attack from the old Soviet Union in the event of an all-out Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) scenario between the superpowers. He was a pacifist.

In writing a speech on poverty, it was from Ka Teroy that I learned of poverty as a form of “structured violence”. He explained that the long-term effect of poverty is to society as domestic violence is to a home. To him, poverty leads to malnutrition, and the latter inhibits the mind from developing to its fullest. A society beset by such condition will have difficulty in producing wise and scholarly people in its fold. He was compassionate.

On a personal note and recall, the year 1988 was coming to an end. I had a bout of illness while my father’s health was also deteriorating. I asked the Senator if I could take leave from work, to address my personal issues. He told me to take as much time as I need, and, upon my return, he wanted me to organize his office library. “Please”, he said… “Take care of my precious books. But take care of your father first, he needs you more.” I never was able to do that for him, taking care of his books, because as soon as I took my leave, my father passed away, and everything went on a spin. To my surprise on one of the nights of my father’s wake, Ka Teroy dispatched his daughter-in-law to come to the interment service. She informed me that the Senator has sent her to represent the family and convey their condolence. I was floored. I was just a staffer, a ghost-writer for him, and he reached out on my hour of grief, even involving his family member. I will always remember the Senator for that. He is a true gentleman.

Ka Teroy, may your name and legacy endures. May the things you value continue to be held in high esteem. May that era of gentleness and chivalry you represent live forever among men of courage and uprightness.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Senator Teroy Laurel I Knew

Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

Sotero H. Laurel, who comes from a family that has contributed much to the shaping of Philippine society, joined our Creator on September 16, 2009, at the age of 90. He obtained his law degree at the University of the Philippines and subsequently pursued post-graduate studies at the University of Santo Tomas and at Harvard University where he specialized in international and constitutional law.

This opening paragraph in today's Manila Bulletin editorial entitled Farewell to a Nationalist, Statesman, and Educator, former Senator Sotero H. Laurel brings back fond memories of what many consider as "the best" Philippine Senate, composed of men and women of integrity, eloquence, brilliance, and with PhDs like Jovy Salonga, Wigberto Tanada, Nene Pimentel, Leticia Shahani, Rene Saguisag, Edgardo Angara, Juan Ponce Enrile, and of course Sotero "Teroy" Laurel.

I was privileged to be part of that Senate when I joined the staff of Senator Sotero Laurel as Technical Assistant and Chief of Research in 1988. I was a relatively young faculty member of De La Salle University at that time who felt an obligation to join the government to "put my money where my mouth is" after years of opposing the martial law regime. Senator Laurel gave me the break to start a career in the legislative branch of government.

"Nationalist", "Statesman", "Educator", "Scholar" and many other terms were used to describe Senator Laurel in the eulogies delivered at the Senate yesterday. Teroy Laurel to me was a boss who hired me on the strength of an on-the-spot speech on the plight of Indo-Chinese refugees in the Asian region which was assigned to me when I applied at his office. Upon receipt of the speech during a UN forum, Senator Laurel immediately instructed his chief-of-staff to hire me as Technical Assistant and also made me Chief-of-Research and Head of Secretariat that organized the regular consultants meeting.

To say that he was a task master is an understatement. He demanded discipline, hard work, and preparation - of facts, policy arguments, legal basis, and sentence construction - from the staff. He was, pardon the reference to President Ramos, an original "complete staff work" type of leader. I remember writing a speech for him on higher education which he personally revised ten times!! In the end, only nine original lines remained from the draft I submitted three days earlier.

Like most of his colleagues, Teroy Laurel took the "numbers game" seriously and monitored his ranking in the number of bills filed at the end of every session. He would give his technical staff a quota of new bills and resolutions that should be ready for his signature at the start of the next session. Drafting the bills was a breeze, getting it past the "Teroy consultants" was a nightmare.

Why a nightmare? Because he assembled a group of heavyweight consultants - Chief Justice Felix Makasiar, Trade Secretary Teddy Quiazon, UP Law Dean Froilan Bacungan, UP Vice President Fred Morales, Ambassador Jose Moreno - to represent him in Senate committee meetings and serve as a panel to go over the bills we prepared.

All proposed bills and resolutions were presented before this panel of consultants who would raise legal questions, test your mastery of the facts, pick apart your arguments that there was a need to amend the law, and generally make you wish you had another job. If you survive the panel, then you can present your proposal to the Senator.

Over time, these luminaries became my mentors. CJ Makasiar made me understand the majesty of the Constitution and sharpened my bill drafting skills. Teddy Quiazon taught me how to write short, concise and understandable committee reports and memoranda. Dean Bacungan showed me how long-winded legal arguments and complex legislative language can be explained in terms understandable to a layman, and Fred Morales stroked my interest in higher education policy and convinced me to finish my graduate studies.

On a personal note, their personalized recommendations (CJ Makasiar, Teddy Quiazon, Fred Morales) together with that of Senator Laurel helped convince the Philippine Fulbright program that I deserved a Fulbright-Hays Visiting Scholar grant to the University of Southern California and the California State University-Sacramento to study higher education policy and administration.

Ka Teroy's academic and intellectual achievements, integrity and probity, and demand for complete staff work later shaped my choice and association with Senators from the 9th-14th Congress. I have been fortunate to be associated with Senators who personified these same characteristics - Nene Pimentel, Letty Shahani, Juan Flavier, Jun Magsaysay - and whose stint in the Senate were never tarnished by allegations of corruption.

Thank you Senator Sotero Laurel for lending your presence to the Senate. How we wish there were more of you to make the Senate a real "august chamber".

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Politics of Redistricting

by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

The creation of new legislative districts, and the resulting increase in the number of representatives in the Philippine Congress has been an on-and-off issue the past years.

It gained prominence early this year when the Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional the 2% threshold in the Party List Law (R.A. 7941) and added 54 more party-list representatives to the roster of House members. This SC decision came on the heels of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile's proposal, through Senate Bill 2353, to increase the membership of Congress from 250 to 350.

The issue of redistricting has again gone back to center stage with the impending passage of a bill that would carve a new congressional district in Camarines Sur.

Using the 250,000-1 constituent-to-representative ratio required in the Constitution, Camarines Sur clearly deserves more representatives. What's the catch? The new congressional seat is being created so that DBM Secretary Nonoy Andaya can go back to Congress after giving his seat to Dato Arroyo in 2007!!

The rationale for redistricting and representation is contained in Section 5, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution which states that Each legislative district shall comprise, as far as practicable, contiguous, compact, and adjacent territory. Each city with a population of at least two hundred fifty thousand, or each province, shall have at least one representative.

The Constitution also instructs Congress within three years after every census, to pass a law that will reapportion legislative districts (Section 5, Article VI).

The problem with Congress is that it has been unable, and unwilling, to do its Constitutional task. The last serious attempt to undertake a nationwide redistricting was done in the 8th Congress through Rep. Lally Laurel-Trinidad. The redistricting bill passed the House committees and reached plenary debates. Unfortunately, the bill died on the floor as legislators were unable to agree on how to draw the lines for legislative districts.

In the absence of a general redistricting law, Congress has been creating new legislative districts every time it converts a municipality into a city, creates a new province, or in the case of Camarines Sur, splitting an existing district into two.

Senator Noynoy Aquino and I discussed this brewing controversy at the Crossroads program of Tony Velasquez on ANC two days ago. Senator Aquino is trying his darn best to stop the Joker Arroyo-Louie Villafuerte-Nonoy Andaya-Dato Arroyo sponsored Camarines Sur redistricting because it would violate the 250,000-1 constituent-legislator ratio.

He also questioned the “high priority” given to the bill creating a new district in Camarines Sur over those that redistrict Cavite and Camarines Norte. If he loses the fight, he promised to bring it all the way to the Supreme Court.

The culprit in this whole problem is Congress itself. By refusing to do its Constitutional task to undertake a nationwide redistricting after every census, it has created a system that disadvantages areas that have no powerful political patrons in Congress, are in the opposition, or do not have a Dato or Mikey Arroyo.

What makes Camarines Sur more important than District II in Quezon City which has 1.5 million people and 1 representative? or Pangasinan where 2 million residents are represented by only 6 members in Congress?

They all don't have a Dato Arroyo, a Joker Arroyo, or a Nonoy Andaya.

Or maybe we should ask Joker Arroyo who is pushing for the new district, or Noynoy Aquino who is the chair of the Senate Committee on Local Governments - why haven't you championed a national redistricting law in your more than ten years in Congress so we are not caught in this vicious problem?

Pray tell us why!!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Political Discernment and Reflection

by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

"Discernment" and "Reflection" have now become buzzwords in our continuing national political drama. With more than ten declared presidentiables - Manny Villar (NP), Jojo Binay (PDP-Laban), Chiz Escudero and Loren Legarda (NPC), Gilbert Teodoro and Bayani Fernando (LAKAS), Eddie Villanueva (Bangon Pilipinas), JC de los Reyes (Kapatiran), Nicanor Perlas, Noli de Castro, Joseph Estrada (PMP), Jamby Madrigal, Mike Velarde, and even Dick Gordon - jostling for limited media space and fickle public attention, it appears that extra human interventions are now needed in deciding whether to run come November.

Noli de Castro has been "discerning" (whether to run for President, whether to join the administration party, whether a GMA anointment is political suicide, or both, or all is not clear) for sometime now.

And Noynoy Aquino, as everyone is aware, has gone on a
"spiritual retreat" before finalizing his decision for the 2010 elections.

But what exactly is a "retreat" and how does one engage in "discernment"?

A "retreat" is defined in the dictionary as "a period of retirement or seclusion, especially one devoted to religious contemplation away from the pressures of ordinary life". "Spiritual", on the other hand, refers to "the higher intellectual or endowments of the mind, intellect, consciousness or the moral feelings or states of the soul".

Making a "spiritual retreat" then involves choosing a place of quietude, perhaps with a teacher or spiritual guide, to rediscover the divinity that exists at the center of our lives.

Is it then a "retreat" if it is announced in advance (and through the media) as Noynoy Aquino did lately when he said - "This weekend, starting tomorrow actually, I will be going on a spiritual retreat as I pray for discernment and divine guidance"?

The Holy Bible in Matthew 6:5-6 said:

"And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

Many people I talked to are aghast with how politicians go through a "retreat" and seek "discernment". It would have been best, they added, if Noynoy Aquino simply left town quietly without fanfare and without a media statement to pray and seek God's guidance. He could have simply said "I need personal space for a couple of days, please bear with me", and went his way.

Why the need to mention the place, convent, and those who will give him guidance? Why all the media hoopla? Why can't this be done in secret?

There are so many references to the scriptures about why and how we seek God through silent prayer and meditation. The retreat of Noynoy Aquino may have this "silent" component even if it was done with the attendance of spiritual advisers, but the fact that he had the media following him or reporting on his discernment trip contradicts the very essence of why one goes on a retreat.

In Luke 4:42 we can see how a retreat and discernment is done - "And when day came, He departed and went to a lonely place; and the multitudes were searching for Him, and came to Him, and tried to keep Him from going away from them."

In Matthew 14:23, "And after He had sent the multitudes away, He went up to the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone." He sent both the seeking multitudes and His disciples away so He could be alone with the Father.

This means Jesus did not succumb to the temptation of feeling and being wanted. He disciplined himself to be alone and did not think of his importance, his power, his indispensability.

Why can't our political leaders who are truly seeking discernment or
praying for the blessings of God, do this in their own solitude and not
have the cameras follow their every move?

Those who can't resist the clamoring attention of media should refrain from
trumpeting their religious values to get supporters and followers.

They may be holier-than-thou but Filipinos are smarter-than-thee.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Something Weird Happened on the Way to Club Filipino

by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

In my Monday blog entitled "The Problem with a Noynoy Presidential Run" I pointed to the problems created by a Mar Roxas-Noynoy Aquino political rivalry and urged the Liberal Party to resolve this problem as soon as possible lest it starts affecting their campaign for the presidency.

I ended the column by asking the question: Will it be Noynoy Aquino for President?

A couple of hours later in historic Club Filipino, Mar Roxas answered my question with his dramatic decision to give way to Noynoy Aquino for the sake of LP unity and the demands of various groups all over country.

I was expecting a Mar Roxas slide to be accompanied by the crowning of Noynoy Aquino as the LP standard bearer and a call to arms for the LP base and support groups for 2010.

It did not happen on Tuesday.

As the whole country waited with bated breath on Wednesday, Noynoy Aquino announced in the same historic Club Filipino that he will be going on a "spiritual retreat" before finalizing his decision for the 2010 elections. He also said that his presidential run would be based on three things: 1) his ability to guarantee that there will really be meaningful changes for society and the country; 2) the availability of logistics for his electoral campaign; and 3) the sentiments of his four sisters about his presidential bid.

Wow!! Whoa!! What??

Something definitely weird happened on the way to Club Filipino.

If Noynoy needed to go on a retreat, consult with his family, gauge his ability to lead the country, get a sense of the logistics for his electoral campaign, wasn't it more logical to talk this out with Mar Roxas, declare his intention to contest the presidency, engage in spirited and issue-based rivalry within the LP, and let the party and its support groups decide, through a convention, on who is best fit to carry the LP banner come November?

And why the rush in Mar Roxas' press conference last Tuesday?

While LP party leaders in media interviews were united in asking everyone to respect Noynoy's desire for self-reflection, many wonder why these same party leaders did not manage the Mar to Noynoy transfer of the mantle of leadership better.

The trail of events has placed both Mar Roxas and Noynoy Aquino in a bind.

For all his efforts over the past year to champion the cause of victimized educational plan holders, lead Senate discussions on the JPEPA, attack GMA's ChaCha, develop advocacy ads to show his concern for the poor, send his trusted political lieutenants to negotiate with local leaders, and criss-cross the country with Korina, people's recollection of Mar Roxas is now been defined almost exclusively in his relinguishing his presidential dream to Noynoy who has not accepted it.

Korina Sanchez has enough reasons to feel bad.

And with his reluctance to lead a country that has suddenly found its moral moorings with the untimely death of former President Cory Aquino, his hesitation to present himself before the Filipino people without a clear vision and platform of government, and the real problem of starting his presidential campaign late compared to the others, Noynoy is now being criticized by political pundits like Benito Lim for being "odorless, tasteless, and colorless" and being asked by GMA's attack dogs to differentiate himself from his parents.

Both Mar Roxas and Noynoy Aquino deserve better. The LP leaders should have managed the trail of events better.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Problem with A Noynoy Presidential Run

by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

The biggest story that has come out of the untimely death of former President Corazon Aquino is the sudden transformation of Noynoy Aquino into a presidentiable.

What initially appeared to be a nostalgic trip back to the post-Marcos political Camelot is now slowly turning out to be a real and serious attempt by respected media personalities (like Conrad de Quiros), formerly dormant cause oriented groups (like ATOM), and excited facebook members to push Noynoy to declare that he is ready to lead this nation.

Unconfirmed reports from media and political sources that Mar Roxas was getting ready to slide down as Noynoy's vice president has further fueled public speculation.

While a Noynoy presidential run has tremendous potential to fire up the LP and its associated support groups base, it can also cause nightmares for many personalities in the LP camp.

First, and the most obvious effect is that it creates a problem with Mar Roxas (and his allies like Butch Abad and Frank Drilon) because he will have to agree, and his power block will now have to put a system to select the official LP candidate. This will derail or slow down networking activities being done by Roxas with various political and civic groups. In short, until the resolution of the Mar-Noynoy rivalry, Mar Roxas will have to slow down on his political ads and re-assess his efforts in going around the country to gain political or financial support.

Second, Noynoy's entry will resurrect the ghosts of the Drilon-Atienza power struggle as attention will now be focused on the selection process to be used by the LP in deciding its official candidates. The public clamor for a Noynoy presidential run, aided now by the offer of Aksyon Democratiko to field him as their official candidate, will require transparency, maybe even the participation of Mar and Noynoy support groups, in the LP selection process.

It would be interesting how party leaders - Drilon, Abad, Nerius Acosta, etc. - will respond to these pressures given the fact that the party still has to reclaim, or bring back to its fold many LP members who have been marginalized after the LP Drilon - LP Atienza split.

With Mar Roxas as the only declared presidentiable, Drilon and company can easily brush-off Atienza's questions. Those pushing for a Noynoy option, including Kiko Pangilinan, are obviously not part of the Roxas-Drilon-Abad power block. A Noynoy presidential run, in this regard, will clearly cause serious realignments within LP.

Third, the current moves to get 1 million signatures for Noynoy throws a monkey wrench on the Mar-Korina political wedding scheduled in October because the collection of signatures (and Noynoy's own request that people put yellow ribbons everywhere) will most likely culminate in the same month. In all likelihood, the signature campaign will get at least equal, if not more media attention than the Mar-Korina wedding. The romantic telenovela may, in the end, be overshadowed by the political telenovela.

Finally, the longer this whole thing drags on the more difficult it would be for the LP to consolidate support at the local level and launch an effective campaign. Many LP leaders at the local level, including those I talked to recently in Pampanga, are in a quandary on how to move given the mixed signals from party leaders and apparent standstill at the national level. Meanwhile, Senator Villar and the NP are consolidating support among civic, religious and NGO groups all over the country and entering into agreements with local politicians who will swing support to the NP in case of a LAKAS-Kampi coalition collapse.

The Liberal Party has to decide on this issue now. Otherwise, the continuing Mar-Noynoy leadership rivalry can produce clear losers - Mar, Korina, Drilon and Abad - and winners - Noynoy, Lito Atienza (because he can keep on talking about the LP leadership and selection process), Kiko Pangilinan (because he can align with Noynoy against Mar), and the other presidentiables who are all praying that the LP remains in limbo until election time.

Will it be Noynoy Aquino for President?


Monday, July 27, 2009

BEAT THE ODDS : Fact Check - Part 2

by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

The annual State of the Nation Address (SONA) by the President before Congress allows political pundits, presidential critics and allies, and the general public to look back, reflect, and try to extract accountability from the occupant of Malacanang.

As the 2009 SONA represents (hopefully) the last report of the President, critics and allies have been girding for a showdown over the past two weeks on television, radio and the print media.

The battle shifted to a higher gear this weekend when the administration bought media space on all major newspapers to trumpet its SONA achievements since 2001. In an almost full-page advertisement entitled "SONA Targets Delivered" the administration trumpeted its achievements on its Ten-Point Program, amply called "BEAT THE ODDS".

How much of these claims are FACT and how much is FICTION?

Let me continue the fact-check.



P62.93 billion remitted by the PCGG to the Bureau of Treasury for the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

National Unity and Reconciliation led to the granting of absolute pardon to former President Joseph Estrada.

Fact Check:

Funds for the CARP - Yes, FACT.

I have never believed that granting pardon to ERAP was an act of reconciliation or that it healed the wounds of EDSA. It in fact made a mockery of the judicial system because a convicted plunderer was pardoned too early and too fast.

The bigger problem is not the wounds of EDSA but the wounds that were created after EDSA. Hello Garci, JocJoc Bolante and the fertilizer scam, NBN-ZTE, Romy Neri and executive privilege, and E.O. 464 and the destruction of executive-legislative checks and balances are festering wounds that will challenge the next President.



41,079 or 97.85% of barangays have been energized. 70% of waterless municipalities outside of Metro Manila and 75% of waterless communities within Metro Manila have potable water.

Fact Check:

Significant gains on electrification. Questionable success in providing access to water.

Access to potable water has improved but what "level"? First level (hand pumps, shallow wells, collected rainwater)?; Second Level (Piped water with a communal water point such as a spring system)?; Third Level (Piped water supply inside a house)?

The government's claims are difficult to validate given the sketchy and sometimes contradicting statistics on water access. A WHO-UNICEF report in 2006 stated that only 44% of urban households and 12% of rural households have water piped into their residence. The World Bank Report on Pro-Poor Services (2001) reported that only 64% of respondents had access to formal service providers.

What is clear is that we currently don't trust the quality of water from our faucets and the poor suffer more than the rich when water is inaccessible or of questionable quality. Poorer households now spend a big part of their household income on bottled water.

Access to potable water? Probably FICTION more than FACT.



12 million jobs created from 2004-2009.

For a healthy and productive workforce, the Cheaper Medicine Act will provide more affordable medicine.

Fact Check:

"Unemployment" is defined by the government as those "without work", "currently available for work" and "actively seeking work".

So how would you call those who have been looking for work, failed to find one, and simply gave up and now spend their time playing tong-its and drinking on the street? They are not included in the unemployment rate.

Conditional cash transfers that put money in the hands of the poor so they can spend and make the economy move is good as a stop-gap measure. But will this now become a continuing policy of government?

Employment figures are difficult to judge given the definition, type and quality of government-generated jobs in a period of economic crisis. Plus there is no mention of job losses, especially in a period of economic recession. Both a FACT and FICTION.

Cheaper medicine law for a healthy and productive workforce - correlation is not clear, definitely FICTION.



The PNR system from Tutuban to Buendia is now operational. On going construction of the Metro Manila Skyway Stage 2, MRT/LRT Loop, C5-NLEX-SLEX link, and the Northrail-Southrail Link Phase 1 will further decongest Metro Manila.

Fact Check:

On-going constructions - Can not be judged until completed.

Do these decongest Metro Manila? Yes and No. The creation of rural areas with Metro Manila-like amenities is the only way to decongest Metro Manila short of restricting migration. Partially FACT, partially FICTION.



Infrastructure development projects such as the SCTEX boosted the competitiveness advantage of Clark and Subic as prime investment areas. The Diosdado Macapagal International Airport posted a 21% increase in international passenger volume in the first five months of 2009 amid the global economic crisis.

Fact Check:

SCTEX - Definitely FACT. But has this boosted competitiveness? Then why did FedEx leave the country? The sight of boarded-up stores that used to house duty-free outlets in my last visit in Clark was truly depressing. Maybe competitiveness and increased investments is a FICTION?

You be the judge.

BEAT THE ODDS : Fact Check - Part 1

by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

The annual State of the Nation Address (SONA) by the President before Congress allows political pundits, presidential critics and allies, and the general public to look back, reflect, and try to extract accountability from the occupant of Malacanang.

As the 2009 SONA represents (hopefully) the last report of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, critics and allies have been girding for a showdown over the past two weeks on television, radio and the print media.

The battle shifted to a higher gear this weekend when the administration bought media space on all major newspapers to trumpet its SONA achievements since 2001. In an almost full-page advertisement entitled "SONA Targets Delivered" the administration trumpeted its achievements on its Ten-Point Program, amply called "BEAT THE ODDS".

How much of these claims are FACT and how much is FICTION? Let me check.



Thirty three (33) quarters of uninterrupted economic growth amid global crisis shows a resilient economy that is better than most countries. Our stability is affirmed by international ratings agencies like Moody's.


A "balance budget", by definition, is a budget either submitted by the President to Congress (executive budget) at the opening of Congress, or approved by Congress (and the President) at the end of the year, where expenditures (the allocation of public funds) is equal to revenues (public funds collected). In short, government achieves a balanced budget when its income is equal to its expenditures.

Now how is "33 quarters of uninterrupted economic growth" connected with a balanced budget? I have no idea. In fact, I have always wondered by GMA's economic advisers included a balanced budget in its Ten Point Program given the fact that this is an impossible task given our economic growth pattern. Even the US has not had a balanced budget since 1957!!




68,888 classrooms built from 2004 to June 2009
41,781 of 42,000 barangays have elementary schools
1,494 of 1,495 municipalities have high schools
1:1 book-to-pupil ratio in 18 of 20 subjects
10.86 million beneficiaries of scholarships and educational assistance


Impressive numbers but the achievements are in relation to what? For example, 68,888 classrooms have been built but what is the over-all classroom shortage? And how fast is the government catching up with the classroom lack?

And what about participation and cohort survival rates of students at the elementary and high school levels which we have committed to increase as part of the MDGs?

And what about those who fall out of the school system? How many Filipino children are "out of school youth" and what has the government done to address this problem?

If "Education for All" is claimed, then educational indicators must go beyond infrastructure data.

Fact Check - Claims are difficult to assess given the numbers. Lack of data on participation, cohort survival rates, and OSY - FAILED OR FICTION.



All systems go for automated elections in 2010 with the recent signing of the contract with SMARTMATIC-TIM.


GMA administration can really claim this. Thank god for the intervention of COMELEC!

Fact Check - Strong potential for FACT but no passing grade until the 2010 elections is finally completed.



The Strong Republic Nautical Highway with 30 operational RORO ports link the archipelago making travel and transport of goods faster and cheaper, stimulating business and tourism.

The country's digital infrastructure boosted tourism, commerce, and the BPO-IT industry.

Fact Check:

Nautical Highway - FACT. This is one of the real legacies of GMA.

But what about all the infrastructure projects enumerated in previous SONA's? Read this:

Digital Infrastructure - Interconnecting the country via NBN-ZTE deal? hmmmm...obvious FAIL/FICTION.



549 former rebels have been integrated into mainstream society through the social integration program.

The suspension of the offensive military operations (SOMO) against the MILF aims to provide a stable environment for the resumption of peace talks between the Government of the Republic (GRP) and the MILF.

Fact Check:

SOMO is good but is this supposed to mean that hostilities are "terminated"? MOA-AD has been rejected.

Peace talks with NDF has stalled.

Definitely FAIL/FICTION.

Making a Historic SONA

As we analyze and reflect on what hopefully would be the last State of the Nation Address of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, let me re-post a column that I wrote for Business World in 2005 at the height of the Hello Garci scandal.

I wonder what will make her 2009 SONA historic?

Making a Historic SONA
by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

It is this time of the year when Congress hosts the President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) for her yearly State of the Nation Address (SONA). Unlike in the United States (US) where citizens eagerly anticipate the State of the Union Address delivered with solemnity, tradition, and pageantry, most Filipinos do not pay attention to the SONA, much less understand its purpose and history.

But this year’s SONA will definitely be different. The usual pomp and pageantry will be overshadowed by the nightmare of “GMA Resign” groups massing outside the Batasan, the threat of a boycott by the opposition, and the public’s impatience to hear what the President will say about the Gloriagate tapes.

What exactly is the State of the Nation Address all about, and what should we expect when the President speaks before the joint houses of Congress this week?

American Colonial Tradition

The SONA is part and parcel of the institutions and processes that we inherited from the Americans during our colonial past. As such, it is important to understand its historical beginnings in order to analyze the practice of various presidents in delivering a SONA and to know what to expect in a SONA.

In the US, the first “State of the Union” speech was delivered by George Washington in 1790 as part of the constitutional requirement that the President shall “from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient” (Article II, Sec. 3 of the US Constitution).

As originally conceived, the Address was supposed to be a conversation between the President and Congress and should contain legislative measures that require immediate action. The Address was also used to present the chief executive’s goals and agenda through broad ideas or specific detail.

Since Washington’s first speech to Congress, US Presidents have “from time to time” given Congress an assessment of the condition of the union. Giving a “State of the Union” speech was discretionary on the part of the President, and for more than 100 years (1801–1913) US Presidents did not find it necessary to talk to Congress about the State of the Union.

With the advent of radio and television (Calvin Coolidge's 1923 speech was the first to be broadcast on radio while Harry Truman’s 1947 address was the first to be broadcast on television), the President’s annual message became not only a conversation between him and Congress but also an opportunity to communicate with the American people. The content, delivery, and objectives of the Address therefore changed because the President was now speaking to two audiences—Congress and the people. It was used to report on the achievements of the administration and rally public opinion to the side of the President.

Philippine SONAs

Unlike in the US where the presidential address is discretionary, the Philippine Constitution requires the President to address Congress at the opening of its regular session (Article VII, Sec. 23). Much like the tenor of Washington’s initial Address that rallied congressional support for the federal union, the first State of the Nation Address delivered by President Manuel Roxas rallied Congress and the people to unite for independence and post-war reconstruction.

Succeeding Presidents used the SONA to deliver historic announcements and cement their place in history. The SONA was used to promote the Filipino First Policy (C. Garcia), decontrol and free trade (D. Macapagal), the New Society (F. Marcos), and Philippines 2000 (F. Ramos). In GMA’s first SONA, she highlighted indicators to measure government performance on the war against poverty.

GMA’s 2005 SONA

What then should we expect when GMA delivers her 2005 SONA and how should we measure her performance?

In order to determine accountability for executive and legislative performance after the SONA, the key question to ask is “who is the President speaking to in her SONA?”

If she is speaking to Congress, we should expect a workable legislative agenda that requires congressional action and then monitor whether the legislature enacts these bills into law within a year. If her SONA is directed at the Filipino people, then she must make an accounting of her past actions and respond to issues that Filipinos want addressed.

But what legislative action will GMA ask given that Congress has already passed the excise tax on sin products and value-added tax (VAT) laws? Political reforms, particularly charter change, appear to be her legislative agenda for this year. Can she call for a shift to parliamentary government and federalism in a situation where her own allies (M. Santiago and R. Gordon) and critics (A. Pimentel, F. Drilon, and M. Roxas) are united in opposing charter change? For Drilon, such a change would not solve the country’s economic and political woes. For Roxas, it would make the situation more turbulent. For Pimentel, it is better initiated by the next President.

And can she get cooperation from Congress when both the opposition (Pimentel, S. Osmena, F. Escudero, I. Marcos) and her former allies (Drilon, F. Pangilinan, and R. Golez) are leading the call for her resignation?

Then maybe she should call on Congress to expedite her impeachment!

If she decides to talk directly to the Filipino people to rally support for her administration, then she must go beyond admitting a “lapse in judgment” and answer the serious questions on the Gloriagate tapes—the poll rigging, abduction of witnesses, and military involvement in the elections.

If she is serious about going beyond her “lapse in judgment” statement, she should lead the hunt for Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Commissioner V. Garcillano, who is at the center of the wiretap controversy and who appears to be the main culprit in the alleged electoral fraud. She should take the initiative to revamp the COMELEC and ensure that all officials whose names were mentioned in the tape are brought to justice.

She should also talk about how she intends to stop jueteng and her family’s alleged receipt of jueteng payola.

And how about graft and corruption?

If what we have seen and heard from GMA and MalacaƱang in recent weeks is any indication of what the SONA will address, then we can expect a defensive, politically and personally driven theme. The President seems to have used every available resource in her image-rebuilding campaign in an effort to dodge the bullet and ensure her stay in power.

Being forthright and accountable, however, will be the only way for President Arroyo to make the people start believing in her. Anything less only prolongs the political and economic agony besetting this nation. GMA would have then squandered her State of the Nation Address.

Better yet, the President can use the occasion to heed the call of the majority of Filipinos: Resign from public office and spare the Filipino people from further suffering. Indeed this would make the 2005 SONA the most historic of all SONAs and firmly cement her place in history.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Presidential Race: the View from Abroad

Dr. Prospero E. de Vera III

New Jersey, USA. The celebration of Philippine Independence Day in all the major Filipino communities in North America provided ample opportunity for Philippine presidential and vice presidential candidates to “press the flesh” and introduce themselves to Filipino migrants and overseas workers through the annual parades, gala dinners, and regional/ethnic get-togethers.

As my wife Charito and I drove from Mississauga, Ontario to Bergenfield, New Jersey through the interstate highway system in our annual summer trek, I grabbed as many Filipino newspapers and talked with Filipino-Canadians and Filipino-Americans to check their political pulse and ask who in their mind is leading the presidential race for 2010.

Amazingly, everyone I met had very strong opinion, and many have in fact passed judgment about the current presidential and vice presidential aspirants.

The most visible and energetic candidate was definitely Senator Kiko Pangilinan who zigzagged through Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Toronto, Houston, and Boston meeting fraternity brods and migrant Pinoys while accompanying Sharon Cuneta in her series of concerts in these key American and Canadian cities. His Team Kiko led by Jojo Digao in fact also covered the New Jersey and New York states. . A visibly sleep deprived Jojo told me over a cup of coffee at a Starbucks in Toronto that Pangilinan was even able to fly back to the Philippines to attend the last days of the session during this whole travel episode. Surprisingly, he missed the Independence Day Celebration Ball in Toronto organized by the two biggest Filipino-Canadian groups – Kalayaan Cultural Community Centre of Mississauga and the Philippine Independence Day Council of Toronto.

While Pangilinan was the most traveled, it was Senator Manny Villar who got the best press coverage in the New York-New Jersey Filipino newspapers. The Filipino Times & Asian Review in New Jersey had “Destined to Lead: Manny Villar” as its banner story in its June 6-13, 2009 issue and extensively projected his participation in the June 7 Independence Day Parade attended by many Filipinos in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area in its June 13-20 edition. The Asian Journal also featured Villar in its cover in an article titled “Sen. Villar Ready for 2010 Campaign, Elections” and described him as a “self-made real estate mogul who rose from the slums of Tondo” to become “The Brown Taipan”. Both newspapers also gave broad coverage for Villar’s gracing the Manaog Feast Day event in New York and his interaction with the Filipino community leaders in the area.

Vice-President Noli de Castro got press coverage for marching with Villar, Ambassador Davide, and various Filipino groups at the Independence Day Parade in New York. However his “No Way” response to the media when asked if he would slide to the vice presidency during a cocktail reception organized by the Philippine Consulate and his statement that “I am not campaigning. I am not a candidate yet” (therefore no position on issues) may have limited his media exposure as he was not prominently featured in any of the opinion columns in the tri-state area.

News stories on four other presidential hopefuls appeared in the local papers. Senator Ping Lacson’s decision to quit the 2010 race and the arrival of Mancao in the country (Newstar Philippines), Bayani Fernando’s decision to seek the presidency (Newstar Philippines), Gilbert Teodoro’s decision to join LAKAS-KAMPI-CMD (Filipino Times), and GMA’s political hacks calling Mar Roxas “Boy Bawang” (Newstar Philippines). Strangely, there was no newspaper pick up on Senator Chiz Escudero.

My conversations with many Fil-Canadians and Fil-Americans in the East Coast (framed perhaps not just by local papers but by The Filipino Channel, GMA Pinoy TV and community tsismis) gave me a long list of peculiar perceptions and views about the presidential hopefuls.

There seems to be a widespread belief that while qualified and eloquent, Chiz Escudero is too young to become president and should wait his time.

While everyone I talked to believed that he was very qualified, many were not titillated, some even said it was awfully corny for the fifty-something Mar Roxas to be filming and broadcasting every step of his engagement plans in contrast to young movie stars Judy Ann Santos and Ryan Agoncillo who tried their best to keep their
marriage ceremony a very private affair.

Bayani Fernando had many fans for his decisive guts to clear the streets of vendors but his fans find him too stiff and ineffective when explaining himself in the media.

The most critical comments were directed at Noli de Castro not for his lack of competence and performance but for his decision to go in the ring when Manny Pacquiao knocked out Ricky Hatton at the hugely televised mega fight Everyone I spoke to at the cook-out cum-political press conference hosted by an enthusiastic group of Kapampangans in New Jersey believed that de Castro’s actions demeaned the office of the Vice-President, and worse, disgraced Filipino leaders before the world stage.

Consistent with the newspaper projection, many of the Filipino migrants I met had kind words for Manny Villar – understandably so -- Pinoys can relate with his story of perseverance, thrift and hard work combine to bring oneself up the social ladder and enjoy the ultimate North American dream.

The election is months away. But if elections were held today and if the presidency would be decided by Filipino migrants Manny Villar would be the winner. But many things can happen between now and the next few months. If Villar’s rising star keeps soaring, he is the man to beat. Some other bets are chalking up points up the ratings, but the question is: Are these enough to catch up with the leader. There are surprises – man-made or otherwise. You should know Philippine-style elections. You will never know.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Is Pangasinan A Dying Language?

by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

I just came across this very interesting article written by Gabriel Cardinoza in Philippine Daily Inquirer
entitled 'Why its Difficult to Learn Pangasinan" and it brought me back not only to my younger years but also some of my frustrations with academics and leaders in the province.

Using a study made by Edgar Quiros of the National Library who is doing his dissertation at U.P. on the issue, Cardinoza made the following assertions:

1) In the family tree of Philippine languages, Pangasinan has no relative. It is one of the 13 indigenous languages in the country with at least a million native speakers. These include Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilokano, Hiligaynon, Waray-Waray, Kapampangan, Bikol, Albay Bikol, Maranao, Maguindanao, Kinaray-a and Tausug.

2) People learn a language easier if these come from the same family tree. Because the Pangasinan and Ilocano languages are not related and Pangasinan is a unique language, a person with Ilokano as his/her first language will take a longer time to learn Pangasinan compared to someone who was born in a Pangasinan-speaking environment. "But if you were born an Ilocano and you try to learn Tagalog" according to Quiros, "it will be a lot easier for you to learn it than Pangasinan.”

3) The Pangasinan language has five dialects with the most detailed and distinct in central Pangasinan with more detailed words to discuss specific things.

“One good example is the rain. Rain is associated with adjectives, like maksil [strong] or makapuy [weak] in other places. But in central Pangasinan, there are many terms for rain. It can be maya-maya [drizzle], tayaketek [light rain] or ambusabos [heavy rain],” Quiros said.

This shows, added Quiros, "that in central Pangasinan, the language has been fully developed because these were also the oldest places in the province."

4) The origins of the Pangasinan language remains unknown and very little has been done to study it.

As someone who is a 100% Pangasinense whose father comes from one of the biggest clans (de Vera) in Central Pangasinan and an Ilokano mother from Tayug and Asingan, I share Quiros' assertion that the Pangasinan language is really very difficult to learn and very few (if none at all) are studying it.

I learned to speak both languages in my younger years during summer breaks. I would spend one summer in my fathers hometown (Bayambang) and speak Pangasinan and speak Ilokano when I stayed in Tayug the next year. Unfortunately, we spoke Ilokano at home and over the years I completely lost my Pangasinan tongue. I'm trying to learn it back, with very little success.

I also noticed over the years that Ilokano is slowly eating its way into Pangasinan-speaking areas, such as Bayambang in Central Pangasinan, Villasis-Urdaneta in the eastern part and even in areas like San Fabian in the western part of the province.

There is a saying that the first step in solving a problem is recognizing that there is one.

Unfortunately, academics and provincial officials in Pangasinan do not seem to see a problem or feel an urgency to study and develop the language.

As a Regent of the Pangasinan State University from 2005-2007 I urged academics and university officials to create a Center that will specialize in Pangasinan studies and bring together nationally recognized Pangasinense academics to save the language. The plea fell on deaf ears.

Unlike academics who write extensively using their language/dialect like Bulakeno Dr. Jimmy Veneracion (UP History) and Dr. Ted Tantoco (UP History), recognized academics from Pangasinan - like the late Dr. Marcelino Foronda (DLSU), Dr. Rosario Cortez (UP), Dr. Napoleon Casambre (UP), Dr. Leslie Bauzon (UP) - never wrote articles or books in the Pangasinan language.

Compare this, further, with academics and politicians in the Ilocos Region who are strengthening the Ilocano language through sisterhood ties between Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU) in Ilocos Norte and University of Hawaii. You wouldnt believe it but there is a BA Ilocano Studies program at the University of Hawaii!! They also spearhead the holding of annual Ilokano conferences where papers written in the language are delivered.

Maybe this latest study will finally make Pangasinense's wake up and take action.

Maybe ...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Making Presidential Debates Count

Making Presidential Debates Count
Prospero E. de Vera

I have never been a great admirer of presidential debates. But after reading through the analysis of political pundits and numerous comments on Facebook regarding the recent ANC leadership forum, I had to take pause and ask – Can we actually make presidential debates count?

While debates among candidates are arguably important in an electoral contest to know their fitness for public office, the political context under which the debate is done, its format and structure, and the media pick-up of the event rarely provides answers on who can best lead the country in the future.

Even in the most celebrated democracy in the world, the much-touted presidential debates rarely act as the turning point in selecting the eventual winner. American political analysts generally agree that only three debates have been pivotal in deciding the outcome of an election – the Lincoln-Douglas debate (1858) which was a “real debate” with each candidate speaking for 1.5 hours (with rebuttals) over seven debates; the Kennedy-Nixon debate (1960) where Nixon’s body language (5 o’clock shadow and shifty eyes) lost him the election; and the Obama-McCain debate (2008) where communication technology (internet, YouTube) expanded voters access and discussion on issues.

Other debates, such as the infamous Gore-Bush debates in 2000, showed how media can be extremely unforgiving on candidates. As the proverbial favorite, Gore was expected to show his superior grasp of facts and issues while Bush the underdog was simply expected to survive the debate. In the end, it was not what the candidate said that counted. Gore’s numerous sighs and exasperated look at the fact-challenged Bush made him look arrogant, while Bush’s sound bites made him look like a viable candidate. The fact-challenged Bush went on to lead the US for eight years.

Rather than convince the uncommitted voter, presidential debates in the US serve to reinforce already existing views on candidates. Both Democrats and Republicans tune in to the debates to strengthen their belief in their respective candidates and mobilize those in their party to support their choice.

If presidential debates in the US have produced mixed results, it has not worked in the Philippines over the past elections. Despite refusing to attend any of the debates, Joseph Estrada won the 1988 elections and Fernando Poe Jr. won (or was cheated in) the 2004 version. I organized a UNICEF-supported presidential debate on children in 1998 that attracted a full house in the U.P. Theater. Sadly, out of the 10 candidates only Juan Ponce Enrile, Fred Lim, and Raul Roco showed up. Many in the audience got easily distracted and soon tuned out of the discussions.

There are three other reasons why presidential debates in the Philippines do not work. For one, unlike in the US where the presidential race is ultimately reduced to a battle between two candidates, we have a multi-party (some would say a “no-political party”) system that always produces numerous candidates. Multiple candidates produce logistical and policy nightmares for debate organizers. It makes it easy for some candidates to excuse themselves since they figure many others will show up, it makes it difficult to squeeze all of them in one stage, and it reduces the time allocated for each aspirant to answer questions.

Second, unless we develop serious political parties with clear policy differences and platforms of government, we can never make presidential debates highlight competing choices nor force candidates to explain at length the details of their programs. Unfortunately, our current presidential aspirants are products of coalitions and political parties that have morphed over the years without clear platforms and programs.

Finally, television (especially cable television) is not the best venue for serious presidential debates. Television debates give a premium on sound bites that rarely educate the viewing public on the policy positions of each candidate. Worse, some television stations pack the event with multiple panels forcing candidates to respond to questions rather than debate each other on their preferred policies or programs.

So how do we make presidential debates in the Philippines count? We can have meaningful presidential debates if we:

1) Create an independent non-partisan Campaign Commission that will organize the debates and require candidates to participate. The debates should be done on free (not cable) television and cost-shared by major networks and the government.

2) Bring the debates to the regions to ensure that regional issues are discussed and regional stakeholders can hold side sessions for candidates with their respective constituencies.

3) In the long term, change the way we elect our presidents by including a run-off or primary-type system to reduce the number of candidates. Less candidates means more time for serious and real questions.

4) Finally, work towards reforming the political party system to make sure we have candidates who truly represent constituencies, support significant issues and have substantial platforms.