Saturday, June 27, 2009

The gutter language of Romblon politics

Roll out the carpet,
get out the barrel,
politics, for all intents and purposes,
is here,
has become many Romblomanons’:
daily fare;
bread and butter;
primary occupation;
chief entertainment;
major problem;
field of dreams;
worst nightmare;
and cause of division,
exactly eleven months
before the May 2010 election.

In order is a qualification. When I say “May 2010 election”, I don’t mean I am certain there will be one. I merely refer to the date set by the Constitution for a regular election. That’s on the second Monday of May every three years.

If the Constitution will be followed, there will be one. However, this administration of La Lola Loca is not exactly popular for following the letter and spirit of the Basic Law. It is, in fact, the worst violator of the Constitution. Look at how it lies through its teeth regarding human rights.

Now, let’s go back to Romblon politics.

The observation that politics now consume many Romblomanons is not without basis. Go to and see for yourself. This online medium is populated by people whose passion for the voodoo craft is such that reading their posts could lead one to commit suicide, if he or she is weak-hearted.

This online community, which I have visited a few times in the past and in which I have posted some pieces from my blog at, is a lively forum of “unknown” but articulate Romblomanons who have a lot of things to say about politics and our politicians.

Alas, most of the things they post online are vulgar epithets that belong to the gutter of social discourse. The ‘posters’—divided along ideological, minus and plus, pros and cons, negative and positive sides of the political equation—quarrel most of the time, with no one but among themselves.

They call our politicians and each other names. Loud, colorful, dirty names. Names that will make mothers cry when it is their sons or daughters being called by such name. Names that if published in the mainstream media could earn the authors a string of libel suits.

I said many of the ‘posters’ are ‘unknown’ because almost everyone in the online community hides behind the skirts of invented aliases accompanied by invented photos and caricatures. No one seems to care at about their identities or the identities of the individuals they are exchanging pointed blurbs with. Or, are they afraid to be fingered as the authors of the daily name-calling spree?

I make this observation with exceptions. There are ‘posters’ in the site who back up their allegations with hard evidence, such as official documents. This is true in the case of Gov. Jojo Beltran’s recall of his order installing one Richard Lozada as officer-in-charge of the provincial general services office after its chief, the controversial Anthony “Jojo” Rugas, was ordered suspended by the Ombudsman.

The exchange of blurbs in the site after the two orders of Beltran were posted ran like this:

Tisoy, Jr.: “Ginagawang tanga lang ni Rugas ang Ombudsman. O baka naman walang maglakas loob na kastiguhin itong si Tony Rugas dahil maraming ninong ang animal na ‘to. Ano ba ang nangyari dito?

Carlos: “Jojo the respondent was suspended by Jojo the governor through Office Order No. 08-099 dated October 28, 2008, but in less than a week, Jojo the governor recalled his own order through another Office Order No. 08-102 dated November 3, 2008. Jojo the respondent is no doubt "malakas." That's what they are in power for.”

How about Madrona, the Congressman?

Oh, Budoy is fair game to Romblon ‘posters’. Yes, he has some defenders, such as this person who answers to the name ‘nonong’, apparently a paid hack, but ‘nonong’ is so alone because he/she is outnumbered by a horde of anti-Madrona partisans.

Read this exchange last week:

Ginoo: “June 22 aalis na ang grupo ni Budoy para bumili ng bagong barko. Hay, salamat naman, kung hindi pa sa payola ng cha-cha, ‘di pa ulit magkakaroon ng barko ang Romblon. Mga kababayan ko: tangkilikin natin ito ha? Para naman may masakyan tayo ng libre sa 2010 pag uwi natin para sa eleksiyon. Mga ex-MBRS staff, forget the past, okay?”

Ghost Whisperer: “Buti na lang may cha-cha. Kung wala ‘di na makakabili ng boat ang multong (derogatory name deleted). Saang lupalop naman ng mundo bibili ng barko ang multong (derogatory name deleted)? Sana kung saan man ‘yun may A(H1N1) virus para mahawa ang . . . . Sana Lord, please. Ito lang ang consolation diyan. Malulugi din ang barkong ‘yan o kaya baka lumubog pa bago nito masilayan ang lupang hinirang. You know, God is not sleeping. We will have our sweet revenge against the multong . . . .

Taga-Cogon Sr.: “Hindi lang sa payola sa con-ass manggagaling ang pambili ni M. B. ng bagong barko. Malaki rin na bahagi ay mula sa pork barrel funds ng (epithet deleted). Para hindi mahalata na malaki ang kinukupit niya sa pork barrel funds, ang diskarte niya ay ang DPWH, through Dodoy ‘Jalozjoz’ Perez, ang pinapa-prente sa projects. Si Dodoy Perez ang bumibida sa harapan habang binuburiki ng (derogatory name deleted) ang pondo na dapat mapunta sa mamamayan. Noong binili ang kauna-unahang bakal na barko ng MBRS taong 1989, maraming Romblomanon na may kaya sa buhay ang kinuha nilang kasosyo. Pero nang dumami ang barko mula sa parehong sistema na pambuburiki sa pork barrel funds, unti-unti ring sinipa sa eksena ang mga kasosyong ito. Pinagloloko sa bigayan ng dibidendo. Sa sobrang inis, lumayas na lang and mga ito. ‘Di ko lang sure kung andiyan pa ang mga kagaya nina Thornton, Susing Falo, Rizal Morato at marami pang iba na dinugas ng pamilya M. . . .”

The above is only a sampling of the exchanges in the community. The ‘posters’, I should mention, are equally derisive of the political opposition (does it exist?), notably the likes of Dr. Lolong Firmalo, Vice Governor Alice Fetalvero, SP Member Mel Madrid and Department of Agriculture undersecretary Bernie Fondevilla.

A few questions about Firmalo and Fondevilla.Where are they? Is Firmalo hatching his political comeback in his Quezon City clinic? Is Fondevilla having sleepless nights trying to become a congressman or a full-fledged secretary?

Are they politicians still? Or has Madrona co-opted them to forget their dreams of empire?

Come on, people. Will somebody please unzip the mouths of this two?

Friday, June 26, 2009

The fortunes of JuliusFortuna

Romblon history, when the time comes that it shall be written, will inevitably only have kind words for those who made that history possible.

Those who left an indelible impact on Romblon, those who made it happen, those who descended on the arena and fought for the province, and those who, lastly, made life for the Romblomanons a little better and sufferable, will have a first claim over that history—not because they wanted it, but because history finds its own way of according its own respect and regard for people who led extra-ordinary and meaningful lives.

These people are very few. One of them was Manong Jules Fortuna.

I knew him first before he knew me, sometime in 1999, when I ran across a column of his in the defunct Daily Globe. I knew him to be a Romblomanon because of his surname. It began with a letter “F”, to which the majority surnames of the Asi population of the province answers to.

I knew, from what he wrote, that he was—by living the dangerous life of a journalist—on to something.

That something was articulating the dreams and aspirations of a race—the Filipino race—which have been subdued—killed—by the rising and ebbing tide of tyranny: Marcos’s, for which Manong Jules, because he was a principled man, suffered. Sacrificed big.

No matter how one looked at it, ten years of incarceration is a huge deduction from the limited tenure each human being is allotted to on this earth. There must be a reckoning, a just amelioration, for such deduction by man from the life of another man firstly, because that life allotment is not made by us, and secondly, because no one can tell how much a man can do and could have done in those years that he was prevented from doing anything.

Such was the fate, or fortune, of Manong Jules. A lesser mortal could have demanded for an accounting for this egregious injustice. A weak-kneed soul would have thought of exacting vengeance and stored rancor in his heart for the authors of the perfidy against himself.

Not Manong Jules. Never in our serious conversations about politics, foreign affairs, books, and Romblon issues did he insinuate he was wounded. No, he never hinted at all about the injustice he suffered.

What occupied him during those times when we sat together for coffee at the Century Park hotel lobby were the burning issues of the day that were crying for resolution. He was, it seemed to me, on a race to recover the lost time deducted from his life. He earned his keep the old, traditional way: by working. Hard and driving.

We traveled together once to and from Odiongan, his hometown, and during the time, we wasted not a second in meaningless blabber. With Manong Jules, you always get quality minutes of intellectual discovery. The book I saw last in his hands was Thomas Friedman’s bestseller, “The World is Flat”. He spent money on books and foreign newspapers, in the same manner that he was generous to struggling friends in the media.

As a thinker and journalist, Manong Jules can slice through a conversation and insert a gem of wisdom, usually his take or view on a topic enriched by reading and distilled by years of experience in observing events and human nature, and of course, by regular interaction with the powers-that-be.

All the years, however, that he lived, he retained his wit and firm anchor on his Asi roots even as the people around him—the subjects of his writing, most of them politicians—were running like headless chickens and fumbling in stupidity.

It was I who named his gathering of friends in Odiongan the Libakan Forum, over which he regularly presided and steered to a happy conclusion. Everyone walks away from the forum sober at the thought that they have exercised their mental faculties not for trivialities, but for meaningful discourse. The Libakan Forum was a Kapihan sa Sulo, Odiongan-style, where coffee and sometimes, food, is free, but where ignorance has a price. Manong Jules certainly knew how to make people think.

When Awe Eranes of the Romblon Sun called up to inform me that Manong Jules has gone away, he was crying and wondered aloud what will happen now that Romblon journalists have lost a mentor and godfather.

I was thinking of another matter. I was mourning the loss of a Romblon icon in journalism whose voice has been heard and listened to around the country, whose company has been enjoyed by countless friends, and whose revolutionary struggle to re-arrange the order of things in a society drowning in collective apathy, guile and guilt will now be missed.

I was thinking about Romblon without Manong Jules, whose love for his native soil is equaled only by his love to see that soil cultivated and toiled on by Romblomanons enjoying the opportunities possible only in a democracy.

I was also thinking of Manong Jules’ good fortune to have lived in an era that recognized—was grateful for—his transition from a life of revolutionary activism to a life of battling society’s inequities through a more powerful weapon—the Word.

Manong Jules lived a full life regardless of his early death. That fullness he achieved when he chose to become what he became: a revolutionary, a thinker and a journalist who engaged the world when many others in his era opt to be co-opted and therefore, are in danger of losing their souls while still alive.

He is dead. Gone, gone, gone.

But his animating spirit lives. His story remains. His kindness continues to be affecting.
And his weapon, the chief implement he used in his battles, stays with us: “the unkillable word.”

Manong Jules, nag-aampo ako para sa kalmadang payadag nimo sa sunor nak kinabuhi. Pagkayangkag ka kalibutan sa imo paghalin. Magkinita ray kita.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The vanishing loads: Regulation in the face of ‘vultureeism’

After I’ve commented on Juan Ponce Enrile’s and Mar Roxas’s taking up the cudgels for poor Filipinos against the mobile phone companies and suggesting that the government regulate them more strictly because of their crocodile-like business practices, a reader sent information which followers of this blog may find more infuriating.

Another reader posted the article on Facebook, possibly to incite some more mobile phone users to consider banging their phones on the wall for utter helplessness in getting the mobile phone companies to serve them better, meaning, for these ‘telcos’ not to tolerate frequent ‘drop calls’ or not to steal their ‘loads’.

There is such a thing, says a reader who answers to the email, as inter-connection or network access charges, these being the rates that the ‘telcos’ charge one another for ‘crossing’ into each other’s network. A ‘telco’ crosses a network to make or connect a call or deliver a text message.

That’s from Globe to Smart to Sun to Red and vice versa, if I get it right.

The reader who sent the email said Filipinos send about 16,200 text messages per second, or two billion text messages a day. That’s a third of the world’s population of over three billion.

With 60 million mobile phone users sending these two billion messages, it’s only logical that we are called the ‘text’ capital of the world, a reputation which I don’t know if we should be proud or ashamed of.

I said this because ‘texting’ has developed its own popular culture, making idiots out of many Filipinos for their prostituted grammar and syntax, not to mention their prostitution of their own languages. But that should be for another time.

At the moment, we mobile phone users have to face the heavy burden of our mobile phone bills or ‘loads’ because the ‘telcos’ are charging us part, if not all, of the cost they pay to cross each other’s network, if the reader who answers to the email is correct.

He says the Philippines has the highest interconnection rate in Asia. This, I am sure, is a reputation we don’t want to stick on our skin.

This means that a Filipino mobile phone user pays more than anyone else when connecting to other mobile phone users using other networks. The inter-connection rate in this country of La Lola Loca is four pesos, or 9.5 cents in Uncle Sam’s money. Compare this with the rates in the following countries: Indonesia, 4.95 cents; Thailand, 2.97 cents; Malaysia, 2.55 cents; Pakistan: 2 cents; China, 0.88 cents; India, 0.71 cents; and Hong Kong, 0.56 cents.

What are we compared to Hong Kong and China economically? Yet, mobile phone users in these countries pay far, far less in network-to-network charges, he averred.

And listen to this: “In 2007, the combined gross revenue of Smart, Globe and Sun Cellular was P149.5 billion, with Smart earning P39.6 billion in text messaging alone and Globe chalking up revenues of P18.3 billion”.

In the same year, Smart earned P17.2 billion in inter-connection charges, while Globe get paid P12.8 billion for the same network access usage, according to the guy.

“To be rich is glorious.” Those were the late Deng Xiaoping’s words, but not if one profits from the ignorance or from the docile passivity of another. If one gets more than enough at the expense of consumers, how should it be called? “To be rich is gluttony?”

“How would you like to make voice calls from Smart to Globe and vice versa for less than P2.00 per minute? How would you like to send a ‘text’ message for less than fifty centavos per text? These goals are not as lofty as they seem. Ironically, the possibility of this happening rests on the unlikely shoulders of our government, specifically, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC)”, says the email sender.

He added that the NTC needs to be firm in implementing its rules.

Now, I remember that sometime ago, some do-gooders in Congress had the sudden inspiration to propose to tax text messages, but this, I think, has run into strong opposition. I don’t know from where or from whom. Our reader says that “because of some hesitation brought about by recent tax proposals, the NTC seems to need a little push, specifically to adopt its own draft circulars in implementing these game-changing rates.”

It needs a shove, my friend. Over the cliff, if necessary.

Forget the NTC. It is mired presently in court fighting for a memorandum circular which would have put the ‘telcos’ on their proper seats. The ‘telcos’ however, were able to get a judge to restrain the NTC from implementing the circular so we are f—d. All of us, just because some black-robed arbiter of the law has been ‘convinced’ that a restraining order will be a boon to mobile phone users.

How long has the court battle been pending?

And why, for Abraham’s sake, would Congress tax ‘text’ messages? This will only lead to the ‘telcos’ passing the tax to the consumers, like in “pasa-load”. This will only burden us some more. Why does Congress not order the ‘telcos’ to lower their rates on pain of revoking their franchises? You know, the government is really not that helpless. It is only inutile, most of the time, for being so spineless.

Still, I would go for the Mar Roxas proposal to review the franchises of the ‘telcos’. This is the only language they seem to understand: to be faced with a certain kind of proscription to their money-making abilities. Regulation, in the face of ‘vultureeism’, would be fine. It would be welcome.

But I would also go for my reader’s exhortation for mobile phone consumers to unite:

“And this is where you come in, (you) end-consumer of all things mobile,” he said.

I like that: “consumers of all things mobile.” Consume anything that moves.

“Your support is absolutely necessary in converting these prices from mere fiction to definitive fact. Join our call for cheaper ‘text’ and call rates. Join the Textmate Movement!” he added.

Aha! So there is a movement of ‘texters’ ready to fight for us.

I will join. . . when I get a new mobile phone. In the meantime, start that review, Senator Mar, before you get married.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The robber-gods of 'text'

If you are a pre-paid mobile phone user, read this.

Your mobile phone service provider may be stealing your ‘load’. The amount, since the very beginning of time, could run up to your entire lifetime earnings.

I am exaggerating, of course, but if you are the Senate President like Juan Ponce Enrile, and you lost something like P600 in phone ‘load’, what would you do?

Enrile called the service providers, also called ‘telcos’ to the Senate and gave them a dressing down when they couldn’t explain what happened to the P600 ‘load’.

You see, Enrile doesn’t know how to ‘download’ ringtones, so when Globe Telecom officials told him his P600 ‘load’ vanished without a trace because he was ‘downloading’ ring tones, the 85-year old solon was furious.

“I don’t even know how to text,” he said.

It was a gotcha! moment for Globe, and I could see the officials of Smart Communications squirming on their seats because their company, too, like Globe, ‘robs’ the public, the consumers, through various pre-paid promos and services without their permission. This is also true with the other smaller ‘telcos’.

No need to prove it. I, myself, regularly receive inane, useless, syntax-tortured promo messages from Globe and Smart which irritates me no end and which brings me to the point of throwing away my mobile phones—when I still have two—to the garbage bin.

These messages aren’t free. They cost you something, like emotional imbalance, because I, for example, tend to have a very bad day when I read garbage in my phone, such as ringtone alerts or noise masquerading as popular music. These, the ‘telcos’ send to 90 million Filipinos without their permission.

OK. I am exaggerating. It’s only 91 million.

Enrile’s beef was that the ‘telcos’ enrol every prepaid mobile phone users to promos and useless services without their consent and then—in the dead of the night—rob them of their ‘load’. That’s hold-up. That’s robbery. That needs to be stopped.

Well, in this country, ‘telcos’ substitute themselves for our parents. They ‘enrol’ us, and they earn millions of pesos from it.

The Senate committees on trade and commerce and public services are conducting an inquiry on the issue of disappearing ‘loads’ after Enrile lost his P600 in May and delivered a privilege speech about it.
I am happy the Senate President cares for small consumers. He is rich. P600 to him is loose change, but because it was stolen by the ‘telcos’, they now faces the Senate’s wrath.

It’s high time. ‘Telcos’ are very well known for their loud advertisements that inundate every corner of the land and saturate every opportune airtime, but they are short, very short, on service delivery. They are so lousy, in fact, that they should not be called ‘service providers’. They are service sellers. Or short-changers.

In their ads, they promise paradise, but deliver you to hell. Try calling their service numbers. A machine answers. And in very rare instances when a human with a sarcastic voice happens to respond to an inquiry, he or she will give you a run-around that you will pity yourself why you called in the first place.

So, what does the Senate intend to do about the ‘disappearing loads’?

Mar Roxas, the Senate’s resident consumer welfare advocate, said the Senate should amend the law and review the franchises of the ‘telcos’.

This delivered the message. The Congress grants the franchises of the ‘telcos’ so they better behave.

I would suggest: “Put them in their proper places through regulation.” I know the word ‘regulation’ is anathema to business, but if there’s no regulation, then we become a jungle. The ‘telcos’ will survive by devouring us, the consumers.

And while the Senate is contemplating to amend the franchises of the ‘telcos’, the gods of ‘text’ that have gotten fat and lazy and continues to steal our ‘load’, perhaps, it should first focus on the so-called ‘content providers’ that the ‘telcos’ are in cahoots with.

These are the companies that manufacture ringtones, games, promos and the like, which the mobile phone firms deliver to the consumers without their permission. These ‘content providers’, last I heard, are not being regulated. They share their profits with the mobile phone companies.

Are they paying taxes?

In the next hearing, I would like the Senate to delve into the corporate structures, ownerships, and finances of these ‘content providers’ and their relationships with the mobile phone companies. Here, I can sense something fishy.

I’ll ‘text’ you why.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Will she run?

The Philippine Inquirer on Sunday devoted its headline to a non-news item: “Allies welcome GMA bid”, an indication that the newspaper’s editors have been bitten by the political bug, or worse, have fallen into the trap laid down by Palace factotums to get everyone else hyped up about a Gloria Arroyo run for representative of Pampanga’s second district in Congress.

Of course, her allies should welcome such a move. Or must, considering the President’s hold on them, which is by their balls. Had the Inquirer carried as front-page news, for example, a statement from one ally who opposes the move, that ally would have been dead meat by now, politically.

Look at Nasser Pangandaman of the Department of Agrarian Reform.

Pangandaman, who was reported by the Inquirer to have categorically stated that La Lola Loca would run in 2010 in her home province, very quickly denied—for mortal fear of the President—that he said that, using the age-old “I-was-quoted-out-of-context” palusot.

The denial was sought.

“It was more of an option”, former (in)Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales said. After him, Palace officials tripped over each other to explain Pangandaman's loose tongue, that if there had been a prize for the title of denial king, jurors would have a hard time picking who to award it to. Although, we are sure, Raul Gonzales would line up to get it.

Gabriel Claudio, GMA’s political adviser, said Pangandaman called him to say he was “misquoted’.

Edgardo Pamintuan, another ally, said Pangandaman denied that he said what he said.

I expect some more allies coming out of the woodwork to tell us they have talked to Pangandaman who have denied, again, that he said what he said.

Deny, all of them except Pangandaman. But did you notice how close the word “deny” to the Tagalog word “dinaya”?

The Inquirer said it called up the embattled agrarian reform secretary but he did not answer or return calls. Hiding for mortal fear that other allies of the President might stab him at the back once he peddles again on loose talk? Or, was he afraid they will pull out from his throat another denial to pacify the opposition—and convince us that indeed, Gloria is not running?

Gloria is running. And lying. No doubt about it. No ifs, no buts. If she doesn’t, just to prove wrong many, including this blogger, well, that’s her lookout. She is still a liar.

I remember a representative from Nueva Ecija who answers to the name of Antonino who said last week that if ever Gloria is to run, it will be to shield herself and her family from various lawsuits that will be hurled against her when her car no longer sports Plate Number One.

I pity the people of second district of Pampanga, if this would be the case. I pity them because their representative will only use them as a hedge, an insurance, a safety net, a tuktukan, to save herself.

This Rep. Antonino, a conspirator in the ConAss conspiracy, did not called up anybody in the Palace to say he was quoted out of context, and not one among the allies ever said the congressman denied what he said.

Why is that? Probably because it is true. With her nine years of bad governance, of consecrating corruption and coddling the corrupt, of pursuing a personal agenda rather than the public good, and of perpetuating human rights violations across this benighted land, I doubt that none among the 90 million Filipinos will drag her to court.

So, who is afraid of a Gloria in the House?

Let her run and let her win. In the House, she will discover how lonely it is to be one among many, not the only one, who has to stand in line in Malacanang to beg for the President’s largesse.

There, at the House, she will be exposed. Not that she can’t debate with anyone, but the fact that she has to debate with other representatives will be a reversal of her nine-year run as the commander-in-chief, not the plebe, when no one questioned her wishes and her word was law.

Let her run and let her win. In the House, maybe she can join other members in proposing that the Constitution be amended without the participation of the House. Maybe she could be elected as speaker. Or whatever, as long as it lends her power.

Why not run for a seat in the Senate instead? Although a co-equal of the House, the Senate has a national constituency, and there, she can propose farm-to-market roads in San Juan, or a monument to her name, or grandstand like what many in the Senate are now doing. She can also write pieces of legislation speaking favorably about her term in Malacanang, something which history books will most likely deny her. She can also rake in coals through public hearings and inquiries those who criticized her when she was President .

Run, Gloria, run. Just don’t leave Mike behind.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A pandemic among us

A global epidemic finally catches us. Catches up with us.

Yesterday, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic of the H1N1 virus, commonly known as the swine flu, after a meeting with health experts in Geneva.

The swine flu pandemic is the first global flue epidemic in 41 years. The last pandemic was the Hong Kong flu in 1968 which killed one million people, the world health authority said.

Unlike war, which human beings declare upon human beings in certain parts of the world one at a time, a pandemic is one inanimate enemy that human beings should—and must—declare war to at once, simultaneously, and in all places and in every nook and cranny of the globe.

For both kill.

For the first kind of war, man has designed and manufactured every conceivable weapon and gadget that instill the fear of civilization being wiped out in an instant—should a global war similar to the last from 1941-45 erupts—and justify the political and economic oppression by the powerful of the powerless. By the haves of the have-nots. Look at Iran and North Korea. Take a look at Iraq and Afghanistan.

There is no weapon yet in the second kind of war. The Associated Press report on the WHO decision said it will “trigger drugmakers to speed up production of a swine flu vaccine and prompt governments to devote more money toward efforts to contain the virus.”

There are also no sides in this war against the swine flu, no political underpinnings, no diplomatic initiative to mount or negotiation to conduct. It is the world against an unseen enemy that attacks without consideration of gender, race or creed.

In the swine flu pandemic, the only issue that matters is the health of the human race. The motive is win the war, “contain” the virus, to preserve life.

So that there will be ones left alive to declare war against and so the world can use its stockpile of nuclear and other sophisticated instruments of death it has spent billions of money and precious time to produce?

I suspect so.

Wars—economic and political—occur everyday in many places, taking the lives of many in subtle and unsubtle ways. Governments usually perpetuate these and the people, taking sides, sustain their continued happening. These wars over the long period of man’s existence have killed more than a pandemic did. They ontinues to kill.

The swine flu pandemic is not an everyday event, unlike hunger or traffic or political squabbling. But because the media’s reporting painted the swine flu virus in very graphic and alarming terms, people have come to grips with the sound byte and behaved accordingly.

It is for experts to explain the causes and events that led to the mutation of the swine flu virus. For the people around the world, their concern is how not to get afflicted. For those who have it, to get well and healed.

Are we to panic? No.

The WHO the other day said 74 countries had reported nearly 27,737 cases of swine flu, including 141 deaths. Health officials in the US said swine flu cases in the country are on the decline.

“Despite WHO's hopes, raising the epidemic alert to the highest level will almost certainly spark some panic about spread of swine flu.” That’s the Associated Press reporting.

It continued:

“Fear has already gripped Argentina, where thousands of people worried about swine flu flooded into hospitals this week, bringing emergency health services in the capital of Buenos Aires to the brink of collapse. Last month, a bus arriving in Argentina from Chile was stoned by people who thought a passenger on it had swine flu. Chile has the most swine flu cases in South America.”

“In Hong Kong on Thursday, the government ordered all kindergartens and primary schools closed for two weeks after a dozen students tested positive for swine flu—a move that some flu experts would consider an overreaction."

In the dictionary, preparation comes before proximity. The events above-described should warn us that the swine flu recognizes no geographical borders. Because there were already reported swine flu cases in the country, we should be concerned, not fear. We should prepare.

Yes, we should strengthen our defenses, but not for swine flu alone. There are matters that could kill us swiftly than swine flu. One of this is the constitutional assembly virus, which has contaminated some pot-bellied swine in the House of Representatives and who now wish it to inflict upon us.

That’s another war we better be on guard.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The ConAss conspiracy: It's all about pig

Contrary to what many say, the move of the Gloria Arroyo-controlled House of Representatives to ram through our throats a change in the Cory Constitution through a constituent assembly, with the lower part of Congress—the silong as venue—was not a desperate move.

A calculated step it was. A neatly-planned gamble, with hedged bets running to millions of pesos and with expected windfall running to millions more. It was a closely-knit operation: hatched on the birth date of the NUCD-LAKAS-Kampi merger.

It, too, was a masterfully-executed stratagem, with no less that Speaker Prospero Nograles and company breaking bread and clinking wine glasses with the devil in the last day of the regular session; very late into the night when most of us were in deep stupor because we didn’t have a proper dinner.

No, the operation was not a clutching-at-straws thing. It had a conspiratorial tone in it, a “let’s-screw-the-people” script written no less by a director and her fawning assistants who had done it before, but who had failed. Restrained.

To this blogger, however, who could get tribal as he can be naive, this brand new political theater is humorous—not horrifying—entertainment. The play is no less than an attempt to make the Philippines, once and for all, a Republic of Pigs.

Past experiments of the past two presidents, Ramos and Estrada, did not succeed in transforming the country into a parliamentary banana, although there had been observations that we need not wear a coat to become one, as we, these observers further say, were already the monkey’s favorite food since Ferdinand Marcos cheated his way into re-election in 1965 by making a squash out of the father of today’s Malacanang tenant.

A pig Republic? Hmm, why not, for a change.

In Sibale, the silong of a house is tall and large. In a silong, one can stand erect on his full head and not touch the paruyos—the parallel-series of lumber on which the sayog, or the floor, made of bamboo slats, are fastened and nailed. In the main house, one can see, observe fully, through the bamboo slats the events that happen below, in the silong, and make something of the coming and going of its exalted denizens.

The silong is a menagerie. It is—with a single entrance and exit—a fenced abode to dogs, cats, goats, pigs and fowl that at dusk assemble and make the cool, shaded place home through the uncertain night. On the earthen floor of the silong these animals lie to take a rest and sleep their dreams away or to contemplate the future. They mostly quarrel though.

Thus, tere is no peace in the silong, for within its quarrelsome ranks the pig asserts itself as tyrant, not merely because of its heft, but more so because of its attitude. He—if it’s a boar; she, if a sow—claims, no, devours, everything that the human ruler, the resident on the floor above, throws under as a matter of course.

This ‘everything’ includes leftover food, dish water, or yayog, root crop and fruit and vegetable peelings, spoilt milk and stale cheese and smelly fish, all of which are collectively called bahog, or animal feed. In bahog and yayog pigs thrive. We don’t call these kaning-baboy for nothing. They are for this glutton of an animal. Pig.

Do pigs pig out? I think yes. Throw in them the kitchen sink and they will devour it. In another house, also a menagerie but inhabited by humans, leave a roll of bathroom tissue lying around and the chance of it getting signed—if a promise of good tidings is forthcoming—is greater than winning a bet in lotto. That’s gluttony.

In the silong, the pig muscles its way through, bares it teeth, to deny the fowl, the goat, the dog, and the cat a fair share of the bounty the human master allocates. It declares enmity to whatever animal crosses its path, even if only accidentally or coincidentally. The other house very similarly looks like this.

The pig, this selfish, ill-considerate animal, groans to sound off that he is at war with his fellow creatures. If the pig can talk, he will, during their nightly assembly in the silong, might even file a resolution expanding the boundaries of his earthly turf. If he can argue, he might say, "No, don't you worry fellow animals. Only the economic provisions of our charter will be touched to ensure that we are well-fed." And who will—can—prevent him? He is the pig, and even the mild-mannered goat can only nibble at a dry twig at the corner, helpless.

How about the dog? Ah, the loyal creature may have eternal dislike for the cat, but he, too, in the face of a rampaging boar, can only hide his tail between his hind legs, while the cat can only lick its paws and scratch her ears, helpless.

Never mind the hen. She lays eggs, so she can retire to a safe corner in the silong, far from the pig’s line of fire. She is not only helpless. She could also be helpful as fodder to the pig, if anything just as a hair of a feather is caught by the animal.

This situation in the menagerie I have observed to be true when I was a child in an island called Sibale. As I observed, my contempt for the pig and his unmitigated selfishness and insatiable hunger, grew in proportion to my appetite for pig tails, pig ears, pig innards and pig intestines cooked in pig’s blood, ginger and coconut vinegar. As rinug-an, pork is much, much harmless than the living creature.

As a grown-up and not so unlearned in the ways of politicians, I observed a similar brusque, in-your-face, muscling-in, so-what, the-people-are-stupid, what-are-we-in-power-for, conduct in the other house, the House of Representatives; the very same, if not worse-than, pig attitude that led to the constituent assembly conspiracy which is now the object of the public’s ire and civilized societies’ ridicule.

Let us not, however, limit the circle of interested parties who riled and made a case—and cause—against the constituent assembly stab-at-the-back.

In Sibale, I phoned a friend to ask how the animals, notably the pig, in the menagerie, reacted to the news.

“They were amused that people would flock to the streets to oppose it,” he said matter-of-factly.
“I think they welcome the news and believe that Filipinos are trying be like them,” he added, “because I heard the pig said,”

“Now, it would not be difficult for us to have a quorum. We can decide to kick out our master and occupy the whole house.”

Monday, June 1, 2009

A mole in the capitol

Awe Eranes and Tony Macalisang, Romblon Sun’s indefatigable duo of reporters, have not validated it, but I suppose they will after they arrive on a short trip from Manila.

I refer to an e-mail from the provincial capitol (yes, Virginia, the capitol is connected to the Internet!) that was sent to the newspaper, and which I was also furnished a copy. The e-mail named names that heretofore were only whispered about relative to the continuing saga of the provincial employees’ uniforms. Undelivered in full, until now.

You see, I had written twice about the controversial issue hoping that the capitol will explain the inordinate delay in the uniforms’ delivery. The capitol issued a rejoinder, alright, through an email of one Salvador Hernandez, but his attempt to shed light on the matter only managed to raise more questions rather than resolve previously-raised ones.

Hernandez didn’t say if he was authorized to say something about the matter. He never wrote again and so we don’t know if Gov. Jojo Beltran ordered him to shut up. Maybe he didn’t know much of the facts, so rather than put a foot in his mouth, he just clammed up.

Now here comes another capitol factotum writing on the matter. Unlike Salvador, however, this one has no name. Unknown. An “X”. A faceless talking head. I’m used to nameless letter writers who have something to say but cannot own up to what they blabber about. I can understand them. Fear—real and contrived—is great at making cowards out of even the most courageous of souls.

The writer, whom I will call ICU for Informant from the Capitol Underground, claims that he knew many things that if made public will “bring down the Romblon capitol”. Really?

ICU’s e-mail was addressed to the ‘Gentlemen of the Romblon Sun’. So as not to inflict sore eyes on my readers, I edited his juicy revelations.

“First and foremost, I trust that any info I will feed you and divulge to be confidential will not lead to the disclosure of my identity. From the name or username of the e-mail address alone, it is already very clear that I am from the capitol,” he began.

I doubt you, sir! How can we disclose your identity when we don’t know you? Your username is not proof of who you are, so don’t state as fact that “it is already very clear” you are “from the capitol”. For all I know, you might be Gov. Jojo Beltran.

But thank you for writing. At least we know there are still people like you, nameless though you are, who have the balls to come forward and say what they know about the shenanigans happening in the house of Jojo Beltran. Stricken by guilty conscience, or simply patriotic? I would tend to believe you are the latter.

“If you will assure me of this total confidentiality, I will divulge everything most serious and interesting matters of interest to you and to the public,” ICU continued.

Identify first yourself, sir. Don’t hide. Then we discuss the matter of changing your identity, even your gender, if that is needed, to protect you from the fate that informants often suffer: the pain of being ostracized by peers, if not kidnapped, finger nails pulled out, and then dipped into vinegar. We don’t want that to happen to you, so please say your name. Having a name is a safeguard in itself.

Seriously now, I assure you I will not tell Jojo Beltran who you are (because I don’t know you, for God’s sake!).

Is that assurance enough? You want me to swear? No? Now, tell me everything. Wait! You said you will “divulge most serious and interesting matters that are of interest” to us? I tell you, nothing interests this writer except the truth and the wellbeing of the Romblomanons. So, stop invoking our interest. How about you? What is your interest in telling us what you know?

Notwithstanding my own doubts, let’s hear some of ICU’s surprising revelations.

He said that one Raylin Coje Famatiga, who is purportedly a cousin of the governor, is not at all Beltran’s relative.

“The Famatigas of Sibuyan are not related to the Famatiga clan of Odiongan, which is former mayor Diday Famatiga’s clan,” the mole wrote. “I investigated,” he added. On official time? Just curious: What’s your position in the capitol? Deep penetration agent? Oh, I forgot. You are a mole, an informant.

Who is Raylin Famatiga? She is ambition personified. That’s what I understood from ICU.

In the saga of the uniforms, she was the one who allegedly bagged the uniform allowances of the 439 employees in the amount of P1.6 million.

Our mole said she was a former planning officer at the provincial planning and development office (PPDO), but when Gov. Beltran won, she was promoted to the position of cashier, apparently in preparation for a much higher position which she covets, that of an assistant provincial treasurer. This will happen, the mole said, when Beltran is re-elected. Temporarily, she was made officer-in-charge of the provincial budget office.

Our friend from the governor’s kingdom added some juicy stuff about the private life of Ms. Famatiga, but they are steamier than the Hayden-Katrina bed encounter--and private--hence, unprintable. Suffice it to say that the mole mentioned the names of one Engr. Jojo Rugas and one Fiscal Almadin who, I can describe based on the mole’s account and using astronomy as metaphor, are among the planets orbiting in the galaxy dominated by Ms. Famatiga as sun. Neither of the two knows the reach of the sun’s gravity.

There are lesser stars in Ms. Famatiga’s galaxy, according to the mole. Two of them are the lady’s manicurist and masseuse all of whom, according to ICU, are in the provincial payroll even if they don’t report for work.

Kung waya gi susuyor sa trabaho kag manikurista, pagkahaba ey kag mga kuko ni Raylin? Ag inapaka-budlay yey kung waya ra gihapon gi tatrabaho kag masahista? Kalulu-oy!

The mole said Ms. Famatiga is so influential with the governor that when Beltran is away (why, where does he go?), she allegedly acts like a governess. “(W)ala siyang hindi ginusto na hindi niya nagagawa at nakukuha.”

She is also a contractor, ICU said, and is even called “Engr. Famatiga” behind her back. She allegedly contracted the renovation of the provincial treasurer’s office.

What foresight! When she becomes assistant provincial treasurer (if Jojo wins again, which I doubt because lightning never strikes twice), she will have a ready-to-occupy work station.

Questions: If she was the contractor, how did she win in the bedding, oops, bidding, if it was held? If she is the provincial cashier, how in God’s name did she bag a contract in the capitol without any of its over 1,000 employees noticing a conflict of interest case? This is already too much. Kailangan ney nak paki-alaman ni Cong. Budoy kali-ong trabaho ni Jojo Beltran.

Sorry, Mr. ICU, I can’t follow your advice to check Ms. Raylin’s account with the PNB because of the bank secrecy law. Subali rang masyaro’t kubos si Raylin kada nagtitigruha-ruha it trabaho. Badyangey. Aya gi kaila. Sa masunor ray ka.