Tuesday, September 25, 2007

And the Plot Thickens

(The man of the hour. A caricature of Chairman Romulo Neri of Commission on Higher Education, who was trasferred to this post from NEDA after rejecting the ZTE broadband deal.)

"The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is."---Winston Churchill

The quest for the truth behind the much talked about NBN-ZTE contract has become Arthurian in nature. Calls for the lofty ideals of truthfulness, integrity and honor are being made of the government officials summoned to appear and testify at the Senate. Following "Joey" or Jose de Venecia III's explosive testimony, the next man to be literally grilled on the proverbial kitchen sink or burner is former National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary and now Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chairman Romulo Neri. He was apparently transferred to this new post after his former office flatly rejected the ZTE proposal. Just today, 26 Sep 07, appearing with Commission on Elections (Comelec) Benjamin Abalos on the Senate hearing, he recalled how the former offered him Php 200 million in kickback if he were to push through with the now ballyhooed deal. To quote Abalos, "me 200 ka dyan Secretary." He said he assumed it was P200 million “given the magnitude of the project...Siguro hindi naman P200 or P200,000.” Apparently, he couldn't stomach the negotiation, rejected the ZTE proposal and informed PGMA of the nefarious offer by Abalos. He further revealed that the President ordered him to reject the offer.

But what he and the president further discussed regarding the controversial project, he simply refused to reveal by invoking the blanket of protection offered by Executive Order 464. One must recall that this executive order, which was ingeniously drafted at the height of the Hello Garci controversy, bars pertinent government officials from discussing issues which involves “conversations with the President.” Essentially, it is an all-encompassing gag order which restricts officials from giving testimonies in a public hearing say, in the Senate or in the Congress, which could prove damning to the executive office. It is a two-edged sword which prevents the official from perjuring himself and the highest official in the land, the President, herself. As such, EO 464 is the main escape route of officials who are burdened by the knowledge of the truth but doesn't want to run the risk of outrightly telling a lie. They can keep their blessed silence by simply invoking this seemingly innocuous executive order and instantly free themselves of the task of telling the nerve-wracking truth or a convoluted lie. (It takes fun out of the game if you ask me.)

The real story behind the NBN-ZTE broadband deal is becoming more and more complicated, with additional characters coming to light as the days go by. With the plot thickening, it threatens to spill over and implicate the President herself. What does she truly know about the broadband deal? Was she aware of her huband's supposed contentious involvement? And more importantly, why is Comelec Chairman Abalos even a part of this issue when his primary concern in the government is the "counting" of votes come election time? Is there any special link behind his involvement in the deal?

In the end, we all just all want to know the truth. Truth that will hopefully set us free--finally.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Final Bow

I can't believe this! My boss is finally leaving us. After almost a year of constant (yet silent) complaints of his ineffeciency, he is finally bidding us adieu. What do I say to a man who refused to accept my resignation letter and asked me to consider another job description (which I did accept in the end). I can't say he made an excellent decision by letting me stay in the company but still, you gotta appreciate the gesture. I still don't think I make a right fit in my current profession. I know there is something more between the lines when he said he was simply "taking another offer he cannot refuse." But I wish him all the best still. Despite his lack of management skills, he always the prim and proper British boss one could hope for. As the Brits say, "Cheers mate!"

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What's the Deal with the NBN Deal?

( Is he telling the truth? Photo above is the son of House Speaker Jose de Venecia, "Joey" de Venecia or Jose de Venecia III)


The latest government scandal to hit the newsstands these days is the National Broadband Network (NBN) and ZTE contract broadband deal. To put it plainly, this shady agreement amounting to US$329 million dollars (PhP 25 billion) was signed between the RP government and the Chinese company, ZTE Corp., to provide the Philippine government agencies a national broadband connection. ZTE will sponsor the loan and infrastructure for a mere 3 percent interest per annum which will interconnect all national agencies from Luzon to Mindanao, a supposedly a good idea as this will ensure faster and better services of the pertinent government agencies. Moreso, this deal will also pave the way for cyber or E-education to reach the public schools nationwide as they will be also given free internet access which includes a 20-30 minutes footage of educational materials to beef up their declining quality of education. This is purportedly a bright idea given the dearth of public school teachers and more importantly, their inadequacy of good teaching skills due to lack of training. It would be like hitting two birds in one stone. The government gets to resolve the lack of teachers or quality teachers for that matter, by simply giving away computers with internet connection to rural schoolkids. They get to have instant teachers, with quality education and skills by just watching live internet feed from the tv sets. Viola, problem, instantly solved! And not only that, this particular benefit is just a small consequence of the greater broadband connection. In theory, the deal will benefit the government by saving millions of pesos in terms of telephone bills and internet connection access as it will magically interconnect the entire national government agencies for more efficient and speedier public service.

It all sounds so good to be true. And it is. Two months after signing the agreement, the real picture suddenly comes all out in the open, ugly insinuations of muti-million dollar kickbacks by several high profile government officials were revealed by a virtual unknown in the Philippine politics radar. His namesake and father, is a political heavyweight, a presidential loser and wannabe for the longest time, but he himself is a private businessman who goes by the unassuming name Joey. His real full name is Jose de Venecia III.

The burning question now is, "Is he telling the truth?" What are his motives for allegedly speaking the truth, for brazenly burning political bridges by sharing to the Senate damning accusations against the close allies of his father? Yesterday, 18 Sep, Joey or JDV III, attended the Senate hearing regarding the controversial NBN deal and even showed them how the FG Mike Arroyo, who hurriedly left the country for a "long-planned" trip, brownbeat him in staying out of the government deal. Prior to this, he already claimed on national tv that Comelec Chairman Abalos brokered the deal for ZTE to win the government contract against other foreign bidders which includes his own Amsterdam Holdings Inc. He was supposedly offered a US$ 10 million dollars bribe just to stay out of the government sponsored deal. But then burdened by the weight of his conscience, he felt compelled to reveal that the deal was overpriced by at least US$ 130 million just to accommodate kickbacks of top government officials, not excluding the President's omnipresent husband.

Or No Deal?

More recently, PGMA announced that she was suspending the NBN contract because it was generating much unwanted "political noise." She reiterated that the suspension would be a step back to the cyber highway and E-progress that her government promised but that she was left with no choice as her political detractors were unneccesarily fussing over the legality of the said contract. New SWS ratings showed her satisfaction rating was at its worst, garnering a negative eleven (-11) percent approval rating, partly due to the recently concluded Estrada plunder case and the controversial contract. Still, government officials claim that the suspension will be a disservice to the country as this deal will purportedly save the government Php 20 billion in the first five years alone and Php 60 billion in the next twenty years. Apparently, the government spends about Php 4 billion annually for its telecommunication expenses. Where they got the exact mathematical figures for the savings is beyond the logic of explanation.

Ironically, it was Joey or JDV III who served as the "bridge" to link PGMA and JDV back in 1998. It must be recalled that PGMA was the winning Vice President of then presidential hopeful JDV. At that time, though a political novice, Arroyo made a good name for herself as a Senator (and was highly popular because of her uncanny resemblance to Nora Aunor in her political posters) but wasn't JDV's top choice as VP partner. His primary choice then was late Senator Barbers ( recall Garci scandal) and or Tito Sotto, the actor-politician, who subsequently lost in the 2007 Senatorial election, primarily for being an actor. Filipinos are rather fickle-minded in their choice of political leaders. At one point, being a popular tv personality is enough to ensure one of a stable political career in whichever seat and province or city you may want to be. But seeing that tv actors/personalities is no guarantee for a graft-free and corruption-less political environment, voters soon shunned these popular figures as suitable political candidates. There are always exceptions to the rule, of course, one major point in case is the Star for all Season and renowned dramatic actress Vilma Santos, who won a landslide victory as the governor of Batangas province. But still, the rule of the thumb these days is that you can't expect your pleasant-looking face and affable personality to assure you of a political victory, qualities which were good enough some five or ten years ago.

Indeed, the Philippine political milieu changes in the blink of an eye. One minute, you're the hottest political star on the rise and the next second you are out of the game. As such, it is highly important that one knows how to play one's political cards correctly. PGMA knows the value of this. If not for her adept political manuevering, she wouldn't be PGMA nor she would have stayed as PGMA. How she will temper the latest political storm resulting from this NBN deal is a classic study for all political enthusiasts and students alike. My bet is that she could still find a way out of this conundrum and maintain her mighty act that she is still only commencing the deal for the benefit and good of this confused nation.

So is it a deal or no deal?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Memories of a Long Ago Summer

(The Nabasan Beach in Subic, the very same beach discussed in the poem below. Following Heraclitus' principle of change, it is not the same beach I chanced upon five years ago. The beach itself is not the same and so am I. )

Inspired by the lone summer trip that we took as a group of four single twenty-something girls five years ago, my dear old friend Les wrote me a poem which talks about the changes that happened since then and how change itself cannot be stopped. Aptly titling it, "Tales in the Sand," she likens the changes that took place between us, separately and together as friends, to the rocks that weather gradually to become the sands that we tread on the beach. Changes, she says, is inexorable, moves without our consent either for the better or the worse. I am glad to say that despite these changes in our lives, we have remained as very good friends. I post this poem here (without her knowledge) in appreciation for the many years of our friendship which began for the most trivial of reasons. Way back in highschool, Les and I became close friends as I remember her generously sharing her mathematics homework with me. She has shared so many other things with me since then and more valuable than those precious items is her gift of time and self. She has listened and seen me grow spiritually, mentally (and physically) over the years. Now, she shares her knowledge and love of philosophy by letting me "sit- in" in her feminism graduate study class. She is now my professor and I, her student. Indeed, the tides of time bring about unpredictable and crazy changes. I can't wait to know what will happen next.

Tales in The Sand

By Noelle Leslie de la Cruz

For M.R.G.

Years ago, you didn’t have a daughter yet
All four of us were single, closer to 20
Than to adulthood.
Our only out-of-town trip
Remember, that night-long drive through the forest
Passing sentinels of monkeys on the wayside
Their lax fingers dragging on the ground
And their tails curling like questions marks.

The sun had sunk behind the mountains
By the time we reached the road’s end
Where the beach poured into the bay.

You got out and ran to the water, jumping in
With all your clothes on.
We waded ankle-deep
And watched you swim as far out as you dared,
Your winged feet sinking beneath the surface
Like the phantom fins of a mermaid.

This is as close to the open sea as we can get
The warm, wet sand swirling around our limbs
I would have liked to tell you, I am changing
But my open mouth is full of sand
And I am drowning in this endless streaming
Through the funnel of God’s hourglass.

There is sand under my fingers, sand
In my damp hair and ears, sand
In my heart ground to dust as I watch you
Swim farther and farther out, until
You are a speck lost in the shifting grains.

Perhaps this is the secret of the ocean’s equanimity
And the millennial wisdom of the rocks:
Standing faithfully at the water’s edge
Against the onslaught of wind and brine, yielding
A fraction of a fraction of oneself, each year.

Just as we shed a rain of dead cells in our wake
As time passes, so too must these great rocks
Surrender to the elemental encroachment
Becoming the sandy water we swim in today.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Guilty! (for the right and wrong reasons)

( A photo of Erap with son Senator Jinggoy with a sad look on his face. The father was convicted but the son was exonorated of the similar crime of plunder.)

Note: Plunder is a criminal offense legally defined as: "By taking undue advantage of official position, authority, relationship, connection or influence to unjustly enrich himself or themselves at the expense and to the damage and prejudice of the Filipino people and the Republic of the Philippines."

Today, 12 Sep 2007, a historic guilty verdict was handed down to deposed 13th Philippine president Joseph Estrada. He was convicted of the crime of plunder and sentenced to a lifetime imprisonment which carries a maximum sentence of 40 years. It is highly unlikely that the charismatic leader will carry out that lifetime sentence given that he is now 70 years of age. If he does, he will outlive his enduring mother who is now 102 years old. Seems that long life runs in the family and instead of feeling blessed, Estrada might be wary these days if he lives that long. At any rate, the guilty verdict, which doesn't come as a surprise knowing that this case is primarily a political one if truth be told, will not bother Estrada that much. He knows very well that he has the upperhand and that the government, or rather the Arroyo regime, won't dare place him in an ordinary or poor man's jail cell, as he can easily provoke the sympathy of his paid and blind minions.

That Estrada is guilty is a well known fact. However, the thing that troubles a lot of people, particularly his sympathizers is that he was the only one convicted of such a heavy crime. The charge of plunder or simply put it graft and corruption in a massive scale, is an offense committed by almost everybody in the government. Sadly, power corrupts people and if you're not morally strong enough by nature, you don't stand any chance if you opt to work for the government. One ripple cannot possibly overturn the raging river. If you dont go with the "flow", you will simply drown in the sea of murky government affairs. They will brand you as an aberration, as somebody who doesn't know how to blend in the crowd. They will mistrust you and do overything in their power to take you out of position as you are not one them. Estrada may be guilty but so are the rest of them. How come justice is not served as swiftly to others who are just as guilty as him? Seems to me that justice in this country is never blind, it is partial and only serves the interests of those who are in power.

Estrada was found guilty for all the wrong reasons. Firstly, he will never be given a non-guilty verdict as this decision will undermine the legitimacy of the Arroyo government. Regardless, that she supposedly "legitimately" won a second mandate in the last 2004 elections, the fact that her first taste of presidency might be questionable is enough reason to convict Estrada. Secondly, the Supreme Court, in the person of then SC Chief Hilario Davide, presided over the oath-taking of erstwhile Vice President Gloria Arroyo to the highest position in the land, saying that the Estrada presidency has lost its "moral" ascendancy to govern. This means that the highest court in the land legally approved the take-over. The people then cheered for the "morally" conscious, church-going and family-oriented replacement that was Arroyo. Little did we know that morality has different shades and that being outwardly moral does not guarantee inward and deeply ingrained morality after all. Six years under her government rule will prove that morality is such a contentious issue and that one should not simply judge a book by its cover. Estrada with his philandering and Bacchic ways is no less moral than the churh-going Arroyo.

The Estrada conviction is hollow victory for the Philippine justice system. They caught a "big fish" but it was a fish that has been out of the water for so long. He no longer wields the same charisma and political clout as before. Compared to the current president, Estrada is no doubt more popular, but in terms of political strings and connections, he does not have the same network when he was still the one in power. In politics, the adage "friends in need, are friends indeed" holds true. Estrada had numerous political friends before as his was the figurative ass that needed kissing, but now that this very same bottom was literaly kicked out of power, his so-called friends have dissipated one by one.


Lately, after much reading, hearing and watching about the merits of the plunder case against Estrada, I came to realize that the 3 justices of the Sandiganbayan maybe truthful and impartial after all. Judging from the contents of their decision, it seems to me that the justices did base their final ruling on the dry facts of the case alone. Accordingly, they convicted Estrada based on the P189 million kickback he received from the purchase of Belle Corp. shares by the Social Security System and the Government Service Insurance System. They deemed this piece of evidence as irrefutable, incontrovertible fact as this was a matter of Estrada's word against the SSS and GSIS officials who bravely testified that the former did receive kickback and ordered the transaction. The justices also contend that Erap and Jose Velarde are one and the same after hearing Clarissa Ocampo's testimony that she saw Estrada signing bank documents in such a signature. If we only had a person of Ocampo's stature and credibility to testify against who real Jose Pidal is, then maybe we could know the truth and convict him as well. They also found him guilty as the chief supporter and instigator of jueteng operations in the country, discounting even the allegations of Chavit Singson, a close jueteng lord accomplice, that Erap received P140 million bribe from him. Given all these arguments, the special courts seemingly displayed honesty and integrity in their landmark court ruling. They kept the promises they made when they swore to be the just arbiters of the law.

Justice was after all served. I just wish it could be served to all.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Longing for a Place called Home

"Only when they have changed in our very blood, into glance and gesture, and are nameless, no longer to be distinguished from ourselves—only then can it happen that in some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their midst and goes forth from them."---Rainer Maria Rilke

My recent birthday celebration had me thinking. What have I done so far for the past 28 years in this planet? Aside from mothering a lovable two-year old free-spirited child, what other significant contributions have I accomplished? Well, I earned my Bachelors degree at a reasonably prestigious university, worked for the government and been in various non-gratifying dead-end jobs, and well...that is all really. (I forget to mention finding a man who vowed to be my partner for life as I attribute that success in my emotional life mostly to him and not to me.) I am 28 years old and my friends keep on teasing that a couple of years from now my my age will no longer be contained in annual calenders, yet I haven't accomplished anything. I've had two failed attempts at getting a Master's degree and will most probably try my luck again at the start of this year. Considered as a sort of intellectual during my college years, I seem to have lost the passion for knowledge. My contemporaries have or are currently in the process of earning their higher education and yet I am here stuck in some brainless and thankless job, calling people who are not particularly overjoyed to hear my voice on a regular basis. The idealism, my heady days of intellectual pursuit, are all but memories of a quickly fading past. I long for the "old" me. Now that I am practically an "old adult" on the brim of becoming a young thirty-something person, I suddenly have this inexplainable longing for my past. A past that I never really enjoyed, but now desperately want to go back to.

Extending way way beyond my college days, my mind keeps flashing back with the memories of my long-forgotten childhood. Most probably because as I presently write this I can vivdly envision my grandfather or my "Tatay" as I fondly called him idly whiling away time on his deathbed in a rural place called Caranas in my province of Iloilo. He is dying and everybody knows it, but we cannot do anything about it. He has reached his golden years, now more than 80 years of age, he has probably outlived most of his peers. My grandfather's sister, my grandma lovingly called "Lola Ika", who is a couple of years older than him is fast approaching her 90's. Nobody knows her exact age now as her immediate relatives cannot find a copy of an existing birth certificate. They both lived full lives in their youth and sired sons and daughters way beyond the normally accepted ratio these days.
I miss them both. I miss the days when they were still strong, could talk coherently, chastised and even perhaps spanked me for my childhood misbeheaving days. I visited my lolo, my Tatay, last May and saw him peacefully sleeping in a fetal position. Legs crumpled and bent, his muscles are slowly defeating him and refusing to recognize simple voluntary movements ordered by his brain. He has difficulty sitting up these days and can no longer stand on his own. He munches his food loudly with his toothless gums and has to spoon-fed like a child. Indeed, that is where we will all go back to. In old age just like in our infancy, we return to our needy state. Days when we were simply helpless, defenseless and completely dependent to external care from our loved ones. After being independent for a such a long time, it might either be a relief or a pure frustration to suddenly go back to being dependent again.

I wanted to cry at that moment. But I held my ground and refused to shed the tears as there was nothing to regret about his life. He spent it wisely, lavished his family and friends with time during his younger years. And yet, I feel like crying, invisible tears are flowing down my face as I cry for those years I did not spend with him. Where was I when there was still strength left in his body, when there was still memory and sense in his mind? I was preoccupied with myself then. I indulged in sensory and intellectual pleasures all meant to discover the real me that I was trying to form. In those years I centered on myself, I lost him, I lost my patient grandfather who took care of me in my youth. The one who said, "Choose which chicken you like and I will kill it and serve it up as your dinner." The one who let me roam around to catch piglets and goats running inside our backyard. The one who provided me during my childhood a place called home. The only place I would ever call home. It is still exists in the corners of my mind, that wonderful place where I felt loved, protected and experienced total bliss. And as long as I am alive it will always be there. My grandfather, the physical house itself, may soon pass but as long as I keep on breathing, its memory will forever be true, pulsing with life, eternal, fresh and vibrant, just like when I was a child.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Ugly (Funny) Politics

A joke I got from PDI which best describes how ugly our Philippine bureaucracy works. I can't stop myself from laughing when I should be crying all along because sadly, this is really how our government conducts business. We are not Asia's most corrupt country for nothing! Here goes the joke.

Three contractors were asked for their fees to repair a White House gate.
American contractor: I’ll charge $900 -- $500 for labor, $300 for materials and $100 for me.
Mexican: I’ll charge $700 -- $400 for labor, $200 for materials and $100 for me.
Filipino: I’ll charge $2,700.
White House official: Why so expensive?
Filipino: $1,000 for me, $1,000 for you, and $700 for the Mexican to do the job.
Guess who got the contract.