Political agenda

Over the weekend, Rommel Ynion published several posts on Facebook outlining his views on what ails Filipino society in general, and Iloilo City in particular. One interesting post dwelt on corruption: Ynion said we should stop complaining about how corrupt our officials are, because there can be no corruption if the people don’t allow it. We deserve the kind of government we have, that’s essentially what Ynion was telling us.

Screenshot 2015-12-28 09.51.26I gave my own observations in reaction to the post. And there followed quite a long thread on our respective viewpoints. There are general agreement that voters are responsible for the kind of government we have. But I argued that voters as we know them now are incapable of making judgments that would lead to choosing leaders who truly look after their interests. Ignorance, brought about by poverty and poor basic services of government, is the culprit.

What struck me as significant is that politics in the Philippine setting has lost its brains. Just take a look at the television and radio commercials being aired — the treatment of vital issues affecting society is skin-deep. Nothing of substance can really be discerned. And the posts made by Ynion could initiate a move in the right direction.

It’s time the electorate demand to read and hear the views of candidates for the May 9, 2015 elections on the burning issues. With the advent of Facebook, Twitter and other social media, it’s possible for candidates to conduct virtual town hall meetings in which ordinary citizens can engage them with spontaneous questions and listen to their viewpoints.

We have reached a point when Facebook and Twitter has become accessible for ordinary Filipinos. Smart and Globe provide free access to their subscribers. Now, any Filipino citizen with a mobile phone can make his voice heard to their political leaders. Genuine leadership  makes it imperative for politicians to rise to the challenge.

So far, in Iloilo City, only Ynion has shown that he possesses the intellectual readiness with his views on issues. If he keeps up with similar posts, he should be able to articulate a well-crafted political agenda that every Ilonggo can ultimately claim as his or her own. That’s because as the discussions get deeper, Ynion will get to understand how people feel and know what their aspirations are.

Ynion might be running for a City Council seat this time, but it doesn’t stop him from assuming a position of leadership in Iloilo City. He can serve as a guiding beacon that would slowly, but surely, illuminate the minds of fellow Ilonggos and make them realize it’s in their power to achieve the changes in their lives.

Change does not happen in a vacuum. It requires a charismatic and determined leadership to make it happen. I strongly believe Facebook and other social media are giving us the singular opportunity to achieve that goal.

Travel nightmare

Yesterday, I had hoped to enjoy the short-trip to Manila and start going around with my family. Our flight, PAL PR 1142, was scheduled to leave at 10:05 a.m. We were in the check-in queue at exactly 8 a.m., around number 10 in the line. We looked forward to a fun trip.

But it wasn’t a fun day for us. At 9:30 a.m., the p.a. system informed PAL passengers our plane was delayed. No word about what time it was expected to arrive. In another 30 minutes, the same announcement came over the p.a. system. That happened three or four times more. It was around 12:04 p.m. that the Airbus A321-200 landed.

A321 cabin

The cabin of the Airbus A321-200, PAL’s new aircraft.

With the delay, we expected the plane to leave as soon as the ground servicing was done. We were boarded at around 12:40 p.m. Our only consolation was that the aircraft was bigger, with wider seats and more legroom. It was one of PAL’s newer planes.

But it wasn’t until around 1:24 p.m. that the plane took off from Iloilo. We sat there for about half an hour after the cabin door had been shut. We could only sigh in relief when it finally went airborne. At least, I thought, we could still catch an hour or two of sunlight in the national capital.

As it turned out, a nightmare experience was unfolding for about 13 passengers, most of whom were seated in the rear portion of the aircraft. These passengers had a connecting flight to Vancouver, Canada that was to depart at 3 p.m. Anxious about not being left behind, they asked to be reseated in the front section of the plane in mid-flight. Their request was granted — 20 minutes before landing we were surprised by passengers lugging their hand carried bags toward the forward section.

That favor didn’t make things easier for these Vancouver-bound passengers. They did disembark the plane ahead of us. But then their checked-in luggage needed to be claimed at the carousel; the airline’s online system was down that day, and the luggage couldn’t be tagged to be transferred directly to the connecting flight.

The luggage carousel was again slow in bringing out the bags. We had to wait for about 40 minutes — for ours, that is — to claim our bags. As the Vancouver-bound passengers agonized with the slow burn of waiting, the p.a. system kept blaring that their flight was in the final phase of boarding. I could see the anxiety written on their faces. My family finally exited the arrivals hall at around 3:15.

The personal travel nightmare didn’t end there. The airport road traffic was light. But the pace turned turtle-speed once our car reached EDSA. And it took us another hour and a half to reach Mandaluyong City where we would be staying until the New Year.

It was my former Rotary Club buddy, Michael Bohlen, an expat from Great Britain, who reminded me about doing this piece about our shared experience yesterday. Indeed, we wasted a whole day for this trip. When we reached our destination, we had no more energy to go around. We hardly had time to brush our teeth and change into house clothes before exhaustion overcame us. We slept before 6 p.m.

This is how the holiday travel in the national capital can turn fun into a nightmare.

 

Making architecture relevant to the times

(Coffeebreak, December 17, 2015)

Over the centuries, architecture has pushed the concept of building design to the hilt, bringing about innovation and creativeness in integrating aesthetics with efficiency in building space utilization. It has also introduced the use of materials made lighter and cheaper by technology that enabled architects to challenge traditional concepts in design, some of which defy the forces of physics.

But these advances in architecture, however, have largely neglected fundamental needs of people, especially the poor. Most, if not all, of the highly-acclaimed breakthroughs in architectural design appeal to the wealthy. Office skyscrapers, hotels, stadiums, homes big and small and monuments dominate the conversation about architecture. Few, if at all, involve design innovations that benefit the poor.

An Ilonggo architect is about to change that perspective in the field of architecture.

Just recently, Architect Guillermo “Gimo” Hisancha has embarked on a novel project to thrust the profession to the forefront of disaster response and promotion of maternal health care.

As Head for Public Health Work Programme of the Union of International Architects (UIA) for Region VI, Hisancha has launched a national design competition for multi-use emergency and maternal/birthing facilities among Filipino architects to help governments deal with large-scale problems confronting their constituency.

“The idea has been met with enthusiasm and support from national architects organizations in the whole of Asia and Australia when I presented this before a regional conference two months ago in Thailand,” Hisancha said.

In his position as Head for Public Health Work Programme of the UIA, Hisancha, who had served a total of 18 years in public service, first as municipal councilor, and then as municipal vice mayor, of the Pavia LGU, is one of only two Filipinos who are incumbent officers of the worldwide organization of architects.

It is a recognition of his outstanding contributions to his profession, particularly with his involvement in legacy projects in the city and province of Iloilo, that have made his name a symbol of excellence.

Casa Real

CASA REAL: A legacy architectural work by Architect Guillermo Hisancha

Perhaps his best-known project is the restoration of the Casa Real, the official name of the old Iloilo Provincial Capitol, to its original design more than a century ago. No less than President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III led national and local officials in the inauguration of this heritage structure as part of the Independence Day celebrations on June 12, 2015.

That single project will permanently etch Hisancha’s name as part of the official history of the province.

Hisancha on Casa Real staircase

Architect Guillermo Hisancha on the staircase of the restored old Iloilo Provincial Capitol, now known as the Casa Real.

Apparently impressed with his restoration project, the Iloilo provincial government, along with the National Historical Commission, then commissioned him to prepare the architectural design for the conversion of the old Iloilo Provincial Jail in the Capitol complex into a regional museum.

The construction work for the regional museum is now ongoing.

Not so well known, but no less significant, are his designs for a multi-purpose disaster shelter for a barangay in Pavia in cooperation with a U.S. based NGO and an orphanage for girls in Iloilo City.

With his new position of international influence, Hisancha wants to leave a lasting imprint on the lives of millions of people, not only in the Philippines, but also in other parts of Asia.

As he searched deep into his experience and knowledge, he realized there are problems that remain unaddressed even as nations are confronted by worsening natural calamities such as typhoons.

In addition, a research project undertaken by his daughter, Raiza, while she was studying at the University of the Philippines-Visayas, opened his eyes to an area where architecture can make an impact on maternal health care.

This is how he came to conceive the project for the design, and ultimately for the fabrication, of multi-use emergency disaster and maternal/birthing facilities for far-flung barangays.

His colleagues in the Asian/Australian region expressed full support for the project and urged him to build the prototypes in the Philippines. “Other UIA country member organizations want to adopt our designs once we pick the winners,” Hisancha said.

Basically, the facilities he intends to build will be mobile and could be deployed at short notice to areas hit by natural calamities and require emergency facilities to provide relief to affected individuals.

For the maternal health and birthing facilities, Hisancha said he wants to address the Millenium Development Goal (MDG) of the United Nations for zero maternal and child-birth deaths on account of inadequate health facilities.

He was aghast upon knowing that tens of thousands of mothers die, often along with their babies, because they live too far away in the mountains from the nearest hospital or birthing facility.

“Most of the mothers don’t get to reach the medical facility alive,” he noted with sadness.

This is the reason Hisancha is excited with this project that the United Architects of the Philippines, which adopted his proposal, will take a lead role in using the expertise and creativeness of its members to soften the impact of disasters on their lives and help mothers survive with their babies.

Hisancha has shown a rare passion on how to use his profession to help people. His reputation is more than enough for him to just focus on big-ticket projects and reap material rewards that are due him as a talented and creative architect.

But more than the accolades, Hisancha is more interested in exploring new and innovative ways on how to make architecture relevant to the needs of the times. He possesses superb leadership that can enhance the respect and admiration of the general public for architects.

Without fear of contradiction, I am sure Hisancha will soar to greater heights. From a “probinsiyano”, he will be catapulted to national and international prominence. This early, I can carve that into the face of a granite stone.

Varnished

(Coffeebreak, December 15, 2015)

Mar Roxas has a simple game plan in his bid to become the next President of the Republic of the Philippines: varnish his image with artificial gloss and eliminate his rivals through a host of legal maneuvers.

We’ve already seen Roxas lift a sack of rice. Also garlic. He tried his hand at being a firefighter and a traffic aide under the rain. He played the role of an ice carver, and even posed on a block of ice lying on his side for photographers. He pedaled a pedicab. And the list is growing longer and longer.

But these are cheap gimmicks that only boomeranged on Roxas the moment pictures came out on social media. Much as he tried to mimic the acts of ordinary Filipinos who have to endure backbreaking work to survive, there is simply no way Roxas could pass for one. That he was born rich, and never had to wonder where his next meal would come from, was glaring from the onset of such efforts.

These last few days, Roxas was again under fire in social media.

This time, he came under heavy criticism for labeling himself as a “Wharton graduate” in his curriculum vitae. It was another deceitful claim to add luster to his name, which had struggled to rise past the 15% mark in survey after survey.

While it was not entirely false, it was a misrepresentation. That’s because “Wharton graduates” in the layman’s understanding refer to those who have obtained their MBAs from this prestigious school in the University of Pennsylvannia.

Roxas earned his undergraduate degree from Wharton-UPenn without distinction. It was an education that his wealthy status made possible for him. Of course, he had to study hard to complete the baccalaureate degree. However, it didn’t give him a distinction that MBAs from this college are accorded with respect and admiration.

Wharton alumni always accompany its name with the extension, “UPenn.” But in the case of Roxas, he merely put Wharton as his alma mater, giving the impression that he finished his MBA there.

The Wharton MBA program is considered one of the premier training grounds for corporate executives, almost at par with the Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business. Yale and Northwestern University have similar programs that are regarded as topnotch.

That’s why a Wharton MBA is given a premium when it appears on a young corporate upstart’s curriculum vitae. It is regarded as a badge of distinction. It is a symbol of an individual’s capability to analyze complex problems and provide leadership in any organization.

It is not to denigrate the undergraduate program at Wharton. But in the scheme of things, a holder of a bachelor’s degree from Wharton can never be placed in the same platform. In experience, training and leadership capability, the Wharton MBA will be two or three notches above a B.S. degree holder.

I can’t blame Roxas though for trying to sneak this through.

He needs to shellac his image as he enters the home stretch of the presidential race. The official campaign period for national candidates won’t kick off until February 9, 2016, but the contenders for the presidency have been barnstorming around the country for months now. And yet, Roxas remains a poor third or fourth in the surveys. His ratings have hit the ceiling at 15%.

Nothing seems to work for Roxas.

His endorser, President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, had hoped Roxas’s numbers would rise after he raised the Liberal Party’s standard bearer last September 30. Since then, Roxas has tapped celebrity endorsements, including a music video featuring the talents of ABS-CBN. Roxas has also the backing of congressmen, governors and mayors.

Despite all these efforts to catapult Roxas to the front of the race, he struggles to rise above his current survey rating of only 15%. In a manner of speaking, he has hit the ceiling. He continues to eat the dust of Davao City mayor Digong Duterte, Senator Grace Poe and even the battle-scarred Vice President Jojo Binay.

Clearly, Roxas has a serious problem. How can he expect to become President when he can’t even come close enough to winning against his opponents? With less than one-fourth of the projected votes, he can’t even be regarded as a serious contender.

Of course there’s the elimination game ala “trip to Jerusalem” that the Liberal Party is playing. There’s a good chance Senator Grace Poe might be disqualified. Duterte, too, will face the same troubles. And knowing the LP’s determination to ram through its effort to win the Presidency for Roxas by hook or by crook, Duterte’s being swept aside from the race is not remote.

The scenario that’s being set should leave Roxas standing alone in the ring.

But wait, there’s still Binay. After a whole year of bashing and harassing the brown-skinned man from Makati City hasn’t been knocked down. In fact, Binay remains ahead of Roxas in the surveys — way ahead.

This presents a tough problem for Roxas: if the LP succeeds in eliminating Poe and Duterte, it can’t just get rid of Binay. That’s because the scenario calls for Binay being thrown in jail. And Binay enjoys immunity from suit. He can’t be charged criminally until after June 30, 2016.

In short, Binay’s name will remain a contender for the Presidency on May 16, 2016. He has 31% of the projected vote if elections are held today. If Poe and Duterte and DQ’d, I can bet most of their votes will go for Binay. It’s not because people don’t believe Binay is corrupt; but Filipinos believe Roxas will make a worse President than Mr. Aquino.

From a rock-bottom of 31%, Binay has the potential to rise above the 51% mark on election day to win majority of the votes cast. Roxas will be left eating more dust than he did when Binay beat him for the Vice Presidency in 2010.

It becomes clear that no matter how coats of shellac or varnish Roxas puts on his name, he still won’t be able to remove the people’s dislike for him. He can spray himself with all the best known deodorizers, but the rotten smell of a bad President simply won’t disappear.

‘Tough’ Mar Roxas?

After two days of deliberating his next move, Liberal Party standard bearer Mar Roxas has publicly announced he is ready to face Davao City mayor and rival candidate Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte to a slapping match.

Apparently, Roxas wants to appear, and sound, tough to level up to the stature of Duterte, who has drawn millions of admirers across the country for his street puncher image.

But it’s too late for Roxas to change his image as a soft-palmed scion of a wealthy family. If he was tough, he could have demonstrated that trait when he was DILG secretary and crushed criminal syndicates, including the known drug lords in Iloilo City.

Sorry, Mr. Roxas. Being tough isn’t just a matter of cheap talk. That image is drawn from a person’s character. You have always looked like a weakling. Even your politics is a life in the shadow of your mother, Mrs. Judy Araneta Roxas.

 

Judge habeas corpus

(Coffeebreak, December 11, 2015)

It was a story that I had hoped would be a journalistic scoop: the story about how Melvin “Boyet” Odicta Sr. had won his freedom from prison despite a life sentence meted upon him upon conviction for selling an estimated 50 grams of shabu sometime in March 1989 in Barangay Tanza Esperanza in Iloilo City.

For more than two weeks since that attempt by Odicta and his group to break into the premises of Aksyon Radyo Iloilo at 12:50 a.m. on November 19, 2015, the entire legal and media community were at a loss to know how Odicta could have gotten out of jail after serving only six years at the Sablayan Penal Colony in Mindoro Occidental.

There was, as far as everybody interested in the case could establish, no pardon or parole granted to Odicta by the Office of the President. He just seemed to have walked out of prison with the gates thrown wide open for him, with no obstacles thrown his way.

But Odicta was no Houdini. He couldn’t have just unchained himself from incarceration. I knew there had to be a document somewhere that would unlock the mystery.

True enough, a source handed over to me a sheaf of old documents that included an Order from the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 276 granting the petition of Odicta, along with 49 other prisoners, for writs of habeas corpus filed sometime in March 1995.

The petitioners were mostly convicted for violation of R.A. 6425.

What made the petitions highly questionable was the fact that these were filed by batches of 20 or 30 prisoners, and not individual cases as procedure would dictate. These were lumped in two special proceedings, and disposed by Judge Norma C. Perello, then the Executive Judge, in one sweeping order granting the petitions.

Odicta’s petition was anchored on the revised schedule of penalties for R.A. 6425. Under the old law, the penalty of selling prohibited drugs, including marijuana, was life imprisonment. Odicta was meted the life sentence for selling 50 grams of marijuana to undercover narcotics agents of the defunct PC/INP.

R.A. 7659 which was enacted in 1994 lowered the penalty for selling marijuana below 750 grams . The penalty for Odicta’s case was to be lowered to prision correccional, with a maximum imprisonment of six years.

As he had serving time for more than six years at the time, Odicta argued that there was no more reason for him to spend more time in prison. He asked the Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 276 to order his release from prison.

Judge Perello issued a blanket order on May 4, 1995 issuing a writ of habeas corpus and directing the Director of the National Bilibid Prisons to release Odicta and his co-petitioners without delay.

Until Odicta’s lawyer, Atty. Raymund Fortun, showed copies of these documents before the media on Wednesday afternoon after filing a complaint for libel against Aksyon Radyo Iloilo anchormen and management, nobody had known about their existence.

Only I had a set of these documents. I received them one week ago. It was only because I needed to verify their authenticity, and do more research about the circumstances behind the grant of the writ of habeas corpus, that my story that came out in The Daily Guardian yesterday was delayed.

But the story didn’t end there.

There is a deeper mystery, and possibly ground for a revocation of the release order, that our investigation uncovered.

Judge Perello, as it turned out, was not exactly the kind of magistrate who dispensed justice without fear or favor.

Based on decisions of the Supreme Court, Judge Perello had in fact been found guilty of “gross ignorance of the law” in two administrative proceedings filed against her. In the first case, she was suspended for six months without pay as penalty. In the second case, she was fined P40,000.

The investigation conducted by the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) showed that Judge Perello carried a heavy load of habeas corpus case while she was Executive Judge of the Muntinlupa City RTC.

And the Supreme Court auditors discovered evidence of highly irregular disposition of these habeas corpus case covering the period 1998-2004. Among the anomalous practices was that Judge Perello didn’t even have copies of the convictions of prisoners who filed the petitions before her. In a few cases, entire folders were missing.

This can only lead to one conclusion: that Judge Perello had ran a racket selling writs of habeas corpus to prisoners in a hurry to get out of prison. As the Supreme Court established, she released prisoners who had not even served the full term of their sentences. No judge in his or her right mind would do that.

Now that there is an inordinate interest in his case, Odicta can expect that authorities will seek a reversal of that habeas corpus writ issued under highly anomalous circumstances.

The judge who issued the release order already has a track record of irregular official acts that were made ground to find her guilty of gross ignorance of the law.

Odicta should now brace himself for a legal storm that might sweep him back to jail. Judge Habeas Corpus, which is perhaps the proper title for Judge Perello, won’t be there to hand him his freedom on a silver platter, not anymore.

Drilon doesn’t want probe on radio station assault

Panay News Drilon No Probe