Search for the next Comelec chair underway

With the retirement of Commissioner Sixto S. Brilliantes Jr., chair of the Philippines seven-man Commissions on Elections (Comelec), talks about the next possible Comelec Chair have been circulating lately.

It is imperative to fill up the shoes of Brillantes as the national and the local elections in 2016 near. However, there is always this presumption that the members, especially the Comelec Chair are lackeys of the administration.

While it is true that the Comelec is a constitutional body, the perception of its independence becomes obscure since it is the Executive Department that appoints its members, particularly the Comelec Chairman. Thus, how could the Comelec be a constitutional and independent body when it is the President who appoint the members of the Comelec?

In fairness to Brillantes, even his appointment as the Comelec Chair has been an object of dismay – right from the start. How could Brillantes, an acclaimed lawyer of most of the candidates of the Liberal Party, be engrossed as Comelec Chair? Of course, for those who did not know that Brillantes was a Liberal Party lawyer of some of the LP candidates. For President Benigno S. Aquino, III, the appointment of Birllantes to the Comelec was a good choice.

There was this widespread gossip within the circle of election lawyers that Brillantes and Romulo Makalintal are the two opposing election lawyers. When one of them would side the other, the other lawyer would have no option but to be the counsel on the other side. In other words, if Brillantes is the lawyer of the Aquino-led LP, Makalintal was the lawyer of the NP or Arroyo-led Lakas political party. This was the case during the 2010 elections when Brillantes was with the LP and Makalintal with the Arroyos.

Unfortunately, it was LP who won the 2010 Presidential elections. Perhaps, Makalintal, as an election lawyer, was greatly affected when Brillantes accepted the Comelec Chair position. Certainly, with Brillantes at the top of the electoral body, it would be very hard for Makalintal to win cases involving election protest. In fact, since Brillantes becomes the Comelec Chair, the name of Makalintal could hardly be heard anymore.

While Makalintal was disappointed by Brillantes appointment as head of the electoral body, some were also happy. For instance, many suspected that the incumbent Mayor Oscar Moreno of Cagayan De Oro City has benefited with Brillantes appointment. One, the election recall filed by the opposition against Moreno which the Comelec did not grant under pretext of “lack of funds.” Two, Moreno is with the Liberal Party for which the Comelec Chair is indebted to. However, apart from all the speculations, one important thing is not known to most of the Cagayanons – that Moreno and Brillantes are both Alumni of San Beda College of Law. Brillantes graduated Law in 1965 while Moreno in 1975.

To make it appear ‘though that nothing personal in the denial of the recall election petition filed by the more than 75,000 voters against Moreno, the Comelec, in a Nov. 18, 2014 Resolution No. 9912 partially lifted the suspension of the recall proceedings in Cagayan De Oro City. Well, some said that Resolution 9912 is Brillantes’s graceful exit to make it appear that he was impartial to the Cagayan De Oro City Mayor – a fellow alumnus at San Beda College of Law. That is only a suspicion ‘though.– 0 –


New twists on ‘Mamapasano’ probe

It appears that the missing pieces about the Mamapasano encounter in Maguindanao is coming into place now. The massacre of the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Maguindanao last January 25 2015 has stirred the nation that the call for President Aquino to step down has now started to snowball.
While many insisted that the Mamapasano incident was not a “massacre” or “carnage,” the video footage – uploaded in social media networks – showed the helpless and wounded police officers being shot at close range by the perpetrators.
The seemingly lackluster attitude of the national government appeared to have also incense the nation. As a result, the framework agreement between the Moro rebel group and the government is now on the brink of falling into pieces.
But, amid the uncertainties and suspicions, the ongoing probe about the Mamapasano carnage has provided a flicker of hope for justice to be  ultimately be served to the fallen 44 SAF operatives.
Now, with the revelation that President Aquino, resigned PNP Chief Director General Alan Purisima, and other top military brasses were actually monitoring the Mamapasano firefight, the probe is heading to a new twist.
Police Director Getulio Napeñas Jr, the PNP SAF commander, reportedly made the disclosure during an Executive Meeting with the Senate probe body about Aquino, Purisima, and even the presence of American military officials at the time when the Mamapasano incident took place.
I am not shaken by the story at all. After all, those who followed this writer knew that this column has first written the American involvement in the Mamapasano incident.(Mindanao Daily News, Feb. 4, 2015, Jumping on the bandwagon of false piety).
This column also first exposes the presence of President Aquino in Zamboanga City on January 25, 2015 – the day when the firefight occurred in Mamapasano. (Mindanao Daily News, Jan. 30, 2015, Aquino in Zambo when carnage occurs).
During the executive meeting of the Senate probe body, Napeñas reportedly told the body that President Aquino was monitoring the Mamapasano encounter through the “drone” together with American military officials. In one of the leaked information, Aquino reportedly ordered the reinforcement to “stand down. ” What the President means of “stand down” is something very disturbing.
While the story of the Aquino, Purisima, and the American official presence is not a surprise, the word “stand down” appears to be something else. Did President Aquino order the reinforcement to stay put instead of rushing to the rescue of the embattled comrades?
Perhaps, Napeñas has finally realized that taking the sole responsibility of the Mamapasano fiasco is pushing him on the wall for nothing. Thus, for Napeñas, the time to spill the beans has come. The probe body knows that the beleaguered SAF commander has more under his sleeve. Like anybody else, the citizenry is also keen on hearing Napeñas to tell more in order that justice would be served to the fallen 44 SAF members.
Yet, the citizenry is now also apprehensive of the possible outcome of the Senate probe. There are insinuations that result of the Senate investigation is already a done deal. Many believed that the result of the investigation is certainly directed to exonerate Aquino of any liability.
Obviously, it is the fear of absolving the President that the call for Aquino’s resignation has started to snowball. -0-

Beware of ‘Time Sharing’ Scams

A concerned citizen confided to this writer about a group who purportedly represent an acclaimed real estate firm in Manila of having been duped into buying the company’s “time sharing” plans.
The incident took place over the weekend when an unlisted caller informed the complainant of winning a travel “gift certificate” here and abroad. The couple reportedly won the “certificate” through a raffle after gassing up in the local gas station here.
The gift certificate entitles a couple to have a three nights and two day holiday tour of choice in any local or international destination. Among the places of choice include Bali, Indonesia, Las Vegas, and Orlando, Florida in the United States.
Obviously, the excitement of winning a gift certificate is overwhelming that one often forgets the sinister plot behind the scheme. One would only come to realize that something must have been wrong after falling into the trap. Unfortunately, this happened to a couple in Cagayan De Oro who shelled out their hard-earned money in exchange of the loathsome travel scam. The couple narrated that they were invited to a dinner in one of the city’s posh restaurants in Lapasan. The catch: The couple could not avail of the travel gift certificate unless they would attend the dinner. Aside from the dinner, the couple should also listen to a 90-minute product presentation.
Here is how it works. The representative would talk to the couple and the present the product with the use of a “laptop.” The product is called “time sharing” plan. Apparently, this scheme is new to most of the people around. This scheme is a financial idea where the buyer would entitle the family to travel anywhere of the listed destinations once a year.
Under the “time sharing scheme,” one has to pay a reservation fee in order to enjoy the program in the next 10 year period. Actually, the total package, costs as much as P 460,000. The buyer should pay, at least, 20 percent of the package or P 92,000 and pay a monthly due of about P 3,500. Remember: One has to travel with the family once a year!
The visual presentation, through the aid of the laptop, provides the couple a glimpse of the prospective places. Definitely, a presentation of the prospective places in Bali, Indonesia proves beautifully exhilarating. One might fall into a trance that nothing could be seen in the presentation, other than the eagerness to be at the places at any given time. The gift certificate lures the couple as the means to reach the tourist destinations like in Indonesia. But, wait. The couple should first pay a reservation of P 5,000 to P 8,800 to make sure that the couple gets the reservation.
Now, as the glimpse of excitement bury the couple in a blissful obsession, the representative starts to manipulate the subconscious mind – “you can go there with the gift certificate, but first pay the reservation.” The representative will not let the couple go. The 90 minute presentation would last until the time the couple would shell out the reservation fee. It is called “hard selling.” Perhaps, the representative would like to offset the expenses in coming to Cagayan De Oro and the cost of the “dinner.” Whether this proposition is a scam, I would like one to visit:

The Atrocities and Anguish of War

Like many others, I am following the Congressional “investigation” of the Mamasapano, Maguindanao incident. We appreciate the efforts of the Senate in ferreting out the truth. It was also exhilarating to see the MILF Chair Mohagher Iqbal being grilled by the Senate investigatory body.
I know that the atrocities of war are indescribable. The Mamapasano incident were 44 members of the PNP’s elite Special Action Force (SAF) were mowed to death exemplified the horrors of war.
For instance, the beheading and execution of the Filipino guerillas in public during the WWII were haunting memories of those who survived the armed conflict. The holocaust in Europe that saw the genocide of millions of Jews in the Nazi gas chambers has written the history of wars in blood and inexhaustible rage.
Nothing is more gruesome than the manner of execution employed by Vlad Dracula a.k.a “Vlad the Impaler.” The Impaler gradually kills thousands of enemies by piercing a sharpened wooden pole on the midsection of the body. The wooden pole is then planted upright on the ground with the pierced body dripping in blood as the victim gradually gasp the last breath of life. Vlad Dracula was said to eat his lunch in the middle of the pierced body amid the sounds of excruciating pains, moans, and groans of the dying enemies.
But, whether the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are at war is disturbing. Following the signing of the Framework Agreement and Cessation of hostilities, everybody now thought that the skirmishes between the MILF and the government forces have come to an end. The Framework Agreement was bolstered with the drafting and the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), a proposed law that details the manifest destiny of the Moslem community in the country.
The BBL outlines the manner in the creation of the “Bangsamoro Entity.”Under the BBL, the “Bangsamoro Entity” would replace the existing Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) after the creation of the Entity is approved through a plebiscite.
Aside from the creation of the Bangsamoro Entity, the BBL also outlines the disposition of the MILF fighters. One of the provisions call for the integration of qualified MILF fighters with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
The “decommissioning’ of the MILF firearms is also one of the most sensitive agenda under the BBL. The word “decommissioning” is used instead of “surrender” in observance of “mutuality between the government and the MILF.” Actually, the BBL defines the Bangsamoro Entity in its entirety as an embodiment of the social, political, and economic aspirations of the Moslems in the South. Thus, perhaps, the early approval of the BBL becomes a necessity for both the Moslems and the government to attain “lasting” peace in Mindanao.
While the approval of the BBL already becomes a done deal, the Mamapasano incident, however, has stalled its timetable. Out of fairness, the BBL could move only after the probe into the Mamapasano incident shall have been completed. One intriguing question ‘though: Will the BBL pushes through if the result of the investigation prove inimical to the interest of the people and the government? Let us wait and see.
By the way, this corner wish to congratulate SSS Vice President Edwin Alo, of Northern Mindanao, for the opening of the new SSS branch in Lapasan. The Social Security System (SSS) is one of the mandates of the state to “protect and promote social justice” to Filipino workers here and abroad. The opening of the new SSS Branch in Lapasan, Cagayan De Oro City is a feather in the cap for the SSS regional office here. -0-

Public officials are accountable

The City Council in Cagayan De Oro City has passed a resolution ordering the Local Finance Committee (LFC) to provide the local august body complete listing of the city government’s savings from 2013 until the current and prior years.

Whether the LFC would acknowledge the resolution is another issue. However, there are already insinuations that the LFC is not bent on heeding the resolution. One should know that the members of the city’s LFC are personally chosen by the City Executive.

It is of public knowledge that the incumbent City Executive and the City Council are always locked in controversy, particularly on the issue of spending the taxpayers’ money.

While it is admitted that the Executive and the Legislative Department in the local government exercise coequal powers, this practice is perennial disregarded by any of the department. This condition occurs when both bodies belong to the other side of the political fence.

The motive of the City Council to require the LFC to submit a “comprehensive and detail listing of the city’s savings from 2013” to present, and the prior years might have the best of the intentions.

For instance, the City Council would like to know how much savings the city government have for the year 2013 and 2014. The submission of the comprehensive listing might have been purposely intended so that the local august body would know how these savings were “actually spent.”

A City Councilor expressed the doubt that the City Council have approved Ordinances appropriating the city’s savings for the payments of various claims and obligations. Thus, perhaps, it would be just fair for the members of the City Council on whether these funds were actually spent for the intended purpose.

There was also the need to know the exact savings of the city government from 2013 at the time when City Mayor Oscar Moreno exercised his powers as the city’s Chief Executive.

The City Council also wants to know the savings prior to Moreno’s time, apparently, to make a comparison on how the incumbent administration and the previous administration spent the savings of the city government.

For the ordinary taxpayer, the action taken by the City Council is laudable. At least, as an ordinary citizen, a resident of Cagayan De Oro has the right to be informed on how the taxpayers’ money is spent.

Granting without admitting that the resolution is politically motivated, is there anything wrong when the resolution is obviously intended to account for the taxpayers’ money?

Perhaps, one would agree that it is, but necessary that in the spirit of transparency, the officials of the local government, especially the elective officials should be made accountable to the public.

Otherwise, if we will simply allow the public officials to spend the taxpayers’ money sans accountability, the existence of the government becomes futile. A political difference is not an excuse to allow public officials immune from accountability and culpability. -0-

The Rights of the Taxpayers

I was caught by some of the issues raised by the “Netizens” about the lopsided encounter between the Moro rebels and the government’s Special Action Force (SAF).

But, the more I was stunned when the SAF members bluntly expressed their disgusts over the way the people in power are running the affairs of the government.

The Netizens expressed their outpouring condemnation of the government’s apparent lackluster treatment of the incident where 44 SAF members died of a clash in Mamapasano in Maguindanao last Jan. 25 2015.

By now, the Central Mindanao town of Maguindanao has gained the notoriety of being the country’s most scandalous lair of criminal elements where two unforgettable carnage occurred.

The two incidents are in stark contrast with each other though. While the unarmed civilians were the first victims of the otherwise known as “political carnage,” the second group was fully armed and highly trained special forces of the government.

First, the killing of 57 innocent civilians, most of them members of the press, sometime on November 23, 2009 dubbed by the Committee to Protect Journalist as “the single deadliest events for journalists in history thereby gaining the country’s shameful compliment as the second most dangerous country for journalists, next only to Iraq at that time.”

The recent carnage of the SAF elements in Maguindanao would definitely gain the country another disreputable honor as the world’s “abysmal” special forces, next only to none. Thus, no thanks, to the obtuse handling of the government’s “mission” that turns into a bloodbath.

Certainly, the military top brasses and the government that include President Aquino, being the Commander-in-Chief, could not escape the repugnance of an angry citizenry. What happened to this government?

Many are asking the question whether it is fair for the government to sacrifice people for the sake of peace. Then, would the slaughter of the 44 police officers would justify the means to attain peace?

The “Netizens” have expressed varied reactions albeit obnoxious and repulsive. The peeved Kris Aquino, the presidential sister, reportedly “unfriended” and “unfollowed” some of her closest friends in the “showbiz” who posted against her brother President’s dismal treatment of the issue.

“President Barack Obama has to cancel his scheduled appointments on learning that the US forces from Iraq are arriving home, just to personally meet the weary soldiers at the airport,” a post reads that infuriated the president’s sister.

Another post that incense Kris Aquino reportedly reads: “President Aquino is fighting corruption, but is surrounded by corrupt cabinet members. He (President) is “Tanga” (moron).” The post went on to appease the readers saying “as a taxpayer, it is their right to comment for or against the government.”

However, all those despicable comments pale in comparison when Interior Sec. Mar Roxas visited the SAF camp last Sunday. The Secretary then encouraged the SAF to speak their minds about the Maguindanao incident.

One of the SAF members told Roxas on the face: “The way the government handled the Maguindanao incident, proved that “this country is not worth dying for.”

The line was in contrast to the statement of former Sen. Benigno Aquino, the father of incumbent President Aquino. While the SAF spoke in his personal capacity as a soldier, his statement clearly expresses the unspoken frustration of most of the members of the country’s military establishment.

We do not want to speculate. However, we have the gut feeling that an omen is shaping up like a volcano that threatens to erupt in an uncertain time. -0-

The Carnage of Special Forces

My heart grieved for the widows of those who perished in the Maguindanao encounter with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter (BIFF) last Sunday. The earlier PNP report said that 44 police personnel, most of them of the Special Action Force (SAF) and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), were killed in an encounter that appeared to be a carnage.
More than 50 police personnel went to Mamapasano, in Maguindanao to allegedly serve a warrant of arrest on a suspected terrorist. An Afghanistan-trained bomb-makers identified as Jemaah Islamiyah operative Zulkipli bin Hir, alias Marwan; and his cohort Abdul Basit Usman were reportedly sighted in the area.
The MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter BIFF denied the presence or knowing the whereabouts of the alleged terrorists in their area.
The alleged terrorists have been tagged responsible for a series of bombings in Central Mindanao and carries a U.S. $ 5 million on their heads.
Yet, the government lost more than the U.S.$ 5 million with the death of 49 PNP personnel and the wounding of a dozen more. Perhaps, most, if not, half of those who joined the raiding team were graduates of the famed Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA where the government spent about P 4 million for each of PNPA students until graduation (aside from the expenses involved in the training of SAF). Certainly, the absence of appropriate and detailed tactical planning resulted in the encounter.
However, we do not believe that the officers, especially the PNP’s Chief Supt. in the Central Mindanao region, would simply allow his men to go into a war trap without appropriate preparation and planning. We do not also believe that the ground commander of the PNP team lacks the tactical knowledge in the handling of a delicate situation. Thus, for a highly trained PNP-SAF personnel, the incident should not have happened. If ever, the amount of losses would have been minimal.
Sometimes, we think that our special forces still lack the skills in special warfare techniques. We have the observation that in the training of our special forces, we focused so much on the physical fitness of the candidate. We forget that the physical attribute is only secondary.
We also get fresh recruits as members of an elite special force when it should not be the case at all. We should have a special forces who are veterans of various actual encounters. We need a special force who is an expert in varied fields. We should not be cynical of the age of the special force. What we need is an assurance that a special force would be able to take care all the equipment and resources that we would assign to them, too. In any eventuality, we expect the special force to accomplish the desired mission sans casualty.
In the Maguindanao incident, we observed that the operation was led by too many police officers and dozen of police teams. The situation appeared that the SAF and CIDG operatives were going to war! Even though, the SAF should not operate that way.
Candidly speaking, I do not know how to handle guns, but I am theoretically equipped to direct an operation of that magnitude. I do need the expertise of special forces, but I would not send a battalion to arrest a person because of an “unsubstantiated information.” The lack of coordination is not an issue.
Notwithstanding, the PNP hierarchy should relieve the entire PNP regional staff of Central Mindanao so that the fact finding committee could freely dig on the case. Charge those responsible in court. -0-