No Comments 19 October 2013

By Niki Yarte –

President Benigno Aquino III certainly has an eye for the ladies. And it has nothing to do with being the country’s most eligible bachelor. In 2012 he named Maria Lourdes Sereno, 52, as the first female and youngest chief justice. In October this year he appointed Amparo Cabotaje-Tang presiding justice of Sandiganbayan, the anti-graft court. Earlier the President had tasked four women in four key agencies to enforce the administration’s daang matuwid initiative (a straight path to governance). Except for the Bureau of Internal Revenue, these agencies form part of the Interagency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council, the special body created to look into the misuse of the pork barrel funds of lawmakers.


Conchita Carpio-MoralesAs associate justice, Conchita Carpio-Morales was handpicked by Mr. Aquino to administer his oath of office as president on June 30, 2010 – a function normally performed by the chief justice. The incoming president’s move was a testament to Morales’s courage, integrity and sterling record in the Supreme Court where she and Associate Justice Antonio Carpio were often the lone dissenting voices in highly controversial cases, as when the high court upheld then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s appointment of Renato Corona as chief justice two days after the May 10, 2010 presidential elections.

One year later, after Morales retired from the Supreme Court, President Aquino named her Ombudsman, replacing Mrs. Arroyo’s appointee, Merceditas Gutierrez who was forced to resigned amid threat of an impeachment. While some considered this a demotion from her previous office, she saw it the other way: “I’m not a title-conscious person. Going to the Ombudsman would not diminish my self-respect”. As Ombudsman, Morales heads the agency that investigates anomalies and inefficiency in government, and prosecutes graft and corruption cases.

She figured prominently during the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Corona, when she testified about his dollar accounts, the most damning evidence that that eventually led to Corona’s impeachment. In jest, the 72-year-old former magistrate once observed that people would usually say, “So young yet so corrupt”, to describe dishonest government officials, adding that she felt insulted that no would say, “So old yet so upright”, to describe her.

Morales is confident that based on evidence presented by the Department of Justice, her office can resolve the plunder charges against 38 lawmakers and other respondents involved in the pork barrel scam in less than a year.


De LimaAppointed as chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights in 2008, Leila de Lima has been a steadfast and vocal defender of human rights in the country, launching investigations into numerous human rights violations, including the so-called ‘death squads’ in Davao City. Human rights lawyer Theodore Te described De Lima as “a revelation in the sense that she was known simply as an election lawyer for the opposition and was not known as a human rights person. Yet, from her appointment she has managed to transform the CHR into a high-profile watchdog.”

It was her impressive stint at CHR that moved President Aquino to appoint her secretary of justice in 2010. In 2011, she made headlines when she prevented then ex-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from leaving the country despite the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order against a hold-departure order on Mrs. Arroyo.

As justice secretary she is at the forefront of the prosecution of members of the Ampatuan clan for the heinous Maguindanao massacre, a task she began as CHR chair when the incident happened in 2009. She considers herself a failure if not a single conviction would be made before her term expires in 2016.

De Lima caused the filing of numerous graft cases against top police officials for various anomalous transactions at the National Police. She is also cleaning up her own stable at the National Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Immigration, replacing top officials involved in nefarious activities. She is in the news lately spearheading the prosecution of erring lawmakers and their cohorts in the P10-billion pork barrel scam.


Grace Pulido-TanMataray ako,” admits Commission on Audit (COA) Chair Grace Pulido Tan. “I’m very unforgiving sa mga pasaway, especially the corrupt, doble-kara, hindi marunong lumugar at iyong sipsip. They don’t appeal to me.” A lawyer, certified public accountant and tax expert, Tan’s impressive credentials already speak for themselves but she said that it was her fiery disposition — mataray and nang-aaway, as she puts it — that convinced Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima she was the right person for the COA post.

Tan and her staff were nearly finished with the special audit of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), commonly known as pork barrel, covering the years 2007 to 2009 when the so-called P10-billion pork barrel scam exploded. Not surprisingly, COA’s findings dovetail with the revelations of the whistle-blowers. She promises that their nearly finished audit of the Malampaya funds is “explosive” and the amount involved is much bigger than the pork barrel scam.

Suddenly, Tan, who abhors media attention, and her little known agency were thrust into the spotlight and became the target of people determined to derail the investigation into the anomalies, including some lawmakers hurt by COA’s findings. A few bullets found their way into the COA offices during the height of the Senate hearing on the pork barrel scam.

But Tan is undeterred. “I will not allow the incident to cow us into silence nor deter us from faithfully discharging our constitutional duty,” she declared.

She has received death threats as well as threats of an impeachment complaint but she considers them part of the territory. “I live by the day. Hey, I’m still alive! Okay, next!”

Straight Shooter

Kim HenaresAs the country’s top tax collector, Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares thinks by the numbers. “I don’t understand why 97 million Filipinos cannot control 1.3 million public and civil officers,” she wondered aloud when asked about corruption in government. Turning to tax evaders, she declared, “Out of the estimated 1.7 million professionals registered with the Professional Regulation Commission, only about 400,000 have registered as taxpayers.” She cites a BIR report that says self-employed professionals pay an average annual income of less than P6,000 when they should be paying at least P100,000.

Henares had been assigned four bodyguards but learned to shoot a gun nonetheless to prepare herself for the worst possible scenario. She carries a semi-automatic pistol but the rest of her arsenal is locked away in a cabinet. Henares also knows how to fire the shots at her job. She claims not to have received nor been offered any bribe so far, or any security threat despite going after big game like Mikey Arroyo and Manny Pacquiao, as well as celebrities such as Judy Ann Santos, Regine Velasquez, and Richard Gomez. She has filed close to 200 tax-evasion complaints and boosted collection by 14.5% in 2012 – more than double that year’s economic growth rate.

Recently Henares was pilloried by professional groups for suggesting that lawyers and doctors should display their fees in their offices so clients – and the BIR – can be guided properly.  “I didn’t take this job to become popular,” she said in an interview. “My job is to implement the tax code and collect revenue that must be collected. If people don’t like me, that’s fine.”


Current Affairs


No Comments 16 October 2013

CEBU CITY — Devotees wept after a deadly earthquake on Oct. 15 rocked the birthplace of Catholicism in the Philippines, badly damaging the country’s oldest church and leaving other historic places of worship in ruins. (In photo is the limestone bell tower of the Philippines’ oldest church, Cebu’s Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, in ruins.)

Ten churches, some of which have crucial links to the earliest moments of the Spanish colonial and Catholic conquest in the 1500s, were damaged as the 7.2-magnitude quake struck the central islands of Cebu and Bohol.

“It is like part of the body of our country has been destroyed,” Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua, a history lecturer at De La Salle University in Manila, told Agence France-Presse.

He said the damage was particularly painful because the Philippines had already lost so many of its cultural treasures to war, typhoons, earthquakes and poverty-driven neglect.

In Cebu, shocked devotees said prayers as they gathered in front of the Basilica Minore de Santo Niño (Basilica of the Child Jesus), the oldest church in the Philippines and home to one of the country’s most important religious icons.

The limestone bell tower of the church, the latest version of which was built in 1735, was destroyed in the quake.

“I wanted to seek sanctuary here but it turns out the church was damaged,” Fraulein Muntag, 32, a mother of two, told AFP as she wept and prayed the rosary at the site.

Muntag was among 100 people who had gathered amid aftershocks around the damaged belfry in the late afternoon, with candles lit in vigil.

Cebu is regarded as the birthplace of Catholicism in the Philippines because it was there that Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, sailing for Spain, arrived in 1521.

He converted a friendly local chief and his wife to Catholicism, making them the first Christian Filipinos. To mark their conversion, he gave them a statue of the infant Jesus.

The statue is kept in the Basilica and the people of Cebu, whose patron saint is the infant Jesus, continue to venerate the icon.

The Spaniards went on to rule the Philippines until the late 1800s, and the country became majority Catholic over that time.

The Philippines has since remained the Church’s most important outpost in Asia, with Catholics making up nearly 80 percent of the country’s 100 million people.

Another two popular churches in Cebu, built in 1860 and 1909, were damaged.

Loboc Church in Bohol in ruins

Loboc Church in Bohol in ruins

On neighboring Bohol island, seven churches dating back centuries and also holding huge importance for Catholics were in tatters.

Iconic Bohol treasures in shambles

Bohol churches before and after earthquake

Click for more photos of destruction

The ceiling of the Our Lady of the Assumption church, built in the 1800s and reputed to have a well which gives miraculous water, was caved in.

The facade and bell tower of the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, which dates back to the 1700s, had crumbled.

It was built from stones of coral, quarried from the sea and reputedly plastered together using the white of a million eggs, according to historical records.

And the 17th-Century San Pedro church, known for its ornately painted ceiling, was entirely caved in, as if a giant fist had punched it from above.

The quake killed at least 93 people, according to authorities. However there were no reports of casualties inside the churches as they were mostly empty when the tremor hit in the morning of a public holiday.

The facade of the centuries-old Baclayon Church in Bohol, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was severely damaged.

The facade of the centuries-old Baclayon Church in Bohol, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was severely damaged.

The National Commission on Culture and the Arts issued a statement declaring they would “rescue and later, rehabilitate, damaged heritage structures,” particularly the churches.

“(But) the psychological and emotional damage is very substantial. It seems to be the more difficult thing to repair,” Maris Diokno, a commission member and head of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, told AFP.

Chua also noted that while the structures might be restored, the beautiful frescoes, murals and decorations that once covered many of the church walls and ceilings were gone forever, Chua said.

“What is truly lost are the paintings. The paintings can never be recovered,” he said. (Agence France-Presse)




No Comments 02 October 2013

It’s perhaps the unlikeliest of relationships. She was a student activist in her college days at the University of the Philippines (UP), while he was the defense minister who implemented Martial Law under the regime of Ferdinand Marcos. READ FULL STORY

Five Legendary Mayors and How They Transformed their Cities


Five Legendary Mayors and How They Transformed their Cities

11 Comments 01 October 2013

By Niki Yarte —

Most Filipinos perceive our brand of politics as dirty and unethical, and by direct correlation, Filipino politicians are mostly corrupt and self-serving. The most recent P10-billion pork barrel scam reinforces this perception and further alienates the electorate from the self-proclaimed public servants.

Yet every now and then we see extraordinary individuals who slay the dragons of traditional politics and its attendant tentacles – self-aggrandizement, abuse of power, incompetence – and challenge the status quo. Their vision, courage and determination help restore the people’s hope in politics and government. Among such exceptional leaders are five mayors from around the country whose commonality involves the successful transformation of their respective cities as well as the unique demeanor with which they approached their office.

Arsenio H. Lacson, Manila, 1952-1962

LacsonThe first mayor of Manila to be elected to three terms, Arsenio H. Lacson inherited a staggering debt of more than P20 million when he took over City Hall in 1951 after serving as congressman for one term. By 1959 he had managed to turn the city’s finances around. Lacson embarked on crusades to maintain peace and order and good government in Manila, firing incompetent employees and corrupt policemen.

All throughout his 10 years as mayor, Lacson maintained his radio program where he lambasted politicians of all stripes and dissected local and national issues. The programs were pre-recorded in order to edit out his expletives and occasional foul language. Sporting a broken nose from his amateur boxing days and his trademark aviator sunglasses, he earned the nickname “Arsenic” for his sharp tongue and penchant for whiskey even in daylight hours. He incurred the ire of Presidents Roxas and Quirino for his scathing criticism of their administrations. It was he who famously described then-neophyte councilor Ernesto Maceda, “so young yet so corrupt”.

Had Lacson not suffered a fatal heart attack in 1962, the Nacionalista Party would’ve fielded him against President Diosdado Macapagal in the 1965 presidential elections instead of another politico he had humiliated when they served together in Congress – Ferdinand Marcos.

Richard Gordon, Olongapo City, 1980-1986, 1988–1998

GordonWhen Dick Gordon was first elected, Olongapo was known as “Sin City” for the rampant prostitution and rowdy night clubs in its infamous Red Light District, populated by GIs from the US naval base in nearby Subic. Under his leadership, Olongapo became a “model city” through his innovative programs such as raising police accountability through ID systems, proper health and sanitation, waste management and the strict observance of color-coding in public transport.

But Gordon’s greatest challenges came in 1991: first, in June, when the cataclysmic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo buried the city in 14 inches of wet ash, and three months later, when the Philippine Senate voted to end the RP-US Military Bases Agreement, and with it, the 40,000 local jobs that the naval base generated. In his characteristic go-go attitude, Gordon rallied the people of Olongapo to literally rise from the ashes and rebuild the city. Volunteerism became the rallying cry. At the same time, Gordon lobbied for the conversion of the Subic naval base into a free port, leading to the establishment of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone and its administrative body, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority.

In 1992 President Cory Aquino appointed Gordon as the first SBMA administrator while concurrently serving as Olongapo mayor. A year later Gordon was forced to give up his mayoralty post in favor of SBMA. He went on to build Subic Freeport Zone into a new investment hub in Southeast Asia.

Rodrigo Duterte, Davao City, 1988-1998, 2001-2010, 2013-present

DuterteDubbed “The Punisher” by Time Magazine for his unrelenting stance against criminals, Rudy Duterte is credited for transforming Davao City’s reputation as “the murder capital of the Philippines” to being one of the country’s most peaceful cities. His no-nonsense drive against criminality is legendary: giving a barangay captain 48 hours to clean up illegal drug activities in his area, offering a P5-million reward for the head “on ice” of a suspected leader of a carnapping syndicate, and issuing a shoot-to-kill order against armed criminals who enter the city.

Duterte’s “police mentality” has earned the indignation of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International and human rights groups who accuse him of extrajudicial killings. The Human Rights Watch labeled him as “someone who openly advocates murder to bring peace and prosperity.”

While the mayor would not admit to the scores of suspected vigilante killings, he takes pride in the “cleansing” of the city, earning commendation from ordinary citizens and the business community. Depending on who you ask, Duterte is either a model crime fighter or a vigilante killer.

Jesse Robredo, Naga City, 1988-1998, 2001-2010

robredoJesse Robredo was notable not just for his contributions to his city but also for lacking the boastful and extravagant style of the typical politician. He was the antithesis of trapo, the traditional politician: he was humble, lived a modest life, listened before he barked orders, abhorred the trappings of power. He would punch in his own time card at City Hall and wear the same uniform required of city employees. He would often be seen in public without an entourage or security detail, taking public transportation even to official functions, and even sweeping the streets.

Today, Naga is considered one of the most business-friendly and livable cities in the country. Poverty and unemployment levels are significantly lower than the national average, while literacy and sanitation levels greatly improved. A successful housing program distributed 8,000 homes to alleviate rampant squatting.

But the most enduring legacies of Robredo are good governance and people empowerment. He established the Naga City People’s Council that institutionalized the participation of the people in the development process and installed a system for government transparency and accountability. He received the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service – the only local official in the country to be so honored – for “demonstrating that effective city management is compatible with yielding power to the people”.

Edward Hagedorn, Puerto Princesa City, 1992-2001, 2002-2013

HagedornA self-confessed ex-gangster, Edward Hagedorn likens his personal transformation to the physical rebirth of Puerto Princesa. Once engaged in illegal logging and gambling operations, he turned his back on these nefarious activities after he was elected mayor. Environmental protection and sustainable tourism became his rallying cry, spearheading such projects as Bantay Puerto (Puerto Princesa Watch) and Oplan Linis (Clean and Green Campaign).

Under his leadership, Puerto Princesa became one of the major eco-tourism destinations in the Philippines. The city also became a global model for environment protection, winning several global recognition and awards. Locally, Puerto Princesa has earned the title as the country’s cleanest and greenest city.

In a landmark case, Hagedorn declared a state of calamity – a function that only the President can enact – so he could use emergency funds to provide livestock and farm implements to farmers who had lost their main source of livelihood after ordering them to cease their slash-and-burn (kaingin) practices. Because Hagedorn’s actions were against existing laws at the time, he was set to face a case filed by the Ombudsman. The complaint was set aside when legislators intervened, passing a law that allowed local government units to follow Hagedorn’s resourcefulness.


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