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by Fidel Valdez Ramos

 

Throughout most of my life, I have been trained and schooled to be an officer and a gentleman who regards and respects woman as co-equals of men. 

 

The Philippine is blessed to have a society that puts premium on the Filipina as a warm, caring, sharing, and respected individual borne out by the strong regard for our mothers who are the main anchors of our homes and families.

 

With the first stirrings of nationhood kindled by Filipino propagandists in Madrid, Spain in the last quarter of the 19th century, the concept of Philippines as our motherland became a rallying cry.

 

Motherland was, and still is, the term that nurtures a sense of belonging to a homeland, and identity distinct from others, and a longing for our people to prosper to be free. 

 

This clarion call to love our motherland led to the birth of the Philippines as an independent nation. The idea still keeps millions of expatriate Filipinos and overseas workers across the globe attached enduringly, to the land of their birth.

 

In a larger context, the globe is more intimately known as Mother Earth. Environmentalist also refer to the earth as Mother Nature—which has deeper meanings that cherish roots, renewal, continuity, sustainability and survival.

 

All these concepts are rooted on the universal meaning of motherhood which intrinsically is our eternal umbilical cord to the future.

 

The intuitive respect that Filipinos hold for their mothers and their treatment of women folk as co-equals, augurs well for a nation like the Philippines that continues to search for sources of strength in order to attain a bountiful destiny.

 

The role of a mother in the life of every child is essential in the nurturing of one’s basic character and fulfillment. Unfortunately, a mother is almost always taken for granted until she is gone. 

A mother is usually there when she is needed most. She is always ready to make even the supreme sacrifice, and enduring trait that drives a Filipino mother in today’s modern world to work as domestic helper, caregiver or entertainer for the sake of her children.

 

Mothers go to great lengths to assure their children’s better future through their honest labor and devotion to duty. It is this deep sense of sacrifice and selflessness that many Filipino leaders, in and out of government, seem to have forgotten. 

 

Libraries have been filled with the heroic feats of great men, and few great women leaders. However, only a few have been written about the often-seen greatness of mothers. In 2004,  the Ramos Peace and Development Foundation (RPDEV) co-published with Media Touchstone Ventures, Inc. a commemorative book on Angela Valdez Ramos titled “In A Class of Her Own,’ authored by our family biographer Melandrew T. Velasco. It is also modest contribution to a handful of tributes to mothers and the Filipina as a person in her own rights as primus interpares among Filipinos.

 

Closer to home and family, my sisters, Letty and Glory, and I are supremely grateful to the Almighty for the gift and the advantage of having a mother like Angela Valdez Ramos. 

 

Our parents raised, nurtured and challenged us their children to value education, honesty, hard work and frugality. They also taught us to be respectful to elders and to those in authority to obey the law and to love God, country, neighbors, and nature.

 

In grateful remembrance of our mother, the Angela book was offered as a gift to others. Her roots, her upbringing, her role as wife to a public servant in a changing world, her caring motherhood under sometimes difficult circumstances, her selfless volunteerism as a civic worker in war and her exemplary life as practicing Christian – all these are encapsulated in this humble tribute.

 

Our loving mother we now know was in a class of her own among peers and contemporaries in generation. 

 

This is also our salute to the timeless caring, sharing and daring of the Filipino woman on the centennial of the Feminist Movement in the Philippines in 2004, and now in celebration of Mother’s Day.  

 

Mabuhay and Mga Kababaihang Filipina! Happy Mother’s Day!

 

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It pains us to see what is happening to our motherland, the Republic of the Philippines.

 

Last week, it was brought to the fore that the checks and balances that are part and parcel of a fully functioning democratic state are absent in the Philippines. This was seen in the hasty removal of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, not through impeachment but by a quo warranto petition that saw a small majority of the Supreme Court voting to disqualify her.

 

Numerous legal luminaries have pointed out one very clear fact: the Philippine Constitution states that the only way to remove a chief justice is through impeachment. Yet the majority of the justices blatantly ignored this, apparently bowing to the wishes of the president to remove Sereno from her post at all cost.

 

Sereno may have been removed, but the price to be paid will be heavy, so heavy in fact that democracy itself now stands on the precipice. At worst, it may not survive.

 

Consider that the Philippines has already rid itself of two presidents (Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada) via people power, and a chief justice via impeachment (Renato Corona). Now this.

 

The removal of Sereno is different in that it was both immoral and illegal.

 

The justices who voted to remove her did so out of personal spite. They did not like her because in their minds she was too young. Never mind that as chief justice, Sereno had been performing admirably.

 

But it was the illegal way that the good justices had Sereno removed that may have done permanent damage to the country’s judiciary. Perhaps sensing that impeaching Sereno would have been difficult, if not impossible, they recognized the quo warranto petition that was itself illegal. The time when Sereno could have been removed due to questions over her incomplete filing of requirements had long lapsed. Sereno had been accused of not filing her complete Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth, or SALN.

 

She later proved that she did, in fact, have the documents. But the SC justices ignored it. In truth, the lead justice who had long salivated for the post of chief justice and who admitted that she hated the guts of Sereno had herself failed to file her SALNs when she also applied for the position of chief justice.

 

Ah, but here was an incumbent president who had ordered the legislative branch to remove the independent-minded chief justice, and who had somehow been convinced that there were enough SC justices willing to play a part in the illegal and immoral act.

 

We will not hazard a guess as to the reasons the justices kowtowed to the wishes of the president.

 

Suffice it to say that in so doing, they have totally surrendered the independence of the judicial branch of government to the strongman president. And with both houses of Congress already subservient to Rodrigo Duterte, it has become clear that the Philippines is no longer a functioning democracy, but rather a flawed one.

 

Whether the damage can be undone or not remains to be seen, but for now we see no reason to be optimistic.

 

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HUNDREDS of thousands of youths, their parents, supporters and allies in 800 cities around the world made good their vow to press their demand for gun control on the streets.

 

They urged legislators to ban the assault weapons, end of sale of high-capacity magazines and require background checks on all gun purchases.

 

They criticized the president and lawmakers for bowing to the gun manufacturers and the gun lobby.

 

In San Francisco, Columbine HS shooting survivor Briar Goldberg pressed for tougher gun ownership checks.  

 

Thousands at the Civic Center found support from school safety advocate Daly City Mayor Juslyn Manalo and foremost NRA opponent Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who became mayor of San Francisco when Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk where shot dead by a fellow Supervisor in 1978.  

 

Near and far from the White House and the Capitol, the children's messages reverberated:

 

“Am I next?”

 

 “We are a nation of survivors.”

 

 “Let’s put the USA over the NRA.”

 

“They say I’m a tool of some nameless adult, but that’s not true.”

 

“Bullets do not discriminate, so why should we?”

 

“Arm our teachers with pens and pencils.  Arm our students with education. “

 

“We shouldn’t have to come here to talk to you; you come home and hear from us, your constituents.”

 

“Don’t be afraid just because they have Senator before their name.”

 

“Tell them to listen to you because they work for us.”

 

“We’ve been fighting since Columbine, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas.  We will no longer be a statistic.”

 

“It is normal to see candles for brown and black lives lost to gun violence.”

 

“This is how democracy looks like.”

 

“We are all Americans.”

 

“La lucha sigue.” (Ed: The struggle continues.)

 

“We’re going to make this a voting issue, in every county, in every state.”

 

“Register to vote.”

 

“Vote them out.”

 

“Congress, you’re the parents.  Look at us, your children.  We’re the ones fighting to survive.”

 

“I have a dream that enough is enough.  That this should be a gun-free world.  Period.”

 

"This is just the beginning."

 

Highlighting the toll of a few moments in front of an AR15, Gonzalez spoke at the lead rally for 2 minutes then led 4 minutes of silence to reflect on the terror she and her schoolmates endured on Valentine's Day.

 

That was all the time the assailant took before ditching his weapon, walking away and blending with the frantic survivors, she said.  Over an hour would pass before he would be identified and apprehended.

 

By then 17 lives were lost, leaving a nation asking why, sparking the same debate over the Second Amendment, turning children into activists: fearless and focused, astute and determined.

 

 

(Cherie M. Querol Moreno is an award-wining journalist, community educator and volunteer)

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A few days ago, the fifth division of the Philippines graft court, the Sandiganbayan, granted a petition of out-on-bail former senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada (real name: Jose Pimentel Ejercito), son of conviced plunderer former President now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada (real name: Joseph Marcelo Ejercito) and former First Lady and senator Luisa P. Estrada, to travel and vacation for one month to the United States. The main reason for Estrada’s petition was an invitation supposedly to be the guest speaker of the Filipino-American group called the US Pinoys for Good Governance (USPGG) headed by lawyer-businesswoman Loida Nicolas Lewis, chairperson, and lawyer Rodel Rodis, president, in its general assembly on May 20 in Sterling Heights in Michigan.

 

Lewis, a known critic of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, and Rodis, also a columnist, however, denied extending the invitation for the ex-senator who is still facing plunder and graft charges before the Sandiganbayan and is out on P1.3 million bail, pointing out that the USPGG’s Michigan chapter headed by William Dechavez which reportedly wrote the invitation was not authorized to make such invitation to the ex-senator for their general meeting.“USPGG did not invite Jinggoy Estrada to speak in Michigan under USPGG nor is any program being planned by USPGG Michigan, since Willie Dechavez is on vacation in the Philippines,” Lewis and Rodis pointed out in a statement.

 

The question now that is being raised is did Jinggoy Estrada, who is gearing up for a campaign to return to the Senate via the 2019 elections, lie to the court in view of the denial by Lewis and Rodis, well known FilAm leaders? The graft court should respond immediately to the revelation of Lewis and Rodis, who are both lawyers, considering that there could be some misrepresentation, a grave offense, on the matter. Lewis and Rodis, meanwhile, were reported to be planning to file a petition before the Sandiganbayan seeking to rescind the travel authority of Estrada who, in the first place should not have been granted bail considering that plunder is a non-bailable offense.

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After several weeks of hearings, the House of Representatives Committee on Justice concluded on February 27 its proceedings on the impeachment complaint filed against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes A. Sereno. And before Congress goes into recess next month, the plenary will make a final decision on the committee’s recommendation on whether or not there is or are enough grounds to elevate the complaint before the Upper Chamber which will then, acting as the Senate Impeachment Tribunal, make an open trial of the case.

 

Judging from what had transpired at the House justice panel, it could be surmised that all odds seem to be against the Chief Justice now. The participation and testimony of at least nine Associate Justices, the Court Administrator and several officials and employees in the hearings, unprecedented in the annals of the High Court’s history, clearly indicated the unpopularity of the Chief Justice among his colleagues and a divided Supreme Court. That they testified on the alleged abuse of authority and misdeeds, true or not, put to doubt or bad light the Chief Justice and High Court itself. Add to the litany of 27 alleged offenses in the complaint reported tax evasion, failure to file complete Statement of Assets and Liabilities, non-declaration of complete earnings and properties and others.

 

A Supreme Court Chief Justice could only be impeached on the basis of those provided for the Constitution and those allegations other than those listed could not be used to oust the highest justice official of the land. While time and again, the Chief Justice and her lawyers vehemently denied the allegations against her although Mrs. Sereno abandoned her right to answer them before House committee and that her lawyers were barred under the rules to participate in the hearings, it may be good for the Chief Justice that the complaint against her be elevated in the Senate because here, she, assisted by her witnesses and lawyers, could be heared and given her day in court as she refutes each and every complaint, allegations, innuendoes and others. In the meantime, she has taken her leave to study her options in fighting her accusers just like what her predecessor, Chief Justice Renato Corona, did but to no avail. Young as she is, her supporters are certain she would be steadfast in her decision as resignation, she stressed, is never an option.      

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It used to be called the Benham Rise after its discoverer, Admiral Andrew Ellicot Kennedy Benham, an American. It is a seismically active undersea region and extinct volcanic ridge located in the Philippine Sea approximately 250 km east of the northern coastline of Dinapigue, Isabela consisting of 24.4 million hectares dubbed as marine paradise as it lies under the migration path of important tuna species including the Pacific Bluefin tuna. Since 2012, the United Nations recognized the Benham Rise as part of the Philippine exclusive economic zone. In May 2017, owing to its importance, the area was designated as a world heritage site as President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 25 designating it as a “protected food supply exclusive zone” and renaming the region as Philippine Rise. Mining and oil exploration was also banned in the Benham Plateau as a protected area.
 
While it has not been noticed and unexplored for decades despite its size, Philippine Rise has become a center of controversy these days due to virtually virtual frantic efforts of China and several countries to do research in the vast region and presumably make plans to explore and make full use of its resources. Malacanang also was put to task for stating that Filipinos have no capability to do exploration in the region, unaware that many Filipino scientists and experts, including the government’s Department of Agriculture and its Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the University of the Philippines and the Philippine Navy, with support of the Oceana, the largest international ocean conservation and advocacy organization. No less than Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol ventured into region and even touted photos of their big catch of tuna during their trip there.
 
Now, Malacanang has changed its tune. Philippine Rise is open to all Filipinos and nations to do scientific exploration and study in the region but made it clear that there will be stricter rules to follow. "Because we have sovereign rights over Benham Rise, since it was awarded to us as an extended continental shelf, we have the right to exclusively explore and even conduct scientific research in it,” said Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, who is an international lawyer, adding  that the exclusive rights include "consent" if foreigners would also want to conduct research. "Whether they are Americans, Japanese, Chinese, Mongolians, Singaporeans, et cetera, if they comply, we will approve. If they do not comply, we will not approve," stressed Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Caytano. The explorers, however, must share the results of their studies to the Philippine government and appropriate agencies.
 
It’s high time the Philippine government start studying ways to take advantage of the rich fish population of the Philippine Rise and its other assets to boost the economic growth of the country and for the Philippines to rise with it, but rules should be clear to avoid the experience in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea.

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte again has fired another top official of government, this time over excessive travels using public funds. The latest to fall was Chairman Patricia Licuanan of the Commission on Higher Education and Maritime Industry Authority administrator Marcial Amaro III. The Chief Executive said he will continue his firing spree as he reiterated his commitment to cleanse the government of graft and corruption, which he said, is the key to achieving a more inclusive economic development. In the next few weeks, more officials, including generals and policemen, will be axed as he vowed to focus not just on national officials but also on erring local government officials.

 

And to show his seriousness to his campaign, the President created recently and just this week appointed the officials of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) led by lawyer and Volunteer Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) chairman Dante Lazaro Jimenez as chairman with no anti-corruption activists Rickson Chiong, Greco Antonious Beda Banta Belgica and Gregorio Luis Contacto III as commissioners. The President has assured the public anew that corruption and political oppression would no longer thrive in the country and disrupt the growth of the economy. “I have fired so many government employees… Talagang ‘yung sabi kong ayaw ko ng corruption, ayaw ko ng corruption,” President Duterte stressed.

 

The  word corruption is derived from the Latin word corrumpere, which can mean to bribe or to destroy. Indeed, corruption destroys society by diverting resources that could help the poor or other sectors of society. We salute President Duterte for his determination to cleanse the government firing even his Cabinet officials and close friends who are his appointees. We wish him success in the campaign as we call on every Filipino to help as the drive cannot succeed without their full support.

 

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Time really flies especially those who have been active and busy for whatever purpose in life, business, livelihood, entertainment, sports and health or personal matters. In a couple of days, we will watch as 2017 comes to a close and stand by with  great expectation about the New Year and what it brings to us, our nations, our Mother Earth and great Universe many of whose traits and ways we humans cannot still fathom and comprehend.

 

For our Mother Land, the Philippines, the year closes with good strides in all aspects of life -- jobs, reforms, governance, agriculture and many others -- but temporarily dampened by two successive weather disturbances during the Christmas holidays – typhoons Urduja and Vinta – which dumped unexpected volume of rain triggering massive floods and landslides that destroyed lives, crops, properties and infrastructures running to billions of pesos in the Visayas and Mindanao. Typhoon Vinta alone caused the death of 240 people with scores missing in many areas in Mindanao, including Davao City, the hometown of President Rodrigo Duterte. EvenPope Francis offered prayers for the victims of Typhoon Vinta in his weekly blessing at the St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. "Merciful Lord, take in the souls of the dead and comfort those who are suffering as a result of this calamity. Let's pray for these people," the Pontiff prayed. If for any consolation, the destructions wrought by the typhoons on crops did not massively dent the gains in the country’s agricultural production as Luzon, the Philippines’ rice granary, was spared by the typhoons as farmers started to plant rice.

 

The country closes the year as Mr. Duterte’s popularity soars in the wake of reforms in government, fight against corruption, the intensified drugs campaign, more infrastructures in the planning board and the availability of more jobs and business opportunities, among others. US Ambassador to Manila Sung Kim, taking note of the gains in the country, expressed though that the Philippines could do more owing to its people’s great potentials and that the United States, which hosts 4.5 million Filipinos and still increasing, was willing to partner with the country in many ways. At the same time, the envoy encouraged Filipino businessmen to explore more opportunities in the US.

 

Happy New Year to one and all. The management and staff of the Philippines Today fervently anticipate with joy and hopes for better life for all of us the coming of 2018 as we leave 2017 behind.

 

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Time really flies fast. It’s eight years since the powerful Ampatuan clan and their henchmen were charged for the gruesome murder of 58 people, 38 of whom were journalists and media workers, in Barangay Salman, Ampatuan, Maguindanao and the trial of the case has not been completed and, as such, no conviction has been made for the perpetrators of the massacre which the world has described as the worst mass killing of journalists.

 

One of those killed was Alejandro “Bong” Reblando, a former Associated Press reporter who was a Manila Bulletin correspondent at the time of his death. Reblando was a colleague of our Philippines Today editor in chief who was then also a senior editor of Manila Bulletin who had served as president of the National Press Club of the Philippines. Ironically, Reblando and other journalists had accompanied our editor in chief in meetings with Filipino journalists in the United States and in the renewal of the NPC’s reciprocity agreement with the National Press Club of the United States in Washington DC as they took pride in the press freedom that they enjoy in the Philippines. Reblando’s family received threats after the charges were filed against the leaders and members of the Ampatuan clan and some 150 others.

 

As the world and media groups continue to monitor the Ampatuan massacre trial, President Rodrigo Duterte personally attended to the case as he summoned surviving relatives of the victims as well as officials to a dialogue in Malacanang where the Chief Executive provided support and promised the end of the trial soon during his administration. The President, at the same time, instructed officials to ensure that justice is met for the massacre victims. The President’s action came as even relatives of the victims have died waiting for justice for their loved ones. Indeed, only a presidential directive and a tough action by President Duterte could speed up the case as indicated by the relatives of the victims, one of whom is the current governor of Maguindanao,  Ismael Mangudadatu, whose wife and several relatives were among those massacred. Otherwise, another eight years may pass and the world will still be crying for justice.

 

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On October 9, Malacanang released President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order (EO) No. 44, approving Land Bank of the Philippines’ (LBP) acquisition of Philippine Postal Savings Bank (PPSB) and authorizing the PPSB conversion into Overseas Filipino Bank (OFB). The aim of this OFB is to efficiently deliver microfinance and micro-insurance products and services for overseas Filipinos who contribute to the country’s foreign exchange income, currency stability, employment, and overall economic growth through their remittances totalling $29 billion.

 

At first glance, the order is laudable, coming as it is as a fulfilment of one of the campaign promises of Mr. Duterte for the OFWs who came out solid behind him in the 2016 elections and the promise under the order for OFWs to be represented in the board that will manage the bank. A closer look at the President Duterte’s order, however, would show that the bank is obviously bias to OFWs, thus leaving out the bigger number of workers in the country, those based in the Philippines both in government and the private sector who also contribute to the nation’s economy through their taxes, among others.

 

What is more saddening is that Mr. Duterte’s order effectively destroyed the Postal Bank which is a historic institution which has been part of the country’s postal system that dates back to the era when the Philippines was a Spanish colony. And this is a big rebuff to the United Nations (UN) which oversees the operations of the postal systems throughout the world, postal banks included, through its highly respected agency called Universal Postal Union (UPU). Obviously, Mr. Duterte and his men are in a huff to impress the OFWs and fulfil a campaign promise rather than protect and strengthen a UN-supervised Philippine postal system and postal banking network, forgetting that the postal bank is among the biggest institutions in Japan and other countries. It will best for the country for Mr. Duterte, the leadership of the Philippine Postal Corporation which owns the Philippine Postal Bank, the Land Bank of the Philippines and Congress to review its order. Do they know that they create an OFW bank without destroying the PPSB by simply converting the PPSB as OFW Bank and increasing its capital to meet the OFWs’ needs? This way, the OFW Bank-Postal Bank could still retain its connections and benefits therefrom with all the postal systems of the world. Don’t be deceived by your eager-beaver aides, Mr. President.

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