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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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After five months of fighting, President Rodrigo Duterte finally declared Marawi City liberated from the terrorists following the death of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, Southeast Asia’s most notorious Islamic State-linked terrorist leader and the so-called “emir” of the IS in the region, and Maute group leader Omar Maute, in a dawn clash.


Over 1,000 perished, 162 of them soldiers and policemen and 37 civilians, during the fighting which also displaced over 200,000 residents. Moreover, many buildings, commercial and residential, were pulverized while some schools, hospitals and mosques were damaged in the incessant bombings that followed the siege by terrorists starting on May 23 while the President was in a state visit in Russia.


While remnants of the terrorists have remained cornered in the city, the Duterte declaration signals a start of a massive clearing up by the military, the local government, business and religious sectors and the citizens in the battle zone and the city. This will then pave the way for a massive repair and rehabilitation which by experts estimate could run into hundreds of billions of pesos and will take at least three to five years to complete. Already, the government has set aside at least P8 billion for the short term and permanent work.


With the cooperation of everybody, including the international community, Marawi City, the center of Islamic faith in the country, will surely rise from the rubbles of the war. But what is more important is that the attack will not be repeated and that all sectors should unite to ensure that the city and its people will no longer suffer.

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by Belinda Olivares Cunanan


When I was entering the UP’s Liberal Arts College decades ago, the university was rocked by the death by hazing of a scion of a prominent family, as well as by wars between the Upsilon and Sigma Rho fraternities. That was my first exposure to the terrible reality of hazing.  Congress was up in arms and efforts were made to prevent its recurrence.


Since that time, however, and up to now, the evil of hazing, conducted in utmost secrecy under the iron-clad oath of “Omerta,”  has reared its ugly head from time to time---such as what happened to freshman Horacio “Atio” Tomas Castillo III of the UST Law fraternity, the “Aegis Juris” who died from violent hazing, and who had dreamt of being a lawyer. Unfortunately, however, the uproar and the national breast-beating subsides---until another victim dies.  


Police investigations reveal that Horacio Castillo died from a heart attack after severe beatings with thick wooden paddles on his body. At the funeral mass at the Santuario de San Antonio Church yesterday, the mass presider,  Fr. Winston Cabading, stressed that “A brotherhood that seeks to harm does not come from God, but from the devil.”  Calling on the young victim’s man’s parents and friends,  he begged them “not to be buried in darkness when we are filled with anger and hatred.” Fr. Cabading admitted, however, that to the question of the meaning of young “Atio” Castillo’s death, “There is no easy answer.”




When I was a literature student at the UP long ago, we studied a short story titled, “The Use of Force” by American author William Carlos Williams, which narrated in first-person how a doctor, treating a young  child of suspected diphtheria, sought to get some specimen from its mouth. When the child resisted, the struggle became rather ugly, with the doctor this time inserting a spoon into its mouth with more force than seemed needed and still the child refused to cooperate.  At that point, author Williams, himself a doctor, clearly portrayed how the doctor in the story (was it Williams himself?) transformed “from cool professional to animalistic assailant.”


In seeking to make sense of the various hazing episodes that resulted in unintended deaths, should we theorize that there is perhaps this same element, whereby, even among friends, there is transformation from being friends to being “animalistic assailants” who lose control of themselves.


This could be the case especially if the hazing rituals are conducted under the influence of liquor and very likely even drugs in isolated places like a remote beach resort---plus very little supervision from the frat's elders and the school.




Consider all the accidents from hazing:


* State-run military academies such as the elite Philippine Military  Academy in Baguio, the Philippine Marine Academy and the Philippine National Police Academy all had their past share of hazing victims. At PMA, plebe Monico de Guzman was believed to have died from “beat attack” upon seeking entrance in the boot camp. The premiere military academy continued with hazing in secrecy.


* In some secular schools, hazing continued to take place as well, and what focused national attention in February 1995 was the death of a neophyte of the Aquila Legis Fraternity at the Ateneo Law School named Lenny Villa. His mother carried a brave campaign against hazing from then on.  


* It should be noted, however, that brutal hazing occurs too in the Ivy League schools in the US. I read an account by a student of Dartmouth University who spoke not of physical brutality, but of being sadistically forced to imbibe excrement of all sorts during hazing.




The rash of deadly violence due to hazing prodded Congress to react in the '90s.  Following the huge uproar over the death of law student Lenny Villa in initiation rites, Sen. Joey Lina, then chair of the Senate Committee on Youth and Sports,  authored R.A. 8049, “An Act Regulating Hazing and other forms of initiation rites in Fraternities, Sororities and other organizations, and providing penalties thereof.”  Prior to the passage of R.A. 8049 what was operative on student organizations was the Revised Penal Code.


 As former Sen.Lina  recounted to Cecile Alvarez and myself during our dzRH program, “Radyo Balintataw” last Sunday, hazing is absolutely forbidden under Sec. 2 of RA 8049, the Anti-Hazing Law.  In fact, MERE PRESENCE at such forbidden rituals is enough to implicate a person as an accomplice to the crime. Punishment includes life imprisonment or reclusion perpetua;  reclusion temporal (17-20 years) and the lightest, 4 years and one day imprisonment for mere presence at such ritual.


The Supreme Court upheld circumstantial evidence as stiff in its landmark decision in Dungo vs. People of the Philippines 2015, raising  punishment to nine years.




Obviously, however, the current law punishing hazing is still deemed very weak, as physical violations continue to exist. There is now a clamor to enforce more safeguards in fraternity initiations, to ensure that physical violence is not resorted to, and elements of the community, the police, the fiscal’s office and the courts are enjoined to attend and monitor fraternity activities closely. Cecile Alvarez and I opined that officials of the school where the fraternity members are enrolled have to be present at initiation rites.


Morerover, I proposed more creative ways to undertake initiation rites such as for example, making neophytes dress like garbage collectors and actually sweep trash in the Luneta or by Manila Bay, or have them garbed in beggar’s clothes and actually beg by Quiapo Church, the begging proceeds to be donated for soup kitchens.


Any initiation ritual except violence which kills. 


(Belinda Olivares-Cunanan is a veteran journalist with 25 years of experience writing a political column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. She is a Rotary Club of Manila Hall of Fame awardee for journalism. She has also received the Distinguished Alumna Award from her elementary and high school alma mater, the College of the Holy Spirit, and the Alumni Association Professional Award for Journalism from the University of the Philippines (UP).}

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California is an undisputed national and global leader in protecting our environment and championing policy that will ensure the sustainability of our natural resources for generations to come. And especially after facing multiple dry years in a row, it’s clear this sort of foresight and proactive approach is desperately needed when it comes to water issues as well.


Unfortunately, however, some legislators want to take California in the opposite direction by blocking the development of a safe, reliable new water supply – and, in doing so, block jobs and economic growth, including for the Filipino community. Assembly Bill 1000, by Assemblymember Laura Friedman, is a “gut and amend” bill that circumvents the normal legislative process in an attempt to stop a carefully studied water project that has earned the approval of multiple state and local agencies and shown to be safe for the environment.


The Cadiz Water Project will access underutilized water from the Mojave Desert that is currently evaporating into the air to provide a reliable water supply that can serve up to 400,000 people every year. Filipino families, businesses and communities need affordable and reliable water; a safe water supply is critical for the long-term sustainability of our state and has a significant role to play in creating socio-economic opportunity and progress.


Unlike the false claims perpetrated by the supporters of AB 1000 – many of them coastal interests and Sacramento politicians whose communities rely on imported water and won’t feel the pain of the lost jobs and water caused by the bill – the Cadiz Water Project does not pose a threat to the environment. The project has withstood all of California’s robust environmental reviews, and mechanisms are built into the project to allow the County of San Bernardino to halt project operations if it unexpectedly poses harm or if groundwater levels fall below a certain point.


Equally importantthe project is expected to create thousands of skilled jobs – including for veterans and for unions – and generate nearly $1 billion in economic activity. A project that’s safe for the environment, creates good-paying jobs and put more money into local coffers? It’s a clear win-win-win – and the fact that some special interests want to derail the project reveals only ugly political games.


Beyond threatening the jobs and water that would come from the Cadiz Water Project, AB 1000 is also just bad policy. By adding additional layers of bureaucratic review on top of those already provided for by California’s environmental laws, the policy behind AB 1000 would make it even harder for the state to move forward on projects that serve the Filipino community, like school and hospital construction, affordable housing development or even bridge and roadway investments. We already have a robust – and often confusing and complicated – environmental review process; why make it even harder for these important projects by allowing politicians and political appointees to quash them at the very last minute?


We cannot allow politics to drive policy decisions that would negatively affect our state for generations to come. For these reasons, we urge the Legislature to reject AB 1000.

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There is a shadowy group allegedly composed of soldiers and policemen calling for the ouster of President Rodrigo Duterte.


The group calls itself the "Patriotic and Democractic Movement" (PADEM) and claims that the Chief Executive committed "gross crimes in betrayal of public trusts and in violation of national sovereignty and democractic rights of the the Filipino people."


The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police immediately categorically denied the recent statement issued by the group that pretends to be representative of the men and women of the AFP and the PNP and came out in support of the Chief Executive.


 AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said that the entire AFP supports the constitutionally mandated government and unequivocally supports the President who is also the Commander-in-Chief.


"The accusations and issues cited by the group are unfounded and uncalled for. Such issues are clearly politically motivated and a matter that the AFP does not and will not subscribe to," Padilla stressed, adding that current developments and issues that the group wishes to take advantage of are now being addressed by the Department of Justice and parties to a possible crime are now under detention.


"Let us respect these processes and not allow ourselves to be used by individuals or groups with vested interests. We appeal for sobriety, reason and patience as we await the results of these processes," the AFP spokesperson added.


As the constitutionally mandated protectors of the people, the AFP should stand by the law abiding citizens whenever necessary and should not countenance forces who undermine the stability and security of the country and those who wish to destabilize the nation thru unconstitutional means. Whatever their grievances, the group and the public in general should respect the apolitical stance of the military and help bring unity and healing instead of fomenting divisiveness and collapse.

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Even as President Rodrigo Duterte and the Armed Forces of the Philippines have noted a tapering off in the exchange of gunfires between government troops and terrorists in Marawi City, proposals have been made to extend the 60-day martial law in Mindanao and expand it to cover the entire country. One proposal coming from Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez was even to extend martial law up to 2022 which is the end of the term of Mr. Duterte, which immediately drew protests from members of Congress themselves and various sectors of the country.


The proposals were aired following the Supreme Court decision upholding the proclamation of martial law. Others pointed out the success of the martial rule in Mindanao especially in the peace and order situation, the campaign against armed groups and illegal drugs. This is borne out by a Social Weather Station survey which showed that 57 percent of respondents favoured martial law, although many oppose the expansion to the Visayas and Luzon.


Even the Armed Forces itself said the idea of expanding martial law has never crossed the collective mind of the military. AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said he himself does not see the need to place the entire country under martial law but at the moment, the AFP is reviewing the situation and coming out with its recommendation after its assessment. Once the assessment is done along with their recommendation, it will be then forwarded to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the Martial Law administrator, who will then forward it to President Rodrigo Duterte who will then review and act on it.


Martial Law in Mindanao was declared night time of May 23 shortly after the attack of the Maute Group terrorists in Marawi City.  Under the 1987 Constitution, Martial Law is only limited for 60 days or up to July 23 and needs the approval of Congress for its extension. Careful and thorough assessment of the situation and consideration of all factors, including that of the international community, should be ensured to be able to come out with a wise decision for the good of the majority of the people and that of the country.

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Last week, the government and terrorists belonging to the IS-inspired Maute Group observed an eight-hour truce brokered by Muslim leaders  in Marawi City. The ceasefire allowed the rescue of residents, especially the sick and those held hostage by the terrorists, as the Muslims observe the waning days of the Ramadan. Other Muslim religious leaders also reached out with the Mautes and tried to convince them to give up and end the siege which had tattered many parts of Marawi City and resulted to the death of more than 450 people, including soldiers, policemen and innocent citizens. The war also displaced some 200,000 Marawi residents who had to scamper to safety to nearby Iligan City and other towns, some who have the means fleeing to as far as Metro Manila.


But while there was this brief chance for peace, rapid firings and bombings from both sides readily resumed at the end of the truce as the terrorists, many of them Malaysians, Indonesians, Singaporeans, Yemenis, Saudi Arabians and others were firm on their mission to make Marawi a caliphate of the Islamists in the Philippines and Southeast Asia and refuse to give up. Thus, the Muslim community observed Eid’l Fitr, the end of Ramadan, with fears and concern that the war in Marawi City could still prolong.


Amidst the troubles in Marawi, President Rodrigo Duterte appealed to Muslim leaders and the people of Mindanao to help carve out a peace formula for the region that will ensure its full development that would benefit its people. In Malacanang where he led the Eid’l Fitr celebration, the President stressed anew his promise to the Filipinos that he would secure lasting peace in Mindanao. “To our brothers and sisters who have been affected by the violence and conflict in Mindanao, I assure you that the government is committed to securing just and lasting peace in the island,” President Duterte said in his speech before an audience of Muslim Filipinos, many of them former rebels themselves. Meanwhile, an inter-religious movement appealed for prayers and nationwide participation in its “Prayer for Peace in the Philippines” initiative to be held on July 7. The people should join and support this prayer initiative whatever faith they belong, whether they are Christians, Catholics or Muslims.

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A series of quakes that rattled Batangas, Laguna, Cavite, Mindoro, Metro Manila and other areas the past few days has heightened speculations that the Big One, a projected 7.2 magnitude earthquake on the West Valley Fault that could be destructive for Metro Manila, maybe in the offing. While the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) has been warning that this could happen in the lifetime of many people, nothing has been invented so far to predict exactly when an earthquake could happen. As such, Phivolcs and other government authorities could only issue warning and call for caution and make the necessary preparation possible to cushion the effect of a big temblor.


Leaders of the Philippine Congress thus are calling for people, especially the students, to be prepared and trained for such disasters through the Disaster Risk Reduction, Management and Education programs in schools, colleges and universities. “In the wake of strong typhoons that hit the country, as well as the threat of other exposures such as the impending Big One that will lay waste in Metro Manila and the neighboring provinces, it is imperative that we educate our students with the proper decorum on the preparation and response to these kinds of disasters,” according to Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe as he filed House Bill 805 or the “Act Mandating All Schools and Universities to Establish an Area-Specific Disaster Risk Reduction Management and Education Program in their Respective Jurisdictions.” Sens. Loren Legarda and Juan Miguel Zubiri are supporting the measure in the Senate.


If the bill is enacted into law, schools and universities would be required to educate the students, parents, staff, and teachers on all possible vulnerabilities and disasters their areas are prone to. Schools will also be required to craft a comprehensive disaster preparedness and emergency plan. The current law already mandates the Department of Education (DepEd), Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and the Technical Education Skills and Development Authority (TESDA) to incorporate a disaster risk reduction and management education in the curricula of secondary and tertiary education. But under the bill, the same agencies would also be directed to conduct risk assessment tools for the identification of capacities, vulnerabilities, and hazards present in the schools.


Preparing for the Big One, natural calamities and disasters should be the main concern not just of pupils and students and their teachers but of everyone as these phenomenon hit people unexpectedly just like the thief in the night. And preparations and vigilance should be everybody’s concern all the time, any time.

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Although former President Benigno S. Aquino III was at the People Power Monument, and former President Fidel Ramos, former Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Gregorio Honasan attended a mass to commemorate the EDSA People Power Revolution 31 years ago, judging from the few people who participated in the last month at the People Power Monument and in other venues, one would easily conclude that the spirit that led to the EDSA revolt of 1986 which led to the departure of then President Ferdinand Marcos and family from Malacanang has faded and the celebration has lost its luster. Former President, one of the supposed heroes of the EDSA Revolt, noted the simple celebration this year which he said he does not mind as long the EDSA People Power Commission (EPPC) does a better job next year. To make up for next year, Ramos said he proposed putting up the long-delayed EDSA Learning Center.


What has caused people to give less importance to the celebration?


There are many answers to the poser. One answer is that many people have become skeptical of EDSA than those who are enthralled by it. The reason is that the supposed unity of the people during the event was immediately broken when those who came to power after Marcos, instead of promoting unity, divided the country between the so-called “yellow” forces and the “loyalists.” This division started when governors, mayors and other officials were removed and replaced with new ones without the benefit of election. The division was more event with the coup attempts that marked the administration of then President Corazon Aquino. People are also asking – what happened after EDSA, are the Filipinos better off than under Marcos?


One editorial pointed out that the essential purpose of commemorating the event has been lost because some have mistakenly loaded on the annual remembrance goals and objectives that are not validated by what our people truly feel or believe. The official EDSA commemoration has also been distorted by incessant misrepresentation and false counts of the numbers who do attend. Some have also foolishly made the EDSA remembrance a mock battle between the administration and its critics – leading to frenetic efforts by both sides to load the numbers on their respective ends, in order to claim an illusory victory.


Whatever your position on the matter, we should all learn from the lessons of EDSA, promote unity instead of dividing the people further so the country can attain growth, development and prosperity.


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