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As we go to press, people are in such a big rush going to the malls and supermarkets to buy gifts for loved ones and friends and food and fruits that will be on the table on eve and on Christmas day. To many, there is no dampening of the holiday spirit inspite of the several destructive typhoons hitting the country during the past months, the latest of which is “Nona” which killed at least 45 people and destroyed crops and infrastructures estimated to cost over P2 billion and rendered hundreds of people homeless, many of whom are still reeling in floods.

 

Overall, the celebration, however, appears to be somber and subdued compared to those of previous years. For one, many homes are without the bright lanterns and Christmas lights to delight everybody, especially the children. Even private and government offices have cut down on their displays setting up an austere atmosphere.

 

Christmas Day, however, should not be remembered just for the expensive and attractive gifts that we receive and the delicious food that we eat. Christmas is the day the Child Jesus was born in a manger to be able to fulfil the promise to eventually save mankind. So delighted were the three Kings that they travelled miles as they followed the bright star to pay homage to the Child Jesus and present their gifts. Christmas Day, therefore, is the special day to remember our saviour and there is no better gift than going to Church or simply praying to the Lord on that day and the rest of the year for the good of every one and peace and prosperity to the world. Merry Christmas every one!

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 There’s no other church proof that Christmas is around the corner than the traditional “Simbang Gabi” (Midnight Mass) in Philippine churches. It is actually a nine-day novena of Masses which starts on December 16 and ends on Christmas Day, December 25. It is actually also a concrete way of preparing for the Messiah’s Nativity.

 

According to Fr. Bel San Luis, a colleague of Philippines Today's editor in chief in the Manila Bulletin before, the Masses which also honor Mother Mary is part of the Filipino religious culture influenced by the Advent customs which originated in Mexico in 1587. An account states that Fray Diego de Soria asked permission from the Holy Father to hold the dawn Masses for the farmers who woke up very early to work. Hence, the Spanish name Misa de Gallo celebrated at dawn when cocks (gallo) crow.

 

This centuries-old tradition is surely a sacrifice of love because it is not easy to rise so early in the morning to attend Mass, and then drag oneself to work later. The sacrifice is more felt for countrymen and expatriates living in cold countries like the United States where the Misa de Gallo novena is tenaciously observed. In the Philippines, the observance of this custom has been adjusted to accommodate the needs of the faithful in their work schedules. Hence, according to Fr. San Luis, we now have Simbang Gabi at night, Simbang Umaga in the morning, and at noon Simbang Tanghali.   Regretfully, some people go to the Simbang Gabi after a night out intoxicated, ending up in church snoring in the pews; in which case, Father San Luis jokes it’s Simbang Tulog.

 

Filipinos also do the Simbang Gabi as thanksgiving for special graces received,  as a panata (personal vow) to complete the whole nine days to pray for a special intention, like passing the board exam, securing a visa for work abroad, or obtaining cure from a serious sickness. Whatever the personal intentions may be, it’s certainly a meaningful opportunity to pray and thank the Lord Jesus who came into our world in order to save us from sin. We certainly agree Farther Bel.

 

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Filipino ingenuity and creativity came to the fore during the just concluded Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings hosted by the Philippines when no less than United States Barack Obama came face to face and later was impressed with a university professor who invented a unique and important contraption -- a lamp using saltwater or sea water to power it. Mr. Obama, billionaire Jack Ma and the Filipino inventor, Aisa Mijeno, shared center stage during the business conference of the APEC and it appeared that it was not just Obama and Mr. Ma who were impressed but also the entire audience of business leaders and the millions of Filipinos and people of the world who saw their discussion on television. Prior to that appearance, Jimeno, a professor in a university in Batangas, was a virtual nobody, and her impressive invention was unheared of by the big population of the Philippines and perhaps the world.

It was gathered that Mijeno was invited to the APEC business conference by no less than the White House through the US Embassy in Manila. At first, she disclosed that she could not believe the invitation but upon further checking, it appeared to be genuine and later she was connected to the US Embassy. When she arrived at the APEC venue, she was at first not allowed to enter because this dimunitive inventor was not a known personality. It took a US Embassy official to fetch her at the gate and escort her to the venue. Once at the stage later with Mr. Obama and Mr. Ma, Mijeno proved to be so articulate about climate change and her invention even as she called for government and private sector support to mass produce the salt lamp so that it can be distributed to millions of people in the Philippines and elsewhere who have no electricity. Besides, the salt lamp can also be used as charger for cellular phones.
 
Understanding Ms. Mijeno and her group's predicament Mr. Obama himself goaded Mr. Ma to support them, and Mr. Ma readily responded with a promise for financial and technical support. It is sad that in the Philippines, the inventors are not given the right and enough support for their work. And worse, the inventors are treated like outcasts of society because their inventions are "crazy" and out of this world as their worth and uses are still to be proven. The experience of Mijeno should be a wake up call for government to support the inventors and their inventions, especially when the "crazy contraptions" will benefit not only the country and the poor Filipinos but the entire humankind.   

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It’s surprising that even after the heaps of publicity on the “laglag-bala” (bullet planting) racket at the Manila airports that enraged Filipinos around the world, three more passengers were caught allegedly carrying bullets inside their bags at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. The three were identified as Marc Angelo Unida, 27, Josephine Agbayani, 52, and Gerard Ubarde, 25.  Unida was about to board his flight to San Francisco on November 20 when airport people allegedly found a bullet inside his bag. Agbayani, on the other hand, reportedly had a bullet inside her shoulder bag and Ubarde’s pouch bag was said to have contained a 40-caliber bullet. Pasay City prosecutors dismissed the charges filed by the Aviation Security Group against Agbayani and Ubarde for lack of probable cause. Unida was ordered released pending further investigation of his case but it was not known if he was able to continued with his flight to San Francisco.

 

The new airport incidents happened even President Aquino and Malacañang officials attempt to belittle the alleged existence of bullet-planting syndicates preying and extorting money mostly on elderly passengers and Filipino workers at the airport. Instead of trying to get into the bottom of these allegations, the President instead chose to dismiss these outright with statistics and even defended the airport authorities, including his cousin, MIAA general manager Angel Honrado whom many, including bishops, want axed.

 

Meanwhile, Rhodora de Guzman, an alleged tanim-bala victim from California filed administrative complaints against four personnel of the Office of Transportation Security assigned at the airport for allegedly extorting money from her and threatening to compromise her work as a caregiver in the United States. In her affidavit notarized in the Philippine Consulate in Los Angeles, de Guzman recounted she was returning from Batangas to California and was wheelchair-bound at the time when porters and airport security claimed to have found bullets in her luggage. The workers allegedly told her to just pay P500 or about $12 so that no complaint will be filed. De Guzman paid the money and later wrote a post on the incident in her Facebook account, which went viral. She said the airport personnel also threatened to compromise the caregiver's US green card.

 

Amidst the denial of airport, security and police officials at the airport of the “laglag-bala” racket, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is conducting its own investigation on the incidents and initially found that more than 1,400 cases have been recorded but only 70 went on to the city prosecutors or the courts. Even the Public Attorney’s Office which had helped several victims confirmed this finding, raising more questions about the behaviour of the people involved in the racket. While the NBI has not made official its report, Filipinos worldwide and even visitors from foreign countries, including the United States, and even the United Nations itself, have expressed outrage and concern. This racket at the airport must immediately stop and those responsible punished and removed from the airports, otherwise the country’s image will continue to suffer. These bullets which are being used only to extort money from hapless victims  may become the bullets that will pierce through the heart of this country as it struggles to attract more tourists and investors.  

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Amidst reports that veteran actress Susan Roces was gearing up to substitute for her daughter, Senator Mary Grace Poe Llamanzares, in the presidential race for the 2016 elections, the neophyte senator scored a victory in the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) which, by a close vote of 5-4, ruled that she qualified to become senator of the country.

 

The ruling could decidedly boost Senator Poe’s campaign to become the next president even as she faces four more disqualification cases questioning her citizenship and residency. According to the petitions, having been a foundling, she was at best a stateless and not a natural born Philippine citizen and having been in the country only since 2006, she lacked the 10-year residency requirement for a presidential candidate. Others point out that having renounced her Philippine citizenship when she was naturalized as a citizen of the United States, she had lost her being a natural-born Filipino citizen.

 

Senator Poe’s major rivals, Vice President Jejomar Binay, erstwhile the leading candidate in surveys, and a spokesman of Liberal Party candidate Manuel Mar Roxas III welcomed the SET decision despite of the fact that Binay’s daughter, Sen. Maria Lourdes Nancy Binay, voted against Poe in the SET meeting in Makati, claiming she decided based on the law and not due to political consideration.

 

Lawyers and leaders of Senator Poe said with the SET ruling, the Commission on Elections wth which four disqualification cases have been filed against the neophyte senator should immediately dismiss the cases. But legal experts warned that the SET ruling was made by senators and not on the basis of law as the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court who are members of the SET all voted to give due course to the petition to disqualify Sen. Poe. They said the case and other related cases may yet be raised to the High Court itself later.

 

Even then, it was a sweet victory for the struggling neophyte senator and for other foundlings in the Philippines for whom she said she fought for. Let us all wait for the next chapter of the Senator Poe’s saga and the final decisions of the courts before we all celebrate.

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Super typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) with sustained winds at 285 km/h (180 mph) was the most powerful typhoon recorded in recent history. It was also the deadliest as it caused the death over 6,300 people (and the number is still rising as more than 1,000 were still missing) or more people than the tragic Twin Towers 9/11 incident in New York, and those of the Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese. Typhoon Yolanda also destroyed houses, infrastructures and crops worth billions of pesos and rendering thousands of people homeless.The massive typhoon affected millions in nine regions, 44 provinces, and more than 12,000 barangays. Nine in 10 of those affected were from Western, Central, and Eastern Visayas (Regions 6, 7, and 8).

                                                               
Immediately, in the aftermath of the typhoon, the United States brought in aid and other countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Israel, Japan and many others followed sending troops, medical equipment, food and relief items and billions of dollars in aid. But two years hence, thousands, if not the majority of the typhoon victims are still in sorry state, with aid not reaching them and are still homeless without the promised temporary or permanent homes. In Tacloban City alone, only 500 housing units have been built but without clean water. Then the Commission on Audit made public with its findings that millions of pesos of aid received from foreign countries have been impounded in banks and not being touched to help the victims. Even President Aquino’s appointed rehabilitation czar, former Senator Panfilo Lacson admitted that there was lack of focus, some government agencies are not doing their jobs, and so the “nightmare” of Super Typhoon Yolanda “continues to haunt us.” Lacson lamented that despite President Aquino’s commitment to speed up rehabilitation and recovery in Yolanda-devastated areas, some of the programs were not being implemented. 

 

“If not for the non-government sector and the bilateral and multilateral agencies from foreign countries which responded and assisted beyond anyone’s expectations, I cannot imagine how things shall have been accomplished as we see it two years after Yolanda. The nightmare of Nov. 8, 2013 continues to haunt us,” he said.


Former Budget Secretary and UP professor Benjamin Diokno said of the situation “Epic incompetence and callousness. The failure to address the needs of disaster victims after two years is unacceptable.” To Vice President Jejomar Binay, who led the commemoration of the second anniversary of the typhoon (Presideng Aquino ignored the invitation to be there as he attended a wedding of a billionaire’s son, that of Megaworld’s Andrew Tan), said it was a crime to allow the victims to continue to suffer and wallow from wanton disregard from government due to many factors like the ugly head of politics. Even the United Nations earlier aired its concerned on the resettlement and rehabilitation efforts.


Two years hence, many mistakes have been exposed. It is clear for one that many people still needs assistance and that rehabilitation and resettlement have been too slow and, therefore, must be sped up. At the same time, the government, and also the private groups which are recipients as conduits of cash donations, must be transparent with the work that they are doing and the handling of funds. Super typhoon Yolanda also showed the importance of preparedness. The country being an archipelago there are many areas which are exceptionally vulnerable to storm surges and efforts such as planting of mangroves in the shores and moving communities to higher levels must be institutionalized to protect these regions and the people. At the rate things are going, no time should be wasted for blaming each other for the mistakes that typhoon Yolanda has brought to light. Everybody – government and the private sector - must come to their senses, make good plans, orchestrate the work well and act immediately before we lose entirely the country’s credibility from the international donor community.

 

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