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At least 15 more candidates and supporters were killed on the eve of the May 9 election and on the day of election itself, raising to almost 40 those killed and much more wounded in the just concluded heated national and local elections. But just the same, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police (PNP) described the political exercise as one of the most peaceful and orderly elections in the country in many years. And this nation’s leaders and citizens seem to agree, despite pockets of violence, especially in remote areas.


And the election also appeared on record as one of the most transparent with quick counting of results by the citizens’ arm of the Commission on Elections. In fact, a day and at the most two days after the election, many local candidates – governors, mayors, vice mayors, councillors and congressmen have been proclaimed and the results of the presidential election known. Except for the official canvassing of votes by the National Board of Canvassers, the Senate and the House of Representatives combined acting as such, the country’s next president and vice president plus the 12 councillors are known by the public. In that unofficial counting, maverick Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte appeared headed in a landslide victory with close to 16 million already and over 6 million votes plurality over his closest rival, former Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II. President Aquino has in fact even congratulated Duterte as Senator Grace Poe and Roxas conceded defeat. In the race for the second top most position, Sen.  Ma. Leonor Robredo is winning over Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. but the result is too close that a winner has not been projected.


As the country awaits with great anticipation the next President and leaders, it is time for the country to now heal the wounds created by the campaign. Mr. Duterte himself pitched for the political healing, saying “let’s all unite and be friends again.” Yes, indeed, because the most important is that the country can resolve problems and issues confronting it in order for the country to move forward and progress. Meanwhile, let us join hands as responsible citizens with Mr.  Duterte and his team for the good of our country. For without support and unity, failure will loom in the horizon and we will all be the losers.


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For two weeks, some 10,000 American and Filipino troops are holding their joint military exercises in land and at sea in the Philippines for two weeks. The two-week war drills called “Balikatan” which means shoulder-to-shoulder are made in the wake of the growing tension with China over its continued reclamation and threats in the South China Sea. China has even captured several islands and shoals in clear Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea like the Scarborough Shoal and Panatag Shoal, prompting Philippines authorities to raise the issue before the United Nations and the International Court.  


The war drills is bigger this year than in previous years with the participation of Australian and Japanese defense forces and observers from several countries, namely, Brunei, Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand, Timor Leste and Vietnam, some of which have claims over islands and reefs in the region. Not only that – US Defense Secretary Ash Carter will be observing the war drills, especially the use of high weapons which will be used in the drills and the patrols on board US destroyers at sea.


Officials claim that the war drills are not connected in any way with the conflict with China, but observers still welcome the exercises as they could be considered a preparation for a possible armed confrontation in case China insists on its claims over the vast waters, once considered international waters where navigation was free for shippers and transport. No less than Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who has been vocal against China’s capture of a big part of Philippine territory, has warned of a possible arms race and confrontation in the region in case the Philippines will be sustained by the United Nations and the International Court on its stand on the disputes.


Many are sad that the dispute with China widened under the Aquino administration which allowed wittingly or unwittingly China to reclaim many islands, reefs and shoals in the region and capture a big part of Philippine territory. Was this part of the well-publicized back-door negotiation with China made by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV under the aegis of Malacanang? Filipinos will not only be sad but sorry if military confrontation will be triggered as a result of China’s continued belligerence or insistence on its claims. Something solid must be done not only by the Philippines and the United States and other peace-loving nations to ease the tension in this regional flashpoint for a wider conflict that could lead to armed confrontation. Let’s have peace, not war!


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In a last-minute decision former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada abandoned his fellow opposition leader Vice President Jejomar Binay in his presidential bid and shifted his support to Sen. Grace Poe who is leading the race based on latest surveys.


Many were not surprised with Estrada’s decision as he has become known in Manila as a man without his word, having promised to Manilans in the 2013 elections that he was good only for one term. “It is my last hurrah,” Estrada was quoted as saying then and the voters took his bait resulting to the defeat of then incumbent Mayor Alfredo Lim.


Many experts believe that Estrada’s endorsement of Senator Poe would do well for her candidacy, but many also believe it will not make a dent as the voters now can decide on their own and not just swayed by any endorsement, especially from those with checkered records like the former President.


For many Manilans, Estrada’s decision was simply an act of political survival for himself especially as the lady senator has soared in the polls while Binay, Estrada’s erstwhile bet, has started to roll. If Estrada really was sincere in his endorsement, he could have made known his support for Poe early on and not wait for the surveys to come in. Also, why allow San Juan Mayor Guia Gomez, his partner, to endorse another candidate in the person of Manuel “Mar” Roxas II? Others surmise that there could have been a deal on the case of Estrada’s son, Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, who is currently incarcerated in connection with the pork barrel scam, which the senator and mayor roundly denied.


Whatever is the motivations behind the endorsement, it will certainly be the people who will make the final decision as Senator Poe continues to surge in the polls even sans the mayor’s backing. We leave it to Manilans to discern and make the right choice for mayor and for president for the whole country.


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A couple of days before millions of people around the world will mark Earth Hour, environment activist and former Vice President Albert Gore of the United States visited the Philippines and warned of a looming disaster facing the country as a result of the rising temperature causing rising sea levels in the vast Pacific Ocean. He called on everybody to exert all efforts to avert adverse climate change in the world and prevent a disaster of enormous proportions. This early, Gore also proposed the relocation of some 13 million Filipinos to higher grounds to prevent a repeat of the havoc wrought by super typhoon Yolanda whose ground zero in Tacloban City he visited as he interacted with the typhoon victims and survivors. Yolanda swept through central Philippines in November 2013, with giant waves wiping out entire communities from the Leyte and Samar islands to the paradise islands of Palawan and leaving 7,500 people or more dead or missing. Since the disaster, high-profile personalities including Pope Francis and French President Francois Hollande have visited Tacloban to call attention to the effects of climate change.


The warning of Gore, a Nobel Peace Prize awardee for his work on environment protection, also came as the Philippines’ weather agency warned of extreme heat in the coming days and cautioned the public against too much sun exposure that could lead to heat stroke as the onset of summer nears.


In a lecture later in Manila, Gore urged the people to pressure their leaders to act on climate change despite efforts by skeptics to muddle the issue. “A people’s movement from grassroots up (is needed) to confront the decision-makers for decision and leaders in making a choice for yes instead of no or right instead of wrong,” the former US vice president stressed as he noted that the Philippines is planning to build more coal plants despite the global shift to clean energy. The coal-fire power plants are linked to global warming and extreme weather conditions, he pointed out adding that  while the Philippines experienced the most number of weather-related disasters in almost two decades, it remains a laggard in terms of using clean energy.


Do Filipinos still need people from other countries like Mr. Gore and President Hollande to remind them of the dangers of climate change when, in fact, they have seen such as those of super typhoon Yolanda and are seeing ill-effects in their midst? Let’s protect our seas, forests and biodiversity, change climate change and Mother Earth, otherwise we will all eventually perish with it.


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By a unanimous vote of 14-0 (with one absent due to sickness), the Supreme Court reversed the Commission on Elections on its decision not to issue receipts for the automated voting in the May 9 elections. The decision was in response to a petition filed by former Senator Richard Gordon, later joined by Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and his team, for the issuance of the receipts in compliance with Republic Act No. 9369 or the Automated Elections System Law which Gordon himself authored in the Senate when he was still a senator. Now seeking a comeback in the Senate under the team of Sen. Grace Poe, Gordon stressed in his petition that the receipts were necessary to ensure a transparent and honest election, with results not tampered with.


Gordon and company filed their petitions before the High Tribunal after the Comelec announced that the seven members of the Comelec En Banc unanimously decided against using the VVPAT because it could be used as a tool for vote-buying and would also extend the voting period by seven hours. In the petition, Gordon argued that the Congress has the constitutional duty to protect the sanctity of the ballot which is why he ensured that the safeguards aimed to do this were injected in R.A. 9369. The VVPAT system allows voters to verify if their ballots were cast correctly through the issuance of a receipt, showing the names of candidates that they voted for. It serves as a deterrent against election fraud and provides a means to audit stored electronic results.


The unanimous vote of the High Court ordered the Commission on Elections to enable the voter verified paper audit trail or VVPAT feature of the vote counting machines. And from reports in Manila, Chairman Andres Bautista disclosed that the poll agency is complying and he has, in fact, called for an emergency meeting to discuss the implications of the ruling and how the agency will respond and comply with it. The Comelec chief pointed out that compliance with the ruling would set back the election calendar as teachers will have to be trained, hundreds of voting machines will have to be reprogrammed, thermal paper and ballot containers will have to be purchased for the receipts, among others. Also, the election process in the precincts will be delayed to give way for the issuance of receipts which, however, will not be taken out but merely placed in a box. These are the same arguments made by Comelec in opposing the petition. Fortunately, the Comelec arguments did not hold water on the Supreme Court chief justice and associate justices.


For sure, both the Comelec and SC are concerned about the integrity of the vote but with the SC order, the poll body must now work double time to comply and assuage the people’s fears of another cheating in the elections.


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This month of February, the Filipinos remember and the Philippines commemorates the EDSA Revolution of February 22-25, 1986 which eventually toppled the strongman Ferdinand Marcos from Malacanang.


While the historic event gained worldwide attention and put the country in the global map -- it was even repeated in some countries and succeeded in removing their leaders perceived to be abusive - its meaning has gone to naught for one of the heroes of EDSA, former President Fidel V. Ramos, as he lamented that the same old evils that were supposed to be drive out in 1986 continue to plague the country.


‘Greed, corruption brought down by EDSA People Power remain with us. The greed, corruption, cronyism and kleptocracy we brought down at EDSA are still with us today,” the former President nearly 30 years after he and former National Defense Minister and now Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, along with other civilian and military officers, led a “people power revolution” against then-strongman Ferdinand Marcos, his second cousin.


The so-called revolution took place on EDSA (Epifanio del los Santos Avenue), a major highway in Metro Manila straddling Caloocan, Quezon, Mandaluyong, Pasig and Paranaque cities, from February 22 to February 25 in 1986. Recalling the reputedly bloodless uprising, Ramos said  “We gathered at EDSA and made our stand against the dictatorship because we loved freedom, and were tired of the country we had become.” He added:“The spirit of EDSA emanates from the Filipinos’ act of unselfish caring and willing sacrifice… as Filipinos, we do believe that the best way to promote the spirit of EDSA is for concerned citizens to pull together,” he said.


We more than agree with the statement and lamentation of Mr. Ramos as he recalled the EDSA Revolution of 1986. As Mr. Ramos says, there is still hope for the better if the  people will be responsible in electing elect leaders who can put the interests of many above those of the few. Ramos challenged the country’s leaders to reform themselves for the common good, for them as “public servants and fellow concerned citizens to perform their duties selflessly.”


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Finally, the Supreme Court (SC) has terminated the fifth day of the oral arguments on the case of Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares, which was also the last day of the hearing of the case. In closing, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. Aranal Sereno reminded all the parties involved in the case to submit their respective memorandum within a period of five days from Tuesday, February 16, after which the case will be declared as already "submitted for resolution".


The case involves the two petitions of Poe assailing the decision of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) en banc cancelling her certificate of candidacy (COC) for president in the May 9, 2016 elections over questions on her citizenship and residency. Being a foundling (she was found as a baby in the Jaro church in Iloilo by a local, taken care of later adopted by actress Susan Roces and actor Fernando Poe Jr.), Poe claims that laws provide that she should be considered a natural-born citizen and, therefore, qualified to run for president. The neophyte senator has won the hearts of many Filipinos, leaders and ordinary folk, for her fight as a foundling and those thousands of similarly situated persons. And judging from the oral arguments before the High Court, the lady senator has gained the sympathy of some members of the tribunal, including the Chief Justice. Also, the Solicitor General, Florin Hilbay, representing the government, argued in the High Court that it was a mistake for the Commission on Elections to consider Poe’s 2012 certificate of candidacy for senator as “conclusive and binding” in determining the length of her residence as qualification for the presidency, adding that Senator Poe met the 10-year residency requirement for a presidential aspirant. Hilbay said that foundlings in the Philippines are natural-born Filipinos, pointing out that this is also based on the deliberations of the 1934 Constitutional Convention. Hilbay believes that the proposal to clarify the provision in the 1935 Constitution about the foundlings cannot be regarded as ignoring the provision to recognize the foundlings as Filipinos. He told the SC justices that the silence of the Constitution on the issue of foundlings does not necessarily mean that they cannot be considered as Filipinos.


Even actress Susan Roces, the adoptive mother of Senator Poe, has broken her silence on the issue of the senator’s citizenship and residency. The actress said the senator could never be considered a foreigner because she was born in the Philippines. She also denied the long-time rumor that the senator is the daughter of her sister, the former actress Rosemarie Sonora.


Whatever will be the decision of the Supreme Court, this will surely add to the interpretation of the law on foundlings and those similarly situated and by that alone Senator Poe has done something for the nation. But then, let’s wait for that ruling which is forthcoming.

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With up to 4 million people affected in the Americans, the World Health Organization's (WHO) has convened an emergency committee on the Zika virus situation and the committee immediately declared an emergency, alerting all nations about the virus.


Based on dengue epidemiology in the Americas and the over 2 million cases which are reported in the region every year, its estimated that there could be "between 3 and 4 million cases of Zika infections in the Americas." First isolated in 1947 from a monkey in Uganda, the Zika virus was limited for decades to a narrow equatorial belt stretching across Africa and Asia, rarely affecting humans. In 2007, the virus breached its geographical range as the first documented outbreak was recorded in the Pacific Islands.


The situation since has drastically changed. In 2015, the mosquito-borne virus was detected in the Americas with Brazil reporting its first case in May last year.Zika infections have now been reported in 23 countries and territories in the region.

In the Philippines, President Aquino immediately ordered the Department of Health and its instrumentalities to step up measures to prevent an outbreak in the country. Health Secretary Janet Garin said that the DOH has 1,000 testing kits for the virus that were provided by the Centers for Diseas Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia where tests results will be flown by DoH later.


Hopefully, with early action by world and Philippine authorities, the Zika virus will be contained to prevent it from spreading and affecting more people.


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As we go to press, Japanese Emperor Akihito and his wife Empress Michiko planed in Manila for a five-day state visit from Jan 26 to 30. The royal couple were personally welcomed at the airport tarmac by President Benigno S. Aquino III and some Cabinet officials.


The Emperor was reciprocating President Aquino’s state visit to Tokyo last June where he invited them to visit Manila. It was the first time for Akihito to visit the Philippines as emperor. In 1962, he visited Manila as crown prince with then princess Michiko and were met by then President Diosdado Macapagal.


 The Emperor was two weeks short of his eighth birthday when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii with the blessings of his father, the late Emperor Hirohito, setting off the war in the Pacific that would lead to the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. Since then ties have improved between the two former foes, linked by their common ally the United States. Japan is now the Philippines’ single largest source of official development assistance and Japanese businessmen are among the biggest investors.


The Japanese royals’ visit is a fitting kick off for the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations of the Philippines and Japan, once adversaries in the war but are now partners united by their common ally, the United States. Aside from meeting President Aquino, the Japanese royals will visit Laguna in January 29 in addition to their scheduled activities in Manila on Jan 26 until Jan. 28. We join the nation in welcoming the Royal Couple and hoping for their safe and successful visit as they forge better ties with the Philippines.

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It’s constitutional. It’s legal. This in effect is the ruling of the Philippines highest court, the Supreme Court, about the agreement entered into by the Philippines and the United States officially called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). With the ruling, American military forces and materiels in the Philippines could now be boosted. The US government can now also expand its assistance to the Philippine armed forces and possibly the civilian government and the private sector through its various agencies.


The High Court’s ruling could not have come at a better time. Despite growing protest of the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan and the warning of the American leaders, China continues its belligerence by reclaiming more islands, shoals and reefs in the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea and building airports, seaports and other long-term facilities there, as it stands pat on its claim that these areas are within the Chinese territory. The Philippine government has brought the issue for international arbitration pointing out that the territories in question are well within the Philippine territory and the United Nations-recognized exclusive economic zone. The Philippines has won initially in the arbitration but Beijing refuses to cooperate.


US President Barack Obama has come out in the open against China’s aggressiveness, stressing that the area in question is well within the international waters where there should be untrammelled navigation, especially for commerce and trade, as well as flights over the areas. Mr. Obama was in the Philippines twice to assure Manila of the American support on its claims and its defense in case Beijing will heat up the tension in the region. In one of his visits, Mr. Obama even witnessed the signing of the EDCA between the defense officials of the two countries. But many Philippine and even American leaders like US Sen. John McCain have expressed concern that Mr. Obama has not ordered more US patrols in the region, thus allowing China to occupy the areas. With that situation, Filipinos may just wake out one day with its territory decimated and taken over by China.


As defense and state officials of both the Philippines and the United States start new talks in Washington, a more aggressive plan to protect the region from becoming a real flash point of conflict should be made. Peace is sine quanon to progress. All countries concerned with China’s aggressiveness must act now to ensure that there will be continued peace, commerce and progress in the region.

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