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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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Again we bid goodbye to an old year. And the woes, problems and challenges that went with it. It is a sad parting to many, especially those who enjoyed the year with much success and fulfilment as nothing is yet clear if the good fortunes will continue in the new year 2016.

 

One thing though is sure – the new year is another chance and another hope for a better future and another challenge to achieve what we aspire for. Yes, the new year is another chance to shape and define the next 12 months, another chance to get involved and make a difference, another chance to take a stand for and support positive change, another chance to defy stereotypes and another step to liberate ourselves from the grip of traditional politics. Yes, indeed, it is another chance to rethink our life dreams especially for those we love and hold dear. It is another chance to re-order our priorities and return to basics, to simplify and be truly grateful for what we have and don’t, to live within our means and boundaries. We have another chance to do the things we have always wanted but could not because there were other commitments or seemingly more important things to attend to.

 

Most of all, the new year is another chance to reflect on our failures and, learning from the experience, re-charge, correct the wrongs and chart positively better ways out of the quagmire that we are in.

 

So, with or without fear of what the future holds, we join our countrymen, family members and friends with hope and optimism in the celebration to welcome 2016 with the usual revelry and loud noise. Yes, we celebrate the start of another year, another chance, another hope and another dream.

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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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