Monday, February 23, 2009

The rising cost of a spoiled American breakfast

President Arroyo’s latest attempt to meet US President Barack Obama has cost the nation a lot---not only in terms of money but above all in terms of national honor, dignity and self-respect. Now it threatens to exact its own pound of flesh from the US government itself. Suddenly some of our senators are talking of junking the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement.

It all started on the wrong foot. First Mrs. Arroyo flew to Davos apparently hoping to bump into Obama at the World Economic Forum. He did not attend. Then she flew to Washington, D.C. after stopping in Italy, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to see Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast. She had no better luck.

No one had the good sense to advise Mrs. Arroyo that Obama was not going to Davos, and that even if their eyes should meet at the Washington breakfast, there was no way of arranging a “photo opportunity” on the spot. If a Mother Teresa had strayed into the breakfast, then Obama might have sought her out.

As a rule no president travels 10,000 miles one-way to attend a prayer breakfast where he or she has no speaking part. The Fellowship, which sponsors the annual event, knew this. Thus they invited US-based guests from 170 countries but not a single foreign head of state. Of the 8,000 locals and foreigners invited, however, only 3,000 chose to attend the $425-per head “event.”

The annual prayer breakfast is held on the first Thursday of February at the huge ballroom of the Washington Hilton. I know the place, having attended the Catholic Prayer Breakfast there at least twice, with then President George W. Bush as honored guest. From what I saw, the arrangements did not promise any possibility of a “photo op.”

The guest of honor sits in a recessed area, fenced off waist-high from the rest of the hall where the other guests sit in round tables of 10 to 12. He enters the room through a private backdoor minutes before he speaks and leaves through the same door immediately thereafter. He never mixes with the guests.

At the Catholic breakfast there last April, my wife and I sat one table away from President Bush, with Sen. John McCain, Sen. Sam Brownback, two bishops one Dominican provincial, and Cathy Ruse, the wife of the program-host Austin Ruse. People lined up to be photographed with McCain, and we had an abundant eye-to-eye contact with Bush. But nobody tried to approach the President, and he did not extend his hand across the divide. He left soon after his speech. The same thing must have happened with Obama. Mrs. Arroyo could have been seated next to Obama’s table, but he could not have reached out to shake hands, even if he had noticed her presence.

There is no need to explain that Mrs. Arroyo failed to get her “photo op” because Obama arrived late and had to rush out. The simple truth is that no meeting took place because no meeting had been arranged. Presidents do not bump into each other because they went to the same restaurant.

Now, is it purely coincidental that after this terrible fiasco some senators should suddenly start suggesting the scrapping of the VFA? Some are even beginning to look bigger than themselves just for pointing out that under the counterpart agreement a Filipino soldier who commits a crime in the US shall be detained not at the Philippine embassy but “in penal institutions in the United States suitable for the custody level of prisoners.” Do they know if the embassy has any extra space at all even for just one such detainee? Or the funds and security personnel for that purpose?

The VFA is certainly a flawed agreement. The apparently “permanent” presence of the US forces and the current conflict on criminal jurisdiction over the convicted Corporal Smith have shown this. While we have agreed to host short US military visits, what has happened since is that as one military exercise ends another begins, thereby creating an apparently “permanent” US presence. It seems a neat way of circumventing the Constitution which provides that no foreign troops, bases or facilities shall be allowed in the country except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and recognized as such by the contracting parties.

We should confront these issues. But never for reasons that are suspect. That the senators have suddenly become audible on the VFA right after Mrs. Arroyo’s latest fiasco, and the omission of the Philippines from Hilary Clinton’s itinerary on her first Asian visit as US Secretary of State makes this unusual burst of energy rather suspect.

The VFA is not a stand-alone agreement. It is but an implementing agreement of our 1951 Mutal Defense Treaty. Its abrogation will only scrap the agreed rules under which American troops come for joint exercises but not our duty to host such visits under the agreed terms of our “mutual defense.” Not all those who are now talking about the VFA apparently appreciate this. This is where the danger lies.

20 February 2009

Saturday, February 14, 2009


A novel by Francisco Tatad
(A synopsis)

The future has arrived. A neat line is drawn between the apostate countries and those that have kept the faith. China has become a world power, and America, although diminished, leads the Club of Twenty-One. The apostate population has aged and shrunk, replaced by machines here and there, but abortion and euthanasia have become the law and custom all over the apostate world.

In the Republic of Admana Arch, the Empressident rules without a constitution and a parliament. She speaks to the public through state media, and has blocked all other information networks, including the Internet. She is the toast of the Club of Twenty-One.

In thirty years, she has rid the country of unwanted children and seniors, closed the sexual divide between men and women, put men and machines on equal status on the shop-floor. She has outlawed marriage among the poor, except those of the same sex, and heterosexuals who are completely sterile or past childbearing.

Unauthorized pregnancies are automatically aborted, and everyone is put to sleep at seventy-five, with some notable exceptions. To ensure controlled growth of the population, a number of pre-selected eighteen year-old virgins are annually sent to fertility camps to mate in darkness for the purpose of producing state children. They are quickly segregated and sterilized thereafter. If the mating is fruitful, the woman reports back to camp during her pregnancy until she gives birth. Upon birth, the child is taken to a special camp to be raised by the state. The state child is sterilized upon reaching puberty, unless preselected for mating duties later.

In this post-New Age world, where the culture of death appears to have won, Filipino Catholic writer Francisco Tatad sets The Hidden Life of Amargo Raz, his maiden international socio-political novel on the fight between good and evil. In Admana’s capital city of Esperanza, a group of young illegals lives a hidden existence under a doctor-priest named Fr. Eleazar Pascal. They call themselves Brothers and practice a new form of non-violence.

They attack state targets without inflcting violence, just to show they could have killed or maimed, but chose not to, out of a higher principle. They are led by the young Amargo Raz and Jasper Tzu and three other young chiefs from the five different sections of the city. Raz begins his story as a state infant abandoned by a half-crazed state driver on a beach and grows up in the care of the priest. They are eventually joined by the leader of an armed band,Tonio, whom they help dodge state troops in hot pursuit.

Away from Esperanza, the Commonwealth of Islamic States has banned all terrorist activities by Moslems and called for strict adherence to the rule of law in settling grievances and disputes. At the same time, it now calls on the apostates through the United Nations to stop the killing of the unborn and the elderly, or else face an Islamic-led multinational force to compel them to do so. Russia, China and India, the Club’s breakaway members, support this call. But the expanded Security Council rejects it, and mobilization instantly begins.

The apostate countries are tired of war, and their governments’ refusal to heed the Islamic call triggers massive protests and finally revolution in the apostate capitals. The Empressident, however, offers to fight on the side of the apostates in exhange for oil, arms and food for her troops. Tonio and the chiefs sense the danger and decide to strike first. But their fight becomes merely a byplay in the global confrontation between the apostates and the Islamic-led forces. As the revolutionary tide sweeps the apostate capitals and the Islamic armies prepare to strike, the major tv networks begin a countdown on the end of the world. The only hope for peace appears to be the intervention of the Pope.

Amid such high international drama, several lives intersect in their individual search for meaning: The Empressident who will do anything to please the Club of Twenty-One and keep herself in power; Tonio, whose consuming passion is to kill the tyrant, and find Felicity, who has borne him a state child, which had been abducted from camp at birth and is now believed to be a grownup rebel; Felicity, who serves the tyrant faithfully until she gets arrested on suspicion of hiding Tonio and the missing state child; Ahimsya, who bolts out of camp to escape a sexually deranged governess and falls into the company of the Brothers; Tzu, a tough young illegal who has a solution for everything but tries to kill himself when he loses Ahimsya to Amar; Archbishop Sylvan Diaz whose search for martyrdom ends up in a Curial post at the Vatican; Amar, whose painful search for his roots throws him into a role he had not sought and ends up protecting the tyrant from his own men; Fr. Eleazar, who has seen everything from the very beginning.

Although set in the future, where the American president is a black woman, the British lady prime minister Chinese looking, and the German lady chancellor of Jewish descent, The Hidden Life of Amargo Raz could be the first novel to confront head-on the recent decision of the first African-American president of the United States to export support for abortion to the developing world. It is serious literary stuff with the excitement of a modern thriller.

This was first introduced in this blog under the working title, Sinners of the Earth. Arrangements for the publication of the novel are underway, and updates will be posted on this blog as appropriate.

Updated 12 February 2009

Friday, February 6, 2009


(updated 6 Feb 2009)

Despite the number of presidential aspirants trying to defy the ban on premature campaigning, not one of them has captured the imagination. While only a few seem ill-prepared to see President Arroyo finally go, not too many seem eager to welcome any of the advertised aspirants either. They have nothing to say to our people, and our people have nothing to say to them in turn.

Amid the global moral and economic distress, our people need to hear some words from their leaders on how to ride out the storm. But none of them seem prepared to say anything. Greed has been cited as a major cause of the distress – even US President Obama says so – but none of the pretenders seem prepared to say they would stamp out corruption, if they become president.

Is it because none of them have truly clean hands? Or because all they really want to see is a change of players, not a change of game?

Eventually, every aspirant will have to say something about corruption. But that would need more than a mere declaration of intent or even a proposed program of government. It would need a morally upright private life and a transparent public record to back it up.

That cannot possibly come from those who have used public funds as their own, and used public office to mulct private investors, get highly favored bank loans and tainted government deals for themselves or their friends. Or have rented armed bands and cheating syndicates to steal elections, and since been collecting rent from gambling, narcotics and smuggling lords while trying to appear clean. Or have failed to oppose anti-poor programs coming from questionable foreign donors.

Save one or two, the declared aspirants seem to have more money than they could possibly explain, and ready to spend even more, for a job whose salary the Constitution has fixed at P300,000 per annum. How could they possibly talk of rooting out corruption when their very pursuit of the presidency is already an exercise in corruption?

There are various forms of corruption. Each one involves a moral and intellectual swindle. The biggest swindle right now is for some of the aspirants to proclaim they belong to the opposition while keeping an open line to Malacanang, and long after they had erased the distinction between the administration and the opposition.

That distinction was abolished in the 2007 senatorial election. In that election, the NPC ran Tito Sotto and Tessie Oreta in the administration, and Loren Legarda, Chiz Escudero, Sonny Osmena and Nikki Coseteng in the “opposition.” The NP ran Ralph Recto in the administration and Manny Villar and Alan Peter Cayetano in the “opposition.” The LP ran Mike Defensor in the administration and Noynoy Aquino and (initially) Kiko Pangilinan in the “opposition.” Joseph Estrada’s PMP, the party with the biggest mass base, did not have a single senatorial candidate in that election.

The “opposition” won more seats than the administration. But Villar promptly confected an alliance with administration senators to become Senate president, thereby reducting the numerically superior “opposition” into a minority position. Villar had since lost the Senate presidency poetically to Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, an administration ally supported by “opposition” senators.

These developments have made it abundantly clear that the conflict is no longer between the administration and the “opposition,” but rather between our opportunistic politicians and the people. This paradigm shift has rendered the Senate unfit to provide the next president. The next president should now come from the ranks of the people.

To avoid becoming totally irrelevant, the Senate should now enact reforms to make sure the 2010 election would be less farcical than the last ones. Aside from computerization and cleaning up of all election data, these could include:

1) A law requiring senators to resign their seat upon filing their certificate of candidacy for any other position;

2) A law limiting a candidate’s authorized expenses to the full amount of his legal emoluments from the office he seeks;

3) A law that automatically disqualifies candidates who purchase so-called “permits” to campaign and to win from certain armed groups who claim to be in control of certain areas during elections;

4) A law that bans all political advertising during the election period, and instead requires the State to provide non-discriminatory information on all candidates in any election;

5) Such ban should empower the Commission on Election to disqualify candidates who try to circumvent it by engaging in massive propaganda campaign prior to the start of the legal campaign period. If the Comelec fails to disqualify such a candidate, it should charge the total cost of the candidate’s propaganda campaign within one year before the campaign period against his total authorized expense, subject to a surcharge of at least 200 percent.

The aspiring senators should lead these reforms. Even if they fail to enact the appropriate law, they should all resign their seats upon filing their candidacy for president or vice president.

If cost has put a presidential run permanently beyond the reach of the honest and the poor, then the senators should now lead in proposing a shift to the parliamentary system where no one has to spend billions to become a Member of Parliament, and eventually Prime Minister, by the grace of God and Parliament.

We need creativity and courage to overcome the yawning political desert and the permanent grip of corruption upon our electoral system.

(My next piece will take an objective look at the parliamentary system.)

1 February 2009