July 2010


Is it just me or is the romance of canned tuna getting just a bit silly?

http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/insights/07/19/10/legal-notes-impeaching-ombudsman

This document seeks to answer the following questions: 1. Whether there is legal basis for the filing of an impeachment complaint against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez; 2. Whether the same allegations that were filed during 14th Congress can be used as the basis of a new complaint, and; 3. Whether double jeopardy is applicable.

Impeachment is a remedy sanctioned by the Philippine Constitution for removing the President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and for purposes of this discussion, the Ombudsman1. As the protector of the people2, it is the sacred duty of the Ombudsman, to take lead in the investigation and prosecution of erring government officials who have committed graft and corruption. As the vanguard of the trust and faith of the people, the Office of the Ombudsman is expected to take up the cudgels for the citizenry and protect the coffers of the government from the rapacity and abuses committed by government officials or those officers upon whom the welfare and trust of the people have been reposed.

When the Ombudsman herself has lost the trust and the confidence of the people whom she is expected to serve, as a result of her failure to perform her mandated functions, the remedy of the people is to remove her from office through the impeachment process.

Although the process of impeachment has the elements of a criminal process, it is primarily a political process designed to deal with the misconduct by high public officers. The political aspect of this process stems from the fact that the participants (i.e. senator judges, prosecutors) are not ordinary citizens acting as judges but rather are elected officials who serve by virtue of their positions and not because they have been selected by the courts to serve in judgment.

It can also be argued that the process of impeachment is a method of removing a person from office in order to prevent a greater danger to the people. In a way, what is sought to be achieved in the impeachment exercise is to protect also the office of the person to be impeached in order to avoid eroding or destroying the institution or office being occupied: remedial measure to restore the faith of the people but without the stigma of a criminal prosecution upon the person to be impeached.  Thus, the penalty imposed is only removal from office and disqualification from holding public office. Since public office is a public trust and a privileged granted through the beneficence, such a privilege can also be withdrawn by the people themselves through the impeachment process.

The Constitution provides the grounds for impeachment namely culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust. There are two steps in an impeachment case against the Ombudsman. First, the House of Representatives has the exclusive power to initiate the impeachment case. Second, the Senate will try and decide the case.

On March 2, 2009 (during the 14th Congress) an impeachment case was filed against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. There were two grounds in the impeachment case namely: 1.) Betrayal of Public Trust and 2.) Culpable Violation of the Constitution. “Betrayal of Public Trust” is a new ground introduced by the 1987 Constitution.

It covers any violation of the oath of office involving loss of popular support even if the violation may not amount to a punishable offense3. On the other hand, “Culpable Violation of the Constitution” is the deliberate and wrongful breach of the Constitution. However, Violation of the Constitution made unintentionally, in good faith, and mere mistakes in the proper construction of the Constitution do not constitute an impeachable offense.

The specific factual allegations that constitutes the grounds for impeachment case against Ombudsman Gutierrez involve the following—

I. For Betrayal of Public Trust

a.   Disregarding the SC findings and directive on the Mega Pacific graft and corruption case4. SC declared null and void the 1.3 Billion Equipment purchase contract entered by COMELEC thru COMELEC Chair Abalos.  The Supreme Court said that there were “clear violations of law and jurisprudence” and “reckless disregard of COMELEC’s bidding rules and procedure” and ordered the Ombudsman to investigate the criminal liability of the public officials and private individuals involved in the nullified and voided contract.

The irregularities discovered by the Supreme Court were affirmed by the Senate Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations (Senate Blue Ribbon).  However, despite the ruling of the Supreme Court and the affirmation of the irregularities by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, respondent approved the 27 September 2006 Resolution finding no probable cause to hold the COMELEC Commissioners and other officials criminally liable nor did she find substantial evidence to even hold them administratively liable overturning its own earlier 28 June 2006 Resolution.

b.   Inaction in the collusion scheme entered into by bidders, government officials and public figures on the World Bank financed road projects.  In May 2006, World Bank with an oral briefing on the interim findings of an administrative finding inquiry that the World Bank had conducted into allegations of fraud and corruption in the first phase of the Philippines National Roads Improvement and Management Project (NRIMP-1), a $150 million project, approved by the World Bank Board in February 2000. In November 2007,

A Referral Report was submitted to the Ombudsman containing the summary of the investigation’s findings. The Referral Report identified private contractors, DPWH officials and Filipino public figures who have allegedly participated in the collusive scheme on the World Bank-financed road projects.  No action was taken by the Ombudsman on either the Oral Briefing or the Referral Report.

c.   Late filing of criminal cases and filing of defective Informations against former Department of Justice Secretary Hernando “Nani” Perez for extortion activities against Cong. Mark Jimenez that caused the dismissal of such cases.  In January 2007, the Ombudsman issued a Resolution ordering the filing of graft and extortion charges against former Secretary of Justice Hernando “Nani” Perez based on a complaint filed by former Manila Representative Mark Jimenez for allegedly extorting US $2 million from him. After more than a year, or on 18 April 2008, the Ombudsman filed before the Sandiganbayan several cases against Perez, including an information for violation of Section 3(b) of Republic Act 3019 or the “Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act,” and Robbery.

However, Ombudsman Gutierrez filed defective and/or late informations (the Information do not constitute the offense charged) which caused the eventual dismissal of the case5.  This shows gross ignorance of the law and manifest incompetence as Ombudsman.

d.   Gross inexcusable inaction on the graft and corruption cases on the more than 1 Billion pesos Fertilizer Fund Scam to perpetrate massive fraud in the 2004 Presidential elections involving former Department of Agriculture Secretary Jocjoc Bolante. Graft and corruption cases were filed separately in 2004 by Atty. Frank Chavez and journalist Marlene Esperat.

In the midst of Esperat’s exposé of the said fertilizer scam, she was murdered on 24 March 2005 in front of her 10-year old son, James, while they were having lunch.  Reports say that Omnbudsperson Gutierrez just recently resolved these complaints and ordered the filing of graft and corruption cases against Bolante.  We still have to see those orders but even so, this she did after almost six years of inaction despite strong evidence to establish probable cause.

e.   Failure to promptly resolve the graft and corruption case involving the “Euro-Generals” despite overwhelming evidence, including an admission from Gen. Eliseo dela Paz, constitutes grave dereliction of her Constitutional and statutory duties and unlawful and culpable neglect.  PNP Dir. De la Paz was stopped by customs inspectors at Moscow International Airport from boarding a plane after finding 105,000 euros (P6.93M) in his carry-on baggage, which exceeded the 3,000-euro limit for departing passengers.

During the Senate hearing on 15 November 2008, De la Paz himself admitted that he was the  one who authorized the release of the amount from the PNP intelligence fund. Airport Customs Collector Teresita Roque expressly admitted that the PNP delegation’s hand carried bags were not checked when they left Manila International Airport for Russia. They also did not declare any excess currency. De la Paz openly admitted during the Senate hearing on 15 November 2008 that he knows that there is a requirement to declare the excess amount of money.  Up to this date, no resolution has been made by the Ombudsman despite the evidence and the public admissions.

f.   Manifest bias in issuing arbitrary dismissal and suspension orders against Iloilo Governor Tupas on 12 January 2007, a day before the start of the May 2007 election period and when Ombudsman Gutierrez issued its 28 October 2008 Order,6 arbitrarily and illegally imposing a six-month preventive suspension against Gov. Garcia for administrative charges supposedly committed during his previous term.

The suspension of Governor Garcia is contrary to the Supreme Court’s rulings in the cases of Aguinaldo vs. Santos7 and Salalima vs. Guingona8 where it upheld the principle that a public official cannot be removed for administrative misconduct committed during a previous term, since his re-election to office operates as a condonation of the officer’s previous misconduct to the extent of cutting off the right to remove him therefore.

g.   Culpable Violation of the Constitution.  The delays, inaction, and gross negligence as well as denying the parties the right to be heard committed by the Ombudsman violates the Constitutional guarantees on the right to due process, the Constitutional mandate on the speedy disposition of cases, and the mandate of the Ombudsman to be the protector of the people.

There is no legal substantive and procedural constraint in filing another impeachment case against Ombudsman Gutierrez in the Fifteenth Congress which is scheduled to start its session on July 26, 2010.  Congress need not wait since what was provided in the Constitution was that “No impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year”9.

The said impeachment case was dismissed by the Committee on Justice because it was found to be insufficient in substance. Despite the dismissal in the previous Congress, the impeachment case can be filed again because of public policy on public accountability as highlighted by the Constitutional provision– “Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.” 10 Thus, the people can at all times demand public accountability from all public officers especially those with special Constitutional duty like the Ombudsman.

Procedurally, the allegations in the previous impeachment case can still be used in case a new case will be filed because the facts were never considered before. “Sufficiency in substance” refers to the recital of facts constituting the offense charged and determinative of the jurisdiction of the committee11. The decision to dismiss the previous impeachment case was due to the insufficiency in substance which can be remedied with more facts supporting the allegations.

Although the Rules on Criminal of the Rules of Court procedure generally apply, double jeopardy is not applicable because the nature of an Impeachment case is not criminal but political. There is no re-opening of danger on the life or liberty of the person charged with an impeachable offense. The penalty is limited to removal from office and disqualification to hold office.

Res judicata has four elements which must be present in order to bar the reopening of a previous case: (1) the judgment sought to bar the new action must be final; (2) the decision must have been rendered by a court having jurisdiction over the subject matter and the parties; (3) the disposition of the case must be a judgment on the merits; and (4) there must be as between the first and second action, identity of parties, subject matter, and causes of action12. Res judicata does not attach in this case because there was no judgment on the merits from the previous impeachment case. It was dismissed due to insufficiency of substance which is a mere technicality. Simply stated, the case against the Ombudsman did not prosper not because of lack of evidence but because of the refusal of congress to prosecute or even entertain the case.

Substantively, the same allegations in the impeachment complaint filed in 14th Congress can be used because they were never proven or disproven in a hearing on the merits. The only prohibition stated by the Constitution with regard to impeachment is the frequency of initiating it which is limited to once a year.

Initiating an impeachment case, according to the Supreme Court, is the filing of an impeachment complaint and its referral to the Committee on Justice. Except the one year ban, there is no other prohibition stated in the Constitution. Since the Constitution is silent then it can be construed in favor of greater accountability of impeachable officials. The framers of the Constitution did not intend to put stringent rules similar to a criminal prosecution. Moreover, the Rules of Court will be liberally construed and cannot be invoked when it will impede accountability from erring public officials.

Public office is a public trust and a fitting Ombudsman has Constitutional duties which she must fulfill properly and with utmost zeal. Impeachment is the only legal process provided by the Constitution in order to replace an erring and ineffective Ombudsman. The Ombudsman cannot seek solace on mere technicalities nor can she avoid confronting all the issues simply because of procedural lapses.

The Constitution specifically recognizes the sovereign right and the will of the people to remove from office those who have been found to have failed to live up to the faith and trust reposed upon them. This is precisely why impeachment has been enshrined in the Constitution itself as the sword to be wielded in order to protect the supremacy of the people over and above anyone who claims otherwise.  Salus populi est suprema lex.

*** A lawyer by profession, AKBAYAN Rep. Kaka Bag-ao was the Convenor of the Alternative Legal Group, a network of NGOs providing legal support to marginalized communities. She was the legal counsel of the Sumilao farmers.

1 Section 2, Article 11, Philippine Constitution. The President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust. All other public officers and employees may be removed from office as provided by law, but not by impeachment.

2 Section 12 Article 11, Philippine Constitution.  The Ombudsman and his Deputies, as protectors of the people, shall act promptly on complaints filed in any form or manner against public officials or employees of the Government, or any subdivision, agency or instrumentality thereof, including government-owned or controlled corporations, and shall, in appropriate cases, notify the complainants of the action taken and the result thereof.

3 De Leon, Philippine Constitutional Law, 1999, Rex Printing Company, Inc., p757

4 Info Technology Foundation vs COMELEC, G.R. No. 159139, January 13, 2004.

5 Ombudsman Gutierrez’s inordinate filing of the complaint has caused the dismissal of another case involving former Secretary of Justice Perez, which was expressly stated in Sandiganbayan Resolution dated 20 November 2008; People of the Philippines vs. Hernando Perez, Crim. Case No. SB-08-CRM-0266.

6 In Administrative Case No. OMB-L-A-08-0039-A.

7 G.R. No. 94115, 21 August 1992.

8 G.R. Nos. 117589-92, 22 May 1996.

9 Section 3, paragraph 5, Article 11, Philippine Constitution.

10 Section 1, Article 11 of the 1987 Constitution.

11 House Rules and Procedures in Impeachment Proceedings, adopted August 1, 2005.

12 Republic of the Philippines vs Yu (G.R. No. 157557, March 10, 2006)

Yesterday, thanks to typhoon Basyang, there was a 24 hour blackout in Metro Manila. Not so big a deal. But, there were also 24 hours without cellphone signal. Talk about being cut off from the world. Since I didn’t have anyone to talk to I had perhaps too much time for introspection…and that’s why this is so long.

During that odd conversation a few weeks ago, my unexpected kausap said to me, “I like talking to you…you know who? Because you disagree with me.” I admitted that that was also the reason why I liked talking to him. Trading banats, competitions of swagger. That was our sport growing up.

I had one of my rare and sporadic (is that redundant?) moments of clarity yesterday. I think I actually love being criticized. Over the past few days I’ve been engaging in a debate among friends. When a few friends criticized my point of view, nabuhay ako. I was thrilled, excited, my mind immediately started racing and I put down on (virtual) paper a long and impassioned written version of a rally speech. (hm, overcompensating perhaps?) My response was met with an equally passionate, well thought-out argument and I thought, “Yes! This is awesome!” But, when others started supporting my side, to my own surprise I felt bad. I mean really bad. While any normal person would be happy to have people defend her in a debate, and I was happy, this happiness was overwhelmingly outweighed by my conscience. This, and not the counterarguments, is what made me loose sleep and rethink the validity of what I had written. Am I more comfortable being attacked than defended?

Then, last night had a political tsismis/strategy session with folks much more seasoned, talented and sophisticated than I. They mercilessly punched holes through the frameworks and strategies I suggested, and I loved every minute of it. Probably the highlight of the night, however, was a no holds-barred heart to heart with one of the few available women mentors where she enumerated bluntly and point by point what I was doing wrong and where I could improve. I felt like that was exactly what I had been looking for but until then didn’t know where to find.

Is there something wrong with me? Why do I get off on being bashed?

I suppose I could say that because being criticized forces one to think and I learn and I love learning. But no, that oversimplifies it. It’s too self-serving to possibly reflect reality and makes me sound like way too much of an angel to possibly be true.

Put in a different frame, I think it’s a function of self-doubt as well. In many ways I was quickly thrust into this world. I saw opportunities and jumped at them without stopping and considering if I knew what I was doing. “Kakayanin ko na lang at bubutiin ko,” I told myself, “There is no other choice.” So I learned as I went and am still learning as I go. While on one hand the world is changing at such a pace that we are all basically learning as we go (And the old stalwarts who refuse to learn become calcified ideologues who debate on theory but will eventually be tabled to irrelevance. If there’s anything the past few years have taught me it’s that the world is in motion and either you move with it or you get left behind.) I have always felt insecure at the fact that I never rose up through the ranks. Don’t get me wrong, i’m no manicured ilustrado playing the political game just because of some romanticized image of revolution – and I will fight  anyone to the death who insults me as so. Believe it or not I have my own injuries and class consciousness that led to my politicization. But my experience was starkly different from those of my generation who went through the more conventional rank and file process and that difference is both my strength and my weakness. Well, I guess in any and every context being different is both a strength and a weakness, but ok, back to the point.

I often find myself in seemingly untenable situations that I never even in my wildest dreams could have conceptualized. How many times in the past few months have I stopped and said to myself, “‘Tang ina, kaninong buhay ba ‘to?” But once you’re there, shit, you’re there, so you go with it and do the best you can. But inevitably I always ask myself, “Was I right? Tama ba ako?” Of course, we should always hold self-doubt and engage in self-reflection if we don’t want to start thinking our shit smells like roses, but put together these crazy, cray to the z situations with my insecruity at not having risen the traditional way (on either side of the spectrum – neither party tradition nor trapo tradition.  I have no name.) with my own continuing grappling for identity, validity and an anchor, and what you have is a situation where self-doubt very VERY easily becomes hyper-paranoid “Fuck me and my life everything I do is a wretched disaster and the damage I have sown will reverberate throughout the ages.” (all said in one breath) Or worse, “Shit, I’m useless.”

Okay, a bit dramatic.

So why do I like being criticized? Because when people specify for me the things I do wrong it saves me from looking at everything I do, trying to figure out for myself what is wrong, coming to the conclusion that everything is wrong, and having a panic attack. Being criticized actually gives me more confidence because: 1) To my own surprise, I sometimes get reassured that not every move I make is a miserable blunder that will lead to the world’s destruction, and 2) It’s about control. When I know what I’m doing wrong I can fix it. I have direction. I have control. It’s a great boost to confidence when your direction is reinforced by a third party, especially one not afraid to criticize you, instead of just coasting along in doubt, hoping I’m going in the right direction. I’ve never wanted to be a jellyfish.

Ok, so being criticized provides me with self-assurance, confidence and direction. But wait, shouldn’t praise also do that? In fact, shouldn’t praise do that even more than criticism? Coming to mind now is another comrade who I’ve been somewhat avoiding as of late. All of our meetings before came with overly saccharine and (in my view) meaningless overtures of praise. As much as I tried I couldn’t take it. This once again begs the question: What the hell is wrong with me?

I think it’s a matter of trust. I have hardcore trust issues. When I receive praise the default reaction is “Um, psh, yeah right. What do you want?” Is that the jaded, cynical New York thing? Maybe. Is that because my family, especially my father, taught me never to trust anyone for the sake of my own protection? Definitely. (So maybe it’s actually more of a Jaro thing than an NY thing. Who knows?) I’m always on guard, my default position is to assume there’s an ulterior motive, I don’t trust. It’s hard. I’ve decided it’s this propensity for being crticized/aversion to being praised combined with my inability to trust that have utterly stymied my lovelife. I end up liking assholes (sa bagay, I’m kind of an asshole myself) and then surprise surprise, can’t trust them. But my nonexistant lovelife is a whole other volume of posts. Let’s keep this within the frame of political self-realization.

I think I appreciate criticism more than praise because I don’t trust praise but Id on’t have to trust criticism. Especially in a society where bola is a well-studied art form and Asian passive-aggressiveness (the bane of my personal existence) mixed with Spanish notions of manners and propriety still penetrate our relations, I find myself is a constant state of paranoia that praise is either a vehicle of an ulterior motive, a cover-up for the very very different thing that one is actually thinking, or a meaningless gesture that people resort to when they can’t think of what else to say. I don’t trust it. Criticism, on the other hand, doesn’t require trust. there is always a motive to critisism: to get you to change. That motive is clear and obvious, no hidden doors and no false impressions. Plus, criticism is respectable. It takes balls (and ovaries) to rock the boat. I find that people are usually more careful with criticism than with praise because if you r critiques are not well thought-out there is the high potential that they will blow up in your face. If praise is not well thought-out, well ok that’s nice of you. Even meaningless criticism, from those who hate just to hate, has its value. Even when the substance of the criticism has no meaning, you’ve still got the chance to look deeper at its underlying motivation. If its underlying motivation is meaningless as well, well you’ve just strengthened your self-resolve.

Earlier I said I prefer criticism because it doesn’t require trust. I think I’ve just argued with and convinced myself otherwise. I trust criticism more than praise because criticism is more honest. Criticism is risky, and why risk for something you don’t believe in? Someone who criticized you believes in you and wants to help you, whether their realize it not. By telling you what you’re doing wrong they’re telling you how you can be better, which implies they believe you have the potential to be better in the first place.

***

Another topic that came up last night is that I’m too identified as being bata ni  X or bata ni Y. My beloved blessing of a critic advised that I should soon break away and make my own identity. As my cousin has also told me, “Huwag ka na magtolonggits.” Sabi ni kumare kaya ko. Hindi pa ako ganun ka-sure.

Being that, again, I didn’t rise through the ranks, the past few years have basically been an intense apprenticeship under a few close mentors. I went less though the party approach and more through the guild approach. As such, I’ve dedicated my loyalty (not blind loyalty and always within reason, of course) to my mentors. Mabigat ang political – and personal – utang na loob ko sa kanila and so I felt I owed it to them to not be ashamed to openly declare, “Oo, sidekick ako ni –.” I always knew that someday I would have to break away, but I kind of thought it would be more of a natural process – that after a while on the scene I would develop my own name and then have opportunities for my own operations direct to me and not via whoever else. I didn’t think that I would have to actively pursue independence, and especially not so soon. Takot nga ako. Hinog na ba ako?

But what a disgrace it would be if I let fear rule my future and just insisted in staying locked up in my comfort zone. It’s always much more comfortable being a good soldier following orders than having the pressure and responsibility of finding your own way. (Shall we venture a class analysis? Some classes are socialized to be good, docile workers while others are socialized to make the rules and provide the command. Ok, leave it at there for now.) It’s always much more comfortable (and fun) working in teams, and tandems have the advantage of filling in each other’s gaps and approaching an issue from multiple vantage points while still maintaining operational flexibility. For me, it’s especially more comfortable because I’ve still got so much to lean and my mind tends to be all over the place – I’m still very developmentally immature in that sense. My mentors have been tremendous in helping me focus and develop direction. (Special emphasis on helping me develop my direction as opposed to providing me with direction.)

Although I’m dreading leaving here and the guilt still weighs heavily, I’m incredibly excited about going back to school – admittedly not least of all because they will do the work of providing me with direction for the next few years. As Kanye said, “The concept of school seems so secure.”

Then again, breakaway is perhaps most necessary in the developmental phase, as a part of the developmental process. When it comes down to it, this isn’t an artisans guild where the apprentice learns to make a clock the same way his mentor did the same way his mentor did before him. Developmental psychologists say teenagers need to break away and rebel and develop an identity different from that of their parents. I guess it’s not so crazy to think I’m in my political adolescence. If we spend too long in the same teams or tandems we will start looking like each other, talking like each other and thinking like each other. The benefits of the team approach will dissipate as instead of filling in each other’s gaps you notice and overlook the same things. You will approach the same issue from the same side. You will be two faces of the same coin, thus not adding additional value to the movement.

Hinog na ba ako? I’m not quite ready to say yes. And the present political situation doesn’t exactly offer an environment ideal for exploration and trial and error. But that’s why, again, I think it’s a great time for me to retreat and go back to school. I’ll be able to concentrate full time on my own independent development. ideally, it will be a chance for me to step back, take what I’ve learned and fuse it with different and varying perspectives and frameworks. Plus, having the Ph.D. calling card will give me some extra clout to help me move around without just being bit-bit. Baka by the time I come back hinog na ako. Shit, I better be.

Less than two days after it was leaked to the media that Akbayan Chairperson Emeritus and former Congressional Representative Loretta Ann Rosales is President Aquino’s choice to head the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), National Democratic Front-Affiliated organizations have waged a campaign to prevent her from sitting.

On July 8th, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and Karapatan, two Communist Party of the Philippines – National Democratic Front (CPP-NDF) Affiliated groups released statements protesting Rosales’ appointment to the CHR, claiming that she is unfairly biased against “progressive groups,” unfairly biased towards the military and had a dismal record as Chair of the Committee on Human Rights in the House of Representatives. The NDF-aligned groups claim that Rosales will not be a credible defender of human rights.

These accusations are ridiculous. Etta herself is a victim of human rights abuse, having been detained under martial law together with Senator Jose Diokno, human rights laywer Haydee Yorac and columnist Amando Doronilla. While in military detention she underwent electric shock, sexual abuse short of rape, the Russian roulette routine and the water cure. Hot candle wax was also poured on her skin. Since then, Etta has been a staunch champion of Human Rights. As president of Claimaints 1081, she has faithfully sought to acquire compensation for victims of human rights abuses under the Marcos dictatorship, having pushed for the Victim Compensation Bill throughout her three terms in Congress.

So why are the CPP-NDF- affiliated groups so opposed to Etta’s appointment? Ideology. The CPP-aligned groups believe in human rights, but not its universality. Etta’s rift with the CPP began during the internal purges of the early 1990s when she refused to take part in the internal executions. In Etta’s words, “They even wanted me to be part of the inner sanctum that would decide who’d be executed next, but I refused. Ayoko!” Years after leaving the Communist Party, Etta became the first representative of Akbayan! Citizens’ Action Party in Congress where among her legislative advocacies was making illegal Permits to Campaign and Permits to Win. Her repeated advocacy for compensation for Marcos victims was blocked in the House by Bayan Muna and Gabriela representatives because they wanted members of SELDA, an organization of Marcos detainees and their families, to be included in the board. Etta opposed this saying it “would constitute a conflict of interest.” Etta insists that fair and equal compensation must be provided to all victims. In 2005, the CPP named Etta a “counterrevolutionary” and was placed her on the NPA’s hitlist.

Etta has also caught the ire of the CPP-NPA by working together with the Armed Forces towards peace. Unlike the CPP, that completely rejects and demonizes the AFP and PNP, Etta believes in working together with state security forces in nation-building. In 2009, Etta lauded the Armed forces of the Philippines for its active involvement in Building Bridges for Peace, a project of the Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court, particularly the Civil Relations Service, AFP and the Office for Civil Military Operations (OJ7), and provincial commanders of Quezon and Misamis Oriental to protect the democratic processes of land installation for the farmers and indigenous peoples to lands that should belong to them.

I hope you will join me in supporting the appointment of Loretta Ann Rosales as Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights. Mabuhay kayo at Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!

So after over a year of feeling like I abandoned this blog, I’ve decided to dedicate more time to it. This is prompted in part, admittedly, by an unexpectedly deep and emotional conversation with an even more unexpected person. It’s prompted by the fact that since inauguration I’ve had a lot more time on my hands (if idle hands are the devil’s workshop what about and idle mind – yikes!). It’s prompted by the realization that soon I’ll be going back to school and after the past 2+ years of CANVAS, NDI, and campaign mode, I’ll have to shift from full-time strategic thinker (or some would say plotter) and good soldier and re-learn how to be conceptual and introspective.

At one point last week I actually read this blog from its inception in 2006 until now. I realized 2 things. First, I actually have always been this way. Magaspang, suplada, galit sa mga elitista (or in hip hop lingo, angry at the man), hungry for justice. Hungry to show all of them, friend and foe alike, that I do not fit into the insultingly narrow limits of what you think I am and what I could be capable of, or as Jay-Z puts it “I can’t base what I’m gonna be off a what everybody isn’t.” Shit, it’s just now that I’m remembering attending a church retreat in high school and when the facilitator asked “what’s your aspiration in life” mine was “to change the world.” At that time I don’t think I had any idea how I would do it – probably through music or something. I definitely never imagined it would be this way.

Second, while I thought I had abandoned this blog while stuck in the corporate NGO machine DC lifestyle, when I went back through the blog I realized that there was still at least one entry each month, and it was almost inevitably about Philippine politics. This ish is in my bone marrow now. I couldn’t quit if I tried.

These past couple months have been a crazy ride. Well, ride is perhaps not the appropriate term – what’s an appropriate metaphor when the means of transpo is 15% you steering and 85% the universe whisking you where it wants? Perhaps the more appropriate metaphor is a choose your own adventure book where you try to be strategic and make informed decisions, but at the end of the day you don’t actually know what the hell you’re doing and at any moment things can blow up in your face. The only thing that makes Philippine politics different from a choose your own adventure book is that in politics, if you’re good enough, there’s always the chance for a glorious recovery. You can always choose to bust through a wall or sneak through a window or, if we’re sticking with our metaphor, tear out half a page here, pencil in a couple lines there…but I digress.

Philippine politics is still a man’s world. We can have two women presidents, women Secretaries of Justice, Supreme Court Justices, Senators and Congresswomen but the vast majority of power players are still men who stay out with each other at night drinking beer, brandy (or Coke) and making sophomoric jokes. The powerful matriarchs do exist, and I would dare to say that the women kingmakers that do exist are lightyears more sophisticated than their male counterparts, but they are few and far between. The vast majority of women you see in traditional political circles are props – either in the sense that they are seat warmers for their husbands, brothers, fathers, etc or cute executive assistants, paralegals or simply arm candy; or in the sense that they are “propped” up by the men that make their political careers. You rarely see women in the seedy side of below the radar operations.

All humility aside, the two things that have most consistently gained me access to places and people where a neophyte like me should be nowhere near are: 1) The Akbayan network and of course my beloved comrade bossing, and 2) People seem to find me pretty. And me, being my brash-ass, no shame self (with encouragement from bossing and ingkong of course) utilize this to the full. At the risk of giving away trade secrets, this is how I go places and attend where I am not invited and probably “don’t belong.” I just go and people tolerate it cause they think I’m pretty. Props. Then I hit them with the shocker – instead of sitting and smiling demurely I conduct myself with just as much swagger and arrogance, and when I’m lucky, intelligence, as any of the “big boys.” They don’t know who I am, they don’t know what I do, but they know I’m nobody’s muther-effing E.A.

I still get the feeling, however, (and this is where it gets depressing) that no matter how brash or witty or smart I try to be, most of these men still look at me and see little more than, in the words of Jill Scott, “good looks and a wet hole.” Maybe that’s why I made the fatal mistake of letting my guard down with the first bolero who said he thought I was smart. Thus, I still haven’t quite figured out if on the whole this physical appearance is helpful or harmful. It’s definitely been helpful in the opening doors part, but I wonder if I’m walking though them – no, I know I’m stumbling through them making the path as I go and running into rocks and stones and shards of glass. Fumbling backwards and then rising up to peek through the door again. Hm, sounds like life.

But what kills me is how they wanna hide me from their legitimate lives as if something is actually going down. Keeping me for the back room meetings and late night drinking sessions as if acknowledging my existence in public or quoting me or openly considering my ideas will somehow let your wife or partner know what you are thinking. I haven’t even fucked you but apparently I’m your mistress.

Anyway, going back to the bane of being a woman in politics. When I was with the Women’s Political Participation Team at NDI, we often heard that the biggest opposition women faced when trying to enter politics was from other women. So true. Of course, the men egg us on, the men assume we won’t get along when there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. And of course, yet another reason why I love my comrades so much – we love each other and celebrate each other’s beauty proudly as sophisticated feminists do and as all women should. But unfortunately not all women in politics are sophisticated feminists. The high school clique, the sexless harem mentality remains and I see them look me up and down as if to say “What is she doing here and who does she think she is?” When are we going to grow up and out of this?

Speaking about the woes of being a young woman in politics, as I was hanging out at the Deputy Executive Secretary’s office, two young (probably around my age or younger) and I’m assuming bright young paralegals came in to talk to the Deputy ES. Both were considering quitting because they wanted to start looking for husbands and having families. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be a mother. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a stay at home mom either. But, you are in a country where good jobs are hard to come by. You’re on the winning side of a victorious presidential campaign and you’re working in Malacanan at a very powerful office. Ok, fine, all of that is fine. But, the killer is that when would you EVER hear a man quitting such a promising position because he felt it was time to settle down and have a family? Even in the Philippines where you have yayas, a woman finds it necessary to end her career to have a family (because of course the idea of asking the husband to take part in raising the child is utterly ridiculous)? Again hurts my feminist sensibilities…

In an attempt to keep my family and friends in the States interested in the goings-on in politics here in the Philippines, I forwarded along President Noynoy’s (I REFUSE to call him PNoy, ang  baduy! Parang balut for wimps) inauguration speech. I received criticism from a relative about the lack of reference to God in the speech, “To a people looking for hope from the Almighty” and saying “Many forget God all day and ask to be remembered at night.” I jotted down some thoughts and lo and behold, seems my relative was convinced! I may have actually had a rare moment of clarity so felt I should share…so here is me defending Noy before we go opposition (joke!)

Actually, inauguration day for Noy began with a mass for him and his family and close friends at his home. The inauguration ceremony began with a prayer – a multi faith prayer with clergy from the Catholic Church, a Protestant Church and an Ulama. God was always a part of the campaign as a source of personal motivation and strength for the candidates, their families and those of us working in the campaign and Noy, and we did give thanks to God in our capacities as individuals. Forgive me for this, but I have to say that it’s quite presumptuous for you to assume noy “forgot” God just because there’s no mention of God in the inaugural speech.

However, to bring up religion in an official address as a statesman is inappropriate. Not only is it inappropriate because of the separation of church and state, but it is inappropriate and arrogant because for him to incur God in an official government address would suggest that he is the president because he has been divinely annointed to be so. Not only is that presumptuous and even blasphemous, but it is dangerous to democracy because people would no longer expect their government to deliver services and they would no longer strive to hold government officials accountable if the president is perceived to be in office due to divine will. GMA used God quite cunningly in her public addresses. We are not operating in a vacuum so let us not forget the context. Historically, in many places but especially in the Philippines, unscrupulous politicians have invoked God to associate their rule with divine will and thus pacify the masses. [If you’ve read Rizal you know what I’m talking about here] This speech is not about Noy presenting himself as the high and mighty “chosen one,” or as a leader close to God that people should laud. The purpose of this speech was to convey humility and to outline deliverables, concrete things that people have the right to expect from their government, a stark contrast from the GMA “I’m moral, i’m good, i’m ethical, i’m smart, i’m destined…..”

It wasn’t just nuns who knelt in front of tanks in 86 and it certainly wasn’t just nuns who built the political movement that allowed those 4 days to occur at all. It was millions of people, leftists, soldiers, aetheists, Muslims, all sectors of society in addition to members of the organized Catholic Church. And, it was not the organized Church as an institution who knelt before the tanks and urged others to do so. It was Cardinal Sin, the SVD order, a cloister of Benedictine nuns, and others who took part in the event because in addition to being clergy members they are Filipinos with political rights and the desire to see a better Philippines. They did not order their parishes to go out, but appealed to people’s personal sense of morality to take a stand in national events.

This brings us back to the very different roles of Church and state in nation building. The Church (and in the Philippines, Mosques) facilitate connection to God and provides moral compasses for their followers. This moral compass determines the way we as individuals see ourselves, our role in society, and our identity and mission as Filipinos. Thus, it is appropriate for the Church to be involved in national affairs in this way – by guiding citizens on how to judge and react to national matters, and by clergy members also being involved in national matters because, again, nuns and priests are also Filipino citizens. Conversely, the role of the government is to provide basic services for the citizens. Contrary to what the vestiges of feudalism and colonialism have taught us, the government is not supposed to provide leadership – least of all moral leadership. (Can you imagine if people looked to government for moral leadership – yikes!) The government provides the people with basic services so that the people have the freedom to pursue their own choices, including the free practice of their own religion. As Noy said “Kayo ang bos ko.” Thus, while it is appropriate for the Church to be involved in matters of the state, it is not appropriate for the state to be involved in matters of the Church or religion or for that matter other choices of individual conscience (so long as such decisions do not infringe on the rights of others). It is the job of government to protect each individual’s right to practice his or her religion freely, and also to ensure an environment that is secure enough so that the Church and other religious institutions can freely flourish without fear or threat.

As Noy himself has said several times, “I am a Catholic and that influences my personal values and the way I think, but I do not have the right to impose my beliefs on others, and especially not to use state power or influence to do so.”

Finally, no, this is not America. The Philippine Constitution is actually stricter than the American Constitution when it comes to matters of religion in politics. The American Constitution only says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The Philippine Constitution states, “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion” and “the separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.”