Archive for September, 2006

One Night in Bangkok…

Posted in Inner Thoughts, Travel with tags , , on September 20, 2006 by Ruffy Biazon

I couldn’t sleep last night, after coming home from a dinner celebrating my borther-in-law’s promotion. He’s just 28 but he was promoted ahead of others more senior in age and experience than him, making him AVP of the bank he worls for.

Perhaps it was the coffee I drank or probably the anticipation for the next day’s work that kept me up. Whichever it was, it was depriving me of rest. So I turned on the television, and scanned through the cable channels.

A thought ran through my mind, wondering in amazement at how television has changed in the past decade. I thought back to the time when my wife and I stayed up late watching over our eldest son, born in 1990. Back then, there was no cable TV and the local channels stayed on only up to around midnight. Beyond that hour, it seemed the world was dead.

It was during those sleepless nights taking care of our baby that I watched the unfolding of the first Gulf War, when the Americans kicked Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait which he invaded. I’m proud to say I caught it live when Bernard Shaw of CNN declared to the world that “the skies over Baghdad have been illuminated”.

Only one local channel stayed up beyond midnight back then, airing the CNN coverage of Gulf War 1. And that was my entertainment while I held my baby’s milk bottle, which he eagerly sucked on for nourishment. Now, that baby is already 15 years old, ready to take on the world. Time flies….

Anyway, going back to my channel surfing, I scanned towards the direction of one of my favorite channels (aside from Discovery, National Geographic and Jack TV)—CNN. As I switched to that institution of world news coverage, images of soldiers clad in fatigues and riding on a Hummer flashed on the screen….could this be IT? WHether by anticipation or just a failure of instant recognition, I thought I saw Philippine Marines out in the streets doing maneuvers. Flashbacks of the Marine Stand-off enter my head….

After a few moments, although the soldiers had skin as brown as mine and the camouflage looked eeringly similar to the Philippine Marines’, I realized that this was not happening in the Philippines. OF course, the realization was helped by the big bold letters on the screen identifying the event as happening in Bangkok, Thailand…

With the same excitement I had when I witnessed other historical events in my young lifetime, any semblance of sleepiness left me and I watched the unfolding coup happen, once again amazed at the wonders of present day technology in news coverage. As I was sitting there in my chair, a government was actually being overrun right before my eyes.

Then as those events in Bangkok was happening, the screen was split, to show audiences the ongoing General Assembly at the United Nations in New York City. At the same time that the Thai troops were maneuvering in their tanks and hummer vehicles, US President George W. Bush was about to take the podium to address the assembly of nations. Wow! This beats MTV anytime!

The audio then cut off from the news anchors’ commentaries about the Thai coup to the speech of President Bush. I switch to BBC, more interested in the developments in Thailand. Only muted images in a Picture-In Picture was there, with BBC giving preferential treatment to the strongest leader on Earth. I change to another inernational news channel, Bloomberg, Bush is also The Man there. SO I went back to CNN and just listened to his speech about terrorism while watching the smaller screen showing the video from Bangkok.

I stayed awake up to around 4:00 AM, until I realized I had to leave the house later that morning at 7:00 AM. I needed some shut-eye. SO I turned on the TV and went to sleep, still in amazed at what the Thai have once again done.

The coup is the 18th since World War II, and the first since 1992. Thailand has the reputation of changing governments through military intervention, with the Philippines seemingly wanting to play second fiddle. OF course, we became the model for People Power, which has been copied by many countries over the years.

Back here in the Philippines, proponents of CHarter Change say that a shift to a parliamentary system is a guarantee that coups and military intervention will no longer happen to us. They try to sell the idea of a Utopia under a new sytem of government where the decisions on the destiny of the country are confined to a specific group of people who will choose the nation’s leader among themselves. Only God knows how good we are on that one….

Parliamentary system is a guarantee against coups? But doessn’t Thailand have a parliamentary government? Thailand, touted as the “twin” of the Philippines, seems to be saddled with the same condition as the PHilippines—a politically involved military.

I believe that the system of government is irrelevant to whether there will coups or not. The basic reason why the military will take the initiative against a government is when the government itself fails to get the confidence of the people and the military. Prime Minister Thaksin SHinawatra was beset by issues concerning corruption and legitimacy (the elections he called for were invalidated by the Thai court). The issues against his government were becoming more and more intolerable, especially since the issues were far from being resolved. His hold over his partymates, which translated to a hold of Parliament (it’s a game of numbers), ensured their stay in power in spite of those issues.

But not for long. Thaksin and his political allies may have the political power, but they obviously do not have the military might on their side. The self-preservation afforded by the system of government crumbled in the face of the rolling tanks, even with a constitutional provision which tags coups as treason, therefore punishable under their law. The military simply abolished the constitution and dissolved parliament. That’s that.

SO if there is one lesson that we FIlipinos (especially the politicians) should learn about this recent Thai expereience, it is this—- we may fool some people some of the time, but we cannot fool all the people all of the time. The Cha-Cha proponents may fool a few people with their idea that a change in the system of government will eradicate coups, but many people, especially the military, know that a change in government without a change in the hearts and minds of those running the government, will still provide the reason for elements in the AFP to take the initiative on behalf of the people.

Now if only they could learn from the Thai military how to do it….

BREACH OF SECURITY INCIDENT IN AIRPORT CONTINUES

Posted in Governance with tags , , , on September 6, 2006 by Ruffy Biazon

In the wake of the expose by a so-called terrorism and security expert regarding the failure of airport security to prevent him from smuggling bomb components on board a flight from Davao to Manila and back, the country’s anti-terrorism efforts still continue to show weaknesses that could be exploited by terrorists.

Anti-terrorism activities are not limited to filtering passengers in the hope of preventing a terrorist to get on board an aircraft, an activity wherein our airport security has shown to have a weakness. There are three dimensions to anti-terrorism — prevention, apprehension and information. With particular reference to this expose by the security expert, it appears that the anti-terrorism efforts of the government have failed.

Failure in the prevention aspect was proven by the successful smuggling of the bomb components on board an aircraft. In the apprehension aspect, one week after the expose, authorities have yet to apprehend the individual who carried out the act. Even if there is a claim that his experiment was conducted upon the initiative of an influential and well-placed government official, the fact remains that there was no coordination with airport and police authorities, therefore they should have immediately conducted operations to trace him and apprehend him. As they say in tagalog, “sa presinto na lang siya magpaliwanag”.

But what the authorities have to show for themselves after this incident are a lot of excuses and a faceless name. In the aftermath of the September 11 World Trade Center attacks and the London bus and train bombings, authorities immediately came out with pictures of the suspects, taken from surveillance cameras placed in the terminals. This vital piece of information and evidence is an important lead in the investigation of terrorist acts, both in capturing suspects, identifying their network of cells and monitoring their activities.

The security expert said he conducted the tests on August 14. By mentioning this date, the authorities could have reviewed the tapes of their security cameras and verified the identities of all the passengers on the specified flight on that day, and by a process of elimination, they would have been able to confirm if the expert really did board that flight or not. They would have seen if he really was thoroughly checked or if there was laxity on the part of the airport security personnel.

But the inability of the authorities to do these post-incident activities show that they have also failed in the investigative and apprehension aspect of anti-terrorism.

They might dispute this by saying that they just withheld the information so as not to jeopardize their operations. Assuming that they were able to identify the expert but were just withholding the information, then they would have failed in the third aspect, which is informing the public.

A vital part of anti-terrorism is giving the public a sense of security and confidence that the government can protect them and are competent to shield the people from terrorist attacks. So far, the authorities, with all their excuses, have only added to the anxiety of the people over their safety.

Blast From the Past

Posted in Inner Thoughts with tags , , on September 2, 2006 by Ruffy Biazon

Last Friday, during my People’s Time in my district office, I received a surprise visitor from the past.

Alex, a batch mate of mine from elementary to high school in Malate Catholic School, came to my office to seek my assistance. He is not a resident or of my district but he decided to go to me instead of the congressman where he lived since he felt that being a long-time schoolmate, I would readily receive him. In spite of that, he told me that he still had a slight apprehension in going to me since I might not give him the time or opportunity to talk to him.

Alex is the son of Aling Cita, who was the janitress in our school. I remember her fondly, patiently cleaning up after the mess we made during recess. She stayed with us in the school premises whenever the school bus was late in bringing us home, making sure that the resident “mu-mu” wouldn;t bother us while we waited for our ride home. In our social studies classes, she was always included in the “persons in your neighborhood” topic, earning a space in the test items that we had.

“Who maintains cleanliness and orderliness in the school?”, the question in the quarterly test asks. All the way through elementary and on to high school we would encounter that question. SOmetimes, we would use ALing Cita as the subject of our sentences during English class.

Yes, she was a benevolent presence in the school, very much like a mother to all of us students. Everyone was kind to her, even the school. IN fact, the school took in her son as a scholar, belonging to our batch, Batch 86.

Looking back, I never knew Alex that well. ALthough we were in the same batch, we belonged to different sections. I knew that he was Aling Cita’s son but I never hung out with him or belonged in the same “barkada” with him. We were practically strangers.

Maybe that’s why when he came to my office, it did not register to me who he was, in spite of the fact that in my appointment schedule, his name was there. As is my practice, everyone who wants to meet with me, whether he is the president of a company or a tricycle driver, is given his time to speak to me personally.

So it was that when he entered my office, I proceeded to settle into the “how can I help you” mode. His first words were, “hindi mo na ba ako natatandaan?” My mind started racing, searching all memory banks for the picture of where and when I met him. I came up blank.

“Anak ako ni ALing Cita, yung janitress noon sa Malate”, was his humble follow through. Instantly, with a flash, my brain pulls out the picture of Aling Cita, the kind, gentle “manang” who kept our toilets clean and corridors polished.

“Oo! Naalala na kita!”. Actually, I still couldn’t find a picture in my mind how he looked like back then. Then I proceeded. After the initial niceties and recollections of days past in Malate, I asked again what I could do for him.

He said that he needed help with employment. He said he’s been out of a job for a couple of months now, and with two children to feed and educate, his situation was desperate. He thought about going to me after he met another batchmate of ours who suggested to him to visit me.

I could see that he was in dire straights. He wouldn’t come to visit me in Muntinlupa all the way from Pasig unless he really needed someone to help him. At this moment, he saw hope in me that I might be able to help him.

That’s why it was doubly difficult to see him there in my office. Because as things would have it, a legislator’s office is the least capable office to provide employment. FIrst of all, there is a limit to how many staff one can take. Second, whatever allocated positions are there are usually filled up already.

UNlike local government units, we do not have a Public Employment Office which has the mandate of looking for jobs for the populace. A congressman’s duty and responsibility is to legislate.

Some say that as congressman, I could influence local businesses to hire our recommendees and that there are positions allocated for us, as a form of PR by the companies. But the truth is it isn’t like that. We have no influence whatsoever. Unless of course, if I use my position to exert pressure (very slight pressure) on them. But I don’t do that.

But it pained me to see him in that situation. Although as I said, I wasn’t really close to him back in elementary of high school, the fact that we grew up together gave me a more personal involvement in his plight.

His situation is representative of the situation of a lot of our countrymen, fighting a daily survival in a world that is abundant but at the same time selfish. Sometimes it seems life is unfair, that while some lavishly splurge their riches, others can only dream of the next meal.

It is doubly frustrating and discouraging on my part—I am in a position of power yet I am powerless to immediately provide a solution to Alex’s problem. Yes, I could temporarily alleviate his situation if I give him several hundred pesos to get past the next couple of days. But where will that bring him afterwards? Back to where he is now.

ONe of the most difficult emotional and mental stresses of this job is having all the problems that beset this nation–poverty, divisiveness, conflict, etc.— dumped on your lap yet solutions are beyond your reach. In the whole scheme of things, solutions to these problems do not come from one direction or source. Most often, collaboration, coordination and cooperation among several entitities are needed in order to formulate the answers to our problems? But sad to say, unity, or the lack of it, is one of the problems itself!

Going back to Alex, I had to do something for him. I then remembered a friend of mine who owned a maintenance firm (janitorial services) in Pasig. It would be a favor I would be asking, so employment woudl be guaranteed. It would be in Pasig, so his cost for going to work will be minimized.

But I had my apprehension about that particular option. Taking that job would mean Alex will end up a janitor. A janitress’ son ending up as a janitor. Somehow, it did not seem right to me .
I had to look for another option….