Archive for August, 2007

A FEW GOOD MEN

Posted in Governance, Philippines and the Filipinos with tags , , , on August 22, 2007 by Ruffy Biazon

The following is a privilege speech I delivered during the Plenary Session of the House of Representatives on 22 AUgust 2007. I took photos of the event, one of which is shown here.


Yesterday morning, I attended the military honors given to the 15 gallant Marines who were brought to the Philippine Marine Headquarters in Fort Bonifacio. With their families solemnly walking behind the hearses, their brother Marines lined the avenue leading from the PMC HQ all the way to the gymnasium where funeral services were held. It was a stirring sight, all those Marines standing at attention on the sides of the road in their crisp uniforms holding snappy salutes to honor their fallen comrade with the Marine Drum and Bugle Team sounding out the funeral march.

None of the honored dead were related to me. Nor were any of them my constituents in my district. In fact, I did not even know them personally. But having grown up inside that very camp, having been used to the sight of the Marine dress blue, “malunggay” camouflage fatigues, or the chants that they chorus while doing their road run, and most of all, being a son of a red-blooded Marine, I cannot help but have a sense of affinity with the brotherhood of The Few, The Proud, The Philippine Marines.

My own father spent half of his 35-year military career in Mindanao. From time to time, he brought me along with him in his assignments, in the company of the gallant warriors from the sea, their discipline and bravery earning my admiration and hero-worship.

Many times I am asked, having grown up amongst Marines and having a father who served in that esteemed organization, why I did not join the military and follow my father’s footsteps. To that question, my answer is that I did not join because I do not want my family to experience the same fear and anxiety that my mother, my siblings and myself felt while my father was out on assignment, not knowing whether he will come home alive or in a casket.

As I observed the grieving families of the slain soldiers, I could only say a prayer of thanks to the Almighty for sparing our family from such sorrow, and an appeal for these families to be given the guidance and strength to bear their loss and accept their loved ones’ fates. Needless to say, I felt the grief of their loss, the anguish in the hearts and the pain of an unexpected death of a loved one. After all, we all belong to the Marine family.

But more than that, as a member of this House of Representatives, I grieved for the loss of our country’s fine young men, who joined the Armed Forces of the Philippines on their volition, knowing that one day, the supreme sacrifice will be asked of them. So early in their careers, they gave up what many of us will hold on to for self-centered reasons.

And such sacrifice was also given by their families, who lent their sons, brothers, fathers, and husbands to their country, accepting the reality that one day Death will take them away, and whatever the government can give back to them as an obligation and gesture of appreciation, they can only accept without asking for more.

As I viewed each of the fallen heroes now forever silent in their caskets, I noticed that except for two in their early 30’s, all of them were in their 20’s. Young as I still am, I am even old enough to be their “kuya”.

I heard and read commentaries that the loss of these 15 brave Marines was a waste of lives. Perhaps those who say that look at it in terms of the passing of these soldiers at such young ages. Indeed, with the long career ahead of them, they could have gone up the ladder of success if their lives were not snuffed out early.

Or perhaps they see it as a waste because someone may have been at fault in sending them into harm’s way, unwittingly sealing their fate in the hands of the enemy.

Indeed, as we mourn the deaths of these Marines and those who were killed several weeks ago, we must determine the command responsibility of those who may have committed lapses or errors and hold them accountable, if any. Without immediately assuming anyone’s fault or guilt, the government must provide answers to the questions their families are asking.

But allow me to raise an objection to the view that the lives lost were wasted. I do not want to demean the sacrifice of these young men by saying that it was all for nought. Whether their deaths were the result of a tragic mistake or it was an unavoidable tragedy, one thing is clear—these men stuck to their oaths and gave their lives for this country. The reasons for them being sent into the hinterlands of Basilan only to die there may or may not be righteous, but their personal conviction to uphold their oath to defend this country to the death is enough to earn honor; that they are willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice so that democracy may flourish and the enemies of the state be defeated is an accomplishment in itself that sets them apart from the rest of the Filipinos.

They may have passed on to eternity in the sunrise of their lives, but they have proven without a doubt that they have lived relevant lives in such a short span of time. I would dare say that with their act of selflessness, they have fulfilled much more than anyone in this House of Representatives, myself included.

Let us not call their lives a waste. Their deaths may have been unnecessary, but it was also the crest of their relevance on this world. The sign at the entrance of the Libingan ng mga Bayani puts it more aptly— “I do not know the dignity of his birth, but I do know the glory of his death.”

Ours is a volunteer Armed Forces. When Filipino men sign up for the privilege of wearing the uniform of the AFP, much more the Philippine Marines, they know that the danger of them perishing in the performance of their duty was clear and present. As they took their oaths, the unspoken portion of what they swore was the acceptance of the fact that part of their duty was to die for us and this country.

And for this, the nation owes them its gratitude. They deserve to be honored.

As I mingled among the Marines who viewed their fallen comrades, I could not help but try to read the thoughts that were hounding their minds. Some seemed to think, “will I end up this way?”. Some intently looked at the disfigured faces of their comrades in the caskets. Some whispered prayers for the dead. While some showed determined faces, seemingly wanting to go out into the field for retribution.

But whatever thoughts they had, one thing is definite, we must provide a reason for them to fight and possibly die for their country. We cannot order them into battle with the thought that their lives will just to go to waste. We must acknowledge that as soldiers, their lives are not a waste. We must let them know that when called upon to give the ultimate sacrifice, the country will be generous in heaping gratitude and acknowledgment for their selfless offering.

But lest I be misunderstood, allow me to say that while I call for the country to give premium to the lives and the sacrifice of these soldiers, let me be quick to add that the government should not drag its feet in determining if the loss of lives of these valiant soldiers could have been avoided. And if so, who are those responsible and what sanction or penalty they must be meted.

As we give our soldiers the reason to fight, so too, must we give them an assurance that we give value to their lives and will do everything to preserve it, just as they will do anything to preserve our way of life.

Soon we will be tackling the budget of the national government. Among those that will be presented will be the requirements of the Armed Forces in fulfilling their duty.

It need not be said that the AFP needs a boost in terms of the equipment and compensation. That is the usual concern.

But what we also need to give priority when we consider their budget is the amount of resources that we will appropriate for the support of our troops in the frontlines.

For their frontline operations, there is a need to provide for adequate medical support such as field hospitals, supplies for treatment of battlefield wounds, plasma expanders, pain killers, medevac facilities, training for combat paramedics, and other means of saving lives of soldiers who are wounded in combat.

If we believe that the life of one soldier is valuable, then we must make efforts to preserve it, considering the fact that we send him into harm’s way.

And if he is called upon to give the ultimate sacrifice, we must also ensure that those he leaves behind will benefit from the nation’s gratitude.

This afternoon, I was a guest in a television program where families of those recently killed in Basilan was interviewed. I had the privilege of chatting with a cousin of one of the 15 Marines. She revealed to me that she is a widow, that her husband also served in the AFP but was killed in action some ten years ago. What concerned her now is the livelihood of the family of the Marine killed in action.

She personally sought my help in addressing the difficulty that she, as a widow of a fallen AFP soldier, is experiencing. She said that as of the moment, she only receives half of the salary of her slain husband as a benefit. With the children that were left behind by her husband, she could not make both ends meet.

She also requested if such benefit could be made tax exempt or at least the amount of what the government takes could be lessened to help them cope.

To me, her request was not baseless, nor was it unreasonable. Granting it could be a way of expressing this nation’s gratitude for our soldiers who sacrifice everything for our way of life.

If we expect our soldiers to live a Spartan life and die for us, then let us do our part and make their sacrifice worth it for them.

Before I end, please allow me to give honor and dignity to these fallen Marines by letting their names resound in this august hall:

2nd Lt. LUDWIG SALVADOR
2nd Lt. JILFREY LEOVERAS
2nd Lt. ROLDAN SAMERA
2nd Lt. ERMIN SOLOREN
2nd Lt. EUGENE PIÑERA
Cpl. PEARY SIMEROS
Cpl. URSULO TORRES, JR.
Cpl. ERIL LABARES
Cpl. ROLDAN BAROY
Cpl. REYNALDO PEDROSO
Cpl. DANILO VERGARA
Cpl. JULIUS JOVE
PFC MANUEL TAYABAN
PFC. MICHAEL AOIGAN
Pvt. VIRGILIO DOMINGO

Allow me to close with a passage that was read during the military honors ceremony for the fallen Marines:

It is the SOLDIER, not the reporter, who gave us freedom of the press;

It is the SOLDIER, not the poet, who gave us freedom of speech;

It is the SOLDIER, not the politicians, who ensure that we live freely and peacefully;

It is the SOLDIER who salutes the Flag, who serves beneath the Flag and whose coffin is eventually draped by the Flag.

We salute our brother-Marines whose lives they risk to protect our right to live…

Let us pray for our fallen Marine Heroes who gave up their lives for our beloved country.

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Sorry Spectacle in Congress

Posted in Governance, Politics and Politicians with tags , , , on August 6, 2007 by Ruffy Biazon

There was an article published in the July 29- August 4 issue of the Village Voice, a minor publication distributed in communities around the Metro Manila area. It is actually the editorial of the said publication, entitled “Sorry Spectacle in Congress”:

Uncouth shouting and utter lack of proper decorum marked the opening session of the 14th Congress. The elder representatives could not restrain themselves from engaging in a manner unbecoming of lawmakers. Our Congressmen have a duty to treat their colleagues with due respect not for who they are (partymates/oppositionists) but because they are duly elected representatives of their constituents, our countrymen. Congressmen must treat their colleagues in a polite and civil manner at all times in the halls of Congress.

One of the duties as public servants is to spare the Filipino people from the spectacle of shameful and disgraceful high-pitched shouting on the floor of Congress. We should never have to undergo the shame of seeing them behave like “canto boys” (street tough guys) during their sessions. Our lawmakers have to de-program their arrogance and immense urge to flaunt power. In the opening of our 14th Congress, it was evident that our congressmen, not only the neophytes but sadly even the senior lawmakers have to make a special effort to behave like statesmen who are governed by the strict rules of proper decorum.

The brushing aside of the spectacle of loud disagreements, objections in shouting matches and impolite behavior as just a healthy display of democracy is ridiculous. Ion a democracy, everyone is supposed to be given due respect. Everyone has a right to have his voice heard, no matter how insignificant the size of his political bailiwick. The governing atmosphere in the halls of Congress is the freedom to discuss and to object which to be effective must be done in a civilized and proper airing of opinions and objections.

The sorry spectacle of “honorable congressmen” junking proper decorum and simple courtesy in their frenzy to protect selfish political interests and positions at the opening session of Congress is deplorable. This shameful behavior of lawmakers is not a sign of healthy democracy. This is lame and inane excuse for bad manners. The democratic process is an exercise of respect for one another’s right to speak and be heard. Uncouth and disrespectful words and action towards one’s colleagues can never be a part of a civilized democratic process.

It seems that the buzzword nowadays is “Reform”.

We read and hear about our colleagues who emphatically declare that what the House of Representatives needs is reform.

One of the most respectable and dignified members of the august body called Congress, whose experience has imbibed him with sobering wisdom, expressed it with a catchy term –– Cha-Cha, or Chamber Change.

It has been said that change is always met with resistance. But in this case, I believe that there is no member of the House who does not believe that indeed, we need to reform this Chamber. From the ranks of the majority and the minority, administration or opposition, everyone seems to collectively agree that the tattered image of the House of Representatives begs for an overhaul.

In the interesting and colorful race for the Speakership of the House both contenders offered changes that were welcomed by the honorable members of Congress, which was an acknowledgement of the tarnished image of the House.

Truly, it takes talented leadership to initiate and implement reform. Thus, it is desirable to have a candidate vying for the position of First Among Equals to offer reform, especially if it will result in the redemption of the chamber.

But in a collegial body like the House of Representatives, where every member is a leader in his or her own right, isn’t reform a duty of each and every person who is actually a Representative not only of his or her respective constituency but also of the Institution called the House of Representatives?

The obligation of cleansing the image of the House does not fall solely on the shoulders of the First Among Equals but rather on the head of Each One Among Equals.

In the area of attendance, for example, it has been made a leadership issue in the House of Representatives. But after deeper thought, isn’t it really a membership issue? One that is resolved by the individual members of this Chamber instead of by the Speaker of the House?

Can it be truly called reform if the Speaker has to entice attendance by offering incentives or imposing penalties?

Shouldn’t each member deserving to be called Representative take it upon himself to fulfill the duty to attend sessions and functions in this Chamber, without need for reward or punishment?

If each and every member of this House acknowledges that attendance is a problem, isn’t it logical that the solution is for each member, especially those who acknowledge the problem, to simply attend sessions faithfully and diligently? There is no need for attendance to be a platform of reform by a candidate for Speaker.

The editorial was what compelled me to speak up about this. Some might say we might as well let the events of the opening session pass and for us to move on. But if there is one lesson that I have learned in my previous two terms in Congress, it is for one to speak your mind at once or forever hold your peace. I have actually held my peace many times, though I still had to vent out the steam in some other place, some other time and they turned out to be unproductive.

It is obvious that in the article, the events that have been labeled a “Sorry Spectacle in Congress”, has once again added to the dismal image of the House. Indeed, people I spoke to who were able to watch the proceedings on television chided and teased me about how Congress has deteriorated in the eyes of the people.

Of course, I tried to defend this institution, but it is very difficult to defend against an argument that one agrees with.

While public opinion may have low regard for the image of the House, I believe that we are not beyond reform. But reform should start in each and every congressman and it should not depend on who is sitting at the helm of the Chamber.

This is an opportunity to remind the members of the House of this power of reform in our hands because if we do not start now, while the 14th Congress is still young, we might not be able to start the reforms at all.

I feel like an old man when I hear the young neophytes of the 14th Congress speak of idealism and reform. I too, when I was a neophyte, was brimming with idealism and confidence that I can change the world overnight. I am now on my third term but I find myself still out chasing the dream of a righteous world.

AT other times, I feel like I’m part of a hopeless generation when the elders start to speak of the “good ol’ days when Congress was honorable and the Chamber was filled by the rhetorics of the grand old men of politics past”.

I strain to stop myself from reacting from such comments, which seem to condemn us, the present members of Congress to the image of incompetence, mediocrity and uselessness, but I believe that instead of taking on our critics head on, we might as well just prove them wrong through our actions.

The 13th Congress, the number of which seemed to have been an omen of how things would go during its short lifespan, is already in the realm of history. We, the members of the 14th Congress now have the opportunity to turn the image of the House of Representatives around.

Reform should not be dependent on who the Speaker of the House is. If we all agree that we need to clean up this house, then reform will come through our collective effort.

So far we have shown that the problem of attendance can be nipped in the bud. IN the first three weeks of the 14th Congress, members of the House have been producing impressive numbers during roll call. Let’s just hope that this is sustained for the rest of the session days.

With the committees being organized one by one, it won’t be long when the real work begins and the opportunity for reform becomes available to us.

Another area that has given the House of Representatives a black eye is the behavior of members of the House during sessions and hearings. As mentioned in the article, the brash behavior of some members who utilize to the power of their lungs and voice rather than the strength of their argument, or those who resort to hysterics rather than rhetorics, contribute to the low regard that the public has of this institution.

Congress is a deliberative body governed by procedures and rules in the course of its proceedings. Let us prove to the people that the 14th Congress is composed of honorable men and women worthy to be called such.

I am on my third term. I have no desire to leave COngress in 2010 with the nagging thought that the public has branded the House of Representatives as a disgrace. This is why I write not to castigate anyone in particular or wash our dirty linen in public. My only wish is that members of congress work together to show the people that the taxes they pay is used to sustain in office public servants worthy to be called honorable.