Archive for September, 2007

Cambodia

Posted in Inner Thoughts, Travel with tags , , , , on September 18, 2007 by Ruffy Biazon

If you’re wondering why I have a somber look in this picture, it’s because this was taken at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It is prohibited to smile in this historic site, since the Cambodians consider this almost a sacred site, a reminder of the times when evil ruled in Cambodia and a despotic leader thought that eradicating a quarter of his country’s population, mostly intellectuals, professionals, government officials, students and even children, would usher in a new era for this beautiful and fertile land.

That was during the regime of the Khmer Rouge, led by the infamous Pol Pot. This facility, which used to be a school, became one of the prisons and torture centers of the Khmer Rouge, under the operational command of the S-21, the unit which oversaw this center and three others around the country. This particular facility housed at least 1,500 prisoners at any one time, with inmates given some of the most inhuman treatments ever known to man.

Many of the inmates who suffered and died here were buried in mass graves which later on became known as the “Killing Fields” (a movie was made from the story of the Khmer Rouge genocide). The Vietnamese army, which invaded Cambodia in 1979 and ousted the Khmer Rouge, discovered the bodies of the tortured prisoners shackled on metal beds.

Visiting the facility now, you get a heavy, eerie feeling as you enter one of the rooms, which have on display the actual beds used by the prisoners.

There were displays of the mug shots of the prisoners, which ranged from children all the way to old ,men and women. The Khmer Rouge meticulously kept records of their prisoners and numbered each one of them, as seen in the mug shots.

The people in the photographs had a variety of expressions, from plain, blank stares to expressions of fear to those of defiance. Indeed, my visit to this monument to man’s capacity for evil against his fellow man is a one that gave me a fresh perspective about our country.

With no offense meant to the gentle and friendly Cambodian people, I had a renewed faith in the Philippines and a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the country that we have.

I am thankful that we did not experience the kind of terror that Cambodians experienced in the hands of their fellow countrymen. True, we had and still have some abuse of rights and even involuntary disappearances, but it did not and does not come anywhere near to the savagery inflicted by Pol Pot to the people he was supposed to lead.

Despite all the complaints that we now have in our country (the corruption, the political instability and the rising prices), we are still a lot better off than the Cambodians. My impression of Phnom Penh, their capital, is that it is still way behind our capital, Manila (including the Greater Metro Manila) in terms of infrastructure development. I think even our provincial cities like Dumaguete or Pagadian is ahead in development.

But it might be unfair to compare Cambodia to the Philippines in such terms, since they have gone through a long period of conflict which ended relatively recently only. Up to the mid-90’s, they were still in a brutal conflict which stunted their growth as a country.

Behind as they are in terms of economy and infrastructure, I would say they are ahead in terms of character as a nation. While in the Philippines we are constantly on the guard for fellow Filipinos who will take the first opportunity to fool us, cheat us or steal from us, money changers in Phnom Penh operate on open tables in the street corner, without even the protection of a security guard. Yes, they’re just there on the street corner with the money lying on the table in front of them.

In the market, a stall owner selling semi-precious stones lays out on top of the counter almost half of her inventory, even turning her back to the customer once in a while, unmindful of the fact that the customer browsing her wares may just pocket one of the items she is selling.

It may be stupidity for us, especially because here we look at the next person as a potential criminal, but I think to them, it is the naivete that is borne of trust–trust that is not broken by her own countrymen. The different travel guides I researched before going to Cambodia all said the same thing—Cambodians are generally honest.

And I experienced it myself. The stall owner of the jewellry stall (it was in a Divisoria-style market called the Russian Market) pointed out to me which of the items were fake and which were genuine. To me, everything looked the same and she could have easily fooled me into believing that everything was genuine (I’ve expereinced that here in the Philippines).

I took a Tuk-Tuk (tricycle in the Philippines) from the King’s Palace to the National Museum. Unlike Bangkok where the Tuk-Tuk drivers try to mulct you with their outrageous fares and forcibly bring you to the expensive jewellry shops (where they get a commission from items bought by their unwitting victims), this driver told me that I could pay him whatever I wanted. I was prepared to haggle to death, but when he told me that when I first asked about the fare, I was caught by surprise.

When we got to the National Museum, I told him I will next go the to Central Market after my visit to the museum. He said he’d wait for me. I wanted to pay him (just to show my good faith that I will not do a 1-2-3 on him, since he had already driven me to the museum from another place), but he said, I can just pay him after my whole itinerary.

As I entered the museum, the naughty Filipino in me thought, “hey, I can go out the other gate and he wouldn’t know..I can get a free ride!”. But my conscience got the best of me, so of course, after my visit to the museum, I went out the way I came in. He was taking a nap in his Tuk-Tuk and I even had to wake him up.

At least I felt good at the end of that excursion.

That trip to Cambodia, which was just three days after I came back from a trip to Australia, gave me a new perspective towards our country. I am thankful for the blessings that our country has. I am grateful that we didn’t have to endure genocide or years of civil war and strife. I am glad that we have the numerous malls and countless entertainment centers around our developed cities.

But I am envious that as a nation, we have yet to earn the admiration of the world for our honesty and integrity. IF there’s one thing we should work on as nation, I believe that more than the economic and material prosperity, it should be our character, in order for us to earn the respect of our fellowman.

God bless the Cambodians.

Anyone for Wiretapping?

Posted in Governance, Politics and Politicians with tags , , , on September 4, 2007 by Ruffy Biazon

The following is a letter to the editor of Atty. Leonard De Vera, Chair of Equal Justice for All (E-JUST)published in the several newspapers last Sept. 1, 2007:

Lost in the midst of the “Garci tapes” controversy is an anomalous situation in Republic Act 4200, (Anti-Wiretapping Act).

The law is good in that it protects against illegal intrusion into people’s right to privacy of conversation. The law is bad in that it bans all kinds of wiretaps unless authorized by a written order issued by a judge.

Consider this dreadful situation: Your child is kidnapped. You receive a telephone call from the kidnapper who lets you hear your child’s crying voice. He demands ransom money. He instructs you not to call the police. He calls you in 30 minutes to know if you have raised the money and gives directions of where, when and how the ransom will be delivered by you.

Since it is impossible to go to court to get a written order within 30 minutes, you wiretap your phone. You record the kidnapper’s voice and ransom instructions. Because of the recorded conversation, the police are able to investigate and arrest the kidnapper.

Who goes to jail? The kidnapper? No. You go to jail.

All because RA 4200 absolutely bans the use of illegally wiretapped evidence in a court of law or in any criminal, civil or administrative proceedings.

The prosecutor cannot introduce the wiretapped voice of the kidnapper as evidence to prove the identity of, and instructions given, by the kidnapper. Lawyers love to call this, “the fruit of the poisonous tree.” Therefore, inadmissible evidence. The kidnapper is set free.

The kidnapper turns the tables on you. He sues you for violation of RA 4200 because you had wiretapped him without a written court order. You, the victim of the crime, go to jail.

RA 4200 admits of no exception to wiretapped conversations. The only legal use of wiretapping is when authorized in writing by a judge who must first interview you to see if his order to wiretap is justified.

RA 4200 must be amended to admit of some exceptions such as the one just described.

LEONARD DE VERA
Chair, Equal Justice For All (EJUST)
Unit Penthouse B, Windsor Tower
163 Legazpi St., Legazpi Village
Makati City 1229

Atty. De Vera’s proposed amendment is embodied in a bill I filed in Congress, but received no attention from the House. I felt redeemed that someone has the same view that I have of Republic Act 4200, The ANti-Wiretapping Law, which I believe needs to be amended.

Unfortunately, the issue has been drowned by the political issues that dominated the discussion about wiretapping,e specially because of the circumstances which brought the issue forward in the first place—cheating in the 2004 elections.

Indeed, those involved in the issue, especially those perceived to have committed wrong-doing, had to defend themselves, just as those who believed that the truth should come out had to do everything to expose the story behind the highly controversial 2004 elections.

It seems that the 2004 elections controversy may have been set aside with the closure of the 13th Congress, although closure has not been attained by those who believe that the Hello Garci tapes can reveal more that what has already been revealed in the hearings.

Once again in the 14th Congress, the tapes say “hello” to us. It has never really said “goodbye”, just “see you later”. That’s how it is with the Truth. It will never lay to rest unless it is out in the open. The Bible, in the Book of John, it is written, “The truth shall set you free.” So it is, with truth, that it shall set itself free.

But I am not blind to political reality. I know that at this time, while there is still a need to validate the evidence about the issues hounding the 2004 elections and the Hello Garci tapes, the people already know the truth about it and need no further revelations. The results of the 2007 elections, however tainted it may be, still indicated the people’s sentiment. So it may be time for us to look towards other objectives.

One is the amendment of the wiretapping law. While the political ends were not achieved by the Hello Garci hearings last congress, I would say that those who lost the political battle won the moral battle. It is now time to perform attain legal victory, which will benefit everyone, from all sectors, all beliefs and all affiliations.

To me, this should be the primary goal of the resumption of the Hello Garci hearings. To learn from the mistakes of the past in order to avoid them in the future. To amend the law and attune it to the needs of the present.

To express my appreciation to Atty. De Vera for his timely observation, I sent him this letter:

Dear Atty. De Vera,

My warmest felicitations to a citizen who has shown his patriotism and vigilance as a Filipino!

I would like to commend you for the insight you have shared in your letter to the editor of the Philippine Daily Inquirer which was published on September 1, wherein you suggested the amendment of Republic Act 4200 to enable victims of crime to conduct wiretapping without need of a court order.

I am happy to inform you that in the 14th Congress, I filed House Bill No. 58 which seeks to amend R.A. 4200 and allow persons who are victims of kidnapping to perform wiretapping of suspects to aid in the early solution of the crime, just as you proposed.

The proposal is one of several amendments to the wiretapping law which were borne of the Hello Garci hearings in the previous Congress. I filed it as House Bill No. 5313 in the 13th Congress even before the hearings were terminated, belying the claims that no legislation was produced as a result of those hearings. Unfortunately, it was buried under the political noise at that time.

With the wiretapping hearings reopened recently, I believe that the Legislature should proceed with it with the objective of updating an old law that has ceased to be relevant to the times. With the advent of new technologies and new reasons to conduct legal wiretapping, we should look beyond or even set aside the political dimension of the issue and pass legislation that would provide us an up-to-date legal environment for recording conversations.

I hope that you can be one with us in this legislative endeavor.

Thank you very much and may God bless you!

Yours truly,

Ruffy Biazon