Archive for October, 2007

PNP REPORT ON GLORIETTA 2 EXPLOSION: SLOPPY INVESTIGATION OR A DIRECTED CONCLUSION?

Posted in Governance with tags , , , , on October 31, 2007 by Ruffy Biazon

“The PNP’s conclusion that the Glorietta 2 explosion was an accident may be the result of a sloppy investigation or a product of a desired conclusion.” This was the reaction of Muntinlupa City Congressman Ruffy Biazon to latest news reports saying that the PNP has made a conclusion that the blast at the Makati mall was caused by an explosion of the septic tank due to the combination of methane and diesel fumes in the basement.

PNP Chief Director General Avelino Razon cites the “preponderance of evidence” leading to the conclusion that it was an accidental explosion. But Biazon, Senior Vice Chair of the Committee on National Defense and Security asserts that the preponderance of evidence is in the favor of a deliberate explosion.

“Up to this time, the PNP has not satisfactorily explained the presence of RDX found by their own technicians in the blast site. Weeks after the findings were reported to the President in a meeting of the National Security Council, they have not disputed the report but have actually upheld it. But they try to explain the presence of RDX by saying that it is a substance found in deodorants and cosmetics”, Biazon noted.

“But I challenge them to produce a deodorant or cosmetic brand that contains RDX in order to prove their assertion that it is commonly found in consumer products”, Biazon said. He added that the explanation that RDX can be found in aerosols can only be proven by hard evidence, “not just the say so of the PNP”.

“I find it very difficult to accept that RDX is found in consumer products such as deodorants and aerosols because all information we have gathered indicate that RDX is an explosive substance capable of doing harm not just by the explosion it creates but even by the mere prolonged exposure to humans. So how can it be an ingredient in a consumer product?”, Biazon asked.

“In fact, RDX is classified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as a “possible human carcinogen” based on the agency’s laboratory testing. The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says that RDX can cause seizures in humans and is considered a hazardous substance”, the congressman revealed.

Biazon pointed out that in the United States Munitions List, RDX is listed as a Category V explosive, subject to regulation by the United States Federal Law in 18 U.S. Code Chapter 40, the law on the Importation, Manufacture, Distribution and Storage of Explosive Materials. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms comes up with the U.S. Munitions List which they use to implement laws against illegal use and possession of firearms and explosives, according to the three-term congressman.

Congressman Biazon also disputed the theory proposed by the PNP that the RDX could be found in diesel or methane or the combination of both. “That’s a crazy proposition”, Biazon opined. “Even a high school chemistry student can say that’s impossible. RDX is a compound containing nitrates while diesel and methane are hydrocarbons. How can the two have RDX in them?”, said Biazon. He also added that RDX is not found in nature.

“It is clear that the findings of RDX in the Glorietta 2 blast site points to the high probability of the presence of a bomb in the mall. I am wondering why the PNP is ignoring the evidence and insists that it was an accident”, Biazon opined.

The congressman observed that even the accidental explosion theory as presented by the PNP is not convincing. “The PNP has not explained how the accident happened. Yes, accidental methane gas explosions do happen, but how did it happen in this particular case? In order for them to convince the public, they should present scientific evidence to show how the explosion was triggered. Until now, all they are presenting are the elements of a possible accidental explosion. They have not presented the process by which that supposed accidental explosion happened”, Biazon pointed out.

But for Congressman Biazon, the most critical piece of evidence is the RDX. “The RDX is a nagging question that needs to be answered satisfactorily. It points to the strong suspicion of an explosion deliberately set off. It could have even been the trigger to the explosion of the diesel or septic tanks”, he averred.

“To set the RDX aside with a simple unfounded explanation such as its presence in deodorants is unacceptable. If the PNP is unable to conduct a thorough investigation into this, I will pursue a investigation in congress. It will be an injustice to the innocent people who died if we do not have a proper closure on this incident”, Biazon concluded.

My son, the Candidate.

Posted in Family Life, Inner Thoughts with tags , , , , , on October 29, 2007 by Ruffy Biazon

Last October 29, in the barangay elections, my sixteen year old son made me proud…even though he lost his first bid to seek his peers’ support for an elected position.

He had never run for any elected position, not even for class officer. I had never pressured him into doing so, even though I must admit there were times when I was tempted to tell him, “when I was young, I was always a class officer.” And of course, I won’t deny that deep inside, I would like to see him serve the people just like his father and grandfather.

But it is my child-raising philosophy to let my children make guided decisions, instead of me doing the decisions for them. Just like what my father did to us when he was raising us, so would I like to do the same with my own children.

So it was when the chairman of our barangay, who was running for re-election, extended an invitation for my son to run in the barangay elections. At first, my understanding was that he was being invited to run for kagawad. I requested the barangay chairman to give my son time to think about it.

I had my apprehensions about letting him run in the elections because I preferred that he concentrate on his studies. The distraction of the experiences of being a teenager, such as the experience of having his first infatuation (yes, he already has a special female friend), is enough distraction as it is, much more if he enters politics. But believing in the philosophy of guided independence, I let him make the decision.

One of the reasons I allowed him to make a decision was an experience he had during an outreach activity that their class did about a week before the invitation was relayed to us. His class went on an outreach activity at a juvenile detention center, where they interacted with the teenage inmates who had committed crimes.

He had a one-on-one interaction with a 17-year old inmate named Carlo (ironically his namesake). The kid was jailed for snatching, a crime which he said he committed because of peer pressure. He was not an out of school youth, and although belonging to a poor family, his parents had some livelihood enough to get by on a day to day basis.

By my son’s story to me when he got home, the two Carlos seemed to have had an in-depth interaction because my son not only learned about the biographical information about the teenage inmate, but also his thoughts. Like two buddies who share their life experiences because of their trust for each other, they exchanged details about their personal lives during that brief encounter. My son related to me how the other Carlo told him that it is good that he (my son) was able to stay off smoking because for him (the other Carlo), smoking paved the way for him to do drugs. He told my son how good it felt for him to pour out his thoughts and emotions on someone else because in detention, he and the other teenage inmates had to put up a show of how tough they were in order to avoid being trampled on by other inmates.

As my son related to me this experience, I saw that it had a profound effect on him. Most especially when he said he wanted to go back to the juvenile facility someday to check on his new friend. He expressed his desire to be able to help out others who were in circumstances that were not as blessed as his.

At that moment, I looked at my son not as a kid, but someone who had taken on a maturity beyond his age. A proud moment for a father.

I told him that if he felt that he can do something to ease other people’s lives, he can join me in my constituent service activities. If he wanted to help, there are many in my district that he could help by simply volunteering his time whenever I undertake projects in my district. For the first time in the years I have been congressman, he expressed a sincere desire to join me in my activities. Another moment of pride.

That’s why when the invitation to join the barangay as a Sangguniang Kabataan official came, I allowed him to make a conscious, personal decision whether to join or not. Here was a moment where he can put into action the words that he said, and take charge of his life in a direction that he believes in.

First, he asked what is expected of a sangguniang kabataan member. I gave him a short explanation and gave him a copy of the Local Government Code, where the legal duties and responsibilities of an SK member is embodied by law.

After a couple of days, he gave me his answer—-yes, he’s interested.

I relayed the decision to the barangay chairman who then explained that the position reserved for Carlo was that of SK Chairman. I had to step on the brakes and say, “wait, I have to get back to my son on that”.

I went back to my son and explained to him the situation. I told him the difference between an SK kagawad and an SK chairman, especially the greater responsibility that a chairman has. After some thought, he accepted.

So with my son agreeing to the proposition, we prepared for the campaign. Although it was only a nine day campaign, we were way behind the ideal schedule in preparing for a campaign. In addition to the offer being late, I was also saddled with the preparations for our candidates in the other barangays. In fact, I was even unable to accompany my own son when he filed his certificate of candidacy because I was preoccupied with my official duties tending to other barangays.

While the other candidate had more time to prepare, we proceeded with my son’s candidacy because I saw it as an opportunity. Win or lose, I believed that my son will learn something from this experience. I knew that it will help mould his character, refine his maturity and provide direction in his life. For us, it wasn’t a matter of winning or nothing. If we succeeded, it will be a lesson in humility. If we failed, it will be lesson in grace.

The campaign gave me a new perspective about who my son is. For the past years of his life, I knew him as my child, a kid who enjoyed computer games, had a wicked sense of humor that sometimes even the immature kid in me couldn’t get, a “kuya” who couldn’t get enough of teasing his younger brothers and a budding teenager learning about puppy love for the first time.

But now I found out he was a compassionate individual, a responsible team leader, a willing servant, a critical thinker. I observed that he was serious about duties and responsibilities, he was eager to learn new things, ready to sacrifice for his peers, knows how to acknowledge his own weaknesses and other peoples’ strengths, courageous to face the odds, has concern for justice, equality and fairness, and gives a premium to righteousness.

In the short span of time, I was given a glimpse of my child growing up into a man. He may still be an adolescent physically developing into manhood, but I can definitely say he has shown the virtues one can only find in a true gentleman.

During one forum where the opposing candidates faced the public and present their platforms, Carlo and his team was were eclipsed by the other team’s candidates when they performed a “sabayang-bigkas” type of presentation, more appropriate for a Linggo ng Wika presentation than a candidates’ forum. It cannot be denied that they performed really well, and with much practice, perfected the timing of their memorized lines.

On the other hand, Carlo and his team each stood up as individuals and extemporaneously presented their platforms of government, what they stood for and their personal principles and beliefs.

The other team had more applause, not only because they brought more supporters but because even our camp appreciated their performance. But I appreciated more Carlo’s group not just because he is my son, but because their group was able to keep their cool in the face of the “shock and awe” performance and maintain composure and focus during their own presentation. They showed that anyone can memorize lines but not everyone can think on their feet. The communicated well using their own words and were able to show more about themselves as individuals than than any choreographed presentation can ever do.

During those times of unrehearsed and spontaneous speeches, it was revealed to me how my son thinks, how he observes and how he analyzes. Somehow, it gave me a feeling of calm that when I release my son to the world in the future, he will never be lost and he will never be taken for a ride by others.

He was diligent and sincere during his campaign. While before he would complain when we walk long distances when we go malling or during trips, this time he knew that the tiring, house to house campaign was essential for the team’s success. He showed that he can endure difficult situations not just for his own survival but those of others.

In these person to person campaigns, my son learned to come out of his shell and talk to strangers. For others, it is a natural ability. For people like Carlo, it takes effort to do it. I should now how difficult it is. For Carlo inherited this shyness from me, which took some time for me to shed off.

In the end, Carlo lost to his opponent. By six votes. He is an unfortunate victim of circumstance. Eleven of his sure voters went on vacation either abroad or in the province because of the long holiday. It was a tight contest, but as we had accepted early on, only God can determine its outcome. As long as we gave it our best, we are secure in the knowledge that if it was meant for Carlo, God would have caused it to happen.

From the beginning, we had prepared Carlo for any eventuality. We wanted him to have the right attitude and reaction no matter what the result was. To rejoice in victory gallantly but in humility and to accept defeat graciously and without grudges.

And in the face of his loss, to my eyes, Carlo is a winner. During the voting, he and his opponent crossed paths. He extended his hand to shake hers, but unfortunately, she apparently did not see his outstretched hand. His hand ended up hanging in mid air. But still, Carlo did not take it against her, giving her the benefit of the doubt that she did not see it.

When the counting was over and we finally knew he lost, I called him up to tell him the news. He and his team played badminton while the canvassing was going on, perhaps to take their minds away from the tension.

Carlo’s first reaction was to ask for his opponent’s number in order to congratulate her. This he did immediately and even offered his cooperation in projects of the new Sangguniang Kabataan.

The second thing he did was to call his mother and ask how she was doing in the face of our loss. In an attempt to console him, I told him that we can look into the results to see if we can still do something (some of his votes went to the space provided for “kagawad” instead of “chairman”). In response, he said, “Papa, I do not want any cheating just to make me win”.

But the most admirable about all this is how he handled defeat. He showed maturity in what was a painful loss for many of us. Being a parent, I can’t help but be saddened for my son. My wife was troubled with how he would take it. In the end, he showed us the stuff he was made of, and beyond the joy that I could have felt had he won, I felt pride, happiness and fulfillment in how he handled his loss.

In my book, he is a winner!

RDX AS A COMPONENT OF DEODORANT : INCOMPETENCE OR A DELIBERATE ATTEMPT TO MISLEAD?

Posted in Governance with tags , , , , on October 24, 2007 by Ruffy Biazon

Officials claiming that RDX is a harmless substance that may be found in deodorants, cosmetics and aerosols are either not doing enough research or deliberately misleading the public as to the cause of the explosion in Glorietta 2 which killed 11 people and injured dozens of others. This puts into question the credibility of the report that the PNP is preparing in an attempt to shed light on the cause of the explosion.

The latest theory that the PNP is presenting is that the explosion was an industrial accident, caused by the explosive ignition of methane and diesel fumes in the mall’s basement. In order for this theory to hold, the traces of RDX found by the PNP must be ignored. But how can you ignore such a finding?

In the investigation of an explosion in a theater in Ludhiana, India last October 14 where six people were killed, police concluded that the explosion was caused by RDX when they found traces of the substance in the blast site. In this country, traces of a known explosive substance are explained as possibly coming from deodorant.

DILG Secretary Ronaldo Puno tried to downplay the traces of RDX in the blast site by claiming that RDX is a substance found in ordinary items such as deodorant, aerosols and even cosmetics. With the wonderful world wide web at my fingertips, I did some research in teh comfort of my computer chair. My research yielded nothing about RDX being used in such everyday consumer products. All I came up with in my research is that RDX is an explosive substance used in military applications. How did traces of it end up in a mall?

In fact, the very name of the substance is indicative of its nature and use. “RDX stands for Royal Demolition Explosive or Research Department Explosive. How can that be used in deodorants and cosmetics? Would you put something named Royal Demolition Explosive under your armpit? My guess is you won’t.

Besides, deodorant is supposed to prevent “putok”, not cause it, right?

The impossibility of RDX being used in consumer products is supported by the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s classification of RDX as a “possible human carcinogen”. Likewise, the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says that RDX can cause seizures in humans and is considered a hazardous substance.

Scientific research and testing of RDX on rabbits and rats resulted in reproductive effects. Thus, the researchers recommended that human females of childbearing age be protected from exposure to RDX. What company will use it as a component of lip stick?

The attempt to downplay the traces of RDX in the Glorietta 2 blast site leads one to suspect that the authorities are trying to lead the public into believing a theory that the explosion was not deliberate, that it was just an accident. They even say that RDX is not an explosive, contrary to information provided in websites of U.S. government agencies which describe RDX as a type of explosive. Why is this so?

I find it hard to believe that the experts in the PNP don’t know what RDX is. They are experts. They should know what it is. Unless, of course, if they are doing this deliberately.

In spite of all the information I have gathered that RDX cannot possibly be a component of consumer products, I am willing to swallow my pride and publicly apologize if the PNP can present a deodorant, cosmetic or aerosol that which has RDX as an ingredient. In the meantime, they better get their act together and give us the real story behind this incident.

PGMA’s Administrative Order 197

Posted in Governance with tags , , on October 5, 2007 by Ruffy Biazon

On September 25, 2007, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed Administrative Order No. 197, to wit:

Adminstrative Order No. 197

WHEREAS, there is a need to address security concerns,

NOW, THEREFORE I, GLORIA M. ARROYO, President of the Philippines, by the powers vested in me by law, do hereby order:

1. The Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) shall work closely with the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC) subcommittee on killings and disappearances for speedy action on cases and effective reforms to avoid abuses, with regular reports to the Commander-in-Chief through the Executive Secretary as PHRC chair, and in consultation with the Court Administrator, invited as PHRC subcommittee observer.

2. The DND/AFP shall draft legislation in consultation with the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office and Congress allies for safeguards against disclosure of military secrets and undue interference in military operations inimical to national security.

3. The DND/AFP shall accelerate the recruitment, training, equipping and deployment of CAFGUs in place of transferred troops as well as investigate and, if necessary, stop and punish schemes to fraudulently collect salaries through “ghost” CAFGUs.

4. The DND/AFP, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, DEpartment of Interior and Local Government shall work with Local Government Units to fast-track local peace initiatives, especially local ceasefires, particularly in Bohol, Butuan and other priority areas for peace assemblies; and to work with the Union of Local Authorities, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and other sectoral and civil society groups in advocating with Congress to concur soonest with the amnesty proclamation.

5. The DND/AFP shall report to the Commander in Chief and inform the troops and the public and media the implementation of the recommendations of the Davide and Feliciano Commissions, and what further measures will still be done.

Done this 25th day of September 2007 in the City of Manila.

By the President

EDUARDO ERMITA (signed)
Executive Secretary

Media reports labeled Administrative Order No. 197 as a “gag order” on the Department of Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, something that would prevent the defense and military personnel from testifying in hearings by the Legislature.

After reading the Administrative Order over and over again, I have come to the conclusion that the description of A.O. 197 as a “gag order” is inaccurate. By itself, A.O. 197 does not order the DND/AFP to shut up. In fact, items 1, 4 and 5 specifically orders the DND/AFP to share information with the public and certain offices regarding its operations, activities and policies.

I have consistently taken a stand against Executive Order No. 464 and other issuances that are designed to evade inquiries and investigations by the Legislature. But from an objective point of view, I fail to see A.O. 197 as a “gag order”.

What has probably been seen as a “gag order” is item no. 2 in the said A.O., which instructed the DND/AFP to come up with a bill which will “safeguard(s) against disclosure of military secrets and undue interference in military operations inimical to national security”.

The phrase “safeguards against disclosure of military secrets and undue interference in military operations inimical to national security” indeed smacks of an attempt to ensure that no information is shared by the defense and military establishment. It seems to be a security blanket that will insulate the DND/AFP from the prying inquiries by the Senate or the House of Representatives, or any individual or institution, for that matter.

But if we take into account the first part of the paragraph which says, “The DND/AFP shall draft leegislation in consultation with the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office and Congress allies” it becomes evident that the A.O. merely instructs the DND/AFP to cooperate with the legislative department to draft a proposed legislation which will prescribe the policy and procedure for the protection of critical defense and security information under a legal environment of a law.

Contrary to the thesis that it is a gag order, I believe it is even a positive step towards cooperation between the military and the Legislature, in that the A.O directs the DND/AFP to work with the Congress to draft legislation on security of critical information.

This is positive in the sense that it will institutionalize through legislation the policy on security of information rather than it being subject to the whims, caprices and agenda of the Executive Department, as what is happening now. In addition, Legislation is a multi-party and deliberative process, so the input of both the opposition and the administration will be considered.

In the crafting of the proposed legislation, a provision for the creation of a multi-party, joint oversight committee on intelligence and security may even be included, to ensure that the law that will be enacted will not be abused by the defense and military establishment.

The United States, the country which gives the highest premium on military, intelligence and information security, has laws which provide for oversight functions by the U.S. Legislature. Defense, military and intelligence agencies are required to report to the oversight committees in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, following the principle of accountability. So it must be for the Philippines.

Although a positive angle is seen with the directive of A.O. 197, there is one disturbing aspect to it—as worded, it seems to politicize the defense/military establishment. This politicization is brought about by a single word in the paragraph of item no.2–the word “allies”.

The paragraph reads in part, “The DND/AFP shall draft legislation in consultation with the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office and Congress allies.

The word “allies” connotes that among members of the Legislature, there are senators or congressmen that the DND/AFP should consider as “foes”, which is the opposite of “allies”; and that the DND/AFP should reserve consultations with these “foes” in drafting the proposed bill.

The inculcation into the mindset of the DND/AFP that there are “allies” and there are “foes” in the Legislature runs contrary to the constitutional provision that the AFP must be apolitical, because they are being dragged into the fray of political dynamics within the Legislature and between the Legislative and the Executive branches.

The DND/AFP should deal with the Senate and the House as an institution, not singling out individual members or groups within either body and classifying them as “allies” or foes”.

Vacancy in Comelec is a Golden Opportunity

Posted in Governance, Philippines and the Filipinos with tags , , on October 1, 2007 by Ruffy Biazon

The resignation of former Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos ushers in the chance for the Commission on Elections to go on a new direction towards redeeming its credibility as the Administrator of elections and Guardian of the Vote. It is therefore important that this golden opportunity should not be put to waste by ensuring that the next chairman of the Comelec will have an impeccable service record, an unassailable character and reputation and integrity beyond reproach.

The controversies that have hounded the past two elections have dragged the down the people’s trust in the Comelec and tarnished its reputation as an institution. With the presidential elections coming in 2010, it is imperative that the replacement of former Chairman Benjamin Abalos will have the right combination of qualities and qualifications to lead the Comelec in the conduct of a peaceful, honest, orderly and most of all, credible elections.

The replacement of former Chairman Abalos should have the following qualities in order to achieve such a goal, aside from the basic qualifications prescribed by the law and the Constitution:

1. A proven track record in previous positions held.

2. Must not have any political debts to pay nor any political favors to give.

3. Should not have been involved in any controversy, whether political or legal.

4. A reputation that is untarnished and a character marked by integrity.

5. The ability to make sound and firm decisions that are not easily swayed by external persuasions.

Beyond these qualities, the most important of all is that the post of Comelec chair must not be filled by a politician, which is the anti-thesis of what the head of the Commission on Elections should be. The poll body’s chair should not be one who has been tainted by political agenda, influence and methodology of doing things. Once a politician, always a politician. And the Comelec is not the place for a politician to serve.

The vacancy in the chairmanship of the Comelec is a golden opportunity. But it only becomes golden if the right person is appointed to the position.