Archive for November, 2007

THE BATASAN BOMBING HIGHLIGHTS THE NEED TO PASS SIM CARD REGISTRATION BILL

Posted in Governance with tags , , , , on November 19, 2007 by Ruffy Biazon

The cell-phone detonated bomb which exploded in the House of Representatives killing four persons including a congressman and injuring several others provides a concrete example of one of the justifications for the passage of House Bill No. 92 which provides for the registration of SIM cards whether pre-paid or post-paid.

Under the bill, all SIM cards issued by telecommunications companies to their subscribers must be registered and included in a database of cell phone subscribers. To implement the registration, it is proposed that every time a SIM pack is purchased, the person buying the SIM shall present a valid ID as proof of identity and address. The data shall be included in the database of subscribers of the telecommunications companies and the National Telecommunications Commission.

The system is already in place and is already applicable to post-paid subscribers. All that needs to be done is to include the pre-paid subscribers in the process. It is not an entirely new procedure that will require a total rehabilitation of existing systems and procedures, but merely an expansion of coverage.

SIM card registration will make it possible for authorities to address the issue of cell phones being used to commit crime such as kidnapping, blackmail, and even bombings. It will enable authorities to have a lead in investigating crimes using cell phones and track down the perpetrators of such crimes. Although it will not be the ultimate solution to crimes, registration will at least make it more difficult for the commission of crimes using cell phones.

The proposal will also make it easier to monitor the real number of subscribers of the telecommunications companies and ensure that the right revenues are collected by government since the issuance of receipts can be matched against the registered subscribers.

While some quarters raise the issue of privacy as an argument against the proposal, the registration of SIM cards is consistent with the constitution which provides authority of the State over natural resources such as airwaves and radio frequencies. The use of such resources is a privilege given by the State, not a right of the people. That’s why telecommunications companies, broadcast companies and even users of radio telecommunications need to get a franchise or license from the NTC before operating.

Registration will not violate the privacy of communications since the content of the conversations using the cell phones will not be revealed nor does the proposal intend or authorize the eavesdropping of cell phone conversations.

BOMBING IN CONGRESS: AN ATTACK AGAINST THE PEOPLE

Posted in Governance, Politics and Politicians with tags , , , , on November 13, 2007 by Ruffy Biazon

Words are not enough to express the condemnation that the bombing of the House of Representatives deserves. With one member of the House killed, two more congresspersons wounded, one congressional staff killed and several injured, this despicable act of treachery is not only an attack on these citizens but an attack against the Filipino People.

The House of Representatives being the People’s House, no matter what personal motive the bomber had, the fact is that his action was a desecration of an institution of democracy, where the people’s aspirations, desires, convictions and principles are espoused and advocated, not by the language of violence and force but with the wisdom and passion of words.

The silencing of a member of the House of Representatives is a deprivation of his constituents a voice in Congress. The injury of innocent Congressional employees, all doing their part in serving the People, is an affront to those who have made serving the public not just a career but almost a vocation.

In the wake of this attack, the Filipino People should be one in condemning this. With no political, socio-economic, religious or ideological boundaries separating us, we must be in unison in standing against this heinous act.

It is therefore of utmost importance that the authorities do its best in investigating this incident in order for the culprits to be pinpointed and brought to justice. The investigators should not be careless and should look into all angles, validating and testing each angle until they are eliminated one by one through a scientific, logical and forensic method and not by mere opinion.

This early, investigators seem to be stressing the theory that the bombing might be an attack directed at a particular person. While there may be some reason to consider that theory, the investigation should start at a wider perspective in order not to miss any other possible reason for the bombing which may be supported by evidence.

Let not the incomplete investigation into the Glorietta 2 bombing be repeated in this case. Last October, PNP Chief Gen. Avelino Razon, citing intelligence reports, gave a warning that after the Muslim holy period of Ramadan, terrorists were planning attacks both in the provinces and Metro Manila. One week later, the Glorietta 2 explosion occurred and in spite of the PNP Crime Lab’s findings of RDX, a substance which comprises C-4, they simply dropped the angle and aggressively pursued the accident theory.

I share in the grief of those who perished in this tragedy in Batasan and join others in offering prayers for the souls of those whose lives were snuffed out and the speedy recovery of the injured. Instead of cowering in fear, we should stand up in outrage and vigorously pursue the culprits and bring them before the bar of justice.

RDX : The Unturned Stone

Posted in Governance with tags , , , , on November 7, 2007 by Ruffy Biazon

RDX : The Unturned Stone
Privilege Speech of Cong. Ruffy Biazon
November 6, 2007

Mr. Speaker, Ladies and Gentlemen of this House,

I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege on a firm belief that when government agencies, fail, it is the duty of this House to stand up for the people and demand accountability from those agencies.

In this case, I refer to the investigation of the October 19 Glorietta 2 explosion by the Philippine National Police. So far, the public has been treated to press release after press release by the PNP but an official report is still nowhere in the horizon. The problem with press releases is that they are never final. It is always subject to changes, depending on how the public reacts to the release; media statements may be said to be misquoted, misunderstood or outright denied; and newspaper clippings cannot be used as evidence in court.

I do not wish to interfere with the PNP’s investigation, and would like to wait for the official report of their investigation into the blast which killed 11 people, injured more than a hundred others, not to mention the millions in economic loss.

There are those who would like to believe, even before the PNP comes out with its official conclusion, that the explosion in Glorietta was an accident. Actually, their voiced out opinions comes across as not just an expression of a belief, but rather, it comes across as wishful thinking.

Last week, the Executive Secretary expressed his relief that a terror attack had been ruled out , although the PNP up to now, still does not have a final report and keeps on saying that the terror angle is not yet ruled out.

The Executive Secretary said that the country’s economy would be “gravely affected” had the explosion been attributed to a terrorist attack. He was quoted as saying, “It will affect our economy, our standing in the world community, our international investors, mabuti na lang at hindi talaga mga terorista iyan.”
Again, this statement was made while the investigation was still going on and the PNP was making statements that the terror angle was still not categorically ruled out.

Now comes the statement of the U.S. ambassador. In today’s issue of the Inquirer, the ambassador was reported to have cautioned those who say the blast was not an accident “should realize what a terror attack in Metro Manila would mean to the country.”

Although she said that an accident in the heart of a city “is never a good thing,” she also said, “But it is much better than having it to be a bomb. If there was a bombing at a shopping mall in the middle of Metro Manila, I want you to think about the kind of travel advisory America would have to put out and the devastating impact that would have on business.”

Again, these statements were made before the PNP has come out with its final and official conclusion.

Given these pre-emptive statements by two very important personalities, I wouldn’t blame the PNP if they get a feeling that they will be doing the country a great favor if their final report says that the blast was an accidental explosion. After all, they would be saving the country from “economic tragedy”.

I fully understand the concern of the Executive Secretary and the US Ambassador about the effect on our country if it comes out that the Glorietta explosion was a terrorist attack.

Reading between the lines of their statements, do they mean to say that it is justifiable to cover up a terrorist attack since it will save the country from economic disaster?

To give those statements even before the PNP comes out with an official conclusion is irresponsible. It is an invitation for the PNP to come out with a desired and directed conclusion by providing a moral justification.
I chose to step into the picture at this time because I am worried that if we continue to allow the PNP to conduct the investigation the way it is doing now, the final report will only be tainted with doubt, and the PNP accused of doing either an incompetent or biased investigation. Worse, the PNP might even come out as having deliberately directed the investigation towards a conclusion that isn’t beyond reasonable doubt.

Over the past couple of weeks, the PNP has been trying to convince the people that what happened in Glorietta 2 was an accidental gas explosion. I say “trying to convince the people” because day after day, they have been simply issuing press statements asserting the theory of the gas explosion without even explaining how it could have been set off. Up to now, they are still in the process of looking into, or looking for, the process by which the supposedly accidental blast occurred.

In other words, they first came up with the end result and then searched for the process by which it could have happened. The problem with this method is that investigators will have the tendency to look for evidence to support their theory instead of objectively gathering evidence and eventually arrive a conclusion.

This is contrary to what the President directed the PNP to do in a statement she made immediately after the blast. In the website of the Office of the President, a news article quoted the President as ordering the PNP “to get to the bottom of things and to leave no stone unturned.”

But instead of “leaving no stone unturned”, the PNP chose to ignore the findings of its own forensic team, adopt a preferred conclusion then looked for ways and means to support that conclusion.

While this representation concedes that the PNP has the mandate and capability to investigate the blast and make a conclusion, my experience in inquiries and investigations as a member of this House for six years and as a senate technical staff member for seven years gives me enough credentials to determine when investigations leave some stones unturned. Actually, anyone with common sense can tell that in this investigation, the PNP left at least one stone unturned.

RDX

The stone I am referring to is actually a white, crystalline powder known as RDX, which stands for Royal Demolition eXplosive. It is also known as cyclonite, hexogen or Cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine. Its chemical formula is C3H6N6O6. The chemical name for RDX is 1,3,5-trinitro-1,3,5-triazine. It is a substance that is very explosive.

According to the United States Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, “RDX is used as an explosive and is also used in combination with other ingredients in explosives. Its odor and taste are unknown. It is a synthetic product that does not occur naturally in the environment. It creates fumes when it is burned with other substances.”

The United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), an agency of the U.S. government mandated to enforce laws o explosives, among others, includes RDX in its list of Explosive Materials.

United States Federal Law classifies RDX as a military explosive, subject to regulation by federal law. Title 22, Chapter 39, Sub-chapter III, Section 2778 of the United States Code, or the Control of Arms Exports and Imports mandates the presidential control of exports and imports of defense articles and the designation of the United States Munitions List.

The said law provides the authority for the International Traffic in Arms Regulations which includes the United States Munitions List, where RDX is listed as a Category V Military Explosive . IN fact, C4, a military explosive, is 91% RDX.
RDX is not produced commercially in the United States. Production in the United States is limited to Army ammunition plants such as Holston Army ammunition plant in Kingsport, Tennessee, which has been operating at 10-20% capacity. Several Army ammunition plants, such as Louisiana (Shreveport, Louisiana), Lone Star (Texarkana, Texas), Iowa (Middletown, Iowa), and Milan (Milan, Tennessee), also handle and package RDX.

PNP Crime Lab Finds RDX in Blast Site

So when Chief Insp. Grace Eustaquio, head of the PNP Crime Laboratory Chemistry Division reported directly to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the rest of the National Security Council that traces of RDX were found in the Glorietta 2 blast site, the theory of an intentional explosion had enough basis.

Chief Inspector Eustaquio, upon questioning by the members of the NSC stressed that, “It (RDX) is the main component of C4 and is a high explosive. As such, the extent of damage it can cause is really tremendous.” Senior Supt. Albert Ferro of the PNP Bomb Data Center said that from 2005 and 2006 information, “we can presume those [explosives] are of military ordnance components. We presume that those explosives could be of that origin.”

Initial on-site assessment by the PNP combined with the findings of the PNP Crime Lab even prompted the Chief of the PNP, Director General Avelino Razon to make an initial observation that the blast may have been caused by a bomb.

Director General Razon may not have been out of line when he initially suspected that a bomb may have caused the blast. After all, one week before the Glorietta 2 explosion, the Chief of the Philippine National Police issued a statement citing intelligence reports that terrorists were planning to launch attacks after the period of Ramadan ended. General Razon even placed Metro Manila on red alert and ordered the increase in security measures in malls and other public places and ironically, the conduct of information drives on with “emphasis on the ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ during bomb threat situations to preempt terrorist activities.”

Even National Security Adviser, who has immense clout over the government’s intelligence operations, said that the terror group Abu Sayyaf may have had a hand in the explosion.

Because of what the PNP reported to the National Security Council regarding its initial findings, the President was prompted to make a call for legislators to pass “legislation that would make the illegal possession of explosives a non-bailable offense.” Bounties were even put up in exchange for information leading to the apprehension of the suspects. The President offered 2 Million Pesos, Makati Mayor Jojo Binay put up 1 Million Pesos and our colleague, Rep. Iggy Arroyo put up another 1 Million Pesos.

The findings of RDX in the blast site should have been enough to sustain an investigation into the bombing angle. It was physical evidence that was gathered by a competent authority, and the PNP was confident enough to report it to the National Security Council.

PUZZLING TURN-AROUND

But what is puzzling was the sudden turn-around that the PNP did with regard to the angle of an explosion that was deliberately set off. Without any logical reason, the PNP simply ignored the findings of RDX in the site and went on to pursue a theory which at that time still had not enough evidence to support it.

Only one evidence is needed to adequately support a continued investigation of the bomb theory— the presence of a bomb device, component or residue. And RDX is a bomb residue.

Two days after the first National Security Council meeting where the PNP told the NSC that RDX was found in the blast site, they suddenly offered the theory of an accidental gas explosion. Without offering an acceptable explanation regarding the presence of RDX in Glorietta 2, the PNP dropped the bomb theory like a hot potato and suddenly turned their eyes toward the accidental blast proposition, and later on showing extraordinary efforts in trying to prove it.

It is worthy to note that up to this very day, the PNP has not refuted, debunked or written off as a mistake the findings of the PNP Crime Lab of the presence of RDX in Glorietta 2. But in order to downplay the presence the explosive substance, the PNP hierarchy, including the DILG secretary, told the public that RDX can be found in everyday consumer products such as deodorants, aerosols and toothpaste.

But the PNP has never proven that RDX is found in aerosols and deodorants. Assuming, without admitting that RDX is indeed found in such everyday consumer products, they have also never sufficiently proven that the RDX found in the blast site came from a deodorant. They can’t even point to a particular brand of aerosol, deodorant or hair spray which contains RDX.

It is simply an unfounded conclusion based on a fallacy.

RDX NOT FOUND IN DEODORANTS

Contrary to what the authorities claim, RDX is not found in consumer products such as deodorants, aerosols or toothpaste. I just don’t know whether the claim was out of ignorance, incompetence or a deliberate attempt to mislead, but dropping the investigation into the bomb angle on the basis of this claim is preposterous.

Last October 14, an explosion ripped through a theater in Ludhiana in India. The initial findings of investigators led them to believe that the explosion was caused by a bomb laced with RDX to make it more powerful. At the early stages of the investigation, they said that RDX may have been used “to give more charge to the explosive material so that the flying splinters could cover more areas to cause injuries.”

Just like the initial assessment of Director General Razon, the physical damage caused by the explosion led authorities to suspect a bomb.

Later on, the investigators found traces of RDX which led them to further investigate the bombing angle . Why? Because RDX is an explosive substance. When found in a blast site, it is highly indicative of an intentional explosion.

In other countries, when RDX is found, it is investigated further to determine with certainty the reason for its presence in the site. Here in the Philippines, it is dismissed with a claim that it is negligible because it is found in deodorants.

But as earlier pointed out, RDX is an explosive substance. 99.99% of my research findings reveal that RDX is defined as an explosive and used as an explosive. The only other non-explosive use that I found for RDX is that of rat poison.

My research revealed that RDX is harmful to humans, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined that it is a “possible human carcinogen”. In one study, RDX caused tumors in mice.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry of the U.S. Department of Health, “RDX can cause seizures (a problem of the nervous system) in humans and animals when large amounts are inhaled or eaten… Nausea and vomiting have also been seen.”

Health agencies in the United States also recommend regulated exposure of RDX to humans. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has recommended an exposure limit of 1.5 milligrams RDX per cubic meter of air (1.5 mg/m³) for a 10-hour workday, 40-hour workweek. The NIOSH short-term exposure limit, which is the highest level of RDX that they recommend workers be exposed to for 15 minutes, is 3 mg/m³.

The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) also recommends an exposure limit of 1.5 mg/m³ in workplace air for an 8-hour workday, 40-hour workweek.

In fact, the release of RDX into the environment has been investigated by US government agencies, particularly in areas where there are RDX manufacturing plants, military bases and ammunition testing grounds.
There is no information available to support the claim that RDX can be found in aerosols, deodorants or any other consumer product.

In fact, our own Bureau of Food and Drugs say that they have not approved of any consumer product such as deodorants, aerosols or toothpastes which contain RDX since there are absolutely no products which have RDX as ingredients. Even if there are, it would not be approved for consumption by the public because information available says that RDX is a toxic substance.

If indeed, there are products being sold locally which contain RDX, then that will be a matter for another investigation because how can we allow a substance that has been established as toxic to humans be an ingredient in a consumer product?

OTHER EXCUSES FOR RDX

Perhaps in an attempt to further downplay or explain the presence of RDX, the PNP tried to suggest that RDX could be found in diesel, methane or the combination of both .

It is another preposterous claim since even a high school chemistry student can say that’s impossible. RDX is a compound containing nitrates while diesel and methane are hydrocarbons. The molecular formula of RDX is C3H6N6O6 , while methane is CH4 and diesel is C12H23. How can the two have RDX in them?

Even a combined or separate combustion of both methane and diesel will not produce RDX. According to my research, the most common method of RDX manufacture used is the continuous Bachmann process. The Bachmann process involves reacting hexamine with nitric acid, ammonium nitrate, glacial acetic acid, and acetic anhydride. The crude product is filtered and recrystallized to form RDX. Nowhere are methane and / or diesel used to create RDX.

WHAT DO FOREIGN INVESTIGATORS SAY?

What do the foreign investigators say about the PNP Crime Lab’s findings?
Nothing. Not because they did not find RDX, but because they did not look for it. Their investigation did not touch on the findings of the PNP Crime Lab. As far as the US investigators’ negative findings, Director General Razon himself explained the answer—the US investigators swabbed the areas outside the blast zone, instead of ground zero, where the PNP investigators took their samples.

In an October 22 news article, Dir. Gen. Razon was quoted as saying:
“The [US] tests are negative because when the US experts arrived at the blast site, they swabbed the exterior portions or the portions that were not directly at the center, or at the seat, of the explosion. That’s why it tested negative.

But when the PNP Crime Laboratory personnel conducted their swabs, it was in the general vicinity of the seat of the explosion. That is the explanation why the swabbing of US experts showed negative results for RDX.”
Still the PNP Chief upheld the findings of the PNP Crime Lab when he said that the reported traces of RDX “still stands”

But we wonder, what is the opinion of the foreign investigators about the traces of RDX found in the blast site? While they have provided answers to the diesel tank explosion theory, we do not hear them dismissing RDX as being found in consumer products just as the PNP claims.

In fact even the Australians, which the PNP is fond of quoting relative to the gas blast theory, asked the Philippines to pursue the bomb theory .

LEAVE NO STONE UNTURNED

I rose today to bring to the attention of this House the unanswered questions about the Glorietta 2 blast and to present the reasons why this House should prod the PNP to follow what the President ordered them to do—to leave no stone unturned.

There are only three possible explanations about the blast:

1. It was an accidental explosion brought about by the confluence of different conditions existing in the site;
2. It was an intentional explosion set off by a terrorist;
3. It was an intentional explosion set off by persons connected to the military or government, as suggested by a senator.

It is the duty and obligation of the mandated authorities, in this case, the PNP, to eliminate the possibilities based on material evidence, established procedures, and scientific processes. Only after each possibility is tested and eliminated can a conclusion be arrived at.

The innocent lives lost in the Glorietta 2 bombing deserve justice. If the explosion was an act of terrorism, we must pursue the terrorists and punish them to the full extent of the law. If the perpetrators came from other groups, such as those theorized by other personalities, then let them be answerable and be punished. If it was indeed an accident, then let us go after those who are liable for negligence.

But we cannot, should not, let the PNP proceed with even one stone unturned. The presence of RDX is one such stone, which seems to have been successfully relegated by the PNP to the wayside.

The burning question is why did the PNP not pursue the RDX / C4 / bomb theory? Why did they dismiss the RDX findings with an unfounded excuse such as RDX being an ingredient of deodorants or cosmetics? Why did they not conduct scientific tests to disprove the bomb theory?

While I acknowledge the possibility of an accidental gas blast, why was this theory obviously given preference early on in the investigation?

Is it incompetence or deliberate dismissal of a valuable piece of evidence?

Is it an innocent oversight or a malicious cover up?

These are questions that beg for answers. And the answers must come before any conclusion is drawn up by the PNP investigation. If not, the results will only be placed under a cloud of doubt and suspicion and justice would not have been served.
Therefore, I am calling on the House of Representatives to conduct an inquiry, which may also serve as a basis for legislation, into the manner in which the PNP conducted its investigation, of an incident which has security implications due to the presence of a military type explosive substance. I move that this speech be referred to the Committee on National Defense and Security in order for the truth behind the explosions to be revealed.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, Thank you distinguished colleagues.

ACCIDENTAL BLAST IN GLORIETTA 2: IS THE EXECUTIVE SECRETARY AND US AMBASSADOR LEADING THE PNP TO A DESIRED CONCLUSION?

Posted in Governance with tags , , , on November 6, 2007 by Ruffy Biazon

Statements coming from the Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and US Ambassador Kristie Kenney seem to be pointing the police investigation into the Glorietta 2 explosion towards a conclusion that is more of a desired outcome rather than a factual result.

The Philippine National Police, although already leaning towards the accidental blast theory, is still saying that they have not ruled out all angles, including a terror attack. They are still in the process of investigating the incident and have not come out with a final report.

This makes the statements of the Executive Secretary and the US Ambassador pre-emptive and inappropriate. At worst, given that the police are in the middle of an investigation, it may be said to be irresponsible.

Last week, Executive Secretary Ermita said that he was relieved that a terror attack had been ruled out, although that time until now, the PNP still does not have a final report. He said that the country’s economy would be “graveley affected” had the explosion been attributed to a terrorist attack. He was quoted as saying, “It will affect our economy, our standing in the world community, our international investors, mabuti na lang at hindi talaga mga terorista iyan.” Again, this statement was made while the investigation was still going on and the PNP was making statements that the terror angle was still not categorically ruled out.

Today, Ambassador Kenney was reported to have cautioned those who say the blast was not an accident “should realize what a terror attack in Metro Manila would mean to the country.”

Although she said that an accident in the heart of a city “is never a good thing,” she also said, “But it is much better than having it to be a bomb. If there was a bombing at a shopping mall in the middle of Metro Manila, I want you to think about the kind of travel advisory America would have to put out and the devastating impact that would have on business.”

The ambassador’s concern is very much appreciated by her statement gives one a feeling that the Philippines has no choice but to say it is an accidental explosion otherwise, America will cut us off from the world with a travel advisory. Whatever happened to the war against terror?

Given these pre-emptive statements by two very important personalities, I wouldn’t blame the PNP if they get a feeling that they will be doing the country a great favor if their final report says that the blast was an accidental explosion. After all, they would be saving the country from what the two officials portray as an economic tragedy.

These statements issued while there is an ongoing investigation may affect its outcome. The statements provide a “moral justification” in directing the investigation towards a more desirable conclusion and may be misconstrued as encouraging a cover up. It puts pressure on the investigators to pursue one angle instead of exploring all angles then systematically and scientifically eliminating the impossible and coming up with the truth.