Archive for February, 2009

The Philippines Vs. The Superpowers: Upholding Sovereignty

Posted in Governance, Philippines and the Filipinos with tags , , , , , , on February 21, 2009 by Ruffy Biazon

Article II, Section 7. The State shall pursue an independent foreign policy. In its relations with other states, the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination.

Sovereignty. The very essence of being an independent nation.

Two issues confront the Philippines which will put to the test how we uphold and defend our nation’s sovereignty. Both will bring us on a collision course with the two Superpowers of the World and how our country’s leaders will decide on the matter will show how much we really value our sovereignty.

We are now facing a curious situation where the three branches of government, prescribed by our Constitution as co-equals, will be pitted against each other on a matter that would probably benefit a foreign nation.

The first is the case of Mr. Smith. Daniel Smith. Or more accurately, United States Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, who was convicted of raping a Filipina and is now serving sentence in a room inside the U.S. Embassy in Manila.

His incarceration in a U.S. facility sparked objections and protests from nationalists and ordinary Filipino citizens who believed that the marine should have been imprisoned in the same prison where Filipinos convicted of the same crime are sent to serve their sentence. But the people’s protests fell on deaf ears and everyone was witness to how the Department of Interior and Local Government spirited Smith out of detention and delivered him safely to the U.S. Embassy.

Several years have passed and people seem to have forgotten about Smith. Now comes a Supreme Court decision which says that convict Smith should be incarcerated under Philippine authorities. The highest court of the land instructed the government to renegotiate with the United States for the transfer of Smith to Philippine custody.

What is noticeable is that the Philippine government seems to be dragging its feet on this Supreme Court decision, even to the point of appearing to be siding with the Americans. One would expect that the government, which is sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution, will act in full consonance and wilfull compliance with the decision of the Supreme Court. That does not seem to be the case.

In fact, one suggestion from a high administration official, which seems to be more of an insult to the Constitution and the sovereign Filipino people than an effort to propose a solution, was that Smith could be detained in the Philippine Embassy in the United States. The official said that it would still comply with the Supreme Court’s decision. Technically yes, it might comply, but doesn’t it smack of intellectual dishonesty since such an act is obviously not in the spirit of sovereignty?

On the other hand, the same government is trying to puff and beat its chest like a gorilla in the face of the People’s Republic of China’s protest against the Philippine Baselines Bill which outlines the territorial boundaries of the Philippines.

By an act of Congress, another co-equal branch of government, the country’s boundaries were prescribed by the Baselines Bill (soon to be the Baselines Law) in compliance to the requirement of the country’s being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

After the bill was passed by the Senate and House of Representatives and is now ready for the signature of the President, China expressed its objection and even summoned the Philippine Charge d’Affairs to explain the matter, an act which is actually a diplomatic flexing of muscles to assert sovereignty.

In contrast to its actuations with regard to the Smith case, the Executive Branch this time gave an appearance of upholding Philippine sovereignty by stressing that the President will sign the bill into law inspite of protests by China.

Conveniently forgetting its lackluster defense of sovereignty against the Americans, the government boasted that it will stand up to China’s protests because the Baseline bill is an issue of sovereignty. Empty boasts, double standards, hypocrisy. Call it by different names, but one thing is clear—Article II, Section 7 of the Constitution is inconsistently upheld.

Philippine sovereignty is absolute. The Constitution says so. Therefore, government has the obligation and the duty to defend the country’s sovereignty, no matter against who. We should defend and uphold it against China and the United States, even if they are the world’s superpowers.

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The Democracy We Love So Dear

Posted in Governance, Inner Thoughts, Politics and Politicians with tags , , , on February 4, 2009 by Ruffy Biazon

I am sure that if I say that Filipinos love their freedom and democracy like they love their own family, no one will raise a howl of protest.

To that, there is no debate. But will everyone also agree with the statement that if we love our democracy like we love our family, then it follows that just like what we sometimes do with our family, we take democracy for granted?

If we can take our family for granted once in a while, more so democracy, right? If we set aside hypocrisy, I am pretty sure that everyone of us has been guilty of taking our family for granted at some point in our life.

I will admit to that. For example, when I prioritized an invitation by one of my constituents over the desire of my sons to bring them to the mall on a weekend, I was guilty of taking them for granted. When I immediately responded to a text message of a voter while I forget to reply to one sent by my wife, I took her for granted. When I joined the funeral caravan of one of my supporters who died and yet I don’t regularly visit my mother who is alive and well, I was once again guilty of taking her for granted.

I can justify myself by saying that it was all part of my work as a public official representing a particular constituency. After all, they elected me into office. But while I have a public duty to be available for my constituents, I have a personal obligation to my family who did not elect me into my position as father, husband or son, but it is an obligation that is bound by blood and in the case of my wife, my conscious and willful decision to dedicate my life to her.

Terms of public office have an ending. My relationship with my family does not. Even after my eventual death, they will continue to be my family. So taking them for granted is not justifiable. The only worse offense is denying that we take them for granted.

Going back to the opening statement, if we are guilty of taking our family for granted, what more our freedom and democracy?

Perhaps the average Filipino will never realize and admit that especially if he/she does not know how it feels to be deprived of liberty and rights. Especially the younger generation who were not able to experience the Japanese occupation in World War 2 or the dark days of Martial Law under the Marcos dictatorship.

I came to reflect about this while attending a seminar here in Germany where the air is clean and clear, the sights are awesome and the atmosphere is friendly because in our discussions about political communication, the experiences shared by my fellow attendees led me to think about the situation in my own country.

Not that it is the first time I’ve heard about the situation in Myanmar, Cambodia, China or even Palestine. My attendance of many international conferences have given me insights about the situations in other countries much more than what one can get from the news, especially because these insights are actual experiences of people living in those countries.

But being away from my family and missing them and being out of the country and missing it, plus hearing the experience of others in a less than ideal state of liberty compelled me to deliver a message to those who care to receive it.

In one of the sessions of the seminar I am presently attending, we were organized into collective interests of the countries in our region. Our group was composed of the Philippines, China, Myanmar, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.

In our group’s discussions, we talked about the situations in our respective countries, particularly the state of freedom and democracy, this whole seminar being an activity of organizations and political parties of liberal ideology.

As the members of our group shared stories about the lack of press freedom, the stifling of freedom of expression of individuals, the suppression of the freedom of association, the distortion or even absence of the right of suffrage, and many other stories of the democracy being trampled upon by government itself, I looked back to my country and, with a prayer of thanks, felt relieved that the Philippines is not in a similar condition.

While the high levels of corruption and bad governance is present in all countries, the personal liberties in the Philippines is much more protected and exercised compared to other countries.

While we in the Philippines complain about newspapers being biased one way or the other and broadcast networks slug it out for market share and advertising, in other countries, the press and broadcast are controlled by the state and the information that comes out are only those which the state wants the people to know. Of course, all of that would be government propaganda.

While in the Philippines homeowners association bicker among themselves, in other countries, three people could not even assemble to discuss the fate of their neighborhood.

While Filipinos buy and sell votes, others pay with their lives just to fight for the right to cast their ballot or even just to have elections at all.

It is good to be exposed to the conditions of other countries. It gives one the insight and perspective of what is present and absent in one’s own country, in the context of living in a global community.

During these times leading to the elections of 2010, Filipinos are quite pre-occupied with the elections as an event instead of it being an opportunity for charting the destiny of our country.

Politicians and political parties are busy organizing for their campaigns and concocting gimmicks to get the support of the voters. The people are all looking for a “Filipino Obama”, inspired by the success of President Obama’s campaign.

But perhaps, we should all step back and ask ourselves…what are we fighting for in this political battle? Is it just to gain power? Is it to put into office someone who cleverly presents himself as our savior?

In the frenzy of pre-election period, we should all step back and return to familiarizing ourselves with the ideals and aspirations we have as a nation. We should rekindle our passion for the basic principles that binds us a free nation. It is time to reflect on the things we have taken for granted these past years.

Many are being mesmerized by dazzle of President Obama’s victory in the US elections. Many are now looking for a Filipino Obama. Some have even insinuated they are the Filipino Obama. We are falling into the trap of hero worship and messianic mindsets.

But as I have said before, President Obama did not win by himself. It is foolish to think that he is a superhuman and that it would be possible to imitate his success just by imitating his persona, adopting his campaign plan and “doing an Obama”.

What the Filipino people should do is “do an America”.

What many fail to realize is that Obama won because the American people chose the candidate who reflected the ideals, principles and aspirations that they themselves had. Sure, Obama is an eloquent and convincing speaker, has a charming personality and good campaign plans.

But what we Filipinos fail to appreciate is that the American people hold other things more dear to them than the persona of a candidate and his campaign plan. Many other candidates in US elections have presented those qualities but were unsuccessful, but those who reflected the ideals of the Americans as a nation were the ones chosen by the American people.

President Obama himself knew that, and that’s how he got the support of the people. He always said that his candidacy was not about him but about the American people. In his book, he wrote that in response to cynical comments he told people that,

“….there is another tradition to politics, a tradition that stretched from the days of the country’s founding to the glory of the civil rights movement, a tradition based on the simple idea that we have a stake in one another, and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and that if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done.”

Note that he reminded people of the basic ideals that they have as a nation, ideals that are carried over generation after generation. He did not present himself as a savior, rather he encouraged the people to take action themselves.

In the Philippines, we seem to have set aside the ideals we should hold so dear. We tend to look at personalities, the patron who would answer for all out needs. This is evidenced by people who keep on saying “we need a Filipino Obama” for change to happen.

Leaders, especially those who have an interest in assuming power in 2010, present themselves as the key to the problems of the country. Relying heavily in marketing themselves and putting the best face or foot forward, they fail to recognize and acknowledge that change comes from the people, not just from themselves.

The time for a new beginning for the Philippines is near. But if we want to be successful in achieving genuine change, we should not take for granted the country’s fundamental values and ideals. That is one thing that binds us all. While we have many dialects, ethnicity, traditions, cultures and political leanings, we all have something in common—-the desire for freedom and democracy, the aspirations for the fulfillment of individual dreams and the values that are unique to us.

For the change we are hoping for in 2010, let’s not look for someone who will “do an Obama”. Let’s “do an America”.

Planes, Trains, and Automobile…my trip to Gummersbach

Posted in Inner Thoughts, Travel with tags , , , , on February 3, 2009 by Ruffy Biazon

It’s my first time to Germany. The land of the BMW, of famed engineering prowess and of impressive punctuality and clockwork, has always been of fascination for me. I don’t know if it is an offshoot of my fascination with World War II, but I have always looked at Germany and Germans with fondness and admiration. Not that I’m a fan of Hitler (which definitely I am not), but their adherence to efficiency and excellence is something that I look up to.

Not to mention that in spite of the short time in history when mention of Germans evoked images of stormtroopers, the holocaust and Hitler’s Third Reich, the Germans of today are strict advocates of democracy and liberty.

It is through the German organization Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) that I was given the privilege to participate in a seminar on Strategic Political Communication in Gummersbach, located in the German state of North Rhine Westphalia (NRW). The FNF, which is locally partnered in the Philippines with the Liberal Party, endeavors to spread and inculcate the principles of Liberal Democracy, which basically gives primacy to the individual’s right and opportunity to develop oneself and ensure others are able to do so too.

With that principle as a framework, the seminar intends to impart on the participants the principles and skills of conveying to their constituents the programs, plans, and platforms of their respective organizations back home. So with 21 other participants from countries in Asia, South and Central America, Europe and the former Soviet Union, I was selected as the Liberal Party of the Philippines representative to the seminar.

I left Manila on January 31, half eager and half reluctant (because I was going to miss my wife and kids for the next 9 days), but nonetheless prepared to learn new things which I can bring back to my party and my country.

The flight took off from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport at 8:00 pm, for a two hour flight to Hong Kong, my first stop. Fortunately, due to my Mabuhay Miles membership and the vacant seats in the flight, I was upgraded from economy to business class. At least for the first two hours, I was comfortable in the wider seat of business class, since the economy class seats are not a good fit (because I fit exactly in the seat) for my wide body.

The one hour and a half stopover in Hong Kong was long enough for me to be able to prepare and stretch out before I board the Lufthansa flight to Munich, Germany. That leg of the trip was the dreadful part, since it was going to be a 12-hour flight in economy class.

As expected, the flight from Hong Kong to Munich, my port of entry into the European Union, took its toll on me. Although I was fortunate enough to be seated in an aisle seat, the narrow seat and the short legroom ensured that I had the best upright position not just during take-off and landing but also during the entire flight. Sleeping was almost out of the question except during the last four hours of the flight when I was able to doze off simply because I was too tired from trying to get sleep. I was able to get about an hour and a half shuteye.

After landing in Munich International Airport and checking through immigration, I had about three hours to spare before I get on another plane to fly to Cologne. I tried to sleep on the airport benches, but somehow, I couldn’t. It was around midday to early afternoon back in Manila and my body was still in that time zone.

The flight to Cologne was just about an hour, so even though I was still cramped in my seat, it was more bearable. If I could withstand the 12 hour trip, what’s an hour more?

When I arrived at Cologne, I got the first taste of the cold German winter weather. Although it wasn’t snowing, the cold breeze cut through my clothing, making it necessary for me to open my luggage and get the thick jacket I brought with me.

I was supposed to be met by a driver from the Academy, but unfortunately, I didn’t see him. I tried to call the Academy but somehow, I couldn’t get through the line. After concluding that I wouldn’t be able to rely on being picked up by the Academy driver, I decided to go to Gummersbach by myself.

At first I thought I can simply take a cab. But the Ilocano blood flows in my veins so I decided the more economical mode of transportation—by rail. Thankfully, the airport had a train station. After asking some general directions from the information desk, I boarded the S-Bahn in the Cologne/Bonn Airport train terminal to Cologne Central Station where I’m supposed to transfer to another train which will take me to Gummersbach.

It sounds simple, but when you’re in the train station in a country where it is your first time to go to, with some language obstacles, the simple becomes complicated, even intimidating.

As I was in the train, a certain part of me had the jitters that I might be in the wrong train and headed towards the bowels of Germany where I would definitely be lost carrying my handcarry luggage and a big suitcase.

But the beautiful scenery of the German countryside made the trip more interesting and enjoyable. It was made even more pleasurable when snow started to fall in a couple of towns that we passed through. In some places, snow completely covered the ground, although just several centimeters deep. Still, it was exciting for me since the lat time I saw snow was when I was six during our one-year stay in the United States while my father attended Amphibious Warfare School in Quantico, Virginia.

After about 45 minutes train ride, I arrived at Gummersbach, which is just a small town outside Cologne. It was so small that when I walked out of the train station towards the bus station, I could count the people in the streets around me with just the fingers of my two hands. Being a Sunday, the establishments were closed with most of the people at home, unlike in the Philippines where the street and mall population multiply tenfold during that one day in the week when people can take time off from their busy week.
I tried to get a taxi to go to the Academy but the taxis were probably also on day off. I tried to call the Academy again, this time successfully and was able to request for someone to pick me up.

While waiting, it got colder and I had to open my luggage again to get my scarf and gloves. It felt like I was standing inside a freezer and the cold air was already permeating my head causing a minor headache.

After several minutes, my ride finally arrived in the person of an Academy staff named Denise. A German girl. Pointlessly, the song from the 80’s entitled “German Girl” came to my mind…

I arrived at the International Academy of Leadership in Gummersbach, Germany around 2:30PM local time. By then, I had traveled for 24 hours via planes, trains, and automobile.

As I entered my room and fell on the bed like a fallen log, I felt the fatigue finally seep through my body and slumbered off to Napland. But not before setting the alarm at 5:30 PM in time for our welcome session at 6:30PM. With much anticipation for what I was going to learn, I dozed off.