Friday, October 25, 2013

Burden of remembrance

Asahi Shimbun, a major Japanese national newspaper, reported recently that the Japanese government deliberately avoided the “comfort women” issue in Southeast Asia because of the negative public attention it might generate. The report was based on diplomatic documents the newspaper obtained through Japan’s information disclosure law.
When the comfort women issue became hot news in 1992 and 1993, Japan decided to interview alleged victims in South Korea and issued a pledge to launch similar probes in other countries. But according to diplomatic documents dated July 30, 1993, which Asahi Shimbun was able to obtain, the Japanese government’s official policy was not to conduct interviews with former comfort women in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Lola Fidencia David was forced to be a sex slave for Japanese soldiers who
invaded the Philippines during World War II. Now 86, she is still campaigning
for an apology from Japan. Photo by Rick Madonik/Toronto Star. Click link to view "Forgotten Slaves: The
Comfort Women of the Philippines."
A telegram from the Japanese government to its embassies in the said three countries stated that “we want to avoid (interviews) as much as possible also from the viewpoint that we should ward off a situation in that we only end up fanning public interest unnecessarily.”
Last October 23 in Manila, the Japanese ambassador to the Philippines Toshinao Urabe said that Japan had already settled the demands of Filipino wartime sex slaves for an official apology and just compensation. The ambassador was apparently referring to a 2001 letter of apology issued by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and the Asian Women‘s Fund, a charitable organization established in 1995 with Japanese government financial assistance for the purpose of collecting donations from the public as “atonement money” and carrying out programs to help the victims.
Most of the former comfort women in South Korea refused the 2 million yen ($20,618) in atonement money, demanding Japanese government compensation instead. The group of comfort women in the Philippines dismissed the apologies of Japanese government officials for not being the government's official apology, and the assistance from the Asian Women's Fund which was donated from the Japanese people, and not from the government. The said fund was eventually dissolved in 2007.
Only about 130 Filipino comfort women are believed to be still alive today. One of them, Lola Fidencia David, now 86 years old, continues to campaign for an official apology from the Japanese government. Lola Fidencia visited Toronto recently to speak about the harrowing details of sexual abuse she suffered from the hands of Japanese soldiers when she was only 14.
After the war was over, Lola Fidencia married young but it wasn’t a successful union. She scavenged from garbage dumps to provide for her children. The children never became aware of the abuse she suffered during the war although they noticed sometimes that she would be uncommunicative when she had flashbacks of her traumatic experience.
When a group of Korean comfort women came out in 1990, Lola Fidencia found the courage to tell her children about her sexual abuse. She also joined a group of survivors called Lolas Kampanyera Survivors Organization, which has persevered in demanding an official apology and just compensation from the Japanese government.
It would be easier today to condemn and indict any government for war crimes under existing international law which now recognizes war rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity as a crime against humanity if the action is part of a widespread or systematic practice. The comfort women forced to become sex slaves by the Japanese military during World War II unfortunately did not have the same kind of protection. Although the sexual abuses they suffered are appalling and inexcusable, the most they have demanded the Japanese government is an official admission that they were forced to become purveyors of sexual comfort to their soldiers and a genuine apology for this shameful wrong.
According to Lola Fidencia’s testimony before a crowd of students at the University of Toronto last week, she was abducted from her home and lured with the promise of work in a factory, just like the other comfort women she knew. This story would be repeated by similar testimonies from other comfort women from South Korea, China, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Once the women were recruited, they were then interned by the Japanese in “comfort stations” where soldiers took turns raping and abusing them day and night. The testimonies from these women bore the fact that the practice was both systematic and organized with the singular aim to treat them as slaves for the sexual gratification of Japanese soldiers. 
Korean comfort women who were rescued and were protected in Lameng, Yunan,
September 3, 1945. Photo courtesy of  the US National Archives.
Prostitution was open and well-organized in Japan before the war so it was considered logical that there should be organized prostitution to serve the Japanese Armed Forces to provide comfort to soldiers and prevent discontent among them. This was clearly the argument used by the Japanese government in justifying the existence of military brothels and hiring of prostitutes for the army.
The Japanese even referred to military brothels the Nazis established in concentration camps for the sexual gratification of German soldiers and officers. Ironically, military brothels that provided sexual services to soldiers also existed during and after the Korean War where separate “comfort stations” were maintained for U.N./U.S. and South Korean soldiers.
This is the undeniable truth: comfort women kept by the Japanese army during the war were not prostitutes. They were lured and forced to provide sexual services to soldiers against their will. But the Japanese government maintains that there was no evidence that these women were forced and kept as sex slaves. They insist that these comfort women lived in military brothels attached to the army and were treated well because their food was not rationed and they had plenty of money to buy articles they wanted such as clothes, shoes, cigarettes and cosmetics.
In other words, these women were prostitutes to the eyes of the Japanese government. Hence, why they are called “comfort women,” a translation of the Japanese ianfu which is a euphemism for shōfu, whose meaning is prostitute. In the words of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, "The fact is, there is no evidence to prove there was coercion.”
Except for admitting that military brothels existed, the continuing denial by the Japanese government that comfort women were forced to provide sexual services to soldiers is a clear attempt to diminish the crimes they committed during the war. In fact, this is part of a greater scheme among contemporary Japanese revisionists to spread the big lie that Japan’s invasion of China and Southeast Asia were justified responses to Western imperialism at that time.
Historical revisionism is the most convenient last resort of those who wish to deny and avoid the enormous burden placed on them by the truth and the wrongs they committed. We see this in those who deny the holocaust. Omission by the Japanese of their military aggression and atrocities during World War II in history classes taught in schools is a clear minimization of their war crimes. Conspiracies are born every minute catastrophic events happen, like presidential assassinations, the 9/11 attack, or the Boston marathon bombing, which are all designed to blur the truth in the collective consciousness.
That comfort women were not forced as sex slaves during the war amounts to defiance by the Japanese government of the existential cruelty of the Japanese military. That only military brothels existed where prostitutes were allowed to escape the war’s hardships in exchange for their sexual services only obfuscates reality, an illegitimate distortion of an actual historical record. This is revisionist Japan understanding Plato’s dictum that “those who tell the stories also hold the power."
There are limits to remembrance, especially when the victims are powerless like these comfort women. When a mighty country like Japan re-interprets history to make it more palatable and less culpable and inhuman, the pain, anguish and indignity that comfort women suffered are diminished. Japan’s intransigence to be pious to the facts and events of the war they aggressively pushed and their deliberate attempts to revise the interpretation of those events make history the antithesis of remembrance.
There is neither a physical monument nor space in the collective consciousness to memorialize the suffering of all comfort women. In the long run when the last survivors of the comfort women have died, nothing else will be remembered, and this is an unpleasant truth.
The campaign for an official apology from the Japanese government is weakened by the lack of support from the national governments of these comfort women, with the exception of South Korea. Politics play a major role for this muted response from these governments, not to mention access to foreign loans and assistance from Japan.
In the end, all the comfort women can hope for is to dwell on George Santayana’s warning that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But to those of us who wish to learn from history, there is always the assumption that remembrance has the ethical superiority over forgetting. For to remember is to be responsible while to forget is not only irresponsible but the precursor to a descent into an abyss of moral cowardice and into believing that nothing is ever worthwhile.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Depoliticizing Malampaya

So much of the controversy about the Malampaya Fund focuses on whether the President has the authority to use the Fund for purposes other than to finance energy resource development and exploitation programs as originally intended.
While the Malampaya gas field off the shores of Palawan would be discovered 18 years later, this is the intent of the Special Fund established by Presidential Decree 910 issued by Ferdinand Marcos during the second year of martial law in 1973. The aforementioned Fund shall be collected from fees, revenues, fines and penalties under the old Petroleum Act of 1949, as well as the government’s share representing royalties from service contracts and similar payments on the exploration, development and exploitation of the country’s energy resources.
The Malampaya Natural Gas Platform on the Palawan shore
The controversy surrounding the Malampaya Fund, however, is not just about the shifting of government funds, which came about only after the Commission on Audit reported that P900-million from the Fund were allegedly diverted to bogus NGOs by the pork barrel queen, Janet Napoles. This was on top of the enormous P10-billion congressional pork barrel that was also attributed to the plundering Napoles.
At the outset, the Malampaya Deep Water Gas-to-Power project—inaugurated in 2001 and now the biggest single source of the President’s Special Fund—is a Pandora’s Box filled with schemes of fraud, abuse of political power, usurpation of legislative authority, violation of the Constitution, and a host of possible irregularities by the current and previous administrations.
One of the largest and most significant industrial endeavors in Philippine history, the Malampaya natural gas project was considered a milestone for a country that has been hitherto been solely dependent on imported fuel. Malampaya changes this dependency as it now provides 40 to 45 percent of Luzon’s power generation requirements, thus enabling the Philippines to import less fuel for power generation.
Led by the Philippine Department of Energy (DOE), the Malampaya project was developed and operated by Shell Philippines Exploration B.V. (SPEX) on behalf of joint venture partners Chevron Malampaya LLC and the PNOC Exploration Corporation. At first blush, the project appears to be a perfect model for public and private cooperation, until one understands the investment structure and profit sharing arrangement of the Malampaya project.
When inaugurated in 2001, the $4.5-billion Malampaya natural gas project is and remains the largest single foreign investment in the history of the Philippines. The project is 45% owned by Shell Philippines Exploration, 45% by Chevron-Texaco and only 10 percent by Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC). What seems wrong with this picture?
Shell and Chevron-Texaco thus control virtually all of the country's proven natural gas reserves, and at the same time, ensnare the largest share of benefits from its exploitation. In return for their investment, Shell and Chevron-Texaco expect to get $14 billion back over 20 years, or P574 billion at current exchange rates.
What does the Philippine Constitution say about foreign exploration, development and utilization of our natural resources?
Article 12 of the 1987 Constitution allows ventures or production-sharing agreements with foreign companies up to 40 percent capitalization. This means that at least sixty percent of the capitalization of such joint ventures or projects must be owned by Filipino citizens.
The Malampaya natural gas project was an exception, if not an anomaly. It clearly violates the Constitutional limit on foreign capitalization to 40% on exploration, development and utilization of natural resources. The Philippine government has therefore allowed Shell and Chevron-Texaco to disproportionately benefit from our natural gas resources against the interests of the country.
In addition to their return on investment, Shell and Chevron-Texaco would also benefit from significant incentives under Presidential Decree No. 87 of 1972, the precursor to PD 910, and other related decrees leading to the creation of the Department of Energy. Among these incentives are tax credits that are exempted from income taxation, duty-free importation and unrestricted entry of foreign personnel. There could be more but without Freedom of Information legislation, the average Filipino would never know the exact details of Service Contract No. 38 that granted Shell and Chevron-Texaco free rein to exploit our natural gas reserves. The government also failed to negotiate any kind of meaningful technology transfer, which is important if we wish to end our perpetual reliance on foreign firms for exploitation of our energy resources.
Is it too late to correct this situation?
The current Constitution of the Philippines, which was adopted after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship, provides that existing laws, decrees, executive orders, proclamations, letters of instructions, and other executive issuances not inconsistent with this Constitution shall remain operative until amended, repealed, or revoked. Quite clearly, all presidential decrees made by Ferdinand Marcos are inconsistent with who has legislative authority under the Constitution. Besides, how can one morally justify perpetuating the vestigial decrees of a much-hated dictatorship? It amounts to continuing the dictatorship and its oppressive laws.
The Malampaya natural gas project is clearly unconstitutional because it violates the provisions of the Constitution on national economy and patrimony. The Special Fund created by PD 910 could likewise be inconsistent with the present Constitution because it was a law not passed by Congress but issued by a hold-over president under a dictatorship. If we can borrow an analogy from criminal law, the provisions of any presidential decree issued by Marcos during his dictatorship are tainted and are fruits from the same poisonous tree. We should junk all presidential decrees issued by the Marcos dictatorship if we are serious in enforcing the constitutional delineation of the power to legislate.
In the words of Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, “PD 910 is functus officio [no force or authority].”
In view of the huge royalties from the Malampaya gas project, it appears ludicrous that allies of President Aquino in Congress would now like to amend PD 910 insofar as limiting the Special Fund to the financing of energy–related projects. President Noynoy Aquino apparently wants his authority to use the Special Fund for other purposes be clearly defined so that it would give him the discretion to use the Fund as he pleases. Of course, Congress can pass a law to this effect which makes it more legally palatable under the Constitution instead of relying on the provisions of a Marcos-issued presidential decree.
Even if Congress amends PD 910 or enacts a new law that would define and expand the authority of the President in using the Malampaya Fund, this is not a foolproof escape route from the onerous provisions of a martial law presidential decree and it will certainly not prevent misappropriation and misuse of the Fund and future pork barrel scams. By and large, it only enhances the probability of more abuses and opportunities for economic plunder by this administration and succeeding governments since the pie would be significantly enlarged, not to mention the broad discretion to use it.
It was estimated that the Malampaya project would yield over P12 billion annually in royalty shares for the national government. In 2012 and 2013, the royalty shares reached $1 billion or P40 billion annually.
During the Arroyo Administration, about P25 billion was spent while P15 billion has been used under President Noynoy Aquino. The Malampaya royalty will get larger and the opportunities for its misappropriation and abuse will increase exponentially. In fact, the Malampaya Fund has become a huge political pork barrel.
There is also an ongoing dispute before the Supreme Court regarding the legal framework on natural wealth sharing. Under the Local Government Code, the local government unit where a natural gas field, in this case the Malampaya gas project, is located gets 40 percent of the royalties while the national government, 60 percent. But Palawan has been denied by the national government of its share and it’s taking the Supreme Court an inordinate time to rule on the territorial jurisdiction issue.
The interim sharing between the national government and Palawan has not been subjected to public scrutiny and transparency. Although an initial release of P3.9 billion to Palawan has been made in 2008, the disposition of the fund did not follow the general provisions of PD 910 which prescribed that 80% must be spent in energy-related projects benefitting the local population.
As it was the case for the congressional pork barrel, local political leaders determined the projects and manipulated bidding rules to favour certain public works contractors. Like the Napoles pork barrel scam, there were ghost and overpriced projects.
To reverse the current situation, Congress must regain its power to legislate under the Constitution by revoking all presidential decrees issued by the Marcos dictatorship. It must exercise congressional oversight of the Malampaya royalty fund, with the end in view of depoliticizing the fund as a pork barrel.
In addition, the Supreme Court should now decide on the sharing arrangement between the national government and Palawan: the Malampaya royalty should be used where the law intends it to and the local population gets the benefits from the exploitation of their natural resource.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Three years to its six-year presidency, diehard and uncompromising supporters of the current Aquino government are still asking critics to be soft with President Noynoy, to give him the benefit of the doubt and the credit for innovation in governance and interpretation of the law. The latter is the most appalling because it is like allowing the President to continue on even if his interpretation of the law runs counter to the Constitution.
President Noynoy Aquino’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) that gave senators loyal to the administration an extra P50-million on top of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) has opened a large can of worms. First, it was given as an incentive to senators who voted for the impeachment of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona. Not as a bribe because it was given after the impeachment, Malacañang rationalized as if the timing of the gift really mattered. Then the President’s loyal defenders switched gears arguing that the DAP was a stimulus program designed to bump up government expenditures in light of an economic slowdown. Finally, they argued that the DAP was constitutional and allowed under the provisions of the Administrative Code despite contrary but more weighted opinions.

Photo courtesy of monalisa_5485_ d4i90kn
Then the news from Bloomberg that the country’s investment grade was moved one notch higher to placate all President Noynoy’s staunch critics. But this has nothing to do with real economic growth. All that the investment rating upgrade implies is the ability of the government to repay its medium-term debt, and as an immediate impact, it reduces the cost of borrowing. Credit worthiness doesn’t add up to growth if there are no actual economic activities being generated by the government and the private sector, such as real comprehensive agrarian reform and building local industries. A vibrant stock market doesn’t necessarily push the economy upward; most economists will tell you that. Well, the President’s loyalists say it is at least a positive beginning. For what?
Very recently, in his speech before business leaders during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Indonesia, President Aquino boasted that the Philippine economy is on the track of inclusive growth due to sound economic policies and good governance. But inclusive growth should mean that it trickles down to the ordinary people. Any claim of inclusive growth should involve fast-paced distribution of land to farmers, especially in an agricultural country like the Philippines. Inclusive growth is illusory when unemployment is rising despite reported growth in GDP. Growth is not inclusive if this refers to profit generation for the benefit only of the interests of the elite.
There is something suspect and wrong with this type of criticism levelled against the Aquino government, so the President’s apologists would say, whether they are in Malacañang’s payroll or among those in the yellow print media and social media. The President’s loyalists will tell you that these criticisms are not fair and balanced because they are coming from the left and are tainted with Marxist or communist bias, like the Ibon Foundation, a research group accused of being cozy with Joma Sison or the National Democratic Front (NDF). This is the first of three reasons why the Aquino government is not open to criticisms, especially from the left – dissent from the left does not matter.
It is a very dangerous mindset that the Aquino government and its army of champions are trying to instill in the public consciousness. It reminds of Cold war-era politics and martial law when every criticism of the incumbent government was deemed leftist, subversive and communist-inspired. When criticisms from radical groups are branded as condescending and destructive, and therefore should not be given any credence simply because of where they are coming from, this type of response diminishes the importance of a democratic exchange of ideas and the need for more openness.
Those who are awed by the ability of the Aquino government to lead us to a prosperous and inclusive growth are obviously blinded by their faith that those in the right are always right under any circumstances. That those in the left who continuously and consistently advocate for the rights of workers for just wages and working conditions, for farmers to have the right to own the lands they till, for indigenous communities for their rights to self-determination, for women and children to have protection against all forms of oppression and exploitation, for equal access to jobs, housing and social services for all – are all subversive and communists, therefore they deserve our collective indignation.
Those who write for the yellow print media and in social media friendly to the Aquino government deserve all our admiration over leftist publications such as despite of its honest reportage of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, which have earned awards and citations from organizations such as the International Red Cross and Amnesty International.
There can be no decent dissent from the left as far as the Aquino government is concerned. To the Aquino apologists, it is impossible to sustain a decent, intelligent and morally nuanced political discussion with the left. They are in a state of denial of the concrete contributions of the left in raising public consciousness against tyranny, corruption and oppression even as the left was historically responsible, even partly if not wholly, for rousing the people to rebel against the Marcos martial law regime. They would rather give credit to the Catholic Church under Cardinal Sin and the business sector in leading the revolt against Ferdinand Marcos, not the radical groups because of their affinity with the communist movement.
The resentment of the left has not been only episodic during the martial law years but continues to be fueled by successive governments after Marcos. Thus, to the Aquino apologists, any criticism that has the lingering colour of Marxist thinking is irrelevant and irreverent even if it remains the only consistent contradictory view of the reactionary status quo.
After the red scare, the next reason why the Aquino administration and its faithful fanatics resent criticism of their own shortcomings is another red herring: that the alternative to President Noynoy Aquino is fraught with danger that brings greater opportunities for plunder and corruption. What if the President dies in office? Would the Aquino people allow a peaceful transition as envisaged in the Constitution or drive them to usurp political power to prevent the dreaded Vice President from assuming the presidency? Should Noynoy die prematurely without completing his term of office, his loyal followers would rather see our country engulfed by a constitutional crisis which they could exploit to preserve their political power.
The final reason why those steadfastly loyal to President Aquino don’t like his political sins to be exposed and criticized is their unwavering faith that it is very unlikely that he could be as errant as other politicians beneath him. That someone with the kind of political legacy from his famous parents would be incapable of being corrupted, a message Aquino’s inner circle has been peddling from the very start, despite contrary indications like his family’s intransigence to keep Hacienda Luisita, his KKK inner sanctum of friends who cannot be accused of corruption or abuse of power, or his personal involvement in bribing or stimulating senators to impeach the Chief Justice and abusing his presidential powers to justify the Disbursement Acceleration Program.
The leftists or radical groups have no power in the Philippine political system and most of us don’t expect them to exercise power, ever. Most left intellectuals in the Philippine live like internal aliens, the only power or privilege they have is to voice their opinions on the state of affairs of the country but that doesn’t matter to many. Their alienation is also quite radical.
There is pathology in society’s unwillingness to listen to opposite points of view. Like it or not, the Philippine left has an honourable history, too, despite sour memories of Stalin-like cleansing of the underground movement. But they have a reason to be proud to be called leftists. After all, all of us have rights, even leftists, if our country truly is a democracy.
We need more openness in our political discussions. When the government insists that things have changed but an opposite view expresses that things remain quite the same, let us simply allow the better angels in us to read and listen with openness, appreciating the substance rather than judging the criticism based on where it is coming from. In a free and democratic exchange of ideas, the truth should never be a casualty, no matter who is advocating it.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A pig for all seasons By Lewis H. Lapham

[Reprinted from Harper's Magazine, June 1986 Issue]
Toward the end of last month I received an urgent telephone call from a correspondent on the frontiers of the higher technology who said that I had better begin thinking about pigs. Soon, he said, it would be possible to grow a pig replicating the DNA of anybody rich enough to order such a pig, and once the technique was safely in place, I could forget most of what I had learned about the consolations of literature and philosophy. He didn't yet have the details of all the relevant genetic engineering, and he didn't expect custom-tailored pigs to appear in time for the Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalogue, but the new day was dawning a lot sooner than most people supposed, and he wanted to be sure that I was conversant with the latest trends.
At first I didn't appreciate the significance of the news, and I said something polite about the wonders that never cease. With the air of impatience characteristic of him when speaking to the literary sector, my correspondent explained that very private pigs would serve as banks, or stores, for organ transplants. If the owner of a pig had a sudden need for a heart or a kidney, he wouldn't have to buy the item on the spot market. Nor would he have to worry about the availability, location, species, or racial composition of a prospective donor. He merely would bring his own pig to the hospital, and the surgeons would perform the metamorphosis.
"Think of pigs as wine cellars," the correspondent said, "and maybe you will understand their place in the new scheme of things."
He was in a hurry, and he hung up before I had the chance to ask further questions, but after brooding on the matter for some hours I thought that I could grasp at least a few of the preliminary implications. Certainly the manufacture of handmade pigs was consistent with the spirit of an age devoted to the beauty of money. For the kind of people who already own most everything worth owning-for President Reagan's friends in Beverly Hills and the newly minted plutocracy that glitters in the show windows of the national media-what toy or bauble could match the priceless objet d'art of a surrogate self?
My correspondent didn't mention a probable price for a pig made in one's own image, but I'm sure that it wouldn't come cheap. The possession of such a pig obviously would become a status symbol of the first rank, and I expect that the animals sold to the carriage trade would cost at least as much as a Rolls-Royce or beachfront property in Malibu. Anybody wishing to present an affluent countenance to the world would be obliged to buy a pig for every member of the household - for the servants and secretaries as well as for the children. Some people would keep a pig at both their town and country residences, and celebrities as precious as Joan Collins or as nervous as General Alexander Haig might keep herds of twenty to thirty pigs. The larger corporations might offer custom-made pigs-together with the limousines, the stock - options, and the club memberships as another perquisite to secure the loyalty of the executive classes.
Contrary to the common belief, pigs are remarkably clean and orderly animals. They could be trained to behave graciously in the nation's better restaurants, thus accustoming themselves to a taste not only for truffles but also for Dom Perignon and béchamel sauce. If a man needs a new stomach in a hurry, it's helpful if the stomach in transit already knows what's what.
Within a matter of a very few months (i.e., once people began to acquire more respectful attitudes toward pigs), I assume that designers like Galanos and Giorgio Armani would introduce lines of porcine couture. On the East Side of Manhattan, as well as in the finer suburbs, I can imagine gentleman farmers opening schools for pigs. Not a rigorous curriculum, of course, nothing as elaborate as the dressage taught to thoroughbred horses, but a few airs and graces, some tips on good grooming, and a few phrases of rudimentary French.
As pigs became more familiar as companions to the rich and famous, they might begin to attend charity balls and theater benefits. I can envision collections of well-known people posing with their pigs for photographs in the fashion magazines-Katharine Graham and her pig at Nantucket, William Casey and his pig at Palm Beach, Norman Mailer and his pig pondering a metaphor in the writer's study.
Celebrities too busy to attend all the occasions to which they're invited might choose to send their pigs. The substitution could not be construed as an insult, because the pigs-being extraordinarily expensive and well dressed - could be seen as ornamental figures of a stature (and sometimes subtlety of mind) equivalent to that of their patrons. Senators could send their pigs to routine committee meetings, and President Reagan might send one or more of his pigs to state funerals in lieu of Vice President Bush.
People constantly worrying about medical emergencies probably wouldn't want to leave home without their pigs. Individuals suffering only mild degrees of stress might get in the habit of leading their pigs around on leashes, as if they were poodles or Yorkshire terriers. People displaying advanced symptoms of anxiety might choose to sit for hours on a sofa or a park bench, clutching their pigs as if they were the best of all possible teddy bears, content to look upon the world with the beatific smile of people who know they have been saved.
I'm sure the airlines would allow first-class passengers to travel to Europe or California in the company of their pigs, and I like to imagine the sight of the pairs of differently shaped heads when seen from the rear of the cabin.
For people living in Dallas or Los Angeles, it probably wouldn't be too hard to make space for a pig in a backyard or garage; in Long Island and Connecticut, the gentry presumably would keep herds of pigs on their estates, and this would tend to sponsor the revival of the picturesque forms of environmentalism favored by Marie Antoinette and the Sierra Club. The nation's leading architects, among them Philip Johnson and I. M. Pei, could be commissioned to design fanciful pigpens distinguished by postmodem allusions to nineteenth-century barnyards.
But in New York, the keeping of swine would be a more difficult business, and so I expect that the owners of expensive apartments would pay a good deal more attention to the hiring of a swineherd than to the hiring of a doorman or managing agent. Pens could be constructed in the basement, but somebody would have to see to it that the pigs were comfortable, well fed, and safe from disease. The jewelers in town could be relied upon to devise name tags, in gold or lapis lazuli, that would prevent the appalling possibility of mistaken identity. If a resident grandee had to be rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night, and if it so happened that the heart of one of Dan Rather's pigs was placed in the body of Howard Cosell, I'm afraid that even Roy Cohn would be hard pressed to work out an equitable settlement.
With regard to the negative effects of the new technology, I could think of relatively few obvious losses. The dealers in bacon and pork sausage might suffer a decline in sales, and footballs would have to be made of something other than pigskin. The technology couldn't be exported to Moslem countries, and certain unscrupulous butchers trading in specialty meats might have to be restrained from buying up the herds originally collected by celebrities recently deceased. Without strict dietary laws, I can imagine the impresarios of a nouvelle cuisine charging $2,000 for choucroute de Barbara Walters or potted McEnroe.
But mostly I could think only of the benign genius of modem science. Traffic in the cities could be expected to move more gently (in deference to the number of pigs roaming the streets for their afternoon stroll), and I assume that the municipal authorities would provide large meadows for people wishing to romp and play with their pigs.
Best of all, terrorists might learn to seize important pigs as proxy hostages. A crowd of affluent pigs would be a lot easier to manage than the passengers on a cruise ship. If the demands for ransom weren't promptly met, the terrorists could roast the imperialist swine and know that they had eaten the marrow of their enemies and sucked the bones of fortune.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Breaking bad

The P10-billion pork barrel scam allegedly masterminded by Janet Napoles is a real huge can of worms. With the likelihood that the scam could cause the downfall of some high-ranking members of the opposition in Congress, who would have known that the current administration is equally complicit in the entire pork barrel mess? Including the pork only the President controls at his discretion, the whole issue of corruption in government is now completely exposed.

Malacañang apologists and targeted members of the opposition are scrambling for their respective good reasons to cover up their involvement in the scandal that could make the anti-corruption crusade of President Noynoy Aquino a big farce. To the incensed public, it is becoming apparent that the President’s straight path is also a crooked road, after all. 

“Development” is a term often abused by those in charge of governance. The congressional pork barrel is euphemistically called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). The President’s pork consisting of the Presidential Social Fund, the Malampaya Fund, and the Special Purpose Fund, which he can disburse at his discretion without oversight and audit, is supposedly allocated for development purposes. Even the latest exposé about the so-called bribe given to senators who voted for the impeachment of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona referred to the said incentive as Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), designed to speed up government spending for development projects.
According to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the allocations from the DAP were government savings or unprogrammed funds that had to be spent because the government was underspending at the time and it was necessary to stimulate the country’s declining GDP. If you believe the DBM, the Philippines must be enjoying a bubbling economy compared to the rest of the world’s larger economies which are imposing austerity measures and reductions in government spending.
No matter what newer rationale the DBM or the President’s principal ally in Congress, Senate President Franklin Drilon, spins out to the public, it will not wash away the dirty hands of the administration in the current pork barrel mess. President Aquino’s much-ballyhooed anti-corruption crusade is being visibly reduced into one great deception and hypocrisy.
The underlying purpose of development in the Third World is to escape from misery and poverty that have become the bane of suffering for more than a majority of the population in these areas. To improve the lives of these people by giving them access to basic social services and opportunities for employment has always been the ubiquitous undertone to human development. Wars, colonization, natural calamities, and in great part, the lack of moral integrity among the people’s representatives in government, have been generally identified as obstacles to growth.
Public corruption in the Philippines, for instance, has been acknowledged as pervasive as early as the American colonial administration. The current pork barrel mess is yet the latest incarnation of government corruption on a national scale. Both the mainstream news media and the bustling social media are exploiting the pork scandal as a fodder for entertainment. Nothing is new about corruption in government. The corruption we detest so much now is as old as the government we have.
The social tableau of our country’s underdevelopment is painted with an unimaginable landscape of poverty, inequality, and monopoly of political and economic power in the hands of the oligarchic elite. Despite the good news of rising confidence by foreign investors in our local economy, this has not been translated in job creation and reduction in poverty. Local migration of labour from the rural to the urban areas only exacerbates chronic unemployment in the cities while landless farm labourers continue to wallow in extreme poverty and insecurity. Equal economic opportunities remain inaccessible, thus forcing the migration of skilled labour to other more developed countries where chances of a better life are greater.
On the other hand, the promise of democracy continues to linger. Our kind of democracy remains a failed one. Political power is dominated by traditional oligarchic families who also control access to business opportunities.
This is the raw background from which our national development must be forged, yet our elected representatives and bureaucrats in government keep a blind eye. Power and fame have consumed them. Even worse, many members of a crucial class of intellectuals and professionals in our country tend to be swayed rather than be critical of government abuse and excess simply because they find the prospect of an alternative leader or system of government more frightening than the status quo.
Thus, no matter how vociferously or constructively you criticize the current government for its complicity with corruption, there are those—and they are a legion—who would immediately drown and silence you out. The activists and student radicals of the sixties and seventies have joined the ranks of government apologists while the true and non-partisan social critics remain handcuffed and restricted to the margins of dissent.
One may ask with a sinking heart how development can be possible with all this dramatis personae in our society.
The pork barrel scam has exposed the rottenness of our entire political system. Our people are deeply disgusted and disenchanted. We are watching corruption in government unfold as our own national morality play where the principal actors— members of Congress, both opposition and those loyal to the President, and the Executive branch battle their wits for days on end. Is the solution to this mess within the reach of these actors? How will this play segue to its dramatic conclusion?
If only last Sunday’s final episode of Breaking Bad on TV could be the right formula for an ending to the pork barrel scam, then we could be hoping for almost an uplifting denouement. After all, a relatively happy ending is that crime doesn’t pay, and we hope the characters in our own morality play also lose their ill-gotten wealth and political stature, including their souls.

But this is not going to happen. Who are we kidding? There is no room here for contrition, confession, and conciliation as in Breaking Bad.
The pork barrel mess has accumulated so many layers of lies and betrayals that the truth may not be that easy to disentangle. Investigations will bog down the search for a final determination of this scam, with the dreamt trial of the year not commencing before the incumbent President—the one so rabid to catch the corrupt—finishes his term of office. Remember that his predecessor is still languishing in hospital detention for plunder charges not even fully prepared for court trial after more than two years. Judging by the slow wheels of justice in our country, this pork scam may not actually see the end of day.
We need a clear ending to this mess created by our elected representatives and by our government. The people therefore must persevere with their public protests, short of running to the hills if nonviolence as a means to a resolution doesn’t work.
Briberies, kickbacks and all forms of corruption involving pork barrel funds have been routinely perpetrated in various guises by our elected senators and representatives in Congress and those we entrust the daily running and operation of government. This was long before Janet Napoles surfaced before our eyes. Corruption has become an integral part of our political culture, a way of life not easy to break.