Gloria’s SONA version 8

New props…

New statistics…

New scapegoat…

Same old trying-hard-to-emote face…

Same old boring voice…

Unlike the previous years, yesterday I watched and listened to GMA’s SONA  with fascination. Of course I have already anticipated the props…. the AVP on that giant screen, the people from all walks of life that she paraded as if in an exposition of the success of her administration. I knew she would lie, that she would magnify the value of small gains and improvements and deflate the gravity of the problems. But I was curious about how her spin doctors will weave her speech and on whom or what the blame will fall. So I listened with fascination.

Gloria’s message was quite simple… she made unpopular economic policy reforms that made her suffer in the opinion polls, but the country was on its way not only to recovery but to progress at the start of the year unfortunately the world economic crisis and the food crisis swept all the gains like a “giant tsunami” that swept across the globe but fortunately because of her upnpopular reforms our strong economy cushioned the impact of the global crises.

So what she was really saying was don’t blame the rice crisis on me… its a worldwide problem. Don’t blame the rising prices of oil and all other commodities on me… its the state of the world economy. Don’t blame me… in fact thank me because my Presidency saved that nation from the full impact of the world’s problems. I’m sure the traditional politicians will buy that line. I don’t.

Yes. across the globe nations are facing a food crisis and we have been a net importer of rice since the Spanish time. But does that mean that our own rice crisis is not a result of wrong priorities? Countries like Vietnam and Thailand grew from net rice importers to being among Asia’s biggest exporters of rice. Yes the world is facing a food crisis but that doesn’t explain why the Philippines is not self-sufficient in terms of food. We are only affected by the crisis of rice because we import rice from the international market but it does not explain why we have to import rice in the first place.

For decades government sacrificed our agricultural lands in the name of industrialization – converting prime and irrigated agricultural lands  into industrial zones. What was left of our agricultural lands we devoted to export crops to give Japan and the rest of the world their bananas and pineapples for dessert. For decades the government left the farmers to fend for themselves with only a pittance of government support. Government opened our domestic market to allow foreign agricultural products (which  are highly  subsidized and therefore cheap) to compete with our own products. This killed the Filipino farmers who do not even have decent roads to bring their produce to the market.

Mrs. Arroyo. the rice crisis and the food crisis for that matter is not about the worldwide food crisis. It is about our government, yours and those before you neglecting our own agricultural sector. Together with the OFWs, our agricultural sector is what has been saving our economy for decades.

She extolled the VAT as the savior of our economy. Gloria said that the VAT gave government enough resources to subsidize the poor and protect them from the harsh impact of the worldwide economic slowdown. If only our politicians, the President and her family primary among them, will cut their corruption to half, we would have more than enough resources not only for subsidies but for strategic development programs and projects as well. She said P500 million was allocated for access to clean water but that is just 150% bigger than the P200M Chairman Ben Abalos offered  to  Chairman Romulo Neri as bribe in the ZTE scandal? That too is just equal to the P500M fertilizer scam of Jokjok Bolante.

She said she had allocated P3 billion to so that the Ombudsman can go after the thieves in government. Very wisely done indeed. Madame President. I almost forgot you are not under the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman. How much did you spend to prevent Congress from impeaching you?

GMA also boasted that her administration has exceeded its targets year after year in the last 7 years in distributing lands under agrarian reform. TRUE! But that is only because your administration targets only 100,000 each year compared to the targets of previous administrations which exceeded yours. By targetting only a mere 100,000 hectares annually for the last 7 years, you succeeded in delaying land distribution and that is the reason why the termination of the Agrarian Reform Fund has overtaken the agrarian reform implementation and is now in limbo. Should the farmers thank you for bringing them into this quagmire?

The State of the Nation Address is an opportunity for the President to share with the nation in general and the two Houses of Congress in particular on the directions that the Executive wishes to lead the country into. It is supposed to guide the legislative branch of government as to the priorities of the present administration so that they too can prioritize legislation to that direction. Yes Madame President, you can paint the State Of the Nation Address whichever way you want. In your administration it is not what your public pronouncements that matter to Congress and your government but how much pork barrel you release for them to make them follow your lead. In today’s Philippines, Madame President, it not not what you publicly declare that matters to Congress but what you wish to hide from the public. For the Congress of the Philippines, the political crisis that you have led us into is a big money-making machine. That is the real state of the nation.

Instant noodles para sa SONA ni Gloria

“Instant noodles – flavorful, cheap, but nutrition-wise empty – have become the staple food for millions of Filipinos. This summarizes the economic achievement of the Arroyo administration. This also symbolizes the failure of the government’s anti-poverty programs,” Hontiveros said.

According to the that is how AKBAYAN Representative Risa Hontiveros – Baraquel describes what she expects of the State of the Nation Address (SONA) the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will deliver today at the joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate. If I remember right, this is Gloria’s 8th SONA since she was catapulted into power after EDSA II and her fourth SONA since being declared winner of the 2004 Presidential Elections with the help of the great mathematician Mr. Virgilio “Hello Garci” Garcillano and his ilk in the COMELEC.

I do not think Risa was referring to the lifeless delivery of Gloria’s SONA (or any other speech for that matter) when she likened the SONA to “instant noodles” but the lack of substance. When we listen to Gloria deliver her SONA and all the claims she makes one cannot help but wonder if she is talking about the state of the Philippines and not some fictional country.

There are a few things I remember from the last year’s SONA – her mentioning of the opening of Jollibee in Basilan as proof of economic growth in the province; the litany of successes and many of them personal successes of individual Filipinos (si ganun nanalo sa ganitong award sa ganitong bansa, si ganito nanalo sa ganung contest sa ganireng bansa etc.) as proof that the country is doing well. But these are the least of her SONA’s faults.

What I find alarming is that she can be very blatant and shameless in her SONA. I remember her thanking General Palparan for his defense of democracy and human rights. I remember too, that she made special mention of the significance of the CYBER CORRIDOR which we later on learned meant the ZTE deal.

I do not know what boasts Gloria will make in this afternoon’s SONA but I am sure she will boast. She will find a way to devalue the crises our country is facing and inflate the value of her government’s “subsidies” for the poor. She will find a way to put the blame on the skyrocketing of the oil prices and exalt her government’s remedies for the poor. She will find a way to deflate the gravity of the food crisis and extol her dole-outs for the poor. She will find a way to hide the billions that she and her cabal are stealing from the country’s coffers and magnify the significance of the EVAT which is wringing the people dry.

Expect Gloria to scrape every scrap of good news to cover the rottenness of her administration. Expect Gloria bring every props she can carry to Congress to extol her performance… but in the end it will be very difficult to convince the hungry… yes expect her SONA to be flavorful and colorful but bereft of substance and bankrupt in the truth… YAKISONA nga eh.

Swimming against the current

From out of the dust bins of the House of Representatives, the Reproductive Health Bill authored by Rep. Edcel Lagman and 48 other members of the House of Representatives was thrown into the center-stage by the very strong and vocal opposition from no less than the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. The bill was condemned as if it were the carved from the horns of the devil himself. Bishops all over the country, including the handful I admire and respect, issued pastoral statements and mobilized the faithful against it. From out of the storage bins of oblivion the Repro health bill has become a pariah that congressmen and women who will seek re-election in 2010 (a little more than a year from now) will not touch with a ten-foot pole. the President has given in to the pressures of the Catholic Church, co-authors have withdrawn and apologized to the church. With so much anger and condemnation that resulted in so much fear, the last nail had sealed the bills coffin. Rest in peace Reproductive Health Bill.

What saddens me is not really that the bill suffered a sudden death. This is not the first time that it has died. Every beginning of a new Congress a reproductive health bill is filed and every congress the bill is killed. Again what saddens me is not that it died but how it was killed. The Catholic church simply branded the bill as promoting abortion, that was the death sentence. It has been explained time and again that nowhere in the bill can you find a promotion of abortion. But on this issue, the church leaders will only listen to themselves.

What saddens me is the fact that the issues surrounding the need for a reproductive health bill to be enacted – poverty, high population growth, lack of access to health care and affordable medicines, widespread ignorance about reproductive health – were never raised. The death of the bill has left these issues and concerns unanswered and not addressed. What saddens me is that the church has merely used its coercive force to kill the bill and no debate on the merits and the issues ensued.

I stand in awe at the power and clout that the church is displaying nowadays. I just wished they have used the same power, influence and clout to push for the passage of the CARP reform and extension bill in Congress. I just wished that the church made a stand this strong against the corruption and the impunity that it has witnessed under the Arroyo regime.

Swimming against the current is difficult and painful. Once upon a time, a man swam against the currents of his time. He ended up hanging in glory on a cross. He gives us hope. Swim!

If blogs have birthdays…

If blogs have birthdays mine celebrates its first one today. A year ago, on Adee’s 10th birthday, I wrote my very first post and it was about him. After 365 days, 103 posts and 131,860 hits my blog has become what it is today – one that suffers from constant hibernation, erratic and and irregular posts. It was not always like this :).

This blog almost became synonymous with one of its controversial posts – the Mahaderang Matapobre sa mga OFWs (who would forget Ms. Malu Fernandez?). Almost one year after the article was posted the Mahaderang Matapobre still receives at least a dozen hits dailt.

For a time this blog covered controversial issues of the day – the Erap plunder case and the subsequent pardon, the ZTE deal and the political crisis that ensued when it broke out and the Sumilao farmers’ campaign.

I have not felt the passion for blogging for some months now. Maybe it is because for the past 7 months I have been focused on a couple of issues and have not really kept tab with the various events that have come to pass. Maybe I was just to lazy to write about things that interests me and share them online. Maybe I have grown more passionate about other forms of political expression that I almost forgot about the value of blogging.

I cannot promise this blog will regain the fiery passion that used to consume it. I cannot even promise that it would recover from its present state of perpetual convalescence. All I can promise is that the passion and idealism behind this blog will not fizzle out and die. and while the fire within me burns, this blog will continue to carry posts, albeit irregularly, that will express the heat of the embers burning within the author’s heart.

Happy birthday Nomadic Thoughts and may your journey continue on.

A feather on her bonnet…

Today, at the Henry Lee Irwin theatre of the Ateneo de Manila University, a Special Academic Convocation will be held by the Ateneo community to confer 5 Traditional University Awards to people of distinction. I shall be a guest to this afternoon’s affair. I will not only be an ordinary guest… I will be a PROUD guest for among today’s honorees of the Ateneo are special people who I hold dear. This year’s Ozanam Award will be conferred to the Sumilao farmers and their lawyer, Atty. Arlene “Kaka” Bag-ao. I have written so much about the Sumilao farmers and what they have accomplished both in this blog and in the press releases I have written for their campaign in the last 9 months or so. So today I will not write about the Sumilao farmers.

All throughout the long 13 years that the Sumilao farmers struggled for their land, one person have always been their constant companion. She rarely shared the limelight with the farmers, but she shared their miseries, their worries, their fears and their sacrifices. For most of the last 13 years, she was invisible to the eyes of the public, a silent co-traveler of the Sumilao farmers.

I met Atty. Kaka Bag-ao, one rainy day in 1995 at the foot of Mt. Banahaw in Barangay Consolacion, Sariaya, Quezon. I was organizing a group of agrarian reform farmers there as part of my training in community organizing. She was our resource person in one of our paralegal clinics with the farmers. Little did I know that one that rainy day in August 1995 i will come to know a friend who will touch my life immensely. We met a couple of times more for paralegal sessions. I ended my stint in Quezon a couple of months later and returned to my work in Mindanao. A year later, I learned that she has moved to Cagayan de Oro City to work for an NGO working with agrarian reform farmers. We rarely met then until I got drawn into the hunger strike of the Sumilao farmers in October 1997. By then she was already in the center of the Sumilao campaign as their lawyer, tactician, sister, daughter and friend to the farmers.

I rarely meet someone who can both challenge and question my ideas and opinions and build on them as she does. I challenge and build on hers too. Our arguments during tactics sessions are animated (and at times heated). She inspires me like very few people do. I have worked with Kaka in several other cases in Bukidnon but the Sumilao has always been a special one. Working with Kaka, Jun g., Nenen and several others on the Sumilao case and other cases in Bukidnon made me choose to work as an agrarian reform advocate.

In the Sumilao case alone, I have witnessed Kaka’s agonies and heartaches – losing 2 beloved friends Attys. Bob Gana and Caloy Ollado to the Cebu Pacific Flt 387 crash while they were on their way to Sumilao; losing a the Sumilao case in the Supreme Court on a mere technicality and thus experiencing the worst of our pro-rich judicial system.

Kaka was also instrumental in making me decide to join Akbayan, a decision that made significant changes in my life. Somme of these changes made us drift away from each other for a number of years.

The 1,700 kilometer walk of the Sumilao farmers late last year reunited me to the rest of the Sumilao campaign team. Parang di kami nagkahiwalay ng mahahabang taon. I got reunited with Kaka and Jun G. and got to know people who have since become my friends – Jane, Marlon, PI, Jemro, Bro. Javi, Bro. IJ, Tinx, JanJan, Aison, Soc and the people from Ateneo-OSCI.

If only San Miguel Corporation knew how our campaign plans were developed and evolved, they would not have taken this collection of jologs seriously. Our huntahans and Starbucks sessions spewed tactics that shook San Miguel and brought it to the negotiation table. The support of heavyweights like Cardinal Rosales, Bishop Pabillo, Christian Monsod, Fr. Danny Huang made the settlement with the Sumilao farmers compelling for the Asian brewery giant.

By hindsight, our ragtag team of jologs was a dream team of sorts. Our humor and laughter melt tiredness and weariness away. Our warm friendship made our daily pamorningan sessions not only tolerable, but most of all, something to enjoy and look forward to. We were never a bunch of grim and determined cadres, we were just a collection of friends who can find something humorous in the most serious of things. Kaka Bag-ao, co-honoree of the Sumilao farmers in this year’s Ozanam Award was the spirit that held us together (i.e. she was the jologest of us all).

Kaka kong mahal, sana’y wag kang mapapagal, Sana’y wag kang magsawa. Sana’y di ka mauubusan ng tawa. Always remember that the stars are brightest in nights that are darkest, that the pangs of labor give birth to new life. You taught me those things dear friend, and i am just reminding you of the lessons you so lovingly (and funnily) taught me.

The Sumilao victory, the Ozanam award are just a few feathers on your bonnet, and by God you have enough feathers to make a good feather duster.

Congratulations my dear.

The mute shall speak… and the deaf shall listen

I am not talking about miracles nor am I talking in parables.

A few months ago, when the Sumilao farmers made their historical 1,700-kilometer march from Bukidnon to Manila, some declared their act of sacrifice as a mere ‘gimik’ to get media mileage. That is always said of the poor, like the farmers, when they make dramatic statements and actions that catch the attention of the public – cheap gimmickry in an attempt to grab media attention. If only these people will try the so-called ‘gimiks’ that the poor had to resort to, maybe they will be a little bit wiser. Walking 10 kilometers is not an easy thing to do, let alone walking 1,700 kilometers. Skipping a couple of meals discomforts many, try starving yourself for a month like the hunger-striking farmers. In a country where the media is fond of the sensational, you cannot blame the poor for amplifying their plight through dramatic actions.

The question I think is not whether these actions are cheap ‘gimiks’ or not but why do they have to make unthinkable sacrifices to get the attention of the powers that be. In a society where silence is imposed on the poor (in many cases violently) and the ears of those in power are plugged, these protest actions are inevitable.

LISTENING TO THE POOR is the theme of the 2nd National Rural Congress (NRC II)which is being held by the Catholic Church for the next couple of days moment. It has been 41 years since the 1st National Rural Congress was held in 1967. Such was also the theme of the Supreme Court’s Forum on Increasing Access to Justice – a teleconference held last Monday.

While these are positive breakthroughs in two of the country’s powerful institutions, the results remain to be seen. How will listening to the voice of the poor affect the country’s judiciary’s decisions on cases involving social justice and the rights of the poor? How will listening to the voice of the poor influence the Catholic Church’s quest for a faith that does justice?

The Church does not have to wait for 41 years to listen to the poor. The church need not call a national congress to listen to them. Parish churches stand amidst rural and urban poor communities. Priests celebrate masses with the poor every day. It does not take much to listen to them. But it takes so much to BE with them. They need not look far for an example, at the center of each church is an image of a man who took the side of the poor two thousand years ago.

The Supreme Court need not call a nationwide forum to listen to the poor. They only need to delve into their dockets and sift through the thousands of cases involving the poor rotting in their midst.

Last Saturday, volunteers from De La Salle University and students and seminarians from Ateneo joined the Calatagan farmers in building a fence around the disputed lands in Barangay talibayog. It was a rare opportunity for students not only to LISTEN but TO BE with the farmers in struggle. It was because of my experience with the farmers in Bukidnon who fought the expansion of Del Monte 21 years ago that has politicized and educated me and led me to choose the path through life I am living right now. I can only hope that last Saturday’s experience will touch the lives of the students profoundly and influence the choices of their hearts for life.

In the meantime, the farmers and other poor sectors will still need to make dramatic actions to be heard and listened to. We can only hope that each step we take in our a million-and-one-kilometer journey will take us nearer to our dream – a society where the poor are not mute (better yet, where no one is poor) and a society where the State is not caught in the claws of the deaf and the rich.

Too much love will kill you

This is an excerpt from the concert-tribute to Freddie Mercury of the Queen. He is the all-time best lead singer for me.

I’m just the pieces of the man I used to be
Too many bitter tears are raining down on me
I’m far away from home
And I’ve been facing this alone
For much too long

I feel like no-one ever told the truth to me
About growing up and what a struggle it would be
In my tangled state of mind
I’ve been looking back to find
Where I went wrong

Too much love will kill you
If you can’t make up your mind
Torn between the lover
And the love you leave behind
You’re headed for disaster
‘cos you never read the signs
Too much love will kill you
Every time

I’m just the shadow of the man I used to be
And it seems like there’s no way out of this for me
I used to bring you sunshine
Now all I ever do is bring you down
How would it be if you were standing in my shoes
Can’t you see that it’s impossible to choose
No there’s no making sense of it
Every way I go I’m bound to lose

Too much love will kill you
Just as sure as none at all
It’ll drain the power that’s in you
Make you plead and scream and crawl
And the pain will make you crazy
You’re the victim of your crime
Too much love will kill you
Every time

Too much love will kill you
It’ll make your life a lie
Yes, too much love will kill you
And you won’t understand why
You’d give your life, you’d sell your soul
But here it comes again
Too much love will kill you
In the end…
In the end.

…para sa isang kaibigan