Wednesday, April 28, 2010


The man who may know a lot about what could happen on May 10 insists there are no sinister plots, no brewing conspiracies to steal the elections.

“I don’t know where media is getting all this. There is no such thing as ‘August Moon’ (an alleged secret plan for the military to form a junta and keep President Arroyo in power),” stressed Rear-Admiral Victor Martir, deputy chief of staff for intelligence (J-2) and a member of the controversial PMA Class 78.

He was defense attaché at the Philippine Embassy until 2006. Tonight he was guest of honor in a sumptuous dinner prepared by a dear colleague at ABS-CBN Maloli Espinosa Manalastas and her husband Brig. Gen. Antonio Supnet in their home in Bethesda, MD.

Gen. Supnet is the current defense attaché here.

Vic was in town to conduct an “audit” of the Philippine’s overseas military posts, but he admits he was also trying to get some R&R before going home to the arduous task of overseeing a “fusion center” in Camp Crame, which aims to marry efforts by the military and police to protect voters as well as the electoral process on May 10.

Over bottles of Corona, and in his deep baritone that seems to suggest some serious stabs on the karaoke, Adm. Martir stressed there was nothing afoot and was even encouraged by the relatively low election-related violence.

While he shudders at the thought of sleepless nights and long days working the “fusion center”, he came across as someone who’d wish he’d wake up tomorrow with the elections over already. His heart was obviously somewhere else – modernizing the Philippine Navy.

That could be expected – he reportedly has the inside track for the top Navy post.

The current Flag Officer in Command (FOIC), Vice Adm. Ferdinand Golez (younger brother of Congressman Roilo Golez) is set to retire in a few weeks, but the President can’t appoint a successor because of the election ban.

Another contender is an old acquaintance – Rear Admiral Feliciano Angue, chief of the National Capital Region Command and also PMA Class 78. His name cropped up in the “Hello Garci” investigation because he reportedly refused to go along with alleged attempts to rig the vote in Tawi-Tawi.

An old friend from the Defense Department, Rear Admiral Alex Pama (PMA Class 79) who commands naval and Marines forces in Western Mindanao, is considered a “dark horse”.

Adm. Martir debunked suggestions appointing so many Class 78 officers in key military positions was part of President Arroyo’s grand plan to use the military to keep her in power. She is an honorary member of Class 78.

He offered instead his “theory” about “ruling classes”. He said that before 1986, the so-called ruling classes belonged to years ending in odd numbers (starting with Class 51 – the first batch of graduates who entered PMA after World War II). After 1986, they reportedly shifted to even-number ending years.

We’d have to do a little more research to verify that “theory” but it seems a large part of that could be attributed to how big their graduating batch was to begin with and what happened in the intervening years.

For instance, those who graduated in turbulent years – the late 60’s and much of the 70’s were likely to see a lot of combat right after their graduation. Some were actually ordered to the field even before they could march for their graduation.

Many – like a distant cousin who was ambushed in one of his very first patrols and killed just weeks after graduating from PMA – were decimated by the wars against communist rebels and Muslim separatists.

Ultimately, he says it boils down to that most unquantifiable of elements – fate. “Pinagpala” (blessed) is what some fellow PMAers call their Class 78 “mistahs”.

But Vic preferred to talk about “real news” – the approval of the multi-year defense modernization spending bill, the imminent activation of Coast Watch South, and prospects for acquiring new ships and planes.

Four US-funded radar stations are due to become operational by summer. Phase One of the Coast Watch South project – a string of overlapping radar stations stretching from Palawan to Davao – will monitor shipping in the Sulu and Celebes Seas – a favorite route for the Jemaa Islamiya and Abu Sayyaf, as well as smugglers, pirates and drug traffickers.

They’ve already acquired coastal properties for five additional radar stations.

He disclosed the AFP is studying bids from South Korean and Singaporean shipbuilders for a new multi-billion-peso, multi-role vessel that can do long-range patrols, troop transport and even serve as a hospital ship in case of calamities.

The Air Force can now buy maritime planes because the multi-year fund will allow them to enter into long-term contracts to be guaranteed by the government.

But a lot of that will depend on ending ISO (a euphemism for counter insurgency operations) this year so they can focus on external defense.

Talking about the military’s grand plans, the elections a few days away may look on the surface like so much distraction but even they know there’s a lot riding on holding credible election – especially for a military eager to move forward.

Sunday, April 25, 2010



The recruitment agency caught in a bitter contract dispute with about 360 Filipino teachers in Louisiana insists it disclosed all the conditions, including fees they had to pay, even before they signed their contracts to work in the United States.

Louisiana Administrative Judge Shelley Dick earlier found Los Angeles-based Universal Placement International (UPI) liable for operating without a license; and violation of least five state labor laws on the collection of various fees from the Filipino teachers.

UPI is operated by Fil-Am businesswoman Lourdes “Lulu” Navarro from its headquarters in Los Angeles, California. They had previously declined requests for comment.

“It’s not that we didn’t want to air our side. We were instructed by our lawyers not to talk,” a female UPI executive told this reporter in a phone interview, asking not to be identified.

UPI furnished us with a written statement that aimed to refute the accusations against the recruitment firm.

They countered that the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) and its parent organization, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) were secretly fomenting the dispute to stop foreign teachers from landing jobs in the US.

“They openly fought against the placement of foreign teachers in Caddo Parish. When they lost that battle, the Union (LFT) has now attacked Universal Placement by filing a false and defamatory letter complaint,” the statement read.

The AFT, which has 1.4 million members across the country, provided the lawyers for Filipino teachers because they couldn’t afford them (some Filipino teachers hold executive positions in some of the federation’s 43 state affiliates).

“Universal provides a legal and lawful service to the school district and the teacher.

“For this service they expect to earn a fee. The fee is based upon a contract provided to the teacher and signed by the teacher.

“The fee is comparable to any other placement fee charged by any other company,” they explained.

“While a teacher can remain in the US for six years on an H-1B visa…the contract between the teacher and Universal is for only two years.

“On average, the two-year fee for this will total $8,000-$10,000 based upon the amount earned by the teacher,” the statement said.

Under their contracts, the teachers were obligated to pay 10 percent of their salaries to UPI (in addition to fees paid), for two years starting on the 2nd year of their employment.

Teachers in Louisiana reportedly earn from $45,000-$60,000 a year.

“This is a very small price to live and work in America,” the UPI statement declared, criticizing the LFT and AFT for labeling their fees as excessive.

But Randi Weingarten, AFT president, clearly signaled they will continue supporting the Filipino teachers.

“This decision is a victory for teachers and for fundamental human rights.

“We applaud the Filipino teachers themselves, who showed great courage in asserting their rights, banding together and challenging a company that sought to oppress them through fraud, threats and intimidation,” she averred.

“We also applaud the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and our local affiliates in Louisiana, who stood with – and stood up for – these teachers.

“The decision should give pause to other companies who would consider exploiting teachers or other workers,” Weingarten stressed.

She acknowledged the administrative court decision was just the start of a possibly protracted legal battle with UPI.

“With this first legal hurdle cleared, we are thrilled that the teachers can focus all their attention on what they love and what they are good at – teaching students,” the AFT chief added.

The Louisiana labor tribunal ordered UPI to refund at least $1.8 million in “marketing fees” collected from the teachers.

The Filipino mentors allegedly paid at least $15,000 each to UPI and PARS. But in the court filings, it was estimated the teachers paid $5,000 each in “marketing fees”.

Judge Dick ordered UPI to refund the “placement fees” but did not put a precise dollar amount. “Scrutiny of these fees is not within the regulatory authority of this Commission,” the magistrate declared.

UPI was also directed to pay litigation expenses and a $500 fine for operating without a license in Louisiana.

The recruitment agency could face criminal prosecution (a misdemeanor punishable by a fine or six months imprisonment, or both) for operating without a license; and a possible federal indictment for compelling teachers to pay for their visa processing fees.

“The bottom line is this is nothing more than a private dispute between Universal and teachers over the fees agreed to by written contract.

They stressed that the teachers were aware of the fees and how much they had to pay UPI before they signed their contracts.

“These teachers have refused to honor their written contractual agreement,” she said.

“We could have sourced our teachers elsewhere. But we wanted to help our countrymen and now because of what happened, our teachers can’t go here anymore,” she averred.

As the case grinds through the US justice system, the controversy merely highlights the travails of Filipino teachers, put off by the lack of opportunities back home, are ready to live by the knife’s edge just to get a slice of the “American dream”.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


We sure wished our old friend, recently promoted Navy Commodore Roland Recomono was here. He served for awhile as naval attaché in the Philippine Embassy here. He now heads the AFP Modernization Program Management Office in Camp Aguinaldo.

Rex's part of PMA Class 79 which, gauging from their numbers, appear to be next “ruling class” in the Philippine military – that is if Class 78 doesn’t spoil it by throwing the nation in a tailspin if, God forbid, the conduct of May polls deteriorates into another political crisis.

The controversy over PMA “Makatarungan” Class 78 stems from its closeness with President Arroyo, who’s widely suspected to be engineering ways to hold on to power after her term ends in June.

We have seen some old friends from that class, officers we met when they were lieutenants or captains, rise to become generals and admirals today.

Most are men of great courage, competence and integrity. But somehow those values were warped by the machinations of their adopted “mistah” (Arroyo) and her desire to win the military’s loyalty by all means fair and foul.

President Arroyo’s affinity with Class 78 began in earnest during the “Edsa Dos” upheaval that kicked President Estrada out of Malacanang behind a military-backed bloodless putsch.

In the heat of political passions at the time, she may have sniffed the scent of vulnerability that most young, ambitious officers seem to emit.

During the 2004 campaign cycle, one Class 78 officer (now a general posted in Camp Aguinaldo) mocked the candidacy of movie icon Fernando Poe Jr. “You don’t think we will allow another actor to win,” he told me, “the country can not afford another mistake”.

Within military circles, Class 78 has earned the reputation as “GMA’s shock troopers”.

By the time 2004 elections came around, President Arroyo had become even more dependent on officers from Class 78 – especially when charges of electoral fraud and corruption fueled discontent in the ranks. That restiveness spilled over to a couple of bizarre mutinies that were quickly quelled.

Armed Forces chief General Delfin Bangit belongs to Class 78, and so too Army chief Lt. Gen. Reynaldo Mapagu; Airforce chief Lt. Gen. Oscar Rabena; Marines Corps chief Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban; Southern Luzon Command chief Maj. Gen. Roland Detabali;

National Capital Region Command chief Commodore Feliciano Angue; Central Command chief Lt. Gen. Ralph Villanueva; AFP Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Romeo Prestoza (another DC alumni); Army field commanders Maj. Gen. Mario Chan (4th Division) and Romel Gomez (5th Division); deputy division commander Brig. Gen. Restituto Aguilar (7th Division).

We’re no expert on strategy, but that’s quite an impressive deployment if you want to control the country’s two main power centers – Metro Manila and Metro Cebu – and by extension, the whole country.

Class 78 generals dominate the command and control, or main operating forces for Luzon (SOLCOM, NCRCOM, 7th and 5th Infantry Divisions, Marines); Visayas (CENTCOM); and Mindanao (4th Infantry Division, Marines).

This ensures a unity of command higher than the usual “chain of command”. Forces can be put in play with little or no resistance. The troops are ready, waiting for the orders. Only question now – one that we all should be concerned about – what are the orders?

A round of the popular board game “Game of the Generals” couldn’t have been played better.

We wonder what our old friend Rex Recomono will say about that?

Kristine Servando wrote in that Class 78 generals have total or partial control of 17 Joint Security Control Centers (JSCCs) organized by Task Force Hope (for “Honest, Orderly, Peaceful Elections). They are supposed to be deputized by the Commission on Elections.

The alarm being sounded against Class 78 is nothing new. It merely resurrects the old debate over wisdom of the primacy of PMA graduates over the bulk of the AFP Officer Corps, who happen not to have graduated from the PMA.

This has bred a culture of exclusivity and elitism that have been blamed for past coup attempts, the reign of “militics” (for military politics), and biased dispensation of career opportunities and promotions in the AFP.

But it would be a mistake to think that these PMA “Classes” are monolithic. The rivalry within and between PMA batches are sometimes intense, but in the end they all yield to the greater calling of the Academy’s credo of “Courage, Integrity, Loyalty”.

Ultimately, because they are trained not to trust anyone except their “mistahs”, political leaders have learned to be wary of them.

The late despot Ferdinand Marcos did not trust them – and it turns out, for good reason. Former President Corazon Aquino was hounded by the PMA alumni-dominated Reform the AFP Movement and Young Officers Union. During his final days, President Estrada was betrayed by his own PMA generals.

This merely raised the ante for politicians to cement the loyalty of PMA officers, and because the so-called depoliticization of the military after 1986 is largely a sham, that quickly became a two-way street as ambitious, young officers tried to ensure their future by cementing the patronage of well-placed politicians and business leaders.

And that is why presidential candidate Manny Villar Jr. is an adopted “mistah” of PMA Class 77, who've been overshadowed by their lower classmen.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


It seems incomprehensible that Justice Secretary Alberto Agra can not grasp the implications of absolving two prime suspects in one of the country’s most heinous massacres.

Now Sec. Agra says he can still reverse his order to drop the charges against suspended ARMM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan and his cousin, suspended Mamasapano Mayor Akmad Ampatuan Sr.

What’s more suspicious is the silence of President Arroyo – who allegedly owes, in large part, her 2004 election victory to the Ampatuans. Sec. Agra says he sees this as Palace endorsement of his decision.

Journalists around the world had strongly condemned the cold-blooded murder of 57 people – many of them journalists – in Maguindanao last year. We had asked for a thorough investigation and the severest punishment for the culprits. Instead, we get a Justice Secretary whose supposed zealousness for protecting the rights of the accused is refuted even by his own prosecutors.

The clouds of suspicion that already shroud the Philippine justice establishment, from the municipal courts all the way to the High Tribunal, is growing.

Sec. Agra advised the families of Maguindanao massacre victims to take their indignation to the Court of Appeals. Hence, the government has given them the added burden of filing an appeal, as if the weight they carry from the brutal murders of their loved ones was not enough.

Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Sec. Agra denies he was pressured by Malacanang.

The political opposition senses something sinister, and one can not be faulted for thinking the Justice Secretary’s decisions may somehow be connected to the coming elections.

After all, Maguindanao is reportedly the Arroyo administration’s vote granary, the rich vote basket of Mindanao, the place they always came back to, to make up for losses in other parts of the country – and the Ampatuans are the key.

The Philippines moved up the rank, from 59 in 2008 to 53 last year in the Fund for Peace Foundation’s Failed State Index. This showed the Philippines is among the countries in danger of being a failed state.

The German economist and sociologist Max Weber said that a necessary condition to be a state is the retention of a “monopoly on the legitimate use of force within its borders”.

He believed this monopoly can be broken by dominant warlords, paramilitaries or terrorists, and when these happen the existence of the state becomes dubious, and can be said to have failed.

The Failed State Index uses 12 indicators of state vulnerability – four social, two economic and six political.

A grade of 90 or more mean there is an imminent collapse of the state, if it has not done so already. A score of 60 or higher denotes the state is in danger of failing. And states having a score of 30 or more are classified as “moderate”.

The Philippines had a score of 85.8 in 2009.

If Sec. Agra has chosen to be on the side of the oppressors, then he has just pushed the Philippines even closer to the precipice.

The case against the Ampatuans goes beyond murder. His decision has implications above the dispensation of justice (or lack thereof) because it threatens to perpetuate warlordism that in Maguindanao, at least, is the government.

Even while the Ampatuans are behind bars, fear still permeates the region. Witnesses are still being intimidated.

In a recent article for the Council on Foreign Relations, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared that “dealing with fractured or failing states, in many ways, the main security challenge of our time.”

Perhaps Sec. Agra sees such lofty concerns as beyond the purview of the Justice Secretary. His job is to uphold the law. So go ahead, please do your job. Fifty-seven screaming souls demand it.

“As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression,” US Supreme Court Associate Justice William Douglas once wrote, “In both instances, there’s a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of change, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.”

Monday, April 19, 2010


Revisiting the Smithsonian’s American History Museum over the weekend, we were struck by the role the Philippines played – compared with other US possessions – in shaping American-style freedom and democracy today.

And yet there are thousands of aging Filipinos, those who fought in defense of that freedom and democracy, who still feel they are victims of a terrible American injustice.

Although he publicly declared an aversion to annexation, President William McKinley nevertheless presided over the US occupation of the Philippines – signaling the era of American imperialism (Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and granting statehood for Hawaii – previously a kingdom hijacked by Western businessmen led by Sanford Dole, a cousin of the owner of the pineapple company that bears their name).

On display at the museum is an original letter from Emilio Aguinaldo; a home-made rifle standing beside a Krag-Jorgensen (“Damn, damn the Filipinos! Civilize them with a Krag”); and a flag of the Sulu Sultanate (the US signed a peace treaty with them then promptly broke it after crushing the Filipino insurrection in Luzon), among others.

The annexation of the Philippines sparked bitter debate in America. Mark Twain was originally an ardent imperialist but seeing the human cost of America’s counter-insurgency campaign in the Philippines, he had a change of heart. He wrote “Incident in the Philippines” about the massacre of about 600 mostly unarmed Muslim natives, including women and children, in Bud Dajo, a dormant volcano about eight kilometers from Jolo, Sulu.

Yet when the dark clouds of the Second World War started gathering, Filipinos rallied behind the Americans. Thousands of them mobilized and enlisted with the US Army.

But after the war was won, among the first acts of Congress was to pass a bill withdrawing recognition to some 250,000 Filipino veterans. Of the 66 other nationalities who served under the US flag during World War II, only Filipinos were excluded.

Last April 9 marked the 68th anniversary of the Fall of Bataan, which also commemorates the Bataan March where as many as 10,000 Filipino and 700 American soldiers died. There is a description of that deadly 98-kilometer trek from Guillermo Rumingan, a former US Army Sergeant who now lives in Virginia.

“This day of valor recognition is an important opportunity to remind Americans of the important contributions of the Philippines and Filipino veterans to our country’s collective history,” said Lillian Galedo of NAFVE.

Rumingan and thousands of his comrades have received a modest amount (compared to over half a century of injustice) from the $198 million Philippine Veterans Equity Compensation Fund.

The one-time fund is almost depleted. Over 14,000 Filipino veterans are still waiting for word; more than 8,000 have been denied – many of them because they were not in an “official” US reconstructed list of veterans (the original list was reportedly destroyed by fire in the 60’s).

America values its history. To deprive Filipino veterans their contributions to defending freedom during the darkest hours of the war in the Pacific is to deny part of that history. But like most things in America, remembering carries a price too. It is not automatically bestowed by past events. Everytime a Filipino poses for a picture at the Philippine pillar in the World War II Monument in Washington DC, there is a duty to remember and reflect on why we have that pillar at all. That is perhaps the costliest slab of marble because thousands of Filipinos who've already fought for it, continue to pay for it.

Friday, April 16, 2010


A Louisiana administrative judge has ordered a California-based Fil-Am recruitment agency to refund at least $1.8 million, representing part of fees it illegally collected from 350 Filipino teachers hired by the state’s public schools.

Administrative Judge Shelley Dick said Universal Placement International (UPI) violated at least five Louisiana labor statutes, among them the collection of “marketing fees”; collection of placement fees “prior to actual commencement of work”; collection of fees from teachers who never got to work with the schools; compelling them to pay 10% of their gross monthly income for two years; and failing to adjust employment service fees according to the teachers’ actual gross earnings.

The court also found UPI liable for operating without a license in Louisiana.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) based in Washington DC provided the lawyers to represent the Filipinos teachers in Louisiana. They hailed the decision as a victory for the Filipino teachers.

“What makes these allegations especially heinous is that the victims are good teachers, that school districts and tax dollars are involved, and that all this is taking place in 21st century America,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in explaining their decision to take the cudgels for the Filipino mentors.

However, the administrative court’s decision fell short of the teachers’ petition to nullify their contract with UPI.

Judge Dick pointed out that the Louisiana Private Employment Service Law (LPES) “does not grant the power to declare the contracts null and void”.

The teachers, she argued, can resort to the district courts to have the contracts nullified.

She ordered UPI to refund the teachers all unauthorized fees collected from them plus $7,500 in litigation expenses and a $500 fine for operating without a license in the state.

The teachers complained that they paid as much $15,000 each in various “fees” even before they could start working in Louisiana schools. However, in the court filings, it was estimated each teacher paid $5,000 in “marketing fees”.

The Louisiana public school system already paid UPI, through its president Lourdes “Lulu” Navarro, thousands of dollars for recruiting the Filipino teachers. The mentors also alleged they were made to pay the cost of getting H-1B visas.

“The evidence established that UPI and its Philippines affiliate, PARS also charged the teachers various fees associated with obtaining visas and other documents necessary to work legally in the United States.

“Scrutiny of these fees is not within the regulatory authority of this Commission. The placement fees paid by the Filipino teachers were charged by UPI an unlicensed employment service in violation of Louisiana’s Private Employment Service regulatory scheme. UPI is ordered to refund the placement fees paid by the Filipino teachers to UPI,” the court directed.

ABS-CBN’s North America News Bureau helped raise the alarm last year after the Filipino teachers mounted protest actions in their schools against what they said were the onerous terms of their contracts with UPI.

When school officials learned about this, they stopped taking in additional Filipino teachers, stranding many who had already arrived in the US but have not yet reported to their assigned schools.

UPI lawyers say the Filipino teachers were only trying to wiggle out of their contracts. They said they will appeal the decision in the district courts.

But they have more serious issues to contend with. The administrative court could elevate the instance of UPI’s operating without a license – a criminal offense – to the district courts.

That decision rests with the Louisiana Workforce Commission, according to Judge Dick.

That violation is classified as a misdemeanor punishable by a fine or imprisonment of not more than six months, or both.

Collecting fees to pay for the teachers’ H-1B visas is also a federal offense. The AFT had also looked into the feasibility of charging Navarro and UPI of “involuntary servitude” for allegedly holding on to their visas unless they continued paying them the fees – now declared to be illegal – and allegedly threatening to have the teachers deported if they protested.

Lawyer Arnedo Valera, an executive director of the Virginia-based Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC), said they are near securing special visas for some of the teachers who’ve fallen out of status because of the dislocation of Filipino teachers in Louisiana.

Those visas are given to victims of crimes or potential witnesses in cases being prosecuted in America.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


There were signs that much of the world see Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as a lameduck president – or if she still didn’t get that, drilled down that point – at the recently concluded nuclear security summit in Washington DC.

Working at the summit’s international press area in the Washington Convention Center, the first thing we noticed was the list of bilateral meetings scheduled in the historic two-day gathering of world leaders.

There were 38 heads of states or heads of governments in attendance, and it seemed only logical – if not expedient – for side meetings to be arranged. After all, very rarely could you get a smorgasbord of top decision makers under one roof.

And yet there was not a single meeting with President Arroyo in the long tally that ran continuously on a big projector screen in the center of the press center. That was Monday. But by Tuesday, diplomatic officials apparently found someone willing to meet with the Philippine leader – Moroccan Prime Minister Abbas el Fassi.

We can understand the country’s desire to work more closely with the Organization of Islamic Countries, but really? We understand she just came from an ASEAN meeting before flying to the US, but really? China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, etc. were there.

We’ve seen how diligent Philippine foreign affairs officials are at their work. So it's more plausible why no one wants to spend time with Mrs. Arroyo is simply because they know that she’s on her way out and is in no position to commit to any possible agreements with other nations.

Could it be possible that only President Arroyo is not aware of this? Or that she chooses not to?

For some reason, the President looked like she was in a foul mood the moment she stepped down a chartered Philippine Airlines jetliner that landed at Andrews Air Base in Maryland last Monday afternoon.

She held tightly to the ramp rails, appearing to be unsure of her steps going down. That could very well be the story of her final days in Malacanang.

An honor guard bearing the Philippine and US flags met her on the tarmac. And watching from the TV monitor in the press center that carried the dignitaries’ arrivals live, we sensed Mrs. Arroyo was looking for someone. After a slight delay, the presidential entourage was finally on its way to the Convention Center.

A smiling President Obama strained to greet her (height disparity) as she arrived at the summit. But President Arroyo looked sullen, haggard and a bit hostile until President Obama said something to her, which finally opened a slight smile – labored and accommodating – and she soon walked sadly to the far end of the summit backdrop.

We can understand if President Arroyo is no longer able to conduct serious diplomacy, but if she cannot even be a gracious guest, then what’s the point of making the trip at all?

An opposition vice presidential candidate alluded to the billions of pesos spent by President Arroyo for her foreign travels.

Are the honors bestowed on Mrs. Arroyo – for promoting the environment and another for amity from one-time colonial master Spain – given to her personally, as it appears to be, or for the Filipino nation? If the awards are merely trophies to add to her resume, why is the Filipino taxpayer footing the bill?

It seems obvious from the President’s appearance that eight years of running the country – accused of stealing an election, surviving both coup attempts and impeachment proceedings, hounded by charges of corruption and human rights abuses – has taken a heavy toll.

The fact that President Obama or even at least State Secretary Hillary Clinton (an old Arroyo friend) did not meet with President Arroyo separately seems like another signal that they do not expect to see Mrs. Arroyo living in Malacanang after June 2010. On top of other signals sent, the silence of not talking to one another is perhaps the loudest, bluntest message that can be given in the world of international politics and diplomacy.

But perhaps we should be kinder in our spin. President Obama and Secretary Clinton are among President Arroyo’s best friends – so after seeing how worn and exhausted she appeared at the nuclear security summit, they just want her to get a good, long rest. In fact, they want it so badly for Mrs. Arroyo that they have to absolutely insist on it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


We stumbled upon this paper written by four undergraduate and graduate students from the Institute of Global Leadership at Tufts University in Massachusetts, entitled “Utang ng Loob: The ‘MCC Effect’ and Culture of Power in the Philippines.

Their conclusions appear to affirm what we’ve pointed out repeatedly in reporting about the grant of Compact agreement by the Millennium Challenge Corporation to the Philippines – that it is more prized for its political benefits than its promise of fighting poverty and corruption.

The report published last December, urged the MCC to hold off on granting a Compact Agreement with the Philippines, which the US agency did during a board meeting last month.

The authors traveled to Manila to interview people in the private sector, government, NGOs, academia, journalism, civil society and the US Embassy, USAID and international aid community. They met with Ayala Corporation Chairman Jaime Zobel de Ayala, Alberto Lim of the Makati Business Club, Cora Guidote of SM Investment Corp., Senators Jamby Madrigal and Panfilo Lacson, Aart Kraay of the World Bank, Jesus Estanislao, Lawrence Greenwood of the Asian Dev’t Bank, Joel Valdes of the Philippine Swiss Business Council, Sixto Macasaet and Cezar Belangel of CODE-NGO, former US Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, former Budget Sec. Ben Diokno, Bishop Pedro Quitorio, Yvonne Chua of the PCIJ and journalist Ellen Tordesillas, among many others.

Here are some of their findings:

“The MCC is relatively unknown in the Philippine business community, and the primary actor interested in receiving a Compact Agreement is the executive branch of government under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

“Contrary to the logic behind the large-sum design of Compact Agreement grants, the students observed that in a country with as large of an economy as the Philippines, the potential funding amount was not a significant incentive for the Arroyo Administration to embark on earnest government reforms. Instead, the Administration appeared more interested in gaining the American ‘stamp of approval’ offered in a Compact Agreement in order to regain lost popular support and legitimacy as it entered its final months in office.

“The Arroyo Administration lacked the political will to pursue the tangible anti-corruption reforms needed to pass the Philippines 2009 Country Scorecard’s Control of Corruption Indicator.

“Nevertheless, the students observed print media and television outlets publicizing the government’s new partnerships with the MCC, creating the impression that the Administration has been working favorably with the US government to overcome these hurdles.

“We also noticed a strong sense of popular disillusionment with the Arroyo Administration, and the widely held sentiment that corruption had become far too entrenched in the national political system to be changed through democratic means.

“The inherently political nature of corruption creates an additional disincentive for lenders (banks) to push for substantial improvements. The anti-corruption efforts that do emerge tend to be overly administrative and fail to address the role of power inequities and local of domestic political will that entrench corruption within political systems.

“Development aid, no matter how imperative and well intentioned cannot be separated from the context in which it is granted. The very same force of brand recognition…can be abused by opportunist politicians acting in delegitimized environments.

“The MCC has rightfully identified the need for anti-corruption programming and should carry forth with funding these initiatives once the Philippines has passed the Control of Corruption indicator on its own – a sign that political will is in place to begin an MCA (Compact) partnership.”

The paper was prepared by Brigitte Brown, Madeline Gardner, Kelsi Stine and Cody Valdes of the Institute for Global Leadership, Tufts University.

It is recommended reading for all interested to explore the MCC’s work and the context of its involvement in the Philippines.


Leaders from 47 nations, including the host, President Obama, converged in Washington DC on April 12-13 to discuss nuclear security, especially how to stop rogue states and criminal or terrorist groups from getting their hands on the raw materials and technology to make an atomic bomb.

The event drew more than 900 journalists from all over the world, and the cavernous press area resembled a media United Nations of sorts.

The summit was held at the Washington Convention Center in downtown DC.

It sparked one of the biggest security clamp-downs in the US capital, as thousands of policemen, soldiers, marshalls and Secret Service men, blocked off areas surrounding the Convention Center and protect the VIPs during their stay in DC.

It was the biggest gathering of world leaders in the US in almost 56 years.

Fil-Ams from the "Never Again to Martial Law Coalition" picketed in front of the White House on April 11, the eve of the summit and arrival of President Arroyo to register their protest against rampant human rights violations and corruption in the Philippines.

A larger group of Falun Gong protesters held their demonstration on Monday, just outside the security perimeter of the Convention Center.

But more than anything else, it was a happy occasion to reunite with old and new friends who also covered this historic event. My old pal Ros Manlangit had (again) left the papers to join Malacanang. And of course there was Ging and Momar and Eunice. And Joey Romblon, one of ABS-CBN's rising cameramen who really took advantage of opportunities we helped open when I was news operations manager way back when in Quezon City.

And the unsinkable Boy Aguinaldo of PTV-4. And Rocky and new acquaintance Elena Aben of the Bulletin (Ros introduced her as the new generation of the Defense Press Corps)

It always feels good to be with friends, and to be working (even if part-time) on another historic event that people will be referencing for a long time to come, and I can say, "I was there".