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Ilonggo journalists fight hard to decriminalize libel

“If you call your opponent a politician, it’s grounds for libel.”

–Mark Russell

By Alex P. Vidal50497947_10213293970086650_8339189084090007552_n

NEW YORK CITY — In a democratic state like the Philippines, onion-skinned politicians and other known enemies of press freedom use the libel case to harass and intimidate practicing journalists.
They are aware that libel is a criminal offense, thus punishable by fine and imprisonment under the Philippine jurisprudence.
They aren’t actually after the fine.
Most of them want to see the journalists who have “offended” or “defamed” them go to jail.
That’s the bone of their contention; that’s what they want to happen.
Most of them think sending a journalist to jail via the libel case is already tantamount to “avenging” against the journalist’s critical newspaper articles and commentaries.
No normal human being, including a journalist, would want to go to jail.
However, we prefer being charged in court (which they refer to as “the proper forum”) than being murdered.
The Philippines, after all, is the most dangerous country in Asia for journalists, according to the media watchdogs.
It’s actually the biggest cemetery in the world for members of the Fourth Estate based on statistics on media killings.

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Going to jail for a libel case filed by a public official, so far, hasn’t caused any iota of fear and embarrassment to any journalist who is merely doing his job.
When we are arrested and manacled, it’s not because we committed a heinous crime or stole a neighbor’s wallet.
It’s because we made somebody, who has very poor understanding and appreciation of the nature of our profession, mad.
It’s because somebody doesn’t have the delicadeza misusing the public funds, using public office for advancement of his whims and caprices, and for engaging in transactions and activities inimical to public interest.
After being charged for libel and spending a few hours or days in jail, a Filipino journalist, in many cases, becomes a celebrity and hailed as a hero of press freedom; he gets invitations left and right to speak about the hazards of his profession in universities and other gatherings.
The politicians who filed the libel case become the objects of derision and public contempt.
If a public official’s attention is being called over a possible impropriety while in public office, he must submit to the critical news or commentary however bombastic may be the method used by the press, as long as it doesn’t breach the public official’s private life.
This hinges on the principle that a public office is a public trust.

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It’s because of the libel case’s imprisonment clause why we, the Ilonggo community journalists, as well as our colleagues in other parts of the Philippines, have been in the front-line campaigning since after the EDSA Revolution or during the time of President Corazon Aquino to decriminalize libel.
Our campaign in the period between 1989 until 1998 and most recently, included regularly pressing during chance “ambush” interviews and press conferences former senators Joey Lina, the late Leticia Ramos-Shahani, Nikki Coseteng, the late Raul Roco, among other national legislators to pass a bill in congress to make a drastic change for libel law in the Philippine penal code.
No political figure has publicly said no and they all promised to initiate steps to decriminalize libel.
Until now, however, their promises have remained a promise.
Until our colleague, Maria Ressa, chief executive officer of the confrontational Rappler, was recently arrested by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in Manila for cyber libel case, another libel dog with a different collar.
We are confident Ms Ressa will be able to survive this latest attempt to gag and muzzle the press in the Philippines.
No matter how they try to camouflage the issue, it’s a clear case of harassment and intimidation.
We shall continue to advocate for the change of the libel law in the Philippines, and to vigorously fight for press freedom even under a despotic regime with low regard for freedom of the press and expression.

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Posted by on February 18, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Poison politics

“In politics stupidity is not a handicap.” 

–Napoleon Bonaparte

By Alex P. Vidal50497947_10213293970086650_8339189084090007552_n

NEW YORK CITY — The best season to lose friends and shatter a relationship with some relatives in the Philippines is during the election season.
During the elections, forget about kinship, fraternal affinity,pinagsamahan or past and present camaraderie; never mind the investment on utang na loob or debt of gratitude.
Don’t look back at memorable events and circumstances that helped shape a good relationship and expect them to grow in the garden of politics.
Don’t brag about kumare and kumpare ties shored up in the wedding and christening ceremonies as if they can be translated into a political commitment and loyalty.
What happens there will remain and even end there and should never be invoked when politics enters the picture.
Politics is a poison.
Politics will altogether eviscerate all that have been built fraternally by human virtues and goodwill.
In politics, as the old saying always reminds us, there is no permanent friends, only permanent self interests.

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Haven’t we noticed that some of the protagonists in the race for governor, congressman, mayor, and other local government executive positions in the coming Philippine elections are not strangers to each other?
If they are not classmates in the elementary and high school, they are relatives in consanguinity and affinity; kumpare andkumare (fellow godfathers and godmothers) in the wedding and bunyag (christening) ceremonies.
Some are neighbors and playmates since childhood; others “brothers” and “sisters” in fraternity and church; former business partners, former political allies and party mates, former “colleagues” in ideological, spiritual, and ethnic comradeship, former mentors and proteges, etcetera.
All of these relationships will have no weight and bearing once politics takes the center stage.
It has been proven in the past and it is about to be proven once again as the official campaign for the national seats kicked off; the local candidates are, as well, hell-bent to square off and unravel the cannonballs.

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We also caution the Philippine National Police (PNP) not to allow the organization to be wittingly and unwittingly used as a tool in a political partisanship and persecution especially during the election season.
All the raids and arrests involving political personalities will always be greeted with utmost suspicion and skepticism especially if the involved parties are not known violators of law, or have no previous criminal records in the community.
If a political personality has been arrested because of the crime he had ostensibly committed even before he decided to run for a public office, throw all the books on him and haul him in jail.
But if he was arrested mainly because someone had tipped off the authorities that he may be concealing something that is unlawful in his possession, it may spark a red alarm in the area of politicking and may not be good for the image of authorities, especially if the arrest turns out to be a dud.
Ditto for the police raids involving allegations of illegal possession of firearms, illegal drugs, child pornography, investment scam, etcetera.
If they are legitimate raids, go get the bonkers and dregs of society.
If they are tainted with politics, abort, abandon, and stop it.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Ignorance is the only evil

“Vaccines don’t cause autism. Vaccines, instead, prevent disease. Vaccines have wiped out a score of formerly deadly childhood diseases. Vaccine skepticism has helped to bring some of those diseases back from near extinction.”

–Alex Pareene

By Alex P. Vidal50497947_10213293970086650_8339189084090007552_n

NEW YORK CITY — Ignorance will kill more children than the measles outbreak.
If Hippocrates were alive today, he would have spanked idiotic parents whose skepticism has caused them to falsify the true essence of the modern medicine’s immunization program.
Filipino children denied of immunization only because their parents are ignorant or misinformed are still protected by law, thus they can still be saved from parental stupidity.
The Philippines has the Republic Act 10152 or the Mandatory Infants and Children Health Immunization Act of 2011.
Under this law, government hospitals and health centers are mandated to provide immunization for free to infants and children up to five years old.
Some Filipino parents refuse to immunize their kids for fear that the vaccine might harm the tots, a jittery caused by the Dengvaxia imbroglio.
Other parents are still influenced by a debunked study that claims certain vaccines could lead to autism and a theory that claims vaccines were linked to brain damage.
Because of these fears, thousands of Filipino kids who have not been immunized were in danger of being seriously infected with diseases like the measles, rubella, mumps and hepatitis.
In fact, the Department of Health (DOH) has already declared a measles outbreak over the week.
No less than the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) along with Filipino pediatricians as well as experts on infectious diseases have expressed alarm over the measles outbreak in the Philippines that has affected some 20,000 children since December 2018.
Children’s disease is evil, but the biggest evil is that which has created a monster in the minds of some nervous parents.
In fact, there is no evil in this world, according to Socrates, but ignorance.

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If “mama” or “papa” are adamant, do it yourself–if you can.
Take the case of a brave 18-year-old teen from Norfolk, Ohio who recently made the decision to receive his first-ever vaccines for a number of diseases despite his parents’ beliefs.
The Hill reported that Ethan Lindenberger admitted he had gone without vaccines for diseases like the measles, rubella, mumps and hepatitis for his entire life due to his mother’s anti-vaccine beliefs.
He told the publication that his mother, Jill Wheeler, was influenced by online misinformation, including a debunked study that claims certain vaccines could lead to autism and a theory that claims vaccines were linked to brain damage.
Throughout his childhood, Lindenberger said his mother would tell him about the negative side effects of vaccines and how they were bad. He also said he thought it was normal for children not to receive vaccines. But after he realized his other friends and classmates had all been vaccinated, Lindenberger said that’s when he began to do his own research into the matter, reported The Hill.

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“When I started looking into it myself, it became very apparent that there was a lot more evidence in defense of vaccinations, in their favor,” Lindenberger said.
Lindenberger said he later approached his mother with research that debunked some of her claims, including a report from the CDC that explained how vaccines did not cause autism.
“Her response was simply ‘that’s what they want you to think,'” Lindenberger said. “I was just blown away that you know, the largest health organization in the entire world would be written off with a kind of conspiracy theory-like statement like that.”
After failing to change his mother’s thinking on the matter, Lindenberger decided to get vaccinated on his own after turning 18 years old.
As the publication also notes, the story comes at a time when more measles outbreaks have been reported in the Pacific Northwest, prompting more concern among minors about whether they are able to use their own consent to obtain vaccines.
In the month of January alone, measles were confirmed in ten states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington, according to the CDC.
Washington officials also declared a public health emergency as an outbreak of measles spread across an anti-vaccination “hot spot” near Portland, Oregon, late last month.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Iloilo ‘Tsinoy’ community now safe from extortion, blackmail?

“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”

–Steve Jobs

By Alex P. Vidal50497947_10213293970086650_8339189084090007552_n

NEW YORK CITY — We are elated to observe that the Filipino-Chinese community is no longer aghast at the peace and order situation in Iloilo City in the Philippines and appears to be “at home” with the present dispensation under the current local government and the Philippine National Police (PNP) leadership.
The situation has changed dramatically ever since Iloilo City Hall and the Tsinoy community were at odds more than 30 years ago; when the Tsinoy community and the PNP had a stormy relationship over allegations of extortion, harassment, blackmail, and “shabby” treatment accorded those who refused to toe the line with the powers that be.
Gone were the years when most members of the mestizo de sangley (sons and daughters of Filipino and Chinese parents) would never trust anyone in the City Hall and the PNP.
I was a City Hall beat reporter in 1989 when Mayor Roding Ganzon blasted Gen. Romeo Zulueta, Regional Command (Recom 6) director, for being allegedly involved in a kidnapping-for-ransom syndicate operating in Western Visayas.
When we asked Zulueta of his reaction, he could only mutter, “Naniniwala pa ba kayo kay Ganzon (Do you still believe Ganzon)?”
Zulueta neither denied nor challenged the late hard-hitting city mayor’s accusation that the police official was involved in the abduction of a prominent Filipino-Chinese millionaire and an Ilonggo media and jewelry magnate who were both released after reportedly paying millions of ransom.
Recom 6 is now the Regional Police Office 6 (RPO-6) headed by Chief Supt. John Bulalacao, a highly touted PNP official with a solid reputation and professionalism.

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If Ganzon’s charges against Zulueta were true (they weren’t substantiated and no formal cases were filed against the police general), it would be a perfect reason for the Tsinoy traders to abandon Iloilo City and put up their businesses somewhere else.
For any dyed-in-the-wool Tsinoy trader, putting up a business and staying put to manage that business in a squalid and unpredictable atmosphere, was like participating in a scary reality film.
The distrust and animosity was exacerbated by reports that some extortionists and blackmailers, introducing themselves as “City Hall employees” and “cops”, victimized business establishments in the Downtown, City Proper ran mostly by Tsinoy businessmen.
These were the years when bank robberies and other heists victimizing downtown establishments were rampant; and most of the perpetrators had direct or indirect linked with rogue cops.
The years when social media like Skype and Facebook didn’t exist yet.
The Filipino-Chinese community in Iloilo City was and is still one of the most well-organized and well oiled in the Philippines.
It is also very accessible and one of the country’s grandest and where some of the most prominent officials of the Philippine Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. (PCCCII) in the national and local chapters belong.

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The entire physical structure or the Calle Real’s skeletal body is already part of the Filipino-Chinese business empire, where shoppers can buy all kinds of household, school, grocery, electrical, medical, and other industrial supplies.
This was the period when giant malls like SM City, Robinson’s, Gaisano City, etcetera, weren’t yet conceptualized and didn’t yet mushroom in the metropolis.
We are happy that there is now an atmosphere of bliss, cooperation, and prosperity among local officials, the PNP, and the Tsinoy community especially when they all recently combined their resources and talents in welcoming the Chinese New Year, also called Spring Festival or Lunar New Year.
No less than Philippine Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. (PCCCII) Iloilo Chapter president Ramon Cua Locsin has confirmed that Tsinoy businessmen are now comfortable doing business and living in Iloilo City because they now feel safe and the environment is better compared in other cities, provinces, and municipalities in the Philippines.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Secure Jaro Cathedral but don’t shut off mobile lines

“There is no priority higher than the prevention of terrorism.”

–John Ashcroft

By Alex P. Vidal50497947_10213293970086650_8339189084090007552_n

NEW YORK CITY — It’s normal for the Philippine National Police (PNP) to be jittery and panicky these days after the Jolo Cathedral bombing that killed 27 churchgoers, but let’s hope the PNP won’t ask anew the telecommunication companies to suspend the mobile phone lines during the Feast of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria de Jaro in Jaro district, Iloilo City in the Philippines on February 1-2, 2019.
The Candelaria de Jaro fiesta is one of the most attended and vastly prominent religious gatherings in Asia.
Suspending a vital communication network during this mammoth occasion would be antithesis; it can’t prevent anarchy if it will happen.
It will only embolden troublemakers or small-time terror punks to disrupt events that don’t have direct communication access to authorities and the public.
A huge district event with a suspended communication facility is a recipe for catastrophe; it will exacerbate tension and public paranoia.

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If the attacks are carried by suicide bombers like what happened in Jolo, according to initial investigations, even if we suspend the Panay Electric Company (PECO) lines chaos will still occur.
Determined bombers don’t give a damn whether mobile phone lines are shut off or active.
Their minds are programmed to kill and unleash a carnage by all means.
By all means, however, the PNP must secure the Jaro Cathedral premises where a large crowd normally converges to lit candles, pay homage to the patron saint, and attend the Mass.
The procession also romps off and ends in the Jaro Cathedral.
If terrorists or any lunatic, God forbid, will use long distance or remote-controlled bombs as feared by the PNP, the terrorists will have to belabor themselves in planting or distributing the explosive gadgets first on their target areas.
It’s not difficult to spot them if they act suspiciously, especially if they carry heavy items in their backpacks, during the planning stage.

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With the PNP’s vast intelligence machinery and the mushrooming CCTVs, these terrorists will be stopped on their tracks even before approaching their target areas.
We have abundance of watchdogs and alert residents in the different districts: barangay tanods, vendors, trisikad drivers, cabbies, among other ordinary folk, who can easily notice if someone not familiar with them behaves abnormally in their areas.
Let’s leave the mobile phone lines alone.
Instead, the PNP should buttress their monitoring network and surround vital areas that have potential attractions and interests to the terror groups.
Sometimes all of these are just figments of our imagination.
It may not happen, after all.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Duterte ‘ignores’ Dinagyang invitation

“The safety of the people shall be the highest law.”

-Marcus Tullius Cicero

By Alex P. Vidal50497947_10213293970086650_8339189084090007552_n

NEW YORK CITY — Ilonggos shouldn’t consider it as a big deal that President Rodrigo R. Duterte “ignored” Iloilo City Hall’s invitation to grace the just-concluded Dinagyang Festival in Iloilo City in the Philippines.
The president can’t just say yes to all the invitations in all the festivals and other social, political, religious and even business gatherings anywhere in the Philippines.
If he accepts one invitation and rejects another, he will be accused of playing favorites.
January is the month of religious and cultural festivals.
Iloilo City was only one of the many cities and municipalities in the Philippines that celebrated the feast of Senior Santo Niño aside from the Sinulog Festival in Cebu City.
Either his schedule wouldn’t allow it, or President Duterte probably decided to skip the Dinagyang Festival on January 25-27, 2019 for security or even health reasons.
The safety of a sitting president is always a paramount concern over other considerations.
Many Ilonggos still couldn’t forget when he called Iloilo City as “the most shabulized” and when he threatened to kill the former mayor, Jed Patrick Mabilog, for being a “protector” of illegal drugs.
It would have been a security nightmare for the “overloaded” Regional Police Office 6 (RPO-6) led by Director John Bulalacao if the president came after being officially invited by Mayor Jose “Joe III” Espinosa III.

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As Iloilo aims to harvest one million metric tons of rice this year, rice traders in the Philippines are reportedly set to import about 1.2 million tonnes of the staple food, as the Southeast Asian country lifts a two-decade-old cap on purchases.
This developed as the National Food Authority (NFA) has approved initial applications from 180 rice traders for permits to import a total of 1.186 million tonnes of either 5-percent or 25-percent broken white.
It was also reported that bigger rice purchases by the Philippines, already one of the world’s top importers and consumers of the grain, could underpin export prices in Vietnam and Thailand, traditionally its key suppliers.
According to Reuters, prices in Vietnam fell last week ahead of the country’s largest harvest this month, while the Thai market is likely to see additional supply towards the end of January from the seasonal harvest.
Dr. Sailila E. Abdula, acting executive director of Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), has rallied workers to support the upcoming Rice Tariffication Act or currently the Senate Bill 1998, which aims to replace import restrictions on rice with tariffs.
Abdula said cost-effective technologies should be further generated for the farmers to survive the possible influx of cheap rice from the international market.
Under the Senate Bill already signed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III and House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, PhilRice will annually receive P3 billion for six years, which will be used for “developing, propagating, and promoting inbred rice seeds to rice farmers and in organizing rice farmers into seed growers associations to be engaged in seed production and trade.”

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The Family Planning Organization of Philippines (FPOP) Iloilo Chapter reportedly distributed thousands of condoms to revelers during the highlight days of the recent Dinagyang Festival in Iloilo City.
FPOP Iloilo Chapter program manager Monalisa Diones said they have chosen the festival as a perfect venue to exhort the revelers to practice safe sex and to spread public awareness against the rising cases of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in Iloilo City.
We suggest that FPOP go directly to the barangays and educate the couples not only to practice safe sex, but also to minimize producing battalions of babies.
One major reason why many Filipinos are still wallowing in abject poverty is because of overpopulation.
For lack of proper education and training, many couples in slum areas continue to transform their households into bodegas of babies.
The number of mouths to be fed isn’t proportionate to their income, thus many of them continue to live below the poverty level despite working like dogs.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

A whirlwind of pride for Ilonggos

“You don’t stumble upon your heritage. It’s there, just waiting to be explored and shared.” 

–Robbie Robertson

By Alex P. Vidal50497947_10213293970086650_8339189084090007552_n

NEW YORK CITY — There is always an element of pride and exhilaration etched on the face of any Ilonggo anywhere in the world when random discussions take a spiral on the Dinagyang Festival.
Ilonggos are always brimming with so much excitement and enthusiasm once someone brings out the topic on Iloilo City’s annual cultural and religious festivities that last for a week highlighted by a fluvial parade, colorful ati dance competitions, among other cultural, religious, sports and tourism programs and activities.
There is no other festival or event that defines the Ilonggos’ heritage and culture to the level of maximum bliss and erudition.
The hysteria whipped up by all the positive energy that clustered the metropolis for one week is shared by every stakeholder and those behind the wheels that steered the festival to what it is today.
Ilonggos parlayed and talk about the Dinagyang Festival like they were promoting their own values, talents, and personal achievements in the global platform.

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Dinagyang is Iloilo; Iloilo is Dinagyang.
There is so much goodness and substance that radiate in the horizon when an Ilonggo talks about the 51-year-old festival, which has now become the focal point when our tourism officials led by Department of Tourism-6 Director Helen Catalbas and Iloilo City Tourism Chief Junel Ann Divinagracia promote Iloilo City and Western Visayas as a whole.
Even the Iloilo Business Club (IBC) has been smitten by the Dinagyang’s potentials and solid impact on business an investment opportunities over the years.
Although their hands are full owing to the stressful security preparations, members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) get a special attention, credit and commendation when the festival goes to bed with nary an anarchy and revelry-related bedlam.
Ilonggos always find the Dinagyang Festival as an occasion to refine and rebuild their spirit and character.

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Ricardo Alonsabe, an Ilonggo Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) in Victoria, Seychelles, watched the Dinagyang Festival in his laptop in the lobby of a restaurant where he worked last year.
“I opened my Facebook account and was able to get access to the ‘live’ performances,” said Alonsabe, a chef in a restaurant serving African food.
Alonsabe’s co-workers and some tourists joined him and they were enthralled by the sound of drums and choreography of ati warriors.
“It’s really a world class festival,” he chortled.
Alonsabe and thousands of other OFWs all over the five continents were like watching the Dinagyang Festival “live” in the streets.
With the advent of technology, Dinagyang Festival could now be seen on the Internet and in any social media platform.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2019 in Uncategorized