Friday, May 29, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me

My 43rd year is coming to an end and, like all passages one undertakes, I look forward to the coming year with some anticipation and a smidgen of nervousness. In just a couple of hours I will turn 44. If I were furniture I would probably qualify as "mid-century modern". These past couple of days I've already received advance greetings - someone even sent me a bottle of chardonnay this morning (2002 Mcguigan from Australia). Publicly, I affect a blase attitude about all this. As I've been telling advance greeters these past days, it's rude to remind me that I'm on my last two days of being 32 years old.

But - and we've heard this before - birthdays are special and should take on added significance the older one gets. It's a time to count one's battle scars and wonder that one still stands. It's a time to remember past hurts and put these into perspective - they're not so bad after all and life does have a way of providing a healing salve. It's also a time for affirmation, that the person who is celebrating another year past (and another year coming) is still, for all intents and purposes, a great person who can still bench press 120 lbs. - I'm hitting the gym first thing tomorrow; laugh at himself; and try to be a good father to an adorable five year old daughter.

Happy birthday, dude.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Sex Files

In Kenya a man is suing a womens’ activist group for having (successfully, it seems) urged women to boycott sex. The move was in protest to the fragility of the coalition government in the Kenyan parliament. According to the paintiff because his wife deprived him of sex he suffered sleepless nights, anxiety, dizziness and backache. Now, there are many ways to address those complaints – Nyquil for sleepless nights, Cert for dizzines, and stretches for a bad back, but all this is beside the point and merely sidesteps what men have been reluctant to acknowledge: the ever increasing power of the vagina. While women have always known about that organ’s hold over men, they have only now discovered the creative potential for its political uses. As a man I might not be able to fully understand the deep motivations behind the Kenyan womens’ actions. Displeasure with the state of the nation is the most obvious trigger but I’m almost certain that deep down there is a realization on womens’ part that one method of expressing disapproval – cutting off a man’s penis as in the case of John Wayne Bobbit – is losing its efficacy.

Back to the Philippines: sexpot Katrina Halili has filed charges against local lothario Hayden Kho for the proliferation of videos showing them cavorting and having sex. She has even gotten a senator on her side who, in a privilege speech, demanded the revocation of Dr. Kho’s medical license on the ground that he had taken advantage of his patient’s supposed vulnerability and weaknesses. (Scratch head) So what started out as a private romp between two consenting adults has become a public menage a trois with this senator as asungot. Hayden, you should be wishing that you’re in Kenya right now where the most you’ll get is, well, not getting any of it.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Martin's Anthem

Last Sunday’s Pacquiao-Hatton fight had more than just Hatton as a casualty. Singer Martin Nievera’s pre-fight rendition of our national anthem has made him everyone’s punching bag – the National Historical Institute is contemplating filing a criminal suit against him for violating a law which prohibits the song from being sung differently from the Julian Felipe-arranged march; a congressman has filed a resolution to investigate Nievera in aid of legislation; and songwriter Ryan Cayabyab was even reported by a newspaper as having previously admonished Martin to stick to the traditional version. Fortunately for Martin, others have come out in his defense citing artistic license and the fact that he sung with "great feeling".

Martin’s version of the Lupang Hinirang may not have sat well with everyone, but it does raise some interesting questions. For one, does the constitutional guarantee of free speech apply to the “mangling” of the national anthem? While I would be careful to elevate this to the level of flag burning, I seem to recall that Philippine case law does not protect disrespect of the flag. If that were anything to go by then Martin might be in for it, but he can always claim that he meant no disrespect. On the other hand, is the NHI unfairly singling out Martin? Isn’t the version played out in cinemas prior to the first and last full shows also sung in violation of the law? Americans take a lot of liberties with the Star Spangled Banner, singing it all jazzed up or just plain godawful- remember comedienne Roseanne Barr who croaked the SSB before a baseball game, only to be booed by the audience, whereupon she defiantly grabbed her crotch? However unpleasant that sight may be shouldn't we have equal rights in that regard?

Personally, I didn’t like The Nievera Version and think that if Simon Cowell had judged that performance he would label it “indulgent” and “over the top”. However, I wouldn't go to the extent of suggesting that Martin be strung up from the nearest flagpole as he belts out "ang mamatay nang dahil sa iyo!". Maybe Martin should have taken a cue from the great Sir Tom Jones who, on the same stage, sang God Save the Queen simply, manly, and with great dignity. In short, a class act. Of course Jones was singing for the other side which lost, but that's another story.

In the end more important issues cry out for our collective attention: Typhoon Emong has just left a swath of destruction, the national deficit is ever balooning, and the 2010 elections are just around the corner. Then there is Manny Pacquiao to celebrate. The fuss about Martin is - like his singing - all noise and columnists, pundits and assorted kibitzers (Miztuh Blogwell included) will fortunately find other topics to bark about. One good thing to come out of all this is the revelation that our nation is not made the less by Martin's folly. If at all, it has revealed one of our strengths and that is that our society is democratic enough to tolerate really bad acts.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Assorted Wingdings

“I felt sorry for Nicole as the victim of this mess…But on hindsight, after hearing of Nicole’s departure to the United States and now knowing that she has decided to start a life there – my view has taken a full 360 degree swing.” (Criticizing the Smith CA Ruling by Sara Soliven de Guzman, The Philippine Star, 27 April 2009) Someone must have been in the washroom retouching her makeup when her geometry teacher was teaching how to measure an angle. A full 360 degrees is a circle, thus restoring to Sara Soliven de Guzman her sympathies for Nicole. If she had been less zealous in her self-righteousness Ms. de Guzman might have realized that she only needs 180 degrees to express her contempt for Nicole.

Have been seeing an odd sight on EDSA these days: white shirted and be-jeaned men with yellow reflectorized sashes draped across their torsos standing alongside the metro traffic aides. By their official-looking mien (or are they just bored and hungry?) and what seemed to be traffic tickets they were holding, I can only deduce that they must have something to do with traffic management. Sort of like aides to the traffic aides. Neat - a solution not just to the horrid traffic, but to rising unemployment. And the only cost to the government must be the reflectorized sashes as - judging from the shabby condition of their tees and jeans – the uniforms were provided by the individuals themselves. Shouldered by the private sector, salary is variable and is based on an incentive scheme that works like this: flag bus, cite for traffic violations, extort as much as you can. Must be BF’s idea of a private-public partnership. It’s also an idea that ranks up there with those pink urinals.

Speaking of redundancies, when clearing customs in the NAIA arrivals terminal you’ll have to have the customs officer stamp your declaration form. However, you’ll notice that you don’t surrender the form to that officer. You surrender it to another officer who stands at the exit which is, oh, five feet away from the customs officer who just stamped your declaration.

Even with all those additional congressmen, the House still couldn’t muster a quorum to impeach Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, never mind that Congress is still in session. Fortunately or not, it wasn’t due to any organized political move by majority congressmen, but by their hying off to Las Vegas to watch the Pacquiao-Hatton fight. Foremost among the absentees is House Speaker Prospero Nograles who - when asked why he is among the House delinquents - petulantly declared that he has never missed watching a Pacquiao fight live. Oo nga naman, why break a perfect record? Tsk, we should be more sympathetic.

First there was avian flu, then swine flu, now congressmen flew. Ok, that didn’t work…

To be fair, many congressmen are not attending the Pacquiao fight and are just as annoyed by the absence of their Las Vegas-bound colleagues. Some of them have even suggested that since the current swine flu epidemic has been raised by the WHO to near-pandemic status, those congressmen who went to the US (where the flu has spread from Mexico) must be quarantined on their return to the Philippines. If it wasn’t for the health of the other congressmen who stayed behind, I would even suggest that they all be quarantined together IN Congress. That way, whatever sicknesses they carry – and that includes insensitivitis, kapalmukhaytis, and the corruptorola virus, to name a few – just circulate amongst themselves.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

News From the Funny Farm

As if the House of Representatives wasn't chaotic enough the Supreme Court recently ruled that more seats must be allocated to party list groups, increasing the number of seats for such groups by 29. There is now a total of 51 party list seats, up from 22. That does not include the 219 congressional district representatives. So let's see, this brings the final tally of congressmen to... TOO MANY. A report by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines states that each congressman essentially costs PhP 200 million in pork barrel, and that Congress recently increased its pork allocation by PhP 2 billion for a total of PhP 9.665 billion. I don't vouch for the accuracy of this statement, but if it were true then the recent en masse addition of congressmen might just break the bank. The lower house (so called for the depths to which many of its members stoop) may have to be referred to as the poor house.

But congressmen have more important things to worry about than the cost of additional congressmen and who is paying for all this (us taxpayers, of course). Their primary worry is the shortage of office space. One report says that existing congressmen refuse to share their offices with the newcomers. That comes as no surprise. Said one congressman, "We are not doctors so why should we share offices?". Tama nga naman - they are not doctors. They create problems, not cure them.

I will raise a howl of protest if the House announces that it needs a bigger session hall in which to conduct its business. Congress doesn't need a bigger session hall, it only needs to run its business more efficiently. And more intelligently. If we consider that congressmen are notoriously absent when it comes to attending sessions then a rotation system of attendance can be easily adopted. For example, those congressmen with vehicle registrations ending with 8 can be absent on certain days. Or all days. Wait a minute, all congressmens' vehicles end with 8. So there's the solution. Congress might just work more intelligently if everyone were absent.

That Failon Incident

[Oops! I deleted the following post by mistake when all I wanted to delete was a picture. Originally posted on April 20 or thereabouts. My bad...]

In a fatal shooting incident celebrity radio talk show host Ted Failon’s wife dies, raising questions as to whether it was suicide or parricide. Even before she expired, however, the tragedy nearly turned into farce with the scene-stealing actions of the Quezon City Police and of Persida Rueda Acosta, chief of the Public Attorney’s Office.

On the shooting’s being reported to the police they proceeded to the Failon residence in the upscale Tierra Pura Subdivision in Quezon City, where they discovered that the household help had washed the blood off the bathroom floor. Inspite (or maybe because) of the presence of television cameras the police arrested the household helpers and forcibly hauled them into waiting police cars on the ground that they had tampered with the scene of a crime. Which raises the question: had a crime really been committed? At this point that has not yet been established. I squirmed watching the scene on television as the household helpers’ lawyer pleaded with police to be allowed to speak with her clients. She also unsuccessfully invoked her clients’ right to be informed of the charges against them.

Act two of the police drama had them arresting the victim’s siblings while they kept vigil over her in the ICU. Again, news video footage shows the police collaring and dragging the victim’s brother to a waiting police van. What looks like two plainclothes policemen then jump into the speeding vehicle and restrain him further, never mind that he is in handcuffs. According to news reports the siblings refused to answer questions propounded to them by visiting policemen. The policemen also wanted to take paraffin tests off the victim’s hands. No doubt these are standard procedures, so why all the fuss by the police? They were obviously rebuffed by the siblings but what ordinary citizen wouldn’t act in the same manner given the callousness that the police had been exhibiting in carrying out the case? If accounts are to be believed, this includes making fun of and posing for photographs with Failon when he appeared at police headquarters.

Enter Persida Rueda Acosta of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), which defends indigents in criminal cases. She insinuates herself as Ted Failon’s lawyer on the ground that the PAO had agreed with the National Press Club to defend its members whenever the need arises. No one disputes that Failon is entitled to counsel, but indigent he is not and can certainly afford his own lawyer. I admire Acosta for her staunch defense of the rights of poor accused, even if these are in high-profile criminal cases: no other person has raised the consciousness of the public about the importance of the PAO to the Philippine justice system. Inexplicably, Ms. Acosta forgets that the household help languishing in jail on obstruction of justice charges are too poor to obtain legal assistance on their own credit and, hence, are excellent candidates for her office’s services. But then TV news doesn’t give too much coverage to household help. Her stout defense of Failon prompts Acosta’s boss, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales, to call her crazy.

All the while, the public’s appetite for news can’t get satiated enough and Failon is in the unfamiliar position of having to plead for his privacy. To his advantage, the information flow is controlled by his employer, ABS-CBN, which has been pushing the suicide theory non too subtly. It is also getting exclusive public interviews with family members, leaving the other news networks in the dark.

From tragedy, to police drama, to low comedy - this is how The Failon Incident is developing. And like any primetime TV drama, there are winners and losers. The losers: Ted Failon, who has suffered a grievous loss and whose reported senatorial ambitions are scotched until the truth about this gripping whodunit finally comes to light. Then there is the Philippine National Police that – try as its superiors might to polish up its image with smart slogans and conspicuous billboards – is stymied by the antics of its Keystone SPOs. The winners: ABS-CBN in the battle for the network ratings and - tadah! - Attorney Acosta who, given her high public profile of late and having been bestowed by no less than Secretary Gonzales the tagline “that crazy woman”, might be able to convert this into a successful Senate candidacy. After all, crazier people of lesser achievements have accomplished that feat.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Case of Odd Albert Wilson

Of late the media have been closely following the Daniel Smith story. The most recent article I read was that in the Inquirer that proclaimed, "Smith Gone With the Wind". The article rues the American marine's immediate departure from the Philippines upon his acquittal by the Court of Appeals of having raped a Filipina whom we all know as Nicole. My reaction to his departure - good riddance and not a moment too soon. What do we expect him to do upon his release, anyway: visit the local tourist spots and sample the nightlife, maybe?

This reminds me of a case I handled when I was a new lawyer in a Makati law firm. It involved a British national who was accused of having raped the twelve year old daughter of his Filipina live-in partner. The trial court convicted him but, on appeal to the Supreme Court, the court acquitted him on the ground that the accused's conflicting and oftentimes fantastic testimonies cast doubts on the existence of any crime. While the case did not gain the widespread attention of the Smith case, it did warrant some passing mention in the British press. This was at a time when the death penalty was in effect for rape cases - the death penalty has since been abolished - and the UK government was concerned about the British public's response to the execution of one of its own in a foreign land (read: in a third world country).

The accused Albert Wilson was not the most sterling specimen of a subject that the UK could offer. Down and out and possessing a petty criminal record for theft prior to his having landed in the Philippines, he nevertheless unshakeably maintained that rape was a dastardly act to which he would never stoop. He also sincerely adored his live-in partner. They were a fit. She couldn't be said to be a Filipina beauty - fugly is how they now call it. She was devoted to him, bringing his meals to the municipal jail each day, washing his clothes, and allowing him to enjoy his fair share of conjugal visitation rights. But submissive she was not and she would fight him and threaten to leave him when he would get despondent over his incarceration and blame her for spoiling her daughter, a daughter whom he took as his own, and fed and clothed, etc, etc. at which point they would both break down and cry and hold each other. Whilst I silently cursed my boss for having assigned me to this case.

Wilson was also a lawyer's nightmare client, refusing to accept advise and perrenially overriding accepted legal theory with his own version of reality. His downtrodden demeanor masked a condescending attitude that many foreigners affect toward the locals of developing countries, an attitude that in all probability earned him the shoddy treatment he complained of at the hands of prison officials and other inmates. In a book he later published he accuses his legal counsel of a shoddy defense, forgetting that it was his counsel's own efforts at drawing out the inconsistencies and fabrications of the accused that moved the Supreme Court to overturn his conviction. I should point out that it was that same legal counsel who represented Wilson all the way to the Supreme Court. Wilson also never settled his huge legal bills which were, at the embarrassed request of British embassy officials, waived by legal counsel.

I had since left the employ of the law firm, but one day several years later Wilson's lawyers received a phone call from the national penitentiary, informing them that they had just received the Supreme Court's decision and would they be so kind to collect their client? This was at five o'clock in the afternoon and, aware that there was a BA flight to Heathrow Airport that evening, his lawyer rushed to the penitentiary and retrieved Wilson. As the party was about to proceed to the airport Wilson resisted and said that he was not leaving the country without his Filipina partner. Embassy officials went apoplectic and told him that they were having none of that, whereupon he threatened to stay on in the Philippines and they relented. For good measure, Wilson demanded that they issue a UK resident's visa or he would come back to the Philippines. Oh yes, and for her son, too. British good sense prevailed and Wilson's precious cargo of partner and son were immediately given the necessary travel documents, visas, and put on the plane that very night.

In a bizarre epilogue, I learned that a year after Wilson's release the accuser, his partner's daughter, demanded to be reconciled with her mother in the UK. Once again, Wilson threatened to return to the Philippines unless Her Majesty's government issued to said daughter the requisite permits to visit and stay in the country. And so were they united in the United Kingdom as one happy (albeit dysfunctional) family: accuser, accused and partner.