Monday, June 11, 2012


The issue of lack of access to justice by the poor and vulnerable communities in the Philippines has shown its ugly face to me when I visited Marinduque a week ago. I accompanied a lawyer friend who was handling one of the cases (torts and damages) filed by a local community against Marcopper Mining Corporation.

The case arose out of an environmental disaster that struck in the 90's: a landslide of mine tailings from the mining corporation's dam went to the Mogpog River. Since river systems are interconnected, the incident affected even the Boac River and nearby waterways. To help you imagine the extent of the disaster, imagine a heart (well, that's how Marinduque looks like on a map) with its veins and arteries (those are the polluted rivers), the heart is pumping toxin into itself and spreading it all over the body.

Scary? Yes, it is. Especially if you were to consider the fact that the entity responsible for it has gone scot-free. Well, at least that's how I look at it --- the case against Marcopper has been pending since 2001 --- at the pre-trial stage! The reason for the delay? I don't know but 11 years is surely a long time! Also, I was told, Marcopper is only a shell of a corporation with no assets anymore --- the community will have to go against its successor-in-interest --- whoever that is! From my friend I also learned that there is a lack of lawyers willing to handle the case because of the time and effort it would take to travel from Manila to Marinduque.

Indeed, we had to take a 4-hour bus ride from Manila to the RORO port and a 4-hour RORO trip (once daily! If you miss it, you wait another day!) to Cawit Port in Marinduque. We arrived at 3a.m. and had no place to go (there was no funding to our accommodation) so we slept at the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) waiting area/office until 6a.m. to freshen up at the PPA's comfort room (we were not able to take a bath!). How could a high-paying lawyer want to be ina situation like this? Well, that lawyer, like my friend, should have a genuine concern for their client's interest to be able to withstand the travel to and from Marinduque.

The only reason I went with my friend is because I wanted to go to Marinduque out of curiousity --- it was one of those Philippine Islands that I have not yet visited.

Access to justice. What does it mean? For the communities in Marinduque, it is but a dream. For it to be real, the people must wake up and demand for government action. Demand for "justice" not "just tiis".*

Unfortunately, our government, too, is sleeping (or pretending to be asleep). With our present government's policy on mining I am afraid that the Marcopper incident may happen again. Our President should visit the communities where mining companies operate so that he can see for himself the damage caused by such activities. The community where we went was once a farming community. They were planting sweet, juicy pineapples, among others. Now, no pineapple can grow on their land. What grows on the land are bananas (the kind with the many seeds which is neither fit for selling nor consumption if you're a picky eater) and "gabi." To our President, try to eat the banana and the "gabi". Go there not in your yacht or in your Presidential watercraft. Go there the way we did so you can see for yourself the effort it takes for us to defend these communities from the mining companies whose activities you encourage.

Why protect the mining companies, Mr. President? They are not your principals (or are they?) The people are your principals. It is them that you must protect. It is them that you must favor. If you were to ask me, this is a case of betrayal of public trust --- an impeachable offense?

*"tiis" - suffer in silence or endure without complaining.

Monday, May 14, 2012


BULLIES SHOULD NEVER BE TOLERATED. Tolerating them only leads them to think that they can go on with what they are doing or, worse, make them believe (without thinking) that what they are doing is right.

I have always thought of China's actions with respect to the PANATAG/SCARBOROUGH SHOAL issue as international bullying but was afraid of verbally expressing it lest I (unintentionally) trigger something in the international scene (so presumptuous of me, according to my husband!). How could I not think so when tourists from China have been advised not to go to the Philippines and tourism packages to my country from China have been cancelled. How could I think otherwise when a shipload full of bananas for export to China were rejected (necessitating its Filipino owner/seller to throw them off board). Indeed, to my mind, China was bullying my beloved country with impunity and without shame. I thought China is a bully but I dare not speak out loud. Fortunately, a famous environmentalist/lawyer, Antonio Oposa, described such acts of China as akin to bullying. Now I can say my piece.

There is wisdom in what Atty. Oposa is recommending to our President in his open letter to the PNoy. I agree that the Philippines should now start invoking the jurisdiction of international venues and/or tribunals --- UN Security Council, UN General Assembly, International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal on the Law of the Seas, and harnessing the legal expertise of our lawyers knowledgeable on international law. Bullying thrives in the absence of law or in the inefective or non-implementation thereof.

Oposa's open letter further impressed me in that it recommends that the Philippines change its view of Scarborough Shoal --- from that of being a source of valuable naturals resources to be exploited, to one of being a natural resource worth conserving and preserving. It is about time that we do such a change in paradigm and infect other member of the international community in the process. We have all been too focused on the benefits and resources that could be derived from the disputed shoal that we fail to consider its preservation for future generations.

I am reminded of the case of Oposa vs. Factoran which, for the first time introduced the concept of inter-generational responsibility. It reminded us that children of future generations, like us, have a right to a balanced and healthful ecological and that we, as the present stewards of the earth, have the obligation to care for such resources to make sure that they (members of the future generation) get the chance to use them and to preserve them for other generations yet to come.

So, to the bully, think not of your country alone. Think also of the world. Why fight for one piece of resource that can easily be depleted by (China's) greed when we (the entire international community) can stand to benefit from its preservation. No need for bullying --- that is, in my opinion, for the uncivilized. Follow international law and make the world a world of peace --- a world without bullies.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


And she hit him for no reason at all other than the fact that she felt like hitting him. She said he was "makulit". He was crying his heart out telling his side of the story. He could not understand why she was hitting him.

"He" (the boy) was a boy of 2 years and "she" (the girl) was a girl of 16 years.

I asked the girl why she hit the boy. "He is so makulit," she said. I said "but children are supposed to be that way. You don't hit him again, you hear?"

I thought that was the last of the hitting, until one day, the boy's mother told me that she saw scars on the boy's arms. "Scars from what?", I asked. The girl pinched the boy several times on the arms real hard that the pinches left marks.

I again asked the girl why she hit the boy. Again, she said, "he was makulit." Again, I told her the same thing I told her before, i.e. that children are really makulit, that you don't hit any children because of that.

To my surprise, the girl shouted at me telling me that the boy is so "makulit" and what's it to me that she hit him for it? I got angry for several reasons. Why was shouting at me? Why can't she see my point? And then I paused...

...she was also still a child. She was hit (beaten, not merely pinched) by her parents for the smallest infraction she made at home. She was always shouted at. She fended for herself at the age of 14 and was forced to care for herself on her own. She had to be strong. For her, strong was being like an adult...Now, there lies the problem...

The girl's idea of being an adult was being like her own parents. She had to shout like her parents. She had to hit children like her parents. She was emulating her parents...

A culture of violence grows when we let it grow in our homes. When we do nothing about it when we see it. When we don't correct it at its core...

The girl had to be told. Violence against children is a crime. She was also an abused child. She should know that it doesn't feel good at all to be hurt and shouted at. She had to know that it wasn't the only way of doing things. That children have to be cared for and loved. It was a difficult concept for her to grasp. She never felt loved. She wasn't cared for.

But she was an intelligent creature. I simply asked her: "Did you like it when your parents hit you? How did you feel when you were shouted at?" At these questions she just stared at me quietly. I was hoping she was digesting every word I was saying. I wanted her to stop this habit of hers.

It has been 2 days since I heard the boy cry. I hope the reason is that the girl has stopped hitting him. After all, the boy is her cousin.

Monday, April 2, 2012

BFFs: Aling Tonya's and Mother Earth

"Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?".

This question might be familiar to some of us. Jesus said this when he prayed at the garden of Gethsemane a few hours prior to his arrest but, if Mother Nature could talk, this could also be the sentence she would have uttered last Saturday during Earth Hour.

I was at Aling Tonya's (seafood palutuan) last Saturday with family and friends, happily celebrating my niece's and my nephew's graduation from high school and elementary, respectively. I was in the middle of a battle with a big crab claw, when one of the restaurant employees announced on the microphone that they will turn off the lights during Earth Hour (8:30-9:30 p.m.). Awww, I heard some of the patrons say but they could not really complain because Aling Tonya's had an announcement posted at the entrance of their establishment that they would be participating in this environmental activity.

Thus, the lights were turned off at 8:30p.m. I was a bit apprehensive that we would be completely covered in darkness but this apprehension went away when tea lights were lighted and the place sort of had a romantic ambience to it. In my mind, I said, haha, I can still see the crabs and the shrimps I was planning to eat! And then I ate...

...looking around me and noticing that Aling Tonya's was the only establishment who participated during Earth Hour, at least from where I sat.

Tsk tsk tsk... they could not spare an hour for Mother Earth, I observed. I couldn't believe it...Either you are for or against Mother Earth. By not participating during Earth Hour, were these establishments against Mother Earth? I sure hope not and I don't think so.

Why then didn't they shut off their lights? After all, it was only going to be off for an hour. What were these establishments afraid of? The dark? Surely, there are things more frightening than a darkened room --- like the destruction o of your home planet, for instance. Unfortunately, for these establishments, the call of profits and money come first (perhaps, in their minds, turning off the lights will turn off potential diners)...Mother Nature for them can come last --- she can wait.

The non-participation of the establishments was actually something that I expected --- I was of the view that no commercial and capitalist establishment will willingly participate in Earth Hour. Aling Tonya's proved me wrong.

What was equally noticeable (in addition to the fact that Aling Tonya's was among the very few establishments who participated at Earth Hour) was the fact that, despite the dark/candle-lit ambience, Aling Tonya's was full of diners during Earth Hour, very much unlike its neighbors (despite them being all lit up). Aling Tonya's patrons were very much impressed by Aling Tonya's participation in the Earth Hour activity. These patrons did not care whether it was dark or lighted --- they loved the food that Aling Tonya's prepared, as well as the environmental concern that it showed --- these were what attracted the patrons, not just the lights. Something the other nearby establishments overlooked.

Adherence to the spirit of corporate social responsibility --- manifested by a true concern for one's clients (preparing delicious and affordable seafood preparations) and a genuine love of/for Mother Earth --- is what our planet needs more of. This is also what makes Aling Tonya's -- as well as the experience you'll have when you're there --- truly special.

Monday, March 26, 2012

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

At a time when the country is supposed to be celebrating Filipino women and women all over the world, I was surprised to read an opinion posted by one of my Facebook friends about a consolidated enrolled bill pending in the office of the President --- waiting for Presidential approval, veto or inaction.

The consolidated enrolled bill seeks to amend Article 202 of Act No. 3815 (The Revised Penal Code), which defines "Vagrants and Prostitutes" and imposes a penalty for those who commit vagrancy and prostitution. The change introduced by the consolidated enrolled bill erases the definition of vagrants, in effect decriminalizing vagrancy, but retains its definition of prostitutes and the penalties. What is wrong with this or what worries me, you may ask?

First, what is the purpose of the law? Aside from favoring vagrants which mostly come from the poorest of the poor in our population, I see no purpose in the law. Why merely amend Article 202? Why not delete it entirely for being anti-poor and anti-women? Are our legislators preparing for the next election? ensuring that the votes of the majority (which come from the poor)go in their favor by including, as one of their accomplishments, the enactment of this law?

Second, to me, the law is a step back and erases whatever accomplishment our country had with respect to protection of our women. Have the legislators forgotten that we already have the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act? In said law, a prostitute has already been classified or described as a victim (not a criminal). In its repealing clause, the consolidated enrolled bill will repeal, modify or amend any and all laws inconsistent therewith. Clearly, the Anti-Trafficking Law's categorization of prostitutes as victims is contradictory with the criminal categorization found in the consolidated enrolled bill.

Third, the consolidated enrolled bill is discriminatory against women as only women can be prostitutes therein. It seems to me that our legislators did not even attempt to look at the definition of a prostitute in the Revised Penal Code and proceeded merely to "erasing" the portion of Article 202 that referred to vagrancy. Were they in a hurry? Why, are they not aware that even males engage in sex-for-money activities? Why single out women?

Finally, the consolidated enrolled bill is already pending in the Office of the President. If worse comes to worst, its passage into law may be the first and fatal example of "Noynoying" that our country will have. Under our Constitution, one of the ways by which a bill becomes a law is when the President does not communicate his veto of a bill to Congress within thirty (30) days. In said instance, the bill shall become a law as if the President had signed it.

PNoy has to veto this bill. PNoy has to act with haste lest the bill lapse into law. The crucial date is April 7, 2012. I hold my breath, cross my fingers and pray for a veto before that date.

To our legislators, I am disappointed. True, there is wisdom in amending an old law (especially an antiquated one like the Revised Penal Code which has been here since 1932) but in amending existing laws, legislators should take pains and strive to study and research the context within which amendments are to be made, i.e. whether amendments are proper or necessary, and if they are, what amendments should be done. In this case, an amendment is truly necessary but it was not a properly researched amendment. Congress should have removed the entire Article 202 for being anti-poor and anti-women. Instead, Congress showed its true colors, opting to dance the cha-cha (one step forward, two steps back) at the expense of women.