Bobby Romulo’s urgent appeal goes viral

Photo from Zuellig Foundation

Former foreign secretary Roberto R. Romulo is supposed to take things easy for health reasons. He has even suspended his columns in Philippine Star until November. But he just had to send out an urgent appeal to his fellow members of the business community. And he was surprised by the reactions.

The appeal has gone viral. Someone translated it to Tagalog and Cebuano.

As expected, it has elicited the ire of Duterte fanatics.

Read what Romulo has written:

“This letter is about the sad plight of our country under the Presidency of Duterte which has been characterized by incompetence, brutality, corruption, incivility, abuse of power, and dishonesty. In a span of five years, he has reversed the gains that the Aquino Presidency has bequeathed him – a robust economy, a healthy balance sheet, shrinking poverty levels, the confidence of foreign investors, international credit rating agencies and corruption ranking institutions and the respect of other countries. He has squandered the weight of global public opinion in our favor following the ruling of the UN arbitration court invalidating China’s claim on the South China Sea by meekly standing by while she continues encroaching on our territory and denying our fishermen access to traditional fishing grounds. His brutal implementation of his anti-drug war has caused the lives of thousands with little success to show for it. His incompetent management of the pandemic resulted in unnecessary deaths and impoverished the poor even more. The simplicity, dignity, moral values and respect for democratic ideals that the under-appreciated Noynoy Aquino brought stands in stark contrast to Duterte. Do we really want six more years of this dark age in our history? Six more years of Harry Roque and Jose Calida?

“The next election will be fought in cyberspace – be it the social media trolls or even outright digital shenanigans by the side that have the means to do so or is friendly with those who have. Truth is the counter weapon of choice against those who will bend it to change the narrative. I strongly suggest that you highlight Aquino legacies to your family, friends, and acquaintances. If possible, provide moral and financial support to those who are in social media. It is my understanding that there are trolls on our side but regrettably weak in comparison to Duterte trolls.

“Do not put priority on the ‘winnability’ of a candidate but rather on someone who will bring back competence, dignity, civility and true love of country and her people. Together we can make that candidate winnable. But do not wait for that individual to emerge. Our primary objective now is to show our countrymen that Duterte and his anointed are unacceptable.

“At the age of 82, I assure you I have no personal agenda, political or otherwise. In truth, it is my fervent prayer for the return of democracy and its institutions, which the incumbent has trampled.

“Thank you for the messages and prayers. It is my hope that Divine Intervention will assist me in my medical challenge even as I devoutly pray that HE will bring enlightenment to our citizenry that will lead to the political demise of the incumbent President and his allies.

“ Feel free to send to others!!!”

Pacquiao is hindrance to Duterte’s staying in power beyond June 2022

President Duterte attended Sen.Manny Pacquiao’s 38th birthday celebration in General Santos on Dec. 17, 2018. Malacanang photo by Richard Madelo.

Boxing champ and Sen. Manny Pacquiao and President Rodrigo Duterte used to be allies.

Despite his being a born-again Christian, Pacquiao did not condemn the extra-judicial killings that became a daily occurrence as Duterte waged his war on drugs. He supported Duterte’s initiative to re-impose death penalty. He voted for the abhorrent anti-terror law.

He was silent when former senator Antonio Trillanes IV exposed Duterte’s bank deposits in hundreds of millions of pesos in 2016 which remain unexplained up to now.

Now, he talks about corruption in the Duterte government.

Duterte was in the audience at the Axiata Arena in Malaysia when Pacquiao won over Argentine Lucas Matthysse in July 2018 and called him an inspiration to “Filipinos not only in boxing but also in the public service.” Never mind that Pacquaio is known for his absenteeism in the Senate.

Now, Duterte is talking about Pacquiao’s absenteeism. A few days ago, during the inauguration of the Light Rail Transit extension, Duterte said: “Eh kung mag-report ka lang, dalawa, isang buwan, then I would say that you are a s***. A s*** is a s***. Magtrabaho ka, hiningi mo ‘yan, nandiyan ‘yong mga papel.

(When you report [to work] twice in a month, then I would say you are a s***. A s*** is a s***. You work. You asked for it. The papers are there.)

“Start investigating. Do not go elsewhere. Comply first with your duty as a senator. Tapusin mo ‘yan, nandiyan ‘yong mga papeles. Huwag kang pa-absent-absent. (Finish that first, the papers are there. Don’t be absent.)

The change of tune, no doubt, is related to the 2022 elections.

Duterte’s term ends on June 30, 2022. But it’s obvious he wants to stay in power beyond the constitutional limit to protect himself and other officials who have helped him execute his controversial policies and programs like bloody war on drugs.

The Constitution does not allow a re-election for the president. His allies’ attempts to change the Constitution miserably failed.

He floated the utterly ridiculous idea of him running for vice president to his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, or his aide-turned-senator, Christopher “Bong” Go, which he later admitted to be just an anti-lame duck scheme.

The promotion of the 43-year-old Duterte-Carpio to succeed the 76-year-old Duterte seems to be working because she is leading the surveys on possible presidential candidates for 2022.

Of the names in the top five of the February 2021 Pulse Asia survey (Duterte-Carpio, Bongbong Marcos, Grace Poe, Ishko Moreno, Manny Pacquiao), it’s Pacquiao who is expected to compete with Duterte-Carpio for the Mindanao votes and more importantly of the vote-rich masa.

Thus, he has to be eliminated from the competition. It started with attempts to oust him as acting president of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).

Last Thursday, Duterte erroneously announced that the 42-year-old Pacquiao backed out of his fight with 31-year-old Errol Spence Jr. in Las Vegas scheduled on August 21. There is no official announcement of Pacquaio withdrawing from the fight although he is facing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit from Paradigm Sports Management which sought injunction against the Pacquiao -Spence bout.

The boxer-senator needs to win this fight, not only for the money but also to boost his presidential ambition. Duterte is just one of those who want to see him fail.

This column also appeared in VERA Files.

Beware of this ‘Bishop Ted Bacani’ impostor

Last Friday afternoon, June 11, I got a call from an unidentified number while I was attending a VERA Files activity. The caller introduced himself as “Bishop Ted Bacani.”

I had to ask him twice who he was because he was not speaking gently the way I remember Bishop Ted Bacani spoke. Anyway, he said, “Si Bishop Bacani ito.”

He said he had learned that VERA Files is the owner of Facebook Philippines. I immediately corrected him. VERA Files does not own Facebook Philippines. We are just one of the three third-party fact-checkers of Facebook in the country.

He said he got the information from Christine Herrera of the Inquirer.

I said, “Christine Herrera? Patay na po si Christine Herrera (Christine Herrera has passed away).” He kept on repeating the name of Christine Herrera.

Herrera had long left the Philippine Daily Inquirer and was reporting for The Manila Standard when she died of cardiac aneurysm in November 2017.

It was a red flag. But I still asked him what I can do for him. He said his Facebook account was suspended the previous day because of violations of community standards. I told him to write to Facebook. I even asked him to send me a copy and I’ll see what I can do about it.
He said, “Paano ‘yung pagmumura. ‘Yung putang-ina. Bakit n’yo tinatanggal ang putang-ina sa comment ko. (How about the curses. The son of a bitch. Why do you delete the son of a bitch in my comments?)

Then he cursed me several times. I had to cut him off and blocked his number.

A VERA Files colleague told me that the impostor “Bishop Ted Bacani” also harassed Rep. Arlene Brosas (Gabriela party-list). Here’s a portion of a post in Gabriela Women’s Party FB page:

“Rep. Arlene Brosas (Gabriela party-list) said Friday that she is eyeing to file charges against a pro-Duterte vlogger who subjected her to a peppering of vulgar and lewd language over a phone call.

Brosas told a news conference that their group is still studying what charges to file against Niño Barzaga, who recorded the conversation and uploaded it on social media, but said that among these would be a violation of the anti-wiretapping law.

’What he did to me is not a mere practical joke, but emotional and sexual harassment. This is a serious criminal offense and we will file a formal case soon,’she said.

Brosas said that last June 2, she received a call from an unknown number who claimed to be Bishop Ted Bacani and proceeded to ask about the activities of Gabriela Women’s Party.

She said she detailed the activities of Gabriela, but then the call suddenly took a turn.

Laking gulat ko nang bigla na lang akong minura ng caller, pinagsisigawan, at sinabihan ng mga malalaswang bagay,” she said.
(I was completely shocked when the caller cursed me, yelled at me and told me lewd things.)

She said she then hung up, but was then faced with a barrage of hate texts and calls on her personal phone number.
’Malakas ang loob ng mga DDS (Diehard Duterte Supporters) vloggers na ito dahil kasangga nila ang presidenteng wala ring respeto sa kababaihan,” Brosas said.
(These DDS vloggers have bravado because they are allied with the president who also has no respect for women.)”

I remember this Niño Barzaga. On Oct. 26, 2018, following Facebook’s takedown of 95 pages and 39 accounts in the Philippines for violating its spam and authenticity policies, DZRH’s Cesar Chavez interviewed him because his accounts were among those removed from the social media platform.

Chavez called me up and I explained that as Facebook’s third-party fact-checker, VERA Files does not delete, block, or remove posts, pages or accounts. We just fact check and tag fake, false, and misleading posts.

After Chavez’s program, I received a text message from an unidentified number cursing me.

So, he is still at it. And now, he is masquerading as “Bishop Ted Bacani.” Beware.

‘Ridiculous,’ SC says on drug war records as ‘national security’

Several times, President Rodrigo Duterte has proudly taken responsibility for the killings in his bloody campaign against illegal drugs. It goes without saying, therefore, that the prosecution of the drug-related killings would have to reach his level.

If he thinks that citing “national security” will save him and the top officials who implemented his war on drugs, including his first police chief, now Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, from being accountable for all those killings, he is wrong.

The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) already used that line in the 2018 case of Aileen Almora, et al. Vs. Director General Ronald Dela Rosa, et al./Sr. Ma. Juanita R. Daño, et al. Vs. The Philippine National Police, et al. and the Supreme Court vehemently rejected it.
The Supreme Court’s words: “It is simply ridiculous to claim that these information and documents on police operations against drug pushers and users involve national security matter.”

In his Talk to the People last May 31, Duterte lengthily defended the Philippine National Police in refusing to make public records of police operations in the war on drugs.

He said: “Now this is really a lesson for the human rights; everyday until now nandiyan ‘yan. I suggest that you go to the police and look into the records of these deaths. Now gusto ninyong kunin, may — hindi namin maibigay lahat not because we are hiding some facts that [are] known to us, unknown to you. Eh kasali na dito ‘yong — eh national security issue ‘to eh kagaya rin ng mga NPA. We have records that those who have died but who have derogatory records in our files and may mga references sila na tao and what they do, we cannot divulge it to anybody but only to the military and to the police.”

He said he himself has not asked for it. “I do not even know kung sino ‘yang mga ‘yan. I do not ask [for] it and I do not bother to really go out of my way knowing because kasali ako sa mga tao na hindi alam. What I get is the result of the operations. But as to the basis and to the people involved and suspects and ‘yong mga references nila at ‘yong mga sources ng information, this cannot be revealed,” he added.

He further said: “As a matter of fact, ang sinabi ko itong mga pulis o military who perform their duties and had to kill their adversaries, lalo na sa droga pati itong mga NPA, hindi ho namin puwede ibigay lahat. You can go into the… maybe query as to how the battle was fought, how the gunfight started. But pero kung sabihin mo what prompted the police and the military to go into this kind of operation based on their reports and collated mga dossier, hindi ho ninyo puwedeng pakialaman ‘yan. Truth — as a matter of fact, sabihin ko totoo ‘yan. Maski tanungin ninyo, ni hindi ako minsan nagtanong kung ano-ano ‘yan.It’s because I know that it’s just confidential. And kung hindi nila ipresenta sa akin, I do not ask for it.
“Kaya ako mismo hindi naka — nakakakita ng mga records na ‘yan. And I can understand when the military and the police would withhold them kasi hindi talaga dapat malaman ninyo. Iyan ang na … you know … hindi dito sabihin mo na public documents. “
It is Duterte’s choice if he is not interested to see the documentation of the killings based on his orders. But the public should not be prevented from knowing the truth.
The Supreme Court was very clear about this when the OSG refused to submit documents demanded by the relatives of the victims which include, among others, list of persons killed in legitimate police operations from July 1, 2016 to Nov. 30, 2018; list of deaths under investigation from July 1, 2016 to November 30, 2017; list of Chinese and Fil-Chinese drug lords who have been neutralized; and, list of drugs involved, whether shabu, cocaine, marijuana, or opioids.
The OSG unilaterally categorized the documents and claimed that those under Category 1 “contain very sensitive information with law enforcement and national security implications.”

The Supreme Court reprimanded the OSG, saying it “cannot unilaterally arrogate to itself the power to determine which documents it should furnish petitioners.”

The High Court also reminded the OSG of its earlier Resolution that “the requested information and documents do not obviously involve state secrets affecting national security.”

“The information and documents relate to routine police operations involving violations of laws against the sale or use of illegal drugs. There is no showing that the country’s territorial integrity, national sovereignty, independence, or foreign relations will be compromised or prejudiced by the release of these information and documents to this Court or even to the public. These information and documents do not involve rebellion, invasion, terrorism, espionage, infringement of our sovereignty or sovereign rights by foreign powers, or any military, diplomatic or state secret involving national security,“ it added.

The High Court declared: “It is simply ridiculous to claim that these information and documents on police operations against drug pushers and users involve national security matter.”

Ridiculous, indeed!

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This column appeared also in ABS-CBN online and VERA Files

Why does DOJ need PNP consent to probe cops in drug war?

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra is very grateful and called it a “very significant milestone” because it “did not happen in previous years.”

This is no different from President Duterte thanking China for allowing Filipino fishermen to fish in the area of Scarborough Shoal, a Philippine territory. But that’s another topic that requires a separate discussion.

This so-called “very significant milestone” came after a meeting with newly installed PNP chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar who said this is being done to dispel allegations that they are hiding facts on the killings from the public to protect the law enforcers involved in carrying out Duterte’s brutal banner program that has elicited international concern and condemnation.

No one is biting the bait, especially the families of the victims and their lawyers.

Not Joel Butuyan of Centerlaw, which represents families of the victims of the drug war in 28 barangays in San Andres Bukid.

Butuyan said: “The fact that the PNP’s consent is required for the DOJ to investigate the deaths in the hands of policemen is in itself anomalous.”

“The DOJ is supposed to have unobstructed leeway to conduct investigations when deaths occur in the hands of policemen. In fact, under DOJ rules, when death occurs during a police investigation, the police are required to submit all relevant documents to the prosecutors and the prosecutors are mandated to conduct a preliminary investigation. So, all deaths in the hands of policemen should have been investigated by the DOJ, and the police should submit all documents, not just the 61 deaths in question,” he added.

The 61 cases constitute less than 1% of the more than 7,000 that the government uses as the number of deaths during police anti-illegal drugs operations. Human rights advocates say the numbers could be higher.

The 61 cases, Guevarra said, had been reviewed and evaluated by the PNP Internal Affairs Service which had found administrative/criminal liability on the part of law enforcement agents.

Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL)-Philippines that also represents several families of victims of Duterte’s drug war, is wary that “it might be another tokenistic and cynical mirage, a puny, even if sincere, desire at real institutional reforms that actually go far beyond them alone.”

He said victims, families and witnesses in the so-called drug war and rights advocates “cannot be euphoric at this supposed shift.”

“With grounded disbelief, they should see it for what it might be: a finger to plug the hole in the dam i.e. to deflect and dissipate overwhelming criticisms over the lack of immediate, fair and comprehensive accountability,” he said in a statement.

“That only 61 cases are currently seen with ‘clear liability’ out of the thousands of cases that are supposedly within the purview of the drug war panel review is simply incredible and scanty when seen in the context of the records, experience and reality over time,” he noted.

“The disclosure of the records, given the inordinate delay, the hemming and hedging, the issues of transparency, impartiality and independence, and the insultingly petty number to be made available, may even eventually validate the view that it may have been sanitized and cherry picked to be used as possible ‘showcases,’ inconclusive or not emblematic as they may turn out to be,” Olalia said.

The international Human Rights Watch describes the PNP-DOJ collaboration as “a breakthrough” while noting that Metro Manila police chief Eleazar was a key enforcer of Duterte’s drug war.

With only five months before his retirement, HRW said: “If Eleazar is serious about these reforms, he should ensure the police’s full cooperation with investigators into the ‘drug war’ killings and take more concrete steps to hold abusive officers accountable.”

Families of drug-war related extra-judicial killings had long ago demanded access to police records of the operation but were denied despite repeated orders from the Supreme Court.

Finally in May 2019, the PNP and the Office of the Solicitor General submitted to the High Court 289 compact discs supposedly containing information on the 20,322 drug-related deaths as mentioned in the government’s 2017 Accomplishment Report.

But the documents turned out to be “rubbish,” CenterLaw said, as discs contained irrelevant non-drug related cases like a “love triangle” in which the suspect was the live-in partner who got jealous of the deceased victim and a killing caused by a misunderstanding over a videoke song.

CenterLaw accused the PNP and OSG of resorting to “underhanded machinations.”

“What the OSG and PNP virtually want is for the Supreme Court and the petitioners to utterly waste valuable time and resources examining case files which are totally irrelevant and, in fact, absolutely rubbish insofar as the instant cases are concerned,” it said.

The timing of this PNP-DOJ cooperation makes us suspicious that it is more for the consumption of the International Criminal Court (ICC) that is expected to release its decision on the result of the preliminary examination of the situation in the Philippines before Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda retires on June 15.

The ICC, in its website, states: “Specifically, it has been alleged that since 1 July 2016, thousands of persons have been killed for reasons related to their alleged involvement in illegal drug use or dealing. While some of such killings have reportedly occurred in the context of clashes between or within gangs, it is alleged that many of the reported incidents involved extra-judicial killings in the course of police anti-drug operations.”

Once the ICC decides to open an investigation, investigators would start collecting evidence. Summons would be issued. Refusal to cooperate could lead to issuance of warrants of arrest and freezing of assets.

The Rome Statute that created the ICC provides that it is the duty of every state to exercise its jurisdiction over those responsible for committing international crimes. The ICC can intervene only when it sees that the government is “unable or unwilling” to “genuinely” carry out the investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators.

Guevarra, addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council last Feb. 24 said: ”We reject any attempt by any external entity to assume jurisdiction over internal matters which are being addressed more than adequately by our national institutions and authorities.”

Does access to records of 61 out of more than 7,000 cases enough to disprove the inability and unwillingness of the Duterte government to prosecute those involved in the killings of thousands upon the orders of President Rodrigo Duterte?

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