The bridges of Antique and climate change

Photo by Bombo Radyo

While browsing Facebook on Monday, I saw the Paliwan Bridge in Bugasong, Antique had collapsed. Its approaches were washed away so the bridge is now in the middle of a river- a scene that brings back childhood memories of my dangerous and arduous journey through raging rivers during the rainy season.

I called up my niece in Guisijan, a barrio in the town of Laua-an next to Bugasong, just a few kilometers from Paliwan Bridge. Our conversation was brief because electricity had not been restored and her power bank was draining. Nobody could cross the rampaging waters of Paliwan River, she said.

The distance between San Jose de Buenavista, the capital town of Antique – one of the four provinces (Antique, Iloilo, Capiz and Aklan) in Panay island – and Guisijan is about 50 kilometers, crossing at least five rivers. I’m not sure about the exact number of rivers. Some may only be brooks (sapa) but they are all spanned by bridges, some short and others long.

The three known long bridges in Antique are Sibalom Pampang Bridge, made infamous by the ambush and killing of nine supporters of the late Evelio Javier, former Antique governor, on the eve of the 1984 parliamentary election; Cangaranan Bridge, also in Bugasong; and, Paliwan Bridge.

Those bridges are now made of concrete; they used to be made of wood. Walking on those wooden planks when buses were unable to cross the river was always a scary experience for me.

Washed away bridge approaches were a common occurrence during storms and typhoons. A bridge in the middle of a river was a common sight in Antique.

Traveling was an ordeal. We would take the bus up to one river bank, take a boat or ride on a raft, and take another bus on the other side of the river. The ordeal was repeated once we reached the next river. What usually was a one-hour bus ride had become a six to eight-hour agony on the road.

One can imagine the effect of this disturbance on the economic life of the people. Aside from the scarcity of goods, prices were tripled, even tenfold.

Antique roads, with countless potholes, were “abortion highways.” During the dry season, a bandana was a necessary accessory because of the dust that could turn your hair from black to white-gray.

In the past 15 to 20 years, traveling in Antique has greatly improved. Roads had been asphalted or cemented (although there are places where there’s a gap between cemented roads, making us suspect that part of the budget went to some people’s pockets).

Antique was hit hard by typhoon Yolanda in November 2013. After that, if I remember correctly, Antiqueños had a respite from damaging storms and typhoons. Until Paeng came last weekend.

Antique Gov. Rhodora Cadiao said in an interview on GMA-7 last Monday that she did not expect the province to be severely affected because it was not the center of the storm. She reported that Paeng left nine people dead. “Grabe talaga ang ulan (the rain was heavy),” she said, adding that there were places which experienced flooding for the first time.

As we are confronted with the loss of lives and damage to infrastructure and crops due to storm Paeng, we should be reminded that rain does not kill people. Do you know of anybody who died because of the rain?

Mahar Lagmay, executive director of the University of the Philippines Resilience Institute and the driving force behind Project Noah (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards), said, “Rainfall is not a hazard.”

But, Lagmay said, somebody needs to translate that rainfall amount in the future into hazard maps that will be used by communities to adapt to climate change.

Cadiao’s lament was exactly what Lagmay shared with VERA Files in an interview last Friday, hours before Paeng came.

“Hindi ba kapag nagkakaroon ng mga disaster, tapos may biktima na iinterbyuhin ng media, ano ba sinasabi ng mga tao? Hindi ba commonly, sinasabi nila ay: ‘First time nangyari ito. Hindi pa binabaha dito dati. Ngayon lang namin nakita ito. Ngayon lang kami nakakita ng ganito kalaking storm surge. Ngayon lang kami nakakita ng ganito kalaking baha. Hindi pa nagkakaroon ng landslides’.”

(Isn’t it that whenever there’s a disaster, when a victim is interviewed by the media, what do they say? Commonly, they say: ‘It’s the first time that this has happened. This place had not been flooded. We experienced it just now. It’s only now that we saw that huge storm surge.
It’s only now that we saw such massive floods. Never have we had landslides.)

Lagmay said: “It only tells us that, aba, we failed to anticipate. ‘Yun lang ang (That’s the) collective meaning nun, eh. Bakit lahat ‘yan sinasabi nila na ngayon lang (Why are they all saying), first time, first time. It only tells us that we failed; they failed to anticipate the bigger event than what they have experienced.

“And that also tells us that we need really to change it to prepare for the bigger impacts. The impacts that will be brought about by climate change; those that are predicted by climate scientists from all over the world that can happen in the future … and it may be happening now.”

Zubiri’s misinformation proof of Pulse Asia survey on ‘fake news’

Senate President Migz Zubiri with Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian.

Pulse Asia’s recent survey on “fake news,” which showed that the majority of Filipinos are confident in their ability to tell whether a political news is true or not, indicates their naivety about the tangled web that is social media.

In its nationwide survey conducted from Sept. 17 to 21 using face-to-face interviews of 1,200 sample representatives of the population, Pulse Asia asked, “How confident are you in the ability of Filipinos to detect whether news about government and politics they have heard, read, or watched is truthful or false?”

Fifty-five percent said “confident.” Of the 55%, 8% said they were “very confident” while 47% said “somewhat confident.” Thirty-seven percent were unsure.

This high degree of confidence in the Filipinos’ ability to determine the truthfulness or falsity of political news reminds us of a 2018 study by a market research firm Ipsos MORI which showed that Filipinos was third among 38 countries surveyed with the “least accurate perception” of their nation’s issues. South Africa and Brazil beat the Philippines to that ignominious list.

Yet, the same study said, “Despite being among the least accurate, respondents in India, the Philippines and Peru are among the most confident in their answers.”

The Pulse Asia survey revealed that almost nine out of every 10 adult Filipinos (86%) believe “fake news” is a problem in the Philippines.
According to Ronald Holmes, Pulse Asia president, the term “fake news,” as used in the survey, means “balitang walang katotohanan.” False news.

In the fact- checking community, which VERA Files is part of, we discourage the use of the term “fake news” because it’s an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. An attribute of news is truthfulness. To describe it as “fake” doesn’t make sense and denigrates the value of news.
Also, “fake news” has become a catch-all phrase for anything that one dislikes, whether it’s true or not.

Instead, we use “misinformation” and “disinformation.” “Misinformation” refers to false or misleading information spread through several platforms without an intent to deceive. “Disinformation” is information deliberately created and shared to deceive.

A good example of misinformation is the announcement of Senate President Migz Zubiri during the Oct. 11 joint hearing of the Senate committees on ways and means and public order and dangerous drugs that Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian said, “The Philippines now is part of a blacklist of tourist sites because they do not know if the tourists going there will be operating or will be joining POGO operations.”

The Chinese Embassy immediately denied Zubiri’s announcement, correctly describing it as “misinformation,” to which the senator disagreed and insisted that the ambassador mentioned the word “blacklist” several times.

Zubiri’s claim was not supported by Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, who was also in that meeting with the Chinese ambassador. He said Huang only mentioned the “possibility” that China would “restrict” its citizens from coming to the Philippines.

Zubiri did not directly admit his mistake but his later statement corrected his false announcement. He said, “Maybe it was lost in translation and what the good ambassador meant was we could be possibly blacklisted as he mentioned they do that to countries who promote gambling to their countrymen.”

That’s misinformation. It was a false announcement that stemmed from his misunderstanding of the envoy’s statement. There was no intention to deceive.

Zubiri’s misinformation can also be an example of another public perception revealed in the Pulse Asia survey which says, a sizable number of the respondents (67%) point to politicians – national,37% and local, 30% – as peddlers of false information or “fake news” about government and politics.

The politicians are followed by social media influencers, bloggers and/or vloggers (58%).
Reflecting the decline of the people’s trust in media, journalists were also mentioned as peddlers of fake news (40%).

That hurts!

Marcos starts foreign trips with Indonesia and US visits in September

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said in a tweet he had a fruitful meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the importance of developing the agricultural sector last Aug. 6.

It is significant to note that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. chose Indonesia as his first entry to the world stage first week of September.

Indonesia is a member of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It is a tradition among Philippine presidents to visit a neighboring ASEAN country first before he or she steps to the international stage.

“The Indonesia trip, I think, will be on Sept. 5, “ a source from the DFA said.

After Indonesia, Marcos will be going to New York in the United States to attend the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Philippine Ambassador to the U. S. Jose Manuel Romualdez said Marcos is scheduled to address the assembly on Sept. 20.

Marcos’ Jakarta visit will further strengthen the 73-year bilateral relations between the two countries which have been allies in various common causes, notably the peace in Mindanao, and in the fight against terrorism.

The landmark 2014 Philippine-Indonesia maritime border agreement in the overlapping exclusive economic zones of the Mindanao and Celebes Seas in southern Philippines, which was signed after 20 years of negotiations, was hailed by the international community as model for resolving disputes peacefully, not with the use of military might.

During his New York visit, Marcos is expected to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden.

Although Biden has invited Marcos to Washington D.C. in a letter delivered to him by the American delegation to his June 30 inauguration, a DFA source said there is no meeting in the U.S. capital that is being worked out now.

Romualdez said a number of world leaders have requested for a meeting with Marcos while he is New York.

Being welcomed by no less than the U.S. president in American territory despite a standing $353-million contempt order is fraught with significant implications. First and foremost, it’s a psychological triumph for Marcos whose family has blamed the United States for abandoning them in their hour of need in February 1986.

It’s also a rebuke to his political enemies who have raised the contempt order and a possible arrest as signs of U.S. attitude toward his presidency.

China will be watching apprehensively Marcos’ meeting with Biden, which the U.S. officials see as a warming of relations between Washington and Manila after a tumultuous experience with Duterte.

Romualdez is the one coordinating Marcos visit to the U.N. because the designated permanent representative of the Philippines to the United Nations Antonio Manuel Lagdameo has not yet received his proper accreditation to the world organization.

Romualdez continues to be the ambassador to the United States, a position he has held since 2017 under the Duterte administration. A reliable source said he was the first choice to be the foreign secretary in the Marcos administration (The president is his nephew.) but China made known its opposition for him for that position because they (Chinese officials) see him as “pro-U.S.”

The source said former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, now representative of Pampanga’s second district, was also considered for the position of foreign secretary (as a peace offering to her for having been deprived of her much-desired position of speaker of the House of Representatives?) but she did not want any appointed position.

The same source said Arroyo was also considered as ambassador to the United States but it was seen as a move to ‘exile’ her where she would not be a threat to the Marcos presidency. She is known as the political mentor of Vice President Zara Duterte-Carpio.

The political undertows in the search of a foreign secretary led to an enlightened choice: Philippine permanent representative to the UN Enrique Manalo.

Manalo is not exactly new to the job of foreign secretary. In his four decades of foreign service career, he has held several important assignments including that of Foreign Affairs undersecretary for Policy and served as Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary from March 9 to May 17, 2017.

Marcos will have one the best minds to help him chart the country’s role in the global arena.

After the U.S trip, Marcos will link arms with 20 other world leaders when he attends the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bangkok, Thailand on Nov. 18-19.

How was Palace steel safe opened? Who took missing bags of cash Marcoses brought to Hawaii?

Photo by Joe Galvez

In my column last Monday on the last 24 hours of the Marcoses in Malacañang on Feb. 25, 1986, I shared the narration of the late colonel Arturo C. Aruiza, aide-de-camp of the late president Ferdinand Marcos Sr., in his book “From Malacañang to Makiki” about their problem when the heavily medicated chief executive could not remember the combination of the steel safe in his bedroom where important documents and valuables were stored. They had to leave the safe unopened.

Aruiza said despite Marcos’ seemingly disoriented state, he picked up a brown Samsonite attaché case, gave it to a valet and told him, under pain of his displeasure, not to open it or part with it.

What happened to the steel safe left in Malacañang?

There were two versions, as related by Aruiza in his book, based on the testimonies in the trial of former first lady Imelda Marcos in New York for acts under Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO).

The first version was that a US Embassy security officer was able to open the steel safe.

Aruiza said: “In a Federal court in Lower Manhattan, New York City, Dr. Angelita T. Reyes would testify for the prosecution in the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) case against Mrs. Marcos and there the doctor would offer startling facts:

-Dr. Reyes was a classmate of Mrs. Aquino and was among the very first to enter the bedroom of President Marcos on the evening of February 25, 1986. She went to the Palace to find out whether or not there were dialysis machines.

-Her interest turned to the documents, papers and books in the Study Room and the bedroom of Marcos. She collected these items and put them in several valises, numbering 30, and brought them to her home.

-She identified an American, a Jim Burke, a security officer at the US Embassy in Manila, as being with her in the Palace. She said Burke was there to look for bombs but she admitted that Burke discovered the hidden safe and opened it with special instruments.

“As significant as the questions of who now wears the president’s expensive watches and who now keeps the diamonds that were in the safe is the other question unasked till now: What was an American agent doing in the Palace at that time?”

Another version was that the safe’s code was pasted on the side and an assistant of the late Corazon Aquino’s executive secretary, Joker Arroyo, was able to open it.

Aruiza wrote: “Potenciano A. Roque, an assistant of Joker Arroyo, the first executive secretary of Cory Aquino, was another witness for the prosecution, and in his testimony, he gave the following equally astonishing facts:

-He was driven to the Palace around midnight on February 25, 1986, by Joker Arroyo himself. He also entered the president’s bedroom and found papers pertaining to the Swiss bank accounts. He also found diamonds in several plastic packets.

-He was asked: Where in the President’s bedroom did he find those? He said, ‘in the steel safe,’ which he easily opened because according to Roque, the numbers were ‘just pasted’ on the side.

-On cross examination, Roque told the court that he gave eight to ten packets containing diamonds to Mrs. Aquino who subsequently appointed him chairman of the task force for anti-gambling. He held office in Malacañang.”

What happened to the Samsonite attache case that Marcos told his aide to safeguard?

Aruiza wrote: “In Honolulu, when he lay dying in the hospital, Mrs. Marcos and Ferdinand Jr., decided to open the attache case, expecting to find some valuable documents. To their surprise, it contained a Philippine flag, neatly folded. The three of us in the hospital room could only stare at it. The flag now covers him where he lies in the toolshed in Honolulu.”

The late president’s remains are now at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City, Metro Manila.

Aruiza also said that as they hurried out of Malacañang to Clark Air Base, and then to Honolulu (he said the Marcoses thought they were going to Laoag, Ilocos Norte), they brought with them all kinds of luggage – carton boxes, duffel bags, suitcases, Louis Vuitton bags, garment bags – stuffed with personal things including jewelry and money. He mentioned Capt. Ramon Azurin of the Philippine Navy, another presidential aide-de-camp.

His narration: “After docking at the embassy landing, Azurin and his men loaded the luggage in a truck for transporting to the embassy compound. Barely had they finished when they were ordered to board a minibus to be driven to a waiting helicopter nearby. Azurin remonstrated, fearing for the luggage, especially the three duffel bags – two green and one white- which had been entrusted to him with repeated reminders to make sure they arrived wherever they were going. Carrying them from the Palace to the boat, one American sailor had remarked, ‘What’s in this, rocks?’

“Azurin insisted that he and his men load the luggage first into the helicopter before they themselves boarded their flight, but the Americans would not budge. They said the helicopter was warming up, waiting for them, and it was running low on fuel. They assured Azurin repeatedly they would take care of the luggage and, sure enough, they did.

“Only the white duffel bag reached Hickam Air Base in Honolulu. The two green ones, with the bulk of the money, disappeared.

“On the plane, Mrs. Marcos abruptly inquired about the duffel bags. When Capt. Azurin recounted to her what happened on the embassy grounds, she said: ‘A pity if we lose them. There were P25 million in those bags.’

Aruiza did a summary of the money they brought out of Malacañang.

“All the money on board those two planes had come from President Marcos’s private bedroom, representing the unspent portion of the campaign funds.

“How much was there?

“Nurses and agents who had helped pack the money swore that over P61 million was carried out and then stuffed into duffel bags and boxes. There were three duffel bags, two were colored fatigue green, and the third, dirty white. The two green bags disappeared on the embassy grounds.

“The rest of the money was packed as follows: two boxes with P5 million each or a total of P10 million; six boxes with P4 million each or a total of P24 million, and one box (half-filled) with P2 million, which Rolando Abadilla had returned. The grand total was P61 million.

“Of this amount, only P26 million reached Honolulu. This was the figure reported by the US customs personnel, who inventoried the monetary instruments at Hickam. The New York prosecutors would report P22 million.

“If the Hickam customs figures were correct, then P35 million evaporated somewhere. If we use the New York figures, then not P35 million, but P39 million vanished. Either way, if the magical fate of either amount is an explanation of sorts, then several millions got ‘lost’ in this manner along the way.”

When I shared this story to a neighbor, he remarked, “Narinig ko na ‘yan. Nanakawan ang magnanakaw? (I already heard that story. Someone stole from the thief.)”

This column was also carried by
Malaya Business Insight, VERA Files

A loyal aide-de-camp’s account of the Marcoses’ last hours in Malacañang

Journalist Philip Lustre Jr. has reposted his version of the last day of the late Ferdinand Marcos Sr in Malacañang (Feb. 25, 1986), written two years ago, to counter the version of Sen. Imee Marcos that will be shown in the movie “Maid in Malacañang “ about the last three days of the Marcos family in the President’s official residence.

I’m re-reading the book “Ferdinand E. Marcos, Malacañang to Makiki” by Col. Arturo C. Aruiza, who served as aide-de-camp and confidant of the late president for 21 years until the latter’s death in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1989.

Described as the “Last Loyalist,” Aruiza passed away in 1998 in Las Vegas at age 56.

I’m sharing excerpts from Aruiza’s intimate, gripping account of the scene in Malacañang on the evening of Feb. 25, 1986 like boxes of money in Marcos bedroom and the gravely ill president not being able to remember the combination of the steel safe where important items were being kept.

From Chapter 5, Defections:

“ By then, the confusion and anxiety in the Palace was unbearable and, any moment, sheer panic would overcome us. I decided to tell the president myself. I had never before entered his bedroom alone. In the past, when I saw his bedroom, that most private of rooms, where Ferdinand E. Marcos shed his guard and enjoyed the brief luxury of being human like us, sleeping, reading, washing up. watching TV, it was to follow him into it, to deposit his load of papers, documents, or attache case.

“This time, I knocked alone on the heavy wooden door twice and pushed it, and saw what I feared to see.

“He was lying in a hospital bed that was pushed to the right side of his spacious room. His eyes were closed. Surrounding him, perched on chairs or tiptoeing around, were his doctors, the unflagging, faithful two, Dr. Juanita Zagala and Dr. Claver Ramos; the nurses, Betty A. Bondoc, Evelyn Baylen, Fe C. Antonio; the attendants, Hermina Ranada and Minerva Corpus. A handful of security agents and valets stood guard on one side. These were Restituto Alipio, Ferdinand Bolibol, and Benjamin Sarmiento.

“Mattresses littered the floor. The grandchildren had slept in them, also in the modest presidential bed, which was unmade. Hundreds of books were piled everywhere in the room, and on his table were stacked papers and documents.

“Those in the room looked up hopefully when they saw me, as though asking what was happening outside. I had no good news to bring them. As I took the disorder in the room and the sleeping form in the bed, I imagined the rebel soldiers and the mob at their disposal, rushing in.

“I motioned to Dr. Zagala and asked to talk with the president. This lady doctor would serve him steadfastly, following him into exile, standing beside him through the harrowing days of coma and delirium, not leaving him until he died, told me that Marcos was feverish, 39°C.

“The president must have heard us murmuring because he opened his eyes. Dr. Zagala told him I was there. Quickly I explained the situation outside. If the mob got in, if the rebel soldiers got in, we would fight, and there would be carnage. Painfully he struggled up, helped by his nurses. On his feet at last, he ordered his security, Alex Ganut, Jr., Jovencio Luga, and Ben Sarmiento to pack his clothes, his books and papers, and then told me to call up Enrile from his bedroom.

“At this, the two doctors asked the nurses to put all his medicines in bags and boxes. Dr. Claver Ramos (not related to Fidel Ramos) gathered the president’s medical records and then asked someone to look after the medical equipment.

“I handed the phone, with Enrile on line, to the president, who asked Enrile if the men who had beaten up and then stabbled Ernesto Manuel and also beaten up the rest of Manuel’s men had been Enrile’s people. Where I stood beside Marcos, I deduced that Enrile was still calling him, “Sir.”

“No, Enrile said to Marcos, no, they were not his men, but he would ask “Fidel” to investigate.

That was their last conversation: there were more pauses than dialogue. I waited for Marcos or Enrile at the other end to say a word or two to show that something of their 20 years together still remained. I wanted for the president to say, “Good luck, Johnny!” and for Enrile to say, “I’m sorry, Mr. President,” but there was just this long silence followed by the sound of the telephone being put down.
Chapter 6, Kidnapped:
“After talking to Enrile, the president told his other son-in-law, Tommy Manotoc , to call, up is friend at the US embassy and accept the offer of transportation out of the Palace. Everyone now took this to mean we were leaving at last. We all began to pack, not only the president’s clothes, books and papers but also the boxes of money that had been stored since the campaign in his bedroom.

“The First Lady’s attendants started to put her things together, too. The three agents manning the telephone booth had unhooked their phones to help Fe Roa Gimenez. The traffic between the bedroom upstairs and Heroes Hall below grew more frenzied as all kinds of luggage made their way down. There were carton boxes, garment bags, duffel bags, travelling bags. Leather bags, attache cases, Louis Vuitton bags, suitcases and just plain boxes packed but their flaps left unsealed.

“We ran into a serious problem when we could not open Marcos’s steel safe in his bedroom. Fatigue, medication, and lack of sleep had blotted out the combination from his memory and we had no way getting its contents. These included important papers and documents, a priceless gun collection, expensive gifts like watches he never wore since he preferred his old Omega silver watch.

In particular, there were two rare watches, probably adorning some strangers’ wrists now: a Patek Philippe gold watch and a made-to-order Rolex watch with the maps of the Philippines and Sabah on its face.

Now, he could not remember the combination to the steel safe and there was nothing we could do. This was the man who could recall dates at the drop of a hat. The numbers of the presidential decrees. Names of friends not seen in 30 to 40 years. Conversations let off decades ago. Hundreds of articles in law books. And now, just a couple of numbers had slipped his exhausted mind and we were helpless.

He decided not to waste time over the safe’s combination. Instead he picked up a brown Samsonite attache case, gave it to a valet and told him, under pain of his displeasure, not to open it or part with it.

The odd part as that he did not seem to care that he could not remember. Earlier in the day, hearing that Mrs. Aquino had taken her oath ahead of him, he had shown no emotion. Now the stubborn safe stared back at us and the president reacted similarly with uncharacteristic indifference as though leaving it all to us, together with the unopened safe, leaving his life and his fate to us.

Four years later, however, there would be an interesting sequel to that unopened safe.

(To be continued. In my next column, we will find what happened to the safe and the attache case that Marcos entrusted to his valet. Aruiza also narrated about boxes of Imelda Marcos jewelry and the packing that Imelda Marcos did. )

This column was also carried by
ABS-CBN online, Malaya Business Insight,VERA Files,