I found good persons when I lost my cellphone

The good person. Lubert Perona of Ayala Center Security Team turning over to me my cellphone he found on the sidewalk in Ayala Center.

Something happened last week that once again affirmed my belief in the goodness of men.

It was Tuesday, May 23, when my VERA Files colleague Chin Samson and I had a meeting with a visiting German journalist, who was doing a story on the first year of the Marcos Jr. presidency, at the Mentore UCC Café, Ayala Center in Makati.

Throughout the interview, my phone was on silent mode.

We went our separate ways after. I went to the Landmark Department Store, which was just across Mentore Café, then walked to Ayala One Terminal to take the shuttle van to Las Pinas. It was about 5 p.m.

While waiting for the van to leave, I thought of checking my email. I couldn’t find my cellphone!

I got off the van and walked back to Mentore Café. The waiter said he didn’t find any cellphone when he cleared the table after we had left. The coffee shop management said it will take a few days before they could check on the CCTV and promised that they will update me. They never did.

I tried calling my number using my back-up mobile phone. It was ringing but no one was responding. Maybe because it was on silent mode. I texted and pleaded to whoever may have found it to please contact me.

Worried that it could be used for something bad, I tried calling Tarra Quismundo, Globe’s public relations manager, but she was in a meeting. I was able to immediately get through Liza Reyes, head of Globe’s public relations and communications strategy, who patiently guided me on what to do:
• Freeze the account.
• Execute an affidavit of loss.
• Go to a Globe store where a customer officer will give you the assistance you need.

I did all of those.

Losing a cellphone is upsetting not only because of the cost of the unit but also because a lot of one’s life is linked in that 168-gram thermoset plastic. Through the Grab app on my cellphone, I order food. Transport is made easier through the same app. Payments are made through G-cash. Etcetera. Cellphones have become an essential part of one’s home and office.

With the possibility that my number has been compromised, I tried to freeze and deactivate a number of those links.

Meanwhile, to manage my misery, I tried to rationalize the loss as a lesser misfortune than if I slipped and got injured, or other worse incidents. I think of others who are bearing heavier burdens calmly and courageously and I felt embarrassed by my distress.

But still, I prayed and prayed that the one who found it would be a good person and return my phone.

Past 11 p.m. on Thursday, May 25, VERA Files editor Elma Sandoval sent me a message on Facebook asking if I had lost my cell phone because Merinette Retona, head trainer of VERA Files who was in Chiangmai, Thailand, saw a message in VERA Files Facebook messenger from a certain Lubert Perona. He introduced himself as the person who found my phone and gave his phone number.

It was a miracle!

I immediately contacted him. Lubert is with the Ayala Center Security Team. He said he was on duty as a roving security guard on Tuesday afternoon when he found my phone, which was inside a red leather case, on the street in front of Mentore Café.

I surmise that when I put it inside my cross-body bag, it slipped down to the ground instead. It didn’t make a sound because it was in a case.

He said he was trying to find a way to contact me but can’t open the phone because it was locked. Until he found my calling card in the pocket of the case.

He said he turned over my phone to the Ayala Center marshal security office at the 2nd level of Park Square Steel Parking. I went there the next day and got back my phone. It was Lubert’s day off but he came to personally turn over my phone.

Of course, a big thank you is in order for Lubert.Imagine if someone not-so-honest had found it. “Ginawa ko lang po ang ‘yung tama” was all he could say in reply to my profuse thanks.

My gratitude also to the Ayala Center Security Team led by Roosevelt Battaring. And to Ayala Center General Manager Wilbert Guevarra, who apparently runs an efficient and upright team.

It was also nice meeting retired police officer Edwin Quilala, security coordinator of Ayala Center.

They declined my thank you cash gift, saying, as Lubert had said, they just did their job.

When you go through bad experiences such as this, you appreciate every bit of kindness, such as Globe’s efficiency and compassion (special mention for the staff of Globe Southmall), and Banco de Oro’s helpful customer service.

Truly, as my favorite poem, Desiderata, reminds us, “With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. “

Outsmarting the scammers

A VERA Files colleague (Let’s call her “A.”), who is based in Mindanao, received a call last week from a number not listed in her contact list, asking if she knew a certain person, who happened to be another colleague (“B”) in VERA Files.

She replied “Yes” and inquired why she was asking. The caller said she was actually contacting “B” because he took a loan from their company and had listed her (“A”) as a reference person.

“A” told the caller that she is not based in Manila. The caller asked “A” to pass the message to “B” to settle his loan. “A” sensed something fishy so she immediately blocked the number and the SMS that came later.

“A” then asked “B” if he had made her as a reference for a loan and the latter said he did not.

On that same day, another colleague (“C”) received a call from a certain “Joana” of PesoBuffet, a lending company known for its high interest rates, asking if he knew a person named Raymond (“C” couldn’t recall the surname.). She said they couldn’t contact him and the name of “C” was one of those listed by Raymond to call if he is not available.

“C” said the caller was polite and even apologized for bothering him with the inquiry.

“C” does not exactly consider it a scam but he was still alarmed because someone used his phone number.

“Either some malicious app managed to access my mobile device or someone got it from the countless contact tracing forms that I have filled up,” he said.

We learned later that the phone of “B” was hacked and those scam agents must have gotten their numbers from there.

“A,” who is our tech gal, said one way that our numbers are accessed by scammers is through the apps that we install in our smartphone.

She said: “When we install apps in our smartphone, it usually asks permission to access our phone’s contacts, media, storage and what not. Usually, you don’t really have a choice because you can’t install the app if you don’t give permission to those items, so just be cautious.

“If the app is asking for permissions not significant to the apps’ function, then don’t give permission. If it’s necessary, just give permission while the app is being used. If the app is not so important better not install.

“If you’re installing a game and it asks access to your contacts– then it’s quite suspicious– better not install the game.

“Be discriminating. Only install apps from your smartphone’s app installer and not from a link of a promotion/ad you saw in your social media feed. Only install apps developed by reputable or legitimate institutions. When you search for the app to install– look at who developed the app, the logo and a badge that it’s recommended or editor’s pick — to check if they’re legitimate.”

“A” suggests installing an antivirus. Upon her recommendation, I installed Bitdefender Mobile Security free version on my phone.

She said: “An antivirus installed on your smartphone is a layer of security, but still your personal practice– how you use your smartphone– is the one that matters and the one that will give you security and protection.”

Another target of scammers are bank accounts and credit cards. I have received calls purportedly offering to assist me in updating my bank accounts. I just dismiss them as scammers or reply to them that they should stop their illegal operation.

Security Bank gives these tips to its clients:

• Be skeptical when you receive messages from any sender. Security Bank will never ask for your OTP, CVV, and PIN via call, text or email.

• Ask questions and probe further. Fraudsters are trained to sound very convincing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to verify the legitimacy of a call.

• Scrutinize emails and text messages received. It helps to pay close attention to messages you receive. Check for grammar or spacing errors.

BDO has almost the same advice:

• Do not share username, password, OTP and card details (card number, expiry date and CVV.)

• Do not click links. BDO will not send links via email, SMS and Viber.

• Do not reply to suspicious senders. Visit the BDO website and search for “BDOStopScam” to view all official BDO sender names.

Stay vigilant.

This column was carried also by VERA Files.

Outsmarting the scammers

A VERA Files colleague (Let’s call her “A.”), who is based in Mindanao, received a call last week from a number not listed in her contact list, asking if she knew a certain person, who happened to be another colleague (“B”) in VERA Files.

She replied “Yes” and inquired why she was asking. The caller said she was actually contacting “B” because he took a loan from their company and had listed her (“A”) as a reference person.

“A” told the caller that she is not based in Manila. The caller asked “A” to pass the message to “B” to settle his loan. “A” sensed something fishy so she immediately blocked the number and the SMS that came later.

“A” then asked “B” if he had made her as a reference for a loan and the latter said he did not.

On that same day, another colleague (“C”) received a call from a certain “Joana” of PesoBuffet, a lending company known for its high interest rates, asking if he knew a person named Raymond (“C” couldn’t recall the surname.). She said they couldn’t contact him and the name of “C” was one of those listed by Raymond to call if he is not available.

“C” said the caller was polite and even apologized for bothering him with the inquiry.

“C” does not exactly consider it a scam but he was still alarmed because someone used his phone number.

“Either some malicious app managed to access my mobile device or someone got it from the countless contact tracing forms that I have filled up,” he said.

We learned later that the phone of “B” was hacked and those scam agents must have gotten their numbers from there.

“A,” who is our tech gal, said one way that our numbers are accessed by scammers is through the apps that we install in our smartphone.

She said: “When we install apps in our smartphone, it usually asks permission to access our phone’s contacts, media, storage and what not. Usually, you don’t really have a choice because you can’t install the app if you don’t give permission to those items, so just be cautious.

“If the app is asking for permissions not significant to the apps’ function, then don’t give permission. If it’s necessary, just give permission while the app is being used. If the app is not so important better not install.

“If you’re installing a game and it asks access to your contacts– then it’s quite suspicious– better not install the game.

“Be discriminating. Only install apps from your smartphone’s app installer and not from a link of a promotion/ad you saw in your social media feed. Only install apps developed by reputable or legitimate institutions. When you search for the app to install– look at who developed the app, the logo and a badge that it’s recommended or editor’s pick — to check if they’re legitimate.”

“A” suggests installing an antivirus. Upon her recommendation, I installed Bitdefender Mobile Security free version on my phone.

She said: “An antivirus installed on your smartphone is a layer of security, but still your personal practice– how you use your smartphone– is the one that matters and the one that will give you security and protection.”

Another target of scammers are bank accounts and credit cards. I have received calls purportedly offering to assist me in updating my bank accounts. I just dismiss them as scammers or reply to them that they should stop their illegal operation.

Security Bank gives these tips to its clients:

• Be skeptical when you receive messages from any sender. Security Bank will never ask for your OTP, CVV, and PIN via call, text or email.

• Ask questions and probe further. Fraudsters are trained to sound very convincing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to verify the legitimacy of a call.

• Scrutinize emails and text messages received. It helps to pay close attention to messages you receive. Check for grammar or spacing errors.

BDO has almost the same advice:

• Do not share username, password, OTP and card details (card number, expiry date and CVV.)

• Do not click links. BDO will not send links via email, SMS and Viber.

• Do not reply to suspicious senders. Visit the BDO website and search for “BDOStopScam” to view all official BDO sender names.

Stay vigilant.

This column was carried also by VERA Files.

Can the U.S. invoke MDT if its vessel is attacked while aiding Taiwan vs China?

U.S. President Joe Biden receives President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. at the White House.Malacañang photo.

Number 14 in the United States and Philippines Bilateral Defense Guidelines, forged on May 3 during the official visit of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to Washington D.C, states, “An armed attack in the Pacific, to include anywhere in the South China Sea, on either Philippine or U.S. armed forces – which includes both nations’ Coast Guards – aircraft, or public vessels, would invoke mutual defense commitments under Article IV and Article V of the MDT.”

The first paragraph under Article IV of the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty states, “Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.”

Article V states that “for the purpose of Article IV, an armed attack on either of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean, its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.”

With these commitments, can the United States invoke the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty to be allowed to use the EDCA sites in Cagayan, just about 600 kilometers to Taiwan, to launch attacks to stop the Chinese from taking over Taiwan?

I posed this question to retired Supreme Court justice Antonio T. Carpio at the sidelines of the forum “Modernizing Philippine defense capabilities and elevating security partnerships,” organized by the Stratbase ADR Institute at the Manila Golf Club last May 3.

Carpio said it is a gray area. He immediately added, “No.” He explained that the authority of EDCA is derived from the MDT, the purpose of which is “to resist armed attacks.”

He said this was underscored in the 2016 Supreme Court decision on the petitions questioning the constitutionality of EDCA.

EDCA stands for Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the Philippines and the United States. Signed in 2014, it established “agreed locations” in the country where the U.S. Armed Forces can have access on a rotational basis.

Under EDCA, “the Philippines authorizes the United States forces, United States contractors and vehicles, vessels and aircraft operated by or for United States forces may conduct the following activities with respect to Agreed Locations: training, transit, support and related activities; refueling of aircraft, bunkering of vessels; temporary maintenance of vehicles, vessels and aircraft; temporary accommodation of personnel; communications; prepositioning of equipment, supplies, materiel; deploying forces and materiel and such other activities as the Parties may agree.”

Always, what we have in mind is that the Americans are coming to aid the Philippines in case of what we-pray-it-won’t-happen scenario of an armed confrontation with China over our conflicting claims in the South China Sea.

The U.S.-PH Bilateral Defense Guidelines, signed by Defense Secretaries Carlito Galvez and Lloyd J. Austin III, underscores the obligations of both parties to each other: “An armed attack in the Pacific, to include anywhere in the South China Sea, on either Philippine or U.S. armed forces – which includes both nations’ Coast Guards – aircraft, or public vessels, would invoke mutual defense commitments under Article IV and Article V of the MDT.”

With the rising tension between China and Taiwan, we raise a scenario which, a few years back, we thought was farfetched: If the U.S intervened in a China-Taiwan armed conflict and an American ship got attacked by China, would that be considered an armed attack on Philippine metropolitan territory or in one of its islands and justify U.S. operationalization of the MDT and the use of the EDCA sites, two of them in Cagayan “only a stone’s throw away from Taiwan,” as described by Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian, to launch an attack against Chinese forces?

Carpio said that would not be within the coverage of the MDT.

The president himself, in his talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on May 4, said, “Should there be such an attempt to use such – the EDCA sites for offensive action, then that would be outside the parameters of what we had discussed and what the EDCA sites are.”

To be fair, he added, “the United States has never brought up the possibility –– that we will use – that the United States will use the EDCA states as staging areas for any offensive action against any country.”

Marcos was also asked: Has the U.S. asked your government to contribute Philippine military troops to combat operations should a war break out between the U.S. and China over Taiwan?

Marcos replied: “No.”

China takes the offensive


It was short and clear. And combative.

In 10 paragraphs, Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian made known last Sunday, April 16, his government’s anger over the decision of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. allowing the United States military to preposition and store defense equipment, supplies and materiel in sites “only a stone’s throw away from Taiwan.”

He warned what China, which boasts of the strongest military in Asia and third in the world, might and can do: “… we will not renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all necessary measures.”

He laid out to the Marcos government how it could be affected adversely in case armed hostilities erupt in Taiwan, where over 150,000 Filipinos work, and what it should do to help prevent that situation from happening: “The Philippines is advised to unequivocally oppose ’Taiwan independence’ rather than stoking the fire by offering the U.S. access to the military bases near the Taiwan Strait if you care genuinely about the 150,000 OFWs.”

Two weeks earlier, when the pre-dominantly Catholic Filipinos were starting their observance of the week-long Holy Week retreat, the government released the location of the additional four EDCA sites: Lal-lo Airport in Cagayan; Camilo Osias Naval Base in Santa Ana, Cagayan; Camp Melchor dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela; and Balabac Island in Palawan.

EDCA stands for Enhanced Cooperation Agreement between the Philippines and the United States signed in 2014 which established “agreed locations” in the country where the United States Armed Forces can have access on a rotational basis.

Under EDCA, “the Philippines authorizes the United States forces, United States contractors and vehicles, vessels and aircraft operated by or for United States forces may conduct the following activities with respect to Agreed Locations: training, transit, support and related activities; refueling of aircraft, bunkering of vessels; temporary maintenance of vehicles, vessels and aircraft; temporary accommodation of personnel; communications; prepositioning of equipment, supplies, materiel; deploying forces and materiel and such other activities as the Parties may agree.”

The four new sites bring to nine the EDCA sites in the country. The five earlier agreed locations are Cesar Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Nueva Ecija, Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro, Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Prinsesa and Mactan Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.

The two sites that are driving China up the wall are Lal-lo Airport in Cagayan, which is 590 kilometers to Taiwan, and Camilo Osias Naval Base in Santa Ana, Cagayan, which is 623 km to Taiwan.

The ambassador explained: “Obviously, the U.S. intends to take advantage of the new EDCA sites to interfere in the situation across the Taiwan Strait to serve its geopolitical goals, and advance its anti-China agenda at the expense of peace and development of the Philippines and the region at large. Many Filipino politicians and ordinary Filipino people are questioning whether opening new bases will serve the national interests of the Philippines. ’Why are the new EDCA sites only a stone’s throw away from Taiwan?’ ‘How will the Philippines effectively control the prepositioned weapons in the military bases?’ ‘Why will the Philippines fight for another country through the new EDCA sites?’ These are soul-searching questions of the Philippine people and also doubt by people in China and across the region.”

That’s when he raised the worrisome possibility: “But we will not renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all necessary measures. This is to guard against external interference and all separatist activities. The Philippines is advised to unequivocally oppose ’Taiwan independence’ rather than stoking the fire by offering the U.S. access to the military bases near the Taiwan Strait if you care genuinely about the 150,000 OFWs.”

On April 10, Marcos said he will not allow the EDCA sites to be used in any offensive attack. He added in Filipino, “If no one attacks us, they don’t need to worry because we won’t fight them.”

Taiwan is one of China’s core issues. Since 1949 when the then Mao Tse Tung-led Communist Party of China took over the mainland after more than two decades of civil war and pushed the Chiang Kai shek-led Nationalist Party of China to Taiwan – an island about 100 miles away – the Beijing government has made the One-China Policy a pre-requisite in its relations with other countries.

Under the One-China Policy, which the Philippines, the U.S. and more than 180 countries have adopted, the Beijing-based People’s Republic of China is the legitimate government of China and Taiwan is a province of China.

For many years, the world has seen peace under a delicate situation of “no unification, no independence, and no use of force” policy. In recent years, however, Beijing finds Taiwan under President Tsai Ing-wen leaning more towards independence.
Two years ago, I asked a Chinese journalist about the possibility of an armed confrontation over Taiwan, he said, “Not in our lifetime.”
Last month, I asked him the same question. His answer: “I’m not sure anymore.”