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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Terror Plot - What Could Have Caused It?

"Call it a subdued confidence. Complacency brought to shame. A weakness laid bare. Or an enemy's unbroken resolve?"

When you are the president of the most powerful nation on the planet - brimming with sharp rhetorics that your administration engages in a no-nonsense war against terrorism, and a vexing call just spoiled your Christmas vacation, informing you that another terrorist plot has just been prevented on Christmas day in an American territory, what would have been your reaction firsthand?

As Barack Obama's administration scrambles to dispel accusations that his Homeland Security people have failed to carry out their duties, air travellers in the US have started to doubt over their safety yet again. This quirky scenario arose from the fact that an Al Qaeda agent has just penetrated US airspace that could have inflicted deaths on innocent Americans.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23 year-old UK student from Nigeria is the suspect in this foiled terrorist attack. Aboard Northwest Airlines for Detroit from Amsterdam, he travelled under already suspicious circumstances. According to reports, he purchased his one-way ticket in cash for almost US$3,000. He also did not check any luggage save for a small bag, in a scheduled 2-week US visit.

Reports would further support that, this young man still carries a valid US visa, inspite of his inclusion in the UK's watch list for suspicion of radicalism. In a more surprising twist, his father had earlier warned the US embassy in Nigeria, in November 2009, about his son's leanings toward extremism that could potentially pose a threat to American interests.

But despite all this, anti-terrorism agents made no effort to take his case seriously. All necessary tools were at their disposal to at least apprehend this walking time bomb, but failed to take heed of the warnings. When the suspect's father himself waved the red flag of the imminent threat, and only a cold shoulder he could get as a response, there must be an air of complacency within their ranks - which is very contradictory to Obama's stance on war against terrorism.

Not wanting to be accused of incompetence, both the Dutch and American authorities started to play the blame game. American authorities alleged that the Dutch did not use body scanners, that could have detected explosives worn by Umar. But their Dutch counterparts were quick to refute, saying those were not allowed by the US to be used, of which the Americans insisted that either way, the suspect should have not gotten through.

The prevention of this botched terror plot however, should be credited to the brave and quick-thinking passengers of the plane, who subdued the suspect and did not blink a bit, to prevent another would have been 9/11 disaster. The suspect did manage to ignite the explosives, but not in a manner he would have wanted. Reports would later indicate, that the young man from Nigeria had received training in Yemen, sometime in Ramadan this year.

An estimated 76 grams of the PETN explosive was concealed in Umar's body, and a syringe with a chemical catalyst, carefully concealed in a pouch sewn into his underwear. This was a potentially strong explosives that had it been successfully detonated, enough to break the plane's fuselage that could have killed all on board.

This latest incident could be a precursor to another imminent terror attack on US soil. The Al Qaeda group - a sworn enemy of the US has famously declared war against America, and this determined enemy is just getting more ruthless and dangerous. In seven years since America unilaterally declared war against Al Qaeda, it has not inflicted heavy dent on the terrorist group, instead they are just getting more pervasive and sophisticated.

As news of this daring plot has permeated media all over the world, a substantial and more stringent security measures have been implemented right away in ports of the US and Canada. Aviation authorities all over the world are expected to follow suit, which is the natural thing to do. This new unfolding of events does not bode well to an already shaky aviation business, as post 9/11 statistics show that most passengers are becoming wary of air travel.

Though this incident would certainly be a challenge to rectify lapses in airport security, no matter how highly-sophisticated are the West's technology to prevent future attacks, the sworn enemy will always find its way and make its presence felt. The future cannot be foretold, whether how many lives will be lost due to hatred. Reports say that willing suicide bombers in a hundreds are undergoing training in Yemen, and it will only be a matter of time before they can carry out their "martyrdom".

Whether we agree or disagree in unison, the reason why all these nonsense happen - is because of religion. It is indeed a nonsense for any upright-thinking human being, but for a radical mind, full of hatred and wrath - this is what they call martyrdom. They were made to believe, that God delights in the shedding of the blood of the innocent, and that their actions merit rewards and special places in heaven. These twisted views reinforce their belief, that the enemy of their religion is also the enemy of God. And the enemy of God deserves to die. How false and sad. For as long as hatred pervades in their system, there will be no scarcity of haters, and consequently, no dearth of suicide bombers.

As we all know, the root of all these problems dates back in the Old Testament time. The enmity between peoples who refuse to live in harmony - one refuses to accept the existence of another, in the same hallowed ground. It is where the cause originated, and as has been prophesied - on that same hallowed ground, its cause will be settled and come to an end.

There is an unending quest for answers to a question left unsolved since the beginning of time, and this calls for wisdom. Generations of leaders from both sides have endeavored peaceful means to achieve peace. But peace will not be attained. They will never find that peace, instead hatred towards each other will consume their being. And the cycle continues - until the prophecy is fulfilled.

I may not be an authority to tackle issues like this, or if I may say I'm getting out of bounds, but indeed the truth cannot be denied. Each one of us may be having some slight disagreements, and or different insights on the issue, or perhaps I just went too far on a deeper perspective, but my conviction is that - unless we open our senses and start to believe that all these happen to give way for that divine prophecy, we may not be able to comprehend things laid out before our eyes. We may be highly-intelligent in a worldly standard, yet we are doomed to perish because of our lack of understanding. For we have been warned to know the truth because the truth will set us free.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Philippine Sea Tragedies: Who's The Real Culprit?

"It's a shame, when a government that can shamelessly afford a million-peso dinner cannot afford to pay minimum wage for personnel supposedly tasked to secure the safety of its people."

They say Christmas is for children. If so, this is a cruel Christmas for some children who perished in the recent tragedies at sea. Back to back sea tragedies in Philippine waters this Christmas is no Christmas at all for the victims and those who lost their loved ones. When passengers were gearing up for their memorable Christmas vacation, disasters struck.

As of posting time, many bodies are still unaccounted for. Search and retrieval operation is still ongoing. Relatives of the missing still await news from the authorities. Those who survived are considered fortunate, and those who perished their destiny already sealed.

The Philippines is known to be one of the world's largest archipelagos. It is comprised of 7,107 islands, mostly inhabited. Its maritime history is as old as human civilization. And it is no surprise that it also boasts of maritime disasters, its record no other country would dare challenge.

This year alone, an incredibly-dizzying record of 11 disasters had already occurred in Philippine seas. Hundreds of lives were already lost and survivors have yet to move on with their lives. To a country that boasts of world-class seafarers, the rationale that these disasters are attributed to incompetence is just absurd. But what makes this phenomenon seemingly unavoidable?

From the words itself of the Marina Administrator, she unhesitatingly admitted that the government lacks iron will to implement laws on maritime safety. She further stressed that they lack personnel to conduct ocular check on sea-worthiness of all passenger vessels. This is the painful truth, all patrons of this so called roros (roll-on roll-off) have to live with.

In provinces outside of mainland Luzon, the traveling public have no other choice, but to patronize this kind of transportation. Apart from its being affordable, it also allows passengers to carry loads of cargoes necessary for their day to day subsistence. So in essence, it is their only mode of transportation.

The usual causes of these disasters arise from over-loading, over-crowding (actual passengers are higher than what is being declared in the manifesto), and dilapidated vessels that are actually third or fourth hand bought at a cheap price - which make them unfit for sailing, but are hugely tolerated to operate.

As expected, authorities are quick to blame the owners of these ill-fated vessels citing irresponsibility and greed. Fingerpointing becomes the norm in these cases and the usual culprit would be the ruthless yet defenseless Mother Nature. What a good riddance of culpability from our government officials!

If our government within its power cannot ensure the safety of our sea travellers, what the hell on earth these Marina and Coast Guard people are doing? What makes these agencies beneficial to our people? That would also be preposterous to abolish their existence! But why is it everytime disasters happen, they just sheepishly admit they lack manpower to execute their duties? How many more vessels are considered to be sea-unworthy, yet continuously proliferate our ports?

This is my take on this. If you happen to be a citizen of a third world archipelagic countries like Indonesia, Bangladesh and the Philippines, and you don't have any other choice of transportation, but to avail of the services of these doomed floating cemeteries; start to think that this is your government's inexplicit way of curtailing population growth. Why not? Despite the Philippines being the country with the worst record in maritime disasters, it is yet to learn from its blunders!

When we talk about safety and hundreds of lives are at stake, whatever it takes to ensure lives are preserved, we ought to do everything within our power and capacity. But who cares? "These are only poor people with less impact to our existence! Why bother to increase the budget of Marina or Coast Guard when there is not much left from government coffers?" Sad to say, these are the obvious monologues from our corrupt officials, who until now refuse to realize they are being derelict and grossly irresponsible.

The Marina administrator herself, in her capacity admits that, their lack of personnel is the reason why not all vessels are being thoroughly inspected for sea-worthiness. It was reported that a crew who did not survive the incident, even managed to text her family saying there was a big hole in the ship and that she was scared it might capsize. Unfortunately for her, she lost her life in the first week of her first job.

How many more lives await their end in the cruel seas of our archipelago? While the poor and helpless citizens drown in the seas, so are our unscrupulous and corrupt government officials who drown in the bounty of their plunders. It's a shame, when a government that can shamelessly afford a million-peso dinner, cannot afford to pay minimum wage for personnel supposedly tasked to secure the safety of its people.

No matter who is willing to take the blame, be it the greedy shipowners or the derelict Marina officials, or the ever-furious Mother Nature, or the lazy and sleep-deprived legislators, who would just attend the sessions and yawn, it all comes down to one - a corrupt government that is unable to protect its citizens by virtue of greed and slothfulness - is the one culpable and should be put to shame.

A school of thought readily supports and concludes that - in a third world country like ours, a citizen's longevity does depend on leaders who have powers to prolong or curtail his or her existence. This theory is very self-explanatory. Then our dilemma starts from the question of how and when to get rid of them and who to replace them. As election nears, everyone sounds and looks like angels, that you would get confused whom to believe. The problems in our country today are the very same problems already written in history. Leaders have come and gone. But the change that everyone invokes remains a dream.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas! myspace graphic comments
Myspace Religious Chistmas Graphics

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Another Lonely Christmas

"He has provided for us a mighty Saviour, a descendant of his servant David". -Luke 1:69.

For most of us OFWs in the Middle East, Christmas season comes and goes with less significance--although it is always a much anticipated time of the year.

In a country like Saudi Arabia, where Christmas celebration is strongly discouraged, you don't always get to see Christians especially Filipinos, gather in a festive mode. Christmas parties are normally held behind closed doors. But the good thing is, we Filipinos always find ways to gather to experience its spirit -- albeit in a quieter mode.

This time though, no invitations yet. Probably the problem is the venue. And some old friends have also moved to other parts of the kingdom. Some were on vacation, while others just disappeared.

Strange as it seemed, I received a call yesterday from one of our store managers a Yemeni, greeting me Merry Christmas (in English)! I replied to him jokingly, "I think you only wanted to be invited for a party and get drunk!" And true enough, he also wanted to experience the famous Filipino-style alcoholic indulgence, which I don't really approve of.

What I'm gonna do this Christmas by the way? The 24th and 25th fall on Thursday and Friday. And we naturally take offdays on weekends. Maybe will be shopping for some ingredients for spaghetti or pancit, just for the feel of Nochebuena. I am not really a big fan of carbs, so I guess I may not devour much of them.

But even while I write this post, I already lost my usual zest to write. I feel bored, my eyes fixated on ASAP 09. My mind doesn't cooperate. I just miss Christmas in my hometown. All my siblings will be holding a reunion. Not impossible though, they all live in one island.

The picture above was taken last year, when we were still excited to decorate our living room for Christmas. Those were recycled decors courtesy of our Ramadan window displays. Ironic, right?

And to all my friends and critics, (I'm getting more each day), I wish you all a blessed Christmas! Although we people, tend to forget who is the central figure of Christmas, He who authored the real essence of Christmas never forgets us.

We may find John 3:16 boring and old, but this beautiful verse is timeless, and the very same message that reminds us of God's great gift of salvation, through His son Jesus. We don't have to labor for it nor pay for it, we just accept it because it's a gift, and a gift is free. Ephesians 2:8-9 says," For it is by Grace that you have been saved, not from your own works, so that no man should boast."

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Governor Grace Padaca -- You're An Inspiration

"She pioneered honesty in her government. She is a good leader exemplified. She brought herself closer to the people. Her achievements speak volumes."

Whatever happens to the embattled Gov. Grace Padaca's political career -- she is unarguably one of the most successful stories in Philippine politics.

An accountant by training, has serendipitously found her niche in radio broadcasting, a gargantuan figure on the airwaves, and best known as "Bombo Grace" to her ardent listeners.

I admire her a lot. Her sense of fortitude is incredible. Her visions unparalleled. She is a true warrior in every sense. Nothwithstanding her physical defficiencies, she defied all odds, made the invincibles realize, they're not eternally enthroned.

If the Philippines had Cory Aquino, Isabela province in the north has Grace Padaca. She is as a true icon of democracy as her more illustrious idol. Her quixotic quest for governorship of the province of Isabela in 2004, and her subsequent victory made headlines all over the country.

Barely five months before her second term as governor ends, the 2008 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Government Service was ordered by the Comelec to vacate her post as governor. This came as a surprise considering that it is election period again. The Comelec had earlier ruled that it was her opponent Benjamin Dy who won the 2007 elections by a margin of 1,051 votes.

The Dy family has been the ruling political dynasty in Isabela for decades. They control almost everything in the province. Prior to Governor Padaca's venture into politics, the Dy clan has had the stranglehold of politics in the province. Thus her slogan "Free Isabela", struck chords with voters in the province and compelled an army of volunteers to her cause.

Grace Padaca first ran as congresswoman in 2001 but lost by a margin of 48 votes, despite countless ballots being invalidated that should have gone to her. The 48 vote-difference as margin of victory by Faustino Dy, was all they could muster inspite of widespread fraud involving 812 ballot boxes, wherein genuine ballots were removed and replaced with spurious ones with Dy's name written on them.

A whole hosts of evil forces would then play their roles, in upending Grace's quest for restoration of democracy in her province. The House Electoral Tribunal ruled that the ballots with name 'Grace' written on them, were deemed invalid, and therefore should not count in her favor. The Tribunal contended, that she filed her candidacy under the name of Maria Gracia Cielo Padaca, with her nickname as 'Bombo Grace'. So anything less than what she wrote on her certificate of candidacy will not be honored. So the poor Grace lost by technicality.

As much as I would like to give credit to Grace's courageous attempt to free Isabela, I would also like to give credit to those people who were victorious, in their diabolical plot to rob Isabela of their deserved freedom. And the honor goes to the stinky idiots of that House Tribunal namely, Associate Justices Leonardo Quisumbing and Angelina Gutierrez, Representatives Douglas Cagat and Zenaida Ducut, Enrico Echiverri and Joaquin Chipeco.

It's a shame that these creatures who evolved into human species, and who would naturally devour books on Logics, are themselves devoid of simple logical thinking attributable even to Cromagnons and Neanderthals. Yes, this is democracy at its best, only in the Philippines. Democracy is such a sweet word, but a complete overhaul of minds and disrobing of infinite morons in the system, will even be much sweeter.

Finally, in 2004 Grace Padaca became the governor of the province of Isabela. She won 55% of the total votes. This was very surprising considering that she had no money and machineries, as opposed to her seemingly indomitable powerful opponent. Her unlikely victory was dubbed as David's butcher of the towering Goliath.

Now, into her last few months as a second-term governor, Grace Padaca's legacy of good governance is a testament to her selfless quest for a better Isabela. The changes she introduced as governor are beyond reproach. She pioneered honesty in her government. She is a good leader exemplified. She brought herself closer to the people. Her achievements speak volumes.

She is such a popular figure that her story becomes a conspicuous staple in media and around circles. She is a recipient of numerous awards for her extraordinary public service records. She is also the Magsaysay Awardee for Government Service in 2008. And she is the complete opposite of the one who now sits on the throne of abomination.

As the world is governed by principalities and evils, so is the Malacañan and Comelec. These institutions who have the power to "Ampatuanize" so to speak, the very foundation of democracy by virtue of their self-serving agenda. Righting the wrong and falsifying the truth is where they excel most. So Grace Padaca, by virtue of her more than 17,000 votes margin of victory, lost the election in 2007!

My sympathy goes to the powerful and influential Dys of Isabela, whose 30-year grip in power was interrupted by the 'fraud' polio-victim Padaca. The powerful dynasty and a multi-millionaire was defrauded by the poor penniless Padaca in the election! Yes, that is their lame contention. And what about the 17,000 vote-advantage by Padaca? How did they overturn it? That is what we call magic. The magic only a so-called 'lucky bitch', and the 'wicked witch of the east' is capable of doing.

It is a public knowledge that Governor Grace Padaca had aligned herself with Senator Noynoy Aquino. Pampanga Governor Ed Panlilio and Bulacan Governor Joselito Mendoza are also among those who threw their support for Noynoy, and are in the process of suffering the same fate as Padaca. The Bulacan governor was even first to be ordered to step down from office. All the alleged winners in those provinces are friends and allies of the administration. There we get it!

Whatever happens to the motion for reconsideration filed by Grace Padaca, the notion that justice is only a superficial thing in our judicial system, remains a grim reality.

Our parasite-infested government institutions, are but tangible manifestations of a government rotten to the core. Once seated, they appear like symbols of righteousness with impeccable integrity, that with a stroke of their pen, they could decide everyone else's survival.

As the Scriptures would comfort the believers in Romans 8:31 that says, " If God is for us, who can be against us?" Then the cunningly shrewd and foxy resident evil of Malacañan, would also comfort her disciples with the same mantra, " If Gloria is for us, who can be against us?" And so, all who dares to spoil her party, better take heed!

For the latest Philippine news stories and videos, visit GMANews.TV

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

To My Dear President Gloria

"For you were once privileged to be steward of your people, and you're bound to uphold their well-being, but you chose to indulge in the bounty of your plunder ."
You've reached the pinnacle of your political career. You've been president for a decade. You held the highest office in the land, longer than any other president apart from Marcos. You have had ten long years to prove that you're committed to serve the Filipino nation.

Ten years as president is deemed long to effect change in your government. We waited for a decade for that change you vowed to deliver for us. We the poor who felt betrayed by the one who came before you. And also ten years that you repeatedly failed us.

You would have not become president had you not cheated. Your cowardice to face rejection from the Filipino people made you brave to commit the unthinkable. Your tremendous resolve to hold on to your powerful domain even made you believe, that the presidency is what you are made for. You dreaded to think that you've been repudiated at the polls. For the Filipino electorate had their voice affirmed yet the truth stolen from them.

The genius in Garci was something that you should boast of --the inconceivable number of votes he was able to secure for you. The astonishing margin of victory you gained in Maguindanao warranted record worthy of Guinness entry -- delivered by the equally trusted and righteous ally in the Ampatuans. But as the proverbial adage would forewarn -- " there is a time for everything and a season for everything".

And then the time has come for your evil scheme to be revealed; and your harvest came at the right season. You reaped the scorn of the Filipino nation -- a reward for your audacious attempt to rob democracy from us. Notwithstanding the indignation you reaped, you still succeeded and prevailed. And the only consolation we got -- when you said 'sorry' on national television -- with your face looking stupid.

Scandals after scandals have plagued your administration. Graft and corruption prevailed under your leadership. ABN-ZTE and Fertilizer Scams are but few of your monumental exploits. Promises were made to stamp out corruption in your government. But to vindicate oneself from blame is one thing, and punishing the culprit is another. How you can reign in the evil elements in your government when it is your family that wields that three-pronged power?

When you took oath as president in 2001, to assume the place of the humongous corrupt Joseph Estrada, you were awed at the prospect of sitting at the summit of national leadership. You captured every Filipino's imagination of a strong and corrupt-free governance. Every Filipino's hope that you will be a redemption from the plunderer, became a testimony to the magnitude of support you obtained from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Rich, poor, the academe, the sidewalk vendors, even snatchers-- all put their trust in you -- in your capability to heal the ' terminally sick man of Asia', as you did boastfully flaunt in your credentials. But it is also the same hope that was shattered, when you put yourself and your family above the collective whole's interest.

Allegations of bribery, rampant graft and corruption and evidences of nepotism, thrive unabatedly in an arrogant fashion. You took pains in combating those accusations, shielding your husband from appearing in the Senate hearing, as what his favorite doctors would have advised -- but his jet setting to Las Vegas for every Pacquiao's fight is entirely what his doctors would have prescribed. And more impressively were your successes at shaking off several attempts to impeach you from office. You are really one astute president.

Your astronomical feats did not end there. Your government did not hold back from engaging in wholesale corruption. Day after day, new revelation of inexplicable assets acquired by your family surfaces. Details of assets acquired by your oldest son were invariably concealed from public. And you Madame President wanting not to be outdone, your assets increased by more than 1000 per cent in the course of your glorious presidency. Don't you feel the urgency to substantiate the acquisition of this breathtaking wealth?

You had also been delusional to cling to power beyond your term. You explored all legal means just to advance your own personal agenda. Pork barrels, special favours, privileges to travel abroad, and cold cash in the bags have been your leverages for winning the perpetual support of your equally crooked worshippers in Congress. But thanks to the collective social awareness of every Filipino -- your fabled ten-year fairy tale will certainly end half a year from now.

In what a seemingly blissful elections ahead, the prospect of a brand new president gives a glimmer of hope to every Filipino like myself. The thought of a new beginning revives our hope of a better Philippines. As the saying goes, 'new is always nice'. But new position in the government for our beloved future former president, is a square pill hard to swallow! Have you had not enough?

Every Filipino gets his appeasement from the fact that you will certainly step down. You might have not succeeded in your grand scheme of a Charter Change, (to pave way for your premiership), but your obvious intentions remain clear, that your eyes had been set on the same. And one easiest way is to get to the halls of Congress. This has been expected of you Madame President as your deafening silence on this question was apparent.

When you braved controversies and gleefully filled up your certificate of candidacy for Congresswoman, you have already accomplished your first step forward. Then, it's only a matter of time before we see a probable Speaker of the House and if fortunate as you have always been -- a new Prime Minister. And the fairy tale its end revised, and another long chapter reemerges.

I have only two questions to raise my dear President. Do the collective sentiments of the Filipino people matter to you? Don't you hear their clamor for change? The change every Filipino screams that could get you banished! As time goes, the wounds heal. We Filipinos can easily forgive, as ingrained in our virtues. But forgiveness for the unremorseful is one divine virtue unexpected of any man, much less a weary Filipino.

Leaders be good or not are still leaders. We are obligated to obey them. And how many leaders had been privileged to serve this great nation? This sounds very fulfilling, but only few lived to its essence to be servants of the people, and not masters of them. Leaders who not only enriched themselves and their kins, but also squandered the residue meant for the poor and the needy. Leaders who salivated at the sight of fame and fortune that beckons them at their throne. Machiavellian leaders who could make their subjects tremble and annihilate foes at a swagger of their hand.

Madame President, the Philippines is a bastion of democracy. Communism thrived for a time and so did Socialism. But there is nothing like democracy. And in democracy, there is no place for dynasty. Apart from five of you in the family, whom pundits would announce as the modern-day dynasty, who else remain in diaspora awaiting ordainment?

The shame that this repulsive government has gifted to the Filipino nation is beyond redemption. How many more days, weeks or months, should we be holding the scepter passed on to us as the most dangerous country for journalists? Is this latest coronation something that a Filipino like me should be proud of? It is a shame that a Pacquiao and a Penaflorida feat would pale in comparison to this worldwide recognition.

And what has your government been doing to punish the criminals of the grisliest massacre in recent memory? Would you be brave enough to accept part of the blame and therefore admit a failed leadership? You know and the Filipino people know, who created the monsters in Maguindanao. You might have exonerated yourself from the shame of election 2004, but the repercussion of your cheating is here to haunt you. The election result that paved the way for the resurrection of the cloned monster -- the Frankenstein that gobbled up the bloods of the innocent victims of Maguindanao massacre. Its design and perfection all happened under your watch, and may I say your pampering hand.

In conclusion, I would like to thank you Madame President for being an instrument for a new wave of self-sacrifice, selflessness and social consciousness, being felt around every dimension of society. This average citizen is no longer indifferent to every issue he is entangled into. He is no longer oblivious to the fact that his future and his children's future is in jeopardy. He now acts forthrightly and with a sense of urgency. And the lessons he learned became his powerful tool to rectify his mistakes.

For no government on earth is without reproach, but certainly and collectively we can triumph over the bondage of greed in our government -- this curse that no one dared resist. For you were once privileged to be steward of your people, and you're bound to uphold their well-being, but you chose to indulge in the bounty of your plunder . As the adage goes, "for where the carcass is, the vultures abound."

Thank you Madame President for stirring up in me, the resolve to muster my unusual self to put my thoughts down in writing, as I would not be able to speak them. Thank you for compelling me to do the right thing and be a voice to the reserved few.

From an OFW

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Kristie Kenney - Loved By All

"She's well-loved. Her face exudes meekness. She's well-recognized by people from all walks of life. Even kids adore her. She dances to 'Papaya' with ease and elegance. She's friend to Chris Tiu. She's also my friend on FB. She's Kristie Kenney - the first female US Ambassador to the Philippines."

I doubt if there is still anyone in the Philippines who doesn't recognize Kristie Kenney. By far, she is the most popular US Ambassador to have ever served in the Philippines.

First time I saw her on TV was when she hit the stage for a memorable 'Papaya' dance on UKG. She must be enjoying what she does. She is a darn good dancer though.

My admiration for her does not stop there. Her television appearances would be more frequent. She became more accessible to a common man even just on TV. As a TFC subscriber, it was a great delight seeing her appear on Wowowee and danced to the provocative Willie classic 'Boom Tarat Tarat'. Her smiles are infectious. She wears them with much sincerity.

I must ask myself this question. If she's that amiable, how do the embassy people look like, especially the interviewers? Are they nice too? Don't they not behave like her or a bit like her? She is the boss and they ought to emulate her demeanor! Essentially, I have no idea. I haven't applied yet and I have no reason to apply at all.

With her tenure almost certainly to end (although I prefer not too soon), she will be leaving behind tons of friends and fans who will certainly miss her. In her blog, one can tell that she really enjoys her stint in the Philippines. In fact, she's been able to pick up some words in Tagalog.

Evidently, lots of FB friends reacted with gloom when she announced that she will be leaving anytime soon. This is to pave way for an Obama appointee to take her place as has become customary once a new president is sworn in. But surely Ambassador Kenney will sorely be missed. She will definitely be a tough act to imitate for the next ambassador.

To the most loved ambassador, I know you have had bunch of wonderful and memorable moments spent in the Philippines. And some not-so-nice as well to a lesser extent. You might have deleted some from your storage, but I kept one with me to ponder. It's surreal really but I know you can still recall this.

On July 27, 2009 after the SONA of President Gloria Arroyo, you were picked to give your insights (about the SONA) by Pia Hontiveros of ABS-CBN. There were four of you aligned, each waiting for his or her turn to speak. Three distinguished gentlemen from Congress and yourself. You were on the extreme right. Then Pia started her interviews mostly focusing on the gentlemen without acknowledging your presence. She only did when it was your turn to be interviewed, but only after lengthy discussions with the gentlemen. I can see that you felt left out and bypassed. But you kept yourself composed.

While watching, I felt like I wanted to email ABS-CBN for the poor conduct shown by Ms. Hontiveros. She should have acknowledged you before she started her interviews but chose not to. She might be unaware of it, but the viewers could definitely tell how you were being treated. But being a dignified lady as you are, you dealt it with poise and a lot of class.

Madame Ambassador, when it's time for you to say adieu, I hope that the good memories you have of our country will supersede that of the bad. That no amount of ZTE, Garci, Gloria and Erap stuff will ever stop you from believing that we also have Pacquiao, Penaflorida, Charice and Arnel that are worth bragging about. That the Philippines is not (or will not be) the most dangerous country for journalists anymore...after the 2010 elections.

The Filipino people will truly miss you. Your indelible legacy will always stay. We hope and pray for your safety on another journey. That your next ambassadorial post will be an enjoyable one. Keep the fondness of them as you are with Filipinos, and the citizens of that country will embrace you as one of their own.

As TFC subscribers here in Saudi Arabia, with our means of seeing you only on television, the connection you established with us cannot be snapped. The virtual friendship will remain. And when we say it, we mean it. God bless you!

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Massacre In Maguindanao: My Show Of Protest

"Unprecedented in a democracy. Evil in its entirety. A complete loss of respect for human life. Laws of men flouted with impunity. Who do they think they are? Are they demi-gods?"

I am lost for words. My eyes transfixed on the graphic brutality shown on television. I couldn't muster my spontaneous self to commentate. I kept still. I just pieced every single image. The brutality unleashed its scale beyond belief. Who are the perpetrators? Who are these beasts in Maguindanao?

On the third day since the massacre, fifty-seven dead bodies have been accounted for. This includes men and women from the Mangudadatu clan who were supposed to file for candidacies in the capital. Among the dead were fourteen journalists who were with the convoy to cover the event. Two women lawyers were not even spared. Civilians who just happened to be in close proximity with the convoy also bore the wrath of the criminals. They all died a savage death.

Fortunately for Ismael Toto Mangudadatu - the presumed candidate for governor of the province, he was spared from the carnage but his wife and sister were not that fortunate.

All the dead bore evidences of torture. Most of them were shot at close range, their faces disfigured. Women were raped before being murdered. Their private parts left exposed by the perverts. And many of the dead were buried in a shallow grave aided by the bulldozer owned by the province.

It was later known that rumors of an impending carnage circulated within the town of Ampatuan. This is proof that the plot to murder political opponents had earlier been hatched by the perpetrators. The intent itself to participate in a democratic process was enough to seal the destiny of the victims. Their mortal sin - daring to cross paths with the reigning powerful clan of Maguindanao - the Ampatuans.

Maguindanao is in the heartland of Muslim Mindanao. It is the third poorest province in the country. Its people are called Maranaos. Traditions of clan fightings abound within the area. Political dynasties are norms in the government. Reigning members of the clan hold as many as elective and appointive positions in the government. Even popular actress-politician Alma Moreno was married to a Maranao mayor - albeit in a polygamous set-up. Just few things my brain could store about this now infamous province, among others.

The Ampatuans led by its acknowledged patriarch Andal Ampatuan the governor of Maguindanao, have been close allies with the administration. They were proven to be reliable when it comes to support they could give in any election. True enough, the governor did ensure the victory of Arroyo in 2004, and delivering an inconceivable 12-0 victory to the senatoriables of the administration. Massive cheating was done almost at will in broad daylight, right under the noses of the civilian and military entities. Until now, it is incomprehensible why no one was prosecuted despite all the evidences.

The return of favor from the office of the president would then follow. The Ampatuans were allowed to keep private army for their protection. Some boys as young as ten would be enlisted to the militia - they otherwise call as the CVO or Civilian Volunteers Organization in their own legal assertion. The sight of a rifle-wielding boy ready to protect his lord is not a normal thing one would see in a democratic state. But this has become an accepted norm in Maguindanao for the revered and feared Ampatuans.

As the investigation of this grisly massacre develops, everybody is ready to point fingers at the Ampatuans. Based on early reports, the perpetrators were men of Andal Ampatuan Jr., one of the sons of Andal, the governor of the province who also grooms his son Zaldy to succeed him. The incriminating evidence against the Ampatuans screams loudest of this barbaric incident - only the devil is capable of plotting. No human being could live with the thought of having murdered fifty-seven innocent victims and yet goes on with his normal life.

It is also noted that the aggrieved clan of Mangudadatu are relatives of the Ampatuans through intermarriages - a tradition prevalent among Muslims. Some members of the Mangudadatu clan are also holding powerful positions in the province.The political stranglehold of these two clans in Maguindanao has become so impervious that a gatecrasher to the pen is unimaginable. And so their grip on power all the more tightens. But in this case, even a relative is deemed a threat and so their end had been brutally decided.

Although the call for swift justice is getting louder by the hour, it is still a grim reality that it did actually happen in a democracy like ours. It is difficult to comprehend, that our very own president has created a monster in the form of the Ampatuans. The culture of impunity and complete disregard of the rule of law stemmed from that pampering hand from Malacañan. The question whether justice will be administered in this gruesome massacre remains hanging in the balance.

News of this unthinkable brutality has created a wave of condemnation from international communities. Even the UN Secretary General was alarmed by this incident. Different media rights organizations join the condemnation in the strongest terms possible. And this has consequently elevated the Philippines to the status of being the most dangerous country for journalists. A distinction that this government should be ashamed of.

With all due respect, it is now your time Madame President to shine. Your term in office will certainly end few months from now. You have ample time left to redeem yourself. Honor the legacy of your father in a way that you would want your offspring to honor you in years to come. All the powers and authority is at your disposal. Show the Filipino people that you put this nation above everything else. That in the interest of democracy the rule of law will prevail. That no criminals of bestial character will go unpunished... at least in the remaining days of your office. Don't delay Madame President!

And to the criminals - the evil ones - the murderers - the beasts of Maguindanao - I know you also worship the god of your prophet. You claim to be peacemakers and you're proud of your heritage. The bravery of your ancestors is legendary beyond compare. But your greed has consumed your whole being. You led your people to transgress others outside of your fold . You live lives full of envy, hatred and wrath, that you did not spare even the innocent who are unable to protect themselves.

Your doom is near. Even your confidence of invincibility will wear you down. You will not be spared from the vengeance that the Mighty God has appointed for you. You and your people who take delight in the murders of the innocent. You and your people who feasted on the women whom you raped and murdered. Murderers and perverts, woe unto you! For God has assuredly said in His words,"I will never leave the wicked go unpunished."

Philippine Center For Investigative Journalism / Reporters Without Borders

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Efren Peñaflorida Is CNN Hero Of The Year

"Serve, serve well, serve others above yourself and be happy to serve."

Touching moments...poignant words... in an unbridled show of emotions! The CNN Hero of 2009 uttered words of a victor! The victory that emanates from a servant's heart, the joy that comes from serving others and being a catalyst of change in the lives of others.

Hail ye Efren and your Dynamic Teen Company! The Filipino people salute you for yet another feather in the cap for what a true Filipino is able to do, a legacy that would forever permeate in the minds and hearts of today's youth, who hunger for a real hero to look up to. You deserve all the accolades accorded to you.

Congratulations also to those who painstakingly voted to ensure your place in history. To my friends in Saudi Arabia who had to set aside their Facebook addiction on the last hours of voting, just to cast as many votes as they can, thank you guys!

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Housemaids in the Middle East - Their Grim Plight

"Some are fortunate and have become successful. Some are not that fortunate. And some have also met their ends here."

One blazing afternoon, as we arrived from work, a dabab (small pick-up truck) was parked in front of our apartment building. A black African man could be seen struggling to offload a decrepit airconditioner. There was no way he could do it by himself. He had three or four women in abayahs surrounding him, looking anxiously but obviously shy. I can guess what they were up to. "We have brand new neighbours again. This is not a beautiful sight to behold". I said to myself, and a little annoyed. This will certainly exacerbate our compounding problem of daily water shortages. "Our landlord is really one hell of greedy flesh and fats!"

As we got down, the African guy asked for help for which I willingly obliged. "Don't you have any men with you to help?" I asked the guy. One of the women did interject. "We are all women, six of us." She said in Filipino. "I am the only Filipina and the rest are Indonesians", she narrated. All of them work as housemaids for different employers, and that they're not allowed to stay in. So they had to rent an apartment.

For them to afford the rent of an apartment, these housemaids pool themselves so as to make it more economical. Usually, their number exceeds the capacity of an average 2-bedroom apartments. However, the downside with this kind of tenants is that, their status draws suspicion of them engaging in illegal activities.

Days and months have passed, our new neighbours next door virtually become non-existent. Very rarely I could chance upon any one of them- except when it's night time, their supposed duty hours. However it didn't take long, when on a number of occasions, I've noticed some suspicious- looking Arab guys outside of the lobby's main door waiting anxiously. As I opened the door, he seemed to look uneasy and agitated, but coyly headed straight to a familiar door. He must have waited for someone else to open the door for him.

Housemaids are conspicuous features in every Saudi household. They are considerably larger in number compared to workers you essentially see outside. Their profession falls under the unskilled category, hence lowly paid. Despite their low wages, their job basically entails round-the-clock errands for their masters. Not to mention, the harshest of conditions most of them are being subjected to.

Their sad plight has become daily staples in any local newspaper. In most cases, the abuses they suffered at the hands of their employers are horrifying. Jealous Saudi wives would resort to locking the maids up when it's time for their husbands to come home. And countless have been reported being raped by their employers and sometimes offered to their friends. The most horrifying of all, some of them die from extreme physical abuses and just being dumped alongside garbages, still their identities unknown.

Until now I am still bothered by one incident that made me chill to the bone. On May 13, 2009, when I boarded a taxi on my way to Jama, this Pakistani taxi driver named Abdulatif confided to me, that he had witnessed a kidnapping of a Filipina woman a day before. The alleged kidnapper was a Saudi in his mid 30s, whose car was a GMC black Chevrolet with plate no. 3769 HKA. According to him, he saw this Saudi man dragging one of these two Filipina women into his car, as one of them was hysterically screaming for help. He could even hear the cries of the kidnapped woman as the car zoomed.

One of the women then hailed this taxi and asked for help. She narrated how her companion was kidnapped while they were waiting for taxi. He then volunteered to take her to the Philippine Consulate but she adamantly refused. She further stressed that they do not have proper documents [which means they are illegal workers] and that they would surely be apprehended and brought for deportation. This woman also refused to report this case to the police for fear of the same. She however prayed that her friend was unharmed. But she felt so distressed that she wanted this taxi driver to help them but not in a way he suggested to her. She nonetheless left her cellphone number to him.

Once I got to the shop, I immediately called our Consulate and reported to them all necessary details about the kidnapping of a compatriot. I also gave them the cell number of Shiela for information. But once they (Consulate people) introduced themselves to her, she replied it's a wrong number. So, what makes the situation all the more complicated is that, the refusal to cooperate by the victims made these cases difficult to resolve. This has become a Catch-22 situation with no resolution in sight. Because if ever they wanted to report the matter to the police, they will surely be apprehended and deported. While if they just keep silent, they can still keep their jobs without fear of being jailed and their loved ones going hungry. But the thought of a missing friend who could have been raped and murdered, remains a constant nightmare haunting them.

I already did what I was supposed to do, and I was ready to put this experience behind me. But after 9days to be exact, as I was watching Balitang Middle East on TFC, there was a report on a dead body of a woman found in Makkah in an advanced state of decomposition, allegedly that of a Filipina. Her identity was still unknown, for her remains carried no identification, except that she resembled that of a Filipina. God forbid! "Could she be the one?" Whoever did this to that unfortunate soul, may he rot in hell!

This is just one true story from a multitude of lives living as expatriates in Saudi Arabia. Some are fortunate and have become successful. Some are not that fortunate. And some have also met their ends here. Not everyone who has dreamed of a greener pasture has found it. Sometimes, we even prefer not to tell our stories to our loved ones back home. Some stories that would make them worry about us. However sad it would be, we always tend to keep it to ourselves, because we don't want to lose focus from our goals.

To our less fortunate compatriots who work as housemaids, I fully understand why they have become what they are. They just want to live simple lives. Not wanting to enrich themselves, but to feed and send their kids to school is just their modest dream. Those who have absconded from their employers have their own stories to tell. And they had no choice but to fend for themselves through illegal means, and help their families get by.

As for my new neighbours next door, I could say they remain shy and aloof, very seldom to be seen-except when ushering some male guests that coincided with my routine. Surprisingly, after quite a time, a newborn baby has been added to their family, as the shrieks and cries of the innocent can be audibly heard. Does the landlord knows about this? Yes of course! As long as they pay the rent on time, it would be a non-issue. God bless the baby!

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hail To King Pacman!

"This honor he brings to the country is a testament to a Filipino's unwavering spirit and resilience."

Hail to the king of the boxing world! Manny Pacquiao does it again! This historic win catapulted him to the pedestal where no man has ever reached before. He is the only boxer in history to win 7 world division titles! Any doubts if there's any, of his reign as the pound-for-pound king should be laid to rest!

Not even the great Oscar de la Hoya could achieve such a rare feat before his career was upended by no less the king himself the Pacman. Going into this historic bout, Miguel Cotto of Puerto Rico was in a mission to stop Pacquiao from sealing yet again another page of history. But destiny was on the side of Pacman as the bludgeoning of Cotto was an evidence of the Pacman's fury.

Lots of pundits have predicted that Cotto will come out the stronger of the two, as the welterweight division is the natural domain of Cotto. But Manny's speed and that famous powerful left punch, will later prove to be the deciding factor. In the end, the grit and determination of the Filipino prevailed.

Amidst the hype and celebration, there is however a somber side. Our compatriot Z Gorres also a boxer, is in a comatose state in the US. He also made us proud by winning his boxing match held a day before the Pacman's big day. One unfortunate punch from his Colombian opponent landed on Z's head in the dying seconds of the last round. But the Filipino went on to win the fight. My prayers are for Z Gorres for his early recovery.

This moment unarguably belongs to Pacman. And just like the rest of the boxing enthusiasts around the world, I am in a mood of celebration. This honor he brings to the country is a testament to a Filipino's unwavering spirit and resilience. More power to you Manny! Stay humble and wise in your decisions on your future endeavour. God bless you Manny Pacquiao!

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Borne Out Of Hatred?

"Our world has become so complicated that people are busy building walls instead of bridges..."

While so engrossed with my daily task of casting votes for my favorite CNN Hero, I navigated through the CNN homepage and came across with hot issues of today. One particular story that caught my attention, was the heroism by Pvt. Joseph Foster, one of the survivors of that gruesome massacre at Fort Hood in Texas a week ago. He helped would have been victims ran for cover, and in the process spared many lives. He did according to him what he has been trained for.

The massacre at Fort Hood was considered by many to be incomprehensible, given its stature as the biggest military facility in the world, hence security is at its utmost. It is also home to thousands of American military personnel and sophisticated military arsenal. The facility serves as a springboard for those who are bound for the war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan. And the culprit of this despicable act is Major Nidal Malik Hassan, an American-born Muslim of Palestinian descent. He is a psychiatrist by training and had been working in the facility for many years.

As media feast on this inconceivable event, lots of suspicions and foregone conclusion, have been promoted from the fact that he is a Muslim. The subsequent buzz in media would be that of his links with his Islamic faith. That would then be an understatement if it sounded less familiar. It was later known however, that the assassin had communicated with a radical Muslim cleric in Yemen who has links with Al Qaeda. This findings further reinforced the notion that the suspect had infiltrated the US military and waited to carry out his self-styled revenge. At this juncture, should the US government fail to rein in this notion, the likelihood of a backlash against Muslims in the US military would be a dreadful scenario.

But how can they keep the world from concluding that it is his religion that has caused unheard of pain to the victims and their loved ones? The devastated family members of the dead who had not doubted the security and safety inside the facility. And the thought that a colleague and friend to some, did this unthinkable act, even made it more devastating to them. That a person who should have been helping his colleagues live better lives was the one who ended those very lives in haste. This is a painful reality so difficult to get over with. The trust accorded him and his fellow Muslims just quickly evaporated. The aspirations by all that religion will not play a role in a united community has just been crushed.

As an ordinary human being with a an own view to express, I can't help but ask, why is there so much hatred in the world? Why can't people live in harmony without prejudice? Why have we lost the very basic human faculty of compassion? Why have we lost our sound reasoning that killing people, let alone innocent people has never been a solution to any problem? Why blame all for the transgression of one? Why take delight from the fact that we have caused untold sufferings to our fellow human beings? Why treat other people as enemy just because of the color of his skin, his appearance and his religion?

In any religion, I believe there is a basic teachings of love, hope and faithfulness. Even in the Bible, Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). And I believe, any religion would be very proud of their own teachings about love and forgiveness. But why are there people from among us who believe that killing an enemy, or an innocent pleases our Creator and warrants reward in heaven? Where is the testimony of what we preach in the pulpit that ours is a religion of peace? It is a shame that people who claim to be men of God, are too slow to condemn violence and are reluctant to rebuke this kind of heinous crimes.

As a non-Muslim working in a Muslim society, I have been guided by the principle of treating people with respect and dignity, regardless of one's religion or appearance. However, an air of animosity between religions is an unfortunate thing no one would have wanted to experience. There is that genuine show of concern for your grim destiny if you don't get converted. They were made to believe that non-Muslims have only hell to be their final destination. Personally, I was once prodded by a Muslim colleague to convert to his religion, because according to him, my affiliation to Christianity alone is already a ticket to hell. And I got sympathy for that. While I appreciated his concern, it prompted me to pause and started to appreciate the fact, that I was taught of the forgiveness my God has guaranteed me if I were repentant, and that He looks at one's heart and not on one's religion.

Our world has become so complicated that people are busy building walls instead of bridges, as I would quote from a friend. Hatred is everywhere. It is even taught systematically in school in a certain community. It is a pity that no good will ever be borne from the wrath that we keep in our hearts. I just wish all religions in the world will someday come together in harmony. That no enemy will be labeled on anyone outside of our fold. After all, we are all God's masterpiece, made in His own image, equal in stature and purpose, made to glorify Him and also made accountable to Him, not for what we have achieved, but for what we have done to the rest of our brothers.

RELATED LINK: Where Is The Honor? by Susie Khalil

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hillary's Silent Rebuke - "Get Your Acts Together!"

"Corruption is corrosive in any society with leaders enriching themselves..."

While these are very strong words from the US Secretary of State, the message is quite clear. It may be a generalization, but judging from the corruption scandals this government is embroiled in, it is presumed as a direct reference to the Arroyo government.

If Gloria was in attendance, what would have been her reactions to that? I just can guess, everyone in the audience might have given her a cold stare. For it is a universal knowledge, that corruption thrives under the Gloria administration, not negligible in scale but its magnitude historical.

Those were stern words not to be ignored. Hillary is certainly no cerebral minnow. She's well-informed. But behind the curtains, could she be tough enough to whisper to this rogue little being, that her explicit exploits are being monitored? I wonder what the conversations would sound like. Or is Hillary so mean enough to be that unreasonably candid? Oh, I really don't think this scenario is forthcoming!

The last time Gloria visited the US upon the invitation of Obama, she was greeted with demonstrations and protests by the Filipino community there. Prior to her visit, a handful of prestigious newspapers in the US, were already screaming loud of her purported involvement in corruption scandals. If my history was correct, she earned the distinction of being the first Southeast Asian leader to have been invited to the White House. Being a gifted peacemaker and a gentleman himself, Obama did not intend to be accused of breach of protocol, by shutting the White House door to the Philippine contingent.

Forget about rebukes from Hillary! Our protagonist nonetheless, has been quietly busy working her way to yet another stage of political immortality. When one has tasted power that comes with unimaginable gains, it is a normal human reaction to get addicted to it. And as Sen. Miriam Santiago would have described it, the stampede of vultures with the epidermis of a pachyderm, has become a cultural phenomenon in the Philippines.

There is however little time to make amends, from the stench of corruption so flagrant to conceal. What had been laid bare could just be a fraction of the real deal. We have had enough of them. Different styles of leadership from different personalities, but with synonymous records. But do we need to be reminded all over again? I think the electorate is no longer gullible to this least in earlier polls. But the fact still remains to be seen...

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Monday, November 9, 2009

When Photography Becomes A Form of Terrorism

"My friend smarting from his experience, reasserted that he is a photographer and not a terrorist!"

November 7, 2009 at around 7:30 pm, when we had a brush with Saudi authorities, albeit literally. The timing could be that so bad. We were on our way home from the office, when my friend chanced upon a prospective subject for his photoblog. We parked our car nearby, and started the shoot.

Little did we know, a police patrol passed by and tracked us down. We did not have any single inclination that the police would give us a chase, as we were pretty aware, we did not violate any Saudi law nor offended anyone. But the sight of the police car blocking our way gave me a hellish sensation, knowing how the Saudi police treat expatriates. I kept myself composed. I was not panicking. "If we were to be interrogated, there would be no reason for us to be arrested", I said to myself.

The police then wasted no time searching our car, took our iqamas ( Saudi labor card), and confiscated my friend's camera-a Canon EOS 450D. Sensing a big trouble at hand, I started to call our office. But unfortunately for me, before I could contact the office, one of the officers snatched my cellphone and playfully started to figure out how to operate it. My cellphone unit is SonyEricsson K850i.

One fat police officer began his interrogation. "What were you doing, why were you taking pictures?" I replied in my best Arabic," Sir, this is for my friend's photoblog supposedly for his black and white series." Who would care then, when he did not understand a thing or two from my explanation? What had transpired subsequently, was an endless jabberwocky.

It did not take long however, before we were dragged inside the police car, and to my horror we were handcuffed like criminals. It was very humiliating, as hordes of people started to swarm and witness a spectacle. On the way to the police station in Aziziyah, these two policemen did not waste time searching for any piece of evidence against us. To their frustration, all they could see from our cellphones were pictures of our families and our visual merchandising files.

At the police station, the gadgets they seized from us were turned over to the desk officer. After which, we were literally pushed inside the detention cell. Inside the stinky cell were different nationalities, notably Bangladeshis with petty cases. One Yemeni inmate was a driver and his case was overloading, as he narrated to us. But he couldn't be released because the police was asking for a bribe from his sponsor worth Sr. 1000.

Inside the cell, I offered to pay Sr.10 to a Bangladeshi guy for a call to our office. Our HR people were quick though to act. We were almost 4 hours inside, when we were eventually released. I really thanked God that our predicament was over. I inquired about our supposed crime and our liaison officer told us, it was an anti-terrorism measure for taking photographs. "Are you kidding me?" Yes, a violation of the Saudi government's anti-terrorism law! That's completely nonsense!But that's the truth. And why it took us so long to be released? Because the bribe was too much at Sr.1,500!

My friend smarting from his experience, reasserted that he is a photographer and not a terrorist! One thing I did realize was, when you get apprehended by the police in Saudi Arabia for a police's self-authored crime; one's detention time varies on how quick your sponsor is able to pay bribes at a bargained price. This is quite a story for me in Saudi Arabia, so that when I go back home I will be grateful enough to tell my tales of being an OFW.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Reproductive Health Bill - My Perspective And Thoughts.

"It is high time that we band together, and exercise moral and pragmatic thinking, so that each of us impact one another in a productive way."

At only 24, my niece had already three kids. Her husband is jobless. They subsist on buying and selling anything for a day's meal. Their kids are malnourished, and it is heart-breaking to see their pitiable conditions. They can't even buy school supplies for their two grade-school kids. Being the only employed next of kin, I see to it that I give them some financial help, just to afford their kids to go to school. Sadly for me, that doesn't end there. From hospital delivery to hospitalization of any sort, they will be running to me. But am I being so cruel for sometimes getting so pissed off by their nuisances? ''Why make so many kids when you can even hardly eat?'' ''Because there is no more available contraceptives in the health center'', was her prompt reply. When the poor have only their stomach as priority, anything else would be a luxury-and buying the once free contraceptives are beyond what they can afford.

My piece of resentment however, is nothing in comparison with the condition of the poorest families with multiple children. But why did the government stop the supply of the once free-to-access contraceptives available in our local health centers? Has our national leadership been so indifferent and oblivious to the fact that over-population causes more economic misery to our country? Are the UN reports on the Philippines' over population and all its encompassing ill effects on the society in general becoming irrelevant? Our government officials are presumed more knowledgeable on any issue, and therefore have more access to facts from any national and international researches on population growth in the country.

Few would argue with me that poverty is not a blessing, but it's a curse. The evils in our society has its roots traced on poverty. Although it may be one's choice to tread that evil path, his or her decision is one way or another influenced by poverty. Over-population as everyone knows is the main root of poverty. I myself am a living testimony to that. We are ten siblings. As a kid, I dreamed of becoming somebody. But how could I? I was just lucky to have finished high school. Were it not for my determination and untold sacrifice, I would have not graduated from high school. I even came to a point of cursing myself for having been born poor. Why not? How could my parents support us all when we are ten?

Poor families with multiple children can hardly feed their family. Sending all children to school would be a hard task resulting to some children having to sacrifice. And some who have started school, tend to stop and are forced to look for jobs just to help the family get by. But less education and less qualification do not equate with good job; and so the misery goes on. And the cycle continues. Sad to say, this cycle of poverty cannot be alleviated as our population continues to soar.

If our government is determined to improve the quality of life of its citizenry, it will do its utmost to enact and implement laws that would benefit its citizens. According to various researches, poor living condition is rooted in an over-population of a certain country. Our country has a distinction of one of the most densely-congested countries in the world per capita. But all the while, what is our government doing to address this compounding problem of over-population? On the video link below, you will be appalled at how the former Manila mayor Atienza gives his perspective and stand towards the issue of over-population. His confident talks and irrational viewpoint, in a way gave me a sense of embarrassment as a Filipino. And he is only one of those treading the corridors of power with the same stand on this issue.

So much has been written for and against the controversial Reproductive Health Bill. The debates are getting intense and personal in some cases. All media communications are never short of platforms in tackling this issue. Everyone seems hell-bent on getting their voices heard. It is noteworthy though, that even an average citizen is so in-tune with this issue, because so much is at stake- the future of our children and our children's children. But would this collective voice by many turn out to be futile? A big yes, maybe! Not because of the poor being against it, but because of the sinister force that is behind the improbability of its passing into law. This force is the immensely powerful Roman Catholic Church. This influence-wielding church has dominion over peoples of the earth, and its heirarchy creates its own policies that dictates its church members to obey them.

The Philippines proudly distinguishes itself as the only predominantly 'Christian nation in Asia'. Our country is a world-renowned bastion of democracy. The rights of every citizen is enshrined in and guarded by the constitution. This very same constitution that stringently commands the inviolability of the separation of the church and the state. But this is regrettably only on paper. The Catholic church for the last century, has been the driving force behind any setup in the country's political landscape. They are being feared by our leaders. This fear stemmed from what this church is capable of doing. Most politicians would always seek its blessings in any election and therefore would do what pleases the church.

It is a sore truth that the Catholic church will exercise its power and influence to ensure that the Reproductive Health Bill doesn't get enacted into law. This is the bill that would ensure a better future for an average Filipino family. This is the bill that guarantees a quality of life for each life-loving citizen. This is also the very same bill that would statistically increase the worth and productivity of every citizen, hence a big factor to improving the country's economy. However pro-poor and pro-family, this bill as the Catholic church would contend is anti-life and in a sense, evil in its entirety. This church asserts that life starts from the stage of fertilization, and that it is tantamount to murder when a couple uses contraceptives, such as condoms or pills and the likes. The use of such contraceptions they further contend, is one way of encouraging pre-marital sex or perversion of any form. And I also contend that their reason is impeccably-dogmatic moronic form of reasoning, that defies any universal law of logical reasoning.

The impasse in Congress regarding this bill is so polarizing, that it is uncertain whether this bill gets enacted into law or not. This early, our legislatures who are vocal with their support of this bill, have been branded by the church as anti-life and are not good Catholics. The pulpit has become a powerful tool to admonish members, to be conscientious and not to vote for these politicians. In here requires a firm resolute, whether you are with them or against them. And this effective bullying has kept the president from interfering with this issue, because her political career is on the line.

Our population explosion needs to be addressed, for it is only a matter of time before everything gets out of hand. It is like a ticking bomb waiting to explode. And the underlying effects could be crucial to the survival of our country, economically and morally. It is the duty of every religious denomination to coax their flock into moral fortitude. And this duty includes instilling in them the virtues of moral propriety and self-control. Sex is a sacred thing that is a gift, meant to be enjoyed by any married couple. Therefore any sex outside of marriage is a sin. This is the domain where the church should be visible. But the choice of how and when to procreate should be dependent upon a married couples' discretion. Many unwanted pregnancies have caused a family to break apart. Accidental babies have become burden to an already struggling big family.

This is not meant to be a novel. But my disturbed emotions get the better of me. And through this blog, I am able to convey my perspective, my thoughts and my sighs about an issue, not ordinary in scale, but is powerful enough to affect you, myself, and anyone who dreams of a better Philippines. It is high time that we band together, and exercise moral and pragmatic thinking, so that each of us impact one another in a productive way. Let us help support the Reproductive Health Bill pass into law. Contraceptions for married couples do not equate to being anti-life, but it is synonymous to a quality life. Your family and my family rightfully deserve a better future.

Link: Declaration Of Support For The Immediate Passage Of The RH Bill into Law (Sign The Petion Here!), RH Bill On Facebook!.
Related Video: BBC Explore: Sex and Religion in Manila, This blog post has been featured on RATIONAL HERO!

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Juana Change Where Art Thou?

"Believe it or not, it was a very naked Juana Change! She was literally all-the-way naked..."

Juana Change is the type of character everyone would be delighted to have on one's Facebook friends list, and I for one certainly have her conspicuously displayed on my FB wall. But not until today. Why? I don't know. I really thought, she might have me removed from her list. But from among thousands of her friends, why bother to single me out? Hmm...doesn't sound reasonable at all!

I kept on thinking why she suddenly disappeared from Facebook. Was there any conspiracy to terminate her account on FB? As we all know, Juana Change is known to be the face of change in the Philippines as her stage name suggests. Change that has been the call from every spectrum of the society. She is so famous that her YouTube hits reach probably in hundreds of thousands and counting. Her videos are so funny with a bite. Everyone could easily relate, and if you don't get impacted by them, I don't know what kind of Filipino you are!

But wait a minute...just a couple of days ago, Juana Change changed her picture profile. Believe it or not, it was a very naked Juana Change! She was literally all-the-way naked; just concealing something down there. At first, you would think what the hell is she doing? But because it was not meant to arouse you guys, you would probably conclude that it was done in good taste. Some elements of artistry had been applied on that 'gruesome' shot. It was indeed funny and magnetic to see for a profile.

A deluge of comments understandably started to pile on her wall; from slight yet gentle criticisms to flattering and encouraging ones. As friends had raced to submit comments, maybe a few displeased folks could have alerted Facebook people of the presumed breach of decency? I don't know how you call it. And the punishment could be that so quick? I really don't know until now. Probably because of some other reasons? But could the real Juana Change please speak up? Where are you now JC?

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Strange But Potential Bedfellows?

"...some shady alliances amongst unlikely party mates."
Recently, Juana Change had posted a question on her FB wall which says, ''what would your reactions be if Jinggoy Estrada decided to run under Noynoy-Mar slate?'' As expected, a barrage of comments were submitted and I was one of those who participated. Most comments however were threatening and violent yet funny in a voter's point of view.

It is a relief though that the majority of voters now, are becoming more too concerned and affected with the slightest tickle. But could this really be possible? Hell no! The former president himself Joseph Estrada has already declared his candidacy and Noynoy is in no mood to destroy his own chances. With barely a month to go before the deadline of filing of candidacies, anything is a possibility.

In politics however, ''there is no permanent friend or enemy only permanent interest'', as the saying goes. This is what decides any political venture. It's not a big buzz when someone from a certain political party jumps to another fence. This has been a culture. They are not thinking about you people; they think about themselves or their survival so to speak. Even Darwin's theory of ''the survival of the fittest'' can best be applied in politics. Whatever it takes for them to achieve what they wanted, no rule or delicadeza stuff will ever deter them from pursuing it.

Regrettably, I used to have a personal admiration for Loren Legarda and Miriam Defensor Santiago. I really campaigned hard for them before. But time and time again, they have proven that only their self-serving interests are important to them. They are notoriously- certified turncoats who are willing to set aside the sentiments and interests of the people just to be able to assure their survival. I am not ashamed nor petrified to convey my disgust and distrust to them. They have failed me with their style much less their insincerity.

When Noynoy files his certificate of candidacy together with his senatorial slate, then we will be able to know if he really wanted change. Wanting change is one thing and wanting victory is another. The difference between these two could speak volumes. In this time of political uncertainties, lots of losers definitely wanted a free ride and could be potential spoilers so Noynoy has to be more discerning in his choices.

So don't be shocked people when one of these days we will be witnessing some so-called ''marriage of convenience'' and some shady alliances amongst unlikely party mates. Those very same politicians who just weeks ago or so were keen to annihilate one another; and tomorrow emerge as best buddies and would unashamedly proclaim that the interest of the nation has been their common agenda so that they have become contrite and forgiving. Yes, ganyan kakapal sa atin! Because of power, fame and fortune! Your instinct is as precise as mine people...

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Silay City, Negros Occidental, The Philippines

Some of the photos above courtesy of Arnaldo Arnáiz Díaz

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