Sunday, December 26, 2004

The morning after

The morning after

Updated 09:33pm (Mla time) Dec 25, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A10 of the December 26, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

CHRISTMAS is over but not the Yuletide. We still expect the coming of the New Year and, for those who would prolong the season of good cheer, the Feast of the Three Kings. Many of us must have risen late this morning because of the pleasures of the night before in celebration of the birthday of the Lord. This is one occasion when hangovers, and not necessarily from spirits of the other kind, are justified.

Despite the problems besetting the nation, we observed Christmas with the usual goodwill that the day inspired. Even those of other faiths joined in the common feeling of fellowship and, yes, also charity. Charity was especially needed this year because of the thousands of Filipinos victimized by the cupidity of those illegal loggers who denuded the forests that could have prevented the killing floods.

No less culpable is the government for its failure to avoid the tragic disasters.

Whether from deliberate connivance or stupid neglect, the responsible officials are equally guilty. The authorities should have taken the necessary measures to prevent the repetition of similar calamities that have happened before for the same greedy reasons. Instead, the irresponsible officials dallied or conspired, and thousands more have suffered because of their malfeasance.

Many Christmas parties were marked with frugality rather than the usual extravagance. Even presents were sparing and not excessive as before except where they came from thoughtless givers. There was a general resolution to economize on the celebration in sympathy for the stricken families that lost loved ones, fragile houses and meager belongings to the angry waters. The savings derived from such prudence and given to the casualties made their ordeal a little more bearable.

Everywhere in Metro Manila, and also in the rest of the country, people paused in their merrymaking to perform their works of mercy. They were not limited to the wealthy with plenty to spare but included the middle income earners and even the poor with little to share. They extended their generosity quietly, without fanfare or publicity or expectation of merited praise. Except for some companies that announced their goodness and so commercialized it, most of the people made their donations anonymous.

It is one of the virtues of our race that we spontaneously rise as one to help others when tragedy or misfortune strikes. We showed this selflessness again this year to soften the cruel fate inflicted on the typhoon victims. They could not celebrate Christmas yesterday with the usual cheer as the rest of the country did albeit without the customary flair. But the "better angels of our nature" made their misfortune less pathetic with acts of comfort and concern.

Let us hope that this extraordinary trait of generosity and compassion will never cease to adorn our nation's character. Many of the high values we nourished in the genteel past have deserted us in these more sophisticated times, like simple courtesy, respect for elders, modesty in style and attire, and even integrity. If we should also lose our innate kindness for our fellow human beings, and for animals too, then our people will be truly lost as well.

The inertia of happiness is still brightening the rest of the Yuletide, and we should enjoy it with the still blinking Christmas lights. Considering the care and artistry with which they were strung up to welcome the coming of the Infant Lord, it will be an unwilling effort to dismantle them when the joyous season ends. Until that prosaic moment comes, let us continue to savor the fantasy of Santa Claus, of his elves creating toys beyond imagination and belief, of children whose greatest gift of innocence must in time end with the coming of age and reality.

We now joyfully await the coming of the New Year next week for this is still another event that calls for continued celebration. Meanwhile, we may take the opportunity to revive discarded loves, renew forgotten friendships, heal wounds that have festered, and, yes, still send greeting cards that may have been unintentionally omitted. Christmas comes but once a year but not only for a day like yesterday. It will continue until the last colorful lantern is unhooked, the left-over feast from the noche buena is consumed, and we settle down at last to face the real word again.

In our jubilation over the birth of the Infant Lord, did we forget to greet him on his birthday and to thank him for his many blessings on our beloved land and its people? I hope not. Confronted by our current difficulties, we should continue to keep strong our faith in his goodness, remembering that, as Albert Einstein says, "God is subtle, but he is not malicious."

Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas to one and all!

Merry Christmas to one and all!

Updated 09:52pm (Mla time) Dec 24, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A10 of the December 25, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

CHRISTMAS comes but once a year but it is an event that should be celebrated every day. This is not an original thought, to be sure, but it is something worth repeating to remind us of the eternal message of the Star of Bethlehem. Dutifully remembered on this day by the faithful, it is soon forgotten with the dismantling of the festive lights.

The birth of the Infant Child was originally regarded by the Christian world as a spiritual reawakening to the righteousness that God expected of His mortal creatures. Peace on earth and goodwill to all men (and women and children too) was the lesson His Son had come down to this world to teach its sinners. Quietly proclaimed in the Holy Manger, it was to be scorned in the hill on Calvary but resurrected with the risen Lord. That lesson has yet to be fully learned.

Today, regrettably, the true meaning of Christmas has been debased with the crass of commercialism and the profit motive. It has become the quasi-religious excuse for the reverence of money as the new god of a congregation grown materialistic. Gift-giving has ceased to be the sincere manifestation of love, affection, loyalty, gratitude and goodwill to persons of simple grace. To many, it has become the expected and sometimes even demanded exhibition of reluctant tribute or plain bribery for questionable concessions.

O Christmas, O Christmas, to vary the doomed Madame Roland's lament of liberty, how many crimes are committed in thy name! How many sins are concealed behind the facade of generosity and joy that the day projects.

The law prohibits giving public officials expensive presents as compulsory compensation for past favors or hopeful inducements for future benefits. These are not allowed the whole year round but the Yuletide may be used as a convenient excuse for such selfish magnanimity.

Simple tokens of thoughtfulness are allowed to express the merriment of the season but not as gratitude money paid to the corrupt in hopes of their continued depravity. Baskets of fruits and canned goods, while innocent-looking enough, may conceal sinister efforts in the guise of generosity to poison integrity and weaken the will.

Gifts abound during this season of giving, but are they given from the heart as the true spirit of Christmas commands? The wallet can be a source of goodies but not of goodness. Lavish gifts--of cash, jewelry, foreign travels, cars, house and lots, and other bestowals from the rich--can provide immense pleasure to those who do not need it. But they become bitter taunts to those who beg for the bare necessities of life like food for their empty bellies, medicines to heal their wounds, clothes for their bare bodies, a humble abode in the crowded slums.

Happily, these somber thoughts do not enervate the true meaning of Christmas for the majority of our people even in these cynical times. There are still many of us who, regardless of age, believe in Santa Claus, of reindeer racing with the wind, of a reformed Ghost of Christmas Future with Scrooge no longer a spoilsport tightwad but an open-handed giver.

It is the children who are the true believers in Christmas. They still believe in the blessings of gold, frankincense and myrrh that the Wise Men gave the new-born Babe. And the happy thought is that many of us are still children like them, though the years may have wrinkled our skin but not our spirits. Like them, we believe that Santa Claus continues to dwell in the recesses of our faith and makes us not mere heedless hedonists but caring human beings.

Caring for the plight of others is one of the virtues of our race, and we are again proving it during these desperate days. Many Filipinos, from all walks of life, including those with little to spare for themselves and their families, are showing this with acts of charity and selflessness for the benefit of the victims of the disasters that have left them homeless but not hopeless. The typhoons may have deprived them of their belongings but not of their friends with their helping hands.

The men and women who grieve for their stricken fellow human beings believe that the unfortunates among us also deserve, as we all do, to enjoy the delights of Christmas as the birthday of the Lord. That is why many of them have decided to do away with their usual Christmas parties, or at least lessen the former extravagance, and instead donate what they will be saving from this frugality to the needy families in the typhoon areas.

This is a sacrifice that beggars the decision of the members of the House of Representatives to reduce their pork barrel allowances that, in fact, should be given entirely to the disaster victims. This altruism is in sharp contrast with the cupidity, the unconscionable cupidity, of the so-called representatives of the people.

Sorry if I may have dampened your enjoyment of this loveliest feast of Christendom, as it is described in today's homilies. Have I preached a sermon too? I apologize if I have, but my intention was to describe what I think is the real meaning of Christmas as it was proclaimed 2,000 years ago. It is to share one's blessings with others, especially the less blessed among us.

A Merry Christmas to one and all!

Sunday, December 19, 2004

The President's appointing power

The President's appointing power

Updated 02:29am (Mla time) Dec 19, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the December 19, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

SO soon after his re-election, President George W. Bush has again committed another political blunder. He nominated a close supporter for the position of Secretary of Homeland Security who later embarrassed him with a serious confession. Bernard Keric withdrew his name because he had not disclosed that a foreign domestic employee of his had illegally entered the country.

A similar mistake embarrassed President Bill Clinton during his first term, an indiscretion that should have warned President Bush later to be more careful with his own appointments. His error was a second mistake and could have been avoided with more prudence. Dubya did not take the necessary precautions to check the credentials of Keric but assumed that his friend was qualified to be a member of his Cabinet. What made it worse was that Keric's responsibility was to be homeland security.

If the president's advisers had looked closer into the man's record, they would have been less approving. It was reported that Keric had, as chief of the department of corrections in New York City, spent $30,000 of the Police Foundation funds to order 30 busts of his, never distributed, though, probably because of public criticism. A civil suit was filed against him for forcing his staff to work for the Republican candidates on pain of disciplinary action for non-compliance; the case was settled with the plaintiff receiving $300,000 in damages and a promotion. There were also suspicions of Keric's Mafia ties.

Keric's best recommendation must have been the active role he played in campaigning for Bush during the last election. Even former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York was enthusiastic in endorsing their fellow Republican who, they should have known, was not spanking clean. They would have been discomfited with the nominee's rejection by the US Senate, which performs the confirmation function here exercised by our Commission on Appointments. The Democrats would have gleefully pounced on this opportunity to get back at Bush for trouncing their party's candidate last month.

A similar improvidence has marked some of our own President Macapagal-Arroyo's appointments, but they have not met with much public disapproval. When former Sen. Ramon Revilla was appointed chair of the Public Estates Authority (now the Philippine Reclamation Authority), the act was questioned briefly but was soon accepted and forgotten. The appointment was regarded as another capricious decision of the president to express her gratitude for the political largesse of a legislator who did precious little during his two terms in the Senate, besides his lack of qualifications for his new office. Some say he was also too old for the job. His claim that he has fathered some 80 children, the majority of them illegitimate, must have been counted in his favor.

Another appointment originally received with much skepticism was of former Rep. Joseph Durano, who now holds the position of tourism secretary. He has no known talents or experience for the office, but his name was speedily approved by his former colleagues in the Commission on Appointments. It is generally believed that Durano has been rewarded for his strong electoral support for Gloria in Cebu, where she won a landslide victory. This was another proof that the appointing power is often exercised by the president, and not necessarily the incumbent Gloria alone, to thank loyal political supporters. Even President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Joseph Kennedy (JFK's father and a failed politician with Nazi sympathies) ambassador to the Court of St. James for his campaign contributions.

There are probably other appointments extended by President Arroyo in favor of persons with doubtful credentials except only party affiliation and loyalty to her. That is to be expected because she is a political creature whose stamina as a public leader depends on popular support. This is both the strength and the weakness of democracy. In an authoritarian regime, the despot does not care what the people think of the appointments he makes, almost always for his own interests and not the public's. In the real democracy, only the best candidates are appointed after careful scrutiny of their qualifications, including their moral character, for the positions to be entrusted to them.

Under the Constitution, appointments to certain important offices are subject to the confirmation of the Commission on Appointments, but its decisions are often dictated by political considerations, including respect for or even fear of the president. It is seldom that his choices are rejected. In the United States, even nominees to the federal Supreme Court with exceptional endowments have been denied confirmation by a highly selective Senate.

To de-politicize the judiciary, its members from the Supreme Court down to the lowest level no longer need the confirmation of the Commission on Appointments. Their appointment requires only a previous nomination by the Judicial and Bar Council, which, as I have observed earlier in this column, is not a really independent body. The president's political influence over its regular and appointive members is often, if not always, irresistible.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Exceptions to the Rules

Exceptions to the Rules

Updated 01:31am (Mla time) Dec 18, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the December 18, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

LAWYER Eliseo B. Alampay, whom I have not yet met, is seeking my advice and assistance in a case handled by his firm entitled Manila Electric Company v. Nelia A. Barles, GR No. 114231, decided by the Supreme Court on June 29, 2004. He briefly summarizes the salient facts as follows:

On Oct. 4, 1990, Muntinlupa City garnished Meralco's bank deposits in several banks for claimed unpaid real property taxes. Meralco filed a petition with the Regional Trial Court of Makati City for the invalidation of the garnishment. The City moved to dismiss on the ground that the movant should have first paid under protest, which it had not done. The motion was denied.

The denial was appealed to the Court of Appeals which, on Aug. 11, 1993, sustained the City, holding that the denial was "void and without life in law." Meralco appealed to the Supreme Court which, on May 18, 2001, affirmed the CA decision through its Second Division. Meralco moved for reconsideration that was denied "with finality" on Feb. 1, 2002. A second motion for reconsideration was also denied on April 15, 2002, as a prohibited pleading under the Rules of Court. The resolution warned that no further pleading would be entertained in the case.

Accordingly, the Second Division ordered the "entry of final judgment" of the decision of May 18. 2001. This was done on May 27, 2002, with its registration as "final and executory as of 06 March 2002."

Despite such entry, Meralco filed a third motion for reconsideration on June 5, 2002. On June 27, 2002, the City executed the said decision against the Bank of the Philippine Islands, which delivered Meralco's deposit with it amounting to some P800,000. On June 28, 2002, Meralco moved for the recall of the entry of judgment.

In letters addressed to the Chief Justice, copy furnished the chairman of the Second Division, the City protested the said motion, arguing that the resolution of April 15, 2002, had warned that no further pleadings in the case would be entertained. The letters were merely noted and not answered.

On Oct. 21, 2003, the City received copy of a resolution of the Supreme Court en banc accepting the referral to it by the Second Division of Meralco's third motion for reconsideration. Without giving the City the opportunity to file a Comment, the banc resolved on June 29, 2004 to grant the said motion. The decision of the Court of Appeals was reversed and the case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

The only member of the Second Division who concurred with the resolution was Justice Quisumbing, his colleagues who had also voted to deny Meralco's first and second motions for reconsideration having already retired.

Alampay questions the grant by the banc of the third motion for reconsideration, considering that even second motions for reconsideration are not allowed. He cites its own doctrinal rulings that all courts, including the Supreme Court itself, lose jurisdiction over cases the decisions in which have already been entered in the Book of Entry of Judgment. No word was said of the fact that the challenged decision had already been partly executed on the BPI deposit. Such partial execution had practically made the decision a "done deal."

This case reminds me of the criminal conviction of Imelda Marcos by the Sandiganbayan that was affirmed on appeal by the Third Division of the Supreme Court chaired by Chief Justice Andres R. Narvasa himself. The decision was appealed to the banc which reversed the two previous convictions and acquitted the appellant. The ponente was Justice Fidel Purisima, with the Chief Justice and Justices Romero, Regalado, Davide and Panganiban dissenting.

The strict rule announced in SC Circular No. 2-89 that "the Court en banc is not an Appellate Court to which decisions or resolutions of a Division may be appealed" was not applied in Imelda's case. Her appeal to the Court en banc as a dubious exception to this rule, and her subsequent exoneration, were received with much public disfavor and suspicion.

I can understand Alampay's confusion over the decision of the Supreme Court in this case which seems to conflict with its own established rules respecting the decisions and resolutions of the Divisions as the mandate of the entire Court itself, the finality of decisions entered in the Book of Entry of Judgment, the prohibition against second and more so, third motions for reconsideration, and other requirements and strictures that may or may not be strictly enforced, depending on the mood of the justices.

Many lawyers may not know whether to observe the rules or the exceptions because of the unpredictable impulses of the High Tribunal. Perhaps there should be an Addendum to our procedural laws to be called Exceptions to the Rules of Court.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Is the Filipino worth dying for?

Is the Filipino worth dying for?

Updated 00:44am (Mla time) Dec 05, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the December 5, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

"IS the Filipino worth dying for?" my son Caloy asked me one day. I said, "Yes, of course," almost automatically. He reacted with a quizzical smile, as if I was bluffing or lying. That needed an explanation.

I was not bluffing or lying. I was generalizing. Filipinos in general are worth dying for. I am not ashamed of them nor do I disown them. Our race is honored by the past, tested by the present, and if it manages its current problems, will conquer the future. Our people are not the misbegotten of the earth.

Yet this principle is not absolute. For every rule, there is an exception that makes the rule. On the question we are pondering, there are so many exceptions that they practically make the rule.

So when is the Filipino not worth dying for?

Ferdinand Marcos was a Filipino who betrayed his country. His despotic reign for more than 14 years reduced the Philippines to the tail-ender in Asia from its former leading and promising status. He debased freedom, scorned human rights, and plundered the national treasury. His death was worth dying for.

Those corrupt and greedy generals are not worth dying for. They deserve the condemnation of the nation they have robbed blind. Their wives who are their partners in crime should also be denounced and punished. They are imitators of the conjugal regime that despoiled our country during martial law.

And so too should we spurn that PMA valedictorian who brought shame upon his people and wrecked his own future with a petty theft. Like many of his shady superior officers, he has tarnished the gleaming record of the PMA as the breeding ground of honest and intelligent patriots sworn to defend the land with their dedicated lives.

That Filipino lad who murdered his parents and sister in Australia defies belief and disdains compassion. He slew his own blood and kin to claim their wealth, part of which was already potentially his. He was not only evil but also stupid. He is part of the blot in our nation that should be cleansed and permanently erased.

And let us not exempt the shameless congressmen whose attachment to the pork barrel is as muggy as their greed. At a time when the country is beset more than ever before with a financial crisis that only the president casually ignores, their avarice disgraces the whole Congress and demands their summary and irrevocable eviction.

The misfits in the Senate are also not worth dying for. Those who elected them deserve the same harsh judgment. They have dishonored that once august chamber where once trod the great statesmen of our country. Not even good at their original occupation as B actors, these new senators are still acting as comedians in their now serious role, and at public expense.

The President of the Philippines is not worthy of her position. She won it by dancing in ethnic costume, distributing goodies among the voters, and some say by cheating. She is now rewarding her supporters by appointing them to choice positions, like the one she gave a retired solon who did nothing during his two terms in the Senate.

She has also demeaned the country by acting as if we were still a colony of the United States, with her as viceroy. Many would not die for her but would rather impeach her.

And there are many ordinary others who, although Filipinos, are not worth dying for.

Among the scoundrels are the jeepney driver who loads or unloads in the middle of heavy traffic and claims, "Naghahanap-buhay lamang," which may excuse also the thief and the embezzler who are likewise working at their trade; the mulcting cop who specializes in daily graft or major extortions for the support of his several live-in partners and their respective breeds; the priest who sexually harasses parishioners and, in a show of crocodile tears or unrepentant piety, publicly prays for absolution by the cover-up hierarchy; the judge who renders a crooked decision purchased by the winning party or delays a conviction for the benefit of a paying accused; the drug dealer who has infected the whole country, especially the youth, with his malevolence and deadly rapacity; the vandal who mars newly-painted walls with senseless and ugly graffiti that have made Metro Manila a veritable skid row; and many other scalawags who have given the unfair impression that the Filipino is not worth dying for.

For all their wide disrepute, they constitute only a small minority of the 86 million Filipinos who lead honorable lives, fear and revere God, love their families, observe their civic duties, assert and protect their rights, and cherish nature and all its bounties. These are the Filipinos worth dying for.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

A weakness for titles

A weakness for titles

Updated 02:18am (Mla time) Dec 04, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the December 4, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

ONE of the character flaws of the Filipino is his weakness for titles. Everyone must have a title or honorific to distinguish him from others. This is not true only among the so-called elite or the professional class. In fact, this passion begins with the family and goes upward in society to separate the distinguished from the common herd.

In the rural areas, we still have the "kuya" or the "ate" as the eldest and therefore the head of the siblings. These may be varied with the "manong" or the "manang" or similar appellations depending on the locality or the dialect. In the old or traditional families, even the next in rank is similarly honored although in less degree. Thus we have the "diko" and the "ditse," following the older brother or sister. The "bunso" may be the last-born among the children but is the favorite in the family.

My mother was called ‘Ñora Aurora and my uncle ‘Ñor Pablo by their younger cousins. (The contractions were of Señora and Señor.) The oldest in the clan was called "Apo" or "Lakay," which betokened the highest respect and even veneration. Beginning with the Spanish regime, the rich man was deferred to as Don and of course his wife expected to be called Doña. They were the principal figures in the hacienda.

The "Don" used to be limited to the very rich individuals or to the very prestigious political or cultural leader like Don Vicente Madrigal and Senator Recto, whom everybody called Don Claro. Others with more pretensions than prestige have usurped the title solely on the strength of their wealth acquired through trade and not inheritance. A business tycoon used to answer to the title of Don but now prefers to be called Doctor because of a degree he obtained honoris causa.

In our snobbish society, Mang Tomas and Aling Senyang now feel reduced when addressed in this humble fashion. Even Mr. and Mrs. are no longer generally used when the person is a professional and must be titled by his career. The woman may not have finished anything but is fawned upon with the title of Madame although this may have an exciting connotation in some risqué circles. This presumptuous title is pejorative in the democratic ambience but not when used for Imelda during the dictatorship. It was intended as obsequious flattery.

I read somewhere that in Europe the only persons who can use their titles before their names are the doctor and the professor. I don't know if this is still true today, but I don't see why not. In trials before American courts, the judge addresses counsel as Mr. Black or Miss White and not Atty. Bueno or Atty. Diablo as in Philippine trials. Even our Supreme Court addresses the lawyer as "Attorney" and not plain "Mister" as if he were a lowly employee. Calling him "Mister" may suggest that he has been disbarred.

Other professionals have followed suit to proclaim that they are careerists and not ordinary persons without a college diploma or a license to practice. Thus, they identify themselves as Engineer Fuente or Architect Cuarto although not as Veterinarian but as Dr. Perrogato. Before long, we may also have other practitioners as Barbero Barbacerrado, Tubero Aguas and Sastre Pantalones. Their customers will no longer be known by that common term but will now be dignified as "clients," which used to be associated only with the lawyer like the "pacientes" of the doctor.

These titles are even used now in the obituaries as if the deceased plan to continue working in the other world. Their relatives evidently do not believe that death is the ultimate leveler but still observes the caste system even in the afterlife. Lawyers obviously cannot practice in heaven because there will be no disputes or crimes there, so they will have to work only you-know-where, which will be a familiar venue.

Some titles are preceded by the "ex" to inform the public that the holder has retired or left office. I don't use the prefix because my title of Justice is permanent like President and General. You don't say ex-President Quezon or ex-General Lim even if they have long since retired. And I don't write (Ret.) after my name because people might think it means "Retarded."

And now let us talk of the widely used and often misused "Honorable." It is a respectful but not often a truthful description of the addressee and might in fact be meant as sarcasm or mockery or plain insult. It is employed for high government officials like the president in this country or members of the royalty in monarchial states. We also use it to address members of Congress (no doubt for their pristine honesty) and now, even the chair of the barangay who is the supreme head of his little turf. Generals, including those suspected of plunder, also expect to be addressed as "Honorable."

Things could be simpler and less pompous if everybody could be called Mr. or Mrs. or Mang Juan or Aling Maria with no prefixes or suffixes to adorn their names. This way, the police cannot distinguish between the High and Mighty and the lowly citizen with no title to impress or intimidate. Both of them can be validly arrested, for murder or jaywalking, without discrimination or preference.