Sunday, January 30, 2005

Hoping for justice

Hoping for justice

Posted 00:15am (Mla time) Jan 30, 2005
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A12 of the January 30, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

GEN. Carlos Garcia, who shocked the nation with his P143 million fortune despite his monthly salary of only P35,000 is now facing charges before the court martial for conduct unbecoming and, in the civil courts, for unexplained wealth, perjury, and other related crimes. His subordinates in the AFP comptroller office are also being investigated for similar incredible affluence amounting likewise to millions of pesos they presumably could not have acquired legitimately.

Among them is retired Gen. Jacinto Ligot who must explain the provenance of certain valuable properties in his name, including massive bank accounts and expensive cars not compatible with his lawful income while serving as AFP comptroller during the term of Gen. Angelo Reyes as chief of staff. Especially noteworthy are the frequent trips abroad of Mrs. Ligot, often in the company of Mrs. Reyes, to various cities in the United States, Europe and Asia at not inconsiderable expenses. In addition to the cost of such travels, the general has to prove how he lawfully acquired several valuable properties here and two houses in California worth millions of dollars.

Another officer whose unseemly wealth has raised eyebrows is Lt. Col. George A. Rabusa, who is now facing criminal prosecution and must show how he became a multimillionaire on his modest salary in the AFP. The extent of his enormous fortune was detailed recently by Jarius Bondoc in his column appropriately titled "Gotcha" to include bank accounts, real estate, cars and other investments totaling as much as P34 million. His wife, who is also a frequent traveler abroad, usually with Mrs. Reyes, also owns several valuable properties and bank accounts, either with her husband or their two daughters, amounting to P10 million.

Revelation of the numerous travels abroad of Mrs. Reyes, often with Mrs. Ligot or Mrs. Rabusa, has fueled suspicions also of the Reyeses. The fact that Mesdames Ligot and Rabusa's respective spouses were under General Reyes when he was AFP chief of staff has deepened this mistrust, particularly since Reyes' record is none-too-immaculate either. While secretary of national defense, he was questioned about his P10 million mansion in Fort Bonifacio that he could not have afforded with his limited income as a Cabinet member. He resigned as such and the probe was discontinued as if his leaving the public service operated as his exoneration.

He was soon back as anti-kidnapping czar and is now secretary of the interior and local governments, but the former charge against him has not been revived. He says that the high-priced building has been partly funded by his mother, who must be opulent in her own right. But there are still the travels of his wife, sometimes with him and often with the wives of his subordinates in the AFP, that call for closer examination, considering their frequency and possible public expense. No wonder that the Commission on Appointments has not been too ready to confirm his nomination by the apparently trustful President Macapagal-Arroyo.

The wives of the aforementioned generals also have a lot to explain about the number of their foreign travels and the cost of such peregrinations, in view of the supposedly humble earnings of their respective husbands. Mrs. Reyes says she traveled abroad 50 times during the past 12 years and some of the trips with her husband were official, charged to our government or the host country. (Did she go as the general's aide de camp?) Mrs. Ligot, who traveled 25 times from 1996 to 2004, was her usual companion. Mrs. Rabusa, who accompanied Mrs. Reyes once to Singapore, toured Europe, America, Asia and Australia 18 times for the past nine years at the estimated airline expense alone of P1 million. On top of all these, Mrs. Ligot and Mrs. Rabusa are co-owners with their husbands of questionable investments and property acquisitions that are disproportionate to their families' lawful income.

Another general whose investigation for financial irregularities has been resurrected is former AFP chief Lisandro Abadia, who claims persecution after the original charge against him has, he says, already been dismissed. They are looking at him again on the suspicion of another cover-up by the AFP that has now lost the former respect of the people as the defender and moral exemplar of the nation.

And while we're opening this can of worms, what about the abuses committed under martial law? The Freedom Constitution called for the eradication "of all iniquitous vestiges of the previous regime," but they are still here to mock and accuse us. Of the many cases filed against Imelda Marcos, only one has resulted in her conviction, which was affirmed by the Third Division of the Supreme Court but contritely reversed by the Court en banc. Even the P23.5 billion tax deficiency adjudged against her remains unenforced while she lives ostentatiously in luxury while claiming penury.

We will observe the 19th anniversary of Edsa I next month but we might as well be back to the Marcos depredations. We will remain captive to that wicked past unless the government finally renders justice after its long-induced and long-unawakened slumber. Let it not be said of us that, as Benjamin Franklin warns, "He that lives upon hope will die fasting."

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Allowed air raids

Allowed air raids

Posted 01:56am (Mla time) Jan 29, 2005
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the January 29, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

AT THE HEARING last week of the Senate committee on public welfare headed by Sen. Joker P. Arroyo, the personnel of the Department of Transportation and Communication attended in full force and crowded the spacious Padilla Room with Secretary Leandro Mendoza himself in attendance. Also present were Nilo C. Jatico, a retired general who replaced Adelberto Yap (also a general) as head of the Air Transportation Office. Their boss, Mendoza, is also a former general.

There were three representatives from Merville, Semito Alparce, Telesforo Tayko (a retired general, too) and Cesar Jota, to reiterate their complaints against the noise pollution being committed by the airplanes flying over their community and other areas with the permission or collusion of the ATO. They were heavily outnumbered but held their ground against the generals and in fact outpointed them.

When asked searching questions by the committee, particularly Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, about the offensive noise of the airplanes of Cebu Pacific and Air Philippines, Jatico was unable to answer satisfactorily or even to consult his technical staff, who did not volunteer any help to their befuddled general. This prompted the committee to suspend action on their budget until they could adequately rebut the complaints of Alparce's group.

The argument raised by Cebu Pacific that the residents have no reason to complain because they voluntarily chose to reside near the airport is a stupid answer. It is like saying that their passengers cannot complain if their airplanes should crash because people voluntarily run the risk of dying when they choose to fly.

Jatico now seeks to justify his office and himself and says, "contrary to (my) insinuations that the ATO is sitting on the problem and blatantly violating environmental regulations on noise pollution, this office, as early as 1999, has continuously and vigorously required the retro-fitting of airplanes with hush kits in compliance with Annex C of the International Civil Aviation Organization."

He says 55 percent of the DC-9 airplanes owned by Cebu Pacific ands 66 percent of the Boeing airplanes owned by Air Philippines have now been hush-kitted. That means that 45 and 34 percent of their respective aircraft have not yet been similarly equipped. Jatico says they started enforcing this requirement since 1999, six years ago, and yet they can expect full compliance with it only in 2006, still one year from now. That does not speak well of their efficiency or their strictness with the powerful airlines.

My question is, why are the airplanes that have not yet been hush-kitted allowed to fly just the same despite their non-compliance with the regulation? Non-compliance means violation, and yet Jatico's ATO allows these airplanes to fly with its blessings to the prejudice of the people residing in the communities below. Cebu Pacific justifies its violations "in the greater interest of the riding public" or is it in the greater interest of less expenses and more profit for it?

The higher interest is the comfort and convenience, and principally the health, of the people they are oppressing with their intrusive and injurious noisy airplanes. This is a case of Big Business v. The Little People, and ATO should know where its loyalty lies.

The objection of the offending airlines to the regulation is that the cost of the hush-kits at P1 million per unit will unduly reduce their profits. That is a cynical and inane argument that cannot be accepted in a welfare state. Businesses are entitled to a reasonable return of their investment but not at the expense of the public they are supposed to serve.

This is especially true of companies engaged in public transportation, which are legally described as businesses affected with public interest. They should be operated with the public interest as their primary objective and only collateral profit as their secondary purpose.

Alparce invited all interested parties to stay for at least one day in Merville so they can experience how its residents are oppressed by the intrusive airplanes with the permission, nay, connivance, of the ATO. Jatico cites the restrictions supposedly imposed by his office on the airlines and seems to be satisfied that he has done enough to solve our problem.

It's one thing to prohibit and another to enforce compliance. The ATO is not being followed; in fact, it is permissively ignored. They are only paper rules that Jatico invokes as if they were the Ten Commandments. Jatico cannot hear our complaints because he has been deafened by the noisy airplanes he is assiduously protecting. Or as the Good Book says, there are none so deaf as those who will not hear.

The generals in the DOTC, and particularly the ATO, should remember that they are no longer issuing commands to their enlisted men but are dealing with civilians who are not impressed by their military rank. It's about time that the civilian jobs they are bungling are transferred to responsible civilians who can perform their work better in promoting the greater public interest.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Titles for self-esteem

Titles for self-esteem

Posted 02:56am (Mla time) Jan 23, 2005
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A12 of the January 23, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

A READER with more scorn than logic chides me for my article on "A weakness for titles" (PDI, 12/4/04) as another proof of my "usual" derision for the Filipino people. He probably resents me for occasionally finding fault with our country, which certainly is not perfect despite his jingoism. In his preface to the "Noli Me Tangere," Rizal spoke of the ancients who took their sick to the steps of the temple not to deride them but so they could be cured by the gods. That was his purpose when he recited the ills of the nation that he hoped would be healed by their exposure.

I had a similar intention when I wrote of the vanity of some of us for exhibiting their titles in life and even in their obituaries to impress the public. They don't want people to forget how important they are, or were. The customary titles of Mr. or Mrs. are not good enough for them; they must be addressed as Attorney or Engineer or Architect or their names must be suffixed with a Ph.D. to inform everyone that he is dealing with an erudite person over and above ordinary mortals. Sometimes they even have stickers of "Ph.D."on the rear windshields of their cars for all to behold and admire.

This know-it-all critic would have me know that titles are accepted in England, where they have kings and queens, princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses, barons and baronesses, and other royal distinctions. The key word is "royal," my dear fellow, which we are not, being citizens of a republic unlike the subjects of the maharajah and the maharani, who are also of majestic blood in India. And he says that the French use "Monsieur" and "Madame," which, for his information, are the equivalent of the humble "Mister" and "Missus" to which I do not object. What is hoity-toity in my view is to substitute these usual prefixes with professional titles to impress unpretentious people who cannot, or will not, make similar displays of their importance.

In any case, the fact that other peoples use high-sounding titles is no argument that we should do the same. That is abject imitation. If we should imitate, it should be the best in others, like, in my example, the practice in American courts of addressing counsel as Mr. Proper instead of Attorney Yabang as in our courts, including the Supreme Court. One does not need to advertise our profession, unlike doctors who are allowed to use prominent signs or shingles for their easy accessibility in case their services are urgently needed. I remember that at the gate of the multi-titled Jose P. Laurel's house on Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong, there was a small metal shingle that simply read under his name "Abogado."

Whenever Don Claro called me up on the telephone when I was a young lawyer, he would begin with, "Mr. Cruz, si Mr. Recto ito." Another person who does not proclaim himself is former Senate President Jovito R. Salonga who, with all his academic and political achievements, signs his letters to me simply as "Jovy." By contrast, there is that tycoon who liked to be addressed as "Don" by his lackeys but now prefers to be called by the title of "Doctor" conferred upon him honoris causa by an obscure but presumably well-rewarded university. It takes all kinds, but I prefer the humbler of the species.

As far as I know, Alexander who conquered the civilized world during his time, never called himself "the Great." He massacred hundreds of thousands like Hitler, who signed himself only with his surname without more for history to condemn him. Thomas Jefferson, in writing his own epitaph, described himself as the author of the Declaration of Independence, a defender of religious freedom, and the founder of the University of Virginia. He did not mention that he was the third President of the United States.

Our national hero, who excelled in many fields, ended his letters with "Rizal," probably with the foreknowledge that his country would remember him without more specific identification. He was a patriot, writer, doctor, linguist, botanist, painter, sculptor, sportsman, lover, among many other distinctions, but he often omitted to write his full name and even the erroneous middle initial P. He did not trumpet his achievements like some of our current Ph.D.'s who believe that their degree alone, no matter how acquired, entitles them to the adulation of the masses.

I have not mentioned the name of my angry detractor because that may give him the prominence he wants but does not deserve. Is he Attorney, Engineer, Architect, Ph.D., or Censurer or Nag? I hope he will be satisfied with Mister for that is honorable and respectable enough. He may have a weakness for titles that will require a more bombastic appellation to suit his inflated self-esteem, but I will not oblige him.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

A little common sense

A little common sense

Posted 02:08am (Mla time) Jan 22, 2005
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A12 of the January 22, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

I WAS bemused sometime ago when I read of the congressman who attended a function in the National Penitentiary, mixed with the inmates in a show of democratic fellowship, and later discovered that his pocket had been picked. His expensive Louis Vuitton wallet contained among other things cash in the amount of P7,500, a Treasury check for P50,000 plus, I suppose, his gold credit cards.

A prisoner who was a guest of the State for his expertise in thievery had proved -- anonymously, of course -- that his victim was easy picking although he was a member of the House of Representatives, or probably because of it. I have not heard that the culprit has been discovered or that the stolen valuables have been recovered through the efforts of the prison authorities, who have proved once again their failure to reform their wayward wards.

I remember that as a young student many decades ago, I lost to pickpockets an expensive Parker pen I had naively clipped on my breast pocket while walking along the University Belt in Manila. I reported the theft to the police precinct in Sampaloc, which was much disturbed to learn that the pen belonged to my father who was the president of the Manila municipal board, then still highly esteemed, unlike now.

The following morning, a small boy brought me the stolen pen but was rather vague when I asked where it came from. I surmised he had been sent by the police, who knew where to look and demanded it back from the known and familiar felon with whom they were probably in cahoots. The prison authorities would have done as much to right the wrong committed on the careless solon, or at least lessen their embarrassment, but apparently could not.

What really struck me about this ludicrous incident is why it did not occur to the congressman to take the necessary prudence to protect his wallet, or why he had to carry so much money to that prison in the first place. He knew where he was going and it was not to church, not that a church is safe from pickpockets. If one is in a crowded place, no matter how innocent it may look, he must be especially watchful, particularly if he is carrying a loaded wallet.

When William Holden walked the streets of Manila many years ago, a photographer took a series of pictures of him safeguarding his wallet from possible pickpockets. He did not lose his dollars. Our trusting congressman did not take similar precautions, having more confidence in his convicted countrymen in the chaste confines of the Muntinlupa prison. No wonder he lost his pesos.

What added to my disbelief was that this extraordinary legislator was not among the less endowed members of the House of Representatives. He is a be-degreed fellow who even took post-graduate studies in the United States, unlike some of his colleagues who may not even have finished high school. In fact, he is one of the leaders of the chamber, recognized for his intellectual attainments among other impressive distinctions. He should have known better than to lead the prisoners into temptation.

An ordinary person who may not even be literate would have the intelligence to know that one must be extra careful when mixing with known pickpockets, and in their own turf. This congressman was not that vigilant and easily fell prey to the thief who was more clever if less virtuous than his scholarly victim. At that, all that was needed in that contest of wits was not special erudition but only a little common sense.

The laxity of this supposedly intelligent congressman makes me suspect even more the low quality of the members of the House of Representatives. This master of laws from Georgetown University could be so reckless (or stupid?) as to carry the scent of gold into the lair of felons as if to challenge them to prove their expertise in their life's calling. I can imagine how much more dense his other fellow members can be without the benefit of his superior education.

Offhand, I can mention only a few of the congressmen whose credentials I respect, like Rep. Teddy Locsin of Makati and some of my former Law students. Most of the other representatives must be sitting in the lower House on the strength of other recommendations, like guns, money, or dynasty, and not the gray matter upstairs. Intelligence is not an attribute shared by the general membership of the House of Representatives as its shabby record demonstrates.

This was the body that refused to impeach Luzviminda Tancangco of the Commission on Elections despite the serious charges against her. Fifty of its members recently signed a resolution recommending the pardon of Romeo Jalosjos who is serving two life terms for raping an 11-year-old girl. It is also insistent on retaining its pork barrel privileges despite the repugnance of the whole nation to its unashamed avarice.

And how about the Senate, where once trod the likes of Quezon, Osmeña, Recto, Laurel, Sumulong, Roxas, Pelaez, Salonga and other intellectuals? Suffice to remind us of the three misfits who now sit in that once august hall, to taint it with their barefaced presumptuousness and mediocrity. But at least, as far as is known, none of them has foolishly ventured into that risky den of thieves with a small fortune inviting to be picked.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Is the CTA an administrative body?

Is the CTA an administrative body?

Updated 01:40am (Mla time) Jan 15, 2005
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the January 15, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

COMPANIES spend a lot of money to advertise their products, especially now with TV and radio facilities, as well as billboards, available to supplement the print media. Advertisements in newspapers and magazines are by themselves already enough to overwhelm the consuming public, but the successful advertising agencies do not believe in half-measures. They must go whole-hog to impress the public with their exaggerations.

Commercial interruptions are often exasperating, and advertisements in periodicals often crowd out the substantial matters, like the news and articles for which the reader buys the issue in the first place. The individual in the modern ambience has no choice. Watching or listening to a boxing bout, for example, means he will have to abide the commercials, too. If he missed the show on TV or the radio, he will have to plow through pages of come-ons for bras and airlines and medicines and what-have-you if he wants to read about the fight later on the sports pages.

The sad part is that for all their unwelcome ubiquity, these advertisements will be charged to the consumers they have irritated. Their cost, including the talent fees of the celebrities that could run to tens of millions of pesos, will be added to the price of the product. Those who patronize the things or services being sold (which are not as good as their hyperbolic sales talk) are paying for those fees although not many realize it.

As if that were not enough, the advertisements will also be claimed as deductible expenses when these companies file their income tax returns. The reason they can be extravagant in promoting their products is that they are able to get away with their claims if the tax examiners are not so vigilant or are questionably permissive. The savings to the claiming corporations can be tremendous. In effect, the companies will have successfully advertised their products for free, with the customers and the government footing the bill.

That is why I was glad when I read the case of Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. General Foods (Phil), Inc., 401 SCRA 545, where the government was sustained against the respondent's claim. Its deduction of more than P9 million for advertising was slammed down by the BIR.

In its income tax return for 1985, the respondent claimed as deduction, among other business expenses, the amount of P9,461,246 for media advertising for "Tang." In 1988, the BIR disallowed 50 percent of the deduction claimed, and the corporation appealed to the Court of Tax Appeals. The CTA dismissed the appeal, and the respondent went to the Court of Appeals, where it was sustained. The BIR then elevated the case to the Supreme Court, which affirmed the decision of the Court of Tax Appeals.

The high tribunal held that "it is the taxpayer's prerogative to determine the amount of advertising expenses it will incur and where to apply them. Said prerogative, however, is subject to certain considerations. The first relates to the extent to which such expenditures are actually capital outlays; this necessitates an inquiry into the nature or purpose of such expenditures. The second, which must be applied in harmony with the first, relates to whether the expenditures are ordinary and necessary. Concomitantly, for an expense to be considered ordinary, it must be reasonable in amount. The Court of Tax Appeals ruled that respondent corporation failed to meet the two foregoing limitations.... We find said ruling to be well-founded."

The unanimous decision of the Third Division is perfectly acceptable except for the following portion that must have confused many members of the bar and the bench:

"It has been a long-standing policy and practice of the Court to respect the conclusions of quasi-judicial agencies such as the Court of Tax Appeals, a highly specialized body specifically created for the purpose of reviewing tax cases. The CTA, by the nature of its functions, is dedicated exclusively to the study and consideration of tax problems. It has necessarily developed an expertise on the subject. We extend due consideration to its opinion unless there is abuse or improvident exercise of its authority. Since there is none in the case at bar, the Court adheres to the findings of the CTA." (Emphasis mine.)

The CTA a quasi-judicial body? In Ursal v. Court of Tax Appeals, 101 Phil. 209, it was held that "instead of being another superior administrative agency, as was the former Board of Tax Appeals, the Court of Tax Appeals as created by Republic Act No. 1125 is part of the judicial system." In other words, it is a court of justice. Has the Supreme Court reversed that decision with the above-quoted obiter dictum or has it forgotten its own rulings? I believe a clarification is in order for the benefit of the legal profession.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Compassion for the tsunami victims

Compassion for the tsunami victims

Updated 11:01am (Mla time) Jan 16, 2005
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the January 16, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

AS usual, President Bush reacted tardily to the tsunami disaster even if the rest of the world was already overcome with sadness and disbelief over the tragedy that had claimed the lives of more than 150,000 victims. It had also taken him some time before he joined the grief and anger of the American nation, of which he was the head, over the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. His delay this second time was characteristic and not unexpected.

Bush was also criticized for initially offering American aid to the victims in the paltry sum of $35 million, which he immediately raised to $350 million, probably not without some embarrassment over his stinginess. Even that was hardly respectable, according to Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek, considering that federal aid extended to Florida for damage caused by the relatively "minor" hurricanes that had visited it last year amounted to $13 billion. By contrast, the latest report is that America has pledged (pledged only, not actually given) only $2 billion to the 11 countries ravaged by the tsunami.

The governor of Florida is Dubya's brother, Jeb. Many people also observed that the many countries devastated by the tsunami were not members of the Coalition of the Willing that supported the US invasion of Iraq. This may have been one other reason why the American president was not so ready to give the afflicted lands the tremendous and affordable assistance of the United States as the economic and political leader of the free world.

It is gratifying, though, that notwithstanding the official stand of the US government, the American people have displayed enormous sympathy and are giving considerable material assistance to the thousands of casualties, mostly Asians, from the angry waters of the tsunami. They are acting on their own, independently of the Bush administration, as private individuals touched by the sorrow of the disaster victims and anxious to mitigate their plight.

Unlike their government, the Americans are by nature friendly and generous without the arrogance of the French and the mercenariness of the Chinese. The people and government of the United States do not have the same sentiments of charity and compassion for the less fortunate peoples of the world.

Especially heartwarming was the contribution of $1 million immediately and voluntarily offered the tsunami casualties by Sandra Bullock, who had earlier given an equal amount to the victims or their families of the 9/11 attacks in 2001. The screen star did not hesitate to share her wealth and selflessness with the unfortunates who had suffered from the recent tragedies. Americans of less stature and fortune have been similarly motivated, giving what they can afford to alleviate the sufferings of the stricken people across the Pacific whom they do not even know. Their generosity is a psalm of praise for the human spirit.

Typhoons and floods inflicted their own damage on our country during the year just ended, and our people willingly gave their aid to the thousands of men, women and children devastated by these calamities. Desolated by the disaster that has befallen our neighboring countries, we are digging deeper into our pockets to share what little we can still spare for the benefit of our fellow Asians abroad who need our assistance and sympathy. This speaks well of the Filipino people, whose kindness does not recognize racial or geographical boundaries and is extended in full if meager measure to those who need our help.

Even as we mourn our own losses, we also share the grief of the thousands of people devastated by the tsunami and deprived of their lives, their families, their houses and other properties, and their hopes for the suddenly uncertain future. The fact that they are mostly not Christians like us has not deterred us from offering our helping hand, remembering what Jesus said in "The Vision of Sir Launfal": "Who gives himself with his alms feeds three: himself, his hungering neighbor, and Me."

Let us thank the Almighty for sparing our country from the terrible rage of the tsunami. It should remind us that despite the breathtaking advances of the world in science and technology, the forces of nature can still prove their overpowering supremacy over puny man, as they did three weeks ago. The inhabitants of this planet may have various faiths, follow separate religions and revere their Creator by different names. But we all worship the same universal and eternal God who guides the destinies of men and nations "in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform."

Sunday, January 09, 2005

A spiteful and envious mind

A spiteful and envious mind

Updated 11:23am (Mla time) Jan 09, 2005
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A12 of the January 9, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

I RECEIVED many cordial congratulations for my article "On turning 80" (Inquirer, 10/10/04) from contemporaries who were happy to extend me a warm "welcome to the club" of advanced senior citizens. They said I was now entitled like them to the usual privileges given to octogenarians, like allowances for loss of memory and occasional infantile behavior as in second childhood.

We all had a good laugh. I really enjoyed their greetings and sincerely thanked them for joining in my happiness. They showed me that conviviality, more than misery, loves company.

One reader, however, was not equally pleased. In fact, he was resentful and imputed to me boastful motives. He said the article "gave (him) the impression that (I) seem superfluous in self-laudation, expressing praise, commendation and self-satisfaction in (my) many accomplishments...

"I can't help to wonder how many oldsters in the 70s and 80s who did not make the grade felt after reading your essay," he lamented. "How degraded they must be for being 'failures' ... The truth is that the lives of these 'failures' are made more miserable because the ones who have made it in life are not willing to allow them to forget the successes of some of their contemporaries."

Part of such successes, he concluded in a pique of envy and selfishness, "spells LUCK." For this, he suggested, although he did not actually say so, I cannot claim any credit. I should not be so egoistic, he said, if I had not been just lucky for being "in the right place at the right time." (Like being the millionth visitor to a fair?)

I suppose this was a happenstance he did not enjoy, which is why he felt so frustrated. My first impulse on reading his letter was to throw it in the trashcan where it belonged. On second thought, however, I decided to write this reply and exorcise, if I can, the bitterness that must be gnawing at this man's soul.

The malicious impression he got from my article is his, not mine, nor did I give it to him. If he felt dejected and excluded, that is his problem, not mine. Contrary to his accusation, I was not showing off for that is not in my nature. I was merely narrating some of my pleasant memories and sharing them with my readers, whom I consider my friends.

It is the pleasure of old people to recall the days when they were young and vigorous and full of hope and ambition. The present has become a plateau and the future is a time they can only await but no longer anticipate. Memories, especially the cherished ones, are like caresses from the past that enable them to re-live the adventures of the vanished years.

That is what I felt when I looked back in my article. There was no vain or wicked purpose to compare myself with others without similar recollections.

The suggestion that my intention was to make others feel miserable for their failures is an inane malediction. Only the malicious can entertain such a cruel thought. The writer of that letter must presume the worst in every human being and suspect that everything a person does is aimed to molest his innocent neighbor. That is what he has convicted me of with his disaffected mind.

Rather than rejoice with me for my fond memories, he has decided that I am a churlish person whose purpose in life is to compare myself with others and put them in a bad light. I do not even know who those others are, what he describes as their failures, and why I should criticize them at all. Yet he would make me the ultimate villain for saying I am better than those others who should be ashamed of their failures.

Most of us think of the best in people (except crooks in general and politicians in particular), but the person who wrote that letter is an angry exception. He is a hater who thinks that every guileless act conceals bad intentions. He must be a lonely man. As he has revealed that he is spiteful and unwilling to see others enjoy themselves, he will be, for charity's sake, nameless in this piece.

I thought at first of replying to him privately to correct those ugly thoughts that are warping his heart and mind. I have decided, however, to do this in this column, just in case there are some who think as darkly as he does. The many other letters I have received on that article were cheerful and affable, but there may be one or two like him who are lurking in the shadows. I hope they will see the light even if he does not.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Noise pollution and the ATO

Noise pollution and the ATO

Updated 01:23am (Mla time) Jan 08, 2005
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A12 of the January 8, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

SINCE I started this column in 1995, I have written more than 10 articles complaining about the oppressive intrusion of airplanes into the airspace of several subdivisions in Parañaque City, especially Merville Park, where I live. I know whereof I speak, being one of the helpless victims. My complaints were addressed to the administrations of Presidents Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada and now Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, but to no avail. It was like talking to a blank wall.

Over these many years, airplanes from Cebu Pacific and Air Philippines have been flying directly over our houses in these villages at all hours of the day and night and with such unabated noise as to disturb our comfort and convenience. We are awakened at restful hours in the morning, as early as four or five o'clock. During the daytime, our conversations, including our telephone calls, are rudely drowned by the roar of the arrogant airplanes. Visitors, like us, are annoyed by the impudent interruptions. Classes in the schools operating in our communities are regularly disturbed.

Worse, the intolerable noise impairs our health. Particularly affected is our sense of hearing, especially those of the children. At a television program conducted by Kabayan Noli de Castro years ago before he entered politics, several hearing experts proved that the din created by the offending airplanes was above the normal and allowable noise levels. Semito Alparce, the active leader of our anti-noise campaign, has become partly deaf because of the oppressive racket caused by the abusive airplanes. The government authorities are deafer than he is when it comes to listening to our complaints.

Rep. Roilo Golez, during the many years he was in Congress, and later Rep. Eduardo Zialcita, who succeeded him as our congressman for Parañaque in 2001, informed me that they had successively filed resolutions calling for the investigation by the House of Representatives of our complaint. But nothing has come out of these either; they were simply filed and forgotten. Golez and Zialcita are among those who have forgotten although they are pretending indignant concern. The airplanes continue to oppress us without restraint and without letup.

After reading one of my articles about our problems in Merville that had worsened because of the increase in the number and noise of the offending airplanes, Sen. Loren Legarda invited me to a lunch conference with Gen. Adelberto Yap, who was then the head of the Air Transportation Office (ATO). He first airily dismissed my protest as "moot and academic" but he soon realized he was not talking to one of his enlisted men. He became suddenly conciliatory and promised to help us, but he never did. That was three years ago.

Sen. Joker P. Arroyo, as chair of the committee on public service, environment and natural resources, called Yap to a hearing where Alparce and other residents of Merville detailed their grievances against the indifference of the ATO to our complaints. As usual, Yap promised to act and later sent a written report to the committee that the two airlines had agreed to restrict their flights over our community from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day including Sundays. He assured us that no flights would be allowed over the restricted area outside of that five-hour period.

This was the alternative adopted by the airlines in lieu of the other suggested solutions to our problem. The first was for both Air Philippines and Cebu Pacific to transfer, like PAL, to the Manila International Airport but this was rejected by them on the ground that they would spend more for aviation gas and higher maintenance fees. They also refused to install hush kits in their airplanes because these would cost a million pesos per vehicle, which they were unwilling to defray. Noise abatement equipment is obligatory in environment-conscious countries but not in ours where it is blandly dismissed as expensive and unnecessary.

The commitments solemnly made in writing by these two airlines have not been honored. They have in fact been habitually and disdainfully ignored in intentional insult to the residents of our communities and, no less contemptuously, the Senate committee on public welfare. We have complained to the Department of Transportation and Communications about these violations, but it has done nothing to correct them. The ATO, now under Nilo C. Jatico, another general, has required the offending airplanes to be properly hush-kitted and fly at a higher altitude when over the affected areas. But they have not heard him because of their noise.

Alparce has complained to Senator Arroyo and also to Senators Sergio Osmeña III and Juan Ponce Enrile who have shown their concern for the residents of Merville and the other afflicted communities. But we have so far proved to be no match against the affluent airlines that have been victimizing us with their unrestrained abuses. Even with the sincere help of the senators, never mind the token support of our ineffectual congressmen, we cannot compete against the expensive lobby of Air Philippines and Cebu Pacific with the questionable protection of the Air Transportation Office. We are just ordinary citizens with no power or influence against the High and the Mighty.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

The will to heal

The will to heal

Updated 02:09am (Mla time) Jan 02, 2005
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A12 of the January 2, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

AS we begin this brand-new 2005, I hope we will address ourselves to our many chronic problems and take more resolute efforts to solve them after the useless placebos we have been using all these years. We err in considering these illnesses as already part of our way of life. That is a defeatist attitude we must not indulge. Though serious and apparently hopeless, they may still be cured with competent attention and, of course, the will to heal.

Many of our current difficulties did not exist decades ago. We used to be one of the most prosperous nations in Asia before graft and corruption reduced us to the tail-end. We had the highest literacy rate before, with better knowledge of English than other Orientals, but not anymore. Peace and order was manageable even with the communist insurgency and without the bandit groups that now bedevil us. Adequate treatment was available in the old puericulture centers, unlike now where the poor have to pay for their medicines in government hospitals. And, yes, there were less misfits and nitwits among our elective officials.

In my opinion, the most urgent needs of our country today are the improvement of peace and order and the promotion of education. Attainment of these objectives will lead to the solution of other problems like the worsening national economy, the loss of popular confidence in the government, and the deterioration of the election process. Rights will be better enjoyed in a well-ordered society and talents can be fully exploited if they are wisely encouraged and developed.

One reason for the flight of foreign investors from our country is the criminality that has been plaguing us not only in the rural areas but also in the urban centers. It is bad enough that alien businessmen cannot venture in the undeveloped regions of our land (which they want to develop) but what is worse is that their lives are in danger even in Metro Manila. The trouble is that the law-enforcement officers, from those highly placed to the minor kotong cops, prey on the foreigner as milking cows. Even banks are regularly robbed in broad daylight and the culprits are often able to escape at will.

We can recover the virtues of that not-so-distant past and, as well, strengthen them with our native aptitudes and modern knowledge. Our children know much about the information technology and modern math (although perhaps not as much of literature and the arts and, surely, the Bible or the Koran). What the present generation needs most is the civic consciousness and political involvement of past generations of Filipinos that made them participate in the function of government and the solution of its problems. Development of such spirit in the younger citizens today will help much in coping with our present troubles.

An obvious flaw of our alleged democracy is the election of unfit officials by unfit voters. Candidates are more often than not chosen on the basis of money, guns, pakikisama and, most deceptive of all, the fatuous appeal of the popular entertainer. It is only during the past few years that mostly unqualified actors/actresses/basketball players/TV and radio announcers have presumptuously sought elective office and, worse, won over their better qualified rivals.

These pretenders are able to infiltrate the government because of the support of the bakya crowd, which consists of persons with little or no education and believe that a make-believe hero in the movies or an attractive singer on TV will be an ideal public officer. They were proved wrong when they elected Joseph Estrada to the highest office in our land but they did not learn their lesson. There are still brassy incompetents masquerading as public servants who pollute the public service by grace of their idiotic fans.

That vice can be corrected with the education of our electorate. They should be taught to resist the seduction of the entertainment world that, by and large, offers cheap and middling shows, toilet jokes, sexual promiscuity and immorality, ignorance and superstition, and adulation for make-believe actors who think that serving in the government is just another role for making more money at public expense. That unhealthy delusion is not in the script.

This mindless conviction of the voters can be resisted only by their proper education, particularly on their civic rights and responsibilities. Only education can release them from their infatuation with unqualified entertainers who up to now occupy and cheapen public offices. As Benjamin Franklin said, the best remedy against an unwise electorate is not to deprive them of their vote but to educate them on its proper uses.

We have many more problems to solve, but I believe that the improvement of peace and order and the promotion of education will go a long way in enhancing the future. Focusing on these two objectives will solve many of the other difficulties that continue to plague our confused country. We have so far failed dismally to deliver us from our moribund condition because of our ineffectual remedies. With the right direction and the will to heal, this New Year could be our redemption.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Updated 03:17am (Mla time) Jan 01, 2005
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A12 of the January 1, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

TODAY is the first day of the New Year so I shall begin on a happy note. These are the things I expect in 2005.

There will be more harmony among our people, a national resolve to work together in solving our common problems. Unity will replace artificial hostilities and the social and financial lines that divide us. We will strive harder to improve our status in the international community, particularly in our own continent. None of us will be ashamed to be known as Filipinos.

Our economy will improve tremendously. The Philippine peso will recover and gain new strength. Our exports will outpace our imports, and even our cottage industries will grow. Foreign investments will enter but will not replace or control local enterprises. Authentic Filipino businessmen and women will compete on equal terms with the no longer dominant taipans.

The mining industry will receive a boost and increase employment and the GNP. Oil will be discovered to give us added revenue. We will no longer be called a nation of domestics but can provide our offshore workers a prouder and more gainful living in our own country. Even our doctors and nurses will stop seeking a better life abroad and can stay here to care for their own people.

Social justice will cease to be a mere placebo but become an efficacious remedy against the unconscionable separation of the rich and the poor in the enjoyment of life's benefits. Labor will at last be an equal partner of capital in their joint venture for prosperity. Women will have the same opportunities for work and wages as men. Adequate compensation and humane working conditions will be strictly enforced.

Peace and order will be maintained and all major crimes will be drastically reduced. Even the usual molestations in the streets will become pass‚ in the now well-ordered communities. The Abu Sayyaf and other bandit groups will be captured or destroyed, and the NPA will be finally subdued. Provincianos who have escaped to the urban centers can now go home to become productive farmers again.

The electorate will be more intelligent in the exercise of their suffrages. Even the bakya crowd will no longer be seduced by tinsel attractions but will seriously consider the credentials of candidates for public office. These need not be post-graduate degrees abroad; ordinary intelligence will do and, of course, an altruistic concern for the public interest. Election irregularities will be better prevented and political dynasties effectively rejected.

The flawed political leadership will be repaired and elevated. The hypocrisy of the present government, from Malaca¤ang to Congress and the local offices, will make the voters more selective. They will discuss serious issues with the candidates instead of merely watching them sing and dance and exhibit their martial arts. They will guard against presumptuous pretenders like the misfits in the Senate and the nitwits in the Lower House.

Graft and corruption will be considerably diminished. The generals and other officers who have betrayed the PMA with their massive thieveries will be convicted and severely punished. So will their equally guilty spouses. Crooked executive officials, dishonest legislators and miscreants in the judiciary can no longer use the small fry to condemn as their convenient scapegoat.

The militarization of the government will be stopped. The president now (and even before) seems to be so terrified of the retired members of the armed forces that they have to be accommodated in civil positions to keep them employed (and not whistle blowers?). The practice will be discontinued and only qualified civilians will be appointed to non-military offices. The executive secretary, as the Little President, will never be a former soldier.

The administration of justice on all levels will be purified and expedited. Cases that have been hibernating in the courts will be decided within the mandatory periods fixed by the Constitution. The Marcos and Imelda cases that have been intentionally delayed for decades will be finally resolved. To the relief of confused practitioners, the Supreme Court will observe its own Rules rather than the exceptions it chooses to apply as the mood strikes it.

The entertainment industry will be sanitized and educated. Cheap shows, lewd jokes and gaudy attire will be banned. The producers and directors will learn from their foreign colleagues but will not imitate their works (like Gagamboy from Spider Man and Pinoy Pie from the American original). Actresses will not give bad examples to their fans with their sexual promiscuity and publicity. The box office will not be a ridiculous qualification for public office.

All these may be wild speculations but they can be attained if we try hard enough to improve our troubled country. We owe it to ourselves to continue helping it, but with more serious efforts this time in this brand New Year of 2005. We can't just excuse ourselves and say in feeble surrender, "We can dream, can't we?" These objectives, though difficult and distant, are not impossible dreams.

Happy New Year, and God's blessings to one and all!