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Hero or heel? Only Morales can answer that

Lawmakers probing into the PhilHealth mess are still giving Morales the benefit of the doubt. It’s either he has committed the sin of omission or the sin of commission.

Concept News Central

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Unless he proves otherwise, Ricardo Morales, the embattled PhilHealth chief, could transform from hero to heel. And that would be a big comedown.

As an idealistic Philippine Military Academy (PMA) graduate in 1977, Morales started his military career fighting insurgents and secessionists in Jolo, Sulu, before serving as aide de camp to former First Lady Imelda Marcos at the height of the dictatorship. It was while seeing first-hand the alleged excesses of that regime that Morales decided to join the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), a reformist cabal of officers, which led the historic People Power Revolution in 1986.

As a RAM member, he was part of the team that plotted the arrest of former President Marcos, serving as informant of rebel soldiers inside Malacañang. Morales’ dangerous situation at the Palace so alarmed the young officer that he claimed to have written a farewell letter to his parents in case something happened to him.

His worst fear came to light in February 1986 when Morales was tagged by Marcos as part of an assassination attempt against the First Family. He was arrested and presented to the public days before the strongman was eventually ousted through the People Power Revolution.

Over the years, Morales served in various capacities in the military and made headlines a few times for calling out problematic issues in the institution.

In 2004, he consistently followed up with then-Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Narciso Abaya the investigation on former military comptroller Carlos Garcia after the latter’s son was arrested in the United States for failing to declare $100,000.

In 2005, Morales was relieved as 404th Army brigade commander after he posted a message online about a 60-room resort being built in Boracay, which he described as ostentatious. The message, critical of the AFP leadership, was posted in an online community composed of PMA alumni.

After retiring from the military in 2009, Morales joined the AFP General Insurance Corporation as vice president and general manager. He served from March 2009 to September 2010.

He then moved to the AFP Mutual Benefit Association Inc., where he was president and CEO from March 2011 to September 2013.

In May 2019, he was considered by President Duterte to head the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System amid corruption allegations in the water agency, but eventually made a board of trustee member. The following month, Morales was appointed the 11th CEO and president of PhilHealth, the state-run health insurer with specific instructions to fix the organization and eliminate corruption.

A year into his term, however, Morales has failed to stop the bleeding in the agency. Instead, he appeared nonchalant as evidence of gross irregularity under his watch were presented to him during a Senate hearing last 4 August.

During that probe, witnesses from PhilHealth revealed irregularities in billions of pesos worth of procurements, fund disbursements and doctored financial statements.

A resigned official claimed that the menace is deeply rooted and systemic in the agency. He, however, stopped short of naming Morales as part of the hullabaloo.

With all the evidence of “blatant corruption” presented during a Senate probe, however, lawmakers are finding it hard to sympathize with the former Army general.

That there is truth to what the whistleblower is saying is obvious, according to some senators. They are of the opinion that Morales is either “blindsided” or complicit in the mess.

At this point, lawmakers probing into the PhilHealth mess are still giving Morales the benefit of the doubt. It’s either he has committed the sin of omission or the sin of commission.

For all the heroism he displayed in the battlefields of Jolo and the idealism with which he bared the abuses in government, he deserves to be heard. But asking for an executive session or getting all of a sudden sick is not the way to refute such allegations.

PhilHealth, with its guaranteed income from the monthly contributions of its members, is one government agency where money and power are rife.

Has the lure of wealth and power dramatically changed our erstwhile hero?

Only Morales and his conscience can answer that.

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Changes

Localized actions, however, are encouraging as there are 1,400 local governments that have made emergency declarations since December 2016.

Aldrin Cardona

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We often dismiss comparisons between the past and the present as a “generational thing.”

The scent of the fields. The sound of the waves. The fresh carabao milk at your doorstep or the windowsill. We don’t have them anymore. We miss them more. We’ve lost the fields. We’ve lost the seas. Carabaos we have no more.

The days are different now.

Kids today never had the chance to get their feet muddied in rice fields to pick snails. Yes, we picked — not hunt — them. They’re escargot for the French. They’re simply icky food for us. But picking snails was a fun activity.

We loved school openings but not the rains.

Unfortunately for us, kids from eons back, our school years started during the wet season. There were rains here, rains there.

Kids today experienced far worse. There was “Ondoy.” There was “Yolanda.”

Alternately, the unbearable heat of summer came when we were supposed to have fun on school breaks. Nah, the weather was a joy killer.

Blame climate change for that.

Scholarly explanations about climate change can be found on the web. Former US vice president Al Gore had a television series that dealt with it.

There’s enough for us to chew on. But we do not seem to care when it does not affect us.

Yet.

Its effects are all over us, however. We only need to open our senses.

For me, it’s the scent of the fields. The sound of the waves. The fresh carabao milk at our doorstep. We don’t have them anymore. I miss them more. We’ve lost the fields. We’ve lost the seas. Carabaos we have no more.

But it’s not late yet. We can do something to prolong our habitat’s life. We should because there’s no other place where we could survive. Not in Mars. Not in Venus.

The Philippines could add its voice to the worldwide call to declare a climate emergency to be able to save what we could.

Only 28 countries have done so at this point. Localized actions, however, are encouraging as there are 1,400 local governments that have made emergency declarations since December 2016.

We’ll not be coming in late. But the rest of the world is quite slow in joining the call.

Malacañang on Monday said it would declare a climate emergency. It would make the government active in setting priorities that could help mitigate climate change.

I still want my fresh milk at my doorstep every morning. But it would be nice to wake up to a peaceful breeze that brings with it the scent of a better future for all things living.

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Commentary

Waking up

Our brilliant and go-getting leaders should wake up from their illusions of eternal power and act on the climate change policies crafted with all of the greatest intentions.

Dinah S. Ventura

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September ends without much to smile about for most. Social, political and economic climates were dour, sometimes filled with rancor.

And on the personal front, some may agree it would have been really much better to just sleep everything off.

Terror for COVID-19 seems to have worn off for those who now choose to go about their days unmindful of the risks that still exist.

Grief for a life we once knew now seems to weigh not so heavily in our hearts as we begin to accept that what matters most is the present moment.

We don’t know what tomorrow brings, after all.

There is sadness, too, in realizing that the past bore lessons we never learned, but that time does not wait. We only have “now” to try to catch up if we can.

We are not bereft of chances.

There is always hope, and there is always faith — but these are nothing without much action.

The action (or non-action) part is where we get in trouble many times.

Perhaps among the least prioritized by people in their day-to-day activities is the environment.

How many calls for a climate emergency have been made in the world? In the Philippines, Greenpeace recently reiterated the need for President Rodrigo Duterte to declare a climate emergency and honor his promise to address climate change, which he also talked about in his address during the 75th United Nations General Assembly last week.

Such reminders aren’t new — they are made constantly and ever more stringently, especially in developed countries. And countries like ours continue to suffer from its effects.

Still, Greenpeace and all the countless climate warriors can make calls till their throats run dry, but if full cooperation continues to elude us, the planet will continue to deteriorate — nothing more to it than that.

Just like the coronavirus pandemic, the challenges that come with climate change are not something our government alone can solve. A full commitment is similarly called for from other countries to deal with the climate crisis.

Everyone has to pitch in; we all have to keep pitching in every minute of our lives.

It is that simple, and it is also that difficult.

Pre-pandemic panic, scientists had made a call for the country to declare a climate emergency. This was made while the untimely bush fires in Autralia and the eruption of Taal Volcano were still fresh in our minds.

Back then, nobody thought much still of the invisible threat of COVID-19 — but now, in hindsight, we should realize that the dire effects of climate change are just as alarming.

The air we breathe is slowly killing us. The water we used to drink from the tap is dangerous to our health. Who knew we would now also be buying contraptions that are supposed to sanitize the particles of air circulating within a certain perimeter of our body? Before you know it, we could be wearing oxygen masks instead of the high-tech fabric or copper ones we have somehow included in our daily essentials.

It has been many hours since President Duterte said he would consider declaring a climate emergency that should push for immediate action against global warming. The urgency of the matter is not lost on him, but the question is: are we all on the same page on this?

Because, if you really think about it, no matter how much you take care of your health — in full battle gear daily with our masks, shields and sanitation practices, nutritionally wiser and pumped up with supplements galore — it does not matter if the globe warms up and causes unprecedented calamities.

Our brilliant and go-getting leaders should wake up from their illusions of eternal power and act on the climate change policies crafted with all of the greatest intentions.

To quote David Holmes, Monash University director of the Climate Change Communication Research Hub, politicians should “lead with genuinely effective policies and decisions, rather than the foil of a hollow sentiment that has no legal or economic status.”

In other words, wake up, people!

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Business

Remembering Gari Tiongco

Gari’s creative entrepreneurial instincts, integrity, intellect, affability and easy-going manner made him an ideal partner to have for these conglomerates.

Bing Matoto

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For some of my readers out there, you may be wondering who is Gari Tiongco?

Gari is my fraternity brother at the Upsilon Sigma Phi, the oldest Greek-letter organization and fraternity in Asia, which was founded in 1918 in the University of the Philippines (UP). He was one of the fraternity’s leading lights. His budding leadership skills were in great evidence as the fraternity fellows bestowed upon him in 1967 the Most Illustrious Fellow designation, the undisputed leader of the fraternity. His campus leadership was timely as it was on the eve of the fraternity’s Golden Jubilee celebration. Upsilon was proudly basking in the glory of the nation’s leadership at that time, which was littered with Upsilonians. We had President Ferdinand Marcos, Senator Ninoy Aquino, House Speaker Jose Laurel and Chief Justice Enrique Fernando.

Gari was in the thick of the fraternity’s preparations for the celebration to ensure the fraternity’s campus lights were also Upsilonians in parallel with our elder senior brothers. He launched the all-student, all-Upsilonian cast stage play, Twelve Angry Men, which had future renowned TV broadcaster Angelo Castro in the leading role. He had recruited distinguished students to be involved in campus politics, like future UP President Fred Pascual and future Press Undersecretary Danny Gozo.

Big chunks of my life were also greatly influenced by Gari at that time. For one, I would not be an Upsilonian today if it was not for Gari. He was the brother who introduced the fraternity to me.

He was the brother who cared for me shortly after our final initiation rites. He was also the brother who taught me an abject lesson in humility (which is a story for another time).

All of these nuggets under Gari’s mentorship put me in great stead for my life. But most important of all, it was Gari who had set in motion my 53-year love affair with my beloved, Eliza.

Sadly, Gari’s light was extinguished last 16 August after a three-year-long battle against cancer. A battle that he refused to share even with his closest friends, because of his steadfast wish not to be looked at or treated any differently as he pursued his most cherished dream to provide affordable accommodations to the students of UP in Los Baños.

As a provinciano himself when he studied in UP to be a lawyer, Gari was always conscious of the fact that like most gifted but financially disadvantaged scholars of the State University, decent but inexpensive accommodations were few and far between in the various UP campuses. Shortly before his passing, his dream had come into fruition. The first dormitory building, named “Diwa,” or essence, had been completed and is now available for about 300 students for the coming school year when the pandemic would have eased enough to allow face-to-face learning. The name of the building is appropriate as it indeed captures the essence of Gari’s dream. When fully completed, the multi-building dormitory project will be able to accommodate about 1,000 students who will conveniently be housed in the heart of the Los Baños campus.

After Gari completed his studies in UP, he returned to Davao to set up a law firm with another fraternity brother, former Cabinet Secretary for Housing Dion de la Serna, to become the top corporate law firm in Davao in no time. After scaling the heights of lawyering, Gari, a man who was always in a quest for the next grand move, decided to move into entrepreneurship. Armed with the experience he accumulated from his father who was a contractor, he immersed himself in the business to emerge again as the top contractor in Davao. Shortly after, his business acumen successfully directed him into real estate development focusing on affordable vertical high-rise residential buildings and establishing low-cost cemeteries. Again, Gari excelled as he partnered with big corporate names such as the Gokongweis, the Florendos and the Gaisanos.

Gari’s creative entrepreneurial instincts, integrity, intellect, affability and easy-going manner made him an ideal partner to have for these conglomerates.

Gari’s life though was not just all business. He immersed himself as well in the affairs of his alma mater, UP. He served as President of the UP Alumni Association and became a member of the UP Board of Regents for two terms. But Gari’s latent avocation was really the arts. During his tenure in UP, he presided over the University’s Centennial celebrations, capped with several activities, such as the 100 Nudes for 100 Years Art exhibit, Sining Saysay Art Murals exhibit, Cuento Comico stage presentation and 100 Years of World Class Music. For the fraternity, he produced “Bintao” about the life of another Upsilonian, Wenceslao Vinzons. But above all, a lasting manifestation of Gari’s love for the arts and the fraternity is his much awaited, soon-to-be published book, Party of Forever, Stories of Upsilon Sigma Phi (and then some). It is Gari’s written compilation of all the stories of travel and fellowship he had regaled the brods throughout his most memorable and extraordinary life.

Until next week… One big fight!

For comments, email [email protected]

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Commentary

Much ado about SALN

Martires’ directive does not impinge on transparency since the submission of the document remains required under the law.

TEB

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There is a world of a difference between transparency and political demonization using the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN), and there is no indication that lifestyle checks will be halted as alleged by Vice President Leni Robredo, whose yellow camp is howling over the recent decision of Ombudsman Samuel Martires.

The Ombudsman’s order, however, is being subjected to interpretation and intrigue, while its clear intent was to make the SALN use responsible.

Usual critics like failed coup plotter Antonio Trillanes IV had made it a career to create tall tales using the supposed SALN he obtained from President Rodrigo Duterte or any of his family members.

In question is Memorandum Circular 1 of Martires, which limited the release of SALN to three instances:
• If the declarant, meaning the government official who filed it, and his or her official representative made a request;

• If it is legally ordered by the court in relation to a pending case; and,
• If the request is made through the Office of the Ombudsman’s field investigation office for the purpose of a fact-finding probe.

The law requiring the filing of SALN is the test of transparency and not in allowing all who have partisan motives to turn it upside down to achieve a certain agenda.

Two Supreme Court heads, the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona and his bogus successor Maria Lourdes Sereno, fell as a result of the use of the SALN, but for two divergent grounds.

The difference between the ouster of both provides the underlying basis for the Martires resolution.

Corona was a victim of an intricate conspiracy of the yellow mob instigated by its ringleader former President Noynoy Aquino.

He was ousted on one of eight articles of impeachment, which was that the former SC head had a $10 million account that he failed to disclose in his SALN.

House prosecutors had failed to offer proof of their allegations against Corona.

It was then that former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales came to the rescue and revealed bank documents alleging 82 bank accounts of Corona in which a total of $10 million had been moved in and out.

A similar allegation coming from the same sources of Morales was used to vilify President Duterte, in which alleged transactions over the years were totaled, which according to the failed putschist Trillanes signified hidden wealth.

In the case of Sereno, she merely brushed aside the requirement for the filing of SALN.

Sereno was ousted in 2018 in an unprecedented quo warranto move by Solicitor General Jose Calida for violating the requirement for public officials for the yearly submission of their financial record. Calida’s move was upheld by the Supreme Court in an 8-6 vote.

It was during the oral arguments on the quo warranto petition that her peers established that she was a liar.

During the interpellation of Sereno, then Associate Justice Teresita de Castro, who later become Chief Justice, cornered Sereno on her failure to submit copies of her SALN despite the fake magistrate’s insistence that she had filed the documents but she couldn’t simply find copies of these.

De Castro pointed to Sereno’s failure to provide the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) copies of her papers, which she was supposed to file while she was still working at the University of the Philippines.

She submitted to the JBC in 2010 her 2006 SALN, despite the requirement for the submission of her latest financial disclosure.

The JBC is the recommending body for vacancies in the judiciary.

SALN was key in both instances, Corona was shamed for having his SALN turned into a political football, while Sereno’s arrogance made her believe that she was beyond the submission rule.

Martires’ directive does not impinge on transparency since the submission of the document remains required under the law, only these are denied to opportunistic hands.

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Commentary

Padre Damaso’s present-day successors are hypocrites

What Padre Bastes really wants is for the Church to decide what may and may not be included in all high school curricula in the country.

Concept News Central

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The present-day successors of Padre Damaso, the villainous friar in Jose Rizal’s novel Noli Me Tangere, never tire of engaging in partisan politics despite the constitutional mandate separating the Church and the State.

Last 21 September, on the 48th anniversary of the imposition of martial law in the Philippines, the highly politicized but non-taxpaying Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines said many bad things about that period in the country’s history.

In particular, three publicity-seeking friars told news reporters that contemporary Filipinos have not learned anything from the lack of freedom associated by many with that period in the nation’s history.

Bishop Broderick Pabillo, who styles himself as the apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila said, “I think we have not learned our lessons. People are not vigilant and are not courageous enough to speak out. They do not vote seriously. They allow themselves to be bullied.”

Balanga Bataan Bishop Ruperto Santos insisted that Filipinos should learn from the lessons of the past to prevent the oppressions of martial law from taking place again. He stated, “We have to learn from martial law and live its lesson, that we should never let it happen again. We have to value our freedom, defend and promote it. But sad to say, we tend to forget and take it for granted.”

Another politicized friar, former Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes said the martial law period in Philippine history should be taught in school.
Obviously, the three prelates are hypocrites.

Who is Bishop Pabillo to say that Filipinos do not vote seriously? It is common knowledge that the Church supported the presidential bid of defeated Liberal Party bet Manuel “Mar” Roxas II in 2016, and the infamous Otso Diretso senatorial ticket that got clobbered in 2019. Just because the candidates of the Church lost in both elections is not a valid ground for Padre Pabillo to conclude that Filipinos do not vote seriously.

Like other friars in the Philippines, Pabillo badly misses the administrations of President Corazon Aquino and her son President Benigno Aquino III. Those were times when the Catholic Church wielded immense political influence, especially regarding appointments to public office. During the time of President Corazon Aquino, Jaime Cardinal Sin, the Archbishop of Manila, was in Malacañang almost every day to give “advice” to the president.

Bishop Santos’ statement that the people should exercise their freedom is hypocrisy, because he knows that the Church does not tolerate the freedom to criticize.

In September 2010, Intramuros tour guide Carlos Celdran went inside the Manila Cathedral wearing a Rizal attire and put up a placard bearing the word Damaso. It was Celdran’s way of protesting the Church’s meddling in politics.

Thereafter, the intolerant and pretentious clergy filed a criminal case against Celdran. After his conviction by the courts, Celdran went on exile to Spain where he eventually died.

The biggest hypocrisy was when Cardinal Tagle announced on national television that the Church has already forgiven Celdran, without telling the public that the Church was nonetheless pursuing the criminal case against its outspoken critic.

What Padre Santos actually meant, therefore, is that Filipinos should speak up, but they should not criticize the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines.

Bishop Bastes wants the martial law story taught in schools, but he is conveniently silent about the stubborn fight the Catholic Church put up in Congress years ago to prevent the inclusion of Rizal’s novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo in high school curricula. Those novels highlighted the abuses friars committed in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial period in the country’s history.

Many Catholic schools today use censored versions of Noli and Fili to dilute the evil ways of the Spanish friars in those novels.

What Padre Bastes really wants is for the Church to decide what may and may not be included in all high school curricula in the country.

In sum, the modern day successors of Padre Damaso should think before they make sweeping conclusions. That way, they don’t give themselves away.

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Commentary

Kamala on kosher killings

In terms of time and substance, the Supreme Court of the United States would appear to be the most influential and powerful.

Dean Dela Paz

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By the time this sees publication, Judge Amy Coney Barret would have been nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). She will be replacing the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg who passed a few weeks ago from lingering cancer.

Last year upon the death of Justice Antonin Scalia who was perhaps the closest friend Ginsberg had at the SCOTUS, his replacement was a Jesuit-educated youthful and brilliant family man named Brett Kavanaugh, who the political opposition had thrown everything against, including the cliché kitchen sink, if only to block his appointment to the High Court.

Should we review the stances taken by Barret and Kavanaugh, as well as Scalia and Ginsburg, as they sat in judgement in previous cases, we might see certain commonalities and differences that would help us appreciate the importance of their place in the SCOTUS. We might be able to likewise understand much deeper, with the appointments of Kavanaugh, and now Barret, how the High Court might be fashioning civilized society for years to come. This is especially significant where barbaric back-alley violence has now spilled unto Main Street America.

It is undeniable that in a democracy, the three branches of government, the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary, each mold societal values in their own specific ways, and those either hold or yield to newer ones over time.

The Legislature molds through its lawmaking powers, and these are retained until amended or superseded by latter laws. The Executive influences those values through either aggressive implementation or passive inaction spanning one term or two. The most influential would be the SCOTUS, as justices interpret and adjudicate according to their value systems operant until retirement or death. In terms of time and substance, the SCOTUS would appear to be the most influential and powerful.

This is important. Of the four, Ginsburg was not simply iconic on the issue of women’s rights, but she also upheld controversial abortion rights short of late-stage abortion. The other three had upheld the opposite. Scalia opined that abortion rights were unconstitutional, while Kavanaugh and Barret, both deeply and piously Roman Catholic, are against abortion, specially of the kind currently advocated by the Democratic opposition, which subscribes to the late term killing of living fetuses.

With the passing of Ginsburg and the presence of Kavanaugh and Barret in the SCOTUS, given their relative youth and conservatism, it is easy to see how their perspective on the sanctity of life might impact on American society for generations to come.

As a partisan counterfoil, however, there is the candidacy of Kamala Harris. The probability that she might step up to the presidency should the Democrats retake the White House is both feared and anticipated. Harris is a Black Baptist; her husband is a Jew. She was raised by a Hindu mother. Multidenominational, she has opposed legislation limiting federal funding for abortion clinics. Worse, she advocates a far-Left perspective that allows the early killing of children even after a heartbeat is present if they were conceived from rape or incest. In our book, that is nothing but a kosher killing of unwanted children.

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Commentary

Hats off to LA Times

Responsible journalism is what sets newspapers apart from the unrestrained flow of information through digital platforms where credibility is greatly diluted.

Chito Lozada

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Admitting mistakes is a rare trait for many, particularly for a newspaper, more so for an institution which has existed for more than a century.

The Los Angeles Times did an exemplary move by going back from 1881 to expunge what it believed as its failures “on race.” It then offered an apology and a path forward.

Amid the fierce competition in the newspaper business, which is pressured by the widespread use of social media, admission of faults particularly those made in the far past is a very rare trait.

The LA Times said in a 27 September editorial that “an organization should not be defined by its failures, but it must acknowledge them if it is to hope for a better future.”

Among the errors of history that the venerable publication admitted to was a 12 July 1981 front page story headlined “Marauders From Inner City Prey on L.A.’s Suburbs.” The use of terms in the news article was particularly offensive, such as a description of “a permanent underclass” in the city’s “ghettos and barrios” fueling a crime wave.

The story narrated criminal activities spilling over from South Los Angeles into prosperous — and largely white — communities in Pasadena, Palos Verdes, Beverly Hills and elsewhere.

The article, the first of a two-part series, purported to offer an insight into a major social problem, as it cited a lack of education and jobs as underlying causes of inner-city problems.

“It also reinforced pernicious stereotypes that Black and Latino Angelenos were thieves, rapists and killers. It sensationalized and pathologized the struggles of poor families and painted residents of South LA with a broad brush. It quoted police and prosecutors unskeptically and implied that more aggressive policing and harsher judicial sentencing were the only effective responses to crime,” according to the self-criticism.

LA Times added the story lacked nuance and context, neglecting decades of government policies that had led to housing and school segregation and to the creation of ghettos and barrios, which were then provided with inferior public services.

“It failed to give any real sense that the vast majority of the area’s residents were ordinary, law-abiding citizens, just trying to raise families and get by,” according to the opinion piece.

The broadsheet admitted that its series drew prompt and deserved criticism that highlighted an insidious problem that has marred the work of the Los Angeles Times for much of its history.

“While the paper has done groundbreaking and important work highlighting the issues faced by communities of color, it has also often displayed at best a blind spot, at worst an outright hostility, for the city’s non-white population, one both rooted and reflected in a shortage of Indigenous, Black, Latino, Asian and other people of color in its newsroom,” it stated.

The brutal death of George Floyd, a Black American, on 25 May while in the custody of police in Minneapolis shocked the world and sparked the call for racial equality in the United States, which radiated throughout the world.

The editorial said news organizations like The Times were prompted to reflect on how “they cover, frame and promote stories at a time when the 24/7 news cycle moves faster than ever.”

“Newspapers are described as a first rough draft of history. But in truth, the first rough draft written by this newspaper — and those across the country — has been woefully incomplete,” it assessed.

“On behalf of this institution, we apologize for The Times’ history of racism. We owe it to our readers to do better, and we vow to do so,” LA Times humbly offered .

“If we are to survive as a business, it will be by tapping into a digital, multicultural, multigenerational audience in a way The Times has never fully done,” it added.

Responsible journalism is what sets newspapers apart from the unrestrained flow of information through digital platforms where credibility is greatly diluted.

The move of LA Times serves as a model for the printed world in newspapers retracing their steps and submitting to the reality of human frailties and errors.

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Commentary

Affirming our sovereignty

The President’s UN speech demonstrates an affirmation of our territorial sovereignty and manifestation of this administration’s independent foreign policy.

Harry Roque

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Last week, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte spoke for the first time in front of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), where he addressed issues that are important not only to the Philippines but also to the whole world.
President Duterte discussed the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, stressed the need for a global health agenda, and articulated the importance of universal access to anti-COVID technologies and products.

The President likewise called for enhanced multilateralism to address issues on peace and security.

The Chief Executive also affirmed our commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals and tackled issues on climate change, human rights, terrorism and the rights and protection of migrant workers, among others.

But perhaps, a subject in his address that many were waiting to see and hear is PRRD’s stand on the South China Sea issue.

President Duterte did not disappoint. He firmly stated that the Philippines affirms our commitment to the South China Sea in accordance with the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea and the 2016 Arbitral Award.

Quoting the President’s speech, “The Award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon. We firmly reject attempts to undermine it.”

President Duterte likewise acknowledged that the Award stands for “the triumph of reason over rashness, of law over disorder, of amity over ambition.”

Many applauded the President’s stance, while his critics, as expected, expressed dismay over what they believe is a delayed expression of the President’s position before an international audience.

What these critics do not know or fail to comprehend is that the President has been firm on the South China Sea issue even at the start of his administration. The President displayed policy consistency on China at the 75th UNGA that our win in The Hague cannot be ignored.

Like what our President said, the Arbitral Award is now part of international law and is already beyond compromise. In my 15 years of teaching public international law, I have the authority to say that the Arbitral Award is an evidence of existence in the customary norm and cannot be erased. This means that whatever other claimants say about not honoring the Award, and whatever physical establishments that have been erected in islands that the Tribunal decreed as part of our exclusive economic zone, will never ripen into valid legal title.

The President’s UN speech demonstrates an affirmation of our territorial sovereignty and manifestation of this administration’s independent foreign policy — that our friendly relations with other nations should not suffer or be set aside in dealing with matters that can be resolved by peaceful settlement of disputes or through, as the President said, “the majesty of the law.”

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Business

Strengthening the country’s Maritime sector

Indeed, we are a maritime nation. And by being such, it is important that we invest in strengthening our maritime sector.

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A remarkable celebration of the National Maritime Week highlighted the Philippines’ strong position in the international maritime scene. From 20 to 27 September 2020, the country joined other maritime nations worldwide in raising awareness and promoting the importance of the industry in today’s setting.

Although confronted by an unprecedented crisis due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-10) pandemic, the maritime industry remains to play an indispensable role in keeping the world economy thriving. And when we speak about the maritime industry’s contribution to the world, Filipino seafarers are never left behind.

At present, there are about 100,000 vessels sailing the global waters, carrying about 95 percent of the world trade. These ships are operated by around 1.5 million seafarers and over 370,000 or 25 percent of which are Filipinos. There is absolutely no doubt that we have proven for many years that the Philippines is a primary source of world-class maritime workforce.

Indeed, we are a maritime nation. And by being such, it is important that we invest in strengthening our maritime sector. But how are we carrying this out?

Since the Duterte administration took over in 2016, the Department of Transportation (DoTr), through its Maritime sector, has been relentless in pushing for capability enhancement, development of maritime assets, and investing in the protection and welfare of our Filipino seafarers.

These actions and initiatives were particularly underscored in a virtual gathering held last 24 September, when DoTr Secretary Arthur P. Tugade spoke in front of global maritime leaders to mark the World Maritime Day 2020.

The Transportation chief efficiently put to use his four-minute allotted time to speak and assure the international maritime community of the country’s commitment to be an effective partner in global maritime activities.

In his speech, Secretary Tugade highlighted the unparalleled contributions of Filipino seafarers in the global maritime arena. He likewise discussed various policies adopted by the Philippine government that pave the way to strengthen the country’s maritime industry and seafaring activities.

These measures include the establishment of the “Green Lane” for the safe and unimpeded movement of seafarers amid the pandemic, the identification of ports to serve as crew-change hubs, and the establishment of one-stop-shops for the uniform processing of arriving seafarers in all gateways of the Philippines.

In addition to the safe and efficient processing of seafarers in the identified crew change hubs, Secretary Tugade also bared in his speech that the Philippines has extended for one year the validity of Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping Convention (STCW) certificates, record books, identification and record books of Filipino seafarers.

Proving that the government prioritizes the safety and welfare of our mariners, just a few days ago, the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) also proudly announced the opening of its own RT-PCR Molecular Testing Laboratory at the South Harbor in Port Area, Manila, dedicated to COVID-19 testing for seafarers.

Along with these initiatives, the DoTr Maritime sector, through the Maritime Industry Authority and Philippine Coast Guard, is strengthening the foundations of the country’s maritime sector by sustaining an organized culture, providing quality maritime education, and promoting innovation and sustainability through technology and modernization.

And because efficient seaports and sea linkages remain as a major socio-economic development thrust, we also continue to develop seaport infrastructure projects and networks. Testament to this is the completion of no less than 369 ports since the Duterte administration took over in 2016. Further, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the DoTr, together with the PPA, was able to virtually inaugurate 14 seaport projects this year.

These are just some of the crucial actions and initiatives that this government has undertaken to strengthen the maritime industry. However, with these initiatives, programs and projects, Secretary Tugade’s closing remarks in the said event proves true. He assured the global maritime community that “our aspiration toward becoming a more developed maritime nation will grow with the years.”

With the little time left before the Duterte administration steps down, we can be assured that taking huge steps toward making a remarkable impact in the global maritime scene will continue. And with the relentless pursuit of enhancing the country’s maritime industry, our goal of becoming a strong maritime nation is not a far-fetched dream.

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