Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cory's Christmas Gift

If convicted plunderer Joseph “Erap” Estrada succeeds in winning re-election to the presidency in the May 2010 elections, the Filipino people can blame President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former president Cory Aquino for this woeful occurrence, Arroyo for granting him an executive clemency on October 24, 2007 and Aquino for her public apology to him on December 22, 2008.

Estrada was convicted in September of 2007 for plunder after a six year trial which pitted career government prosecutors against a “Dream Team” of the best lawyers Estrada could hire. After extracting an oral promise from Estrada that he would never run for public office again, President Arroyo naively pardoned him one month before he was to begin serving a life sentence in Bilibid prison.

But of course, a public promise is not worth the paper it isn’t written on and Estrada was off campaigning for the 2010 presidency as soon as he was on his feet. The only barrier standing in his quest for the presidency was the effect his conviction would have on public opinion.

This barrier amy have evaporated this Christmas when People Power icon Cory Aquino, speaking after Estrada's turn at former House Speaker Jose de Venecia's book launching, said: "I am one of those who plead guilty for the 2001 [People Power uprising]. Lahat naman tayo nagkakamali. Patawarin mo na lang ako. [We all make mistakes. Please forgive me.]"

Estrada saw Cory’s apology as a “vindication” if not a blessing and as the “best Christmas gift” he had received. So what if he plundered the Philippine treasury of billions to take care of himself and his cabal of mistresses? So what if he is found to have ordered the hits on Bubby Dacer, Emmanuel Corbito and Edwin Bentain? We all make mistakes. St. Cory said so.

Cory’s apology to Erap was the banner headline of the Philippine newspapers and the Fil-Am media as well. The fallout for this apology was immediate. In its December 26 editorial, the Philippine Daily Inquirer described Cory’s apology as "a betrayal of the highest aspirations of the democracy she helped restore in 1986, and which she remains the famous icon of".

Cory’s spokesperson, Deedee Siytangco, sought to contain the damage to Cory’s reputation by clarifying that the remark was just said in jest. "But”, Sytangco added, “she's not taking it back." Hello?

Cory was not taking it back because she had made the same point before. In October 2005, after publicly calling on President Arroyo to resign because of election fraud, she said she regretted joining the people power protest against Estrada. "I thought GMA would be a better alternative to Estrada."

As the Inquirer editorial pointed out: “Well, so did we and millions of other Filipinos. But Edsa II was never about Arroyo. She was the main beneficiary because she had been elected to the vice presidency in 1998; in other words, she was the constitutional successor. But it was never about her.

Cory does have something to deeply regret, but that is not Edsa II,” Inquirer columnist Conrado de Quiros wrote, “Edsa II was righteous, Edsa II was resplendent, Edsa II had the moral backing of a people—which made it a true expression of People Power. The last having been made possible by the morality play or political telenovela that unfolded before their eyes, which was the impeachment trial. What Cory has to regret, and regret deeply and mournfully, is not the People Power of January 2001 but the elections of May 2004.

”Erap’s apologists were quick to defend Cory’s apology. “Her politics is something she cannot detach from her Christian morality”, wrote one. But Christian morality teaches forgiveness after contrition and penitence and Erap has neither been contrite nor penitent about any of the crim es he committed and was convicted for.

When Cory was elected president in 1986, I was ecstatic. I have been an active member of the Ninoy Aquino Movement (NAM) since its founding and I currently serve as its president. I even chaired the Presidential Banquet Committee in August of 1986 that hosted a gala banquet at the Moscone Center in San Francisco for Pres. Aquino which drew more than 4,500 guests.

My disillusionment with Cory began when we (NAM) sent the top FilAm leader of the farmworkers movement, Philip Vera-Cruz, to the Philippines to meet her in Malacanang in 1986. Philip had not been back in the Philippines since he left for the United States in 1928 and it was a big thrill for him to meet Cory.

When they met, Philip expressed his concern to Cory about the problem of toxic pesticides which are banned in the US but which are in widespread use in the Philippines endangering Filipino farmworkers. Cory listened, or at least appeared to, Philip later related to us, but took no notes and asked no questions. She was just humoring an old man, he sighed. After he was done, Cory shook his hand and appeared to him to be telling her aide “next” (referring to the next visitor waiting to see her). In one ear, out the other.

I also join the complaint of one who sent this email after reading about Cory’s apology: “At the start of her administration, most of those who fought against Marcos and (for the cause of EDSA 1 that catapulted her to the presidency) were among those her administration victimized through her surrogates who rewarded the Marcos loyalists in our government department with high positions and those who fought against Marcos were eased out. What kind of judgment is that?”

As William Esposo, one of her erstwhile supporters, asked in the title of his Philippine Star column, “Oh Cory, how could you?”

Monday, December 22, 2008

Delicious Irony

Former Philippine News publisher Alex Esclamado received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Philippine American Press Club (PAPC) last December 20. As Alex was too ill to travel from his home in Raleigh, North Carolina, I had the honor of accepting the award as I have been associated with Alex for more than 28 years including 21 years as a weekly columnist of the Philippine News.

In my remarks, I noted the delicious irony of the award. When the PAPC was formed more than two decades ago and I was elected its first vice president, Alex questioned my decision to join the group. It was composed mostly of pro-Marcos “propagandists”, he said, and I shouldn’t be associated with them. But martial law was over already, I told Alex, and it was time to bring our community together and the Filipino press was key to uniting the community.

Alex was particularly critical of the founder and first president of the PAPC, Willie Jurado, best known as the airport manager of Ferdinand Marcos who, on July 4, 1966, led the assault on the Beatles at the airport when they “snubbed the First Lady.” (Willie later confided to me that he instigated the assault because Manila Times columnist Doroy Valencia bet him 1000 pesos that he didn’t have the guts to do it).

Willie also confided to me that even he suffered under martial law as he and his family, at one point, had to sell newsapers to survive. He decided that it was best for him and his family to immigrate to the US and he published a tabloid-sized paper called The Eye.

But Alex didn’t care to associate with the pro-Marcos media in the US that had proliferated during the martial law regime. I could understand his sentiment as he had paid a heavy price for his principled opposition to Marcos and martial law.
After all, before Marcos declared martial law on September 22, 1972, Alex Esclamado was publisher of the largest, most influential Filipino community newspaper in the US, the Philippine News, which he and his wife, Lourdes, founded from their garage in 1961. The success of his newspaper allowed Alex the opportunity to buy a beautiful home in San Francisco’s Sunset District (which just a decade earlier had racial covenants incorporated in the deeds prohibiting sale to non-whites).

Alex and Lourdes were so successful in their business that they were able to send their seven kids to some of the best private Catholic schools in San Francisco and to invest in a building in the South of Market (SOMA) area for his newspaper which employed more than 20 people.

But Alex’s life and fortune changed dramatically when martial law was declared.

Because of his opposition to martial law, Marcos’ Secretary of Tourism Joe Aspiras sent a letter to all the travel agencies in San Francisco20which advertised in the Philippines warning them that they would not receive support from the Philippine government if they continued to advertise in the Philippine News.

Overnight, more than half of the PN’s revenues dried up. Alex had to borrow money from friends to keep his newspaper alive (Lourdes even had to sell some of her precious jewelry). Eventually, Alex lost the mortgages on his home and on his SOMA building.

After the Esclamados’ fortunes had sunk, an emissary of Marcos approached Alex with an offer to purchase his newspaper and his silence for $10-M.

It was a very attractive offer that would have allowed Alex and Lourdes to regain their lost fortune, repay all their debtors, and set them up for a very comfortable retirement.

Alex and Lourdes convened their family over dinner to discuss the Marcos offer. As the kids each expressed their o pinions, the overwhelming sentiment was clearly to reject the offer. Thanks, but no thanks. The Esclamados were not for sale.

Alex and Lourdes had to be financially creative to keep their newspaper alive. They increased their circulation to 120,000 throughout the US. Virtually every Fil-Am physician was a subscriber. They set up regional bureaus throughout the US to publish regional editions with regional advertisers and they sold shares of their newspaper corporation, which were really investments in the restoration of Democracy in the Philippines.

When People Power overthrew the Marcos Dictatorship in 1986, Alex did not return back to the Philippines to claim any kind of financial rewards for his role in ousting Marcos. He was personally close to President Corazon Aquino and he was the brother in law of House Speaker Ramon Mitra.

The only “reward” Alex accepted was the Philippine Legion of Honor Award given to him by Pres. Aquino and a grateful Philippine nation. And the only “opportunity” Alex took advantage of was that the end of martial law meant the end of a divided Filipino community in America and the opportunity to unite the community.

Alex eventually agreed that joining the PAPC was the right thing to do and he invited PAPC members to join his “impossible dream” of uniting the community. Many among them accepted his invitation and attended the founding of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) in 1997.

Giving the Lifetime Achievement Award to Alex not only honors the recipient but honors the PAPC itself.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bolo Punchers

It is 3 AM, many days after, and my mind still visualizes each round and each pound for pounding that Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao delivered on the hapless face and body of “Golden Boy” Oscar de La Hoya at their December 6 fight in Las Vegas. In the opening round, I see De la Hoya approach the center of the ring, fists on the ready, waiting for the Pacman to lower his guard so he can knock him down and beat him as all the sports pundits had predicted. But the Pacman moves warily, weaving from side to side, and jabbing with his left and right fists as he circles De la Hoya.

The image of the taller De la Hoya, with his fists extended in a conventional boxing stance, contrasted with the image of Pacquiao, constantly moving and weaving his fists up and down, reminded me of the time when American soldiers first occupied the Philippines in the early 1900s and taught boxing to young Filipinos in towns throughout the islands.

The natives had no problems understanding and accepting the rules of boxing as handed down by the Marquis of Queensberry in 1865 but it was the style of boxing the Americans taught that the Filipinos could not or would not follow.

The American soldiers taught the Filipinos to “keep their dukes up” describing the motion of their arms and their fists pointed upwards in the style of heavyweight boxing champion “Gentleman Jim” Corbett. The Filipinos, who grew up learning the Filipino self-defense art of Arnis de Mano (harness or armor of the hand), had other ideas, preferring to constantly move their bodies and weave their arms in angular and circular motions acquiring and mastering the flow.

Corky Pasquil’s 30-minute documentary, The Great Pinoy Boxing Era, covers the period from the introduction of boxing by American soldiers at the turn of the century to era of Pinoy dominance in boxing from 1920 to 1941. Among the Pinoy pugilists mentioned were Dencio Cabanella, Pancho Villa, Speedy Dado, Small Montana, Dado Marino and Ceferino Garcia.

Before Manny Pacquiao, the greatest Asian boxer was a pugilist from Negros Occidental who was born on August 1, 1901 under the name Francisco Guilledo. He stood 5-feet-1 and weighed 114 pounds. Before he died at the age of 24, this fighter who was better known as “Pancho Villa”, fought in 109 matches with an amazing record of 92 wins (24 KOs), 8 losses, 4 draws, and 5 no-contests. This fighter was never knocked down in any of his fights and, like Manny, even went out of his class to fight featherweights and even lightweights.

After winning the Philippine flyweight title from Terrible Pondo in 1919, Villa received an offer in 1922 to fight in the United States where he made a name for himself with victories over Abe Attel Goldstein, Frankie Mason, Young Montreal which set the stage for a shot at the American Flyweight title against Johnny Buff. He defeated Buff via an 11th round TKO in 1923. By coincidence, Buff’s grandson, Jimmy Buffer (well known for his trademark “Let’s get ready to ruuuuumble” announcements in wrestling) was the ring announcer for the De la Hoya-Pacquiao fight. After defeating Buff, Villa’s next fight was with Jimmy Wilde, a hard-punching British boxer, who was the world flyweight champion.

On June 18, 1923, before 20,000 screaming fans at the Polo Grounds in New York, Villa knocked out Wilde in the 7th round with a single right that broke Wilde's jaw to capture the World Flyweight title and cause Wilde to retire permanently from boxing.

Villa returned to the Philippines and received a hero’s welcome in Manila and a victory party in the Malacanang Palace. He returned to the US for a non-title fight with Jimmy McLarnin that was scheduled for July 4, 1925 at Ewing Field in Oakland.

Days before the fight, Villa's face swelled due to an ulcerated tooth. Villa fought McLarnin despite the swollen jaw and lost. The infection worsened and spread to his throat which eventually caused him to die in a hospital on July 14, 1925.

The next great Pinoy boxer was Ceferino Garcia (August 26, 1912 - January 1, 1981) who was born in Tondo, Manila, Philippines. He won renown for his ''bolo'' punch, which he wound up like an uppercut, hook and cross, which helped him achieve 57 knockouts. He also won another 24 bouts by decisions. He won the middleweight title in 1939 by knocking out Fred Apostoli in seven rounds in New York.

When Garcia was asked how he came to develop his “bolo” punch, he recounted that when he was young, he used to cut sugarcane with a bolo knife, which he wielded in a sweeping uppercut fashion.

After Garcia, the next great Filipino boxer was "Gabriel 'Flash' Elorde (March 25, 1935 - January 2, 1985 who was the WBC junior lightweight/super featherweight champion from March, 1960 until June, 1967 and WBA super featherweight champion from February, 1963 to June, 1967 - making him the longest reigning world junior lightweight champion ever.

Elorde retired in 1974 with a record of 87 wins (33 KOs), 27 losses and 2 draws, and was named 'the greatest world junior lightweight boxing champion in WBC history.' In 1993, he became the first Asian inducted into the New York-based International Boxing Hall of Fame. He was also enshrined in the World Boxing Hall of Fame.

With his decisive victory over De la Hoya, Manny Pacquiao now joins that hallowed pantheon of Filipino boxing superstars.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Almighty Image

A generational divide separated those Filipino Americans who supported and voted for Barack Obama and those who supported and voted for John McCain. While this was certainly not always true, this is what might be concluded from attending a “Kapihan” debate hosted by the Philippine American Press Club (PAPC) in San Francisco last October where all the McCain supporters were over 50 years old while the Filipinos for Obama, except for me, were all below 30.

One McCain backer confided to me that whenever he thinks of "Americans", his subliminal image is that of white Americans. Because he is grateful to these "Americans" for whatever success he has achieved in the US, he believes that it is only fair that the president of the US should be an "American". In his view, Filipinos who immigrate to the US are still "guests" who have been invited to this great country and we should show our gratitude to our "hosts" by electing an "American" native like McCain instead of the son of a Kenyan student. (The irony is that McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone while Obam a was born in Hawaii.)

The young Obama supporters in the room, on the other hand, were all born in the US and grew up as "Americans" and don't see themselves as "guests" in the US. They look up to African Americans like Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. as pioneers in the struggle for civil rights whose success benefited all minorities including Filipinos.

The main speaker for the McCainiacs was Milpitas Mayor Joe Esteves who accused Obama of supporting abortion and same sex marriage, which he said is against his religious beliefs.

The spokesperson for the Obamistas, New York University Law School grad Angelica Jongco, explained that Obama personally opposes abortion but believes that it is the women, not the government, who has the right to make that choice. She cited statistics that show that there have been more abortions under George W. Bush than under Bill Clinton. What Obama wants to do, Jongco said, is educate more people about how to prevent pregnancies so there will be less need for abortions.

While Jongco expounded on the social programs that Obama will create to benefit the poor and the middle class, "Joe the Mayor" Esteves warned that Obama would raise taxes which would not be good for business.In the Open Forum that ensued, va rious members of the audience expanded on their political views and religious beliefs. The stereotype that conservatives are religious while liberals are "secular" was found not to be true. As Sociologist Paul Froese noted, "political liberals and conservative are both religious. They just have different religious views."
A study that was conducted by the Baylor University Institute for Studies of Religion in Waco, Texas and released to the public in September of 2006 showed that people’s political views are a reflection of their image of the Almighty.
In a national survey conducted by Gallup for Baylor, 1,721 Americans, a statistically representative sampling of the USA by age, gender and race, were each asked 77 questions, with nearly 400 answer choices.

"Though 91.8% say they believe in God", USA Today reported, they had four distinct views of God's personality and engagement in human affairs. These Four Gods - dubbed by researchers Authoritarian, Benevolent, Critical or Distant - tell more about people's social, moral and political views and personal piety than the familiar categories of Protestant/Catholic /Jew or even red state/blue state." Or even generations.

According to Baylor's Christopher Bader, "you learn more about people's moral and political behavior if you know their image of God than almost any other measure. It turns out to be more powerful a predictor of social and political views than the usual markers of church attendance or belief in the Bible."

The "Authoritarian" God, the God of the Old Testament, according to Bader, "is angry at humanity's sins and engaged in every creature's life and world affairs. He is ready to throw the thunderbolt of judgment down on the unfaithful or ungodly". Filipinos who were educated in Catholic schools in the Philippines were presented with an "Authoritarian" God as its primary model, a legacy of Spanish colonialism. Those who look at God this way "are religiously and politically conservative people", Bader says. They generally register as and vote Republican.

The "Benevolent" God is "primarily a forgiving God". This is the God of the New Testament, God the Son, Jesus Christ, who preached love and understanding. Those who believe in this God are inclined to say caring for the sick and needy ranks highest on the list of what it means to be a good person. Democrats generally believe in this "Benevolent" God.

The "Critical" God has his judgmental eye on the world, but he's not going to intervene, either to punish or to comfort, Bader said. "This group is more paradoxical, " Bader explained further. "They have very traditional beliefs, picturing God as the classic bearded old man on high. Yet they're less inclined to go to church or affiliate seriously with religious groups. They are less inclined to see God as active in the world. Their politics are definitely not liberal, but they're not quite conservative, either." People who vote Independent or Libertarian tend to look up to a "Critical" God.

The "Distant" God is seen as "a cosmic force that launched the world, then left it spinning on its own". This view is strong among "moral relativists, " those least likely to say any moral choice is always wrong, and among those who don't attend church", Bader says. They are also distant from the political process and generally don't vote.

What is your image of God?