I am very, very honored to have been invited to be the
Guest Speaker of Minnesota’s biggest Filipino-American community as you
celebrate Independence Day. I had spoken in various forums with
diverse audiences during the past one year that I was a Fulbright-Humphrey
Fellow in the United States. I do not know why it is in this particular
gathering in this beautiful park that I feel very nervous. Maybe it is
because an Independence Day Address must reawaken or reaffirm one’s
commitment to the ideals that inspired the Philippine Revolution. This is,
unarguably, a tall order. Understand then why I am overwhelmed.
But yesterday, I asked a friend who had been a United States resident
for the last 20 years, “If you were to listen here in the United States to a
speaker who is based in the Philippines, what would you like this person
to talk about?” I was half-expecting him to say that he would like me to update
him on the love life of Vic Sotto, or summarize the latest Aga Muhlach movie,
or discuss Vice-Ganda’s popularity or loss of popularity after mocking Jessica
Soho’s (over)weight to trivialize rape, or if Nora Aunor already looks like a
grandmother. But his response was a far cry. He said he would
like to know developments in the country of his birth. He also said he
would like to know how he could contribute to the improvement of conditions
back home. I was blown away. This person cares for the country some people
might claim he abandoned like a hot potato, or more realistically, a hot
‘camote’? It is not that I never believed that my friend was capable of
possessing social conscience. It is just that to me he represented the Filipino
born and educated in the Philippines but chose to move to the United States in
search for greener pastures. He represented you- you who would have to listen
to my ramblings this morning as your ticket to lunch.
It had been more than two months since I accepted Madam Lita Malicsi’s
invitation to give the keynote address for today’s celebration. And it had been
more than two months that I agonized over what to say to you. But I had
an epiphany after consulting my friend. I hope he was right,
otherwise, I will pillory him if you throw tomatoes at me later. I sort
of prepared for the eventuality of tomatoes thrown at me by wearing this
It is very auspicious that we are celebrating the 115th year
of Philippine independence the same year that the United States is celebrating
the 150th year of the end of the civil war. In different parts
of the world, there are other Filipinos like you who are commemorating or who
will commemorate Independence Day. It only means you have not forgotten home.
It is perhaps incontrovertible that you can take the Filipino out of the
Philippines, but you can never take the Philippines out of the Filipino. Jose
Rizal, one of our national heroes, the so-called greatest person
ever produced by the Malayan race, said that those who
do not care to look back to where they came from can never get to where
they want to go. Which means you who are here today will get to where you want
to go for not forgetting your roots.
Allow me therefore to bring us back further home - back to where
we came from, back to the Pearl of the Orient Seas.
In the last years, the Philippines has had gains in the political front.
It became stable when measured against the political situation under the Arroyo
regime. The conflict in Mindanao de-escalated and there seems to be bright
prospects that the insurgency of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will at
last become history. There were some accomplishments in the campaign
against corruption, at least on the rhetorical front. The controversial
Reproductive Health Bill was finally, finally passed into law after years
of debate that seemed to lead nowhere. Investor confidence surged upwards. The
public trust rating of the President remains high although it has been
Here is one more good news: There has been a steady increase in the
gross domestic product. You probably know that the Philippines right now is
jubilant over its very recent economic gain. In the first quarter of this
year, it registered a phenomenal economic growth of 7.8%
which is actually the highest among the major East and Southeast
Asian countries including China. Indeed this is spectacular. Even the
Philippine government was surprised- shocked perhaps is a better word-
because its target of 5 to 6% was surpassed. This also impressed
major international financial institutions like the Asian Development
Bank and the International Monetary Fund which projected 6%.
Although the growth this last quarter is the highest, there has actually been a
positive economic trend under the Aquino administration. And so things look
rosy in the Philippines.
But what does this growth really mean to the masses of Filipinos? What
is hidden under economic statistics are dismal facts. Domestic consumption and
spending including predictably vote-buying during the last elections fueled the
unprecedented rise of the “Sick Man of Asia” to the rising tiger
of Asia. (I think this is a stupefying evolution. Imagine a man becoming
a tiger! And I thought human beings were first lower animal forms before
becoming human.) Also, your remittances- every dollar you sent to your
families and extended families back home- contributed much to this growth.
About 10 million overseas Filipino workers remitted $24 billion to the
Philippines last year. This represented 10% of the country's economic output.
Which means that the growth- and I mean the steady growth of the economy
under Pres Aquino’s dispensation- did not really trickle down to the country’s
poor. Jobs have not been created and so the unemployment rate remains high. In
fact, even the Asian Development Bank reports that almost half of the
workers in the Pearl of the Orient Seas are unpaid family workers and the
self-employed. The rate of poverty is still high. One-third of the population
is surviving on $2 a day.
On the human rights front, extrajudicial killings and enforced
disappearances are still happening. Majority of the targets are indigenous
rights defenders and environmentalists who are resisting large-scale mining
corporations. We are all probably aware that mining is responsible for many of
the environmental disasters in the country- from flashfloods, soil
erosions, and the sinking or subsidence of some communities, to the biological
death of bodies of water and pollution of farmlands. These have resulted in
losses to life and property, loss of livelihood, and displacement especially of
indigenous peoples. What is very dangerous is that in many mining communities,
the military is serving as the private security force of mining corporations.
What is more dangerous is that the government allowed mining corporations to
convert the CAFGU as their private militias to quell community opposition
to destructive mining. This is very disappointing since Aquino, while on
the campaign trail in 2010, promised to dismantle private armies which
were strengthened during the Arroyo regime. Instead of dismantling private
armies, he gave them a legal status to serve the mining corporations.
Which bring us back to what we are celebrating today: the 115th year
of our independence. Andres Bonifacio and the other revolutionaries paid
with their blood to free the Filipinos from the bondage of oppression. They
paid with their lives to release their country women and men from the
shackles of hunger. They paid with their lives so that their fellow men and
women would live with dignity, and not be forced into labor or be treated as
inferior beings in their own homeland. They paid with their lives for our independence.
What is independence? How does it translate into a value for every
Filipino? The simple definition of independence is that it is the
condition of being free from hunger or want and fear from fear. In a
country where 75% of the economy is controlled by only 40 families, how
can people be freed from want? How can people be freed from hunger if only a
few control the land? If people are forced into laziness (or indolence) simply
because of the absence of economic opportunities, how can people have freedom
The reason some or even more of our fellow Filipinos- some of them our
country’s best and brightest like you who are here- left the country and moved
to other countries is because the Philippines did not have space or
while there was space, it was not big enough for them to grow, to live
happy and peaceful lives secure that they would always have something to
eat or have roof above their and their family’s heads. As someone said, “nothing
testifies better to deep poverty than the export of slaves or the persistent
exodus of job-hungry migrants.” Our OFWs did not abandon our
country. You did not ship out of our country. Like the migratory birds, they-
and you- escaped from harsh conditions. And just like
migratory birds, we will always go back.
Independence Day will have meaning to the majority of our people back
home if economic gains will give them freedom from want, the freedom of
choice. When 75% of the economy is controlled by only 40 families, when
economic gains that make the Philippines the rising tiger of Asia do not change
the lives of more than half of the Philippine population, when thousands
upon thousands of children beg on streets, when many families do not have
adequate to eat, when Manila is the “Gate to Hell,” when the gap between the
likes of the very wealthy Henry Sy and Lucio Tan widen every single
day, our heroes who spilled their blood for the so-called independence we are
marking today will continue to turn in their graves. But when economic gains
mean jobs for the poor and food on their tables, children inside
classrooms from Monday to Friday instead of on the streets, then Independence
Day will be significant for everyone.
The struggle for independence did not end on June 12, 1898. I believe that
independence is not just a state or condition, but it is also a
process of making sure that the death and sacrifices of our heroes would not be
senseless. Bonifacio and his friends imperiled and even lost their lives
because they wanted hunger to end, because they wanted distributive justice
for every Juana, Paula, Francisca, Pedro, Procopio, and Jose. Their
deaths, their sacrifices will be trivialized if we allow the Philippines
to become a country that is paradise for profiteers but hell for the vast
majority of citizens. And every Filipino has a role to play to ensure that our
heroes did not shed their blood in vain. We who are here have a role to
play. Every hunger, every problem suffered by an individual or by a
community is our business, especially if that community is the Filipino nation
itself. And, we should always mind our business. We may be here now,
but the Philippines is still our home. A lot of you will probably go back to
the country of your birth when you will have retired. I am sure you will not
rest easy spending your hard-earned retirement dollars in the midst of a
sea of children begging for alms. You will not be happy living in comfort
when you know that many people are struggling to make both ends meet, are
living under bridges, or are scavenging garbage bins for food.
And so let us prepare for happy retirement. Aside from your remittances
which have been keeping our economy afloat and sheltered the Philippines
from the recession that hit this country badly, we can do much
more. How we conceive that role is up to us. But let me appeal that you
use your voice to raise the issues of the vulnerable, the weak, the indigenous,
the poor, in the Philippines. Here, you can speak and bring to the attention of
our government the evils of mining to life, property, and the environment,
without fear of the paramilitary groups and the State security forces
killing or abducting you or members of your family. The Philippine Study
Group of Minnesota headed by Meg Layese has been doing that. I joined them and
the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines in lobbying efforts to ask
the United States to stop sending military aid to the Philippines which the
Armed Forces only uses to strengthen paramilitary groups used by mining
companies. We traveled to Washington and lobbied with Senators and Congressmen,
as well as officials of the United States State Department. We got positive
actions and assurances of support. We are working on convincing the United
States Congress to convene the Lantos Commission to look into the human rights
issues in the Philippines. To my knowledge, no one from PSGM ever got
killed or kidnapped for activism, for lending its strong voice to express the
issues of the poor, the weak, the marginalized, and indigenous back home.
In the Philippines, I personally know people – my friends and co-workers- who
lost their lives or who disappeared without shadows because they dared give a
voice to the issues of the weak and marginalized. I have had security issues
myself. And last year, Congress passed a law criminalizing online libel. In its
wake people were arrested for Facebook posts. The only reason the government
was not able to arrest more people is because the constitutionality of that law
was questioned before the Supreme Court. The case is currently pending.
And so, while I am here, let me enjoy the freedom we have in this Great
Country- the Home of the Brave. Allow me to articulate what I think Andres
Bonifacio would say to all of us if he were around to witness the current
economic and socio-political milieu. I will share with you an excerpt from a
poem I wrote years ago titled “Andres Bonifacio’s Cry:”
agitated spirit upbraids us with a cry
“The walls are back and higher than
what we tore down
are much worse; they too were slaves at dawn
Is this the
freedom for which comrades had to die?
vanguards’ empty spots await you or you fall
the places of brave forebears before
into slavery, as in the days of yore
demand sacrifice; please, you heed the call.”
The voice is
hoarse now; from our apathy we rise
plea for salvation demands our urgent action
purse was robbed again; we struggle on
thorns and swords; our freedom is the prize
For while we
bite our tongues and cry our silent tears
We give the
foes the whip they crack to make us slaves
is the source of power tyranny craves
beckon us! Now! Let us triumph over fears!
Andres Bonifacio at ang iba pa nating mga bayani. Mabuhay ang Pilipinas.
Mabuhay tayong lahat!
Thank you for inviting me to this very important gathering. I am awed to be speaking along with Ms Coleen Rowley, a Times Person of the Year, a woman who can make this government tremble, if she has not done so already.
I am not about to belabor the point
that the drone warfare committed against Pakistan violates that country’s
sovereignty and self-determination rights. I am not about to belabor the point
that the drone warfare is in the words of Jimmy Carter illegal, immoral, a
blatant violation of international law, a human rights violation. This has been said
over and over again by different people in different places. Using
international law to argue with the United States might not work against
American exceptionalism or more particularly American exemptionalism. Exemptionalism is in the words one
scholar, “American unwillingness to
impose on itself general international rules that the US government in principle accepts as just.” So it stands
there on a lofty platform criticizing the human records of other countries
based on international law to which it does not hold itself accountable. This
unmitigated drone warfare against Pakistan and other weaker countries is a
telling proof that the United States does
not consider itself bound by international law which requires that States
should respect the sanctity of the borders of other states.
The United States does not consider itself bound by the provisions of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which requires that States
should respect the rights of all peoples to self-determination and of all
individuals to the right to life. This
Great Country played a key role in drafting this international human rights law
which was unanimously adopted by the international community in 1966. It took
Jimmy Carter to become President before the US signed it in 1977. And yet, another 15 years had to lapse before the Senate ratified it in 1992. But the
ratification was as good as non-ratification.
Annexed to the ratification was
“an unprecedented number” of reservations, understandings, and declarations that exclude the United States from compliance
with the treaty. The US also declared that the ICCPR is not enforceable within
its courts without enabling domestic legislation. Other countries thus asked if
the United States is really a treaty party.
So what is the significance of
the ratification? The record of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations indicates that the committee thought that without ratifying the treaty, the
United States’ criticism of the human records of other countries would smack of hypocrisy. Ratifying the treaty
also enables the United States to take
part in the Human Rights Committee in monitoring States’ treaty compliance and therefore make the human rights records
of other States its business.
So I will not talk about international law beyond what I said. I would rather look at the standard by which the
United States would like the legitimacy of its actions to be judged. Time and
again, the Obama administration has claimed that the Authorization For the Use of Military Force justifies the
President’s drone warfare. We all know that this was a joint resolution passed
by the United States
Congress on September 14, 2001, three days after the terrorist
attacks. The provision authorized the President to use all necessary and appropriate force
against those nations, organizations or persons he determines planned,
authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11,
2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future
acts of international terrorism against the U.S. by such nations, organizations
It has been more than a decade since
9/11. Bin Laden is already out of the picture. But the thirst for blood has not
de-escalated. The Taliban is no longer as imposing, no longer as seemingly
invincible as it used to be. Although it
is not too dead to even generate its own apparition, it is no longer as seemingly powerful as it
used to be. And yet, the Obama
Administration continues to invoke the AUMF. Many of the current targets of the
drone warfare did not plan, authorize, commit or aid in the commission of the 9/11
tragedy. The AUMF, which is merely a
resolution and does not have the permanent character of a legislation, was never meant to target the new generation
of the Taliban or Al Qaeda or any new
terrorist group. And yet, the United States government is reportedly
identifying alleged members of such groups who were too young to have had a hand
in the 9-11 attacks. Needless to state, even the innocent are not spared. I am
not about to count the children- some of
them infants- killed by the drones. How
do you justify this under the letter and spirit of the AUMF, even assuming that
it is in effect?
AUMF is now virtually a dead law. The
United States Constitution gives the war-making power to Congress and no law
has been passed delegating this power to the President. In my view, there is no
domestic law which justifies President Obama’s drone warfare.
The madness has to stop before it
spreads. The drone warfare did not spare
the Philippines which is supposed to be one of your country’s strongest allies.
In the July 6, 2012 issue of New York Times, an article by Mark Mazzetti called The Drone Zone
claimed that the United States has conducted at least one drone strike in
Mindanao in 2006. The drone fired a
“barrage of hellfire
missiles” in the “jungles of the Philippines”in an attempt to kill Indonesian Bali-bomber Umar Patek. The
strike failed to kill Patek but others died in the process. He was recently
convicted by an Indonesian court to 20 years for his role in the Bali Bombings.
The author claims that his sources were three current and former United States
intelligence officials. Earlier, it was reported that such drone strike was a
Philippine military operation. Subsequently, the Philippine military denied
that such a strike ever took place. So up to now, we do not the names of the
so-called collateral damage.
This is not the lone incident. Late last year, a drone was discovered in the waters near
Masbate province. Filipino activists claim that "w now ." We fear that the United
States may have unrestricted movement in
Philippine airspace. And our government is always ready to take responsibility
for such actions. It is not only the American people who are fed lies and
This is serious. Drones are not toys and foreign territories like the
Philippines and Pakistan are not playgrounds. More than a century ago, Abraham
Lincoln, one of America’s greatest leaders said: “Allow the president to invade
a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion,
and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary
for such a purpose - and you allow him to make war at pleasure.” This was a
prophecy and we are witnessing its fulfillment in the present.
Let us all work together to stop the madness
before our sanity becomes imagination, and madness becomes the truth.
In this Sept. 4, 2009 file photo, a KZO surveillance drone takes off from the German base in Kunduz, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus, File)
“St. Bonifacius gets it!” said FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley, known for exposing intelligence failures before the 9/11 attacks, while addressing a crowd that had gathered in the social hall of St. Albert the Great Catholic Church in Minneapolis on April 6 to protest drones and war.
“They realized drones are targeted on us and have banned drone surveillance. They need to do this in Minneapolis and every other city.”
What Rowley was referring to was the announcement that the Twin Cities-area town of St. Bonifacius, which has about 2,300 residents, had become one of the nation’s first cities to ban the use of drones, sort of.
The city banned drones from city airspace up to 400 feet, but since higher altitudes are managed by the federal government, high-flying drones would be legal, and the city allowed some exceptions, including drone usage for emergencies and search warrants, as well as individuals using drones over their own property.
Drones have reportedly never been used in the city, but Mayor Rick Weible said the arrival of aerial drones in the city’s airspace was imminent, and he didn’t want the new technology used against citizens of St. Bonifacius.
“When I look at the potential uses of drones, I have an obligation to my residents to defend their Fourth Amendment rights,” he said.
Though Weible says he would be open to purchasing a small, remotely piloted aircraft with an infrared camera to help firefighters in their search for trapped persons in burning buildings, but says a lack of leadership at the federal and state level regarding drones gave him too many reservations.
Weible has said that part of the reason the city implemented the ban was to spark a public debate about the issue in Minnesota. “There seems to be a rush to use this new tool within the U.S., but our state and county laws are fairly silent on the issue right now,” he said.
The timing of the drone ban in St. Bonifacius could have not been more appropriate, as on the same day, the Minnesota Peace Action Coalition (MPAC) hosted an event as part of month-long, nationwide protests against the use of drones internationally and nationally.
While the point of the gathering was to raise awareness about wars and drone usage, some speakers like Mel Reeves, a member of Occupy the Hood, told the crowd: “You know the evils of drones and war, now I want to inspire you to do something about it.”
“It may seem improbable to stop drones and war, but it’s not impossible,” Reeves said. “War is immoral, drones are immoral. These [politicians] are not like me and you. The way they kill folks? With a combo of napalm and shrapnel and cluster bombs, is gross!”
Drones are here — what do we do about it?
During her speech, Rowley discussed the “lies and terms that have been hijacked” in the Department of Justice’s White Paper on drones, which “sets forth a legal framework for considering the circumstances in which the U.S. government could use lethal force in a foreign country.”
She stressed to the audience that they had to be careful to not repeat the lies used in the white paper while discussing the issue, as doing so would make them part of the propaganda machine. The lies Rowley was referring to included using alternate words for actions, such as “enhanced interrogation” instead of “torture”; “targeted killing” or “lethal operation” instead of “assassination”; and said “national security law” was used as a euphemism for “unlawful, illegal national security actions.”
Rowley stressed that education about drones is important, giving the example that although murder is illegal in foreign countries, the last four pages of the white paper document make a public authority exemption to murder. “This is why you have to know what you’re up against,” she said.
Cheryl Daytec, a Filipino human rights lawyer and activist and fellow at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota, agreed with Rowley and said the U.S. criticizes human rights abuses of other countries, but forgets about those human rights laws it violates. She dubbed this act “American exceptionalism.”
Daytec shared that while looking for Indonesian terrorist, Umar Patek, in 2006, the U.S. attacked the Philippines — a nation that is supposed to be a large ally of the U.S. — with a drone strike. “The strike didn’t kill the terrorist, but [civilians],” she said, continuing on to say that countries like Pakistan, Yemen and the Philippines are not a playground for the U.S. to experiment with drones.
“[The U.S.] kills a lot of innocent people,” stressed Reeves. “[Politicians] don’t kill who they say they’re going to kill,” he said, adding that the U.S. qualifies an acceptable amount of civilian deaths as part of the war on terrorism.
How many drones does it take to create and maintain a democracy?
About 76 countries have drones, but only three nations have used them so far: the United States, United Kingdom and Israel.
Groups like MPAC and the Anti-War Committee, Twin Cities Peace Campaign, Veterans for Peace and Women Against Military Madness, stress the importance that the public know and understand that drones are used on American citizens and not just internationally. The use of drones on American citizens is why St. Bonifacius also called for a two-year statewide moratorium on drones until the public can weigh in on how the technology will be used, and whether its images and other data can be used as evidence in court.
“Police have policies and procedures on all of the actions that officers take with firearms,” Weible said. “I want to be sure that we’re holding drones to that same level.”
Though the ban likely won’t affect the large military drones that would fly in airspace controlled by the federal government, and are equipped with weapons and high-altitude cameras, usage of ordinary drones, remote-controlled flying vehicles that can be the size of a basketball and cost$25,000 or less, will be.
As a local Minneapolis poet, Misty Rowan, said during the event, it takes about 300 people to operate one drone for one day. She answered the million dollar question in Washington on how to fix the budget, by recommending that the government “land some drones, man.”
Rowan also lightly suggested that we may soon see bumper stickers that say “No dolphins or citizens were harmed in the making of this democracy.”
The Federal Aviation Administration currently allows about 325 police departments, universities and government agencies to use them to catch crooks, patrol borders, search for missing children and study crops with drones. Other professionals that have either considered using drones or have used drones include realtors and journalists.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has raised concerns about government use of drones, citing the Fourth Amendment’s protection from unreasonable search and seizure. In early February, Charlottesville, Va., became the first city in the U.S. to pass an anti-drone ordinance.
“This is great technology, but we’ve got a keen interest in protecting privacy and civil rights for our citizens,” said Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek. “The question is how we’ll do this and balance it all out.”
By Sheila Mañalac And William B. Depasupil The Manila Times
EXECUTIVE Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. were identified as among the personalities acting as “padrinos” or godfathers to some ranking officials of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) who do not wish to be removed or reassigned somewhere else.
According to a an unimpeachable source of The Manila Times, Ochoa, touted as the “Little President,” and Belmonte, the fourth most powerful official in the country, have been protecting people at the bureau.
Belmonte and Ochoa “are among the government officials who act as power brokers and protectors to ensure that their men at the Bureau of Customs remain in their posts,” the source, whose credibility is beyond question, said.
He noted that Manila International Container Terminal (MICT) Collector Ricardo “Boysie” Belmonte is a brother of the Speaker, while Customs Deputy Commissioner Peter Manzano is Ochoa’s man in the agency.
“There are many in the bureau who have their own backers,” he added.
The source mentioned Customs Intelligence and Investigation Division chief Director Fernandino Tuazon, Deputy Commissioner Horacio Suansing, Deputy Commissioner Prudencio Reyes, Port of Manila Collector Rogel Gatchalian, NAIA District Collector Ding So, X-Ray Division chief Collector Mimi Talusan and Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) chief Richard Rebong.
Last January, Customs Commissioner Rozzano Rufino “Ruffy” Biazon ordered a reshuffle of officials to include Belmonte and Gatchalian. But the source said the two, who are among the so-called “three kings” at the bureau, have not been dislodged despite failing miserably in curbing corruption and hitting their target collections. The source said Tuazon also enjoys Ochoa’s protection.
Tuazon is among those being investigated by the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the controversial 2,000 containers loaded with highly taxable goods worth P2 billion that disappeared on the way from the Port of Manila and Manila International Container Port to the Port of Batangas.
But even then, Tuazon got his present post following the retirement of Director Filomeno Vicencio.
Suansing was former Port of Manila collector. He is from Iloilo and a close relative of Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago. Gatchalian is reportedly a protégé of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, while Talusan is related to the Singsons of Ilocos Sur.
Reyes, So and Rebong were reportedly being supported by a powerful religious sect.
Rebong is also one the controversial officials at the bureau. Before his appointment as CIIS chief, he was an “Intelligence Officer 1” with a salary grade of 8.
But Rebong was promoted to CIIS chief with a salary grade 25 or 17 degrees higher.
Last year, the Civil Service Commission issued a decision ousting Rebong as CIIS chief for being “unqualified.” The CSC order has not been carried out.
Reached for comment, Speaker Belmonte said he is not worried that his name was dragged into the controversy as he called on those who have evidence to prove their allegations to come out.
“I don’t feel alluded to at all. I have never talked to either one of them for any reason whatsoever. I challenge them to name names,” Belmonte said in a text message to the Times. He was referring to resigned Customs deputy commissioners Danilo Lim and Juan Lorenzo Tañada.
It was Lim who disclosed that “there are many ‘powerful forces’ in the bureau” who intervene in the agency’s affairs. He said that he had requested on at least six occasions to be transferred to another agency but Ochoa kept on telling him “diyan ka muna [stay put]” because the bureau still needed his services.
He also said that he intends to wait for the decision of President Benigno Aquino 3rd, before he decides to take on the next step.
Tañada confirmed in a radio interview also on Thursday that “political backers” exist in Customs.
He even speculated that it would take “two terms” for Aquino before the bureau could efficiently operate without these malpractices.
The Times asked Tañada if he had personally experienced being pressured by the same “powerful forces,” to which he replied: “While we receive calls, queries, and endorsements from many sectors, we do not let these affect our decision-making, which is primarily qualifications based.”
For his part, Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas, Jr., the Chairman of the House Committee on Justice, noted that Lim and Tañada should come clean instead of throwing mud on the whole Legislative branch.
“They should name them because otherwise, it is being unfair to Congress. We have 280 plus House members and 24 Senators. One of them [said] that he was forced to resign because his work is hampered by politicians calling him from time to time.
What is the nature of such calls?” Tupas pointed out.
“We need to know who these people are so they can be investigated, in congruence to the administration’s program of fighting graft and corruption,” Tupas, a member of the ruling Liberal Party, added.
Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas warned Customs officials against using such influence peddlers to justify their lackluster performance.
Fariñas is a part of the House contingent in the Commission on Appointments for the 16th Congress.
“I demand that they identify the alleged influence peddlers. Even if such claims were true, the politicians can only make calls. Those calls should not prevent Customs officials from discharging their duties,” Fariñas, who headed the House Sub-Committee on Customs in the 15th Congress, added.
Laguna Rep. Benjie Agarao echoed such sentiments, saying that such accusations are all useless without the names of erring public officials.
“It is not a good thing to say. If they know something, then reveal them. Otherwise, they should shut up,” Agarao said.
Lim on Thursday called on other top Customs officials to file their courtesy resignation so as to give President Benigno Aquino 3rd a “free hand” in reforming the bureau.
“I called on other customs officials to submit their resignation so as to give the President a free hand. That is the most prudent thing to do,” Lim said in a separate telephone interview from Baguio City.
Lim submitted his letter of resignation a day after Biazon filed his. On Monday, Aquino issued scathing remarks against the bureau and its officials during his State of the Nation Address.
Deputy Customs Juan Lorenazo Tañada submitted his on Wednesday.
The President has turned down the resignation of Biazon while that of Lim and Tañada have yet to be acted upon.
‘No one will be spared’
In Malacañang, officials said the Aquino government will be implementing a “wide-ranging reform” in the Customs bureau that will spare no one.
”The President always said we will go wherever the evidence leads. The President’s order is clear—nobody will be spared,” Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a press conference.
He noted that all issues will be answered once the reforms to combat corruption in the BOC are implemented.
“We are going to reform Customs. We are going to do it,” Lacierda stressed, but he declined to give any details on the reform plan for the agency.
”If I even give you a glimpse of it, I am certain that they will be made aware of what the reform measures will be; and hence, for that reason, I cannot speak on any detail, or any glimpse, or a shadow of the reforms that we’re going to slip you by,” Lacierda explained.
On Lim’s claim that there were some external forces that seemed to be giving Customs officials a hard time doing their job, Lacierda said: “I’m sure there are intel reports that are, that we have—that the DOF has received and, for that reason, we are implementing a wide-ranging reform in the Customs.”
”Whatever his statements, whatever insinuations that came out of his statement, I think all that will be resolved when the reforms are implemented,” he said.
With Reports From Catherine S. Valente And Llanesca T. Panti