Sunday, August 30, 2020

Murders of ‘Dragon’, wife remain unsolved

“When you have to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite.”

Winston Churchill


By Alex P. Vidal


IT’S been four years since the killings of Western Visayas’ alleged drug lord Melvin “Boyet” Odicta Sr. alyas “Dragon” and his wife, Merriam, but their murderers weren’t yet identified until now.

Also some of the main characters identified with the couple have not been seen or heard these past years.

Interestingly, no one from among Dragon’s living lawyers (some of them have “disappeared” while another one, Edel Julio Romero, had been murdered) and family has demanded for the reopening of the case or for further investigation.

Like in the previous years, not a single relative or associate has come forward to demand “justice” for the sensational double murders that, for a while, sent shock waves to major drug dealers and their minions in Panay Island and the entire Western Visayas for that matter.

Have they accepted the couple’s bizarre fate in silence without throwing a single punch in the arena of the justice system?

If they believed the couple was innocent and among the most prominent personalities victimized by extra-judicial killing (EJK) or summary execution in the infant stage of the Duterte administration, they should be making a noise and demanding for justice.

But they didn’t.




A lone gunman shot the Odicta couple as they alighted from a roll-on roll-off vessel at around 1:30 a.m. in Caticlan, Aklan on August 28, 2016.

Aside from the unidentified triggerman, several “back up” gunmen were believed to be on board the vessel following the couple since the vessel left the Batangas port.

It was Merriam who was first fatally hit in the back and believed to have died before being rushed to the hospital.

Dragon, wounded on the leg, managed to call his lawyer Gualberto Cataluna over mobile phone.

Before being escorted to the hospital, policemen who arrived reportedly handcuffed Dragon.

Dragon was supposed to be brought to a Malay hospital but witnesses, including Cataluna, claimed policemen handcuffed him.

Minutes later, the man considered as “the most powerful and well-connected drug lord” in Western Visayas, was dead.

He had bullet wounds in the body and head, it was reported.

Before he died, Dragon witnessed how Merriam was peppered with bullets in the back.

The Odictas were officially declared dead on arrival in a Malay town hospital.




The couple was on the way to Iloilo from Manila where they were reported earlier to have “surrendered” to then Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Ismael Sueno.

Some Ilonggos “credited” President Duterte and his then PNP chief and now Senator Ronald “Bato” De la Rosa for “putting away” a “big fish.”

However, there were those who believed the Odictas were “silenced” by powerful people who have been protecting them and who reportedly “panicked” when they learned the Odictas had submitted a “list” to Sueno.

It was not known if Sueno, who resigned in 2017, gave the list to President Duterte.

 Some of those who protected Dragon were allegedly politicians and police officials.

They haven’t been named until today.

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo)

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Our faith and ‘berdemic’

“If you have a particular faith or religion, that is good. But you can survive without it.”

Dalai Lama


By Alex P. Vidal


WE will spend the last four months of 2020, the four “ber” months—September, October, November, December—or we will call them the “berdemic” months because of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), with no clear path to the pandemic’s ending and the people’s suffering.

Since the pandemic terrorized the world early this year until as of  August 29, the total coronavirus cases stands at 25,164,818; deaths: 846,757; and recovered: 17,507,516.

We’re hoping the number of death will not climb to one million by December 31.

We are also wishing and praying that miracles will arrive in the “berdemic” months and that the magic vaccine (aside from Russia’s untested Sputnik V) will be introduced before 2021, which many experts doubt will happen.

Many of those who are already sick after being infected with the virus and are in the hospitals might not make it in 2021. We pray that they will survive.

Our atheist friend in Brooklyn, 86-year-old Vera, once told me before the lockdown in March that even if some people don’t believe in God, “there’s no harm in trying to bombard heaven with prayers especially if we are fighting an invisible enemy.”




Again, there’s no harm in strengthening our faith and praying for our survival in these critical moments even if some cynics will claim “our faith has nothing to do with medical science or the spread of pandemic.”

Research shows that religion can help people cope with adversity, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), by:

—Encouraging them to reframe events through a hopeful lens. Positive religious reframing can help people transcend stressful times by enabling them to see a tragedy as an opportunity to grow closer to a higher power or to improve their lives.

—Fostering a sense of connectedness. Some people see religion as making them part of something larger than themselves. 

This can happen through prayer or meditation, or through taking part in religious meetings, listening to spiritual music or even walking outside.

—Cultivating connection through rituals. Religious rituals and rites of passage can help people acknowledge that something momentous is taking place. 

These events often mark the beginning of something, as is the case with weddings, or the end of something, as is the case with funerals. They help guide and sustain people through life’s most difficult transitions.

It is extremely important that people use their beliefs in a way that makes them feel empowered and hopeful,” says Dr. Thomas Plante, a professor of psychology at Santa Clara University. 

“Because it can be remarkably helpful in terms of managing stress during times like these.”




Unfortunately, religious beliefs may also undermine healing during stressful times, added the APA. These negative religious expressions include:

—Feeling punished by God or feeling angry toward a higher being. Trauma and tragedy can challenge conceptions of God as all-loving and protective. As a result, some people struggle in their relationship with God and experience feelings of anger, abandonment or being punished by a higher power.

—Putting it all “in God’s hands.” When people engage in “religious deferral,” they believe God is in charge of their well-being and may not take the necessary steps to protect themselves. One example of this deferral is church leaders who say God will protect their congregations as they hold church services in defiance of physical distancing guidelines aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19.

—Falling into moral struggles. People can have difficulty squaring their behavior with their moral and spiritual values. For example, health-care providers who are on the front lines of treating coronavirus patients may describe the anguish they feel as they are being forced to decide how to allocate limited life-sustaining resources, decisions that put them in the uncomfortable role of playing God.  

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo)



Thursday, August 27, 2020

A beautiful mind

“You get whatever accomplishment you are willing to declare.”

Georgia O'Keeffe


By Alex P. Vidal


ILOILO City Councilor Candice Magdalene Tupas has a beautiful mind.

Amid the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic where thousands of Ilonggos have lost their jobs, she was able to think of the welfare of job applicants and employees by calling on the city’s business sector to provide them more accessible avenues for job applicants and employees

Tupas, a physician and wife of former Councilor Nielex, highlighted the protection of the health of vulnerable workers in the city as an “urgent task” in a privilege speech during the regular session of the Iloilo City Council on Wednesday, reported Joseph B.A. Marzan in the Daily Guardian.

“During these difficult times, it is (our) utmost priority to strengthen the capacity of our healthcare system in order to control the outbreak. However, I am raising the need to protect the vulnerable workers which for me is also an urgent task,” Tupas was quoted in Marzan’s report on August 27.




She reportedly encouraged companies in the city to adapt more “practical” approaches to job-seeking and job applications.

Tupas said: “Economic reactivation should be backed by stronger employment policies and comprehensive social protection systems. One concern is for a more accessible job-seeking system for workers. I strongly encourage companies to offer an online interview for applicants. This measure is practical for aspiring employers as well as for the employees, as social distancing is effective against contracting diseases.”

Tupas also mentioned the confirmed COVID-19 cases which were traced to a business process outsourcing (BPO) firm in Mandurriao district, adding that their job as agents have affected their physical and mental health, reported Marzan.

“Recently, our city was saddened by the increased number of COVID-positive cases of call center agents. A lot of families and households were affected, call centers or BPOs is one of the fastest-growing sectors, driving employment and economic growth in our city today. Surveys show that workers in the BPO sector experience high levels of stress, and its related disorders primarily due to its contemporary work settings,” she said further. 

“The nature of the job forced our workers to live as Ilonggos by day and Westerners after sundown, with changed identities and locations to suit their international customers.”

BPO workers’ line of work have shown significant signs of job stress, which in turn, affect their circadian rhythm, disclosed the lady councilor.




Tups also urged the BPOs, the Iloilo City government, and other businesses in the city to provide alternative work arrangements such as the Work-From-Home scheme as well as additional health-related benefits such as supplements and periodic health checks.

Tupas said: “I respectfully encourage all BPOs and Iloilo City to provide a more favorable work arrangement and setting to their employees at this time of (the) pandemic. Those assigned on graveyard shift must be offered a work from home arrangement. This will enable them to get their much-needed rest in this time, when health is the most compromised aspect of everyone’s (lives). I also urge these BPOs to provide additional health-related benefits to their workers such as vitamins and immunity boosters. Periodic health examination should also be taken for early detection and prevention of sickness.”

Tupas’ colleagues agreed unanimously to her proposed resolution urging businesses in the city to make online interviews available for job applicants.

She really has a beautiful mind.

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo)





Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Is Rep. Loreto-Garin corrupt?

“I don't believe in collective guilt, but I do believe in collective responsibility.”

Audrey Hepburn


By Alex P. Vidal


IT’S too premature yet to conclude that Iloilo first district Rep. Janette Loreto-Garin is a dishonest public official.

In fact, I personally believe she is not a corrupt person.

But if Senator Richard Gordon can prove otherwise, or if the senator’s Senate blue ribbon committee can show overwhelming pieces of evidence that Loreto-Garin had committed a plunder, or a mere “whiff of corruption” in the alleged diversion of the P10.6-billion PhilHealth Senior Citizen Fund to other projects in December 2015, who am I to insist that Loreto-Garin is like Caesar’s wife?

If she connived with other officials in the Noynoy Aquino administration to steal the taxpayers’ money and her guilt was proven beyond doubt in a competent court, she must be thrown in jail.

No ifs. No buts.

The Filipino people, impoverished by lack of economic opportunities, perpetual poor leadership, and recently by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, have no tolerance and mercy for thieves and rascals in government.




Graft and corruption is considered a mortal sin in a Third World country like the Philippines. 

Public officials tasked to safeguard the public funds are mandated to serve the people, not to pocket their money.

Graft and corruption on a massive scale is unforgivable; the perpetrators should be dealt with the most severe penalty under the law.

It’s always against common sense and logic for public servants to live in affluence and enlarge their pockets after robbing the poor, or those who can’t make both ends meet but are the ones paying the salary and other pelfs and privileges of government officials.  

But if she is innocent, in the name of fairness and objectivity, we will be ready to defend Loreto-Garin especially if the accusations against her are false, and if her reputation has been tarnished as a result of wrongful imputations and trial by publicity. 




Loreto-Garin has been doing at least a satisfactory job in congress (except when she goofed by joining the infamous “Gang of 70” that snuffed out ABS-CBN’s franchise) and as Department of Health (DOH) secretary in the previous administration.

This was prior to heavily absorbing the brickbats in the Dengvaxia hullaballoo.

From what we know about the 48-year-old lady representative, she is a hard-working public servant and loves to talk extensively on topics related to health being a doctor by profession.

Our observation is based on the solon’s performance during her baptism of fire as a politician, when she first served as board member representing the first district of Iloilo in 2004.

She became a national figure during her stint as the DOH boss when President Noynoy Aquino was in power. 

We always see to it to be fair with Loreto-Garin. 

Like what we do with others who also serve in government, we also criticize her, including her family, the very powerful and influential Garin clan in Guimbal, Iloilo, in relation to their functions as public officials.

We also support their projects and programs, more particularly those that redound to the benefits of their constituents, especially their abundant contributions and their partnership with the private donors in the effort to help contain the pandemic.




In the latest controversy that rocked Loreto-Garin, Gordon, head of the Senate blue ribbon committee, released an executive summary of the committee's report on its August 2019 investigation into PhilHealth where Gordon recommended the filing of criminal charges against Loreto-Garin, former budget chief Florencio Abad, and former PhilHealth president Alexander Padilla for allegedly diverting the P10.6-billion PhilHealth Senior Citizen Fund in December 2015 to other projects.

The projects reportedly included the planned construction of thousands of barangay health stations, rural health units, national government hospitals, and the procurement of mobile dental trucks.

These projects were barely completed, according to Gordon, who suspected the money was used to bankroll electoral campaigns ahead of the May 2016 national polls.

It was learned that Loreto-Garin and Padilla faced a graft case before the Office of the Ombudsman in May 2018 over the same allegations.

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo)



Monday, August 24, 2020

Food security for Ilonggos during pandemic

“There are really only so many foods and so many ways you can prepare them.”

—Paula Poundstone


By Alex P. Vidal


WE reiterate our call for Iloilo City officials to create a food bank in times of public health emergencies and disasters especially now that the coronavirus disease 2019 (COIVD-19) pandemic has threatened to further escalate while health authorities scramble to discover the vaccine.

It’s not only Iloilo City, Iloilo Province, and other major economic and agricultural areas in Western Visayas that are worried for the pandemic’s possible far-reaching effects in 2021 but also the entire country.

A food bank first in Cebu and other cities in the Visayas might serve as models for other cities and provinces in the Philippines.  

Not only that.

A food bank is expected to address the Ilonggos’ basic need for safe, adequate and nutritious food most especially the marginalized communities and vulnerable sectors.

Its creation will romp off through a city ordinance in the local legislature and, as we explained in our previous article, it shall be managed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DWSD) like what the Cebuanos had done early this month.

A “front line” model which is giving out food directly to the poor and hungry and the “warehouse” model which is supplying food to intermediaries should be the most practical and is doable.

Some of these intermediary groups are community kitchens and other frontline organizations who are specializing in hunger-relief assistance in times of public health emergencies and disasters like the ongoing pandemic.




The growing demand for a food bank has increased amid reports that 

COVID-19 has led to a global economic slowdown that is affecting all four pillars of food security—availability, access, utilization, and stability—according to a new article from researchers at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), published in the journal Science.

Agricultural and food markets are reportedly facing continuous disruptions due to labor shortages caused by lockdowns, as well as large shifts in food demand arising from income losses and the closure of schools and restaurants. 

The key findings reportedly highlight the impact of COVID-19 on food systems, the global economy, poverty, health, and trade.

Article co-author and IFPRI Director-General Johan Swinnen said: “

The most important impact of the pandemic on food security is through income declines that put food access at risk.”

He added: "This is especially a concern for the extreme poor, who spend on average about 70 percent of their total income on food."




The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reportedly projects a five percent decline in the world economy in 2020, a deeper global recession than during 2008-2009 financial crisis. 

Model-based simulations by IFPRI suggest that such a deep recession would push 150 million more people into extreme poverty; an increase of 24% from current levels. 

Most of the rise in poverty will be concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. 

Swinnen said: "Disruptions in food systems both contribute to increases in poverty, by affecting a critical source of income for many of the world's poor, and also exacerbate the impacts of poverty by reducing access to food, particularly nutritious foods.”

The researchers reportedly note that income declines will particularly affect consumption of nutrition-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and animal-source products. 

“New evidence from Ethiopia confirms this impact and further indicates that it is expected to increase micronutrient deficiencies among its population, contributing to poor health and greater susceptibility to COVID-19,” reported the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Meanwhile, IFPRI disclosed that governments all over the world have made attempts to ensure availability of staple foods and these supply chains have generally held up well, even in countries with strict social distancing requirements. 

But food supply chains differ reportedly across countries and crops, as do the impacts of COVID-19 on supplies. 

Capital-intensive food value chains that are highly mechanized (predominant in rich countries for staple crops such as wheat, maize and soybeans) have reportedly continued functioning with few disruptions. 

“In contrast,” reported the IFRI, “food production in poor countries tends to be more labor-intensive; and production of many non-staples, such as fruits and vegetables, worldwide requires workers be in close proximity.”

These food value chains have reportedly shown more supply disruptions owing to the risk of disease transmission, labor shortages, and disruptions in transportation and logistics.

“Parts of food processing sectors in rich countries have also been susceptible to such disruptions, as evident in the case of United States and Europe, where 30,000 workers in meat processing tested positive for COVID-19, causing many plant closures,” IFPRI concluded.

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo)




Saturday, August 22, 2020

Duron’s defense of drivers penalized for not wearing masks

“After all it really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic.”

Margaret Chan


By Alex P. Vidal


ILOILO City drivers penalized by the Land Transportation Office (LTO) with “reckless driving” offenses for non-wearing of face masks and shields have found an ally in Iloilo City Councilor Rommel Duron.

Duron, a lawyer and former official of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) regional office, considers it as “illegal” to criminally penalize drivers with such violations, according to Hilways News, an Iloilo news website maintained by our colleague and Public Mirror publisher Jerry Taclino.

Hilways News quoted Duron as saying that “enforcers could not as well use the anti-drunk driving law to penalize drivers for failure to comply with a circular from the Land Transportation Office.”

"This is ignorance of law kag kon sigehon nila file-lan ta sila kaso (We will sue them if they continue to do this)," Duron warned LTO enforcers, as reported by Hilway News.

As chair of the City Council Committee on Transportation, Duron plans to call for a public hearing with LTO officials as resource persons to clarify issues on violation and penalty, according to Hilways News. 

In the same report, Duron was said to have disclosed that Councilor Lyndon Acap had earlier filed a resolution in their recent regular session calling for a response to concerns raised by public utility drivers.

This was after reports came to their attention that “even the private vehicle drivers were not spared from similar apprehension by LTO enforcers.”




Duron’s reaction came a week after the national government ordered people to wear face shields in addition to masks at work and on public transport beginning August 15 “in order to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.”

The policy affects drivers and passengers on public transport as well as all employees at their work place.

According to a message signed by the Department of Labour and the Department of Trade and Industry, "face shields and masks should always be worn together when interacting with colleagues, clients and/or visitors.”

The circular added: "Face shields may be removed according to the demands of the work or when the occupational safety and health of the employees so requires.”

Public vehicles would be in breach of their franchise if they allowed on passengers without wearing face shields on top of the masks, said the Department of Transportation.

It reported further that the additional protocol was imposed after the Department of Health noted that people leaving their homes to work was causing a lot of new infections.




BY the time we have “recovered” from the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), it would be election day in the Philippines, if Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the World Health Organization (WHO) is to be believed.

Ghebreyesus recently predicted coronavirus could be over within two years or in 2022, the year the Filipinos will elect the successor of President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

If this is the scenario, Filipinos will have to spend the 2021 fending off the pandemic and scrutinizing the characters who will woo their votes in the 2022 presidential polls.

We agree with Ghebreyesus though that current advances in technology could enable the world to halt the virus "in a shorter time".

"Of course with more connectiveness, the virus has a better chance of spreading," he explained."But at the same time, we have also the technology to stop it, and the knowledge to stop it," he noted, stressing the importance of "national unity, global solidarity".

The WHO bigwig cited the Spanish flu of 1918, which had taken two years to overcome and killed at least 50 million people worldwide.

Coronavirus has so far killed 800,000 people. Nearly 23 million infections have been recorded but the number of people who have actually had the virus is thought to be much higher due to inadequate testing and asymptomatic cases.

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo)




Thursday, August 20, 2020

Ilonggos need a food bank

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.”

George Bernard Shaw


By Alex P. Vidal


LOCAL government units must learn to use their own initiatives and resources and should not rely too much on the national government for whatever pandemic subsidy and other freebies for their “starving” folks.

We suggest to the Iloilo City Council to pass an ordinance establishing a food bank in Iloilo City now that health authorities fear the pandemic  will prolong before a vaccine can be discovered (no prejudice to Russia’s Sputnik V). 

To ensure that the Ilonggos won’t be inconvenienced when essential places like the public markets and the fishing port are locked down like what happened recently, the city government should create their own food bank in times of public health emergencies and disasters.

This idea is inspired by the “Food Bank Ordinance of Cebu City” approved during the City Council's regular session last August 12, 2020.

According to Councilor Alvin Dizon, proponent of the ordinance, “In times of disaster and public health emergency, addressing the fundamental need for safe, adequate and nutritious food of the Cebuanos particularly the marginalized communities and vulnerable groups such as the elderly, PWDs, children and informal settlers, should be a top priority of the local government and has to be urgently met, not as a gesture of charity, but as matter of right.”

Once the ordinance has been passed, the Department of Social Welfare and Services (DSWS) would manage the food bank.

Ilonggos will have no problem maintaining a food bank as we have plenty of sources plus easy access to agricultural products and other farms products to be supplied by the municipalities in Iloilo Province.




The Cebu City version, it was learned, shall adopt both the "front line" model which is giving out food directly to the poor and hungry and the "warehouse" model which is supplying food to intermediaries like community kitchens and other frontline organizations who are doing hunger-relief assistance in times of public health emergencies and disasters.

Section 4 of the Cebu City ordinance reportedly requires the DSWS to develop “dynamic and multisectoral food distribution plans” for potential scenarios in a public health emergency and disaster that will ensure that people in marginalized and disadvantaged communities will get food for the duration of the crisis. 

Such response plans must be adaptable and science-driven such as food supply-chain analysis; developing a food distribution network (supply points, processing and packaging facilities, and points of delivery) based on census tract and socio-geographical studies on the city’s vulnerable communities; and using the power of algorithms to create an emergency supply chain network that is dynamic, efficient, and responsive to the actual and/or anticipated needs of the population, among others.

These plans shall be revisited and updated every year.

Section 5 reads: “The Cebu City government shall partner with private companies, food manufacturers, and dining establishments to facilitate the cycle of food donation. All donations have to strictly comply with the requirements set forth under Republic Act No.10611 or The Food Safety Act of 2013 and other existing pertinent laws,” Section 5 reads.




To ensure that donated food items are safe for human consumption, the DSWS, in coordination with the City Health Office, shall conduct thorough evaluation of food items gathered from donors and partners before stocking and distribution to the beneficiaries.

Section 7 provides that to recognize and encourage private sector participation in terms of donation of food merchandise to ensure sustainability of food supplies in the food bank, donors may be granted tax incentives in accordance with law.

DSWS shall further establish other forms of incentive system to recognize donors and all partners in the implementation of the program.

Section 8 states that the reselling of donated food merchandise is strictly prohibited.

The following fines shall be imposed: P1,000 for first offense, P3,000 for second offense, and P5,000 and/or imprisonment not more than one month at the discretion of the court for third offense.

Section 10 reads, "to ensure that all donations are properly accounted for, the DSWS shall prepare an itemize listing of all donations and list of beneficiaries who receive the donated food merchandise. This will rationalize the inventory report that shall be prepared to further promote transparency. The list shall be regularly submitted to the Cebu City Council, Office of the Mayor and post the same at the official website of the Cebu City government."

Upon approval of the ordinance, a Food Bank Governing Board shall be created which comprises of the duly authorized representative of the Mayor as chairperson; Head, Department of Social Welfare and Services (DSWS) as vice chairperson; and two members of the Sangguniang Panlungsod from each legislative district, Head, City Health Department, Head, General Services Office (GSO), and two representatives from the private sector to be appointed by the Mayor as members.

They will be responsible for driving forward the strategic direction of the food bank and ensuring viability and sustainability of its operation.

“There is hereby appropriated the initial amount of Three Million Pesos (3,000,000) for this program and the activities to be undertaken therein to establish and ensure the full operation of the food bank,” Section 13 provides.

The DSWS is tasked to implement the provisions of the ordinance and formulate the necessary implementing rules and regulations.

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo)







Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Earthquake and pandemic not related

“The great earthquake shall be in the month of May; Saturn, Capricorn, Jupiter, Mercury in Taurus; Venus, also Cancer, Mars in zero.”



By Alex P. Vidal


IT’S only a coincidence that a magnitude 6.6 earthquake hit Cataingan town in Masbate, including Iloilo, as cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) reached 2,981 in Western Visayas with 42 deaths as of August 18.

There’s no truth to the fears of some soothsayers that “God must be angry at the people because of the double whammy—pandemic and earthquake.”

Coincidences occur even in the most normal and abnormal circumstances.

God, religion, superstition have nothing to do with pandemic and catastrophes happening one after the other or at the same time.

A pandemic could spread while there’s a tsunami, hurricane, super typhoon, tornado, flash flood, political chaos, a revolution, an armed conflict, or even a world war vice versa.

A pandemic like COVID-19 is a health issue that should be dealt with by medical science, while the recent earthquake, which was felt in parts of Luzon and the Visayas at past 8 o’clock in the morning according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Philvolcs), was a natural disaster and had nothing to do with a disease associated with infection.  

Intensity 7 shaking, described by Phivolcs as “destructive,” was reportedly felt in Cataingan, the earthquake’s epicenter seven kilometers southeast and caused by the movement of tectonic plates.




Superstition and ignorance almost always take centerstage in the Philippines each time natural disasters strike, especially when people are in a state of shock and bedeviled by poverty.

Which will always remind us, lovers of history, philosophy, and religion, of the Lisbon, Portugal catastrophe on November 1, 1755, the most significant and highly publicized earthquake that had shaken this earth.

Bible scholars were not the only ones to be impressed by it, even as it has a particular meaning for the student of Bible prophecy.

A tidal wave followed and wrecked the shipping in the river Tagus on which Lisbon is built besides the earthquake and the greater part of Lisbon was destroyed.

Fire also broke out and completed the work of destruction. Sixty thousand were said to have lost their lives, and the property damage, although it cannot be estimated accurately, was reportedly enormous.

The tragedy’s immediate repercussions were registered in religious as well as antireligious circles. 

That was particularly true in France, where the Encyclopedists tried to vulgarize the achievements of the human mind, and where Reason had its most eloquent spokesmen. 

France was, at the time of the occurrence of the earthquake, the focal point of rationalism. 

Everything was examined by the philosophers: the origin of the world, the creation of man, the church, education, et cetera. 

Among the most influential writers, none were more read and followed than Voltaire and Rousseau, who both saw in the Lisbon catastrophe a significance that brilliantly, although tragically, proved and illustrated their systems.




The Ministry explained that Voltaire was always clear, but never well coordinated. 

“He is considered an infidel, a man without a Christian's faith, rejecting divine rev­elation; holding that the Holy Scriptures are not God's Word, nor is the church the visible body of those ‘called out.’ Christ was, to Vol­taire, neither the Redeemer nor God Incarnate,” explained the Ministry.

On the other hand, our late friend, lawyer-philosopher Ernesto Dayot, used to insist that Voltaire, his favorite French writer and philosopher, was not an atheist but a deist, as it was intellectually fashionable to be in the eighteenth century. 

While almost all philosophers were deists, there were shades of difference in their individual beliefs.

Voltaire reportedly believed that “God is the Source of all life and substance.” 

According to the brilliant Ilonggo writer from Dingle, Iloilo, Voltaire was convinced of the existence of God as he thought that the world could not be explained without God, that is, without a "First Cause." 

Voltaire thought that God the Creator cannot be reached by man, nor can God be conceived by our knowledge. But by our very reasoning we are forced to admit God's existence, and only ignorance could attempt to define Him.

“Ignorance is the only evil,” Dayot would quote Socrates.  

Without God there is no foundation of morality, and thus God is the basis of human society, he added. 

It was Voltaire who coined the cynical phrase, "If God did not exist, we would have to invent Him."

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo)






Sunday, August 16, 2020

Where are ‘those reporters’?

“Reporters thrive on the world's misfortune. For this reason they often take an indecent pleasure in events that dismay the rest of humanity.”

Russell Baker


By Alex P. Vidal 


WE are aware that fellow media workers who pen the articles or broadcast the news or commentaries that earn the ire of onion-skinned public officials and despotic leaders should be hailed as the real heroes and martyrs, not necessarily their publishers or station managers who have nothing to do with the genesis of the litigation. 

Heroes if they are hauled into court for libel or cyber-libel, or jailed for exposing anomalies in government.

Martyrs if they are killed in line of duty.

Publishers and station managers themselves become heroes and martyrs if they are jailed or murdered also “in line of duty.”

When a newspaper or a radio station is slapped with a libel case by government authorities—elected and appointed officials, the police, the military—the source or sources of the purported libelous items are normally the reporters, columnists, and anchormen.

But the aggrieved party files the case (libel and cyber-libel are criminal cases in the Philippines; libel is a civil case in the United States) against the reporter as the author, the editor, the publisher, and the circulation officer for the print media.

The aggrieved party sues the anchorman or reporter and the station manager for the broadcast media (there were few cases in the past when the network president was included in the case).

Television networks face the same dilemma with their radio counterparts.

The “fad” nowadays is cyber-libel, which applies primarily to offenders in the Internet and online journalism and the social media. 




We write this subject matter amid the COVID-19 pandemic after we came across a very interesting story written most recently about Rappler CEO Maria Ressa in the National Public Radio (NPR), which ostensibly immortalized the 56-year-old Filipino-American journalist.  

In that article entitled, “Philippine Journalist Maria Ressa: 'Journalism Is Activism'”, Ressa was quoted as saying: "In a battle for facts, in a battle for truth, journalism is activism.”

The article read: “Ressa, who is internationally known and lauded for standing up to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's escalating attacks on the press, tells NPR that circumstances in the Philippines have forced her to evolve as a journalist.”

It added: “Her news organization's battles against online disinformation and Duterte's administration are the focus of A Thousand Cuts, a documentary that debuted in January at the Sundance Film Festival and will be released virtually in the U.S. this Friday (August 7).”

The articles narrated that “Ressa and Rappler, the Manila-based news site she runs, first drew the ire of the Duterte administration soon after he took office in 2016. Rappler started critically covering the president's brutal war against drugs and has remained in Duterte's crosshairs as his crackdown on the press has intensified.”




“Over the years, Ressa has seen her reporters expelled from the presidential palace, endured near-constant attacks by pro-Duterte trolls and navigated a slew of lawsuits.

“She tells NPR it was her arrest on charges of cyber libel in February 2019 that changed her thinking about her role. Ressa realized her detention was an abuse of power. On posting bail, she says, "I just started speaking in a way that I would probably not have done," given her traditional journalistic training.

“Almost immediately after her release, Ressa began to speak more openly against abuse of power and the "weaponization" of Philippine law against journalists and government critics, and appealed for others to do the same.

She tells NPR that becoming part of the story has been a "challenge” but  “when your own rights have been abused and you have evidence of that abuse of power, why should you not speak, especially if the data backs it?" 




IT appears that Ressa, a media boss who apparently never wrote an article against President Duterte, has become press freedom’s accidental heroine; she became an overnight sensation, a symbol of media oppression, and hailed as a fighter for the victims of harassment and attempt by authoritarian rulers to curtail the press.      

As a CEO of Rappler, a social news network, Ressa is equivalent to a publisher in the publication, or a radio and TV station manager.

Publishers don’t (or seldom) write libelous items, or articles that enrage public officials and bad elements in society.

The public may be interested to know “those reporters” who have been “expelled from presidential palace (and) endured near-constant attacks by pro-Duterte trolls and navigated a slew of lawsuits.”

Those reporters, or their articles, must be the reasons why Mr. Duterte became so enraged at Rappler; those reporters could be the sources of the president’s enmity toward that particular media entity; why he was up in arms—until somebody, a private person, “picked up the cudgels” and sued Ressa, et al for cyber-libel that resulted in their conviction in the trial court.

Strangely, in all the accolades and tiaras heaped upon Ressa internationally and in the Philippines, “those reporters” have been obscured if not recognized.

In fact, “those reporters” should be the ones to be hailed as real heroes of press freedom; “those reporters” should have been Ressa’s Time Magazine co-“Persons of the Year in 2018”. 

It’s good to be a paragon of press freedom, but let’s also give credit where credit is due.

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo)