Saguisag offers to pay additional fine to speak out against President Marcos

(Photo from Marcos Martial Law: Never Again Facebook page)

(Photo from Marcos Martial Law: Never Again Facebook page)

In February 2016, minutes before the soft launch of Raissa Robles’ Marcos Martial Law: Never Again, in Makati, I was able to interview former senator Rene A. V. Saguisag, who wrote an introduction to the book. [See: Marcos Martial Law book’s Facebook page]
However, I phrased my question incorrectly, as featured in the following audio clip. I should have asked the former senator how it felt like to write an introduction to the book, not about how it felt like writing the book itself.
Good thing he got the idea, ignored my error, and all too enthusiastically provided an answer.
Continue reading

Reading, Fast and Slow (or the Top 6 books I’ve read in 2015)

(Apologies to Daniel Kahneman, who wrote Thinking Fast and Slow, the inspiration for the title of this blog entry. The same book is also mentioned below.) 

Some books grab you by the balls and never let go unless you’re finished with them (or, for that matter, finished with you). Other books are far less dramatic, allowing you to dip into several pages on occasion, while in between meals, naps, or commutes. 

This, more or less, illustrates my life as a reader in 2015. Continue reading

Some are smarter than others

Estimates vary of course. But when the Marcoses, their close relatives, associates, and assistants left Malacañang in 1986, the amount that they reportedly stole was estimated at $10 billion.

Based on informal calculations I made using — no fancy formulas involved, just a logical way of formulating a text-based question (not exactly rocket science) — $10 billion then is worth $19.7 billion now.

Multiply that by the current peso-dollar exchange rate — P46 to a greenback — and you get an estimated P906.2 billion.

How much is P906.2 billion?

More than half of the Philippine national budget of 2010.

Okay, let’s exaggerate a bit. It’s still more than half of the Aquino administration’s proposed budget for 2011, which is P1.7 trillion.

Let’s not even count cash they stole that remains unreported.

And let’s not even think about the “opportunity costs” lost — say, the economic multiplier effect had X amount of money been allotted to land reform — because the government failed to recover the wealth immediately.

In short, if the government isn’t going to do anything about it, or if they do so haphazardly, what Imelda Marcos once said when asked about ger family’s stupendous wealth might be proven true: that some are smarter than others.

I was once more reminded of the enormity — which has two meanings, both appropriate, look them up — of the Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth after I read the first chapter of Imelda and the Clans: A Story of the Philippines.

The 600-plus page book was written by Beatriz Romualdez Francia, who, among others, describes herself as Imelda’s “dissident niece.”

Here are some numbers I derived after reading the first chapter.

Number of the Marcos entourage members — including “hairdressers, gardeners, closest henchmen” — that left Malacañang in February 1986: 89

Height, in feet, of a Malacañang closet that stored Imelda’s nightgowns: 10

Number of gowns stored in said closet: 1,200

Number of shelves that contained unused Gucci handbags: 5

Total number of Gucci handbags stored in said shelves: 1,500

Number of black brassieres stored in the same closet: 500

Number of clothes racks that were empty: 67

Number of mink coats: 15

Number of silver fox stoles: 6

Number of parasols: 65

Number of scarves: 464

Number of handkerchiefs: 664

Number of sunglasses found stuffed in a chest: 71

Number of teddy bears with “loving words from George [presumably Hamilton]: 1


Thanks to Michael Francis McCarthy for the photo of the book.

A reader's lament

Sna Miguel Corp logo UCPB logo

A review of “Long and tortuous road to coconut levy recovery” by Romeo C. Royandoyan
Published by Centro Saka Inc. (Philippine Center for Rural Development Studies)
Copyright 2007

NO question about it: Romeo “Omi” C. Royandoyan has done a lot to advance the cause of the Filipino coconut farmer.
Currently the executive director of Centro Saka Inc. (CSI), a non-government group which, among others, undertakes rural development studies, Royandoyan was among the farmer-representatives appointed to the board of the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB), thanks to court decisions which ruled that the lender was acquired using funds collected from coconut farmers.
Since farmers technically owned the bank—assets bought using their funds were therefore theirs—they were entitled to representation at the bank’s board, which, in turn, was made possible by the courts and the Presidential Commission on Good Government under the late great Haydee Yorac, shortly after Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was swept to power in January 2001.
Although Royandoyan, together with fellow farmer rep Jose Ma. “Joey” Faustino, was later removed from the board—presidents are entitled to change their minds especially regarding Marcos cronies—his commitment has never wavered.
To this day, Royandoyan, Faustino, former general Virgilio David (who was brave enough to expose the coco levy scam during the Marcos dictatorship), and many others remain committed to see that the funds collected from farmers are used for their benefit.
After all, coconut farmers have suffered more than enough.
Besides being forced to pay for heavy levies which amounted to P9.6 billion (as of a 1986 audit), coconut farmers have never benefitted from these taxes.
Instead, through a series of complex arrangements which transferred public funds for private ownership, the levies were unlawfully used by Marcos crony Eduardo “Danding” C. Cojuangco Jr. to buy a bank (i. e. UCPB) and acquire a controlling stake—anywhere from 47 to 51 percent—in San Miguel Corporation (SMC), the Philippines’ largest food company.
Although coconut farmers have won significant legal victories against Cojuangco—in May 2007, the courts allowed the partial sale of UCPB and SMC shares, proceeds of which will be held in trust by the government for the farmers—they still remain uncertain when their protracted struggle will end.
Like any other oppressed, disenfranchised, and marginalized group in this country, coconut farmers and their interests are easily ignored, no thanks to a powerful, influential, and moneyed class whose intentions almost always run contrary to the greater good.
This is probably why Royandoyan decided to author a book about the contentious, complicated coconut levy issue: to let the whole world know about what is perhaps one of the biggest scams in Philippine history, perpetrated by one of the most powerful and influential Marcos cronies.
Entitled “Long and Tortuous Road to Coconut Levy Recovery,” the book, published this year, is the very first volume in what appears to be the CSI’s Rural Development Review series.
However, despite its numerous potentials for dramatic storytelling, the book reads like an academic paper.
Which is not flattering at all.
Nor does it help the coconut farmers’ cause.
Had it been written with the regular reader in mind—regular reader here defined as someone who knows absolutely nothing about the issue—the book could have had more chances of generating support for the farmers. In turn, more support could mean more pressure for government to set things straight, underscoring once more the power of the written word; a power properly harnessed by those who sought to change the world.
Unfortunately, of the book’s 184 pages, only a handful of passages
can be considered as powerful.
Rife with legalese, punctuated by vague sentences, the book’s text drastically lacks in narrative what it offers in the way of substance.
Which is unfortunate.
Instead of interpreting, laymanizing, and contextualizing the many legal and technical concepts surrounding the coconut levy cases—there are eight of them in all, one of which involves an attempt at acquiring a stake in Pepsi Cola—the book in its own obtuse way merely replicates whatever the courts have said, possibly contributing to the readers’ confusion.
Nevertheless, Royandoyan’s book—and CSI’s efforts to such work publicly available—represents an important step towards documenting what may very well be one of the largest crimes in Philippine history.