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GIVING ACCESS TO DEMOCRATIC SPACE – July 11, 2007

July 11, 2007

The ‘traditional users’ of Mendiola (now Don Chino Roces) bridge were not quite done singing ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ when Manila’s newly reinstalled ’Dirty Harry’, Mayor Fred Lim, amended his re-opening of the venue for protest actions, leaving it open to rallyists only on weekends, “to ensure orderly traffic, and only if the organizers of mass actions obtain permits from city hall.”

You really can’t blame Mr. Lim for immediately adjusting the margins of his headline-making “I am re-opening Mendiola to protesters” declaration given the temper of the times and concerns over the perimeter security of the seat of government which, we are sure, were strenuously communicated to the mayor of Manila (through back channels, of course) by the Presidential Security Group and other emissaries.

May we humbly remind hizzoner that he really didn’t have to make the expansive assurance that he was ‘guaranteeing order in Malacanang all through to 2010’. Such a slavish-sounding ‘may-I-correct-myself-po-’ statement did not have to issue from kuya Fred’s lips, lest his constituents misread the report and think the well liked erstwhile senator of the realm has suddenly left the ranks of the so-called genuine opposition.

Don’t get us wrong, we know fully well how seriously Mayor Lim takes his job. That’s why denizens of Manila’s nether-world are once again on notice that they may find themselves six feet under if they don’t rein in their illegal activities. As for making sure the palace by the river and it occupants are secure, Manila’s Finest can very leave that task to the troops and tanks of the PSG which always has all the branches of the Armed Forces on call 24/7.

BROADENING NATIONAL DIALOGUE. It is simply proper for President Arroyo to sit down with the leadership of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. And the chief executive’s decision “to agree to a meeting” with the shepherds of the Catholic faithful does not even have to be triggered by their expressed misgivings about the conduct of the mid-term elections. It is a given for the highest official of the land to continually broaden the national dialogue, most specially, we think, in this post election period when the order of the day, and message, for all should be national healing and for us to focus on sustained economic development.

This much we owe our children and our more than 8 million compatriots living and working abroad as migrant workers which our government dubs (as they are, indeed) living heroes. For years now, with the economy not creating enough properly-paying jobs, the foreign currency remittances of our OFWs have not only kept the economy afloat but have been primary creators of what can be considered, by Filipino standards, new wealth and an emergent middle class of Filipinos with a measure of disposable income, rivaled only by the consumer spending of young professionals (if you’d consider them that) working as ‘call center agents’.

Going back to our main point, now is truly the time not only for constructive national dialogue but national consensus that will allow Filipinos of all ideological stripes and economic stations to come together, nay pull together, to bring sustainable progress and development.

This call also goes out to Joma Sison, the long self-exiled founder of the communist party, who was recently quoted as saying our communist rebel brothers (yes, they are our brothers) would be willing to resume peace talks. The only sticky thing here is, in reality, protracted struggle is central to their ideology and such struggle does not, and will never end in a ceasefire, but only when they have supplanted the present democratic order. Truly all Filipinos wait for the day when the guns will be turned into plowshares.

READ MY LIPS. The military’s top spook, Major General DelFin Bangit finally broke his silence this week, dug in his heels, and declared that the intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) knows nothing about the disappearance of Jonas Burgos. This despite circumstantial and mounting testimonial evidence to the contrary, including the Department of Justice’s release of the very names and unit assignments of the military intelligence personnel believed to have carried out the dastardly act. In precise spook parlance, Gen. Bangit looked straight into tv news cameras to deny even the very existence (ala-Mission Impossible) of the military agents who abducted the young Burgos. This writer’s hopes sank upon hearing Bangit, knowing that with the official ISAFP line now out, there is now only the slimmest of chances that the captors of Jonas will ‘surface’ him. Only by God’s grace. Let us keep faith.

KEEP THE CANDLES LIT. Another personality for whom god-fearing people have lit prayer candles for is Italian missionary priest Giancarlo Bossi who was snatched by armed men in far flung Zamboanga Sibugay. Here, authorities tell us it is the military which can perform a life-saving role as Father Bossi, depending on which report you read, is believed to be in the hands of ‘lost-command’ element of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) or (lately, we have been told) the seemingly indestructible Abu Sayyaf. But in the thick jungles of Mindanao you can never really know, given the long known reality that kidnap-for-ransom groups regularly practice the modus operandi of passing around their captives until such time as those negotiating for the release of the hostage (if the victim is still alive) are able to cough up the ransom, or as they sometimes brazenly call it – reimbursement of billeting expenses – running into 7 figures. Yes, this continues to be the reality in that lawless southern region. The latest glimmer of hope for Father Bossi is that the good priest has reportedly found a way (or was allowed by his captors) to send out a text message as perhaps some kind of a “proof of life”. Could his safe release be forthcoming by week’s end? Let the prayers continue.

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