Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Chiz Escudero: missing the forest for the trees

Chiz Escudero: missing the forest for the trees
[I]f ever he made up his mind, [Senator Francis] Escudero said there was zero probability of him teaming up with Villar due to the C-5 double funding controversy the former Senate president was embroiled in.

Escudero declared his commitment to good governance and... said his conscience would not allow him to team up with Villar.

He said he would rather run with former president Joseph Estrada, who supported his candidacy for the Senate in 2007.

-- “Escudero: Yes to team-up with Estrada”

So let me get this straight. Chiz Escudero is hoisting his image and possible candidacy for higher office on the issue of corruption by refusing to associate with Manny Villar. Villar is currently battling charges of anomalous legislative behavior on the Senate floor. His case has yet to be brought to court, his guilt or innocence still far from settled. He may or may not be guilty, but in Escudero's mind, Villar's stench is now so great that it wouldn't be in his best interests to align his stars with the one politician who's been leading in most presidential surveys.

However, Escudero would gladly team up with Erap. As in Joseph Estrada, the ex-president booted out of office and eventually convicted of plunder by a court of law after a trial that lasted more than five years, during which Estrada and his top-flight lawyers enjoyed all the opportunity to present his defense in full. The trial itself was preceded by a closely-watched Senate impeachment process that, while prematurely aborted, brought to light serious proof of crimes and misdemeanors by Estrada and his minions.

The pardon Estrada received from GMA was no absolution; it did not expunge his guilt or declared him innocent of his crimes. On the contrary, the pardon could be given only after he had been convicted in court, after his perfidy had been conclusively established. Officially, irrespective of the presidential remission he now wields with shameless alacrity, Estrada remains the country's first plunderer-president.

How can Escudero justify his professed advocacy for good governance and anti-corruption when he shuns Villar but embraces Estrada?

I happen to be from Sorsogon, the province Escudero represented as a congressman and the home base for his quick leap to the Senate. I am one of his constituents, and he is, in effect, my representative in Congress. Not that I am proud of it. I have never voted for Escudero, and have never bought into his putative promise as a new kind of modern, no-nonsense, trapo-busting politician. His record speaks for the man.

During the height of the Estrada scandals and EDSA II, Escudero stood by Estrada all the way to the end. His only defense against the avalanche of evidence testifying to Estrada's gargantuan incompetence and corruption in office was loyalty--loyalty then, and loyalty now, to the kingpin who had invested in him and helped fast-track his ascent in politics and the celebrity circuit. It's possible he had sincerely believed in Estrada's innocence, which only raises the question--especially in light of his fulminations now: How bad a judge of character is he?

Then, in what was clearly an act of revenge for Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide's tough, even-handed management of the impeachment trial, Escudero and a bunch of young congressmen under Danding Cojuangco's Nationalist People's Coalition tried to impeach Davide on the flimsiest of grounds. That outrageous act put the country at risk of a full-blown constitutional crisis. Does anyone remember now what Davide's supposed sins were? Does anyone remember, for that matter, that Escudero was one of the leaders of a youthful gang of rising political stars who attempted to hijack the Republic to their bratty, dangerous tantrum, who were perfectly willing to rend this country apart and put it through a potentially disastrous upheaval?

Quite a number have been taken in by Escudero's slick facade--the obvious intelligence, the preternatural calm and self-assurance, the flawless, eloquent command of Filipino. As with most everything else in this sentimental country, he straddles politics and showbiz with ease, and Escudero himself is not shy about banking on his Internet-savvy rock-star status particularly among young people, helped along by vapid media commentators who have hardly called him out on his political behavior. He has compared himself and his youthful politics to US president Barack Obama.

But scratch that PR-buffed persona by examining his history and what do you get? A man so afflicted by myopia that he sees the trees and misses the forest. A man whose moral compass tends to swing not only narrowly but selectively. Every time he rails against GMA for corruption, I remember TV interviews of him strenuously defending Estrada when his favorite president's Boracay mansion was all over the news. When he slams the Arroyos' lavish spending, I remember NOT hearing him condemn the Bacchanalian lifestyle that Erap and his cronies indulged in. And now that he sees fit to twit Villar for his supposedly crooked ways, he then proclaims his fealty to the biggest plunderer this country has managed to convict so far.

Estrada, GMA, Villar--all of them reek of rot and corruption, if by varying degrees. If Escudero were the least bit intellectually honest, if he were even half-serious about promoting the new kind of clean, honest, conscientious governance that he has loudly pledged his brand of public service to, he'd be denouncing ALL of them, and not only those whose political patronage has not been as generous or accommodating enough to earn his tribalistic sense of loyalty and gratitude.

A plague on all their houses. But reserve an extra swarm of locusts and frogs for a hypocrite like Francis Escudero.

By Gibbs Cadiz

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

New Voices: U.S. should support all its troops, including gays -- OrlandoSentinel.com

New Voices: U.S. should support all its troops, including gays -- OrlandoSentinel.com

By Joe Dellosa

Special to the Sentinel

August 1, 2009

It's time to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prohibits openly gay people from serving in the military.

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Democrat from Pennsylvania and an Iraq War veteran, has been pushing the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would eliminate "don't ask, don't tell." It is sound, timely legislation that strengthens America.

The numbers are staggering. Since 1993, more than 12,000 servicemen and -women have been discharged under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Of those, about 60 were Arabic linguists, positions that are so critical and difficult to fill that, according to a 2008 Christian Science Monitor article, the Army considered offering retention bonuses of up to $150,000 to native Arabic-speaking soldiers.

"Don't ask, don't tell" takes a severe financial toll as well. In 2006, a University of California Blue Ribbon Commission concluded that the cost of implementing the policy from 1994 to 2003 was more than $363 million.

Most of these discharges aren't the result of inappropriate or unprofessional conduct. The mere discovery and lack of denial of one's homosexuality is enough to warrant a firing. Stephen Benjamin, a former Arabic translator in the Navy, wrote in a 2007 New York Times column that he was fired under the policy after his instant-message transcripts with a friend were found. The transcripts contained nothing remarkable, Benjamin wrote, except that they happened to indicate that he's gay.

If polls are any indication, the American public generally supports repealing "don't ask, don't tell." A December 2008 CNN/Opinion Research poll of Americans found that 81 percent believe openly gay people should be allowed to serve in the military. There is strong bipartisan support, too; a May 2009 Gallup poll put support for openly gay people serving at 58 percent among Republicans, 67 percent among independents and 82 percent among Democrats.

Those who oppose repealing the policy are often quick to cite tepid support for the policy's repeal among those serving in the military. And it's true. An October 2006 Zogby poll of current and recent military service personnel found that only 26 percent agreed with allowing openly gay people to serve; 37 percent disagreed, and 32 percent were neutral.

But in the same poll, 73 percent said they feel "very" or "somewhat" comfortable in the presence of gay people. Among those who know someone in their unit is gay, 66 percent said the presence of gay people had no impact on personal morale, and 64 percent said it had no impact on the unit's morale.

This suggests that, even if opinions about "don't ask, don't tell" are mixed among service personnel, there's already an established comfort level about gay people serving in the military, and that comfort level increases for those serving alongside them.

I'm not in the military, and I doubt I have the guts to join voluntarily. But I have nothing but gratitude for those who put on a uniform to stand up for justice and improve the lives of people around the world.

And that's why this matters. When we say we support the troops, for that to be more than a slogan on a magnetic yellow ribbon, we have a responsibility to honor everyone — gay and straight — who does what the rest of us won't. Every day that the "don't ask, don't tell" policy remains in force is a day we fail at that responsibility.

Only nine Florida representatives have co-sponsored Murphy's bill, with Reps. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville and Alan Grayson of Orlando doing so last month. Other Central Florida representatives, including Ginny Brown-Waite, John Mica, Adam Putnam, Bill Posey and Suzanne Kosmas, haven't — but they should.

This is, after all, an apolitical issue, one of national security and respect for all who serve. Murphy deserves our support and, more urgently, the support of his House colleagues.

E-mail submissions of 600 words or fewer to newvoices@orlandosentinel.com or mail them to New Voices, MP-218, Orlando Sentinel, 633 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, FL 32801. Include a high-resolution JPEG image or photo.

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