Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Napoles and the American Gangster

Now that Napoles is in the custody of the Philippine government, P-noy has an ace in his sleeves to clean house, particularly the Lower House and the Upper House (Senate) of Congress. Of course, this assumes her former cohorts (now her worst enemies) in Congress don't assassinate her first.

I was not exactly comforted when Secretary Lacierda, during a live press briefing this morning, informed the media and the public at large that the President himself inspected the holding area in which Napoles would be secured. Read between the lines. The President has no confidence in the overall integrity of the system to secure Napoles, which includes the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), the Philippine National Police (PNP), among other government agencies. I sure hope DILG Secretary Mar Roxas and PNP Chief Purisima assign their most trusted adjutants to keep Napoles alive and talking.

In the movie, "American Gangster", which was based on the true-to-life criminal exploits of Frank Lucas (played by Denzel Washington), incorruptible detective Richie Roberts (played by Russell Crowe) gave Lucas a chance at a shorter jail sentence if he (Lucas) aided his (Roberts) investigation. Lucas initially offered to bribe Roberts but eventually provided names of dirty cops in the New York Police Department (NYPD), out of respect for Roberts' incorruptibility. In the end, three quarters of the New York Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) were arrested and convicted. Moreover, after having been condemned and sentenced to 22 years of prison (apparently to Lucas' satisfaction), Lucas provided additional evidence that led to more than one-hundred drug-related convictions.

If Napoles knows what's good for her, she should spill the beans quickly and thoroughly before her new found enemies in Congress have a chance to silence her. It would not be surprising at all if, like the New York DEA in the case of Lucas, three quarters of the Philippine Congress (Lower House and the Senate) would be arrested and convicted due to the disclosures of Napoles. The mandate of P-noy and his team is clear. Clean house then transform house.

After the purge, abolishing the Philippine Congress would be a great start! "Let's just abolish Congress then." We, the people, concur!

"Let's just abolish Congress then." We, the people, concur!

Senate President Franklin Drilon said that while the PDAF would be abolished as declared by the President, each lawmaker would still retain their right to direct a portion of the annual budget (P200 million  for each senator and P70 million for a representative) to a hospital or a road project that they desired.

“What will happen if we will not take a direct hand (in the identification of projects)? Let’s just abolish Congress then,” he said.

Drilon, the Senate President himself, just doesn’t get it. We, the people, are screaming for the abolition of the PDAF, the pork barrel and/or whatever it may be called in the future, including the abolition of any right (perceived or otherwise) of all legislators (both in the Lower House and in the Senate) to direct any portion of the annual budget to any project they desire. We don’t trust you and we wholeheartedly accept your suggestion (arguably the most worthy in your entire political career) to abolish Congress (both the Lower House and the Senate). This is the first step in overhauling the thoroughly corrupt and inept Philippine legislature.

In place of the abolished Congress should be a legislative body of no more than (or not to exceed) fifty (50) individuals representing the various regions of the Philippines, which translates to an efficient representative ratio of 1 for every 2 million Filipinos based on the current estimated population of 100 million. The sole purpose of these 50 representatives would be to legislate--no PDAF, no pork barrel.

But here’s the real solution. These 50 representatives and all elected officials in the Philippines going forward should be elected under a weighted voting system prescribed under the Responsible Democracy Act of the Philippines. Then, we’ll finally get rid of such poor excuses for legislators like Tito Sotto, Lito Lapid, Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon Revilla, among others . . . and witness real progress in the Philippines.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Thresher Sharks and Malapascua

I googled this picture as the ones I took were too dark.

Like whale sharks (butanding) and Donsol (Sorsogon), the fate of thresher sharks and Malapascua (Cebu) are inextricably intertwined. Unlike the whale sharks in Donsol that seem to have fled the vicinity (except perhaps for a handful of appearances a quarter), the thresher sharks of Malapascua still appear at Monad Shoal at the crack of dawn like clockwork.

Before one of our dives in Malapascua

During this particular scuba diving excursion organized by our friends at Planet Dive (many thanks to TB, Gerard and Dencio for a wonderful trip), we had two early morning attempts to view the magnificent thresher sharks. On the first try, there were already four diving boats ahead of us and only the first batch in our group had a brief glimpse of one thresher shark that quickly disappeared into the deep blue sea. The following morning, we were the second diving boat to arrive and (eureka!) we saw at least two thresher sharks meandering along Monad Shoal. Noteworthy is the the thresher shark's unusually long tail fin, which is not only pretty but apparently critical to the creature's survival. Thresher sharks use their tails like bullwhips to kill or stun prey. The brief video clip below was taken by Philippe Wong during our August 23, 2013 early morning dive at a depth of about 90 feet. Well done Philippe! 

According to the local divers, the thresher sharks visit Monad Shoal regularly to get cleaned and to rid themselves of parasites--dutifully done by the resident cleaner fishes. However, all is not exactly well. The boat loads of scuba divers (as many as 20 scuba diving boats congregate above Monad Shoal at the crack of dawn during the peak months) that visit these days are currently brought to a new section of Monad Shoal. That's because the thresher sharks rarely show up in the "old" section, which begs the question: what scared-off the thresher sharks from the old section in the first place? Moreover, are we, in fact, scaring-off the thresher sharks from the new section of Monad Shoal? Only time will tell.

Our group spent a portion of our final diving day at Gato Island, a marine sanctuary about an hour away from Malapascua by boat. Most enjoyable with its varied topography and good coral conditions. Our second dive at Gato Island was also my first dive through an underwater tunnel, which reinforced what I already knew--I don't like confined spaces, particularly underwater.

One of the first things we saw upon entering the water at Gato Island was dead "dilis" (shiny silver fish about the size of your small finger but much thinner) sprawling all over the sea floor--a result of dynamite fishing, according to the local divers, that apparently still occurs in the vicinity. These illegal fishermen should be caught and executed in full view of the public to mitigate these downright ignorant and destructive practices.

Malapascua itself is a relatively small but beautiful island with white sand beaches that rival Boracay. There's a resort priced like Shangri-La Hotel and others for cost-conscious travelers. For hearty meals without frills, go to the restaurant at Kokay's Maldito Beach Resort. Angelino's is a real gem of an Italian restaurant in this island paradise. It's run by a friendly Italian couple, who I hope will teach as many Malapascuans their delicious Italian recipes.

In the case of the whale sharks in Donsol, it appears their eco-tourism story has come full circle and it's not a happy ending. The whale sharks are virtually gone and so is the eco-tourism livelihood in town. Oslob (about 3 hours drive south of Cebu City) appears to be faring better than Donsol, even though Oslob's methods are a bit controversial. They feed the whale sharks that keep them coming back for more. To date, more than 120 individual whale sharks have been identified visiting the shores of Oslob for some free chow. Again, only time will tell if Oslob is really doing a better job than Donsol at balancing environmental protection and the livelihood of the local community.

After having viewed both the thresher sharks in Malapascua and the whale sharks in Oslob during this trip to Cebu, I wish that every individual would have the opportunity to witness these magnificent creatures up-close and personal for many generations to come.