Sunday, December 2, 2007

So Many Events, So Little Time (to Blog)

In more or less two weeks' time, several "bloggable" events happened, I can barely keep up with them.

First, there was the spate of typhoons that decided to visit the Philippine Area of Responsibility almost simultaneously.

Lando (international code name: Hagibis) was the first to make landfall in the Philippines by entering through the backdoor in Surigao. Then it moved in a west-northwest direction, hitting almost all parts of the Visayas.

Under normal circumstances, typhoons entering the country from the East usually cut through either Eastern Visayas or the Southern Tagalog Region first before wreaking havoc on other parts of the country. However, Lando was an interesting one. It not only visited areas rarely hit by typhoons (Cebu included): it even loved the Philippines so much that it made a U-turn back into the country through what was called the "Fujiwara effect." There were even fears that Lando would be uniting forces with typhoon Mina (international code name: Mitag) which also hurtled through most of Luzon. It's a good thing Mina subsided before Lando could combine forces with her.

Lando's quickie visit through Cebu sent mixed reactions among Cebuanos. Since I come from Leyte which usually takes the full brunt of typhoons when they enter the Philippines, I found Lando to be a wimp. However, many of my Cebuano officemates who aren't used to storms lashing through their place were ooohing and aaahing at the intensity of Lando's wind and rain. ("Wala yan sa Lolo ko..." I was thinking to myself.)

It took only a little more than an hour for Lando to unleash his fury on Cebu, then by the time we left our office at 6 pm, it was all over. However, in that short span of time, Lando managed to uproot trees and electric posts, and destroy many billboards. Even the Christmas tree on Fuente Osmeña was in ruins after Lando's visit. Many areas in Cebu were without light and water, and I had to make "igib" for water on the other side of my boarding house compound in the darkness the night Lando hit.

The crazy thing about Lando's visit to Cebu was PAGASA's late weather forecasts. Just before noontime when strong rains began to fall in Cebu, several of us visited the PAGASA online bulletin for the latest on Lando's whereabouts. It stated that Lando hasn't made landfall yet, and that it was still several kilometers off the coast of Surigao. When the ferocity of the storm was at its worst at a little past 3 pm, the PAGASA online bulletin still didn't say anything new. They said they were going to issue a new bulletin by 5 pm, but up to the time that the rain and wind ceased at just before 6 pm, PAGASA still didn't mention anything new.

It was only on the next day that I realized from the news that Lando's eye did grace Cebu at about 3 pm the day before. PAGASA's ineptitude in properly tracking the storm's whereabouts caused Cebuanos to be caught flat-footed.

So...what else is new?


Then there was the Manila Peninsula siege on the eve of Bonifacio Day.

I find it hard to get mad at Antonio Trillanes IV, despite his gung-ho attempts at changing the world through coup attempts and hotel sieges. He is the image of a soldier fed up with the corruption and excesses of a government that he is pledged to obey. And since he has the conditioning of a military man, he's fighting back in the only way he knows how: through military might.

So he loves staging his gimmicks in five-star hotels like Oakwood and Manila Pen. Then tell me: where do you expect him to implement his plans against the Arroyo administration? In Camps Aguinaldo or Crame? In Malacañang? Or in Victoria Court? He'll be committing suicide if he and his sparse loyalists storm through the first three. That's not good for a military maneuver. As for the last suggestion, what the heck are we thinking?!

Oakwood and Manila Pen are located in the heart of the Philippines' business/financial district: Makati. I'm no genius in the art of war, but if I'm to debilitate a country, I'll go for places where it will hurt the most -- like where all the country's riches are being generated. Besides, hotels are the easiest to evacuate potential crossfire victims from, and also the easiest to conquer. Okay, I admit: their food and drinks are also impeccable...

I also admit that Trillanes' foolhardy takeover of the Manila Pen was wrong, no matter how noble his intentions may have been. But the government's reaction to his siege was -- to quote Charie Villa of ABS-CBN News and Public Affairs -- an "overkill."

By golly, I could barely term Trillanes' hotel siege as a coup attempt. However, government soldiers literally crashed through the Manila Peninsula lobby, wielding any imaginable firearm one could think of. They lobbed tear gas canisters left and right, and -- horror of horrors -- handcuffed everyone in sight, even the media people covering the situation! What in the world were they thinking? It was the Manila Peninsula, for Chrissakes, not Basilan!

My suspicion is this: if only the top dogs in the AFP had their way, Trillanes, his supporters, and everybody else who was inside the Manila Pen that afternoon could have been easily killed. Then the AFP could just issue a statement saying that they were only forced to do so because Trillanes' group fought back and the rest were caught in the crossfire. They've done that many, MANY times before, and more blood on their hands can be washed off in a jiff with a few press statements and Gloria Arroyo's assurance that they will always have her support.

This scenario would've been possible if not for the recent report made by Phillip Alston, Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council, stating that the Armed Forces of the Philippines is responsible for many extrajudicial killings in the recent past. Of course, AFP Chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr. is in denial, but who would be the more credible entity to believe? An AFP general who coddles cold-blooded henchmen like Maj. Gen Palparan -- or a UN special rapporteur?

With that UN report retracting their trigger-happy fingers, the soldiers simply had to be content with gassing Trillanes, Brig. Gen Danilo Lim, and everyone else present in the Manila Pen, then leading them out like crazed dogs -- cuffs and all.

If the AFP thinks that they have shut Trillanes up once and for all, they only managed to provide this aggressive freedom fighter with more supporters, not only among the soldiers but also among ordinary civilians. Even if Trillanes gets killed fighting against them, there will only be many more Trillaneses to come out of the AFP ranks. Soon, the AFP top brass may just find themselves overwhelmed by soldiers who are truly fighting for fellow Filipinos.

Esperon and his butchers should be shaking in their boots right now.

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