December 20, 2010

DOING A PACQUIAO...

...is what Mark Wahlberg's character Micky Ward does in "The Fighter", one of those really quiet, almost obscure films which really delivers, pardon the pun, a knockout punch. (Note: this film will probably not make it beyond Christmas, so catch it now, especially because from Christmas till the first week of January, we will be besieged again by that farce called The Metro Manila Film Festival; and oh yes, Kris Aquino will have a film, aptly a "horror" flick but sadly no, she is not the one wearing the gruesome halloween mask or the aswang in the film.)

Mark Wahlberg plays Micky Ward, an aspiring welterweight being "managed" by his mother Alice Ward (the very, very good Melissa Leo) and being 'trained" by his half-brother Dicky Ecklund (the absolutely brilliant, funny and tragic Christian Bale; note to the Oscars: you gave Heath Ledger the trophy for the Joker, Bale deserves the same trophy this year for this non-Batman role). Dicky is a crack addict whose only "claim to fame" is having fought Sugar Ray Leonard and "knocking him down" thus becoming the pride of their town, Lowell, Massachusetts.

While the film is about boxing, the greater subtext is clearly the love and loyalty that this totally dysfunctional family, revolving around a mother and her two sons, has for each other. While it is also a film about "rising from the depths", it is also a film about denial and how those denials become the substitute for or the expression of love.

Dicky is in denial about his crack addiction and even the whole Sugar Ray Leonard affair (throughout the film, a running thread is whether Dicky really knocked him down or Leonard slipped).

Alice is in denial about Dicky's crack addiction and the effects it is having on Micky's career.

Micky is in denial about the way that Alice is mismanaging his career and how Dicky is not training him at all. He is in denial that he
needs his brother at his side but also in denial that, until Dicky kicks crack, his career is dead.

And in this extremely dysfunctional family (an interesting and very funny sidelight is the one involvi
ng the sisters of Micky and Dicky and how they are related to Alice, Micky, Dicky and George Ward, Micky's father), that is what passes for love. And it is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, at the same time.



Wahlberg and Bale are absolutely brilliant as Micky and Dicky. Wahlberg has the body to pass for a welterweight and also the acting chops while Bale virtually inhabits the role of crack addict (from the
gaunt, haunted features to the nervous tics and twitches) and, in a really delightful change, is not surly, does not grunt, growl or glower but instead is funny, loving, angry and bitter as Dicky, who realizes that the only fight he has left is vicariously, through Micky.

David O. Russell (who directed Wahlberg in the riot "Three Kings") totally nails this one. This is one of those boxing films that does not sacrifice the boxing scenes (very well-made; it is comparable to "The Cinderella Man" by Ron Howard--known to be a stickler for detail in his films--almost five years ago) and integrates them into a funny and moving human drama. One minor complaint is that the last fight scene fails to generate the excitement of a championship fight, perhaps because of the lack of a rousing score (similar to Bill Conti's "Gonna Fly Now" from *errrm* Rocky) but this is a very minor complaint.

In the end, "The Fighter" is about fighting and not only on top of the boxing ring.

Alice and George fight to keep their family together; Micky fights for the title but also, more importantly, for his mother's approval and love; Dicky fights to keep what little dignity is left of him but also, more importantly, to keep the love, respect and adoration of Micky.
In the end, you feel for this family--for Alice, George, Dicky, and Micky--fighters all because of the way they fight for what is truly important: loyalty, honor, respect and love.

NB. The title refers to what Micky does after every win in the film. Mark Wahlberg, a certified and outspoken fan of Manny Pacquiao, does a homage to Pacquiao in this film--retreating to his corner after a win and kneeling in prayer. Finally, Pacquiao, a forgettable actor, has conquered Hollywood and he didn't need to act in a single scene.












October 14, 2010

Alter Egos

I. The Forest, not the Tree

I don't know Mr. Rico E. Puno. I have never met him. I had never heard of him until the day that President Aquino announced his appointment as Undersecretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).

In the 100 plus days since that time, however, not only I, but the entire nation and CNN-watching parts of the world, including Hong Kong and China, have come to know his name as well as his character.

His recent public statements have shown one thing--he has an ego problem. That he thinks of himself as indispensable to the President is revealing for the condescension he feels towards his friend and boss, the President. And that is a problem for one who is supposed to be the alter ego of the President, as the "eyes and ears" for all matters "PNP." His insistence on remaining as Undersecretary despite one actual screw up, which left eight (8) dead on his watch, and one perceived stain on his reputation--that of coddler to "friends and relatives" who would have wanted to lobby the President on jueteng (remember his selective amnesia on this matter before the Senate?) is not helping the President. Instead of the sturdy narra that would support this fledgling President and administration, he is turning out to be driftwood--others would even say deadwood.

One of the major plusses of the Second President Aquino is that he shows trust and loyalty to the people he works with. He takes up the cudgels for his cabinet secretaries (strangely, it should be the other way around--the cabinet secretaries should be insulating the President from having to explain all of these distracting missteps by not screwing up) publicly. But this major plus is also a big minus, especially when it comes to Mr. Puno apparently. What has become clear to many is that when it comes to Puno, the President cannot see the forest because of this one tree.

Despite admitted lack of training, experience, and capability, Mr. Puno was not even admonished for the major bungling of the Hostage incident at the Rizal Park; the President's own IIRC made a categorical recommendation for the filing of charges against him yet after a review by the President's two-person legal team (the Executive Secretary and the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel), Mr. Puno escaped unscathed. Not even a private reprimand. It is hard to imagine how Mr. Prisco Nilo, a career meteorologist at PAG-ASA felt: he was publicly scolded by the President and, thereafter, fired--all for failing to predict correctly the path of a natural disaster called Basyang. Mr. Puno's bungling led to the death of eight (8) persons, the wounding of several others and the "death by a thousand cuts" to the country's attempt to reinvent itself as being "open for business." Yet, Mr. Puno escapes unscathed.

Mr. Puno has an ego problem. He thinks too highly of himself; this is shown by his interview that appeared in the Inquirer. For an alter ego of the President, that alone should be enough reason for the President to fire him. The only ego an alter ego carries is that of his principal.

Mr. President, some unsolicited advise that you've already heard many times, Mr. Puno is not helping; rather he's dragging you down. Loyalty and friendship are great, especially in this lonely job that has been thrust on you. Yet, you have said, in response to the Bishops on the RH issue, that you are the President of everyone, of every faith. Your refusal to make Mr. Puno accountable to you, if not the Filipino people, contradicts that statement. Sabi nga sa text na kumakalat (tila ata galing kay Kgg. Teddy Casino)--mahirap maglakad sa daang matuwid kung may Puno sa gitna.

II. The De Lima Dilemma

I know Ms. De Lima; I've met her, and have gotten to admire her for her commitment to making the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) much better during her watch. I was among those who applauded her appointment to the Department of Justice.

Ms. De Lima now finds herself in the horns of a dilemma. Chairing the IIRC, she and her panel submitted very clear recommendations on what the President ought to do. She led the panel through the marathon hearings (despite being sick with pneumonia and against doctor's advice) in a sober, deliberate and very organized way. While I did not agree with all the recommendations of the IIRC Report, I thought that it was a very well-made Report and had much to commend itself; that much, I told her. I also thought it was a brave effort, made with full knowledge of the personalities involved and their closeness, perceived or apparent, to the President.

The Justice Secretary is the Lawyer of the Administration; the Solicitor General is the Lawyer of the Government and the Tribune of the People; the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel is the Lawyer of the President. Both the Justice Secretary and the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel are alter egos of the President. Understandably, they would not be appointed if the President did not have trust and confidence in them. They should not stay one minute longer in their posts if the President no longer trusts their legal opinion.

More than being the Lawyer of the administration, however, the Justice Secretary is also the Head of the Prosecutorial Arm of the Government. Thus, the Justice Secretary's opinion on the existence or non-existence of a criminal case should carry much weight especially if one considers that in the filing of criminal cases, the President no longer reviews the Secretary's determination of probable cause.

It is perhaps for good reason that Ms. De Lima has publicly aired her being aggrieved over twin moves that have made quarters think that the President may trust his other lawyers more than her.

First, the IRRC Report Recommendations were specifically ordered reviewed by the President's two-person legal team of the Executive Secretary and the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel; this, we now know, has resulted in a controversial conclusion--Mr. Puno, apparently the President's BFF, and Mr. Versoza, the immediate former Chief of the Police, were spared any sanction--not even a word raised in correction or reprimand.

Egged on by some quarters, the media included, Ms. De Lima hinted at the possibility of resignation later only to backtrack by issuing a sufficiently ambiguous statement promptly published online.

Second, the President signed and promulgated Proclamation No. 50 granting amnesty to those accused in the Oakwood takeover, the Pensinsula siege and the Marine standoff--all of whom are facing criminal charges before the regular courts with DOJ Prosecutors leading the charge. The Justice Secretary was, similar to the Interior Secretary during the bus hostage incident, kept out of the loop.

Understandably, Ms. De Lima felt aggrieved, perhaps not only for herself but also for the Prosecutors who have tried this case for seven (7) years. The promulgation for the Oakwood takeover is on October 28, 2010. Perhaps the more prudent way forward would have been to wait for the promulgation and, if necessary, issue the amnesty proclamation; if necessary, meaning the accused are convicted. Issuing an amnesty proclamation ahead of the promulgation sends a clear message to the prosecution: the seven year trial doesn't really count for much. (Note: I am counsel for 4 of the accused in the Oakwood takeover and I am confident that my clients will be acquitted. My comments on the propriety of the timing of the amnesty proclamation are my own, not my clients'.)

Ms. De Lima, like Mr. Puno, is the President's alter ego. Unlike Mr. Puno, however, Ms. De Lima has seen the start of the graffiti on the wall--she may not enjoy the full trust and confidence of the President, her principal. That is why she has hinted at leaving the Justice Department. Her problem is that, unlike Mr. Puno who had tendered a courtesy resignation only to later take it back and now insists that he is indispensable, Ms. De Lima has not seen fit to follow through and has simply left the possibility of resigning out there--in the minds of the people through the media.

This, of course, has led a former Justice Secretary, the current Senate President to tell Ms. De Lima, "Shut up or quit." To date, she has shut up.

Unlike Mr. Puno, De Lima is not driftwood or deadwood. She has demonstrated her ability to get things moving; in her short stint at the CHR, she managed to turn the agency around and get people to sit up and take notice. She has performed creditably so far at the Department of Justice and it would be a waste of talent and commitment if the President were to simply let her go. The De Lima Dilemma is the opposite of the Puno proposition--letting the former go would be a monumental waste whereas letting the latter remain would be a tragic farce.

III. BFFs and Alter Egos

What has clearly emerged from the 100-day plus Aquino II Presidency is that he maintains a closed inner circle in whom he reposes almost absolute trust. Similar to Mr. Puno, many of these people are perceived to be good friends of Mr. Aquino from way back. The popular term for this would be BFF (Best Friends Forever).

Unfortunately, governance does call for hard choices and tough calls. The President must show that he is able to make these hard choices and tough calls. There is a much larger interest at stake--that he demonstrate that he is capable of leading and taking charge and not, as condescendingly hinted at by Mr. Puno in his interview, controlled by BFFs like Mr. Puno.

I did not vote for Mr. Aquino, neither did I support him. But he is the President of the only country I am a citizen of. And unlike others, I want him to succeed--not because it will bring him glory, but because it is about time we got our acts together. I want to forge a future, not fight it.

Mr. Aquino as the President is the alter ego of the people, in whom all sovereignty resides and from which it emanates. He has, correctly, said in his inaugural, "kayo ang boss ko."

Mr. President, do not waste this window where you still have tremendous goodwill, when you still have the support of a people united only by the prospect that there is still hope that our country will get out of the muck. Make the hard calls and the tough choices. Draw the line in the sand clearly and sharply and make sure your team knows where the line is. You have six years--which is short for a great president but an eternity for a terrible one.

September 22, 2010

"...with a little help from my friends"

With friends like Rico E. Puno, the President doesn't need Edcel Lagman, Danilo Suarez, Len Horn or even Gloria Arroyo. Puno's doing a great job, all by himself, of alienating and isolating the President and making people doubt the President's resolve to stop jueteng once and for all. Indeed, the President doesn't need enemies with friends like Puno.

On Martial Law day 2010, Mr. Puno faced a curiously-composed panel led by Senator TG Guingona (son of a former Vice President and Senator), and Senator Ferdinand R. Marcos II (you know whose son he is) and attended by, among others, Senate President (Palpatine himself) Juan Ponce Enrile and his Padawan Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada (you also know whose son he is), Senator Chiz Escudero and Senator Loren Legarda. The topic was jueteng and the subject was himself, as it turns out.

Because of revelations from retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz that some members of Aquino III's official family were on the take from jueteng lords, the Senate Panel asked Cruz to "name names." Instead of doing so, he simply fished out a document and handed it over. Senator Guingona then read the names, among which was Mr. Puno's.

When asked about it, he categorically denied the charge. That should have been enough. However, because of previous statements that Puno himself made that he had been approached by friends and relatives, a phrase he himself repeated during the Senate hearing, about any interest in being contacted by jueteng lords, the Senators now wanted Puno to "name names."

That is when the puno (tree, in filipino) became pader or literally a wall--a stonewall.

One after the other, Marcos, Guingona, Legarda, Escudero and Ponce Enrile, the Senators attempted to extract the information from Puno as to who these "friends and relatives" were and each time, he declined, refused, and feigned forgetfulness--prompting a Senator to decry his "selective memory." Note that the Senators were not after him, for after all Puno did say that he had turned them down outright (which was commendable), but after those still unidentified "friends and relatives" who attempted to be the bridge between him (and through him, to the President) and the lords of jueteng. Despite this, Puno literally stonewalled.

At some point, in his exasperation, the Senate President even pleaded (his phrase, "I am pleading with you") to Puno to save the President from further embarrassment and to just simply be candid and "name names." Despite that, he refused.

In less than 100 days, Mr. Puno, the President's friend, has shown himself to be not only deadwood (during the IIRC hearings, he admitted that he was ill-equipped to deal with crisis situations such as hostage taking as he was not trained for it; indeed, one wonders what special qualifications or training he has, other than the President's clear and unshaken trust and confidence in him, that would qualify him to oversee the police) but also, in this case, kindling that could cause a major conflagration. The President should see beyond personal friendship and look at the much larger picture of what one like Mr. Puno can do, or is doing, to his fledgling administration.

In his less than 100 days in office, the President has shown that he can be obstinate. His obstinacy can yield good results--his insistence on not recognizing Mr. Bangit as Chief of Staff caused his early retirement; his diatribe against having blaring sirens has lessened the noise pollution. Yet that same obstinacy when it comes to people who are perceived as his "friends" or close confidantes can also yield bad fruit--as in the case of Mr. Puno.

It is a tough call for a man thrust into a lonely job. This President has shown how much he values relationships; and that, by itself, is not a bad thing. The quality of his relationships may be the key to making great decisions and arriving at great insights. But when these relationships become the millstone around his neck, the President must make the tough call to let go.

Mr. Puno should do what every decent civil servant is required: serve the country beyond his own interests. If he is no longer an asset to the President (as the hostage taking and this jueteng investigation have shown), then he should make it easy on the President: leave and not wait to be fired.




September 02, 2010

IMHO, Part 2

The President himself cannot be subjected to "clarificatory questioning" before a body he himself created. With due respect to the Justice Secretary and the President's Chief Legal Counsel, the fact-finding body created by the President to investigate the August 23, 2010 Hostage-taking Incident cannot even consider the possibility (as hinted by the Justice Secretary) of calling the President to testify or give a statement.

Under the 1987 Constitution, the Congress cannot even invite the President to appear before it to give testimony, with the sole exception being the Question Hour under Article VI, sec. 22 (relating to appearance by Department Heads, with the consent of the President). The only appearance that the President makes before Congress is the State of the Nation Address or any other occasion when he chooses to address a Joint Session of Congress, with advice to and the consent of both Houses.

More than the legalities, however, the President should not be subjected to such questioning.

This ad hoc procedure (it is not found in any statute or constitutional norm) demeans and belittles the Office of the President. Moreover, it exposes the Office to the possibility that the President may be made to "testify" outside of an impeachment trial or to "give statements" outside of policy which may lead to impeachment motions. Finally, it serves no useful purpose because it is neither "in aid of legislation" or towards a determination of probable cause or for purposes of impeachment.

The President's daily "tick tock" is something that he may choose to disclose or keep confidential. Should he be called--and should he choose to--"testify" before the De Lima panel, the President should now consider his daily activities "fair game" for any sort of inquiry.

More than this, however, there is no need for the President himself to "give his side" because these are either matters of "judicial notice" or public record. Everyone in the Executive Branch is considered his alter egos if they are acting within their official functions, including the Justice Secretary who is the one contemplating the "testimony" of the President. They should be the ones "testifying", not the President.

The First President Aquino made a crucial mistake which "demeaned" her Presidency when she sued two journalists for libel. The Second President Aquino would make a crucial mistake which would belittle his Presidency if he does not shoot this ill-conceived idea down before it sprouts wings.

Unsolicited advise to the Second President Aquino so that we can close this episode, place accountability squarely where it should be and move forward:

1. Remove every perception or hint that there could even be a whitewash by:
1.1. Dissolving the fact-finding panel led by Justice Secretary De Lima; and
1.2. Instead, inviting Congress to convene a Joint Committee to investigate this incident once and for all, with a definite and limited timeline and with a clear commitment to not invoke "Executive Privilege."
1.3. Placing all relevant heads of agencies and persons concerned at the Joint Committee's disposal.
2. Personally, ask for the most pugnacious, most hostile, most adversarial members of Congress to co-chair the Joint Committee (e.g., Joker Arroyo for the Senate and Edcel Lagman/Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for the House).
3. Make it clear, however, to the Joint Committee that you expect an objective, impartial, sober and quick resolution to this issue through a clear, detailed, objective Report.
4. Take action on the Report as you see fit.

Fans of The West Wing may remember a similar tack taken by the fictitious Bartlet administration in that television show when the fictitious President Bartlet was caught not disclosing a debilitating illness to the public. Sometimes, fiction is stranger than truth and, in this case, more compelling, instructive and relevant.

IMHO.

July 20, 2010

IMHO

In today's verbal shorthand (although at the rate that these things go, this might even be soooo dated already), "IMHO" would be "In My Humble Opinion" (for those who don't pretend to be humble, simply omit the "H"). Ironically, phrases like these very frequently demand the opposite reaction--far from being "humble", a preface such as IMHO would generally be a red flag for "hey, this is important, so listen up!"

This is a piece on persons with their respective problems with their own "humble opinions".

The President recently expressed an opinion on a pending litigation which he would later say was his personal opinion. I would be the first to argue and defend vigorously the President's right to hold a personal opinion on many things. However, because he is the President and because he said it publicly, his "personal opinion" takes on a life of its own. It spills over not only into the public domain but it becomes "marching orders" or, technically, policy. So when President Aquino III says in public IMHO Senator Trillanes IV got a raw deal (certainly not a direct quote but it is the same message) and may not have been charged with the proper offense, it becomes much much more than his "humble opinion." It signals the Justice Secretary to initiate an investigation into what the proper charge/s should have been; which, in fact, the Justice Secretary has done and is now doing.

What is wrong with the "personal opinion" of the President is that the case is pending and has been pending for some time (Note: I am counsel for some of the accused in the very same case, not for Senator Trillanes IV, and have, in fact, put on record in the proper pleadings that the charge is wrong and, as a defense, coup d'etat could not have been charged; former counsel of record for Trillanes IV Atty. Roel Pulido and counsel for one of the accused Atty. Rene Saguisag have pleaded the same exact defense. I should be happy that the President agrees with our assessment of the case; yet, I am greatly disturbed by the quality of "legal" advise that the President is apparently getting such that he was not advised that it would send the wrong message to say that in public.) . The President's HO gave all the wrong signals, policy wise. Moreover, it signalled a possible tectonic shift in terms of Executive-Judiciary relations--that the President would make a declaration that would have grave repercussions on the separation of powers.

The President's legal advisers ought to have not placed him in that spot and should have argued vigorously that such a declaration should not have been made public, even if it was the President's personal opinion. This is the refreshing change that President Aquino III brings to the Office--he has a personal opinion, he has a personal life, he values personal space--yet it is also a bane to a more effective handling of the Office--that he has a personal opinion which may, in certain instances, have grave repercussions, such as the present situation with Trillanes IV. The second President Aquino is very much the son of the first President Aquino--he keeps a close coterie of advisers, people he trusts, people he likes and he is very loyal to them. I have no problem with that because a leader should be able to go to people he trusts and believes in. However, there is a value to also bringing in people whose opinions you don't like or you don't hold--they either strengthen your opinion or they make you humbler. Surrounding yourself with "yes" persons affirms you but, in the end, you simply get parrots repeating what you've said. In keeping with the theme of this post, IMHO, aka Unsolicited advise to the President: get some people with contrary opinions and who can pick your opinions, even personal ones, apart and bring them into your circle of advisers; if your or your close advisers' opinions hold against them, then you can be confident that it will pass muster in the courts of law as well as public opinion; but if they don't, then perhaps it might be time to recalibrate, rethink, revision, revise.

It is not only the President who has been having difficulties with his HOs.

The Spokesperson, PIO Chief (and also the Court Administrator) of the Supreme Court of the Philippines has been defending a particular Justice of the Supreme Court accused of plagiarizing international law materials in one of his ponencias. The very same Spokesperson had publicly "interpreted" a very recent Decision on Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's power to appoint the current Chief Justice.

Court Administrator Midas Marquez is a nice, personable man--well-suited for the job he holds as the public face of the Supreme Court. I have no quarrel with him.

However, when he speaks for the Court and goes beyond the text of the promulgated Decisions of the Court, he is, in fact, giving an Opinion that impacts on matters aliunde or outside the Decision. I tell my freshman students in Criminal Law every year that the only opinions that matter in the class are the opinions of the Justices of the Supreme Court acting as such. When the Court Spokesperson answers questions and gives opinions that are not found in the Decisions of the Court, then he is, in fact, acting very much like the 16th Justice of the Supreme Court. I find it strange that the only institution that we would not begrudge privacy and reticence to would be so open with its "opinions" through its public face and voice.

In my comments to the Chief Justice's recent media forays, I spoke of the potential dangers of such a policy because in unmoderated Q and A, the Chief Justice becomes easy prey to "hypotheticals" and uncontextual questions that might place him in a difficult situation relative to pending cases in the Court. The same danger arises when a media-savvy and accessible spokesperson "interprets" publicly the Decisions of the Court, which should, in every sense of the phrase, "speak for itself." That is what academics, legal scholars and law professors are for--to help others understand what exactly it is the Supreme Court is saying; this should not be the burden nor mandate of the Spokesperson of the Supreme Court (especially when he is also the Court Administrator, having charge over ALL the lower courts in the land). His HO becomes not only "policy", it might even be wrongly taken as canonical.

Recently, the Supreme Court came out with its Internal Rules of Procedure. The Internal Rules provide no standards for "publicizing" an Opinion other than publication in the Official Gazette through the PIO, which the current Spokesperson heads. It does not define the parameters within which the Spokesperson may act, speak for or "interpret" the rulings of the Court. Perhaps, it might be wise for the Court to now do so, IMHO.

January 04, 2010

How many !!! does James Cameron Use in a Sentence?

After watching Avatar, I imagine that he uses a lot of !!!!s in his sentences.

After a hibernation of 12 years, the creator of True Lies (the funniest Arnold movie) and the rejuvenator of Terminator (the most romantic Arnold movie) is back and how! Much has been written about Avatar and I won't repeat what they have said here. My personal review of the film consists of only three words: GO! WATCH! NOW!

NB. On a related point, the interruption of Avatar simply reinforces the need to thrash the MMFF, which simply no longer works--it no longer promotes or encourages the making of quality films simply because there is no incentive to make films that encourage thought (simply not possible if one of the criteria for best picture is the box office take for the first three days). I watched two of the entries and both sucked--Mano Po 6 (incomprehensible, unduly extended melodrama that could have been told in ten minutes) and Nobody, Nobody but Juan (incomprehensible tribute to Wowowee involving Dolphy at his absolute worst and G Toengi channelling Ruffa Gutierrez badly). The absence of a Mark Meilly film was evident.