Friday, February 28, 2014


By Fr. Shay Cullen

Life is full of choices, and we need to ask ourselves if the choices and decisions we make everyday are truly good, positive, ethical, and virtuous choices. If you were asked what makes you human, different from the rest of God's creatures, what would you say? Can you answer right away or are you now trying to list what makes us uniquely truly human persons different from the animals?

If you don't have the answer right away, you may be short on a very human ability that can enhance and enrich your well being and happiness and that is self awareness and consciousness. This is one of the great attributes of being human; to be very mentally alert and conscious that you are alive and exist and that you are a person of great value.

It seems to be elementary to state that fact but great unhappiness arises in people’s lives because they are unaware of themselves, their potential and their goodness. They think they are even bad, perhaps. They are confused, unaware, semi-conscious of their values attributes and place low value of their own lives and existence. How wrong they are. Growing in self-awareness of our goodness and that we exist must be our priority in life and helping our children and others be the same is essential for a fuller, happier life.

We also have another great gift, the great ability to ask why we exist. That is one of the greatest attributes of being human, that we humans have the ability to reason and think. Not only can we be conscious of ourselves, we can also think about our existence and be aware of our place in the universe. We can look at the great universe with billions of stars, planets, and galaxies and say "I am".  How great it is if we can also say I am happy and grateful that "I am". It's wonderful to be able to rejoice in being alive and well and to know that it is "better to be than not to be".

Sometimes people do not realize the joy of being alive until they are almost dead. Near death experiences through sickness or accident and disaster can awaken awareness of self and of life. Only when it is nearly taken from us do we truly cherish it and desperately do all in our power to cling on to it. When we survive, we see the world and ourselves in a very different light with greater, sharper self-awareness.

Another great gift of the human person is free will. That's the ability to make free choices.  Unless we are enslaved by other human beings or some form of addiction that has captured our free will, then we can choose what way to live and act.  Even when captured by negative forces, we can choose to break free and escape from a negative existence to a happier, free, more meaningful life. Then with freewill, we are free to respond to different realities and challenges before us.

Free choice alone does not make us a true, good, ethical human person. Because many humans make negative choices that are harmful to others, to the planet and are even evil and far from being good, right and just.

This is one way to try and understand and explain evil in the world; some human beings exercise free will in a negative, destructive way. Others are not aware of themselves or of others and much of the world around them. They don't think or are unconscious about their behavior and choices and are apathetic and indifferent to their own lives and the life of others.  But many do choose to be fully human and choose the good and virtuous life.

As part of being fully human, we need to use our ability to know and reason and think about ethical values, to choose the good we have to know it. That's where the value of learning and education in right and wrong are so important.

Our conscience is an innate value that can tell us what is right and wrong, just and unjust, true and false. Being human has another great unique ability and that is to care for and have compassion and empathy with others who may be total strangers to us. This is that we learn from the Gospel story of the Good Samaritan, love of the stranger in need is the greatest love of all. It is that human ability, a spiritual ability, to have compassion and to help others without pay, reward or seeking love in return or benefits for oneself.

You may want to read more on this. Here, I can recommend an excellent newly published book that gives an inspiring powerful message and a guide for life on how we can live a better, fuller life of happiness by choosing the positive, the good and the green - The Green Platform by Declan Coyle. It is all about choosing how to live a better, happier life, choosing a Green Platform of life. It is available at and bookstores.

The one important value that we need to embrace above all is to know ourselves and affirm that we are basically good and capable of greater good, compassion, love and a happier life. ,

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British envoy: Going to UK not too difficult

2 Pinoys among 12 dead in Qatar restaurant gas explosion

(Updated 6:00 a.m., Feb. 28) DOHA - Twelve people including two Filipinos and two children were killed on Thursday when a gas tank exploded at a Turkish restaurant in the Qatari capital Doha, authorities in the Gulf Arab state reported.

About 30 others, including two Filipinos, were injured in the blast at the Istanbul Restaurant that one security source said was accidental.

Qatar officials have also ruled out terrorism in the blast, radio dzBB's Qatar stringer Manny Flores reported early Friday.
The report cited information from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office indicating one of the fatalities was a worker in a grocery store.
Both Filipino fatalities' bodies remained at a morgue as of Friday, the report said.
The two wounded are in the intensive care unit of Hamad Hospital, the report added.
On the other hand, the report also said one of the wounded asked Philippine officials not to notify relatives at home as the Philippine national's mother has a medical condition.
Citing initial reports, Flores said authorities have yet to determine if the two Filipino fatalities were inside the restaurant or were just passing by when the explosion occurred.
The two wounded Filipinos were reportedly just passing by the area and were hit by debris.

Major General Saad bin Jassim al-Khalifi, Qatar's head of public security, said non-Qatari Arabs, Asians and one Qatari were among the dead and wounded.
Another security source at the scene said two Asian children were among the dead.
Preliminary investigation suggested a gas tank exploded, setting off a fire and causing part of the building to collapse, he told a news conference. But investigations were continuing to discover why the gas tank exploded.
"It was a very big blast," he said. "It blew away cars and shrapnel was scattered 50 to 100 meters away."
Chunks of masonry, metal debris and shattered glass lay outside the restaurant in a northwestern district of the city. Cars nearby were apparently crumpled by the explosion.
The incident was the deadliest in Qatar since May 2012, when at least 19 foreign nationals, including 13 children, were killed by a fire in an upscale shopping mall.
In a separate incident on Thursday, medics and security sources at the Hamad medical city in Doha said dozens of people were hurt in the afternoon due to a gas leak at a chemical plant in an industrial area near Doha.
They gave no figures or details on their condition, but said helicopters were dispatched to fly victims of the leak to the Hamad medical centre quickly as ambulances had been caught in heavy traffic caused by the restaurant incident.
The gas- and oil-rich Gulf Arab state with an estimated national population of at least 200,000 has one of the highest standards of living in the world. The bulk of the 2 million population of Qatar are foreigners.
The restaurant is on the outskirts of the capital near Landmark mall, a well-known shopping complex usually busy with families.
"I was eating in a restaurant close by and suddenly heard a big (blast) and everything around me exploded," Abdul-Rahman Abdul-Kareem, an Indian driver, told Reuters at Hamad hospital. "I have too much damage now, my legs are broken and my head is (wounded)." — with Reuters/ELR, GMA News

Medics gather near a Turkish restaurant following a gas explosion in Doha February 27, 2014. Twelve people were killed, including two children, and about 30 wounded when a gas tank exploded at the Turkish restaurant in the Qatari capital off Doha on Thursday, authorities in the Gulf Arab state reported. Reuters

Thursday, February 27, 2014

200 Filipinos detained but freed in Malaysia crackdown


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KUALA LUMPUR — Some 200 Filipinos were “affected” by Malaysia’s crackdown on undocumented foreign workers here and were readily released through the representation made by the Philippine Embassy, the Philippine ambassador here said.
Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Eduardo Malaya said the Filipinos were among the “manageable” 8,000 to 10,000 Philippine citizens that Malaysian authorities had tagged as over-stayers, most of whom have returned home through voluntary repatriation since June 2013.
“There have been only about 200 Filipinos who have been affected by the crackdown… launched earlier this year,” said Malaya in an interview with reporters at the Philippine Embassy here.
The envoy said the Filipinos, mostly workers in the retail and agricultural sector, were “taken into custody and processed while in detention.” He said the Filipinos were immediately released.
Earlier, one Filipino architect legally staying and working in Malaysia complained of maltreatment in the hands of local immigration authorities in Sabah on Jan. 21, the start of the nationwide crackdown. He was immediately released once his employer presented proof of his legal status here.
“The turnaround time is rather short. And it is also because when the immigration authorities asked us for travel documents, we are able to quickly provide them, so that the Filipino nationals would not stay a day longer in jail than necessary,” Malaya said.
In January, Malaysian authorities launched a nationwide immigration crackdown to weed out undocumented workers across its territories, affecting nationals from the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, India and Bangladesh.
Under Malaysian immigration law, overstaying foreigners must immediately return to their home countries.
Malaya said the problem involving undocumented Filipinos were “comparatively manageable,” given that other countries were looking after millions of their nationals lacking legal status in Malaysia.
“Well, there has been a highly publicized crackdown on illegal or undocumented individuals here in Malaysia. However, compared to the other foreign communities here, the number of Filipino nationals is relatively small. For instance, the Indonesians’ number is at least two million, and a significant number of them are without legal status, and similarly, people from Myanmar, and a lot others,” Malaya said.
He said the Philippine government was able to negotiate an arrangement with Malaysian authorities where Filipino over-stayers could seek voluntary repatriation and avoid arrest and detention. Some 7,000 Filipinos have returned home under this arrangement since the middle of 2013.
The Philippine Embassy also negotiated a lower immigration fine for undocumented Filipinos, from 30 Ringgit (P408) for every day of overstay to a flat rate 500 Ringgit (about P6,800).
“They come to us, we try to secure an exit permit for them, pay a much reduced fine. And after a few days or at least a week or two, they will be able to return to the Philippines, and hopefully, without spending a day in jail,” said Malaya.
There are an estimated 700,000 Filipinos across Malaysia, based on the figures of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

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Remittance money spent on wants not needs?

MANILA, Philippines – Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) send millions of dollars in remittances back to their families in the Philippines, but is the money being spent on wants instead of needs?

“I personally have heard horror stories from Filipinos that are overseas,” Eduardo Cobangbang, Philippines, Japan and Korea cluster manager for business development of Xpress Money Services, said in an interview with
“[The] money that they kept sending back [to their families], thinking it was being used for their intentions, was not even fully utilized for that purpose,” he said.

According to records of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), more than $21.4 billion were remitted in 2012.
Remittances have grown steadily since 2010 with $18.7 billion and 2011 with $20.1 billion, BSP record shows.
The more than 10 million OFWs worldwide are also steadily growing in number, with 1.8 million deployed in 2012, 1.6 million in 2011 and 1.4 million in 2010, according to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

Cobangbang said that the money-sending behavior of OFWs is different compared with that of other nationalities.
“Filipinos would tend to send money every payday. Compare it with Indonesians, they don’t send every payday, they send every two or three months. It’s their culture, it’s inherent in them,” he said.

Financial literacy
Joel Candy, Asia and Pacific Xpress Money regional vice president for business development, agreed with Cobangbang, saying that financial literacy was needed among the OFWs and their families.

“One critical factor is the education, just opening a bank account and keeping the money there improves the level of awareness on their finances [so that] instead of buying a brand new cell phone, which is tempting, they would look at possible investment options,” Candy said.

He noted, however, that the number of Filipinos who don’t have bank accounts was large compared with other nationalities. This leads OFWs to remit money in the form of cash to relatives.

“If I get money and I get it in cash, physical cash, I am bound to spend it because it is disposable, it’s in my hand. Whereas,if I have money in the bank account then probably I won’t be that impulsive to spend it,” Candy said.
Cobangbang said that the benefits of financial literacy do not end with a family spending wisely.

“If they learn financial literacy, it will have an impact on them. And what’s good for the basic unit of the [country which is the] family, becomes good for the whole country,” he said.

Filipinos who have some savings in the bank are better equipped and prepared to face unexpected troubles such as natural calamities, Cobangbang said.

One financial awareness project of Xpress Money is the “Ipon booklet,” which is given to OFWs so they could keep track of how much they have remitted to their relatives in the Philippines.

“What we want to do is raise the level of consciousness of the sender, how much they are sending, saving and keeping for themselves,” Cobangbang said.

“It’s not a solution by itself,” he said, but raising awareness of how much OFWs are sending back home will make them aware of how the money is being spent.

Candy said that the project, which is being piloted in Hong Kong, was conceived because they observed OFWs sending money without keeping track of their remittances.

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The future of libel

POSTED ON 02/27/2014 9:34 AM  | UPDATED 02/27/2014 9:42 AM
In Disini vs. the Secretary of Justice et al. the Supreme Court, speaking through Associate Justice Roberto Abad, finally came out with a decision upholding the on-line libel provision of the Cybercrime Law thereby rejecting the contention of petitioners that the means adopted by the cybercrime law for regulating undesirable cyberspace activities violate certain of their constitutional rights. After extolling the benefits afforded by the internet to the public, the High Court warned that it could also be used by the ill-motivated to harm others. In the words of the ponencia, “the cyberspace is a boon to the need of the current generation for greater information and facility of communication. But all is not well with the system since it could not filter out a number of persons of ill will who would want to use cyberspace technology for mischiefs and crimes.”
Criminal libel is seen by many, especially media practitioners, as a restriction of the speech and press rights. In the United States, criminal libel statutes took on a circuitous route before assuming its present legal and jurisprudential form which heavily favors free speech over libel prosecution. It legal odyssey started in 1798 with the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts allowing the president to imprison or deport aliens who were considered "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States". They also restricted speech which was critical of the federal government.
Their unpopularity ultimately helped the Democratic-Republicans to win in the 1800 elections and were thus eventually allowed to expire in 1800 and 1801. While 16 States today still penalize libel in their criminal statutes, they are now seldom used, and are seen to be redundant; oftentimes dismissal of libel complaints result because the alleged libelous statements are seen to be too trivial to warrant a full blown prosecution.
The English followed a more radical approach when seditious libel, defamatory libel, and obscene libel were recently abolished in the England and Wales and Northern Ireland on 12 January 2010 with the passage of the Coroner and Justice Act of 2009.
Libel in the Philippines
Here in the Philippines, libel breathes its life from Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines which defines libel as a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to discredit or cause the dishonor or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead. Thus, the elements of libel are: (a) imputation of a discreditable act or condition to another; (b) publication of the imputation; (c) identity of the person defamed; and, (d) existence of malice.
In addition to criminal prosecution for libel under the Revised Penal Code, an aggrieved party may also take recourse under article 26 of the New Civil Code of the Philippines (Republic Act 386) for acts similar to libel but relief is limited to civil liability such as damages and/or injunction. Article 26 of Republic Act 386 penalizes acts such as prying into the privacy of another’s residence; meddling with or disturbing the private life or family relations of another; and intriguing to cause another to be alienated from his friends, among others. Civil libel differs from criminal libel in that the penalty in the former may be limited to civil damages while the later may result in fine or imprisonment; although Supreme Court Administrative Circular 8-2008 already has provided for the preference of fine over imprisonment in penalizing libel under the Revised Penal Code.
The decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of online libel was anchored on Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code. According to the Court, on-libel is actually not a new crime since Article 353, in relation to Article 355 of the penal code, already punishes it. In effect, it further added, Section 4(c)(4) of the Cybercrime Prevention Act merely affirms that online defamation constitutes “similar means” for committing libel. Surely, cyber space and the internet is another medium for expressing one’s view and those of others. Opinions can be expressed and made public just like any other media with the difference that unlike other forms of media, transmission and dissemination of messages in cyberspace is instantaneous and made to a much broader audience base. In this sense, the internet is a powerful tool as it is unique.
The fact that everyone can use the internet, including ordinary individuals who have no special skills for investigation and who are not aware of their accountability and can express their opinion on a plethora of issues of public concern makes for a vibrant democracy. We have seen innumerable times how netizens influenced public events and how they promoted transparency, public accountability and ultimately good governance.
But like most technology, the internet can be used for sinister motives. For instance, libelous material when posted in the internet can have devastating and lasting impact on the subject that can cause the aggrieved greater reputational damage. This is perhaps the reason why the imposable penalty for libel under the Cybercrime Act is one (1) degree higher than that provided for by the Revised Penal Code, as amended, and pertinent special laws.
'Presumed malice'
Philippine libel law creates the presumption that malice is present in every defamatory imputation. The effect is that the prosecution need not prove malice on the part of the defendant (malice in fact), for there is a presumption under the law that defendant’s imputation is malicious (malice in law). The burden rests on the defendant to show good intention and justifiable motive in order to overcome the legal inference of malice. However, malice can be negated by one’s sense of justice or other legitimate or plausible motive.
Associate Justice Carpio, in his dissent, expressed his serious reservations to this “presumed malice rule.” For him, this is violative of the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and expression adding that the Cybercrime law's adaptation of this rule is "a gross constitutional anomaly. He said that the public official who filed the case should be the one to prove that the defendant had knowledge that the allegedly libelous statement was false or that the defendant had "reckless disregard" of whether the statement was false or not. Associate Justice Arturo Brion wholly concurred with Justice Carpio’s opinion on the matter.
This writer fully subscribes to Justice Carpio’s view. Basic is the criminal law principle that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty; and the “malice presumption rule” under the RPC and the Cybercime law runs diametrically opposed to this principle. In all criminal prosecutions, the onus to prove guilt rests on the shoulders of the prosecution, not the defendant. But under the present law on libel the defendant is given the burden to overcome the legal inference of malice. Moreover, the legal presumption in effect abridges, curtails or lessens the exercise of free speech and of the press.
The unfairness of this rule is accentuated insofar as it concerns public officials who, by law, are bound to perform their official functions with utmost diligence, integrity and transparency. By the character of their public office, they are subject to public scrutiny based on the principle that they are accountable to the people. Prosecution is no mere theoretical possibility. Given the ease with which libel complaints can be initiated the malice presumption rule can have a chilling and daunting effect to the public, particularly to media practitioners. Besides, why should a democratic society countenance the incarceration of those who have made offensive statements concerning public officials, particularly on matters of public concerns? Is imposing civil liability not enough?
There is wisdom behind the move to decriminalize libel. The threat of imprisonment definitely sends a chilling effect on the freedom of speech, expression and speech. These rights are paramount and are guaranteed by the Constitution. Other than the Bill of rights of the 1967 Constitution, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other conventions also enjoin for the protection of these freedoms. If ever defamation is to be penalized it should not be done by means of imprisonment but through civil indemnity and other civil remedies only. Indeed, criminal libel is an anachronistic punishment and has a harsh effect on freedom of expression.
In his lone dissent, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said that “criminalizing libel contradicts our notions of a genuinely democratic society... The Constitution requires that libel... be struck down as infringing upon the guarantee of freedom of expression.” He further reasoned: the threat of being prosecuted for online libel under Republic Act No. 10175, the Cybercrime Law, stifles the dynamism of conversations in cyberspace.
While most countries, with a few exceptions, still retain criminal libel statutes, the call to abolish the offense is becoming more and more strident. And the Supreme Court is swimming against the tide in coming up with its decision. The need by the legislature and courts to rethink our libel laws is becoming more relevant especially with the widespread use of the internet, a medium like no other. Criminal libel is an anachronism and, in the words of Justice Carpio, a legal anomaly. There is a need for legal and institutional infrastructures to keep abreast with technological progress and this need is best articulated by Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno when she said, “Laws and jurisprudence should be able to keep current with the exponential growth in information technology. The challenge is acute, because the rapid progress of technology has opened up new avenues of criminality. . . It is precisely during these times of zeal that the Court must be ever ready to perform its duty to uphold fundamental rights when a proper case is brought before it.” –
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