Saturday, March 03, 2007

GSIS gave P.5b to false claimants yearly

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (Ben Balce / March 3)The Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) is purging its list pensioners so half a billion pesos would not go to false claims yearly officials said yesterday.

Edgar Eduardo, GSIS vice president for field operations for Visayas and Mindanao, said GSIS uncovered a financial leakage when it started computerizing its database of spouses and children of deceased GSIS pensioners.

Beneficiaries of “survivorship pension” are entitled to benefits as long as surviving spouses does not re-marry and the children-beneficiaries have not reached 18 years old.

Eduardo said GSIS has been sending checks to about 81,000 beneficiaries of survivorship pensions for quite some time. The average pension is some P2,400 each month.

However, officials discovered that many of the beneficiaries have long ceased to qualify.

Eduardo said the discovery prompted the GSIS to reevaluate all survivorship pension claims.

As part of the “massive cleansing,” GSIS opted to temporarily suspend releasing survivorship pensions since January, he said.

Initially, he said, the GSIS found that 15 thousand of the 81 thousand beneficiaries were no longer qualified. The figure translates to some P36 million monthly or P432 million annually.

Eduardo admitted that the move was unpopular but the GSIS had to decide whether to condone the losses or temporarily suspend the release of survivorship pensions until it could purge the list.

“We chose to do what was right. We had to suspend pensions until we could cleanse our database. The GSIS is the money of government employees. It is immoral to throw away their money just because we are afraid to correct the survivorship pension records,” he said.

Eduardo said beneficiaries need not worry because the “massive cleansing” would be completed before the month ends.


10 NPAs, 2 soldiers killed in Bukidnon

CAMP EVANGELISTA, Cagayan de Oro City (Ben Balce) - TEN New People’s Army rebels and two soldiers were killed and three other government troopers were wounded in a firefight in Malaybalay City in Bukidnon last Thursday, the military reported yesterday.

Maj. Samuel Sagun, spokesman of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, said that the military preempted the communists’ plans to sabotage the ongoing festival in the city following the eight-hour firefight.

Sagun said elements of the 26th Infantry Battalion were conducting combat operations in the hinterlands of the city when they caught up with a 30-man fully-armed rebel group belonging to the Front Committee 89 at around 8 a.m.

Sagun said the military commanders sent an MG-520 attack helicopter to provide air support for the soldiers at the height of the firefight but it was not able to able to perform its assigned task.

"It was not able to provide air support because the troops were dangerously close to the rebels, the soldiers might be hit. It just went on a precision flight, it just flew above the encounter area," said Sagun.

He said the fighting lasted up to 4 p.m., resulting in the death of the 10 rebels, two of them females, and two soldiers – Cpl. Antonio Jamanda and Pfc Franklin Tan – and wounding of three other troopers, two of them militiamen.

Also recovered from the scene of the encounter were one M16 and one M14 rifles, a landmine and assorted ammunition, said Sagun, adding that government forces have launched pursuit operations against the remnants of the rebel group.


Friday, March 02, 2007

Cop slain in gunfight at Buk'n police HQ's gate

MALAYBALAY City (Aurelle P. Arais / March 2)- A policeman was killed in a gunfight at the gate of Bukidnon provincial police office headquarters here at around 9:20 in the evening last Wednesday.

Police Supt. Juan Ratunil, Bukidnon provincial police director identified the fatality as PO2 Procoro Lutrago, a member of the 1003rd provincial police mobile group.

According to reports, the slain policeman was on duty at the gate, when two unidentified persons approached and shot him several times using an unknown caliber of hand guns.

Two other policemen responded prompting an exchange of gun fires.
However, the suspects were able to flee to an unknown direction.

It was not known if any of the suspects was hit during the encounter.

Some witnesses said that the two suspects fled from the crime scene riding a motorcycle.
During the hot pursuit operation, police recovered an abandoned motorcycle at Barangay 9, this city without a license plate number believed used by the suspects.

Ratunil said that before the suspects fled, they grabbed the Armalite rifle of the slain policeman.
The slain policeman succumbed to death with 20 gun shot wounds in various parts of the body.

It was also known if the incident was a direct attack against the provincial police office or personal motive in nature.

As of press time, an investigation is still going on.

Meanwhile, Ratunil clarified that the said incident will not affect the on going Kaamulan Festival and 90th Foundation Day of the province.

Bukidnon provincial police office beefed up its security measures to deter a similar attack in the future.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

More Cafgus seen to defect to rebel group, says military

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (Ben Balce / Feb 27) – The military yesterday said it was looking into the possibility that three more militiamen would defect to the communist New People’s Army (NPA) in Misamis Oriental.

This came about after a member of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) reportedly defected to the rebel group in Salay, Misamis Oriental.

The Militiamen Boy Gonzales, was reportedly convinced by relatives to sever his ties with the army an army battalion.

The 8th Infantry Battalion yesterday confirmed that Gonzales has gone Awol.

Three other Cafgu members are reportedly planning to follow and 8th IB is keeping an eye on them, said battalion commander Col. Erick Binuya.

“We are not concerned because he brought with him government-owned firearms,” said Binuya. Gonzales reportedly took with him two M14 rifles.

“The firearms are the accountability of Gonzales and we’re exerting efforts to locate him,” said Binuya.

Binuya has denied allegations that Gonzales’s family was being threatened by soldiers.

Binuya said the 23rd Infantry Battalion in Agusan del Sur which had administrative charges against the militiaman. More charges are being prepared, he said.

A manhunt is also ongoing against Gonzales.

Maj. Samuel Sagun, spokesperson of the 4th Infantry Division, said Gonzales was pressured by his relatives in Salay to join the rebel group.


AFP, PNP intelligence units start surveillance of media in Region 10

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (Mike Baños / Feb. 27) - Military and police personnel conducted surveillance of media practitioners in two activities last week, in what many media personalities labeled as a graphic demonstration of the "culture of impunity" which has led to killings of a growing number of leftist militants and journalists.

The surveillance started last February 14 in Salay, Misamis Oriental when armed soldiers using cellphone cameras identified as members of the Philippine Army's 8th Infantry Battalion took full-face photos of five media practitioners who were covering the burial of peasant leader Dalmacio Gandinao, the second militant leader slain in Misamis Oriental and Region 10.

Despite the publication of photographs showing soldiers engaged in the activity, Fourth Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Jose Barbieto denied his men were involved in the surveillance.

Manila Bulletin and Agence France Presse stringer Gerry Gorit admitted the knowledge that the military took his photograph has caused him anxiety and sleepless nights.

The burial of the slain peasant leader was also attended by Bayan Muna party-list representative Satur Ocampo and other regional and local leaders of Karapatan, Bayan Muna, Anakpawis and the Misamis Oriental Farmers Association.

Last Friday, February 23, the surveillance was repeated in a larger scale when at least ten military and police personnel in civilian attire identified to be members of the 4th Infantry Division Civil Affairs Unit, the Philippine Army's Civil Relations Group and the Philippine National Police R2 trailed the indignation rally against the "Culture of Impunity" led by the Cagayan de Oro Press Club all the way from its starting point at the Misamis Oriental Capitol Gardens to the Cagayan de Oro City Amphitheatre in Plaza Divisoria where the rally was held.

"Again, we want to know what these shots are for. The next time it might just be another shot but of a deadlier kind," said COPC president Hugo "Jerry" Orcullo. "They have been taking pictures of us since we started the rally," DXCO Station Manager and former Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas-Cagayan de Oro chapter president Jonas Bustamante announced as he started his talk. "I am coming forward to tell them that we know what they are doing and that we will not be cowed."

However, Diamond Press Corps president and press club director Vic Cabanag played back a taped interview of Barbieto during the rally in which the military officially assured he has not issued any orders ordering his men to conduct surveillance of mediamen. But he also issued a caveat, saying "If photos were taken and surveillance is being conducted on these mediamen, it is because they too are taking photos and doing surveillance works."

"As far as we are concerned, we guarantee the safety of all media within the 4th Infantry Division's area of responsibility,"Mr. Barbieto added.

Rally participants noted the identified military and police personnel taking down notes and surreptiously taking photographs of the rally.

A lady personnel in civilian clothes later identified to be a member of the PNP R2 (Intelligence) group based at the Police Regional Office-Region 10 at Camp Alagar even went around brazenly taking full-face photos of the media present. When asked what she was doing, she replied she was only testing her camera but couldn't answer when asked why she couldn't test it someplace else since there were other subjects in the area but nevertheless continued taking photos of those who joined the rally.

Asked about the presence of his men conducting surveillance on the indignation rally, 4th Civil Affairs Unit commander Maj. Samuel Sagun texted back, "4CMOU man yan, no longer 4ID. Headquarters Phil. Army na yan. Wala ako tao diyan."

"We're in a democratic country," Mr. Sagun's texted reply continued. "You are in the AOR (area of responsibility) safest for journalists. Quote me."

However, media present talked to personnel of Mr. Sagun's unit who were personally known to them who admitted they were only conducting routine surveillance according to orders previously issued to them by their superiors.

Military and police officials have often cited how Region 10 remains to be the only region in the country where a journalist has yet to be killed during the incumbency of Pres. Arroyo.

PNP-10 Press Corps President Michael Angelo Bustamante said he also received similar assurances from PNP PRO-10 Regional Director Chief Supt. Teodorico Capuyan that protection would be afforded to Cagayan de Oro media.

Among the key figures who attended Friday's rally were Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippine (CBCP) vice chairman and Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma and Monsignor Elmer Abacahin, Vatican Press Corps Representative and also a member of the Cagayan de Oro Press Club.

Archbishop Ledesma said the Church is one with the media in calling on government to stop the killings against media practitioners and give justice to the relatives of the victims.
"We join the media in condemning these killings and calling on government to resolve them in order not to (allow this) climate of suppression of freedom of expression," Bishop Ledesma said.

The rally was held on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the murder of Muhammad Yusop, the first journalist killed during the incumbency of Pres. Gloria Arroyo.
The anniversary has coincided with the publication of the findings of the Melo commission and an investigation by the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Philip Alston.

Former COPC President Uriel Quilinguing noted it also marked the declaration of Proclamation 1017 last year that marked the start of a crackdown on media outlets.


Monday, February 26, 2007

"After all, there is no gene for fate"

By Dr. Jose Nilo G. Binongo

Life can be tough when one is born with physical traits that have not been in vogue in the history of humankind. It becomes even tougher when, for the rest of one's life, one is stuck with a set of undesired congenital marks. But should one lose hope? Should one allow one's genetic makeup determine the future?

Growing up, I realized that, to be socially `in', I should stop sitting in my favorite corner of the library all day long. I thought participating in sports might earn me more popularity points than being adroit at fiddling with the card catalogue. But alas, in my attempt to fit in as an athlete, I came to realize I had the stature of a pygmy and the grace of a dodo – my posture and body movement were devoid of dexterity, assurance, and style.

Well then, if I wasn't built for sports, perhaps a leadership role might suit me better. So I considered running for student council president in my final year in high school. But my closest of friends dissuaded me. They confided that my chance of winning was as good as my height. I agreed; in many people's minds, one's ability to lead is a function of one's stature. So I ended up as class beadle – a position I held since my elementary years in Macasandig –where height was not a job requirement for monitoring classroom misdemeanors from my seat.

But if there was something positive that came out of this predicament, I learned early on the importance of focusing on academics. In this arena, I could compensate for my physical shortcomings. As it turned out, I wasn't wrong in my self-assessment.

After graduating from Xavier High School, I went to Ateneo de Manila as an academic scholar. This was my first time away from home, living in a place where the day-to-day language was different from my own. In my first few weeks in the Philippine capital, it was impressed upon me that Cebuano, as a language, doesn't have the same level of sophistication as that of Tagalog. My friends in the dormitory were amused with my corruption of the Tagalog vowels.

I would effortlessly change the `e's to `i's, and the `o's to `u's. Whenever I said `aku' instead of `ako' or `lalaki' instead of `lalake', my friends from southern Philippines were quick to point out, "Ka-Bisaya ba gyod nimo!" (You're so hopelessly Bisaya!)

To this very day, I've never fully understood why it is such a bad thing to be Bisaya, as we deprecatingly call ourselves. Just like my short standing, I didn't choose to be born, to be raised, or to be thrown into a community of heavily-accented Cebuano speakers. But did my Visayan-speaking friends realize that they were really discriminating against their own kind? Were they aware that they implicitly accepted our inferiority as people speaking a less refined language? Cebuano is not a dialect. Linguists have repeatedly told us that Cebuano is a bona fide language on its own. As languages, both Cebuano and Tagalog have a written form, and, to my knowledge, many literary works of quality have been written in both languages.

Moreover, if we accept that Philippine languages belong to the Malayo-Polynesian family, then, surely, `aku' or `lalaki' is more faithful to the original pronunciation. Malaysians and Indonesians alike say `aku', not `ako', when referring to the first person singular; similarly, Malaysians say `lelaki' (or `laki laki' in Indonesian) when they refer to the male sex. As I went on and on, I realized my explanation was falling on deaf ears. Steve, a good friend from Davao, gently patted my back and suggested that I shouldn't worry about matters of no importance.

After graduating from Ateneo, I went to Tokyo to take up graduate studies at Sophia University (another Jesuit institution) as a research scholar of the Japanese Ministry of Education. The Japanese didn't care whether I was uprooted from the deepest recesses of my country or what regional language I spoke. It was good enough that they knew I was from the Philippines, and that I could speak respectable Nihongo.

Unfortunately, they did discriminate in other ways. Women from the Philippines were stereotyped as entertainers (a euphemism for women in the sex trade) and Filipino men as undocumented construction workers whose jobs could be succinctly described by the three k's: `kiken', `kitsui', `kitanai' (which I translate as the three d's: dangerous, difficult and dirty). I was discriminated against not because I spoke Cebuano, but because I come from a country that sends illegal workers to Japan. Quite understandably, some Filipinos in Japan were not forthright about their country of origin, fearing unwanted social repercussions. I, on the other hand, had to launch a personal campaign, asking Filipinos with legal status to make their nationality known to their Japanese acquaintances. This, to me, was an important step towards tackling the discrimination problem.

Of course, in Japan I didn't grow taller than a young cherry blossom tree, and my height remained an item for picking. One day, I was frantically searching for the blackboard eraser in my pre-calculus class at a high school in Fukuoka (a metropolitan area in southwestern Japan).

After finding it, I learned that a student had deliberately kept it hidden on top of the board. I had made it clear to all my students that, as teacher, I was very open to constructive criticism (which I defined as "things that I can change"), and that I was intolerant of destructive feedback (defined as "things I cannot possibly change"). By hiding the eraser 6.5 feet above the floor, the students were making a statement about my height! Just before I could unleash my impending anger, one of the students, Seung Woon, explained that the class was having a tough time catching up with my board work. In an instant, what I had perceived as destructive feedback wilted into something constructive. I calmed down, smiled gingerly, and patiently waited for my students to finish copying what I had scribbled on the board.

I now teach in the United States, having left Japan several years ago. In this country, somebody has yet to deride me for being a Bisaya, or discriminate against me because I come from the Philippines, or because I was raised in the battlefield of Mindanao. (Some Americans don't even have an idea of where the Philippines is on the map!) But still, some people can't help but pick on my unique height, let alone the physical features that go with it. In his high school senior speech, a former student, Zach, talked to his audience of five hundred people about his "hobbit-like math teacher, Dr. José Nilo G. Binongo, who stood at about three inches above five feet."

I gave Zach credit for remembering my complete name (including the middle initial!) and for choosing an appropriate analogy. Undeniably, my physical appearance fits that of a hobbit – short height, long, dark, wavy hair, and big feet (allow me to add, though, that my feet are not hairy). My unimpressive appearance is in stark contrast to Zach's model-like features. Maintaining the flawless physique of a lacrosse player, Zach was recently featured in MTV's reality show, "Made."

There are things in life that I cannot be held accountable for. It wasn't my choice that I have a significantly below-average height. It wasn't my choice to grow up embracing Cebuano as my mother tongue. It wasn't my choice that I have a Philippine passport or that I have typical Southeast Asian looks. Even with modern day medical technology, it would be difficult to undo these congenital marks of my personhood. Yes, I have many qualities that many people do not deem `cool', but I do believe there's a reason why I possess them. Though I have yet to fully understand, all I know now is that these God-given gifts define who I am and shape my uniqueness as an individual with a mission in this transient world.

Perhaps, Zach's speech is more telling: "Dr. Binongo did find passion in his work, in a way that inspired even the most unenthusiastic students.… He even took jokes about his size, voice, and hair with a confident smile. It was those qualities that made me respect him, but I was unsure about what made him a great example of manhood. He did not embody any of the qualities I set out to acquire, yet I believed him to be one of the greatest men I had ever met."

So as not to be misconstrued, I am responsible for many things in my life. I have made many decisions, some of which, in retrospect, I wish I did not have anything to do with. Some I am very happy with.

Becoming a teacher is one such happy decision. The teaching profession has allowed me to touch many people's lives at any given time.

Before a crowd of prospective students and parents, Ashley (a former student in my advanced placement calculus class) candidly admitted: "In Dr. Binongo's class, I experienced two firsts: my first F (a 63 to be exact) and the first time I have ever found myself looking forward to a math class." Even as Ashley portrayed me as being a very difficult teacher, I smiled at those words. As she continued on her speech, I became more confident that I understand correctly what God wanted me to be. It's a great comfort to know that I've been treading on the right track all these years. I'm not a rich man probably because I chose to be a teacher, but this is a decision I take responsibility for and a decision I don't regret making.

Years before Zach made me the subject of his high school speech, my own son, Rai, had decided to do the same, entitling his speech, "Life with José." While it is true that I felt uncomfortable when Rai revealed privileged information about myself to the entire school (for example, my abortive attempts at karaoke every Sunday morning), I was all smiles when he summed up his speech with these words: "Despite all these negatives, I think my Dad made a good decision to become a teacher. I sure benefited from his passion and I know others will, too."

It's been a long time since he gave that unforgettably embarrassing speech, but it was only recently that I came to believe that my son truly meant what he said in his concluding lines. Last week, he drove more than eight hours (crossing three state borders) to participate in a ceremony at Emory University recognizing my efforts in teaching. I felt pride in his heart when Molly (a graduate student in public health) read these words during the commencement ceremony: I am presenting this award to a professor who received a standing ovation on the first and last day of class this past semester. I was definitely surprised at the enthusiasm of the students for this professor until I actually experienced his teaching. Somehow, this professor made the very difficult subject of biostatistics fun and comprehensible. … He spends the few extra moments he has during the day to ensure that every student completely understands the material that he teaches. Then he makes you promise to get enough sleep the night before a test so that there are no confounding variables. Although this professor once said, "I'm not a magician, I'm just a
statistician, " I believe he underestimates his teaching abilities. This professor is more than a magician — he is a teacher. Dr. José Binongo, are you out there?

My son was one of the first to congratulate me on receiving the Rollins Professor of the Year Award. Though there are things in life that I can't change, I do have total control over how I respond to them. I could have chosen to get angry with my parents, blaming them for bringing me into this world and raising me as a native of Mindanao. I could have wished I had Brad Pitt's looks. I could have wished I had Michael Jordan's height and athletic prowess. I could have wished I spoke with a legitimate American accent. I could have wished I were as smart as Albert Einstein.

I could have wished I had Bill Gates' wealth. While it is true that my genes and my demographic characteristics define who I am, they do not completely determine my fate. It's the personal choices and decisions I've made – along with never-ending prayers for discernment – that have led me to where I am now, and where I will be.

My DNA, or the environment I grew up in, cannot limit my humanity and my human spirit. Although I'm painfully aware of the inconveniences, I don't feel deprived just because I'm not the standard height.

I am not sorry for choosing a profession that doesn't pay well. Hearing from students that I've made a difference in their lives is, to me, priceless. And yes, I take pride in the fact that I have my roots in Cagayan de Oro. I am proud of being a Bisaya, with Cebuano as my native language. I feel truly blessed that I have a Filipino heritage. I'm happy to be me.

(Dr. Jose Nilo G. Binongo, a Filipino academician at Emory University in Atlanta, USA, who studied in Japan and was recognized as Rollins School of Public Health Professor of the Year in 2006.)