Divorce in the Philippines

divorceI sometimes give free legal advises to Kababayans here in Singapore through phone calls. I observe that most problems consulted with me concern marital affairs. This is not uncommon with husbands and wives who are far apart from each other, especially if one lives in Singapore and the other in the Philippines.

What strikes me most is – the issues consulted with me deal with the intention of either the husband or the wife filing “divorce” back home. What is funny is these people wanted only to sign agreements with their spouses to end their marriage. They sometimes request me to file the so-called agreement with a government agency in the Philippines. I would often laugh at how uninformed our Kababayans are of our laws even at present times. I may attribute the blame to my fellow lawyers who oftentimes prefer to leave out explanation to these needy people during consultations and would directly proceed to the remedies they had in mind, most of which ends up in court.

Unlike Singapore and other western countries, the Philippines does not have western-style divorce. If we mean “divorce” as the the process where both husband and wife would hire lawyers and agree before a government body to end their marriage, then there indeed is no divorce in the Philippines. I believe it would be even difficult for Congress to pass a law on divorce on mere compromise of husbands and wives alone, unless maybe the Constitution is amended. It is because our present Constitution would not allow it to happen. Our Constitution mandates (Article XV, Section 2) that “Marriage, as an inviolable social institution, is the foundation of the family and shall be protected by the State.” The important words in this provision are “inviolable” and “protected”. “Inviolable” means that marriage should “not be broken”. And it should be “protected” by the State from being broken, even by the spouses themselves.

It means that marriage in the Philippines could not be broken, or terminated, or severed by anyone or anything. This includes the agreement between the husband and the wife to end it. One may argue that marriage is only a contract, and like any other contract, one or both of the parties may terminate it. In its basic sense, marriage is indeed a contract. But in the Philippines, it is not considered as ordinary. Basing on the declaration of the Constitution, former President Corazon Aquino passed the Family Code of the Philippines in 1987 through an Executive Order. This law declares that marriage is not an ordinary agreement but a special contract where the State has a special interest. It is through marriage that a family is created, and the Family is considered the most basic social institution. Several families or group of families comprise the Barangay and Barangays constitute a Municipality, and so on and so forth. This law, which embodies the mandate of the Constitution, stipulates that break-up of marriage through whimsical decisions would entail an adverse effect on family relations.

However for every rule there is always an exception. The Family Code does not only declare what a marriage should be but also provides the grounds or reasons why a marriage may be terminated. The law tells that a marriage may also be severed based only on the grounds it enumerates. Other than those it provides, marriage could not be dissolved. The Family Code tells us of two modes a husband and wife can part ways. One is annulment where after it is granted marriage is totally voided, and both husband and wife can marry again. The other is legal separation where the marriage is not broken. The husband and wife remain married but they can legally live apart, and can manage their properties separately.

The grounds for the two modes totally differ from each other. The basic grounds for annulment are: marriage before eighteen (18) years of age; marriage between the age of eighteen (18) and twenty-five (25) without either of the parents’ consent; mental illness at the time of marriage; fraud (which includes sexually transmissible disease) unknown to the other party during marriage; and intimidation, undue influence, and physical violence forcing the other to marry (“shot-gun marriage”). The grounds for legal separation, on the other hand, are: repeated physical violence and grossly abusive conduct during marriage, imprisonment of one of the spouse to more than six (6) years; drug addiction or habitual alcoholism; homosexuality or lesbianism; sexual infidelity or perversion; attempt on the life by one spouse against the other; and abandonment by one of the spouse for more than one year without cause.

Comparison of the two shows that most of the grounds for annulment should be present before and during the wedding. It means that the husband or the wife must be tricked or compelled to marry. While grounds for legal separation may start to manifest after the wedding, it does not however mean that marriage can already be annulled when grounds for legal separation were present before the wedding. So, even if the husband is a homosexual, and such was unknown to the wife before the wedding, but was made known to her only during marriage, she could not use it as a ground to annul her marriage. The same principle goes to lesbianism, alcoholism, drug addiction, or perversion.

But the Family Code, since it is an amendment to the Civil Code on Marriage, added a new ground to annul an existing marriage. This is the famous “psychological incapacity” ground. Article 36 of the Code provides that “A marriage contracted by any party who, at the time of the celebration, was psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential marital obligations of marriage, shall likewise be void even if such incapacity becomes manifest only after its solemnization.” This provision of the law tells us that a marriage is void or invalid when one of the spouse was psychologically incapacitated to perform his or her marital obligations before and at the time of the wedding, even if such incapacity only manifested after the ceremony.

Psychological incapacity in the early years of the Code, covered a wide range of definitions. It is undeniable that the phrase is somewhat vague and its construction tends to be subjective. In 1997, the Supreme Court, in the Molina Case, came into the picture and set, once and for all, the definition of psychological incapacity to erase all doubts about its meaning. The High Court ruled that in order for a ground to be considered as “psychological incapacity”, the incapacity must be present during the wedding; it must be medically or clinically permanent or incurable; and it must be grave enough to assume the essential obligations of marriage. Mild character peculiarities, mood changes, occasional emotional outbursts, or incompatibilities cannot be considered as incapacities. After this ruling, the process of annulment based on this ground became difficult to achieve.

The hurdle to annul a marriage in the Philippines even though the grounds exist starts with its filing. Other countries treat marriage as a contract, thus, divorce is granted when the spouses agree on it. The lengthy discussion would only then center on the partition of properties, the custody of children, how much will each spouse contribute to the support and education of the children, and other ownership and possession issues. In the Philippines, since it is illegal for spouses to agree on annulling their marriage, the main question focuses on whether, before anything else, the State would permit the marriage to be annulled.

The process starts when the husband or the wife goes to court to file a petition to annul the marriage. The spouse filing the petition will be called the petitioner and the opposing spouse the respondent. The petitioner must give a copy of the petition to the respondent. Without proof that respondent received a copy of the petition, the case could not continue.

It is also a must that the Office of the City or Provincial Prosecutor and the Office of the Solicitor General should receive copies of the petition to annul. The prosecutor as well as the Solicitor General will check whether the annulment was not agreed upon by the spouses. The case could not continue if they found that the spouses connive or collude to file the case. The court will allot at least six (6) months from the filing of the petition until the first formal proceeding to give time to the spouses to reconcile, if possible.

In any civil case, the non-appearance or the failure to answer by the defendant or respondent would declare him in default. It means he could not anymore present his side in court, and the petitioner would most likely win. But this process does not apply in annulment or legal separation cases. It is because in most of these cases, the respondent husband or wife often does not appear in court, especially when there was already a secret agreement between the spouses to annul the marriage. The non-appearance of the respondent will not place him in default. The city or provincial prosecutor as representative of the State will subject the petitioner and his witnesses to cross-examination to determine for the court whether there is truth in the filing of the case. It is also the duty of the prosecutor or the Solicitor General to appeal the case to a higher tribunal if they are oppose or not satisfied with the court’s ruling in granting the annulment. This duty of the prosecutor and the Solicitor General is in line with the mandate of the Constitution to protect marriage from dissolution.

Some Filipino women who were divorced by their Singaporean husbands here in Singapore sought help on how to annul their marriage in the Philippines. Any Filipino must understand that Philippine laws on marriage apply to Filipino citizens even when they are living abroad, so long as they do not lose their citizenship. So, if a Singaporean and a Filipino citizen marry each other, they are considered married under Philippine laws even if they live in Singapore. The Singaporean is also married to the Filipino under Singapore laws. Since Singapore allows divorce, any divorce granted to the spouses in Singapore is valid and legal under Singapore laws. But the situation is different in the Philippines. Although the spouses are divorced in Singapore, the Filipino is still considered married to the Singaporean in the Philippines.

This case however is not without remedy for the Filipino wife or husband. Article 26 of the Family Code states that, “Where a marriage between a Filipino citizen and a foreigner is validly celebrated and a divorce is thereafter validly obtained abroad by the alien spouse capacitating him or her to remarry, the Filipino spouse shall have capacity to remarry under Philippine law.” 

What the Filipino should do is secure a copy of the divorce papers and decree in Singapore, and have them authenticated by the Philippine Embassy. Thereafter, he must file a petition in the Philippines with the regular courts to declare the nullity of his marriage there. The procedure on regular annulment of marriage I discussed will not be followed. All he needs is to prove that a divorce occurred in Singapore and that the laws of Singapore allow his spouse to remarry. Our courts will then issue a decree nullifying his marriage in the Philippines and the partition of the conjugal properties.

A number of bills were already passed in Congress to enact laws on divorce but none of them even reach third reading. It is because Congress also fears that even if the law is passed, it will be stricken down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. Unless our Constitution is amended to allow divorce, this process will only still remain a dream.

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Smörgåsbord of Insights (2013)

As I scanned through some of my Facebook posts, I thought I should share some of them not only to my circle of friends but to others as well. I do not claim correctness in all of these tidbits, but I thought quite hard before I wrote them. These are some of my perceptions of the current facts.

On Liberation Theology

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I came across the idea of Liberation Theology during my college days when a fraternity brother who was a former member of the LFS in UP, and who entered the Franciscan order raised it with me during a conversation. I could still remember discussing and agreeing with him a theological concept that was at that time somewhat new and foreign to me. Although I came from the minor seminary, theology or its variations are not yet taught in high school.

Years of study at the State University catered me with several ideologies that I could not easily digest, especially when some of your professors from the Social Sciences and Philosophy would feed you inputs and require you to watch movies laced with left-leaning themes. I had watched an array of films and plays, and complied with the reaction papers that we were obliged to submit.

One that struck a chord out of me was the film about Oscar Romero of El Salvador. He was a bishop and a proponent of Liberation Theology. He was assassinated most probably by the government. That was after he celebrated mass. It seemed doleful for a modern-day crusader and clergyman who fought for social injustice and inequality to end his life that way. Hate against oppressive regimes came next and the call for revolution as the cure to injustice were then the only answers to me to level off political and social inequalities. One that also befuddled me was Romero’s interpretation and use of Christ’s mission of liberating man out of sin. I always thought it to be spiritual, but he is suggesting more of a political one.

My maturity and my introduction to reason and deeper Catholic faith has led me to believe that Liberation Theology has somewhat went beyond the borders of Catholic teachings. Jesus Christ came into the world not to instill political and social order but to direct man spiritually and away from sin. He came to change the spiritual and not the temporal order.

I believe that social injustice, inequalities, wars, famines, and catastrophes should not be hated. They are the will of God. They bring sufferings. And to suffer is a gift, an opportunity to bring yourself closer to Him, regardless of whether you are poor or rich.

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On Public School Textbooks

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Books in public schools should not be bid out. The government should not compromise education with low quality books and instructional materials which usually are the result of public bidding.

What if books that are of good quality and authored by renowned and good authors are printed only by a certain publishing company. And these authors or publishing will never join the bid, then these quality books will never arrive at the table of public school children.

The DepEd should create a board of experts for every course/subject which will determine the appropriate textbooks, their authors, workbooks and worksheets for each grade level. After selection and approval by the Secretary, the purchase of the materials should not pass public bidding.

DepEd’s prior practice was to commission their own officials to author books for the Department, no matter how incompetent these people are in the field they are writing. The strategy (or corruption) was to contain the funding and appropriate the revenue among themselves at the expense of the children’s education.

I think it’s high time for the DepEd to re-think and re-evaluate the books they are providing the children. Likewise, the Department should also prevent politics to interfere with the hiring of teachers.

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On the IOS 7/iPhone vs Android/Samsung phones

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IOS is already behind Android just as the iPhones are behind the Samsung, HTC and Nexus top of the line phones.

The problem with the iPhone as a whole is its hardware. It cannot widen its screen more than 4 inches across because the phone will require a lot of processing power to handle the added pixels. Its micro processing clip, the A7, is not that powerful compared to the Snapdragon 800 of the S4 and the Galaxy Note 3. What it lacks hardware-wise iPhone compensates with its software.

IOS software and apps are not bloated. This is because unlike Android, Apple filters the apps that go into their store. It should be lean so that it could be seamlessly run by its processor. Android on the other hand is an open-source system. There is not much restrictions on how the developer will build an application. This is because Android or Google does not build its own hardware, it leaves it to the hardware giants like Samsung, Sony, LG and HTC.

One would think why there are no widgets or live wallpapers in an IOS. It is because these software eat up a lot of processing power. If there will be, iPhone performance will not be smooth.

But I don’t still discourage anybody to buy an iPhone. It’s how one uses his phone. If you are using your phone simply as an everyday talk and text, Facebook and internet browser, camera and video cam, or just to show friends that you can afford an expensive gadget, buy an iPhone. But if you are a techy geek, fond of multi-tasking, and you do other more than ordinary tasks in your phone, then get a top of the line Android phone.

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On Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan

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The guest speaker for the West View Primary School regular academic activity is Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan. Dr. Balakrishnan (a medical doctor) is the MP (Congressman) of the district where the school is located. He is also the incumbent Minister of the Environment and Water Resources of Singapore.

He arrived with no entourage. There were even no school banners welcoming his arrival and presence. He talked to the kids and waited until the activity ended. He was seen roaming around checking the booths, and talking to the teachers, pupils, and parents. I never saw the teachers, the parents or the pupils took pictures with him. He left alone quietly without anyone announcing his departure.

The doctor was also the guest speaker of the 2011 Philippine Embassy Independence Day Reception at the Mandarin Hotel. He is quite popular here in Singapore and is favored to be the next prime minister.

This is how our politicians should behave.

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On Singapore being a safer place

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We happened to cruise the roads of our neighborhood (Singapore) at midnight around 1 AM. I saw in a dimly lit bus stop, a teenage girl around 16 to 18 years old. She was wearing shorts and a shirt and was somewhat tinkering with her phone. She was maybe waiting for the next bus to arrive.

No other commuter is with her, yet she was relaxed and was not mindful of her surroundings. I told myself, in the Philippines, a girl of this age wearing daring outfits, in the wee hours of the night, alone, is inviting danger.

But here, it is actually a common sight. No one is scared to walk alone in the dead of the night. It is because no one will hurt you.

How safe it is to raise your children in a place like this.

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On Dealing with Arrogant People

portrait-of-arrogant-people-canvas

I love to attend reunions with people who had for sometime been my good friends. I want to know how they faired in life. I will be very happy to know that they have succeeded. Otherwise, I am very willing to help them in whatever way I can.

But I hate to attend reunions with people who had only been ‘passers-by’ in my life, and who joined the get-together for purpose of bragging their money, their things and the people who they know.

These people are either desperate attention-seekers or social climbers. I don’t need them. It is a waste of time.

I would rather be with friends who are underachievers but who speak truthfully about themselves. I would rather be with people who are achievers but who are humble enough not to brag their accomplishments.

Because I am not easily awed and amused by story-telling. I have many friends who have great stories to tell but opt not to tell them. And they remain great in my eyes as I have been to them.

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On the Filipinos’ Short-Term Memory

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Last night, since it was raining hard and we did not bring umbrellas with us, we were forced to ride a taxi from the neighboring mall (around 300 meters away from our house) to our unit. The uncle or taxi driver (that’s what they call older men here, just like mama in Manila) was very jolly and even praised our children for being so cute. He knew then that we are Filipinos although he mistaken us first for Singaporeans. He told us that he is always following Philippine News and is quite updated with it.

Now came the laughing yet quite embarrassing topic. He told us that he could not understand Filipinos. He laughed hard but not really in an insulting manner. He said that it is only in the Philippines that he sees people voting for politicians who robbed them. He was really stupefied that Erap won the mayoralty seat in Manila, the capital of the country. He also pointed out that Bongbong Marcos is now senator, Imelda, a congresswoman, and Imee, a governor. “Erap, he said, was convicted for doing bad in the government. Why vote for him again?”

It was the first time I was not able to defend us. I just laughed and said I didn’t really know. He told us laughing that Marcos made us poor and yet we reward his family by putting all of them to government seats. “In Singapore, he said, once you are convicted, you will never regain yourself. And isn’t it you are already around 95 million, are there no other man or woman more competent than these persons?”

Well, after all the conversation, and a bit embarrassed, we just invited him to visit the Philippines. His parting words were, “Well, the Philippines is doing great now, Benigno Aquino is doing a good job for your country. I hope the progress will continue.”

I even did not get his name. But I got a lesson or two of who we really are from an ordinary Singaporean like him.

Overseas Absentee Voting: Voter Turnout Apprehensions

oavOn April 13, 2013, national elections will start early for all overseas Filipinos around the globe. The choosing will only be limited to  party-list representatives and the 12 seats vacated by senators whose terms expire on June 30 noon. Votes for local candidates from governors down to the sangguniang bayan members, and local congressmen will not be included in the electronic ballot. COMELEC find it difficult to print ballots of different LGUs and to electronically configure the voting program to suit every Filipino living abroad who came from different local government units at home.

However, the biggest problem that besets the coming elections for OAV (overseas absentee voting) is to reach the target set by the COMELEC of a 50%-voter turnout.

Overseas Absentee Voting was first conducted in the presidential elections of 2004. The law was passed in 2003, after which only two months were allocated for registration. Of the 359,297 registered voters, it was said that 233,092 or 65% had voted. It was considered a success by the election body then considering the several problems it encountered prior, during and after the elections. In 2007, the mid-term elections resulted in a low voter turnout. From the 503,896 registrants, only 81,732 or 16% voted. This was a very sudden dropped (even in actual numbers) from the 2004 elections. COMELEC was quite optimistic with the voter turnout in the 2010 presidential elections. But after the exercise, of the 589,830 registrants, only 141,846 or 24% voted. There was only a 6% increase.

The sharp decline in 2007 was attributed by COMELEC to the fact that it was a mid-term election and voters were not so much keen in casting votes to fill up the senate seats, compared to electing a new president. They predicted a rebound in 2010. They were dismayed. The low turnout of 24% in 2010 further gave doubts to their alibi that mid-term elections do not encourage many voters.

I however have some reservations to the statistics presented by COMELEC in 2004 with respect to the OAV turnout. There might have been some inaccuracies. The 233,092 figure may not be totally true? We can recall that the national elections at that time was purely manual and the whole practice was rigged. If Arroyo could have pulled 1 million ghost votes in Mindanao, was it not possible for her to control the overseas absentee votes? It was likewise very doubtful to rush the passing of the OAV bill into law in 2003, and set up registration for two months to catch up with the 2004 voting? The whole OAV system may have been built to buffer any deficiency Arroyo might incur in the mainland elections. Maybe the Mindanao scheme was not yet in place then or maybe it was set up to augment it. The 65% turnout is quite shady for a new system.

To draw a clearer picture, the graph would depict a zig-zag line with highs during presidential elections and lows during mid-term elections. I may peg the 2004 elections at 20% turnout and not 65%.

The 2013 mid-term elections may not be any different from the 2007. Sad as it may, but it might not surpass the 2010 voter turnout. Most Filipinos do not see any impact in filling up the vacant seats left by the 12 senators. Unlike voting for the president, who wields all the major powers in the government, voting for the senators will not translate into any major changes in the government.

The other factor that does not give OAVs the fun and thrill to vote abroad is the absence of local elections in their ballots. Most Filipinos, accept it or not, are compelled to vote not because they care about electing national officials. They vote because they support local candidates who may be either their relatives, friends or allies. Others vote because of some considerations, in cash or in kind. During the OAV registration, most Filipinos would inquire whether local elections are part of the ballot. Some would not even register because they prefer to vote at home.

Filipinos who are permanent residents (green card holders, pink card holders, etc.) of other countries fear that they might lose their chance of gaining the host country’s citizenship if they vote in the Philippine elections.  The dilemma whether to register or not, vote or not, always comes at the choice between two citizenships. In this issue, the permanent residents take more into consideration the host country’s laws.

What is crucial in generating higher voter turnout is the information campaign that must be undertaken by the Philippine embassies (DFA) and the COMELEC. Every Filipino should be made aware of the election period so that he may prepare himself and marks his calendar for the activity. Filipino community associations must also be given the lead to spearhead and encourage Filipinos to vote. The band-wagon mentality still works with exercises like these. Social networking sites such as facebook and twitter must be used to disseminate information on the elections. The embassies should convey as much information they have on the event.

One way of ‘forcing’ a higher voter turnout is to give Filipinos a ‘no choice situation’ during the elections. It is undeniable that the right to vote also carries with it the duty to vote. Every Filipino has the civic duty to participate in the exercise. I believe it is not a violation of one’s right to ‘compel’ someone to vote during these times. Filipinos line up every day at embassies to process their official documents, passports and other papers. Why not put conditions on the facilitation or accommodation of these processes? For example, why not require first the individual to vote before continuing with facilitation of his papers? What violation could the embassy make? In the first place, it is the duty under the law of the individual to vote.

With around two weeks before the actual elections start, let us cross our fingers that the turnout will be better this time around.

Passport Misconceptions

passportI am forced to write this blog in response to the countless misconceptions arising either from pure ignorance or laziness to check our laws by our Kababayans with regards to the true mandate of our dearly beloved PASSPORTS. Yes, the one official document that makes us “official” in the country we work, live or visit. I think it might be better to put these annoying and repetitive questions into numbers and answer them accordingly for easy reading and understanding:

1. Is it our right as Filipinos to be issued a passport?

A: Sorry, but NO. It is NEVER a right for us citizens of the Philippines to be issued a Philippine passport. Unlike other rights such as “the right to vote”, where we can demand from the COMELEC or from any Philippine authority to accommodate us and grant us the opportunity, it is never in the case of granting Philippine passports. We cannot demand from the Department of Foreign Affairs of from any Philippine Embassy to issue us passports. We apply for it, and it is within the prerogative of the DFA Secretary or his authorized representatives to grant us  passports or not. IN OTHER WORDS, we are issued a passports as a PRIVILEGE and not as a right.

2. So, if it is ONLY a PRIVILEGE and not a RIGHT, why do I own my PASSPORT?

A: DO NOT EVER THINK that you own your PASSPORT. YOU DO NOT OWN YOUR PASSPORT. It is the government of the Philippines which owns your passport. You are MERELY a HOLDER of that passport. It might be issued in your name, bears your age, your address, and other personal data, but you are not its OWNER.

3. So, if I am not the owner of the PASSPORT, and it is the GOVERNMENT that owns it, what can the government do with my passport even if it is in my POSSESSION?

A: It follows [in property laws] that once a person owns a thing, he has the full right to do whatever he likes with it. He can even destroy such thing, if he feels it. No one will file a case against you, if you break your watch or throw it against a wall. Just like our PASSPORT, since it is owned by the Government, the GOVERNMENT can cancel or revoke it even if we are still in its possession. And since it is the Government’s property, it can choose whether to DENY us its issuance, or RESTRICT us with its use.

4. Then if we do not OWN our PASSPORTS, why do we pay a thousand pesos for its issuance, doesn’t it amount also to BUYING the PASSPORT from the GOVERNMENT.

A: NO, IT IS NEVER THE CASE. We do not pay for that booklet of paper. Because if we should pay for the cost of paper only, we should be charged less. The amount we pay is the PRICE OF THE PRIVILEGE extended to us by the STATE or by the GOVERNMENT. It does not even involve the price of the service that comes with the production of our booklet. In any government or state, either democratic, socialist, or communist, it is the OBLIGATION of every citizen to pay taxes or fees to the STATE. This is in exchange for the security, citizenship, and services granted by their governments to them. Try to imagine yourself as a person without a country; without a citizenship. You will be driven out from any place you will try to live, just like what happened to the Palestinians and the Gypsies.

5. So, is it THE OBLIGATION of the GOVERNMENT, in this case, the Philippine Embassy, to issue my PASSPORT at the exact date and time indicated in my COLLECTION SLIP?

A: DARN NO. Please try to look into the paper you are holding. Is it a CONTRACT with the GOVERNMENT? Is it a CERTIFICATE OF TITLE [TITULO] in your NAME? NO. It is only a NOTICE. A notice that you can expect to receive or collect your PASSPORT on that particular date. From the time you were  permitted to submit your application, photographed and paid the lawful fee, until the time your passport is actually released to you, your legal interest on the PASSPORT is still under the prerogative and discretion of the GOVERNMENT. Even if your PASSPORT Booklet was already made, the DFA still has the discretion not to issue it to you. So during the period where you don’t have the new passport in your hand, you don’t have any right of possession to it.

6. What could be the instances wherein my PASSPORT could not be issued to me on time?

A: The new PASSPORTS are embedded with microchips and are made not by the DFA but are subcontracted to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. One cause of delay in the creation of the PASSPORT is the unprecedented malfunction at times of the machine that creates it coupled with other factors. The production of the passports were never concealed to the people. It is a basic official act of the GOVERNMENT. All the processes in its production as well as the underlying contracts were, in no doubt, published in newspapers of general circulation. It is not anymore the fault of the DFA if some individuals consider the passport production very long. They should adjust their individual schedules to its processing.

7. Must a citizen renew his PASSPORT, six months prior to its expiration?

A: The Philippine Passport Act DOES NOT provide such requirement. It entirely depends on the the need of the passport holder. It is the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) that encourages the renewal of passports six months prior to its expiration because most countries DO NOT allow persons to enter their territory, possessing  passports with validity of less than six months. For our Kababayans who has problems on this matter, you are NEVER in a POSITION to malign the Philippine Embassy if it cannot issue the PASSPORT on your desired DATE, so as to satisfy your need. You have the OBLIGATION TO KNOW your LAWS. IGNORANTIA LEGIS NEMINEM EXCUSAT.

8. What could be the best guiding line we should learn from all of these?

A: Remember what John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you – [but] ask what you can do for your country”. Let us stop whining for every inconvenience we encounter, we always end as losers.

Sinondojan – the road less travelled…

As we alighted the tricycle along the two-lane national highway, I could see from a distance the edge of the low cliff where as a child I used to play. Not far from my left is an old house, nearing its total destruction, most of which has already fallen apart. Along the highway is a big acacia tree that used to be my resting cum hiding place during siesta hours in the afternoons, when I absconded from the mandatory sleeping sessions.

The shade of the big tree gave me and my cousins a respite from the burning heat of summer sun. We traveled three kilometers from the Poblacion (where my cousin lives) to this place.

The cliff I told you leads us to a sandy river separating our group from Sinondojan, the place of my ancestors, the place that cradled the forefathers of the family. The family that has now scattered all over the world.

I need to do a research on the origin of the name, but I somewhat know that it was named from the merging of river and creeks that bounded it.

The river is about 20 meters wide and  about 10 feet at its deepest. We have to use a bamboo raft attached to a rolling pulley to get to the other side. It was summertime yet the river could not be traversed without the aid of this vessel.

During my childhood years, we waded through the water to reach to the other bank. The water was only knee deep then. This river taught me how to swim. It taught me how to mingle and socialize with children of neighbors who were farmers and fishermen. I and my brother used to play “catch me” with the other kids during our swim. We would likewise gather native river shells which we call cagaycays and would bring them to our mother or yayay (Lola) for a savory soup. Lots of childhood memories engulf my mind as I crossed the already muddy deep.

It was around 9:30 in the morning yet the sun was already pricking our skins. We have to climb another low cliff at the other side of the bank. The tip of the raft touched the edge of the soft sandy and muddy bank. “This is at last, Sinondojan”, I told myself. When I was young, I would gallop to the top of the cliff in no time. As I looked at the peak of the mound of earth above me, it seemed to be an eternity reaching it. Rows of banana plants coupled with thin naturally-growing madre-de-cacaos lined the edge of this cliff. Atop is a newly planted field of corn, intended to be harvested sometime during the fiesta of the patron saint, Senior San Isidro Labrador, perpetually scheduled on the 14th of May of every year.

It could not be denied that this barrio is home to a small community of farmers or farm-hands discerning from their choice of patron saint. Most of the farm owners here are already domiciled in the Poblacion or some other cities in the province. They would only periodically visit their fields during planting and harvest times. My forefathers were then farmers here which also included my father and uncles during their younger days. But education made them leave Sinondojan for better pays; other than waiting for small incomes derived from palay harvests.  

We walked for around five minutes until we reached the house of my uncle, a newly built house made of strong concrete and galvanized roofing. The paint is Mexican inspired just like any modern and contemporary house found in the Poblacion. It is fully furnished with running water, electricity, a very good home theater set-up, and a satellite-dish-aided-cable TV. This house was the endeavor of his son, who works abroad aboard a foreign vessel as a marine engineer. Adjacent to my uncle’s is the house of his daughter, my cousin, also built of concrete and galvanized roofing. Her husband also works as a seaman abroad.

The houses are far thought during my childhood years, where most of the abodes were made of bamboos and nipa thatched roofs. Strolling around the neighborhood, one would see similar sights. A few meters from these two houses is the house of our mama Ina (our auntie), a septuagenarian old maid. She was the one who took care of our yayay Edang (paternal grandmother). Our yayay died in the early 90’s. She is now left alone in her house that had become quite dilapidated if not for the generosity of some of her nephews and nieces who help her repair parts of it. A stone’s throw away is the house of another mama named Aunor. She is the eldest of the brood. She does not know her exact age but in my count she is already nearing a century. Her husband died three decades ago and left her with one of her oldest daughters to take care of her. She enjoys watching her noontime and nighttime telenovelas and teleseryes in her 14-inch television set.

Mama Aunor and Mama Ina both exemplify the generation that was left behind. They were stuck with the rural backdraft of the barrio set during those times when the only work known was farming. Yet, they get help from relatives and children who still care for them.

It was noontime already and we were ready for lunch. I bought fish and meat from the town market for grilling. We had a somewhat small reunion. We feasted on the the grilled food and lasted the whole afternoon, talking and talking, making up for the lost years we’ve been apart.

Sinondojan is still the same. So serene, so quiet, and still fragrant of the fresh grass I so long missed every time I woke up in the morning. The birds are still there. I fortunately saw one hawk soaring around the coconut trees. The afternoon wind came swirling a refreshing dervish to my spine.

By the time I know, it was already 5 o’clock nearing dusk. We have to catch the last tricycle passing by or else we will be forced to hike the three kilometer road to the Poblacion. Dusk is closing in and it was not anymore safe to walk at night. Gone are those days when we can still freely roam around with the moonlight over our heads. I also had to sleep early since I had a plane to catch the following day. We took group pictures to mark this day. We then headed to town.

As I was boarding the tricycle and darkness slowly draped the windy place, memories flashed to my mind of the days I had with Sinondojan. I can never deny it. I am a son of this lowly place in the heart of Panay Island.

Why Not Dissolve the Philippine Armed Forces?

As I was surfing the web, I came across a news article on the allocation of the Department of National Defense from the National Budget this 2012. It is a staggering Php19.8 billion.

It is undeniable that this department and the Armed Forces under it, are but havens for corruption since maybe it was established a century ago. And since its inception, we cannot remember any single moment in history that this group has defended the Philippines from external aggressions; maybe during World War II under the direct supervision and control of the Americans.

My point is, why waste so much money for an agency which is only there for nominal image? I have searched info from around the globe and  discovered that there are several countries out there who does not have their own armed forces or military. And they are saving a lot of money.

We have the least  equipped and the most corrupt armed forces among the top nations in Southeast Asia. Look at our planes, our ships and our helicopters. Most of them date back even during the “Tora Tora” years. We may someday realize that Vietnam has more armed power than us.

One would say that we should have one armed forces to discourage other countries to invade us or maybe to deter them from bullying us. I don’t buy that point. I don’t think China nowadays is apprehensive of occupying the Spratly’s only because it fears our armed forces. Hell, no. Right now we are considered the little kid who brags, depends, and calls for help from our big brother – the Americans. Believe it or not, in the eyes of the international community, we are still a protectorate of the U.S., just like Guam, Palau, and other Micronesian islands in the Pacific.

Who you may say shall counter the threats caused by the insurgents, e.g. the MILF, Abu Sayaff, and the NPAs? Are not these groups only internal threats? We can always spin-off special forces from the the Philippine National Police or create a national guard to deal with these people. In our offensive against these insurgents, did we ever use battle ships, our F-18 fighters, or tanks. Did we have a full blown artillery battle with these people, complete with both sides planning strategies? None. The only thing we get from them, is guerrilla warfare. That is why the military  always sends special forces, such as, the marines, rangers, etc. to deal with them.

How do we defend our country, if one may insist that we need one strong military? Why not invite the U.S. again to set up a small base in Palawan or the MIndanao. This time around, it should however be thoroughly planned. I have no doubt, the Americans will welcome this with open hands. I know this is very much debatable because of sovereignty issues. But come to think of it, has Japan lost its sovereignty, has Turkey also lost its sovereignty, has Qatar and other European nations lost theirs. There’s a way of putting everything in their proper perspective.

On the other side, the best thing that will happen to us is, we will save money and will dissolve one of the most corrupt institutions in our country.

Christmas in Singapore (Simbang Gabi and Christmas Eve Mass)

I need to revise my blog after a year I wrote it. I was quite judgmental of the country’s celebration of Christmas after experiencing it for a brief period. Here was my blog then –

“I need to finish my last post before December ends. I am so tired. I traveled 22 kilometers from Bukit Panjang to Bugis to visit Sim Lim Square and window shop for iphone 4s and ipad 2 only to be informed later that they have the same prices in the Philippines. I slouched in a chair at an internet shop in Lucky Plaza thinking this would be a good resting place while waiting for my wife. This internet shop is one of the very few here in Singapore that caters to Filipino domestic helpers during holidays and day-offs.

I came here last Christmas eve. My plane landed at exactly 8:34PM. I expected to experience the same revelry we have in the Philippines. I was disappointed. In Singapore, it was just any given Saturday night. I hurried my family for a noche buena in a nearby Chinese restaurant only to to find out that they are already about to close at 10:00 PM…”

I could say now that I had some misconceptions on how Singaporeans celebrate Christmas. It’s true that they don’t celebrate it with much fanfare as compared to the way they celebrate Chinese New Year, but I witnessed how they were very ardent in observing and attending masses especially the Novena masses before Christmas (“Simbang Gabi”).

Simbang Gabi at St. Michael's Church in the City
Simbang Gabi at St. Michael’s Church in the City

I completed the 9 days of Novena masses here in Singapore hopping from one church to another every night. It was quite an ordeal since we had to locate and plan our route to the churches we would attend masses. The tradition or annual practice already endemic to Filipinos was started by Father Angel Luciano here in Singapore 14 years ago. And every year the churches hosting the “Simbang Gabi” get filled to the brim. The masses are followed by the serving of the “Arroz Caldo” (For those who don’t know the dish, it’s a porridge [lugaw] made of chicken stock [Sabaw ng Manok], ginger [luya], and lemon grass [tanglad]). The hot porridge was sometimes coupled with sandwiches or plain bread. The combination really filled my tummy since I, most of the time, secretly secured two servings.

What made the hair stand up on my spine was the singing of mostly Filipino songs in the masses, and their sweet rendition by choirs composed mostly of Filipinos. It was one way of telling Singapore that we are good singers and good song-writers. I could never be more proud to be a Filipino on those occasions. Father Luciano has tenaciously supervised the success of this Filipino tradition in a foreign land. Singaporeans observe and witness the steadfastness of Filipinos in their faith. This piety served as a beacon for most non-Catholics to join the Church. Every Sunday, more and more locals join Filipinos attend masses in different churches all over the small state. I just heard that five more Catholic Churches will be built in Singapore this year to accommodate the growing number of devotees.

Church of St. Joseph at Bukit Timah
Church of St. Joseph at Bukit Timah

After completing the Novena came Christmas Eve. I chose to attend mass with my family in a church within the neighborhood. The mass started at exactly twelve o’clock midnight. This was the same time we used to hold our Christmas eve masses in the Philippines until it was re-scheduled to ten o’clock. We arrived at the St. Joseph Church at around 11:20 PM. Much to my surprise, it was already filled. “Am I in the Philippines?” I asked myself. We were directed to occupy the second floor mezzanine  of the church where there were still vacant seats. We were lucky, there were still some spaces to accommodate us. St. Joseph [Bukit Timah] Church is a big church, capable of holding four columns of pews that can extend up to 20 meters in rows. The number of those who attended the mass was maybe nearing a thousand. Yet I can’t believe, as early as eleven o’clock, the church was already in full capacity, reminiscent of our “Siete Palabras” in the Philippines. The community surrounding St. Joseph Church in Bukit is composed mostly of chinese, malays, and indians. In this part of Singapore, Filipinos are not fairly concentrated unlike in the nearby Bukit Batok community where Filipinos are in the thousands. I thus expected that not so many would observe the Christmas Eve mass. I was wrong.

The lay persons are either chinese, indians or malays. They are very courteous; traits we usually experience (in the Philippines) at any El Shaddai’s or other charismatic congregations’ gatherings. Parking was very orderly, very Singaporean.

After the mass, we headed back to our place with our guests and shared the Christmas Noche Buena.

I am quite embarrassed with the way I pictured Singapore’s Christmas last year. This year, it’s quite a very good experience. But I still long for my next year’s Christmas in the Philippines.