Say Sorry, Du30

(Letter to the Editor of the Philippine Daily Inquirer on May 16, 2016)

THE AGENCE France Presse report on the front page of the Inquirer’s May 13 issue declares that “Rody plans to visit Vatican to say sorry to Pope Francis.”

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I have one question: Does our new President also plan to visit Canberra to offer his apology to the Australians for the outrageously vile remark he made about the gang-rape and murder of one of their citizens, a female missionary who had been visiting the Davao City Jail?

The hasty apology he made soon after making that remark “to all our women” did not include the foreign victim. Since the Philippines has diplomatic relations with Australia and is the recipient of aid from that country, surely the civilized way would be for our new leader to clearly spell out his remorse and sorrow about that carelessly dreadful remark.

An online culture of larceny

Whatever happened to Onel de Guzman? Could he possibly be Paul Biteng’s role model?

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De Guzman is the hacker who spawned the “Love Bug” in 2000, a computer virus that caused an estimated $10 billion in damage as it disabled computers globally, including in institutions like the Pentagon and the British Parliament. It prompted the Philippine government to pass an antihacking bill which was introduced by then Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr. and which would subject violators to imprisonment. But the law was apparently toothless and 24-year-old De Guzman went scot-free, aided by a wily lawyer named Rolando Quimbo.

Will today’s hacker, Biteng, also get off without punishment even after having caused a massive data leak in the Commission on Elections’ website, because his crime (or misdemeanor) wasn’t aimed at global institutions? Today, as in 2000, the online culture remains the same in a country which the New York Times then described as having a “…kind of subculture of proletarian larceny … where the gap between rich and poor is enormous, [so] poor Filipinos commonly tap into everything from power lines to cable television.”

The newspaper added: “The Business Software Alliance, a US trade group fighting software piracy, estimated that about 77 percent of the software used in the Philippines is pirated.”

In that May 2000 report on De Guzman, the New York Times wrote that his “‘Love Bug’ that brought some of the world’s most sophisticated computer networks to a halt this month was hatched in a noisy inner-city neighborhood where residents live under corrugated steel roofs and raise fighting cocks in their front yards.”

The report quoted him as saying that he may have inadvertently unleashed the virus while harvesting subscribers’ passwords, and declaring that he believed Internet access should be free since having to pay for its use was “immoral.”

Describing the Philippines as having an “enormous” gap between rich and poor, the newspaper cited the hacking incident as having exposed “an embarrassing advertisement of the Philippines’ programming talent and infant dotcom scene… .”  It described how Manila investigators homed in on De Guzman’s shared accommodation and found 13 encrypted disks and six cell phones.

The Associated Press photograph accompanying the report showed De Guzman’s neighbors and a scrawny dog amid a litter of rubber flip-flop slippers and cooking pots outside his front door while police questioned him inside. Another photo was of De Guzman in shades beside a page from his term paper where he stated: “The researcher decided to develop this program because he believes it will be helpful to a lot of people especially Internet users to get Windows passwords such as accounts to spend more time on Internet without paying.”  Over it his instructor wrote in ink: “This is illegal!”

De Guzman continued in his term paper: “The importance of the study is to help other people most especially Windows users… . When we connect to the Internet we are spending time and lots of money to pay for only using a couple of hours.  So this program is the main solution, use it to steal and retrieve Internet accounts of the victim’s computer.”  The instructor underlined “to steal” and wrote: “We do not produce ‘burglars’!”

Manila detective Efren Meneses told the New York Times that the case was too convoluted and that he’d rather take on “armed terrorists in a dark alley” than hackers on the Internet.  And one of De Guzman’s classmates at their computer college commented on his friend’s act: “It’s a cool thing, and I respect it.”

Fast-forward to Biteng telling the Inquirer in an interview that he meant “to give voice to the voiceless” even though, he said, he had not meant to penetrate the Comelec website. Describing last March 18 as a “boring” day at his parents’ house in Sampaloc, Manila, the 23-year-old information technology graduate had been playing his usual online games when he decided to hack the Comelec database. Two days later he shared the codes with fellow hackers; a week later the voters’ data were leaked.

The implications of that breach also worried banks and the monetary authority, since more than voters’ data could also be released.

Of his arrest, Biteng made the illogical statement: “I’m not an ordinary criminal. I’m just a cybercriminal.”  After agents of the National Bureau of Investigation took him in custody on April 20, criminal charges were filed against him at the Manila City Prosecutor’s Office.  He remains detained and is surely contemplating his handiwork—whether with regret or pride, one cannot tell. His friends may consider him a kind of hero —as friends of De Guzman did 16 years ago.

Whether the government will try to patch up its creaky communications reputation and make antihacking legislation stick this time are imponderables. Antihacking legislation seems not to have featured in the election campaign, but all will depend on the new administration after May 9.

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This opinion piece originally appeared in the Philippine Inquirer on April 27, 2016.

A recycled U.S. colony?

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Is the Philippines today turning into an American colony once again?  What prompts that question has to do with two main issues. One is the fact that the Philippine government has offered the Americans the use of five strategic sites to guard against China’s further encroachments, possibly also to keep a peripheral eye out for Islamic terrorism. (As expected, some nationalists have protested the country’s perceived loss of sovereignty, balking at the fact that the established feudal system which they say is abetted by the Americans will be further entrenched.)

The other issue has to do with a presidential candidate who may win the race in May. Such an eventuality could make the Philippines the only country in the world where the presidential palace will be inhabited by a chief executive’s alien offspring. That doesn’t seem to bother the candidate’s supporters. Having American citizens living in Malacañang is apparently quite acceptable to them.

The wording in the military agreement between the Philippines and the United States skirts the use of the word “bases” and instead says that the use of locations in Luzon, Cebu, Mindanao and Palawan will be for a “rotational presence” where US ships and aircraft will be deployed for maritime security and humanitarian operations.  The choice of words may be because it wasn’t too long ago that Filipino nationalists succeeded in ousting the Americans from their air and naval bases at Clark Field and Subic Bay. Which makes the present new arrangement, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, somewhat delicate, though the pact makes no bones about continuing “joint war games” and “Balikatan” exercises.

This brings to mind that movement back in the early 1970s when the members of a vocal group began calling for the Philippines to be made the 51st state of the United States. The group called Philippine Statehood USA claimed a membership of close to a million, which struck many people, Filipino and foreign, as bizarre.  Indeed, those days seemed to be “more fun” (and games) in the Philippines before that slogan promoting tourism was coined.

Now and then some media mavens will recall the words of the first president of the Commonwealth republic, Manuel L. Quezon, who said: “I would rather have a country run like hell by Filipinos than one run like heaven by the Americans.” A few pundits hark back to that statement somewhat wistfully, but they may not want to endorse it, for fear of being labeled unpatriotic.

Among some domestics working in Hong Kong, I once met an Ilocano woman who, having seen what the British had wrought in that well-run colony, declared it was a pity that America, and not Britain, had colonized the Philippines. Writing in the now-defunct satirical magazine “Spike” in 2004, I reported my conversation with her in which she stated her refusal to vote in our next presidential election. She trotted out the standard line about not expecting change to happen—“Wala namang magbabago”—as many others have done in our other elections.

The woman’s wish for British colonization reminded me that the Spanish were ejected from Manila by the British in 1762, when Rear Adm. Samuel Cornish and Brig. Gen. William Draper sailed into Manila Bay and occupied the city.  They apparently had no designs on the rest of the archipelago.  So did they give Manila back to the Spanish less than two years later in 1764, because they had found the natives unmanageable?

Is the Philippines today too politically fragmented and economically lopsided to be a truly unified nation? The observable disillusionment replacing the euphoria over the Edsa “revolution” just 30 years ago suggests that the proud event has lost its luster. Unfortunately, memories of the dark era of martial law have grown dim, with educators today admitting their failure to fully explain the dictator’s depredations to the younger generation.

So that ignorance has allowed Ferdinand Marcos’ offspring to thumb their noses at their own people as they plotted their way back to Malacañang.

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Santayana’s words have become a cliché about those who can’t remember the past being condemned to repeat it.  It is Hegel’s words which surely are more relevant to the Philippines today:

“What experience and history teach is that people and governments never have learned from history, or acted in principles deduced from it.  Each period is involved in such peculiar circumstances, exhibits a condition of things so strictly idiosyncratic, that its conduct must be regulated by considerations connected with itself, and itself alone.”

This opinion piece originally appeared in the Philippine Inquirer on April 15, 2016. –

Rudeness on parade in Veep debates

(Letter to the Editor of the Cebu Sun-Star, published on Apr 15, 2016, in reply to Pachico A. Seares)

Regarding your comment on Mr. Teodoro Locsin Jr.’s opinion about speaking English, I tend to agree with him that if Filipinos want to seriously debate something, they should use English to make themselves clear. Unless, of course, they have a shaky grasp of that international language, in which case they have to stick to their particular dialects.

During the vice presidential debate, I found it strange and annoying that whenever one of those posing a question was a western CNN expert, the candidates wouldn’t reply directly to them in English or even thank them but would reply to the larger audience and answer in Tagalog. They didn’t seem to think they were being rude since they surely knew that the questioners didn’t know the native language.

The civil way would have been for the candidate being addressed to first thank the questioner and reply in English. That would not only show the audience at large that Flipinos can handle the international lingua franca well and that they can be polite when it’s called for.

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Even if they disagreed with the topic raised, they could do it in a sophisticated manner. Instead, those who replied—including the smart Mrs. Leni Robredo—didn’t seem to consider how rude it was not to acknowledge the foreigners.

It also showed that the candidates didn’t think their Pinoy listeners would understand them if they spoke in English, since making the voters understand things clearly was their primary goal. Others might consider my point a minor matter, but I think it was rather a pity that this was unnoticed.