FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Just when we needed to look competent and brave in the midst of a diplomatic confrontation, our best soldiers and policemen are slaughtered by ragtag bandits. Nothing undermines our diplomatic posture than the impression, created by recent ambushes, our security forces are lousy and flimsy.

The troopers of the Philippine Marines slaughtered in Patikul, Sulu is just the latest batch slaughtered wholesale in that unending war with the Abu Sayyaf. It was not too long ago when an even larger unit of soldiers was mowed down (and then desecrated) in Basilan by fighters of the same bandit group.

As if to complete the picture of a fumbling security establishment, communist rebels using landmines blew up a unit of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) in the Cagayan Valley. Those that survived the blast were mercilessly gunned down. If it is any consolation, the communists are not wont to slit the throats or cut off the genitals of their victims --- although the defeat was so complete they did not need to do that.

The SAF is our most elite police unit, organized precisely to take over the anti-insurgency campaign from the regular military so that the latter may concentrate on external defense. They should have been on constant alert considering the communists’ increasing use of improvised explosives.

A similar elite police unit, the SWAT, is remembered by the people of Hong Kong as the one that undertook that bungled operation on a busload of tourists at the Luneta. That operation was a bungling mess that cost the lives of many tourists.

Unfortunately, the two incidents came on the heels of President  Aquino’s confrontational speech during the Philippine Navy anniversary last week. In that speech, the President loudly declared our security forces will defend our territory “to the last man.” The sequence of ambushes took the wind out of the President’s verbosity.

As our troops take horrendous casualties from internal armed conflicts that ought to have been resolved a long time ago, Chinese and Taiwanese flotillas are exerting pressure on our territorial claims the whole length from Batanes to the Spratlys.

There is a large Chinese fishing fleet at Ayungin Reef, escorted by naval vessels. Taiwanese fishing fleets are now pressing close to the shores of our northernmost islands. The Chinese Navy, to be blunt about it, effectively occupied Scarborough Shoal. We are hemmed in by superior naval might.

Now we find out the deal to purchase two Italian frigates, for which the Congress allocated funds, was cancelled by our blustering President no less. The two frigates were the last pitiful cards we could put in play in the ball-crushing war of maneuver to control reefs and islets now earnestly in motion.

Anything we add to our fleet beyond the short term will be academic. This is the moment to stake claims and physically occupy territory.


Louis Biraogo seems a relentless man --- to Loren Legarda’s grief. He has not let up on his crusade to expose what he considers the senator’s unexplained wealth.

The elections are over, so this could not be a mere ploy to damage the legislator’s ballot box standing, as Loren suggested when the disclosures first broke out. This seems to be an effort to remove the reelected senator from her post.

We will recall, in the heat of the last campaign, Biraogo exposed Legarda’s ownership of an apartment in the swankiest part of New York City. The crusading lawyer claimed then the expensive property was not accurately reflected in the senator’s SALN. He filed a case at the Ombudsman on this item specifically.

This week, coinciding with the first anniversary of the murky conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona by a heavily politicized Senate, Biraogo raised additional questions regarding the ownership (and origin) of a swank Forbes Park mansion used by Legarda.

The mansion at 40 Cambridge Circle is valued at about P200 million. Technically speaking, the mansion is owned by a company called Loren Legarda and Associates, Inc. (LLAI). Established in 1986, LLAI has had no employees, no operations, no business activities and no transactions since.

Biraogo describes LLAI as a shell company with 2,500 shares of stock, of which 2,496 are owned by the senator. Four other individuals, Loren’s father, her two brothers and a certain Ma. Pancrasia Valdez owning a single share each. With 99.84% of the stocks in this shell company, the mansion must be Loren Legarda’s.

Obviously, the pricey mansion could not have been purchased from Legarda’s P75,000 gross monthly salary as a senator. At that salary level, Legarda will need a century of frugality to afford the mansion at Forbes and the apartment in New York. At the very least, these two items of expensive property violate the constitutional command for public officials to lead modest lives.

Biraogo thinks the Forbes Park property, whose ownership is barely concealed under the thin layer of a shell corporation, makes Legarda accountable for graft and corruption. Under our laws, the gross disparity between income reported and property owned is enough basis to presume wrongdoing. The mansion was not declared in Legarda’s SALN.

Biraogo, furthermore, intends to file charges against Legarda’s father and brothers for connivance in concealing the senator’s immense wealth from public scrutiny. There is no indication this public interest crusader is about to tire pursuing these cases.

The Corona impeachment bears many fruits, most of them inconvenient. The cases now readied against Legarda may be the first drops of a heavy downpour.


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