Monday, February 27, 2012

A tribute to 'Gov'

By Winston A. Marbella

Following is an excerpt from a chapter in a forthcoming book by the author, Competing with Giants.  It is offered as a tribute to the vision of Gov. Benjamin Romualdez, 81, who has passed away.

Midnight in the city

All the great cities of the world, at one time or other, spawn their own kind of newspapers.  One of these rises to the top not only to become a highly successful enterprise but also to represent the city itself.  A quick memory scan: The San Francisco Chronicle, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, The Times of London.  

In many cases they also become the people’s favorite read, but in certain exceptional cases, another newspaper emerges as the people’s choice.  The Times may be the most influential, but the tabloids of London certainly rule the streets.  

The New York Times is certainly the most influential, but nothing beats The New York Daily News as the people’s choice.  It was the nation’s largest circulated newspaper, and it was a tabloid.  The great Jimmy Breslin wrote for it, and perhaps no other journalist captured the heart and soul of the ordinary New Yorker better than Breslin.

Like all great cities, Manila, too, has had its share of influential broadsheets, but they were read mostly by the educated class, the power brokers, the movers and shakers of high society. 

In postwar Manila, the man-in-the-street got his news mostly from radio and later from television.  Until the tabloids came.  And at the head of the pack which was to dominate the city’s readership in a very short time was a pioneering tabloid manned by an unlikely sub-species of journalists: sports writers and editors.

Just another day

It was midnight in the Times Journal newsroom, which was housed in what was once a bombed-out shell of a warehouse a few blocks away from the city’s waterfront.  

On a windy day, when the breeze blew in from the historic bay, you literally smelled the sea.  But now the heady smell of printer’s ink dominated the newsroom’s working hours, which extended well into the night. 

It was, by newspaper standards, an ordinary day.  No fires.  No murders.  No drug busts.  No major politician being unseated.  Just an ordinary day in the city.

It was one of those days when after putting the paper to bed (that’s journalese for letting the printing presses roll) friends had time for small talk before calling it a day.  Gus Villanueva, sports editor of the Journal, was in deep conversation with Vergel Santos, whom he had recruited to help him edit the Sports Journal, a supplement.  

Around them gathered a bunch of sports writers and columnists, struggling politely to keep their eyes open.  Vergel was exceptionally pleased that day over his tennis game; he had successfully fleeced a few pesos, not a big sum, from some unsuspecting amateurs over a friendly game.  

What delighted Vergel most was the realization that at past 30 he still had a promising tennis career ahead of him.  Why, he could still be a Bjorn Borg, or a Jimmy Connors, or even a John McEnroe, if he worked hard at it.  

That was the key: the working hard part!  That was also the problem.  No self-respecting hard-boiled journalist should be caught working hard at anything.  He quickly abandoned the idea.

Sports as metaphor

Then the talk turned serious.  There is not a beat in journalism more exciting than sports, Gus said.  You write about life, said Vergel, about victory and defeat, about triumph and tragedy.  Sports are a metaphor of life itself!  

Many of the best journalists started their careers covering sports, said Gus.  What if all reporters were trained first as sports journalists?  That would be great, Vergel said.  

News writing would be vibrant, alive, exciting.  What if we wrote the news the way sports writers did?  With action verbs, descriptive words.  Perhaps readership would rise.  

What if we not only wrote the news that way, but revamped the whole concept of the newspaper and highlighted what happened to ordinary folks.  What if we gave more pages to sports?  

All about people

What about entertainment?  Yes, that too!  Celebrities?  Them too!  People love reading about people.

We should put all that in a tabloid format, so commuters going to work could read it in a cramped jeepney.  Yes!  What if?

Julie Yap Daza, in a dazzling cocktail dress, wafted in from some embassy reception.  She scribbled something at her desk and wafted out as quickly as she had breezed in.  “Bye guys,” she said as she slipped through the door.
As the poet said, she walks in beauty like the night.  

At the other end of the room, Thelma Sioson San Juan was hammering out a piece on a battered old manual typewriter.  She liked working through the night.  

Over at the other end Chuchay Molina was getting amused by a funny line from a pocketbook she was reading. 

A people's newspaper 

In the dimly lit newsroom of the Times Journal, in the wee hours of the morning, Gus and his passionate Band of Sports-writing Brothers, were slowly but doggedly putting together the broad strokes of a people’s newspaper that would emerge from a smattering of ideas and grow into a torrent that not even they could stop.

There would be many more nights like this in the city.  But one night was special.  That night the midnight oil burned well past midnight in a newsroom in a once bombed-out warehouse overlooking the city’s famous bay.  

At dawn the city would wake up to find a commuter paper they would embrace as their own: the People’s Journal, mirror of their lives, chronicler of a changing cultural ethos, recorder of their first draft of history.

It was a newspaper born out of the vision of “Gov” that Metro Manila commuters deserve a newspaper they could truly call their own.
Excerpted from Competing with Giants, Winston A. Marbella. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Salmon make their own Omega-3

Experiments performed by the National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research (NIFES) have shown that salmon fed diets low in the marine omega-3 fatty acids contains more DHA than provided by the diet. DHA is an important marine omega-3 fatty acid.

The diet of farmed salmon has traditionally been based primarily on food from the sea, in the form of fish-oil and fish-meal. However, marine resources will not be sufficient to satisfy the expected growth of the aquaculture industry, and feed producers will have to find alternative sources in the plant world. 

This means that the fish we eat will contain lower levels of the valuable marine fatty acids, but not as little as we might expect.

“When there are plenty of marine omega-3 fatty acids in their feed, salmon use them as a source of energy, but when the levels are low, they store them and may even produce more. And in this study, we found that salmon produced their own marine omega-3 fatty acids based on omega-3 from plants,” says NIFES research scientist Monica Sanden.

“We found that the fish body contained more DHA than what was provided by the diet, meaning that the fish had a net production of DHA”.

The experiment divided salmon into groups that were fed four different diets for a whole year. The diets contained different mixtures of plant and marine raw materials. 

In the most extreme diet, the scientists designed a diet in which 80 per cent of the fish-meal was replaced by plant protein, and 70 per cent of the fish-oil by vegetable oils. During three months, each fish produced 800 mg DHA. The European food safety authorities (EFSA) recommend a daily intake of 250 mg EPA and DHA for healthy persons.

“The level of marine omega-3 fatty acids in salmon flesh is lower when the fish are fed plant-based raw materials. But our study has shown that it will still be sufficient to satisfy consumer requirements based on the EFSA recommendations. A 150 g serving of salmon from this experiment would give us 1400 mg EPA and DHA, which is almost six times the recommended daily intake of these fatty acids,” says Sanden.

NIFES is currently working out how much of these valuable fatty acids the salmon themselves need.

Friday, February 24, 2012

iPad most popular for online shopping

By Paul Burn 

Most British people who use a tablet device to browse for goods online, order items for courier services to deliver and engage in other ecommerce activities, make use of an Apple iPad to carry out these activities.

This is according to the latest research from BaseKit, which found that 76 per cent of tablet-shoppers use an iPad for their online commerce activities, making it almost as popular as Apple desktop computers for internet shopping.

Apple also dominated the smartphone market, with 66 per cent of m-commerce users picking the iPhone as their favoured platform to use when ordering items over the internet using a smartphone.

Although nobody who responded to the survey had used a Windows Mobile-based handset for internet shopping, it continues to be the platform of choice for people using their home computers for buying and selling items.

This is reflected in the fact that 42 per cent of Britons do their online shopping from a Windows-based PC, with another 42 per cent shopping online from a Windows-based laptop.

Only nine per cent of respondents primarily use a Mac to shop online, with Mac laptops twice as popular as their desktop alternative.

Basekit chief executive officer Juan Loboto expressed his surprise that ecommerce had not made further advances on the market throughout 2012, arguing that the unfamiliarity of many retailers with creating acceptable retail websites could be playing a part in slowing the market down.

Advice from an online shopping expert such as Basekit could "hopefully lead them to create successful future-proofed ecommerce sites that will boost sales during these difficult economic times", Mr Loboto claimed.

UK retailer Furniture World recently attributed a great deal of its recent m-commerce success to a newly designed website, which it claims encourages browsers to make purchases by streamlining the shopping experience.

Charlie Harrison, head of ecommerce at the company, said the mobile site has created "a new shopping experience" for its users because of the multichannel options it makes available to smartphone owners.
Author:  Paul Burn

Fatal morning/night heart attacks tied to bio clock

From Nature

Scientists said they had uncovered the first molecular proof that the "biological clock" is linked to a type of sudden, fatal heart attack. Ventricular arrhythmia, or abnormal heartbeat, occurs most frequently after waking in the morning -- and also to a lesser degree in the evening hours -- and causes a high number of deaths.

Reporting in the journal Nature, researchers in the United States said they had uncovered the first molecular link between this risk and circadian rhythm, the term by which biological processes vary according to a 24-hour period.

The finger points at levels of a protein called Klf15, they said.

Previous research has found Klf15 to be a circadian controller -- and, startlingly, is also lacking among some patients with heart failure.

The team created mice that had been genetically engineered to either lack Klf15 or make the protein excessively.

In both cases, the rodents had a much higher risk of arrythmias compared to normal counterparts.

"It is the first example of a molecular mechanism for the circadian change in susceptibility to cardiac arrhythmias," said Xander Wehrens of Baylor College School of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

"If there was too much Klf15 or none, the mice were at risk for developing the arrhythmia."

Electrical instability

Klf15 is only one step in a complex molecular cascade, the researchers believe.

It controls another protein, KChIP2, which affects potassium-generated electrical current that flows though heart muscle cells called cardiac myocytes.

When levels of KChIP2 fluctuate, this causes electrical instability in the myocytes.

As a result, the heart muscle's action becomes impaired and it takes longer (or conversely, less time) to empty the ventricle -- the heart's pumping chamber. The heart loses the regularity of the beat and labors to pump blood efficiently.

Co-author Mukesh Jain of the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio said that further work could well uncover other circadian-related causes.

The discovery opens up intriguing paths of research, in pinpointing individuals at risk of nocturnal death and devising drugs to shield them, Jain added.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Latin in Prof. Santiago's blood

By Winston A. Marbella

Hypertensive Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago has apparently found a solution to her mercurial blood pressure.  She has requested Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto III to schedule her meaty legal lecturettes at the start of the Senate impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona on the days the court is in session.

When she is given the floor at the start of the trial at around 2 p.m., Senator Santiago appears very calm because she has not been exposed yet to the inanities of her favorite House prosecutors and their retinue of private legal retainers.

Senator Santiago was a regional trial court judge, as she described it, “in another incarnation.”  She was one of the best, if not the best.  She also taught law at the University of the Philippines.  And she was one of the best, if not the best.

In brief, she knows her law.  But that is not what sends her blood pressure rising.  It's the people who do not know their law.  She does not suffer fools gladly, legal or otherwise.

A serious student of the law in all its majesty, Senator Santiago takes her craft seriously.  She knows that the law is probably the culmination of all that is ennobling in the human experience.  The law, and its rigorous discipline, is what elevates civilized society from its stone-age roots. (“Cretin” is one of her favorite descriptions of the less intellectually disciplined.)

So, you do not trifle with her.  Even better, you do not trifle with the law in her presence.  On many occasions during the impeachment trial, she has lectured her favorite prosecutors on their ineptitude and ignorance of the law.

Curious solon

More recently, she has lectured a congressman who dared go to the Katipunan Avenue branch of PSBank to get more information from the branch manager on a bank document allegedly belonging to Mr. Corona.

The branch manager was shocked.  Such documents are absolutely confidential and protected by bank secrecy laws with strict penalties imposed on violators.

Senator Santiago could not resist the occasion to educate all and sundry.  She took the floor to read the riot act on the prosecutors because constituents asked her why the Senate  had spent more than week of trial time seeking to determine the source of the leaked, and therefore illegally obtained,  document.

Stressing that “lawmakers should not be lawbreakers,” Senator Santiago read provisions from the  Anti-Money Laundering Act which penalize even the act of inquiring into bank accounts.  In other words,  the inquisitive congressman was guilty of a crime.

The good senator had to cut short her lecturette because she started to hyperventilate and felt her blood pressure rising.  But she was back subsequently, this time armed with even more weighty legal points expressed in Latin.

Why Latin?

Non-lawyers have often wondered why the most important legal maxims are expressed in an extinct language.  My father,who was a lawyer, explained to me that most of our legal tenets came from the ancient Romans, who were the first to codify the law as an instrument of governing Pax Romana, or their colonial domination of the known world which resulted in peace (“pax”) for a hundred years.

To go back to Senator Santiago, she came back for the continuation of her lecturette armed with a Latin maxim, Falsus in unum, falsus in omnibus.  False in one particular, false in all particulars.

She said it was important to remember this legal maxim because the prosecutors had used an illegally sourced bank document to secure a subpoena from the Senate court to access other bank documents.  Since bank documents are strictly confidential, she reasoned, then the document presented to secure a subpoena must have been illegally obtained.

She went on to say that prosecutors, being officers of the court, have a responsibility to verify documents before using them in court.  To claim that these documents were left at the gate or handed over by an anonymous “little lady” does not absolve them of this ethical obligation to verify the truth, she stressed.

Falsus in unum, falsus in omnibus.

This leads us to another legal doctrine, this time arboreal in character,  It is called the Doctrine of the Poisonous Tree.

Legal metaphor

The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree is a legal metaphor in the United States used to describe evidence that is obtained illegally.  The logic of the terminology is that if the source of the evidence (the "tree") is tainted, then anything gained from it (the "fruit") is tainted as well, says Wikipedia.

Such evidence is not generally admissible in court.  For example, if a police officer conducted an unconstitutional  search of a home and obtained a key to a train station locker, and evidence of a crime came from the locker, that evidence would most likely be excluded under the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine. The discovery of a witness is not evidence in itself because the witness is attenuated by separate interviews, in-court testimony and his or her own statements.

4 Exceptions

The doctrine is an extension of the exclusionary rule, which, subject to some exceptions, prevents evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment  (of the US Constitution regarding illegal searches) from being admitted in a criminal trial. Like the exclusionary rule, the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine is intended to deter police from using illegal means to obtain evidence.

The doctrine is subject to four main exceptions. The tainted evidence is admissible if:

  1. it was discovered in part as a result of an independent, untainted source;
  2. it would inevitably have been discovered despite the tainted source; or 
  3. the chain of causation between the illegal action and the tainted evidence is too attenuated; or 
  4. the search warrant not based on probable cause was executed by government agents in good faith (called the good faith exception). 

For the benefit of legal scholars, the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine stems from the 1920 case of Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States.

Forewarned is forearmed, although ignorance of the law excuses no one.  Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The scorpion and the frog on trial

By Winston A. Marbella

Like the legendary Irish, Sen. Chiz Escudero has been blessed with the gift of gab.  He put this unique talent to use last week to illustrate a fine point of law in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.

The Senate impeachment court stood at a pivotal point in the trial.  The Supreme Court had just issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) stopping the enforcement of a Senate subpoena which would have allowed the opening of an alleged foreign currency deposit account of Mr. Corona.

The bank had gone to the Supreme Court to seek relief. It told the court that the law authorizing foreign currency deposits guaranteed confidentiality and violators would be criminally liable.  In passing the law, Congress had waned depositors to keep their money in confidential accounts so that these could be used for long-term economic development.

The Supreme Court agreed with the bank and gave it temporary relief.  The hotheads in the Senate said the Court was intruding into the impeachment trial and subverting the power of the Senate to try impeachment cases exclusively.

Judicial review

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile ruled that the Court may look into “interlocutory” or incidental aspects to the trial under its expanded power of judicial review granyed by the 1987 Constitution.  But the Senate's decision on the trial itself iss not appealable.  The Senate voted 13-10 to follow the Court's TRO for the meantime.

The Senate vote was crucial because it upheld the foreign currency deposit law and probably averted a potentially debilitating bank run, which happened during the impeachment trial of President Joseph Estrada.  More significantly, the Senate averted a possible constitutional crisis pitting it against the highest tribunal of the land.

Among the 13 who voted to uphold the Court was Senator Escudero.  He explained his vote by telling a metaphorical story which drove home the point: that in our pursuit of a rat we must take care not to burn the entnire house down.  In our zeal to find justice for Mr. Corona, there are larger issues that transcend the case.

Among these larger issues are the great constitutional principles of the Rule of Law, separation of powers, due process, presumption of innocence, and other rights guaranteed by the Constitution to protect ordinary citizens like us against the awesome powes of a tyrannical State.

Math tutorial

Not coincidentally after the Senate vote, President Aquino expressed impatience over the progress of the trial he himself initiated in the House of Representatives.  Armed with a PowerPoint presentation, Mr. Aquino did the math himself and concluded that Mr. Corona's total income in the government service did not match the value of the properties he has accumulated.

Amazed at this breach of presidentiaal courtesy for the ongoing Senate trial, Mr. Corona's lawyers responded by telling Mr. Aquino to hold his horses: the defense panel will present he legitimate sorces of Mr. Corona's income when their turn comes at the trial.

Mr. Aquino's impetuous cavalry charge straight into the ramparts of the Senate impeachment court, with saber unsheathed, provoked a similar reaction from the Chief Justice, who hails from Batangas, the province famous for its  legendary swithblade called balisong.  

Metaphorically, Mr. Corona unfurled his balisong and went straight for the President's jugular: Mr. Aquino should likewise bare his assets and include his psychological tests to attest to his sanity.  No such tests, the Palace retorted.

At the rate Messrs. Aquino and Corona are going for each other's throat, they may just succeed in bringing down the judiciary, the legislature, the presidency and the economy, to boot.  Time for another animal story.


In grade school, whenever our class started to lose its concentration (which happened every other minute), teacher with the horn-rimmed eyeglasses would whisk out her old reliable animal stories to make us regain our focus.

One story never lost its edge.  In fact, it kept us riveted to our seats.  It was the story of “The Scorpion and the Frog.”  Here is how it goes:

Pain in the rain

One particularly rainy day, the waters began to rise on the island where lived a scorpion and a frog.  Natural enemies, they had achieved a sort of modus vivendi on the little island.  The scorpion had a poisonous bite, which made the frog wary.  And the scorpion was suspicious of the frog’s tongue, which could snatch prey in the blink of an eye.

As the waters continued to rise, the patch of ground where the two stood grew smaller until they were within striking distance of each other.  The scorpion knew the frog could swim.  The scorpion decided to make peace.

“Froggie,” the scorpion said, “may I interest you in a proposal you cannot refuse?”

The frog replied, “And what is that?"

“Well.” said the scorpion, “if you save me from drowning, I promise to help you catch prey if we both survive.”

“Go on,” the frog said.

“”When it is time to leave the island, will you allow me to ride on your back?”

“You must be crazy!” screamed the frog.  “What do you take me for, a dodo?”


“I promise to behave,” said the scorpion.  “If I bite you while you are swimming to shore, you will drown, and then I, too, will die. What will it profit me to do that?”

The frog thought for a while and, convinced the scorpion made sense, agreed. “Let’s go!” it said.

Soon the frog was swimming with the scorpion perched on its back.  Then it felt a stinging bite.  It soon realized what had happened.

“You idiot,” the frog screamed at the scorpion.  “Now we will both die.”

“I know,” said the scorpion remorsefully.  “But I couldn’t help myself.  It is my nature.”

I remember this story to this day because of the power of a good story told well, like Senator Escudero's fascinating metaphorical rat.

I had occasion to leaf through the browned pages of  old books recently when I wrote a piece on hubris, a concept that fascinated both the Greeks and Shakespeare.  The idea can be summarized in two sayings: “After the pride comes the fall” and “Whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.”

Fatal flaw

It amazes me endlessly that one short word, hubris,  could capture the richness of such stories as Julius Caesar, or Hamlet---this concept of otherwise heroic men marching recklessly to their doom because of pride and/or insanity.

There is a third element to the word which further enriches its texture: the idea that these heroic characters somehow knew---or at least sensed---the impending doom that awaited them.  But each threw caution to the wind and teempted fate recklessly. 

Then I remembered the scorpion story and understood why.  These tragic heroes of enormous proportions were really nothing more than overgrown frogs doomed to die by the bite of a scorpion that couldn't help but follow its nature.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The rat in the Chiz story

By Winston A. Marbella

On one occasion while rising to stress a point during the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, Sen. Chiz Escudero began by citing an analogy: that in our zeal to find the truth and serve justice, we must not fall into the trap of burning the entire house down to kill a rat.

I have no doubt in my mind that Senator Escudero did not intend to call Mr. Corona a rat in a roundabout way.  Rather, he used the metaphor to drive home a point: that there are larger issues involved here than merely sending Mr. Corona packing.

To cite a few examples, some of those issues larger, in fact, than either Mr. Corona or his nemesis, President Aquino are the independence of the judiciary, the integrity of the Senate and the House of Representatives as sole impeachers and judge, the Rule of Law and our representative republican democracy, and the constitutional guarantees in the Bill of Rights that protect all citizens against the awesome powers of a  police state gone berserk.

What makes Senator Escudero even more admirable is that he is not only a good storyteller with a gift for a memorable metaphor, but that he actually understands the meaning of his story -- and that he has the integrity to practice what he preaches.

He demonstrated this when he voted together with  enlightened senators like him who can rise above their petty partisanship to affirm Senate obedience to a Supreme Court temporary restraining order (TRO) stopping the Senate from seeking alleged foreign currency deposit accounts of Mr. Corona.


The larger issue involved here -- larger than Mr. Corona's trial -- is that the House prosecutors, in their gung-ho zeal to fish for evidence would have everyone violate the law on bank secrecy, and probably plunge the country in a potentially disastrous bank run in their dogged pursuit of Mr. Corona.

“Lawmakers cannot be lawbreakers!” Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago reminded all and sundry.

There is a higher purpose involved in Senator Santiago's timely reminder, other than her wildly elevated blood pressure. Those higher purposes pertain to the moral of Senator Escudero's story:  that in our pursuit of a vermin, we must take care not to burn the entire house down.

Rigorous discipline

Which brings me to another Aquino supporter who has managed to keep her objectivity above her political loyalty.  She is the economist and columnist Solita C. Monsod.  I suspect her training in the rigorous discipline of an economist keeps her on an even keel.

She writes: “If President Aquino actually believes that his campaign against corruption will stand or fall on the conviction or acquittal of Chief Justice Renato Corona by the impeachment court, then one can only conclude that P-Noy’s campaign plan must have been half-baked from the start, and/or that he wasn’t really serious about it.

Late-blooming idea

“Why do I say that? Please review the first of P-Noy’s 16-point “Social Contract with the Filipino People,” which vows “From a President who tolerates corruption to a President who is the nation’s first and most determined fighter of corruption.” The action plan accompanying this first point comprises 10 items from “appointing officials based on their integrity, qualifications and performance record and hold them accountable to the highest ethical standards of public office” (performance so far: really mixed); to requiring the top officials of the executive department to have their SALNs “available and accessible to the public” (performance: poor); to upholding the people’s right to information and supporting the enactment of the Freedom of Information Bill in Congress (performance: lousy); implementation of the Prosecution Service Act (performance: lousy), the reader gets the drift.

“Nowhere in that Social Contract did P-Noy say that its success would depend on getting rid of the incumbent Chief Justice. And if the reader will notice, if it was really that important, P-Noy should have not waited for almost 18 months to start the process. Nor, having decided to start it, should he have allowed (let’s face it, he was calling the shots) his minions in Congress to pass such a flawed, practically baseless set of impeachment charges without even the benefit of discussion.

Vengeance is motive

“No, the impeachment and trial of Corona seems less likely to have anything to do with the desire to clean up corruption than it has with the desire to wreak vengeance.

“What is more disturbing is that the President (if the news reports are accurate) is not only practically inciting the people to take matters into their own hands, but is also showing a dismal ignorance about how the will of the people is to be served. As in 'Would Juan de la Cruz allow himself to be left out of this process? Are we going to let only a few to decide for all of us?'

“Good grief. Doesn’t he realize that he is one of those 'few,' as are all legislators and local executives, and that they were chosen by the people precisely to carry out their will? Or does he want every decision to be subject to ratification by the people? Ridiculous, right? The implication is that we can ignore, with impunity, the rule of law, the absence of which in this country has held back our growth and development.

'Dangerous demagoguery'

“Demagoguery is a dangerous tool and can boomerang on the persons using it.

“The President has reportedly also articulated his impatience with the slowness of the impeachment process. Well, he touches a sympathetic chord in me. But he forgets that a major contributing factor has been the lack of preparedness of the prosecution, both before and after the impeachment. 

“As has become painfully clear during the trial, which is turning out to be one fishing expedition after another. Which brings up the question: of practically all of the 'evidence' brought out in the trial obtained only after the trial began, what were the bases of the impeachment charges (Number Two) in the first place?”

Considering how close Senator Escudero is to the President, and assuming that all of us are really sincerely hoping he will succeed on the larger issuers that matter for the rest of his term, maybe it is time for Mr. Esudero to have a heart-to-heart talk with his friend, Mr. Aquino. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Bad-air day can kill you*

*Regular pollution levels can be deadly for heart, lungs, brain.

By Diane Bailey

A number of studies have come out recently confirming that air pollution at levels that many people commonly experience can have serious impacts to our hearts, brains and lungs. 

A major review of 34 separate studies around the world found that short term exposure to a number of different air pollutants fine particulates, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide - can increase the risk of heart attacks.

How can air pollution cause a heart attack?  

The exact mechanism is unknown, but experts believe that air pollution messes with our cardiovascular system by: significantly increasing inflammation, causing irregular heart-beats, increasing the viscosity of our blood (e.g. thickening it so that it may accelerate the build-up of plaque in arteries or “atherosclerosis” and could possibly dislodge existing plaques), and increasing “vascoconstrictors” among other ill effects.

Across the globe, heart attacks account for most of the 1.3 million deaths caused by outdoor air pollution each year, according to the World Health Organization.  According to one estimate,  cardiopulmonary deaths resulting from air pollution may account for five percent of global mortality.  These cardiopulmonary deaths include stroke in addition to heart attacks.  

One recent study showed an up to 34 percent increase in risk of stroke from exposure to fine particulate pollution at levels considered generally safe by the US EPA. 

Among the many hazards of fine particulate pollution, there is “evidence that they can penetrate the brain through the nasal passages,” according to one researcher, who just published a study of cognitive decline related to particulate pollution.  

That study showed a two year accelerated aging effect from long-term exposure to particulate pollution at “levels typically experienced by many individuals in the United States.”

Cardiologists and other medical specialists have begun to be more outspoken about the severe health impacts of air pollution.  One expert from UCLA notes that there is more than enough evidence that air pollution kills.
And the risks are not confined to sick people or those with pre-existing heart conditions; the risk of a “cardiovascular event brought on by air pollution” applies to healthy people as well. 

Increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and cognitive impairment are just a few of the many serious health impacts related to air pollution, which also include asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, other respiratory illnesses, adverse birth outcomes,  cancer, and premature death.  

An excellent recent special report on the air we breathe in Arizona included interviews with several pulmonologists, noting: “Bad-air days bring in more people [to the hospital].  Studies have shown there is a direct correlation and we see it.”

The Arizona piece goes on to tell a heart breaking story of a twelve year old girl utterly debilitated by air pollution.  She says: “I can’t run that much or my chest hurts.  If there’s pollution, my head hurts.” 

Her parents report that her asthma has worsened causing her to miss 40 days of school last year. Similar stories of debilitating asthma and air pollution are all too common across the US.  

In addition to the health, social and emotional toll that these illnesses take on families, the economic costs can be steep.  One recent study of the burden of asthma attributable to pollution in Southern California estimates millions of dollars in expense to the City of Long Beach accounting for more than 20 percent of its Health Department budget.

We have long known that when air pollution spikes, so do hospital admissions for asthma and other illnesses, but millions of people live in toxic hotspots near freeways and other major pollution sources where levels of fine particulates and other pollutants reach unhealthy levels every day.  

While the highly visible ozone smog remains a problem in many regions, it’s the pollution that we can’t see that is the most dangerous to our health.  But we’re not helpless; there’s much that can be done to cut pollution associated with heart attacks, stroke, asthma and the many other health impacts. 

Join us in our fight for clean air.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sexual difference in social media use*

*Men are from Foursquare, Women are from Facebook.

Differences between the genders may be just as pronounced online as some say they are in the real world, according to a presentation given by Helen Nowicka from research company Porter Novelli as part of London's Social Media Week.

Social Media Week runs February 13-17 and examines advances in social media and its impact on cultural, political, and economic changes.  

Nowicka gave a presentation titled "Men are from Foursquare, Women are from Facebook"; the report was also published on February 14 on the Porter Novelli blog.

The report found several key differences in online social interactions between men and women. According to the report, while both genders are highly engaged in social media, women use it as a platform to "reinforce existing social connections" and "interact with friends and family"; men on the other hand are more likely to use it to share statuses and promote their opinions.

Additionally women are more active on social networks than men, with 65 percent accessing social media "at least once a week," compared to only 51 percent of men. 

Women were also more likely to connect with people they know, with 93 percent using social media to read posts or view pictures and comment on a friend's profile; according to the report, 89 percent of men read friends posts and 84 percent comment on friends' profiles.  

The idea that men are more likely to use social media to broadcast opinions, according to the report, is reflected by a higher percent of male than female Twitter users -- 35 percent to 27 percent.

Men are also more likely to be active on blogs; with more men (34 percent) than women (24 percent) actively blogging and more men (54 percent) than women (46 percent) seeking out other people's blogs to read.

According to data from Experian Hitwise, Facebook, the world's largest social network, is more popular among women than men, with 57 percent of its traffic over the three months prior to February stemming from female users. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Eating your way to a healthy heart*

*Republished to keep you in the pink of health.


One in three adults has some form of heart/cardiovascular disease. That means that 33 percent of you are the "one in three" who really need to make healthy eating a priority. Most of the deaths and risk factors for heart disease are preventable. Your food choices have a big impact on your heart's health, even if you have other risk factors. Sure, some risk factors you can't change such as age, family history and gender, but concentrate on what you can control in your life.

Here are words to live by - Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it. You cannot control the gene card you've been dealt but you can improve your body's ability to win the eating game. Three lifestyle changes that you can control and should control include: 1) high cholesterol, 2) high blood pressure and 3) excess weight. All three above will improve by controlling you're eating choices and developing a heart healthy plan.

Lifestyle changes

Choosing to live a healthy lifestyle is the first step to winning at the game of life. The two most obvious and powerful areas to change and maintain are diet and weight management. Regular physical activity, quitting smoking and managing stress are also essential to weight management.

A heart-healthy diet

To lower your risk of heart disease, your diet should be:

• Low in saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are found in some meats, dairy products, baked goods and deep-fried and processed foods. Trans fats are found in some fried and unprocessed foods. Both types of fat raise your LDL, or "bad" cholesterol level.

• High in omega-3 fatty acids. Foods high in omega-3s include fish and olive oil. Mackerel, lake trout, herring sardines, albacore tuna, salmon and halibut are the highest in omega-3's.

• High in fiber, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. A diet rich in these elements helps lower LDL cholesterol as well as provides nutrients that may help protect against heart disease. Foods high in soluble fiber include, oatmeal, kidney beans, apples, pears, barley and prunes. Berries, especially blueberries are high in antioxidants that protect the heart.

• Low in salt and sugar. A low-salt diet can help manage blood pressure, while a low-sugar diet can help prevent weight gain and control diabetes and pre-diabetes.

If you are a high risk for heart disease or already have heart disease, your first step should be to meet with a registered dietitian. Together with your health-care provider, your RD can help you lower your risk or improve your existing condition by developing a personalized eating and lifestyle plan that will pamper your heart and the rest of you.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Shhh! Infants understand words before they talk*

*A reminder for good parenting.

Infants between 6 and 9 months may only utter “ba-ba” and “da-da,” but they can actually comprehend words for many common objects, according to a new study. 

University of Pennsylvania psychologists Elika Bergelson and Daniel Swingley have found that 6-to-9-month-old babies learned the meanings of words for foods and body parts through their daily experience with language.

These findings unseat a previously held consensus about infant learning. It was widely believed that infants between 6 and 9 months, while able to perceive and understand elements of the sounds of their native language, did not yet possess the ability to grasp the meanings conveyed though speech. 

Most psychologists believed word comprehension didn’t emerge until closer to a child’s first birthday.

To test this belief, Bergelson and Swingley recruited caregivers to bring their children to a lab to complete two different kinds of test. 

In the first, a child sat on the caregiver’s lap facing a screen on which there were images of one food item and one body part.

The caregiver wore headphones and heard a statement such as, “Look at the apple,” or, “Where’s the apple?” and then repeated it to the child. 

The second kind of test had the same set-up, except that, instead of the screen displaying a food item and a body part, it displayed objects in natural contexts, such as a few foods laid out on a table, or a human figure. 

For both kinds of test, the question was whether hearing a word for something on the screen would lead children to look at that object more, indicating that they understood the word.

In total, Bergelson and Swingley tested 33 6-to-9-month olds. The researchers also had 50 children from 10 to 20 months complete the same tests to see how their abilities compared with the younger group.

In both the two-picture and scene tests, the researchers found that the 6- to 9-month-old babies fixed their gaze more on the picture that was named than on the other image or images, indicating that they understood that the word was associated with the appropriate object.

This is the first demonstration that children of this age can understand such words.

“There had been a few demonstrations of understanding before, involving words like mommy and daddy. Our study is different in looking at more generic words, words that refer to categories,” Swingley said. 

Bergelson and Swingley were also curious to know whether they could observe a pattern of learning during the months from 6 to 9. But, when they compared the performance of 6- and 7-month-old babies with that of 8- and 9-month olds, they found no improvements.

“That is a surprising result. We don’t know why it is that performance remains flat for so long,” Swingley stated.

Factoring in the results of the older babies, the researchers found little improvement until the children reached roughly 14 months, at which point word recognition jumped markedly.

“Maybe what is going on with the 14-month olds is they understand the nature of the task as a kind of game and they`re playing it. Or the dramatic increase in performance at 14 months may be due to aspects of language development we did not measure specifically, including better categorization of the speech signal, or better understanding of syntax,” Swingley added. - ANI 

Monday, February 13, 2012

The statesmanship of Senate President Enrile

By Winston A. Marbella

The Senate is fortunate -- nay, the entire nation -- in having Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile at the helm of the impeachment court in the historic trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Enrile's pivotal role is crucial in this most trying period in our  “maturation as a democracy,” to borrow the words of former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr.  In fact, it is difficult to imagine any other presiding officer in Enrile's place, save perhaps Senator Nene Pimentel himself.

Even keel

Since the beginning, Enrile has kept the impeachment court on an even keel, a task made even more difficult by the dual nature of the impeachment process itself as defined by the Constitution.  In the words of Sen, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, the impeachment process is “quasi-judicial, quasi-political in nature.”

This duality of function is a product of the process itself.  Senators, like congressmen and the President, belong to the political branches of government, meaning elected representatives of the people. This differentiates them from to the judiciary, the third great branch of government, which is tasked with the judicial function, or the interpretation of the laws passed by Congress and implemented by the President.


This separation of powers, and the corollary principles of checks and balances, form the basic tenets of our representative republican democracy.  The great powers of government are deliberately divided among three co-equal departments to prevent the dangerous accumulation of power in any single branch.  And this principle is rooted in the basic idea that a dictator is not only repugnant to a free people but eventually leads to the death of democracy itself, as history has shown repeatedly.

The situation becomes even more complicated when the Constitution, in exceptional cases like the impeachment process, puts both the legislative or policy-making power and a quasi-judicial power in the hands of a political branch.

The basic idea behind this complex process is that impeachment is an exceptional power made available to remove from office only a select group of high government officials, and then only for a select cluster of  “high crimes” like culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, and betrayal of public trust.

Strict requirements

Each of the specified crimes have strict legal definitions, except perhaps for betrayal of public trust, which is a recent addition in the 1987 Constitution and for which there are no known  parallels in other countries.

The select group of high officials who are impeachable include the President, Vice President, justices of the Supreme Court, members of constitutional bodies like the Commission on Elections, and the Ombudsman, the government's chief prosecutor in graft cases.

Aside from these reasons, the importance of the impeachment process is further emphasized by strict  constitutional provisions on its implementation.  In initiating impeachment, the House of Representatives is constitutionally mandated to follow strict legal procedures such as the determination of probable cause or “sufficiency in form and substance.”  While the House is empowered to adopt its own rules on impeachment, the rules of evidence and procedure are largely made available as “suppletory” guidelines.

Similarly, the Senate as an impeachment court is guided by the Rules of Court and rules of procedure and evidence in addition to its own rules.  In acting as judges, the senators take an additional oath to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws.”  And to further emphasize the importance of this job, the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote (16) to convict an impeached official.

Immense responsibility

The immensity of this responsibility was crystal clear to Enrile when he began the impeachment trial in January. In his opening statement, he said:

“As jurors, it is our obligation and responsibility to closely and diligently examine the evidence and the facts to be presented before us, to determine whether such evidence and facts sufficiently and convincingly support the charges, and ultimately, to decide the fate of no less than the Chief Justice of the Highest Court of the land, and the head of a co-equal branch of our government....

“While it has often been said that, by and large, the trial in an impeachment case is political in nature, nonetheless, such is neither an excuse nor a license for us to ignore and abandon our solemn and higher obligation and responsibility as a body of jurors to see to it that the Bill of Rights are observed and that justice is served, and to conduct the trial with impartiality and fairness, to hear the case with a clear and open mind, to weigh carefully in the scale the evidence against the respondent, and to render to him a just verdict based on no other consideration than our Constitution and laws, the facts presented to us, and our individual moral conviction.

Call to 'civility'

“...I therefore urge everyone to fully cooperate in the orderly conduct of these proceedings in accordance with the Rules, to demonstrate civility and to observe the decorum that is required for us to carry out our respective duties with dispatch, with honor and with dignity....

“Although the ostensible respondent in the trial before us is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, we cannot escape the reality that, in a larger sense, the conduct of this trial and its outcome will necessarily have a serious impact on the entire nation. Its success or failure to achieve the purpose for which the Constitution has provided this mechanism as part of our system of checks and balances and of public accountability, may spell the success or failure of our democratic institutions, the strengthening or weakening of our sense of justice as a people, our stability or disintegration as a nation, and the triumph or demise of the rule of law in our land,” Enrile said.

The trying times ahead will put to the test not only Enrile's mastery of his craft but his statesmanship as well.  He has an opportunity given by circumstance to a very few:  he has a date with history. 

Eager beavers may just turn trial into circus

By Winston A. Marbella

Seeking to speed up the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, the Senate has bent over backward to correct legal defects in the complaint filed by the House prosecutors.

Chief House Prosecutor Rep. Niel Tupas, responding to a demand from Sen, Miriam Defensor-Santiago to get better organized to prevent further delays, sent a list of 100 witnesses and 300 documents they would present at the trial.

“Oh, my God!” Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile remarked.

Nursing a high-blood pressure, Senator Santiago just laughed it off:  “You weigh witnesses, not number them.”

Not funny

Several senators did not find it funny.

Sen. Ralph Recto, an economist, worried about the other important things the Senate had to do.  Sen. Joker Arroyo counted that, as things stand, the Senate is using 75 percent of its time for the trial, 25 percent for passing laws and policy, its main job.

Meantime, a group of congressmen calling themselves the 188 Movement (after the infamous 188 who fast-tracked the impeachment complaint in five hours) are gearing up to swamp the grass roots with  a massive information campaign ostensibly to explain to the people the administration's morality crusade, the impeachment of Corona being a major centerpiece.

The House minority is wondering whether taxpayers are paying for this educational campaign.

DVD morality play

Meanwhile, Political Affairs Adviser Ronald Llamas is caught on camera patronizing a mall selling pirated DVDs.  He is under investigation, says a Malacanang spokesperson.

Llamas has reportedly apologized to the President and his fate hangs in the balance.  That will depend on the President's assessment of how badly he has hurt the President's morality crusade.

Meantime, there are rumblings in the Senate to oust Senate President Enrile. Sen. Franklin Drilon, a Liberal Party stalwart whose party is leading Coronals prosecution ,  is at loggerheads with Enrile's publicly applauded fair rulings.

Enrile's head

The defense panel filed a motion for Drilon to inhibit himself from “lawyering” for the prosecutors.  He says he will stay as a judge.

Among those allegedly approached by Drilon to support his efforts were Senators Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, Alan Peter Cayetano, Teofisto “TG” Guingona, Panfilo Lacson, Serge Osmeña, Edgardo Angara, Francisco Pangilinan and Francis “Chiz” Escudero, the Peope's Journal reported.

The general perception seems to be that the court under the impartial stewardship of Enrile is doing a fairly good job of the trial, even bending over backward to help the prosecutors get their act together to speed up the pace.
In a previous hearing, Enrile had announced that he was willing to give up his position as impeachment court presiding officer to “anybody interested in this position.”

This prompted Sen. Manuel Villar to stand up and assure Enrile that he had the full trust and confidence of a majority of the senators regarding his handling of the trial.

Circus coming

But eager beavers may just turn the trial into a circus. 

Retired Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas, a strapping 83-year-old, has revealed purported efforts by Malacañang to get him out as Corona's chief lawyer. 

Cuevas said he had been approached a number of times by a lawyer to deliver a supposed message from Malacañang.  He was asked to leave the defense panel in exchange for the withdrawal of the criminal case against Magtanggol Gatdula, the recently fired director of the National Bureau of Investigation.

“I was told that the President wanted me out as a bargaining chip in the case, that they would no longer pursue it provided that I withdraw,” Cuevas said in Filipino in an interview with  a newspaper reporter in his Makati City office over the weekend.

Cuevas is also the legal counsel of the six-million strong, maybe more, Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), of which Gatdula is also a member. Gatdula has been fired over the alleged kidnapping of an undocumented Japanese woman.

'Rah-rah' boy

Cuevas identified the emissary as a member of Malacañang’s “rah-rah” boys, but asked that his name be withheld. He said the man, a former student at the University of the Philippines’ College of Law, feared reprisal.

“I know him to be with Malacañang, (but) I’m not sure whether he’s authorized or he is doing it himself,” Cuevas said. “I don’t speak with the President anyway ¡K I do not want to add credence to that.”

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a phone interview that if Cuevas had proof, he should identify the emissary. “He owes it to the public to identify the person,” said Lacierda.

Cuevas said he had also been the target some form of “harassment” lately in connection with a couple of family-owned buildings in Quezon City.

He said he was asked to submit the book of accounts, supposedly for the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), to check if the right taxes were being paid.

“Why only now?” Cuevas said. “It’s no small thing. It’s serious. I don’t know what will follow next.

“It gives a chilling effect. But I don’t know if the President knows about it. Perhaps, it’s only the handiwork of people who want to look good before him.”

'How life is'

Cuevas said the BIR inquiry into the Quezon City properties was similar to an incident involving BIR officers shortly after he went public as a counsel for then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who resigned rather than undergo an impeachment trial.

He said three BIR officers went to his law office in Salcedo Village one day to investigate him.

“Make sure you do it right because you know how life is¡ªtoday you are up, tomorrow you may be down,” he told the BIR officers in Filipino.  The incident “scared away” many   his clients, Cuevas recalls

'Full fury'

“If they are no longer in position, that’s the time they will see what kind of blows we will deliver,” Cuevas said. “We are holding our punches. We cannot unleash the full fury of our punch because of the existing circumstances.”

“It’s not easy because you’re up against Malacañang,” he said.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Senators as judge, jury, prosecutor

By Winston A. Marbella

In their effort to set right what is admittedly a flawed impeachment complaint filed by the House of Representatives against Chief Justice Renato Corona,  several senators have sailed into uncharted constitutional waters at great risk to their credibility as impartial judges.

Since the start of the trial in January, senators like Franklin Drilon have gone out of their way to assist  House prosecutors in their bungling attempts to present witnesses and evidence.

Mr. Drilon's gung-ho effort is commendable as an expression of party loyalty, President Aquino having made the impeachment of Mr. Corona a Liberal Party crusade.  Mr. Drilon is a top-ranking LP official, and even in politics loyalty is an admirable virtue.  

Compromised impartiality

But in rallying party support, Mr. Aquino may have unwittingly compromised the impartiality of senators who are his allies.

“Some of them, in effect, are being lawyers for the prosecution, like Sen. Franklin M. Drilon, and for the defense, like Sen. Joker Arroyo,” observed former Sen. Ernesto Maceda from the gallery.

Many other like-minded senators were able to camouflage their perceptively partisan approach to the trial by resorting to “clarificatory” questions and dissertations on points of law.  But as the trial went out of control of the House prosecutors' hands, they, like Mr. Drilon, eventually exposed themselves as partisan, not impartial, judges.

With the senators' ill-disguised prosecuting efforts thus exposed, the defense panel mustered enough courage to take the case to the Supreme Court on a certiorari pleading, alleging grave abuse of discretion by the senators in excess of jurisdiction. 

TRO issued

The Supreme Court has issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the petition of PS Bank for relief from a Senate subpoena ordering the bank to disclose dollar-denomitated accounts of Mr. Corona.  The bank has invoked the law authorizing the confidentiality of bank accounts to encourage more deposits that conceivably could be used for economic development.

The Court is still to rule on the main pleading of Mr. Corona himself assailing the House impeachment case as having violated his right to due process, for failing to grant him hearing, among other things.

This sudden turn of events forced the Senate impeachment court to convene a secret executive session to discuss how to proceed with the trial.  At its last hearing prior to the closed-door session, apparently extreme differences of opinion emerged from among the senators, especially after the Supreme Court issued the TRO.

'Utmost civility'

Upon being informed of the TRO, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile appealed to all litigants to observe “utmost civility” in treating a co-equal branch of government and in respecting the rights of the accused and witnesses.

Central to the bone of contention among the senators is the question of whether the Supreme Court may entertain pleadings regarding the conduct of the trial.

In several pronouncements from the chair, Senator Enrile upheld the constitutional mandate of the Supreme Court to entertain incidental or interlocutory pleadings regarding the trial, except the final verdict, which the Constitution says cannot be appealed.

Contentious issue

The Enrile view has supporters and objectors among the senators.  Among the more vocal objectors were Minority Floor Leader Alan Peter Cayetano and Senators Francis Pangilinan and Teofisto Guingona III.  They hold the view that the Senate impeachment court is supreme on all mattes relating to the trial and may not be interfered with by the Supreme Court

For the past month since the trial began in January, Mr. Enrile has assiduously kept the trial on an even keel, displaying mastery of the law and the rules of evidence and procedure.  In the process, he has earned the respect of both the senators and legal observers. 

If Enrile could be faulted for anything, it was for the “liberality” he granted to the House prosecutors, whom he has assisted on many occasions with free advice from the chair.

Continuing disrespect

But even Enrile's patience is beginning to wear thin in the face of the prosecutors' ineptitude and continuing  disrespect of the Senate trial rules by discussing evidence in public before they could be admitted in court.

The most serious departure so far from accepted legal norms was the issuance of subpoenas on the basis of bank documents allegedly leaked by a mysterious “small lady” to the prosecutors.

This breach of bank secrecy laws is being investigated by the central bank because of its potentially far-reaching damage to consumer confidence in the banking system.

Impending crisis

The entry of the Supreme Court into the trial is likely to introduce more controversy into an already inflamed trial.  Or it could have a calming effect on a trial that is on the verge of deteriorating into the partisan exercise it started as.

By making it a centerpiece of his moral crusade in government, President Aquino may have impregnated the quasi-judicial, quasi-political impeachment process with enough political virus which could fatally injure it. 

Should the trial end in a constitutional crisis with all three branches of government at odds with one another, Mr. Aquino may have prematurely initiated his own passage into a lame-duck presidency.