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11:03 PM September 14th, 2013

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By: Rina Jimenez-David, September 14th, 2013 11:03 PM

Until formal charges are filed against Janet Lim-Napoles and any number of senators and representatives in connection with the pork barrel scandal, everything else remains in the realm of speculation. This, even if the links prove tantalizing and a certain logic attaches to the mysterious goings-on.

Take note of the departure for foreign shores of personalities linked to the operation: Gigi Reyes, former chief of staff of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, who, according to “whistle-blowers,” received and even signed for millions of pesos siphoned off the senator’s allotment; former congressman Rodolfo Plaza who allegedly allowed Napoles-created NGOs to use his pork barrel funds; Ruby Chan Tuason, the former social secretary of former President (now Manila Mayor) Joseph Estrada, who is said to have been Napoles’ conduit to the offices of Senators Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada; and Richard Cambe, purported “chief political adviser” of Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.

Enrile, Estrada and Revilla, along with Senators Bongbong Marcos and Gringo Honasan, had been identified by whistle-blowers as colluding with Napoles and her group to defraud the government of funds meant for development projects. Many other legislators, including former and present congressional representatives, have likewise been named as complicit in the scam.

Now, for all we know, the departures of the aforementioned personalities may have been just coincidences. Maybe they all made travel plans for the same period; maybe they even used the same travel agencies. Perhaps the fact that they all had something to do with the irregular if not illegal siphoning of funds is simply an accident. Or maybe they have simply been brought out of reach (supposedly) of local authorities who may have wished to question them.

But as Justice Secretary Leila de Lima remarked when asked about Reyes’ departure: “Fleeing is the first sign of guilt.” What do all their principals have to say about the untimely travel plans?

* * *

The best laid plans can sometimes go awry.

This can be said of the Sept. 11 gathering at the Luneta, this time led by leftist organizations headed by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), which attracted a crowd of more than 3,000—a good enough number—but still short of the 100,000 said to have massed up at the Luneta for the “Million People March.”

Remember that the “Million People March” was organized mainly through the social media, with no overall organizing committee or even an agenda. It had in fact been described as a “picnic,” and the folks who made the call for a show of people power made it a point to eschew placards, posters or invited speakers.

Now, the Sept. 11 gathering, and an earlier “prayer rally” at the Edsa Shrine, seem to have had greater organizational muscle behind it. One unmistakable sign for me were the placards that were all of similar sizes with similar fonts and familiar slogans. But even then, a much smaller number of protesters showed up, this even if the organizers insisted that the extent of public anger over the pork barrel scam could not be measured by the size of crowds alone.

* * *

But what happened? What happened was Zamboanga, or the armed stand-off between soldiers and police against elements of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in that Mindanao city. Decrying the fact that they had been “ignored” in the course of the peace talks and the pending establishment of a “Bangsa Moro” with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the MNLF troops identified with their leader, Nur Misuari, sought to enter Zamboanga City proper and allegedly hoist their flag in front of city hall.

But met with armed resistance from troops and police, the MNLF fighters chose to crowd into a predominantly Muslim enclave where they held Christian and Muslim civilians hostage and intermittently fired shots and mortar fire.

The televised scenes of street fighting and of crowded evacuation centers were certainly far more dramatic and exciting than the by-now-familiar sight of protesters holding up placards and pig’s heads. Perhaps we are easily distracted. Or perhaps the fate of a city beleaguered by armed invaders and the rising death toll are of far greater import than the lingering anger over the waste and exploitation of public money.

Which is not to say that one is more important than the other, in the cruel arithmetic of news budgets. But sometimes, public indignation can only be stoked so much, after which it becomes more and more difficult to rekindle and fire up. Also, with Benhur Luy testifying before the Senate and Secretary De Lima declaring her intent to go after those behind the pork barrel scandal, perhaps some of the anger has been blunted somewhat, until the investigation and trial and subsequent revelations rile us up once again.

* * *

Just a word about the passing of Nora Daza, perhaps the Philippines’ foremost culinary authority whose cooking shows were must-sees for every Filipino interested in the art of cooking, desirous of learning new recipes, or just lusting after good, satisfying meals.

It’s said she fostered the “buko pie” industry which has grown from small stores along the highway leading to Los Baños to giant enterprises today. One of the pioneers in the “buko pie” business, asked where she got the recipe for the famous pie, said she simply followed the recipe provided in Daza’s cookbook.

That’s how powerful and influential Daza was, and a testimony as well to the durability and flavor of the dishes she featured. Truly, it can be said that Nora Daza was not just the country’s version of Julia Child, she was by herself a teacher and cooking authority nonpareil.

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