Act of Goddess

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RENE SAGUISAG

LOLIT Sanchez, the patient and gracious widow of Bobbit, is gone. Bobbit was a Con-Con delegate, labor secretary and a lawyer who obtained nearly 92 percent in the bar in 1954 (eldest brother of Eddie, our Rizal Hi valedictorian, who topped the board exams in chemical engineering). Bobbit was the only one who could have led and managed MABINI, with its hambog at palalong mga bilib-sa-sarile kasapi, at its incipiency. I am reminded that behind every great man, is a woman, and that was Lolit, who supported Bobbit in his many daring out-of-the-box advocacies. I paid my last respects Monday last to my Pasig townsman. Traffic was a breeze, thanks to Asean, which would not touch human rights with a hundred-foot pole, however.

Lolit is not the only one gone recently. Last Saturday, two construction workers pouring cement were killed in Bacolod when a platform on a second-floor structure being built collapsed. One body was retrieved four hours later, encased in cement.

Film Palace tragedy and mystery

Today, November 17, we mark the 36th anniversary of the Film Palace tragedy, the subject of Mr. Baltazar “Bal” Endriga’s letter to the Inquirer last November 6. On November 17, 1981, at about 3 a.m., a fifth-floor structure collapsed, resulting in multiple deaths.


In our Mabini Occasional Issue (OI)I dated November 27, 1981, Assemblyman Kit Tatad, our colleague here, I quoted to say that the Film Palace had no item in the budget. “If so, where was the money for it coming from? And just how many really died in the tragedy? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind?” The mystery was shrouded by other questions. The project supposedly cost $25 million (at 1982 value or rate).

There was no probe by the police or the legislature (Batasan) at a time when “the First Lady wants this” was law.
Bal, my pal, Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) chair at the time, agreed with the project architect’s self-serving claim that only seven had died. The scuttlebutt was that more than a hundred were buried alive, arguably making FP our largest tomb, at a time of strict censorship. One account had 35 cadavers retrieved. The architect, Dr. Hong, could be wrong, given his personal bias to lower the number of fatalities.

I understand the Department of Foreign Affairs used it as an office but no one wanted to work overtime because of the rumored wailing of the departed in the still of the night. I see that it is now used by less superstitious Koreans.

Whose fault then?

Impatient Imelda had rushed the construction; work was done round-the-clock in three working shifts as Hollywood stars Brooke Shields, George Hamilton, Virginia Mayo, et al., were coming. She did not want to be embarrassed. Heavens, no.

Bal says that Dr. Hong said the cause of the tragedy was, in effect, the irrepealable law of gravity, if I understood him correctly (“the scaffolding supporting the platform into which concrete was being poured collapsed”). Whose fault then? To me incompetence and Imelda’s insensate obsession should also have been considered.

Bal seems to settle for seven against the 169 rumored at the time to have been buried alive. Some were not quickly suffocated by quick-drying cement; at least two half-buried workers trapped in it had to turn black and blue slowly before succumbing hours later, not rescued with the pathetic use of chisels. Lack of proper equipment was another contributory cause to the massive tragedy arising from Imelda’s caprice.

In our OI dated December 4, 1981,Macoy was reported to have released another P40 million to complete the FP. I asked: “Have criminal charges been filed against those directly or vicariously responsible for the tragedy last month?” In our OI dated December 31, 1981: “A Task Force Film Palace may be formed to study Wescon, Inc., possible prosecution for culpable violation of the law, the absence of permits, ostentation in time of great want, etc.”

In our OI dated January 31, 1982, I recorded that “Mr. Aber Canlas claimed responsibility for completing the FP. This arguably extrajudicial admission must be filed away. Did it have a permit? Did it have a certificate of occupancy? Has anyone been charged criminally for the deaths of the ill-starred workers? Is the defense here that what happened was an Act of Goddess? Would there have been a tragedy if the pace had not been so “rushed”?

In our OI dated June 23, 1982, I asked: “Who will take the cudgels for the numerous workers who died in the Film Palace tragedy? How many really died? Has anyone been compensated? Has anyone been charged? Who profited? Has there been any investigation at all? If so, what was the result of it? If not, why not? Only a thorough and impartial investigation can clear those convicted by the rumormongers without number, who have nothing else to go by.”

For the Act of Goddess, the answers remain blowin’ in the wind, 36 years later, and counting.

But PNoy being prosecuted

Now PNoy faces charges in the Sandiganbayan. No one was prosecuted for the November 17, 1981 disaster. For that matter, no one was, for the massacre of 20,000 Muslims, Christians, et al., on February 7-8, 1974, when Jolo was razed and bombed back into some sort of Stone Age, as it were. At that time of censorship, I got the initial info from another Pasig townsman like Eddie and Bobbit, Pabling Perez, our Rizal Hi classmate who finished No. 3 in his PMA class.

Are there really remains still in the Film Palace? No closure, without a proper probe. We have to rattle the bones of skeletons from which all semblance of life departed, 36 years ago.

Multiple homicides. In this regard, may I disagree with the view that PNoy should have been charged with the lightweight offense of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide.

My stand is he answers only to his conscience and to history and should not be charged even with that bailable and probationable lightweight offense, or the more serious ones, filed by the Ombudsman, of usurpation (bailable and probationable) or graft (bailable but not probationable), for that matter. A Prezis not subject to line of authority and chain of command doctrines or traditions in his executive domain as Prez and Commander-in-Chief. Marwan with $5 million on his head was arguably sent to paradise. Or hell. To me, the glass was 80 percent full. Infallibility is only linked to Popes in matters of faith and morals, not of Presidents. PNoy gained nothing for himself in eliminating a prime target. No operation against fierce Muslim warriors can perhaps ever be perfect.

Charged with reckless imprudence, PNoy should have been, say critics; his legal team must prefer it. “Without malice,” in the language of the law. No jail time. No moral turpitude. And why Mamasapano 44? Why not 45, to include Sara, the Muslim girl, 5, who was killed? Or 46, to include the Muslim farmer who was also killed with eyes gouged out. And the other Muslim victims? No probe to establish accountability?

Muslim lives don’t matter? Sapagka’t sila po naman ay mga Moro lamang? What recognition and assistance have they received from Imperial Manila, which has poured a lot for the 44, it seems? Of course, the loss of life, any life, is unquantifiable.
When will we ever learn?

DU30 hosting human rights summit?

Maybe not during an administration so dismissive of human rights. I consider Trudeau as like Carter in raising human rights issues. Very, very welcome. But, what has been the Palace’s, military’s and police’s response to the issues raised by the courageous homegrown Lanao del Sur chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, on Marawi, which had to be destroyed in order to save it?

Very poor intelligence we saw in that the crisis erupted when the Prez was in Moscow and it took months to quell it. Better then not to quarrel with China with its irridentist pretensions, whose citizens need only jump one foot at the same time and drown us in a tsunami.

Asean was not a failure. Traffic was light, for one thing. I have seen no account that Digong succeeded though in having his guests do the Hitlerian fist bump— thoughtless, and deeply offensive in most freedom-loving cultures, particularly the vilified Jewish—with him. Intimidated locals may have no choice. But, imagine how clumsy Trump would have been, as the best-laid plans of mice and men can go awry (pronounced aray). And how would fellow rock star Trudeau have posed?

How many would come for a human rights summit hosted by Digong and Bato de la Rosa? Comic page stuff? Draculas cannot run a blood bank. Inmates cannot run an asylum or prison.

We have to have a high regard for human life and dignity. Change is coming?

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