Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Two articulate young leaders---lawyer Greco Belgica and lawyer-CPA and ex-Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong---hammered on unconstitutional use of estimated P140B in presidential pork and P10B PDAF, as well as discarding by Comelec-Smartmatic of four safety features of PCOS, that undermined credibility and integrity of two past elections. Now that DBM's Abad said no DAP is ever released without P-Noy's ok.,what's Ombudsman to do? Many hundreds from various faiths at historic Kalayaan Hall pledged support for advocacies of Belgica/Chong, moving Arch.Oscar Cruz to tears.



Last Wednesday from 1-4 pm., hundreds of citizens from the Catholic, Protestant and Muslim faiths gathered for a “Political Vigil” called by the advocacy group called "Reform Philippines Coalition" at the historic Kalayaan Hall in Club Filipino in San Juan, Metro Manila. It was marked by stirring and even bombastic speeches, emotional inter-faith prayers and even the shedding of tears by a good number, most notably by Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz of Pangasinan. The white-haired archbishop confessed to the crowds that he was already very tempted to give up hope about this country, but after hearing all the demands from the conferees to the powers that be and the pledges for action, “nabuhayan ako ng loob,” Cruz declared, to great cheering.  

The large gathering demanded two things from this administration: "Public Accountability and Transparent and Credible Automated Elections.". As articulated by Greco Belgica, lead protester in the landmark 14-0 Supreme Court decision of 2013 that ruled the PDAF and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) of the Executive as unconstitutional, the coalition demands THE IMMEDIATE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE SC DECISION ON PORK BARREL. Belgica, a lawyer and Christian faith leader, called on the Ombudsman  and the Secretary of Justice to make good their investigation, prosecution and suspension of guilty parties responsible for the misuse and abuse of these pork barrel funds and lump sums. 


Recall that it was Sen. Jinggoy Estrada who, two months after Chief Justice Renato Corona was convicted by the Senate after his impeachment by the House of Representatives, made the startling allegation that funds running from P50 million to as much as P100 million were distributed to each of the senators as incentive for their conviction vote of Corona (only three senators did not partake of the bounty---Senators Joker Arroyo, Miriam Santiago and Panfilo Lacson).

Estrada’s revelation blew the lid off the DAP which was formally offered to the senators in writing by then Appropriations Chair Franklin Drilon immediately after the  Corona trial.


Interestingly, the day after Greco Belgica’s power-point blast against presidential and congressional pork barrel, the Ombudsman came out in various newspapers that DBM Secretary Florencio Abad and his deputy, Undersecretary Mario Relampagos, are undergoing investigation in connection with these twin evils. The Ombudsman asserted that these two budget officials could be held liable for technical malversation, inasmuch as transfer of funds by the Executive was undertaken without congressional approval in the national budget, as demanded by the Constitution. 

It will be recalled that during the SC hearings on Belgica's suit vs. presidential pork, Abad estimated it to be as much as P140B, but the Ombudsman was quoted recently as placing at only around P31.9B the unobligated appropriations without congressional approval from 20l1 to 2012. 

The fund totals may be in question, but this early several things are evident. One is that “investigation” about these lump sum disbursements could just be dribbled in this administration, so that no real action is taken. Secondly, and more important, President Aquino appears to be absolved by the Ombudsman in the investigation and possible prosecution for unlawful transfers of these huge amounts---when it’s logical and obvious that huge lump sums such as the “Malampaya Fund” and the “presidential social fund” are “presidential pork” that Abad and Relampagos COULD NOT HAVE JUGGLED WITHOUT AUTHORITY FROM THE PRESIDENT. 


In fact, the Daily Tribune banner news today quotes Abad as categorically naming the President as the one who ordered him to use those funds in cross-transfer.  It remains to be seen, however, whether the Ombudsman would pursue these unconstitutional fund-transfers more decisively. This issue recalls the “shouting match” that the Times columnist with enviable Palace moles, Kit Tatad, wrote about and hows it was all about the blame game between boss and subordinate. 

True, P-Noy enjoys immunity from suits while he is President, but as legal luminaries point out, he is not immune from investigations. The Ombudsman cannot dodge investigating P-Noy. 

Given his ultimate responsibility for his presidential pork, P-Noy has to make his anointed candidate, Mar Roxas, win at all cost, as the latter is the only one who could go easy on P-Noy's post-presidency lawsuits and protect him from a GMA scenario. Hence P-Noy's order to LP solons to drop their own respective campaigns and concentrate on propelling Roxas’ candidacy to victory. Makes sense. Mar appears to be moving indeed.


Fomer Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong, a lawyer-CPA, is another of my youthful heroes, having devoted five years of his life to the cause of clean and honest elections, after himself suffering from electoral cheating through the PCOS machine in 2010.

 Articulate and passionate about his advocacy for clean and honest elections---"no cheating"---Glenn has been tirelessly going around the country at his own expense, awakening a populace largely ignorant of the intricacies of the Comelec-Smartmatic syndicate's shenanigans. Glenn has also confronted dishonest Comelec officials right in the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee in the Senate and stumped them.


At Club Filipino Chong argued by means of audio-visual props for the Comelec to return four safety features of the  PCOS machines, as provided by R.A. 9369, the “Automated Election System Law.” These were “removed outright or effectively diluted” during the past two elections---thus greatly undermining their integrity and credibility.  

These discarded safety features were l). the Source Code Review (SCR) that provides secret instructions for PCOS machines; 2). the ultra-violet detectors that would prevent use of fake ballots; 3). the voter verification receipt that would inform voters whether the machines registered their votes properly or not, and 4). the mandated use of individualized digital signatures that would secure the voting machines from hacking. Glenn Chong masterfully enumerated all the sins of Comelec-Smartmatic. 

Toward the end of the program, this sentiment was echoed by resigned Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman as he attacked in no uncertain terms the “syndicate inside Comelec.”


What is heart-breaking, stressed Glenn Chong, is that despite "clear uncontroverted evidence" of the mysterious digital lines affecting as much as 6.278 million ballots in the 2013 elections, and involving as much as 150.686 million (!) wrongly-counted votes, Comelec still pursued its spending spree involving P12.641 billion of tax-payers' money to invest in more of the same nefarious voting machines for 2016. 

Glenn argued that considering that the same Smartmatic is poised once more to manage the 2016 elections, "We demand the effective restoration of the four main security features of the AES system and full compliance of the automated election system law by the Comelec itself---in order to establish transparency and ensure the credibility of the 2016 elections." 

We citizens cannot remain indifferent to the call of these two vanguards of democracy, Greco Belgica and Glenn Chong, who are risking their lives and fortunes in their tireless advocacies for a better world for Filipinos. As Archbishop Oscar Cruz says, Nabubuhayan tayo ng loob sa pinakikitang katatagan ng mga leaders. We should support their advocacies.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Citizen-petitioner Rizalito Yap David, instead of being vilified for challenging Grace Poe on citizenship issue, should be commended for seeking to uphold law and Constitution. This is something P-Noy wasn’t doing when he batted to submit this burning issue directly the people in 2016---vox populi---instead of to courts. But while lawyers cross swords, there are those of us who’d argue: what qualifications does Poe have, aside from being FPJ’s daughter?

The Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET)---composed of three justices of the Supreme Court, namely, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio who chairs the SET, and Justices Arturo Brion and Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, and six senators, namely, Tito Sotto, Bam Aquino, Cynthia Villar, Loren Legarda, Nancy Binay and Pia Cayetano---is handling very hot stuff--- the issue of the citizenship of Senator and presidential candidate Grace Poe, and her eligibility or lack of it for the 2016 elections. 

Lawyers of Poe, led by Alexander Poblador, are tangling with Manuelito Luna,  lawyer of former senatorial candidate Rizalito Yap David, citizen-petitioner seeking the disqualification of Grace Poe.  Justice Carpio, has asked both counsels to submit their memoranda by the second week of October, just before the Oct. 16 deadline for the filing of candidacies for the 2016 elections; but this case is expected to drag on even beyond said deadline.

Thus, it’s conceivable that presidential candidate Grace Poe could be disqualified sometime in November, if not by SET then by the Supreme Court, to which this decision would predictably be elevated by constitutionalists and political foes.   


The issue of Poe’s eligibility as a foundling to run for President is quite complex. For tangled herein are not only legal and constitutional issues based on provisions of the 1935 and 1987 Constitutions, but also the vast political ramifications of a Poe candidacy---the victory of what purports at the moment to be "opposition," or in case of her disqualification, the continuance of LP domination into the next administration.

This is because Poe cuts through the presidential candidacies of both LP’s Mar Roxas and UNA’s Jejomar Binay. With her “clean” well-scrubbed image she could drastically slice the chances of Roxas as the heir of “Tuwid na Daan.”  As the daughter of FPJ---and her “martyr” status now that she’s being raked over the coals on the citizenship issue--- Grace commands tremendous masa appeal, sympathy votes. This is evident in the recent SWS survey that she topped with a razor -thin margin. Thus she could eat into the 30 % masa vote claimed by Binay as ineluctably his. 


The issue of Poe's citizenship is key battleground in the 2016 elections, and this is why anyone who questions this issue is cut down.  Note how issue-challenger Lito David is now being made to bear the burden of producing proof that Poe is not a natural-born Filipino citizen, instead of the other way around. Given the circumstances of her birth as well as inaccuracies she made, innocently or deliberately, in her Senate candidacy and Immigration records, I agree with David:  THIS ISSUE HAS TO BE RAISED AND ANSWER SOUGHT.   

Justice Carpio aired similar thinking on it, opining that unless she produces proof otherwise, Grace Poe is not a natural-born but a naturalized citizen;  as such she’s not eligible to run for the presidency as stipulated in Sec.5, Art. 4 of the 1935 Constitution, which was left untouched in the 1987 Constitution. Carpio was criticized in some quarters for premature disclosure of opinion as SET chair (and doubtless this is justified), but inevitably his supposed link to Mar Roxas’ lawyer, Avelino Cruz, in “The Firm” is raked up too, even though at least on paper he severed ties when he was appointed to the High Court early in the Arroyo administration. 

A senator allied with the P-Noy administration has called for Carpio's inhibition from SET deliberations and voting on Poe. It’s not being mentioned in media, however, that Justices Brion and De castro also opined similarly on this issue, but this may be because they have no ties with “The Firm.” Therefore, not politically interesting.


Grace Poe has sought a DNA test, results in two weeks, obviously in the hope that one or other of her biological parents or siblings would surface as being Filipinos, thus quieting all debate on this issue (a foundling, to be considered natural-born, must have at least one parent born here). On the other hand, lawyers of both sides of her eligibility issue would tangle more assiduously in the SET and predictably in the Supreme Court.

President Aquino has also weighed in by opining that Poe’s citizenship issue be left to the people to decide in the coming elections---vox populi. This stand, however, is quite strange for him to take, for as the President he should be the first one to bat for following the Constitution to the letter and upholding the majesty of the law. 

As a result, P-Noy’s stand about vox populi and his kid-glove handling of Poe, as compared to his full-fist slamming of Binay, raises speculation in some quarters that P-Noy may be sensing an inevitable Poe victory and wants to ride on it, in the hope that he gets better political treatment in his retirement.   

This may be no idle speculation, for recall that Grace Poe, as chair of the Senate committee on peace and order and dangerous drugs that held many hearings on Mamasapano, ultimately softened her earlier tough stand to pin responsibility for the bloodbath on P-Noy.  Then too, a week and a half ago, she promised not to take issue with this administration at all during the campaign. What kind of 'opposition' is this? 


I’ll let lawyers Alex Poblador and Manuelito Luna joust healthily on the citizenship issue of foundling Grace Poe; instead, I’d emphasize a far bigger issue that will have such a staggering bearing on our country:  her lack of competence to lead the country presently mired in so many gargantuan problems. There’s no doubt that Poe's running on the steam of her popular idol father FPJ’s memory, and well could she ride into victory in May 2016.  But the nagging question is: what qualifications does she have to show aside from being her father’s daughter?  Being president is no joke especially in the aftermath of the Aquino administration.

Poe's stint at executive governance was only a year at MTRCB, and in the Senate she had only two rather uneventful years,  except when she chaired the committee that investigated the SAF tragedy, which thrust her into the limelight. Former Sen. Nene Pimentel, in today’s Daily Tribune, was quoted as opining that the platform revealed by Poe at her UP launch the other week sounded “like a ‘thesis’ paper” and that her speech then was similar to an academic exercise that lacks “political weight.”


Star columnist Boo Chanco has expressed worry about something else. In a FaceBook post Boo opined that Poe’s running-mate, Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, has failed to display a deep grasp of the country’s  many serious problems and that  he’s no better than a “charlatan” (probably because the Bicolano solon speaks with the rapidity of a canon).

Such studied opinion from a veteran journalist is worrisome indeed, for it’s well known in the Senate that Grace Poe leans so much on her buddy Chiz, who was her father’s campaign manager in his 2004 presidential run. In fact, some Senate insiders assert that there’s nothing that she would agree to issuing, even just a press release, without first asking, “Nakita na ba ito ni Chiz?”  

Thus, it’s not remote that in the first few years of a Grace Poe presidency, while she’s learning the ropes it would be Escudero who would be de facto president.

It’s high time that Escudero’s record be scrutinized, alongside that of Grace. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Reopening Mamasapano issue won’t amount to much, except to allow politicians to grandstand on eve of 2016---to the neglect of more pressing issues, e.g., threat of new cheating by PCOS machines, daily woes of Metro Manila commuters with horrendous traffic, floodings, bad transport system, etc. The whole truth about Mamasapano won’t emerge until there's regime/system change. But never mind, SAF heroes will forever be enshrined in hearts of Filipinos.


Two recent episodes are bound to have a direct bearing on the current situation in Muslim Mindanao, as well as on attempts over the months and even years to ensure lasting peace and order in the big island. 

One is the startling disclosure by President Aquino, in a recent forum with Inquirer multi-media staff about an emerging “alternative truth” or an “alternative version of events” surrounding the slaying of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan”---and that “new leads” are being pursued about the Mamasapano tragedy.

The other episode involves the publication in various dailies last Monday, Sept. 14, of the equally startling "Manifesto of Retired Officers" on "Security, Justice and Peace in Mindanao for All!," signed by four former AFP Chiefs of Staff, one former Philippine Navy Flag Officer, and various chiefs of organizations and associations within the AFP and allied groups. All the signatories are of star rank, powerful and influential in their own time, but who, as retirees, still carry enormous weight among junior officers. 

A total of 31 retired AFP officers with general rank signed this manifesto, that attacks the Framework Agreement on the |Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) forged by the Executive Department with the MILF two years ago. The 31 retirees manifested their opposition to the passage of the BBL "in its original form," as they fear it will promote dismemberment of the Republic.


I cannot recall an issue that drew out such a large number of retired officers of general rank. This is unprecedented, and P-Noy was said to be very upset at their manifesto. Quite understandable.

What's interesting about these two episodes is that they are frightfully related to each other---a cause-and-effect relationship, instead of being just a mirror of each other. Because of new controversy regarding the bloodbath in Mamasapano and the generals' stiff objection to the BBL in its original form, there's an even chance that bill won't pass in this administration. Which is well and good. 

Let's take these two developments one by one:


Regarding this "alternative truth," not surprisingly, the President did not disclose details about it, and in fact even Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. has nothing to say about his boss' sudden disclosure, except “the need to get to the truth of the matter.” Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, normally very loquacious, quickly said that no details could be offered on the President’s assertion “as it's a sensitive matter” still being investigated.

The problem is that the Mamasapano episode, one of the goriest in our history, is still raw in the hearts and minds of our people, especially among the loved ones of the Fallen ’44. In addition to the 44 SAF who lost their lives, 5 other SAF were wounded with varying severity, and 15 others survived unscathed in that grim episode.

P-Noy’s disclosure (was it unpremeditated or deliberate?) about the “alternative truth” does not assuage the still raw feelings of the slain PNP commandoes’ loved ones---far from it. In fact, in this day and age when huge problems seem to overwhelm the nation, such seemingly idle utterance from the highest official does not help at all. 

More so the re-opening of the issue in Congress, as some politicos are now pressing for. The fact is that there's no guarantee that the "real truth" would surface beyond what appears to be an attempt at REVISIONISM by the administration.


For lack of details about this “alternative truth,”  media are now speculating that P-Noy was referring to a new theory that Marwan was not killed by SAF commandoes last Jan. 25, but by his own aides who had turned traitor (for the  money of it?).  MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, doubtless out of huge PIQUE with this administration for its continued failure to get Congress to pass the BBL, quickly took up this line---that it was not the SAF but Marwan’s aides who undertook the execution, and evidence was the way he was hit in the head and chest, i.e., while lying down, instead of in combat with the attackers. 

It’s the “only truth,” Iqbal asserts imperiously. 

This theory is, of course, not far-fetched, as money could easily have been motivation for treachery (the US bounty of P5 million?), but this is not substantiated. What Iqbal’s claim succeeds in doing, however, as Sen. Ralph Recto asserts, is to lessen the import of the SAF 44’s sacrifice of their lives.

As Recto put it, “The people may not be forgiving of those who vilify the valor of those who gave up their lives for the country. THEY WERE NOT GIVEN POSTHUMOUS HONOR, AND NOW THEY ARE BEING MADE TO SUFFER POSTHUMOUS INSULT." (emphasis BOC's). 


The PNP’s board of inquiry, headed at the time of the tragedy by PNP Director Benjamin Magalong, didn't let Mohagher Iqbal’s assertion pass unchallenged. He quickly reiterated his board’s official stand: it was the SAF commandoes who killed Marwan and it has all the evidence to support this claim., unlike the MILF. In stressing that the claim that Marwan was slain by his own aides "is an insult to the Fallen SAF 44 who sacrificed so much,” Director Magalong  is actually dousing cold water on his Commander-in-Chief’s “alternative truth.” 

The “alternative truth” plot has since thickened with the revelation in the Sept. 10, 2015 issue of the Los Angeles Times which asserted that contrary to Aquino’s claim that the Mamasapano operation was a success and a purely Filipino operation, it was actually "a failure" and was heavily participated in by American forces. David Maxwell, a retired US Army colonel said to have commanded the US special operations force in the Philippines in 2006 and 2007, was quoted by LA Times as claiming that in fact US covert forces had been training the SAF commandos to target Marwan in “Operation Exodus.”


The Daily Tribune here, quoting LA Times, said that on the day of the SAF assault on Marwan in Mamasapano last Jan. 25, “some five or six US counter-terrorism advisers assisted from a police command post nearby, tracking the assault team in live video from a US surveillance aircraft circling overhead.” The LA Times report also cited that after the 14-hour battle, a Black Hawk chopper flown by “Pentagon contractors” landed and US medics helped treat the wounded and collect the dead. 

American commandoes were later treated at a Cotabato hospital, and there’s a report going around that some of them had actually perished in Mamasapano. Today the Inquirer carried a blurred photo allegedly taken by the MILF of an Caucasian supposedly with the attacking SAF and lying dead.

Actually we journalists had heard about American involvement in that episode from friends with connections to the US; but interestingly no such detail  appeared in any PNP report or was it raised in the hearings in Congress.


The float by no less than the President of the “alternative truth” naturally kicked off reactions all around. Sen. Recto asserts that if the claim by the MILF and Iqbal about Marwan being slain by his own people and not by the SAF is unsupported by facts, then this claim is “slanderous.” 

Sen. Tito Sotto is batting for reopening this issue in the Senate, while Sen. Grace Poe, who chairs the committee on public order and dangerous drugs that conducted the hearings on Mamasapano earlier, was quoted as being open to it. Naturally, as this would give Poe the exposure she needs for her higher political ambition.  


P-Noy’s recent disclosure of this revisionist "alternative theory" has raised speculation that it was done to tease the public mind away from the terrible woes of daily living in Metro Manila and on the national level. 

On the other hand, was the revisionism merely P-Noy’s strategy to prepare for his exit from office on June 30, 2016---when he has to account for his devastating mistake in assigning responsibility for Mamasapano to his close buddy, then suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima?  Because of his controversial status then, Purisima deliberately failed to coordinate with the Army units on the ground---until all hell was already breaking loose!


The clamor of politicians, especially those who'll be running in 2016, to reopen Mamasapano is understandable, but the question is, would it do us any good as a people and a nation?  I submit that many fellow citizens would join me in refusing to support a reopening for a number of reasons.

One is the threat of grandstanding among re-electionist members of Congress. Two, there's no assurance that we'd really get to the bottom of THE TRUTH AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH from the LP-controlled Congress, e.g., about the President’s direct orders, US involvement, etc?  Recall how the senators and representatives tiptoed around the issue of foreign involvement---no one was brave enough to raise it---while the US Embassy was in constant denial about it. 

Even now, there are reports about a gag order on PNP personnel on Mamasapano, causing demoralization in the ranks.


Three, reopening this emotional issue would side-step so many other issues far more urgent and important, e.g, the worsening poverty, the choked Metro Manila traffic situation that causes some P2.4 billion in losses daily, the PCOS cheating machines for 2016, global warming and the typhoons, etc.

There has been no closure on the Mamasapano issue because the entire truth has not been allowed to surface---and it will not, UNTIL A CHANGE OF REGIME AND SYSTEM TAKES PLACE. Already there's an increasingly loud call for a CARETAKER GOVERNMENT to take over from the paralyzed regime. 

Meanwhile, the memory of the gallant SAF troopers will forever be enshrined in the hearts of the Filipino people---how they were led to their death by the incompetence and duplicity of a tiny band of conspirators.

(Next: the impact of retired AFP officers’ recent manifesto vs. BBL)