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.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Pacquiao made Pinoys forget even for a brief moment the galloping inflation, high prices and Duterte's rant vs.God as we celebrated his stunning victory vs.Argentine champ Matthysee. OPAPP's Dureza quotes "moral hazard" (coined by World Bank) of giving livelihood to warriors abandoning arms but seemingly neglecting those who live peaceful but economically challenged lives.

Manny Pacquiao waits in corner for his opponent to rise, which he never did.

Indeed the Filipino people were united for perhaps one and a half hours last Sunday noon, as our champ Manny Pacquiao challenged Argentine champ Lucas Matthysee for the WBA Welterweight World Title in the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia---with no less than President Duterte and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad watching from the galllery. 

Frankly, I was quite nervous as Pacquiao at 39 is four years older as well as three centimeters shorter in height than his opponent---in a sport where age and arm’s reach could spell disaster on the short end. But Manny stuck to the legend he has created, with 20 more wins than the Argentinian, even though our hometown boy had 7 losses vs. Matthysee’s four.


As the boxing fight raged, I was speeding to Wack Wack Subdivision in Greenhills to attend the 87thbirthday celebration of my longtime friend Teresa V. Daza, and I knew that my driver, Rod, was watching the fight from the car TV even as we drove.  That he could bump someone else’s vehicle and we’d get into a fight worried me, but I couldn’t find the heart to stop him from watching intermittently, as I knew how much Pinoys had yearned for such a match---after the long disappearance of our champ from the ring.

After the luncheon for Tessie Daza I visited my ailing brother Danny Olivares in Marikina and this time I got to watch the replay---how Pacquiao’s lightning jab finally sent Matthysee half-kneeling on the floor----the third in the 7th round, though not quite a knock out. That punch by Pacquiao, though, was enough to TKO the Argentinian.


I have never been a boxing fan as I find this sport too brutal for my sensibilities, but I can understand why the Inquirer would banner that “Pacquiao victory unites nation anew.” Superficially, I agree. For one bright shining moment, in practically every home across the archipelago, Filipinos forgot their own wrestling with galloping inflation, high prices, maddening traffic in the metropolis, brutal killings of priests and drug addicts and many more, as they waited with bated breath for that one right-left punch that would cut short the Argentinian’s reign as welterweight king.


Just as interesting as the boxing fight between Pacquiao and Matthysee, though,  was President Duterte’s advice to Manny Pacquiao after that splendid victory. Along with Manny’s friends, the presidential wish is that the champ would retire to enjoy life and “rest on his laurels,” adding that he has already so much money, no problem.”  Manny retiring?  That looks like one for the books for one who has managed to win unprecedentedly in no less than eight boxing divisions. At age 39---he'll be 40 in December--- he's raring to take on anyone in the boxing world. 

But I agree with Mr. Duterte: Manny should quit while he's ahead and enjoy life: have fun with his family, smell the flowers and look at the blue sky more often.  After all, he is already one of the greatest boxers of all time---a legend unto himself with his 39 KOs in his 23-year boxing career. With his earnings from his spectacular boxing career that have run into billions of pesos, Manny could also make history by putting up a foundation that addresses the primary needs of his countrymen, e.g., providing education to the poorest of the poor, so that these citizens could be more productive and reduce the appalling poverty and unemployment levels. 

But no, he's quoted tonight as wanting to take on Floyd Mayweather once again!                   

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jess Dureza
My radio partner, Cecile Guidote Alvarez, and I had a most productive interview with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Chief Jesus “Jess” Dureza, aired last Sunday at 6pm. on "Radyo Balintataw" over nationwide dzRH.  Jess Dureza is a friend from way back and I hold that he is ideal to head OPAPP as he is naturally simpatico and approachable---not the abrasive and antagonistic type of public official. 

We all long for peace in our country, so that the precious resources currently being devoted to killing fellow Filipinos could help lift them up instead from the poverty of centuries. The NPAs thrive on existing poverty and hopelessness to spread their gospel of violence, but as Secretary Dureza pointed out in our program, the dissidents "should help us win goodwill for them---because to integrate them into society would need a law to be passed." 


Stressing the importance of continuing cultural discussion and mediation, Peace Adviser Dureza noted that there are leftists who started as ideologues but who are now happily desirous of peaceful integration into society. He stressed, however,  that even if a ceasefire could be maintained on the collection of revolutionary tax, there are still those who would resort to this method, such as the 'violent extremists'---"who are out of step with those desirous of peace."  

"The work for Peace is the work of a lifetime, and should be undertaken by all Filipinos who love their country," the OPAPP Chief stressed, adding that "you cannot have peace if you don't have it in your heart." In this I agree. Dureza also admitted that society really has to address anger and the angst in the hearts of some Filipinos. 

For instance, he recalled that his grandfather was beheaded by the Japanese and it took him a while to appease his anger over this horrible incident in his own heart.  My radio partner, RM Awardee for Theater Cecile Alvarez, also recalled that her own grandfather suffered the same fate, but that she lost her anger over the tragic episode once she started getting to know the Japanese students studying drama in the famed La Mama Theater in the US, where she enrolled in the Alvarezes' exile years in the US. 


At our dzRH program, Secretary Dureza spoke about the twin paradigm of Peace and Development, and prevailing complaints about lack of livelihood in certain areas, such as Sulu. He admitted that while giving livelihood to former dissident warriors could upset those who have remained peaceful, this is what the World Bank had coined as the "moral hazard." He also referred to the "peace lens" that's community-based and inclusive. 

Dureza stressed that President Duterte is committed to bringing about peace in the country. He also cited how the Chief Executive would often talk with some jest about how his mother Soledad, a known disciplinarian, would make her young son Rodrigo face the wall as punishment when he was naughty. That early, the President would tell his officials, "I was already united to Jesus." 

Did Secretary Dureza narrate this episode in Duterte's early years by way of negating the effect of the latter's controversial pronouncement about God being "stupid" some weeks back? 

Monday, July 9, 2018

In a country where poverty and limited education exist, involvement of some politicos in drug trade is foregone conclusion. Bong Go's beautiful wreath lined up with those of prominent politicos in De Venecia sister's wake and his huge billboards along the highways going north are sure signs that he'll run for the Senate in 2019.

Friends and followers of slain Mayor Antonio Halili of Tanauan, Batangas, give him a hero's burial (photo from the Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Five local officials have already been killed in a most violent way---shot in cold blood mostly by riders in tandem---and the prevailing suspicion is that they were eliminated because of their involvement in the drug trade. Their families have staunchly denied the accusation; nevertheless, there are certain realities that must be looked into in these unfortunate incidents.

One is that mid-term elections are coming up next year and it's possible that these local politicians were eliminated by their opponents. That a number of local officials become victims of brutality prior to or during elections is a fact of life in the Philippines, as politics is extremely local and so much is at stake for each political family. Since time immemorial politics here has involved dynasties and the tendency is to consolidate forces to preserve dynastic rule in various areas for generations.


In recent weeks, however, a new phenomenon has surfaced which was just being whispered about in past elections, but which has now been elevated to a major factor, with the coming mid-term elections---mainly because President Duterte recently raised this specter. This is the possibility that politicos who were eliminated were linked to the drug trade. There is a supposed list held by the Palace of local officials involved in drug trafficking, and the popular belief is that those officials killed in recent weeks were among them---victims of the administration’s brutal campaign against drugs.

In fact, following the high-profile killings of Mayor Ferdinand Bote of Cabanatuan and Mayor Antonio Halili in Tanauan City, members of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) are now pressing for a dialogue with President Duterte, in an effort to understand what's going on in the so-called campaign against "narco-politicians" and the seeming culture of impunity and violence. 


The administration’s campaign against drugs is not bad per se---as it is obvious that this societal menace has proliferated in our nation especially with the inaction of the previous regime. It has seriously affected the peace and order situation in many parts of our country. At this point, however, despite the administration's efforts to eliminate it,  it seems impossible altogether for a number of reasons---the most significant of which is that it appears to be funding the election campaign of a good number of politicians. 

It's a chicken-and-egg situation. To win in this country, even in the littlest barangay, in many places politicians have to buy votes---in fact, in the latest barangay elections, many pols spent disproportionately huge funds to win. But the terrible fact seems to be that much of these funds may be coming from the drug trade flourishing in various municipalities across the country. 


In turn, the propensity of Filipino voters to sell their votes stems from the pervading poverty and poor political education of our people at the grassroots.  Extracting funds in return for their votes is the poor's revenge on their politicos who have been negligent over the years. In fact, politicians seek to raise funds to finance expensive election campaigns even at the barangay level. Because of these realities, a good number of politicians have turned to illegal ways of amassing campaign funds, and apparently, judging from Mr. Duterte's pronouncements, the most lucrative is the drug trade. 

Mr. Duterte is said to have a list of the politicos involved in this nefarious trade and the five killings in recent days are being regarded in some quarters as proof that his men are behind the slayings. This is why local politicians now clamor to dialog with the President---to clear themselves of involvement in the drug trade or have their names stricken off the presidential list of narco-politicians---lest they too fall victim to slayings. . 


The trouble, however, is that elimination via the anti-drug campaign could also be a way for some candidates to get rid of political rivals. It is indeed a worrisome thing any way one looks at it. We Filipinos can only long for and pray for the factors that will establish a strong and vibrant state we can truly be proud of---clean politics that greatly reduces poverty and raises the educational level of our people. 

Sadly, what we have at present is a lot of unmitigated poverty, a large mass of uneducated and poorly employed people totally dependent on unscrupulous politicians, whose only aim seems to be to get to power by hook or by crook and stay on top ad infinitum.  More by crook obviously, the way the drug war is flourishing. 

Presidential Assistant Bong Go (from ABS-CBN Photo)

Presidential confidential assistant Bong Go is rumored to be eyeing a Senate seat in the coming mid-term elections. At first it was impossible to think of such ambition from this super-loyal but very low-key aide of President Duterte---who has been with him for many years and is perhaps the closest to him. 

I've seen and observed politics in this country for many decades now. Years before Eggie Apostol, Letty Magsanoc and I set up the Philippine Daily Inquirer, I was recruited by the great Eggie A. to be a political writer for the black-and-white Mr/Ms. Magazine that she converted from an innocuous women's magazine full of recipes, baby care and advice to the love-lorn, into a political weapon against Ferdinand Marcos. It was the epitome of the powerful mosquito bite that grew epidemic. Since then I have known how to watch out for political signals. 


Three days ago, at the wake at Heritage Memorial Park for Ms. Aurora de Venecia San Jose, elder sister of former Speaker Jose de Venecia, lo and behold, Bong Go's beautiful flower bouquet was neatly displayed alongside the wreaths of the most prominent officials of the land. Moreover, from Pampanga all the way to the Ilocos billboards bearing Bong Go's huge photo may be seen.  

All these signs I take to mean that for sure it's a Go for Bong Go for senator in the mid-term elections of 2019. Whether he will win is another question, as recent surveys show him in the near bottom rung. Will President Duterte's campaign for him shoo him in?  

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

President Duterte is entitled to his opinion about God, but considering that he's Head of State of a deeply religious people, he would be well-advised to keep his rants to himself. Senate Minority Leader Drilon and former National Security Adviser/ex-DND Chief Norberto Gonzalez bat for closer scrutiny of Phil-Chinese relations in view of troubling realities.

President Duterte in an expansive mood---too expansive this time vs. God.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon complains about far lesser FDIs from China, compared to Vietnam's gain.

Former Defense Chief & National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzalez wants closer scrutiny of enormously increasing Chinese presence in PH

The Philippines’ relationship with China continues to be on the front burner these days. Notably, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and former National Security Adviser and former Defense Secretary Norberto B. Gonzalez have noted the lopsidedness of relations between our two countries and call for rectification measures.

For instance, Sen. Drilon pointed out that Vietnam and Malaysia have enjoyed far more benefits from China than the infinitely more accommodating PH. He stressed that Vietnam has been far more aggressive than we have been in dealing with China in the South China Sea issue, and yet Vietnam has secured foreign direct investments (FDIs) from China of US$2.1 billion, whereas PH only got a measly US$31 million. On the other hand, bilateral trade between China and PH resulted only in US$21.94B, whereas trade between Vietnam and China yielded US$71.85B.

In view of these lopsided realities, Drilon has called for a review of our diplomatic and trade relations with China, and rightly so. It seems that when one is too obliging, one is taken for granted---so true in the China Sea issue. 


Former National Security Adviser and former Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzalez also raised the alarm about China’s motives toward PH in a well-written paper circulated in social media, titled “The Nation Needs a Contingency Plan. A Chinese Invasion?”  Gonzalez echoes what the late Rep. Roilo Golez had been advocating up to his last day on earth. While being interviewed at ANC on this subject, Roy tragically collapsed---a great loss to our country! 

Like Golez, Gonzalez maintains that parts of PH territory in the China Sea “have been occupied, fortified and covered with facilities that are plainly military installations.” With these, he stressed, “China has erected forward operating bases in our territory which definitely pose a serious threat to our national security.”

These are valid claims, but what’s equally interesting is Gonzalez’s reading of President Duterte's public assertion that China’s President Xi Jinping would not allow him to be ousted from power.  Gonzalez cited the opinion of  some international security analysts who tied the President's statement to what appears to be China’s plan for "major intervention" in PH.


Norberto Gonzalez’s reference to major Chinese intervention has, in turn, given rise to his observation, shared by many in various parts of  this country--- that the Chinese have been leasing properties here to develop into economic zones, among others,  in Cagayan, Bataan and Palawan.

The interesting thing, however, is that while foreign developers of eco-zones normally bring only their technical people and hire locals as rank and file employees, the Chinese are different.  Observers have noticed that in various localities, Chinese lessors are bringing able-bodied people by the hundreds, instead of tapping the abundant domestic labor force, as other nationalities are doing. It has also been noticed that some condominiums in Metro Manila, especially in the less pricey areas, teem with Chinese tenants. 

Former National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzalez, in his paper, has advocated that Congress rush legislating a National ID system and its proper implementation.  This seems a wise imperative for Congress---asap please.


Predictably, many citizens are very upset over recent pronouncements by President Duterte attacking not only the Catholic Church and its bishops and priests, but also God Himself, calling Him “an idiot” and “stupid.” His latest attack appears to have been triggered by protests from the CBCP hierarchy over the unexplained murders of three priests in various localities.  Protests by Church hierarchy over these violent episodes may be justified,  as until now there is no clue to the dastardly slayings.

From excerpts published by the Inquirer, the President has been on attack mode against God and the Church over some time in various places, including in South Korea, before the Filipino community during his recent state visit.  His attacks were also aired in his native Davao City, in Sta Rosa, Laguna, in Cavite, Cebu, among other places.  

No other President has done this sort of thing before.  Mr. Duterte’s  angst, as he admitted openly, is said to have stemmed from his teen years, when he was allegedly fondled by a foreign priest in Davao City. That was a regrettable episode indeed, and there was a time when similar episodes surfaced to capture the citizens' attention---including psychologists and theologians.


Thus the episode involving what Duterte calls his “rapist” apparently is still very much part of his angst and it has now extended toward God whom he termed "an idiot." Sadly, his attacks are most divisive and unbecoming of a head of State. A former Philippine ambassador to a European country recently observed to me that not even Hitler brought his attacks against the Church to such level. 

The Church as an institution is not perfect---what human endeavor is?---but to attack it in the virulent manner that Mr. Duterte employed is absolutely no gain for him as well as for our country, as it brings the level of discourse to a new low. There is such a thing as good manners and right conduct for ordinary mortals but most especially for the Head of State. Mr. Duterte's rants could be the offshoot of the medicines he is taking and perhaps this should also be addressed.


Palace apologists insist that Duterte was just exercising freedom of speech when he cursed God---a laugh of a defense as there are limits to any freedom. He could rant and rave in private about his religious beliefs but as head of state, attacking in public the God of the people he serves and who elected him by an unprecedented margin is an absolutely no-no.

Centuries of involvement with the Church and Faith have made Filipinos a deeply religious people.  Their faith and love for God and Church is so rooted in their hearts and psyche, and while outward devotion to the Church may have waned somewhat in the younger generation as a result of modernism and foreign influences, still, it cannot be denied that the vast majority of Filipinos still revere God and the Church that represents Him on this earth.

Attacking them in such a virulent manner is a no-win situation for Mr. Duterte, and Palace apologists terming his tirade “freedom of speech” are desperately plumbing the depths of reason.