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.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

House living up to its compleat tuta image vis-a-vis Malacanang in BBL vote. Backlash is that issue is terribly dividing the nation even more. Senate hands note that in a Grace Poe presidency, Chiz Escudero, who was spokesperson of FPJ in 2004 presidential campaign and who had a falling out with VP Binay, would be running the country. Why should choice be BETWEEN honesty and competence---a Scylla and Charibdis scenario? Why not honesty (read: strong moral character) AND competence? Time to implore Oratio Imperata in choice for top post.

Senator Grace Poe

Senator Chiz Escudero

The House of Representatives is living up to its record as the compleat tuta of Malacanang in the way it's handling the BBL deliberations. The 75-member ad hoc committee on the BBL is perceived as surrendering to just about all the Palace demands, including the time-table imposed by President Aquino to pass it---now na, nunc coepi. 

But the backlash is that all the moro-moro exhibited by the ad hoc committee and reports in media of massive buying of votes---reportedly P50 worth of projects and P1 million in cash for each House member voting affirmative for BBL, as well as veiled threats of pursuing the PDAF and DAP issues to turn around negative votes---all these are alienating the people all the more against this concept, touted as the bulwark of lasting peace in Muslim Mindanao.  


First, the House goes through nearly two years of deliberations on the text of the draft BBL, and makes a big play about deleting at least eight provisions that experts deemed unconstitutional---to save it kuno from being marooned on the forbidding shores of the Supreme Court. But after two successive meetings in the Palace last weekend with P-Noy and his bag-man, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, the ad hoc committee throws out its draft and distributes for voting and deliberation the draft presented by Malacanang---which deleted only two of the eight amendments deemed constitutionally infirm.  

These deleted provisions were, namely, the necessity of the armed forces to seek permission to enter Bangsamoro territory first, and the so-called "opt-in" provision which allows neighboring territories to propose their inclusion in the Bangsamoro at any time, through a petition of at least 10 percent of its residents. The six other objectionable provisions were reworded in such a way that it would be acceptable to voting solons---with encouragement from Secretary Abad. P-Noy is unyielding about the voting deadline---June 11. 


What is sad is that instead of uniting the people, the actuations of the ad hoc committee on the BBL and Malacanang, as well as the use of money politics and deception once again, as in other issues in the past, are driving a deeper wedge among Filipinos on the issue of autonomy for our Moro brethren. More and more thinking Filipinos are coming out with objections or reservations on aspects of the BBL (the latest being ranking Jesuit Fr. Antonio Samson and an entire group of former diplomats, prominent lawyers, educators, media who held a conference at the Manila Golf Club last Saturday). Unfortunately the House BBL train is already rushing to vote BBL in.  

I must say I share the deep disappointment of many people in ad hoc chair Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro, who did such a magnificent defense of the nation's welfare against the RH bill nearly two years ago---albeit it proved useless against vote-buying by the Palace again. In the BBL deliberations and voting, Rufus is almost unrecognizable from that gallant knight of old. 


It looks like Sen. Grace Poe is hot stuff these days and that DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, until very recently considered the presumptive presidential candidate of the LP in 2016, may be dumped in favor of the neophyte senadora---or that he'd be coaxed to agree to run as Poe’s VP.  Poe’s upward mobility sped with amazing grace after P-Noy summoned her to talk about political prospects that left her tickled pink. P-Noy and Poe are scheduled for another tete-a-tete soon which may cement firmer plans---even as some LP loyalists of Mar still insist that he ought to be presidential candidate and Grace take the No. 2 slot.

The central fact in the coming elections is that P-Noy has to make his anointed candidate win, in order to escape a PGMA scenario of prosecution in retirement and detention by another vindictive administration. P-Noy's problem is that heir presumptive Mar Roxas has not improved in his ratings despite his long stint and experience in government. 

On the other hand, beleaguered VP Jejomar Binay has declared that despite all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that hit him in recent weeks, such as the AMLC investigations ruthlessly made public and his family’s assets frozen by the Court of Appeals for six months, he's willing to go for broke and run for president. 

Given this fact, the LP and P-Noy seem to have little choice but to draft Poe and persuade Mar to take second billing anew.


Questions are shooting up from various directions: would Binay survive the terrible LP-led onslaughts against him in the Senate (more than 21 hearings on his and alleged dummies’ wealth), the AMLC, the DOJ/Ombudsman and all other administration weapons? How is the masa, the mainstay of Binay's political career, taking all the allegations against him? 

What about the entry of neophyte Grace Poe and the principal issue against her of unproven competence and therefore another Noynoy Aquino in the making?  All she has to show in her government service are a brief stint as MTRCB chair and two years in the Senate where she did reasonably well as chair of the Senate committee on public order and safety that conducted investigations on the Mamasapano massacre. Are those stints enough to establish her credentials as the country's prospective leader---given the national trauma over the incompetence of this “student council” administration. 


Already frightened texts are going around seeking God’s deliverance for this nation from another prospective neophyte administration.  The query of many minds is: Is the choice between proven competence with a lot of corruption, as in Binay's case, or honesty with still untested competence, as Poe is perceived in many places?  This is truly a Scylla and Charibdis kind of dilemma for the nation and we may need an Oratio Imperata for deliverance.

What the nation needs is both honesty (read strong moral character) and competence, given the past five years under the current national wrecking crew that's both dishonest and incompetent. NOT AN EITHER OR. 


Interestingly, when Sen. Poe’s name came up persistently as possible top LP candidate, a newspaper bannered, will it be Grace-Chiz or Chiz-Grace? The reference to Sen. Chiz Escudero became louder after Poe was quoted as saying that she would be “comfortable” running with Chiz.

I actually expected this detail to come up, for it is well-known in the Senate that the colleague guiding neophyte Poe all this time has been Escudero, who was FPJ's spokesperson when the actor ran vs. President GMA in the 2004 presidential elections. Senate political lieutenants recount that whenever any document in the chamber comes up for Grace's perusal or if a statement on an issue is drafted for her signature, her first  reaction would be, "Nakita na ba ito ni Chiz?" 

In fact, an old Senate hand notes that should Grace win the 2016 elections, it would be Chiz who would actually be running the country. It's time to scrutinize the record of this looming big shadow that would overpower President Poe.

Friday, May 15, 2015

AMLC comes down hard on Binay, but perceived ruthless political persecution using AMLC and assets freeze could have chilling effect on our banking system and economy. Grace Poe would pull Mar Roxas up as his VP, but she seems tickled pink with P-Noy’s offer. Frustrated over failure to conduct voting last Monday, BBL ad hoc committee will try again this Monday; but too many objections being raised in Congress and outside vs. BBL (e.g., from Zambo City’s feisty Mayor Isabelle Climaco). so that it might be wise to leave BBL’s resolution to succeeding regime.

After over 20 hearings in the Senate on VP Jejomar Binay’s alleged wealth, the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) follows through by throwing the kitchen sink at him with allegations of riches stashed here and abroad in the billions, and the Court of Appeals freezing his family's assets for six months. VP Binay is truly dejado in this game and in fact at various social gatherings the talk is whether he could survive the deluge of accusations against him. 

What worries me more than VP Binay’s fate, however, is that what’s perceived as a legitimate weapon against drug lords and corruption syndicates, the AMLC, is now being used as a tool for political persecution of Malacanang’s opponent---all in an effort to keep the possible new tenant in 2016 WITHIN the LP stables AND THUS PROTECT THE INCUMBENT FROM POLITICAL CHARGES LATER ON.   

What chilling effect would the employment of the AMLC for such perceived political persecution have on the banking system and the economy? The President shrugs his shoulders and says, “Don’t look at me,” regarding AMLC’s crushing down on the Binay dynasty, but no one would believe that the Palace has nothing to do with it. 

This is because the AMLC, which is supposed to uphold absolute secrecy about foreign bank accounts, has been used once too often to harass political enemies. Remember Renato Corona? The open use of the AMLC for political harassment makes this country look so fifth-world!


I was at the first death anniversary of the late much-loved Azucena “Mama Nene” Vera Perez a couple of days ago at the family-owned swanky Sampaguita Gardens and I saw how crowds zeroed in on Sen. Grace Poe like bees around a flower. Folks milled around her for photos, which seemed to amuse mom Susan Roces watching from the sidelines. A year ago Grace Poe was not interested at all in higher office and mom Susan flatly discouraged her. But now that P-Noy has talked to her and openly says that she’d be able to continue his (?) reforms, she seems tickled pink. News reports quote her as querying aloud if P-Noy would still support her if she ran as an independent.

Mar Roxas’ allies in the LP are trying to persuade Grace to run as his VP, and she’d decidedly be able to pull him up if she did. But at this point, she seems tickled enough to be at the forefront of the race. I wish, however, she wouldn’t run now but stay in the Senate to season further and mature politically. Grace is too inexperienced to run this hapless country that by 2016 WOULD PREDICTABLY BE IN NEAR-TOTAL WRECK.  Grace has time on her hands; how I wish she’d wait.


Last Monday noon, I went to Farmers’ Market in Cubao, Q.C., to buy veggies and fish but the parking lot was full of cars sporting No. 8 and guards said it was closed to outsiders. I figured that members of the House of Representatives must be holding their crucial lunch-caucus at the Balay, the old seafood place of the family of DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, regarding voting in the ad hoc committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) scheduled for that afternoon. 

But apparently business couldn't be finished and the 75 ad hoc committee members led by chair Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro continued their caucus in the House, adjourning at around 4 pm. With many issues still unresolved, later that evening Speaker Sonny Belmonte called an all-party dinner caucus in his office upstairs where, from what I gathered, voices would be raised in heated arguments from time to time, led by the militant party-list solons. 


Originally the idea floated was for the ad hoc committee to conduct voting IN SECRET, but that was thumbed down for fear that public opinion would  roar disapproval of clandestine voting on this crucial issue of autonomy for Bangsamoro. Pressure from Malacanang has intensified to pass the BBL by at the latest the adjournment of session on June 12. But because there are many issues in the draft law that are debatable, voting scheduled originally for last Monday and Tuesday at committee level had to be postponed to this Monday and Tuesday, May 18 and 19.

Interestingly, the seating for this Monday’s ad hoc caucus at the House South Wing was arranged like a classroom and veteran observers know what that would mean: voting among the committee members would be by shouts of ayes and nayes only; a viva voce vote would be possible only during the plenary voting where House members are to explain their vote to the nation.


Given the heat of the controversy surrounding the BBL, however, it’s doubtful if acclamation would be possible this Monday---or if plenary voting is possible at all before President Aquino’s very last SONA on July 27. In fact despite every conceivable push by Malacanang, including persistent buzz that projects are being dangled for the BBL’s passage, the anti-BBL side seems to be gaining ground.

It’s not for lack of support for the BBL which, in fairness to the ad hoc committee led by Rodriguez, has already pledged to delete or amend as many as 60 provisions (many of them contributed by Davao del Norte Rep. Anton del Rosario, who's said to have a coterie of some 20 congressmen with him). Orlando Cardinal Quevedo of Cotabato City visited the House last Monday to rally support for BBL, while Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma is also very much for it. 


Mayor Isabelle Climaco of Zamboanga City

But the fact is that more significant voices are being raised AGAINST the BBL, notably that of former SC Justice Florentino Feliciano who argued that dealing with insurgents could be treasonous;  former UP Law Dean Merlin Magallona and prominent members of the IBP---plus feisty Mayor Isabelle Climaco of Zamboanga City who argues that "Zamboanga Hermosa" would never be part of the BBL--- not in the past ARRM, not now nor in the future; also against it are the people of Isabela City in Basilan.

The BBL issue is so hot to handle especially with the elections approaching, so that solons are caught in a squeeze between P-Noy and possible backlash from their constituents. The solons want to correctly gauge the pulse of the electorate and their reading now is that this issue is unpopular even in Mindanao.

Given the controversy this draft law is kicking up, I think it would be most wise for the P-Noy administration to leave its resolution to its successor regime. There are just too many kinks that would be left unresolved, which could blow up into huge problems in Mindanao.  

Saturday, May 9, 2015

P-Noy administration pushes voting on BBL in House committee, followed by plenary vote. Militants and Bongbong promise good fight vs. BBL, but with elections coming up defenses may crumble. Former DND Secretary/National Adviser Norberto Gonzalez insists that government retain initiative in peace efforts in Mindanao, but it looks more like surrender. Unknown Comelec appointee Abas to ensure win in BBL plebiscite and parliamentary vote in Muslim Mindanao?. How will he fare in CA?

The House of Representatives has set voting on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) at committee level tomorrow, Monday, and in plenary  on Tuesday, as President Aquino wants this law dusted and polished in time for his valedictory address to the nation, his last SONA on July 27. Militant party-list House members predict that voting tomorrow would not produce sufficient votes to pass in that chamber; on the other hand, Sen. Bongbong Marcos has promised to lead stiff resistance in the Senate.

But because elections are coming up, politicians cannot be relied to really put up a keen fight, so that no one would be surprised if Congress garnishes P-Noy’s SONA with the BBL as main dish. As a media guy put it, P-Noy is looking for a legacy to make his lackluster six years look like it has achieved something, and this has to be peace in Mindanao via the Bangsamoro. He has not given up on his dream of a Nobel Peace Prize.  

According to media sources funds are being distributed to gain votes for the BBL (reportedly as much as P50M down on pre-voting and double when it passes). And judging by past incidents such as the generous distribution of the now unconstitutional DAP to clinch the impeachment and conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012, this is entirely feasible in the BBL voting whose implications are far bigger.


What surprises me and millions of other Filipinos are the blatant moves being made to pass the BBL. What's with P-Noy that he has become so obsessed with passing it by hook or by crook, post-haste and insisting on zero amendment and no watering down of the 122-page  draft law. This, even when former Chief Justice Hilario Davide, one of the members of the BBL Peace Council, has opined under questioning by the Senate that “constitutional issues need to be refined.”  Davide cited among these questionable issues the possible confusion between the “parliamentary” description of the Bangsamoro government and its “ministerial” nature. Many observers also feel quizzy about the unclear relationship between the President and the elective Chief Minister of Bangsamoro. 

It’s easy to see that rush voting in Congress under “financial duress” would endanger the success of the BBL because it would open itself to outright challenge by itching IBP lawyers before the SC.  


Consider too a number of other developments.  A total unknown and lightweight lawyer named Sheriff Abas was appointed to the Comelec just recently and it turns out that he is the nephew of Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF chief negotiator operating on an alias. So unknown is Sheriff Abas that even the Muslim Lawyers Association led by Sultan Firdausi Abbas does not know him nor has heard of him.

Why was this insignificant lawyer appointed to the Comelec, whose members enjoy fixed tenure and who will assume office at a time when the automated electoral system is so frightfully under question because of Smartmatic’s many delinquencies in the two past elections? It would appear to many---and can one blame them?---that Sheriff  Abas is being appointed to ensure that the plebiscite in the five Muslim provinces that will be placed under the Bangsamoro would vote favorably for the BBL.  Moreover, the parliamentary elections in this new entity also has to be taken care of.

In the minds of many observers, the appointment of Sheriff Abas, Iqbal's nephew, is a little too brazen even for an administration whose many acts of impunity take one’s breath away. What's the desperation that guides its actions? 

Sheriff Abas would be subjected to the Commission on Appointments. Can we be optimistic about the CA's handling of this hot potato. Appointing Iqbal's nephew to such a sensitive position is not a confidence-building measure.


Then too, consider how the AFP command was forced to do a turn-around to put the MILF in a good light for the BBL voting.  I refer to the killing of the late terrorist Marwan’s sidekick, Basit Usman, which was claimed earlier by no less than AFP Chief Gregorio Catapang, and this was probably true.  Later, however, as the Daily Tribune pointed out, the AFP rewrote the script and crdited the MILF for Usman’s slaying. 

The idea obviously is to make the MILF look less like the monster that slew the 44 SAF heroes and more like the slayer of a terrorist, and therefore more acceptable to the peace-loving Filipinos on the eve of the BBL voting in Congress.

Another aim was to counter the image of Mindanao as the breeding ground of terrorism in the Asia-Pacific region. But this strategy ought to be properly handled. Former Ambassador to Jakarta Vidal Querol, a former PNP general, stressed a good point in his Facebook entry. He noted that the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM), or the "Free Aceh Movement," the rebel separatist group in Aceh, northern Sumatra, Indonesia, for around three decades, LAID DOWN ITS ARMS IN THE 2005 PEACE AGREEMENT SIGNED IN HELSINKI, FINLAND, BEFORE PEACE COULD BE ATTAINED. 

In fact, noted Querol, GAM was not allowed to participate as a political party until it first laid down all its firearms, which it did--- so that in fact, the two top former rebel leaders of Aceh now occupy the top two elective posts in that province: Gov. Zaini Abdullah and Deputy Gov. Myakier Massaf. 

Querol also stressed that a peace agreement with the MILF ought to involve the surrender of “real guns, not old dilapidated ones.” Otherwise, he argued correctly, other political parties would be threatened and there would be no genuine elections in Muslim Mindanao. Note that the MILF proposes to convert itself into a political party to participate in the first parliamentary elections in the political entity that's the Bangsamoro, BUT IT REFUSES TO SURRENDER ITS HIGH-POWERED FIREARMS, nor those seized from the SAF 44 heroes.


Everything is indeed being made to deodorize the passage of the BBL in Congress and remove the people’s running suspicion against this law and the entity it would be creating. Why? What does the administration stand to gain from its passage? Malaysia has come in very strong on this issue in the past two years and is backing the MILF to the hilt.

Thus, it is conceivable that this rich neighbor of ours would pour tremendous resources into the Bangsamoro and make it a model of development, with the help of some OIC countries. In return, among other concessions, the PH government would conceivably soften up on its claim to Sabah which Malaysia is bent on retaining as its territory because of Sabah's rich natural resources.


The problem is that, as the former National Security Adviser and Defense Secretary in the Arroyo administration, Norberto B. Gonzales, noted in his excellent paper serialized recently in the Manila Times, titled "Some Helpful Insights into our National Security Situation," the PH government seems to have lost the initiative in the peace effort in Mindanao.

To paraphrase a commentator on the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight last week (“ Pacquiao has brought the fight to Mayweather in the first four rounds”), the PH government, Gonzales stresses, “must retain the initiative in the peace effort” in the big island. It cannot allow a single group, armed or otherwise, and especially armed, to monopolize political power or to seize the initiative of defining the future and well-being of Mindanao. It is the government’s duty to provide an atmosphere of freedom for all the peoples of Mindanao to collectively define the course of their lives.”


Like every Filipino, this blogger prays for a peaceful and meaningful solution to the longstanding conflict in Muslim Mindanao. I have gone around that big island extensively in the mid-90s when my husband was commander of all of Mindanao, and I have seen the beauty and tremendous potential of islands like Tawi-Tawi, Sulu and Basilan, as well as the Muslim mainland.  I realize that only by truly guaranteeing peace in Mindanao can its full development materialize.  

But it cannot be the way the P-Noy government has been conducting its affairs vis-à-vis the major armed group there that promises better behavior under certain conditions it's dictating---and which the administration is only too happy to yield to. (more on Norberto Gonzales' paper on national security concerns).