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.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The appointment of VP Leni as ICAD co-chair has become the nation's great telenovela, with all its ups and downs, tears, fears and challenges. But for the sake of our country's youths, let's demand that our top two officials unite in this fight vs. drugs, and let's help them all we can.

President Duterte and Vice President Robredo in happier times

The appointment of Vice President Leni Robredo as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) has taken a number of twists and turns---promising to be the great telenovela the nation has been anticipating since President Duterte issued her appointment to this crucial post earlier this month. 

 Recall that a few weeks back, the President---to the utter surprise of the nation---appointed Leni Robredo as "Drug Czar," with the accompanying promise that her post would be endowed with a Cabinet rank. The nation was elated, as mukhang nagbati na ang dalawang pinakamataas na opisyales. The next thing for us citizens to do was to pray that the appointment goes smoothly, and all would work well against this most serious menace especially among our youth. VP Leni seemed happy with her appointment.

Subsequently, however, the picture became more and more disturbed and disturbing. First, Leni was not going to be the  DRUG CZARINA (I prefer to call her in the feminine form), but merely co-chair with the chief of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), Aaron Aquino. If that demotion affected her, she gave no indication as she went on with her reconstituted job, after conferring with the PDEA Chief. 


Then came a series of what the Palace considers Leni's "blunders," or what President Duterte's debonair spokesman, Sal Panelo, termed "miss-steps." in the drug war. Leni was quoted by the press as requesting for the list of drug-users, including high-priority ones--- the high-rollers as they are called in the lingo. 

The Palace, however, refused to grant Leni's request. But why not? If this is a real fight vs. drugs, you'd want the big-time boys reined in? Leni's request was deadma-ed. Why?  


Eventually, an explanation surfaced: Leni is with the political opposition LP,  and no one knows what she'll do with the list of drug high-rollers in the administration's possession. Thus, the list had to be withheld from her. VP Leni continued to insist on getting access to what Secretary Panelo referred to as "classified information"---but no success. 

Whoever advised this move, however, was most stupid. Because this list was verboten, it sort of confirmed in the mind of many folks---rightly or wrongly---that the high-rollers are indeed in the administration. Speculations then flew fast and thick. 


There were other "missteps"|which truly irked the Palace. Leni began consulting US Embassy officials on the drug situation as well as local and international sources. This is a must for Leni as Anti-Drug Czarina, as everyone knows that the drug war is fought on so many war-fronts all over the world with their own linkages.

Besides, some of the anti-drug battles the world over are successful, but many are not. There are lessons to be learned, and mistakes to be studied and avoided. Various nations really work hand in hand in the worldwide problem against powerful international drug syndicates.


 Leni's conference  with US Embassy officials and other foreign agencies, however, did not sit well with the Duterte administration.  Hence came the axe:  she was stripped of her post as Anti-Drug Czarina as well as her promised Cabinet rank which was never attained from the beginning. As Palace Spokesperson Salvador Panelo stressed to media: "Trust is earned. The missteps of the Vice President did not inspire confidence in the matter of keeping to oneself classified information."

This is a rather unfortunate position of the Palace, for what is most imperative is for the administration and its various agencies to unite vs. the huge drug menace that's already upon our society---and not place exaggerated importance on anything personal or the issue of  turf. 


Various politicos, who have been watching the tug of war between the Palace and VP Leni have their own explanations and positions on this issue. Senators Panfilo Lacson, Franklin Drilon and Leila de Lima (the latter commenting from her jail) have all come out with the verdict:  the  Duterte administration wants Drug Czarina Leni to fail. 

As Sen. Lacson was quoted in media as saying: '(Leni) will not succeed because (she was) given a big responsibility without authority. How will (Leni) reconcile what she will do?"

It is a sad development that's happening: our officials are quarreling over how to handle the drug war when it's becoming--- like a wild forest fire in summer---already so tough to control and the drug syndicates are getting bolder and more aggressive. We should all unite, beginning with our officials, against this common menace in our midst, instead of bickering with one another.    

Friday, November 8, 2019

Now that Leni has accepted Duterte's challenge to be the drug czarina, she needs all the help, regardless of political color. PH cannot afford to be another Mexico, which, according to US authorities, may be on its way to being a "failed state" because of the drug war it appears to be losing.

In an earlier blog I had opposed the idea of Vice President Leni Robredo accepting the offer of President Duterte to become the co-chair of the "Inter-Agency Commitee on Anti-Illegal Drugs" (a job wherein I call her the "drug czarina" of the Philippines). I had earlier argued that given the culture of machismo here, especially prevailing in the Philippine National Police, it may be difficult even for a lawyer like Leni to be fully accepted by her underlings.

 There are other factors, such as the very porous borders of our country, that make it so easy to smuggle drugs here from various shores. In fact it is obvious that the very first thing a drug czar has to do is to SHUT DOWN WHAT SEEMS TO BE AN INEXHAUSTIBLE SUPPLY OF DRUGS INTO OUR SHORES).  Recall earlier reports about drugs (thought to be cocaine, among the highest-grade drugs) seemingly thrown into waters near various islands of our country, that manage to float to our shores. Whatever happened to those floated contraband captured in various provinces many months back?


Many of our people have also wondered just how serious is the President in his offer of the drug management to the VP, given his macho orientation and the critical stance of her party as well as the VP herself on some issues that directly involve Mr. Duterte's administration.  Is he really and truly serious in harnessing Leni's services to save our country from the scourge of drugs?

Such doubts about the seriousness of the President's offer to the Vice President to run the administration's campaign vs. drugs and render it successful, however, became moot and academic a few days ago, when she accepted to be the Drug Czarina with Cabinet rank. Now that the VP is at its helm, it has become her responsibility to make sure that the administration's war on drugs  does not---and cannot--fail.  

Mercifully, there are outstanding cases of anti-drug campaign failures in other countries that are teaching our country and leaders the urgent need to unite and act together vs. the world-wide menace of drugs. 


A recent most tragic event in Mexico City triggered worldwide focus on that central American country that seems to be seriously losing its battle vs. drugs. In fact, an editorial of the Editorial Board of the Chicago Tribune dated only last November 05, 2019, that recently circulated in the internet, had raised the question of whether  Mexico under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has truly become a FAILED STATE (emphasis BOC's). 

The editorial came after a Mormon family travelling on a highway in northern Mexico ran into a most terrible attack that left nine people dead, six of them children, with seven other children injured and one minor reportedly missing. The horrible killings were believed traced to the failure of President Obrador's social program to alleviate poverty and eliminate the "root causes of cartel mayhem." 

The Chicago Tribune account also recalled the episode whereby hundreds of cartel gunmen laid siege to the city of Culiacan after Mexican security forces arrested the son of convicted cartel drug-lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera. According to the account, the siege by the cartel lord's henchmen forced President Obrador to release the son of El Chapo, even as killings occurred in other areas. 


What is obvious in the state of affairs in Mexico is that things had been left quite unchecked in its drug war, and this is something that we in the Philippines cannot afford to allow. The recent rapprochement between our top two political leaders is good in that their collective energies can be truly channeled toward fighting the drug war that is already very much upon us in this country, as Mr. Duterte has admitted. 

VP Leni Robredo, in accepting her role as drug czarina, has insisted on "a change in the metrics of the campaign against narcotics," as the Inquirer put it. This was taken to mean "counting not the dead but the lives improved." Leni was also quoted as saying that "the crackdown can be pursued with the same vigor, but within the rule of law."

This is fine and she is correct and reassuring here, as otherwise, sans the rule of law, it could become total anarchy. But as is happening in Mexico, it is also important to realize that the drug cartels recognize no borders and our shores are so porous. There are lurking in every corner of this archipelago unscrupulous elements who worship only money, never mind how they get it---even if it means smuggling drugs into our super-porous borders. We cannot be complacent---Digong's and Leni's fight vs. drugs are also very much our own and that of our children. 

Sunday, October 6, 2019

When you read about what a number of PMA cadets did to Cadet Darwin Dormitorio, you cannot but campaign for hazing to be declared a heinous crime. Write to your congressman and the senators to pass this law asap, before more of our youth are subjected to violence and even death again.

As one exposed to military life, having married a military man, I should be rather inured to all the brutalities that have been happened in our elite military school, the Philippine Military Academy, through the years. I must confess, however, that after reading the editorial of the Philippine Daily Inquirer dated Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, I remain in deep shock over the brutality of what Cadet Darwin Dormitorio underwent over several days last month---that ended his life.

I enjoin all the peace-loving citizens of this country to reject this kind of brutality in PMA and other educational institutions in the country where hazing had taken place in the past. But more importantly---to put the fear of punishment, let's ensure that hazing will soon be deemed by Congress  a HEINOUS CRIME. 


 Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez---prompted by the tragic fate that had befallen his constituent whose father was himself a graduate of PMA Class 1974---has filed a bill in the House of Representatives declaring hazing as a heinous crime. I can imagine that the entire Filipino people are cheering this speedy action on Rep. Rodriguez's part and it's now up to the Senate to transform this bill into law.

Our clamor for severe penalty for hazing, in order to avert its rearing its ugly head once again in PMA and in other campuses around the country, looks quite encouraging. At the Kapihan sa Maynila last week, Sen. Miguel Zubiri, who also hails from Mindanao like the PMA hazing victim, promised to do everything to speed up action in the Senate to declare hazing a heinous crime.

By a fortunate twist of fate,  I ran into Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III at the 80th birthday celebration of former Sen. Francisco "Kit" Tatad last week and I lost no time in requesting him to pass the Rodriguez bill in the Senate. The Senate President readily said that he would get this bill moving. Sen. Dick Gordon, a friend of mine from way back, was also at that party and he promised to help move this bill too in the Senate.


For all you readers out there who may not have read the October 4, 2019 editorial of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, allow me to reproduce here that portion culled from the Baguio City police report on the hazing of PMA Cadet Dormitorio.  Pls. read it so that you may also be moved to campaign to banish hazing from our schools forever and protect our youths from butalization---a fate that had tragically befallen on sons of my friends, namely Lenny Villa of Ateneo Law School and Horatio Castillo of the UST Law School.

I quote portions of the PDI editorial, based in turn from the report of the Baguio police and other accounts.

"...starting in August, the 20-year old was, among other things, punched and kicked for more than 20 minutes during which he fell down a number of times, hit in the face causing a severe nosebleed, almost asphyxiated with thick plastic sprayed with rubbing alcohol pressed on his face, with his hands tied hind his nape and his upper body and legs held firmly to keep him motionless on the floor;  kicked at leas five times on the right side of his body, while lying where he had fallen, kicked on the forehead and tasered on his genitals.

"At certain times he was ordered to report to his upperclassmen's quarters from which he emerged 'shivering and in pain' and at one point was observed unable to stand, 'noticeably in pain' and 'holding on to his stomach."

"Cadet Dormitorio was taken to the PMA Military Station Hospital four times, during which he was found with multiple soft-tissue hematoma and burns on his left shoulder, as well as respiratory tract infection and soft-tissue contusion in the chest. One one occasion he was diagnosed with urinary tract infection;  upon discharge, he was noted by his roommates as "weak" and "pale."

"Nearing the end he vomited a number of times. Yet, accusing of pretending to be ill...he was ordered to do squat thrusts the number of which he was unable to fulfill.

"Cadet Dormitorio's final night at Rm 209 was a lingering agony...(alternating) between fitful sleep and throwing up. He was seen at 3 am. 'sitting on the floor, his back and head resting against a study table.' At 3:20 am. a duty sentinel came by. Cadet Dormitorio's two roommates rose but he stayed on the floor unmoving. The sentinel ordered that he be awakened, to no avail. At 3:50 a.m. an ambulance came to take him to the PMA hospital where attempts to revive him proved futile...He was pronounced dead at 5:15 a.m. of Sept. 18..."

"...The upperclassmen responsible for the plebe's death...are detained and facing trial preparatory, it should be obvious, to life imprisonment..."

What was also deplorable was that, as Cadet Dormitorio's elder brother, Dexter, complained to the media, his family was not told of his worsening condition through those horrible days. They learned about it only after he had died. 


In this dastardly episode, a precious life was lost and various other lives were destroyed forever, as the hazers would face life imprisonment. If you folks are convinced that this country of ours should ban hazing forever, please support the move in both Houses of Congress to declare hazing a HEINOUS CRIME. Nothing less would put the fear of God in the hearts of some of our young people who have been so inured to so much violence in our time. Write your congressman or senator now to DECLARE HAZING AS A HEINOUS CRIME.