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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.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Many citizens happy when Comelec threatened to return to manual count after SC slapped TRO on Brillantes' midnight deal of P268-M refurbishment for 82,000 PCOS units. But jubilation short-lived as Comelec recently awarded P2.5-B contract to lease 23,000 new PCOS machines, reinforcing belief that LP and P-Noy determined to corner 2016 elections with PCOS, to avoid PGMA scenario. Fight vs. Comelec continues.





While the country has been embroiled in the Mamasapano tragedy and President Aquino has gone on his third still nebulous speech on what truly happened on Jan. 25. civic-spirited citizens led by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the umbrella group of Filipino IT, the AES-Watch, went to the Supreme Court to stop the P268 million “midnight contract” awarded by retiring Comelec Chair Sixto Brilliantes to Smartmatic for the diagnostics, refurbishment and repair of 82,000 PCOS machines used in the 2010 and 2013 elections.

The SC responded with a TRO on the Smartmatic contract and this was met with a lot of jubilation by citizens.  

The SC's TRO of Comelec’s PCOS case, however, could mean that it would take months before the case can be settled. By way of pressuring the SC magistrates to act fast and favorable, Comelec has threatened to go back to manual elections in 2016.

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Actually, for tens of thousands of citizens who know of the shenanigans that marred the two past PCOS-conducted elections, the Comelec's threat to go manual strengthens cases recently filed by various citizens’ groups before the SC,  seeking the removal from office of all those elected under the PCOS-tainted elections--- beginning with Benigno Aquino III, the entire Congress and all local officials---as these "PCOS-elected officials" have been fraudulently elected.

Thus, the Comelec threat to discard the PCOS and go manual in 2016 is not really a bad idea. In fact, it's HEAVEN-SENT. 

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IT IS HEAVEN-SENT, FOR AS OUR MOST PROMINENT INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY EXPERTS ASSERT, DUE TO THE WIDE USE OF CELL PHONES, IPHONES AND FAX MACHINES ALL OVER THE COUNTRY--- EVEN IN MOST RURAL AREAS----WE CAN HAVE AN EXCELLENT COMBINATION: MANUAL ELECTIONS AT THE PRECINCT LEVELS AND ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION OF ELECTION RESULTS TO THE COMELEC.  

THE NET RESULT WILL BE FAST TABULATION AND TRANSMISSION OF ELECTION RESULTS  WITH MINIMAL CHANCES FOR CHEATING.

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WHY MINIMAL?  THE VOTING AND COUNTING IN THE PRECINCTS WILL BE DONE USING THE OLD TIME-TESTED  SYSTEM WE'VE HAD SINCE THE BEGINNING OF SUFFRAGE.  THUS, VOTES WILL BE MANUALLY COUNTED AND TABULATED  RIGHT AFTER THE CLOSE OF VOTING HOURS AND SHOULD BE FINISHED AFTER THREE OR FOUR HOURS.
COUNTING WILL BE DONE IN THE PRESENCE OF THE VOTERS AND VARIOUS POLITICAL PARTY REPRESENTATIVES. THE FINAL TABULATION SHEETS WILL BE SIGNED BY COMELEC AND THE PARTY REPRESENTATIVES.

THESE REPRESENTATIVES WILL THEN PHOTOGRAPH THE SIGNED TABULATION SHEETS, USING THEIR IPHONES, AND IMMEDIATELY RELAY THEM TO DESIGNATED OFFICES OF THEIR PARTIES.  COMELEC OFFICIALS WILL ALSO TAKE THE SAME PHOTOS  AND RELAY  THEM BY IPHONE TO  DESIGNATED COMELEC OFFICES.

THUS, THE POLITICAL PARTIES  AND THE COMELEC WILL HAVE THE SAME  SIGNED TABULATION SHEETS, WITH EACH PARTY HAVING ITS  OWN TALLIES BY PRECINCTS, TOWNS, PROVINCES AND NATIONAL.  MOREOVER,  SINCE THEY ALL HAVE THE SAME SIGNED  PRECINCT TABULATIONS, COMELEC'S FINAL TABULATIONS SHOULD BE THE SAME AS THOSE OF POLITICAL PARTIES.


THUS THERE WOULD BE LITTLE ROOM FOR CHEATING AND COMPLETE RESULTS SHOULD BE KNOWN AND PUBLISHED WITHIN TWO TO THREE DAYS FROM CLOSE  OF VOTING IN THE PRECINCTS. iT WOULD BE EXACTLY THE  SAME AMOUNT OF TIME IF COMELEC’S PCOS WERE USED. AND AT MINIMAL COST!

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Many citizens began jumping  with jubilation at this sudden “threat” of Comelec to  go manual in 2016. But alas, it was a short-lived victory for the citizens. 

For instead of returning the PCOS machines to their bodegas and sealing them because our 2016 elections---if it pulls through at all---would go manual as Comelec had threatened, the latest development is that the poll body has actually given the go-signal to acquire 23,000 more PCOS units to augment the 82,000 that needs repairs! 

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For as the Manila Times editorial yesterday pointed out, Comelec “virtually awarded” to the joint venture of Smartmatic-TIM the P2.503-billion contract to lease to the poll body 23,000 units of precinct-based optical mark reader (OMR), to augment its 82,000 units of PCOS machines of Smartmatic that were "illegally" used in the 2016 and 2013 elections. 

Said the Times editorial: “We and other Filipinos concerned about the absence of transparency in the precinct-level electoral process because of the illegal use of the PCOS machines, thought that the Comelec Bidding and Awards Committee (BAC) decision to disqualify the Venezuelan company was the beginning of the total termination of Smartmatic’s role in our elections. We were wrong.”

This is because the Comelec Commissioners in a most recent en banc decision granted Smartmatic’s protest against its disqualification by Comelec’s very own BAC.

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The Times noted that "Thus, in accordance with this en banc decision the Commission declared that the financial proposal submitted by the Smartmatic JV [joint venture] during the second stage of the competitive bidding for the lease of election management system and precinct-based optical reader optical scan system of the joint venture of Smartmatic-Tim Corporation, total Informational Management Corporation,. Smartmatic International Holding B.V., and Jaritech International Corporation is COMPLETE AND RESPONSIVE,' the Comelec en banc ruled (emphasis mine)."

"Smartmatic, being the lowest calculated bidder, will undergo a post-qualification evaluation. The Venezuelan company will surely pass this evaluation and then be formally awarded the contract."

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Citizens can only read this recent Smartmatic victory from the Comelec BAC as meaning that its automated election system (AES) using PCOS machines, that made a mess of the 2010 and 2013 election, will once again reign over the next elections. This means that good and honest individuals who want to run for political office out of love of country and service to the people would again desist from participating in what they see as tainted elections.

That system violates the transparency requirement of the law governing automated elections, RA 9369, whose title is “An act authorizing the Commission on Elections to use an automated election system …to encourage transparency, credibility …” This law also states that “the use of an automated election system … will ensure … that the process shall be transparent and credible …”. Sadly, the system set up by Smartmatic does the opposite. 

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The Manila Times editorial explains how the hocus-pocus happens: "The Smartmatic AES using the PCOS machines does all the reading of the ballots and the counting of results in the belly of the machines. The voters and the nation just have to believe that no error or cyber-tampering was done. The machine then spits out the vote count in the precinct and transmits it to the consolidation and canvassing centers."

Under the old manual system before 2010, explains the Times, "...the Board of Election Inspectors in each precinct reads each ballot and had the count tallied on a blackboard or whiteboard. The count and the process were seen by watchers from the rival political parties, the authorized election watchdog organizations and the press.

"One could then prove fraud was committed when the numbers sent to the canvassing centers were not the same as the precinct’s publicly witnessed counting and total results."

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Subsequent problems arose from the AES system of the PCOS machines, such as the appearance of lines in the electronic image of ballots, so that these were read and interpreted in ways that changed the election count. So many protests vs.these line images were lodged at local precincts by candidates all over the country, to no avail AND THEY CAUSED SO MUCH POLITICAL INSTABILITY. 

These transparency problems as well as instances of failure by machines to transmit results have moved many political groups, supported by various professional groups, to push for abandonment of the Smartmatic PCOS machines. They cite many countries that have discarded automated elections and returned to manual, among them Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, Australia and others–about 18 countries out of the 30 that once tried out the AES system and returned to manual vote and count. Japan and the United Kingdom are cited as never shifting from manual vote and counte in precincts because they felt this has enabled  party followers to truly witness the electoral process.

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The Manila Times editorial pointed out other salient points: "Our laws say the accuracy of automated system used must be at least 99.995 percent. Smartmatic with the PCOS never met this legal requirement in in any of its tests and mock elections.

"There are safeguards in the process that Comelec and Smartmatic dismantled. The “source code” used by the machine’s software system by law should be reviewed by political parties and authorized IT expert groups. (This was never allowed).

"Precinct election results should be signed and verified to be correct by the teachers making up the (Board of Election Inspectors). The results transmitted from precincts and precinct clusters had no digital signatures or any kind of affidavit of verification by the teachers. How could they when they don’t even know how the machine is counting the votes and adding them up?"

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Despite all these and other unnamed defects the Comelec seems determined to use the PCOS machines again in the coming elections, if these materialize at all---and there's justified suspicion that the ruling LP just won't give up cornering election results---to save President Aquino and other ranking officials from jail.  

We have to continue fighting use of those wicked PCOS machines. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Indication that President Aquino is now very much a lame-duck President is rise of various political scenarios for 2016. The manifesto endorsing former Senator and PNP Chief Panfilo Lacson’s political alliance with Sen. Grace Poe to achieve, among others, “transformation,” could have arisen from recollection of the Singapore strongman Lee Kuan Yew’s “political authoritarianism.” But such endorsement would also bring into sharp scrutiny Lacson’s checkered past.




One can tell that President Noynoy Aquino is already a lameduck president by the number of candidates being thrown into the political ring, almost 14 months prior to the elections of 2016 and seven months prior to the filing of candidacies at the end of this October.  And indeed, with the nation at a virtual standstill, nothing seems to percolate other than the political scene as various election scenarios are being conjured. It's also indication of the general feeling of hopelessness about the country, as a result of the ineffectual leadership of P-Noy as the months and years lengthened, which seemed interminable.

A week or so ago, up popped the Drilon scenario: that the beleaguered Vice President Jejomar Binay would be ordered arrested by the Ombudsman on multiple corruption charges, so that he would be tucked away politically. This scenario could rake up political turmoil as the perception in some quarters is that Binay is being relentlessly persecuted (the AMLC investigations into his foreign wealth is being fought fiercely by his lawyers) because he leads the presidential race, despite all the mud being thrown at him.

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But assuming that the Omudsman’s action in haling Binay to court does succeed, this scenario also includes talk about Noynoy being persuaded to step down, in which case Senate President Franklin Drilon, who is constitutionally third in line of succession to the presidency, would assume the highest office. Once ensconced there, so goes this scenario, Drilon would then appoint Speaker Feliciano Belmonte as vice-president with the consent of Congress; and so the LP stranglehold on power would be completed for another six years perhaps.

Such scenario could sent paroxysms of anxiety to citizens not enamored of the five-year leadership by the LP. Moreover, Senate President Drilon has his own can of worms, particularly the controversial coconut levy issue of which he was among those who conceptualized it for the Marcos regime, together with former Sen. Edgardo Angara and the late Sen. Raul Roco in the ACCRA Law Office in the Marcos era.  

Today the coco levy issue is still being bitterly fought over between the impoverished coconut planters and the government which has custody over the P72 billion fund once extracted from the coconut farmers in that era.   

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That's one scenario. Two days ago, I heard on radio the interview of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte by ABS-CN’s Ted Failon, where he was querying the mayor on talks about his gunning for the presidency in 2016. Duterte’s name has been bandied about among the more favored “candidates” for national office, and in fact he’s being paired off with Sen. Grace Poe, but in that program he said he was not interested, and would be happy to stay as Davao mayor. Duterte draws fanatic support from those who want a strongman president, but he also sows fear in the hearts of civil rights people who fear a lynching leader.

On the other hand, Sen. Poe herself is being repeatedly mentioned for either of the two top positions and at first it seemed like a hele-hele for the lady solon, but recent political chismis is that she does appear receptive to it now, and that in fact, financial backers are surfacing. Poe’s standing appears to have been firmed up better after the prolonged Senate hearings which she was generally thought to have handled pretty well despite her neophyte status.

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But to my mind, the most serious endorsement of a presidential team surfaced yesterday, not co-incidentally perhaps, two days after the passing of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, its Prime Minister for 31 years and father of the current PM. A whole-page “manifesto” appeared in two leading dailies, calling for “democratic discernment, vigilance and transformation,” and signed by a group of officers of the old PC-INP, the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The signatories, who include retired star-rank officers as well as the current head of the Association of Generals and Flag Officers (AGFO), Lt. Gen. Edilberto Adan (AFP, ret.) cited certain events, occurences and  issues which “caused much grief, outrage and anxiety to our nation,” which necessitate the search for “imperatives, qualities and requirements of national leadership with critical discernment.”

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The retired PNP and AFP officers cited the most urgent problems of our country, such as the recent Mamasapano massacre, the super-typhoon Yolanda that presages chronic occurrence of increasingly destructive natural calamities and disasters; the PDAF and DAP scams that indicate “unbridled dishonesty, greed and corruption in government," the Metro Manila traffic and port congestion and the “miserable state of the MRT and NAIA” that dramatize, to their mind, “sheer bureaucratic callousness, arrogance and ineptitude.”

The conditions cited above by the retired officers of the armed services are an indictment of the Aquino administration as they clamor on behalf of our people for “a national leadership that is competent and incorruptible and does not adhere to traditional politics.”  

I venture the observation that these retired officers have grown tired of the ineptitude of the P-Noy administration especially after the SAF commandos' tragic encounter with BFF and MILF elements in Mamasapano, and the way the P-Noy government has been confronting very serious problems of national life by dishing out blame instead of facing up to them. I think what especially affected the two armed services, the PNP and the AFP, is that the political leadership is making them quarrel with each other, instead of focusing on how to defeat traditional enemies.

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Nowhere was the President’s propensity to make the AFP and the PNP quarrel more evident than in the Mamasapano massacre,  whertr the military obviously resented the inclination of PNP officers Gen. Alan Purisima and Getulio Napenas to cast blame during the public hearings on the AFP commanders in Mindanao for their alleged failure to come to the rescue of the pinned-down SAF commandoes; the AFP officers hae stoutly maintained that this tragedy resulted from the lack of coordination by the PNP project handlers.

Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the 6th Infantry Division, became a collateral damage of the SAF carnage when his promotion was frozen by the Commission on Appointments because he failed to answer some nagging doubts about the Jan. 25 tragedy.

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But what is most interesting about the PNP and AFP retirees’ joint statement of yesterday is its endorsement of former Senator and PNP chief Panfilo Lacson and Sen. Grace Poe to the highest offices of the land, after considering the “above premises.” The retirees urged Lacson and Poe “to forge a political alliance and run in tandem for higher office in 2016” and they assured these politicians of their support “not only in the elections but in the political transformation of our Government and Society.”

I mentioned above the sudden appearance of the endorsement manifesto for Lacson and Poe that seemed timed with the passing of Singapore’s former strongman, Lee Kuan Yew. As I said, it's obvious that the manifesto signatories are apparently tired of the lackadaisical and wimpy style of governance of President Aquino and they advocate a more forceful and determined leadership not akin perhaps to the "political totalitarianism” practiced by LKY especially in the first 20 years of his 31 years of stronghold of the island republic’s existence. 

Lacson is particularly endorsed for his “strong-willed, disciplined and decisive service reputation” while Poe is praised for her “untarnished and compassionate brand of leadership.”

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It will be recalled that former Sen. Lacson was appointed by P-Noy the Rehab Czar to handle the super-job of getting the Yolanda-stricken provinces of the Visayas back on their feet. After taking almost a year to draw up the massive blue-print for recovery, however, Lacson resigned, apparently fed up by the lack of support from P-Noy and the holding back of public and donated funds. Since then he has been quite critical not only of the turtle-pace of the Yolanda rehab, but also of the highly questionable interpretation by P-Noy’s allies, especially Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, of the doctrine of command responsibility and the chain of command. Lacson outright disputed and mocked De Lima’s placing P-Noy outside the PNP chain of command.

But it must also be stressed here that the record of former Sen. Lacson on the question of moral leadership has been far from spotless. Recall how Rosebud had associated him allegedly with drug-trafficking and other questionable activities in the PNP, even testifying in the Senate on these allegations. In later years Lacson went into hiding for over a year from the long arm of the court, to evade arrest. 

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In this connection, the retired PNP and AFP officers’ endorsement of Lacson as a means for society’s “transformation” would certainly be put under heavy scrutiny should he run for higher office.  

An FB reader posted a quote from the late much-revered US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt which said, "The Presidency is not merely an administrative office.That's the least of it. It's more than an engineering job, efficient of inefficient. It is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership.

Very apt rule to measure candidates for higher office, not just Lacson.



Sunday, March 22, 2015

Euphoria over 'independent' judgment of BOI and Senate reports turns to confusion over “passive voice” of conclusion that encourages flexibility of interpretation, vs.“active voice” that would directly pinpoint P-Noy. But there's one unarguable fact: P-Noy recruited suspended Purisima who couldn't coordinate with AFP. Recalling how, in a delicate rescue operation in Basilan 12 years ago on kidnapped US bible translator, VP Erap earned pogi points for yielding to military professionals, instead of playing politician-general, like P-Noy in Mamasapano.




The nation was euphoric over the seemingly independent judgment exercised by the PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI) and the Senate Committee headed by Sen. Grace Poe, both of which stressed that the chain of command had been violated. For once all the major media chorused the same headline of how the chain of command was broken! But perhaps, as lawyer Jose Oliveros noted in an opinion in the Manila Standard Today last March 20,  there was a world of difference in the use of the passive voice (“ that the chain of command was violated”), rather than the active voice: that the President had broken the chain of command.

In the passive voice, as Oliveros points out, the emphasis was on the chain of command, whereas in the active voice the onus would be on the President as the main actor who violated the chain of command.   

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As it turned out, use of the passive voice proved ominous as it gave room to FLEXIBILITY and DOUBLE-TALK. Both Poe and PNP CIDG Chief Benjamin Magalong who headed the BOI stressed subsequently that while the chain of command was indeed broken, the President could not be faulted because he is OUTSIDE the chain of command, which only begins with the Chief PNP down.  Poe mused on this idea in a TV interview, asserting that her report could change if the President has “new revelations” about the failed SAF operation;  whereas Magalong worked along this line after answering the summons of P-Noy to Malacanang last Tuesday.  

Magalong said after that meeting with P-Noy, as quoted by MST of March 20, that “Aquino did not violate the chain of command but merely bypassed it by giving direct orders to former SAF director Getulio Napenas hours before Oplan Exodus came into motion.” He further stressed that “President Aquino did not violate the chain of command as he is not covered by it,” but that nonetheless, “ ‘findings’ of the report that the chain of command has been violated remain.”

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This turnabout, which both officials denied as such, saddened legions of Filipinos who thought that for once, there were two people who stood their ground against the immense power-play of the Palace.

To digress, it was brazen defiance of, at the very least, good sense and simple propriety by the President to openly summon Magalong after the BOI report came out with conclusions that “hurt” him.  The Palace says that what reaped P-Noy’s ire was that he never got to air his side on the operation, as DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, to whom the BOI had relayed its request to query P-Noy, forgot in the hustle and bustle of the day’s job to deliver that message to his boss. 

This BOI report was the hot topic for many days and Roxas would forget to deliver the request to the lead in the dramatis personae! Ginawa na namang sangkalan at tanga si Mar.  But why does Mar tolerate all this?

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Rejoicing over the straightforwardness of the two reports turned to confusion as the concept of the President outside the PNP chain of command became too twisted to comprehend. Both Poe and Magalong were echoing Justice Secretary Leila de Lima who even called former President Ramos “a confused man” for asserting that the chain of command is alive and kicking in the PNP. FVR at a press con reminded De Lima of EO 226 that he issued in February 1995 that sought to institutionalize the doctrine of “Command Responsibility” in all government offices, particularly at all levels of command of the PNP and other law-enforcement agencies.” EO 226 has not been erased from statute books.

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Lawyer Jose Oliveros, whom I quoted above, reminds De Lima that on at least two occasions, Aquino had referred to himself as the “Commander-in-Chief of the PNP”:  the 2013 graduation rites of the Philippine National Police Academy on March 22, 2013, and just last Feb. 6, 2015, in his address to the nation following the SAF Mamasapano massacre, when he asserted that “As  President and Commander-in-Chief I am fully responsible for any result, any triumph, any suffering and any tragedy that may result from our desire for lasting peace and security.”

Actually P-Noy does not seem to have difficulty accepting his role as PNP Commander-in-Chief, it’s the fawning DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima who,  in her eagerness to save her boss from liabilities in his post-term, now resorts to convoluted arguments that are destroying time-honored principles on which this nation has lived and thrived.

Lawyer Oliveros hit the nail on the head when he reminded De Lima that as Justice Secretary she is the legal counsel of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines, not the legal counsel of President Benigno Aquino. 

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Ultimately, the debate over whether P-Noy is in or out of the chain of command  becomes secondary, for it still does not erase one central fact that was the ROOT CAUSE of the tragic failure of the SAF operation that claimed the lives of 66 Filipinos. This is that P-Noy authorized former PNP Chief Alan Purisima to plan and execute it, when he should have been in the dog-house serving six-months suspension by the Ombudsman beginning Dec. 4, 2014 for graft and corruption.  Just why P-Noy involved only Purisima and Napenas, bypassing PNP OIC Leonardo Espina, remains a big mystery up to now, but ironically, it’s now Purisima whom Leila is going to investigate for “usurpation of jurisdiction.”  

But at least Grace Poe recognized the malady of authorizing a suspended official to carry out a mission. Said she after her Senate report came out: “If you are a suspended PNP Chief, you cannot let your people know that you are actually engaged in the situation. So here are lots of things that you can leave out. You can’t really be focused on what you’re supposed to do. And that’s why the tragedy happened, he was in Nueva Ecija texting (while the SAF operation was on-going).”

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The tragedy of Mamasapano also boils down to the folly of politicians who want to play general--- when such a delicate and complex operation should be left to the professionals once the decision button is pushed for Go.  

FVR soon after the SAF tragedy asserted that instead of the text-game that went on between three people only, P-Noy should have called a full-blown command  conference of the PNP and AFP top commands, to tackle the decision to get Marwan. 

And in a personal way I can appreciate the merits of Ramos' assertion. Allow me to go into some reminiscing.

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In the third quarter of 1993 American bible translator Charles Walton was kidnapped in Basilan by what was believed to be Abu Sayyaf elements, and it was a big international issue. My husband was then commander of all Mindanao (at that time Southern Command was one central command, unlike now that it’s divided into Eastern and Western Command);  he was tasked by President Ramos to carry out the rescue mission that was undertaken by the AFP in coordination with the PNP and select civilian elements in Mindanao.


At the end of October Vice President Joseph Estrada descended on Zamboanga City where SouthCom was based, a big media retinue in tow, and in his capacity as Anti-Crime Czar he wanted to be in the thick of things. In fact he wanted to go to Basilan asap. My husband politely refused to allow him to go there, as it could jeopardize very delicate operations. Cunanan told him that if he wanted a briefing, he could give him one every hour, if necessary, but Basilan was off-limits at the moment.

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To Erap’s credit he was obedient and he stayed at  Zamboanga’s plush Orchid Garden Hotel, nightly holding court with media over his favorite Blue Label Scotch  (flown from Manila with him), joined in from time to time by SouthCom officials.

Then one day everything was ready. By mid-morning of Nov. 14, the VP, DILG Secretary Raffy Alunan, Gen. Cunanan and other high officials got into a small plane that Erap was using, while media, (including this blogger, then a columnist of Inquirer) and lower-ranking officials loaded into a propeller Army plane. Before take-off, a young fellow in civvies came up our plane to tell me that the Veep wanted me to ride in his plane, but I chose to stay with media colleagues. This messenger was the future Sen. Panfilo Lacson, then aide of Estrada.

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In the thick forest fastness of Basilan, the VIP party from Zamboanga occupied a clearing with a sort of picnic hut where we sat all day, awaiting Walton. Things at that point were very iffy and tension ran high as sunlight began to ebb---how often the twilight proves inhospitable to such undertakings.  Erap’s group tried small talk. I came to know later that my husband had assigned security to handle the VIPs in case trouble erupted. His youthful aide-de-camp, a PMA graduate, was tasked to push me into a ditch just in case…I had no idea how he took care of Erap and Alunan.

Then, as dark was beginning to envelop us, there was a faint shuffle in the forest and out came a frightfully emaciated Walton, surrounded by swarthy men with kerchiefs tied around their heads and long guns. Erap and Alunan stood up to receive him and we were then quickly hustled out and brought to the 4th Marine Brigade in Basilan, to spend the night there. I took as a cue the importance of Walton’s rescue in the number of Caucasians at the dinner table, whom Erap regaled, his eyes twinkling naughtily,  with, among other things, how powerful the turtle eggs on the table were as aphrodisiac.

Prior to getting to the camp, the party stopped downtown and Walton called up Philadelphia and he was just smothered with sobs as he spoke with his wife across the world.  Gen. Cunanan then called up President FVR to report mission accomplished. The next day we were aboard a military plane to Manila, where Estrada presented Walton to FVR in Malacanang.  By leaving things to the professionals Erap earned his pogi points in media---landing on the front pages as he emerged from the Basilan fastness. And Walton was safe.