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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.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Beguiling Paris, my favorite European city, going up in smoke over rise in Macron's fuel taxes, affecting especially the retirees. Our legislators should outlaw "unli rice" owing to galloping diabetes especially among lower-income Pinoys.



The once romantic and chic Champs Elysee, with the iconic Arc de Triomphe in the background, has become a battleground between yellow-vested demonstrators and police over the fuel tax issue. 

Paris, unarguably the most beautiful and the most romantic city in all Europe---my favorite for decades---is going up in smoke over an issue that perhaps other peoples would demonstrate against, but not in the same violent and destructive manner as the choleric and highly excitable French would---the rise in fuel taxes that cuts into the income of the already beleaguered middle-class.

Last Christmas Day, my longtime friends based in Paris---lawyer Aquilino "Jun" Opena and his wife Lilia, a retired ranking UNESCO official, whom my family and I would visit from time to time over the decades---called to tell me all about what's happening. Lil and Jun felt quite bad that the yellow-vest protesters ("gilet jaunes" in French) would be invading the historic Avenue des Champs Elysees---the most beautiful area in Paris and its No. 1 tourist attraction for international jet-setters and celebrities.

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The "gilet jaunes" protest movement began last Nov. 17, 2018,  when roadblocks began appearing all across the country, but more concentrated in Paris for maximum effect. It began as a small protest against the new fuel tax imposed by French President Emmanuel Macron, but over the weeks and months it has morphed into a violent anti-government grassroots movement, with many demonstrators from the middle-class stressing how their livelihood has been eaten up by the fuel tax.

Violent clashes with police and vandalism in hitherto quiet and plush neighborhoods turned ugly and international media caught them all---making all lovers of Paris, such as this writer, feel such pain in our hearts. Four people have actually died since the unrest began, even as the resulting violence and vandalism have been widely condemned in France and abroad.

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President Macron had insisted that tax increases are a necessary pain due to the increased cost of fuel---now at $7.06 per gallon. The protests appeared to have swung into full scale after duties were slapped on diesel--- which is widely used by French motorists but now more heavily taxed than any other types of fuel.

As the anti-fuel tax movement grew uglier and spread to nearly the entire country, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe decided to suspend the tax increases for six months. He was quoted in newspapers as grumbling that "anyone would have to be deaf or blind not to hear or see the anger against the government." A direct missile attack on Macron.

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President Macron had won the presidency with an overwhelming mandate for sweeping economic reforms, but his popularity began to fall sharply in recent months amid accusations---and perception--that he is "a president for the rich."

But more than just the backlash against his fuel tax, there's the theory that this much-hated imposition is a necessary obstacle to the French far-right's quest for greater power. French politics are tres complique, with far-right, far-left, center, etc. all clashing. Just how far this grassroots protest movement would end up is hard to foretell.

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As an observer, I note the difference between the tempers of the French and the Filipino. Our middle-class and the lower strata are indeed also painfully caught in the spiraling of prices of just about everything, due to our near-total dependence on imported oil whose price has skyrocketed.  But the Filipino people have remained stoic in suffering the inflation that the rise in fuel costs cause, and we simply tighten already tight belts---unlike the choleric and excitable French who have launched their second revolution last winter and going strong.

It's easy to foretell the fate of the top French officials. No, they are not going to lose their heads in the Place de la Concorde in Paris, like what happened in 1789 with Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette there. The youthful Macron, however, is in danger of losing his once ultra-high political standing in the next elections. In fact he's probably finished.

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One time in traffic I happened to be stopped in front of a "Mang Inasal" restaurant and I could see a waiter carrying a big wooden bowl full of rice--- and hopping from table to table, endlessly scooping rice on the plates of diners. It alarmed me to watch this scene, as I had just read how rice is a major factor in the galloping diabetes among Filipinos.

President Duterte has lowered costs of medicines for diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Act, R.A. 10963---which is good as it would help especially the lower income groups. But what has to be addressed is the proclamation of Diabetic Center of the Philippines about how diabetes is GALLOPING among Filipinos---doubtless mainly due to excessive consumption of carbohydrates which translates to sugar.

Popular thinking associates diabetes only with excessive sugar intake, but nutritionists link it as much with heavy rice intake among Filipinos---one reason so many PInoys are overweight. According to the Diabetic Center, an estimated 5 million Filipinos are diagnosed with diabetes.

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From the Philippine Statistics Authority come 2016 data that diabetes and hypertensive diseases each accounted for 5-7 % of deaths in the country, or 33,295 and 33,452 cases, respectively. That's a lot of Filipinos dying from diabetes and hypertensive diseases, which should call for more information about food intake that should be lessened.

While the administration has cut cost of diabetes and hypertensive medicines starting this Jan. 1, still, those medicines would entail funds from the people that could otherwise go to other necessities in life---if enough medical information were to be disseminated over mass media about proper diet TO PREVENT DIABETES AND ITS AGGRAVATION.

Few people realize that carbohydrates, such as in rice, convert to sugar which aggravates THE diabetes ailment. The Department of Health should conduct a wider information campaign about this fact, and yes, there should be an accompanying law prohibiting service of UNLI RICE as a sales propaganda.

Yes, stop Mang Inasal's UNLI RICE PROMO---indeed the Pinoy comes out BUSOG, but the diabetes it brings in its path is more VICIOUS than folks think.  

Friday, December 28, 2018

Election violence is directly related to some politicians' willful instinct to prevail at all costs---with massive vote-buying among poor sectors. They recoup "investments" by monkeying with PW funds to ensure dynastic rule. When dynasty is threatened, that's when violence erupts. How to break this evil? Rescue masses from abject poverty by revving up the economy and educate them, so they become independent of pols.





President Duterte flies to Daraga City to condole with the family of slain Rep. Rodel Batocabe



Since the heinous slaying of Bicol Ako party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe by still unidentified assailants, his widow, Gertrudes Duran Batocabe, has won a lot of sympathy and admiration for her courageous and dignified response to this tragedy.

During President Duterte's visit to Daraga City to condole with the congressman's family, Mrs. Batocabe, a member of the prominent Duran family in Bicol, sought justice for her slain husband from the Chief Executive. That the criminals who killed the respected law-maker ought to be caught and punished is the least that the administration could do for his family.

To Mr. Duterte's invitation that she run in her slain husband's place in the May 2019 elections, she replied candidly that right now her focus is "to bury him with dignity and honor, in accordance with how he lived." After this, said the widow, she will seek justice for him---that those responsible be brought to court and punished.

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With the slaying of Rep. Batocabe, the threat of political violence across the country rears its ugly head anew as the May 2019 mid-term elections approach. Mr. Duterte contributed P20 million to the financial reward offered by Rep. Batocabe's party-list colleagues to anyone who could provide clear leads to his slaying.

Reward money to identify the killers now stands at P50 million, and perhaps it would bring results, but election violence remains in the political scene every campaign season---unless certain factors are checked and eliminated from our midst.

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Political rivalry exists in every setting all over the world, even in the politically and economically advanced countries such as the US, but in less developed political settings such as ours, it's accompanied frequently by violence. The slaying of Rep. Batocabe in so brazen a manner in Daraga, however, speaks of grievously degenerated standards in our very Third World political setting. Facts about his slaying are not all in yet, as PNP investigation is still going on, but it is easy to see that in our milieu many politicians feel they stand to gain so much in office, that they are ready to eliminate rivals by means fair or foul.

While there are few exceptions, it's obvious that political contests in this country have become so expensive for the candidates---this is because it's almost impossible for politicos not to resort to buying votes at exorbitant costs, to win. Citizens, on the other hand, often sell their votes to the highest bidder because many of them have remained very poor, and election time is seen as their opportunity to gain some fast bucks with their votes.

I dare say that with few exceptions, our citizens look at the elections as opportunity to get their revenge on neglectful and abusive politicians---by exacting their pound of flesh through their votes.

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Politicians doubtless realize the truism that elections are revenge time for the voters, so the pols have to buy votes---and it could run into hundreds of millions of pesos or even billions in some cases for the politicians, if, for instance. they have to ask a rival to withdraw.  Lots of votes are for sale and voters are not coy about it---in fact they feel a strong sense of entitlement about it. This is their revenge every election time on politicos who have paid only token care for their welfare.

This realization that the electorate would extract its pound of flesh from the politicians has made the latter, with some exceptions, utilize their pork barrel funds---formally termed years back the Countrywide Development Fund and later the notorious Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF)---in all manner of wheeling-dealing with contractors of public works projects or with insidious characters like Janet Napoles, to raise funds to buy votes.

Note Sen. Panfilo Lacson's loud complaint about how House solons are still trying to insert pork items into the 2019 budget despite its passage on second amendment already, when no insertions should anymore be tolerated. That's obviously desperation on the part of those running this May 2019.

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Another way to win is to eliminate political rivals, which may have been the case with the late Rep. Batocabe---though this has enraged the Bicolanos so much that it could boomerang on the perpetrators.  His slaying can be explained thus: over the years Filipino voters, by and large, have come to expect grease money during elections---which is why politicians have to be creative in their staying power.

Corruption rears its ugly head in various ways and perhaps those candidates perceived to be uncorrupt, like the slain Bicol party-list solon, have to be yanked out of the race by hook or by crook.

This is also why political dynasties seek to survive: the palm-greasing practices exacted from the pols by the largely impoverished voters continue unabated, so that political power has to be preserved within the family over generations---by hook or by crook---to recover its investment.

To be sure, political dynasties also exist in the more advanced countries. In the US, the Kennedys, the Bushes, the Rockefellers and the Daleys of Chicago, among others, are normally mentioned in dynastic terms, but it is not the same as here. The American public---and the US media---are generally unforgiving of political abuses, and public opinion there is mighty strong, unlike here where it often fails to rightly condemn.

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The Center for People Empowerment and Governance (CENPEG), headed by my good friend Prof. Bobby Tuason, estimates that more than 17,000 national and local positions, including all 265 seats in the House of Representatives and half of the the 24 seats in the Senate, are at stake in the May 2019 national and local polls. CENPEG also estimates that there are about 250 political families---at least one in every province---in the entire country, and of the 265 House members, 160 belong to such clans.

CENPEG regards political dynasties as a consequence of our country's colonial days, in which an elite class was nurtured by the Spaniards and later by the Americans. Even after our country gained independence in 1946, the largely feudal system persisted, as landed families sought to protect their interest by occupying public office.

Unfortunately, then as now, their constituents on the ground---unlike those of the more politically developed countries---have remained largely poor and uneducated, thus pretty much at the mercy of the politicians. No way to change our country except through education, which should also rescue the poor from numbing poverty.

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Sunday, December 23, 2018

US President Donald Trump appears to be lurching inexorably toward impeachment, as he shunts aside critical security decisions, fires key bureaucrats and provokes high officials to resign. President Duterte should find and arrest asap the murderers of Albay Party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe




It would seem from many recent developments that 72-year old Republican US President Donald John Trump---the 45th in US history---is lurching from one crisis to another, and that halfway through his term, he seems to be marching inexorably toward impeachment in the US House of Representatives that's dominated by Democrats.

Now, as to whether he would be convicted by the US Senate, which is still dominated by Republicans, although by a very slim majority only, it remains to be seen. As things are developing, it's entirely possible that a number of Trump's Republican allies could turn around and join the seeming impeachment bandwagon.

Not since the ill-starred presidency of Richard Nixon three decades ago has a US President been impeached.  Crisis after crisis has hit the Trump administration as no other US presidency has been in contemporary times. For one, CNN has been merciless in slamming him.

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First there was the sudden decision of Mr. Trump to order the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and Syria---against the advice of his military hierarchy. This decision of Trump provoked Defense Secretary James Mattis, said to be highly respected and a "stabilizing influence" within the Trump administration, to resign. Mattis'  exit was deemed by political pundits a major---perhaps even irreparable--blow to the administration.

In weeks prior, President Trump had fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly after they "lost his confidence." But when Defense Chief Mattis handed in his resignation last Thursday, Dec. 20, following his disagreement with the Chief Executive over the latter's decision to pull out US troops from Afghanistan, that shook the establishment to its roots. As a news account termed it, the day "was a landmark day of chaos that appeared to test the resolve of even his senior Republican backers in Washington."

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The sudden resignation of the Defense Chief drew negative reactions from various leaders, among them Mr. Trump's close ally and frequent golfing partner, veteran Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Praising the decision of Defense Secretary Mattis to resign, Graham warned that withdrawing the troops from Afghanistan---which had earlier been thumbed down by the military establishment in conferences with the President as "high risk strategy"---could ultimately lead to another attack on America, just like 9/11.

On the other hand, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement following Mattis' resignation, expressing grave concern about the latter's sharp differences with the President that affect "key aspects of America's global leadership."

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Adding to these concerns of major presidential allies of President Trump in Congress are other issues that would produce vast swathes of discontent among the American people themselves. For instance, there's the insistence of Trump to erect a wall along the Mexican border to prevent further illegal migrations of the "Chicanos" to the US. That issue triggered a looming government shutdown due to the disputes over the border wall's huge funding---in turn sending US share prices tumbling over this prospect. I can imagine the vast number of Mexican-Americans hating the idea of this wall and how it would impact the next elections for the Republicans.

Then there's the continuing investigations into allegations of the Trump campaign's collusion with Russia against his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton,as well as congressional probes into his businesses, his family and some of his Cabinet members. The former Secretary of State in the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton, who would have made a far better president, won the popular vote but most unfortunately lost the electoral votes to Trump.

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From where I stand, it's easy to see that President Trump's major difficulty vis-a-vis his political and administration allies stems mainly from the fact that he has never held an elective office before. Instead he has been phenomenally successful as a real estate developer and businessman on a huge scale (e.g. the Trump Tower and the Grand Hyatt New York Hotel, among others) and as a reality TV personality. Hence, Mr. Trump doesn't know how to handle the bureaucracy or work with subordinates not in his payroll.

As multi-billionaire boss in the private sector, Trump hired and fired at will and to his heart's content, but obviously he couldn't learn fast how to work with co-bureaucrats with long distinguished records in public service, and within a system of governance. But more alarming than anything else, the world balance of power is in the hands of this temperamental character.

Prospects of a Trump impeachment bears watching in coming weeks as the Democrats could eventually gain allies in Congress among disgruntled and/or alarmed Republicans.

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This blogger joins the nation in decrying in the strongest terms the dastardly murder of Bicol Ako party-list Representative Rodel Batocabe the other day. The 52-year old party-list congressman was a distinguished graduate of the UP College of Law, along with the likes of former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque. Colleagues from the House that I talked to spoke highly of Rep. Batocabe, and his conscientious dedication to his job and his constituents. "If you meet him in the corridors in the Batasan," says former Deputy Speaker Raul Daza, "It's likely that he's rushing to a committee hearing."

As a three-term party-list representative, Rodel Batocabe was already ineligible for reelection and  reports say he was planning to run for mayor of his native Daraga. In the three-cornered fight for the mayoralty in that city, Rodel was the only true native of Daraga, and his opponents would have been the incumbent LP mayor and the current vice-mayor who's said to be backed up by Rep. Joey Salceda.  Rodel Batocabe, considered a friend to all, was estimated to be the front-runner in the mayoralty race. As such he could have been in the line of fire.

The Duterte administration has to find the killers of Rep. Batocabe, if only out of justice to his constituents and because of their deep affection for him.


US President Donald Trump