Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The question on everyone's mind, including Sen. J. V. Ejercito's: why can't PH protest in stronger terms the drug-trafficking from China? PH reputed to already becoming a drug-transshipment point for other continents



In a recent weekly radio program Cecile Alvarez and I conducted over dzRH we raised with six-termer representative and former National Security Adviser Roilo Golez that even as the administration wars on drugs---with a number of young people getting killed in the process---the bigger issue ought to be how to close the faucet on drugs from China and in our southern borders---before these drugs destroy our youth further. 

Last Saturday, Senator J. V. Ejercito went on record in the Inquirer as suspecting that "China is purposely turning a blind eye to shipments of illegal drugs to the Philippines." Sen. Ejercito likened our current situation to the Opium Wars in the 18th century, when China's Qing dynasty battled opium-trafficking by foreign traders, mostly British." Unfortunately, the drug situation appears to have progressed and knowledgeable officials now intimate that the Philippines is becoming a transshipment point in Asia and on to other continents.


Reports from US sources indicate that 70% of drugs into our country come from China, but there is also the production of the prohibited drug in Sabah, with repacking done in Mindanao. Reports further say that some Sulu leaders are involved as importers as well as "runners"---with a flourishing drug trade going on in places such as the National Penitentiary, through some gangs. 

Report about drug shipments through our porous southern backdoor gained credence when it will be recalled that earlier in the still on-going war in Marawi, so much drugs were captured by Philippine Army troopers from the retreating enemy (whatever happened to those captured drugs? Were they destroyed?). This was apparently how the war in the south was partly financed. 

And of course, how can we forget the whopping P6.4 billion worth of drugs that cleared the Bureau of Customs (BOC)? Until now nobody knows for sure who facilitated it. It looks like the BOC is beyond redemption. 


In his recent musing on this issue, President Duterte claimed that there are "malignant forces" out to sabotage his administration by attributing the recent killings of youths allegedly into drugs, to the police force which is directly under the Chief Executive. Mr. Duterte last Friday instructed PNP Director-General Bato de la Rosa to look into these "conspirators," opining that the series of murders of minors during police crackdowns on narcotics are being  done "intentionally," to disgrace his administration. 

To date there are said to be some 54 youths who have been killed under the supposed police anti-drug war---quite apart  from the more celebrated cases involving the murder of Kian de los Santos, 17, Carl Arnaiz, 19 and Reynaldo de Guzman, 14 (police claim that the DNA of this youth found floating in the river in Nueva Ecija does not match those of his supposed parents).  Yet Mr. Duterte thinks that all this could be a series of sabotage moves against his administration---to whip up vehement anger against it.


To be sure, in our murky politics these days, such allegation is not an impossible claim, but it does seem quite remote inasmuch as the President's opponents in the LP no longer control the state security forces. On the contrary, he appears to have developed a warm relationship with them in his 14-month presidency.

What may have greatly influenced all the recent killings could have been the directives from the President to the police in months past to exterminate drug-addicts, coupled with his assurance that the executing lawmen would get presidential pardon right away. Mr. Duterte could actually have been playing with fire in this regard. According to the Children's Legal Rights and Development Center, some 54 youths have already perished in the drug war, in addition to the three young people who were recently murdered. There is now so much public uproar over these killings.


The churches have come out denouncing the brutal campaign against drugs. Caloocan Bishop Virgilio David, in whose diocese the slaying of Kian de los Santos occurred, was quite emphatic in protesting the direction of the anti-drug campaign. Then too, in a recent uncharacteristically strong pastoral letter, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle  stressed that "We cannot allow the destruction of lives to become normal. We cannot govern the nation by killing. We cannot foster a humane and devout Filipino culture by killings."

The latest cleric to weigh in on recent killings was Archbishop Florentino Lavarias of the Archdiocese of San Fernando, Pampanga, who urged the faithful last Sept. 8, Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to pray for the poor as well as for officials and policemen under attack for the bloody war on drugs.


Complicating the problem is the fact that the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), an agency established by the Constitution to be imbued with sufficient independence, seems to be on the way to being emasculated by the Duterte administration, which treats it with ill-disguised contempt.  The administration has refused access of the CHR under Chair Chito Gascon, a P-Noy appointee, to records of recent slayings. The police argue that they need authority from the President---but at this point he doesn't seem disposed to granting it. 

This is contrary to the provisions of the Constitution that assure political independence to constitutional commissions such as the CHR.

One hopeful indication, though, that the Palace might be seeing the light regarding the country's serious drug problem is the statement of Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella---that the government is doing a "MAJOR RETHINKING" of its war on drugs, after the death of the three minors allegedly implicated in drugs. 


The Liberal Party came out with a statement backing up the CHR investigations: Said the LP: "if the government is serious about solving (the drug-related killings), then it should allow an independent, impartial body---the Commission on Human Rights---which is constitutionally mandated to conduct investigation of these killings, so as to be more credible to the public." 

During the Senate hearings on Kian de los Santos' murder, the PNP, probably reacting to public outrage, initially promised to turn over the records on Kian to the CHR, but to date Malacanang still has to give the go-signal. 

On the other hand, Senator Grace Poe is in the right direction in filing a resolution before the Senate seeking an investigation into the recent "gruesome deaths" of the three teenagers. and into the PNP modus operandi. This inquiry, especially into the workings of the PNP regarding drug control, is badly needed indeed.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

There's a close relationship between poverty, the thriving drug trade and political dynasties---only in "da Pilipins." Solutions include a more upright police force and free education in SUCs that would create better-educated citizens who will be politically and economically independent, not easily seduced or mesmerized by politicians.

The de los Santos couple, parents of the murdered Kian, at dinner in Malacanang with the President

President Duterte's bloody war on drugs was convulsed anew by the brutal murder of 17-year old Kian Loyd de los Santos by three policemen in a dark alley near his home in Caloocan. Outrage gripped the nation and once again the Filipino people are united in grief over this senseless killing. Everyone but everyone has his own analysis of the whys and wherefores of the drug war in our midst---that has triggered renewed attention from the world. 

UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial killings Agnes Callamard weighed in, as expected, deploring the brutality of Kian's slaying, to which President Duterte replied in typical fashion with expletives aimed at her.

The drug problem has been with us for a long time and seemingly increasing in severity---but it had to take the murder of a helpless teenager at the hands of three law-enforcers to drive home once and for all  the gravity of this problem.  But there is also the fact that it is interrelated with so many other problems facing the nation. Easily there’s the widespread poverty and the corresponding fleeting escape from reality that drugs offer, particularly to the youth.

To be sure, drugs affect both the rich and the poor, but the drug problem of the rich is hidden behind the high walls of affluent villages where pot sessions take place, whereas the drug victims among the poor are more visible to roaming police and easier to collar---and slay.  This is the answer to the query: why is it that only the poor are caught and punished?

A psychiatrist recently spoke to me about multi-tiered homes of the affluent where in one level are the parents and their guests busy playing poker or mahjong, while in another level are the children and their friends lost in shabu---the stuff carefully hidden from the cleaning maid behind the mirror in the bathroom.

All too often, children of the poor who indulge in drugs come from families where one or both parents work abroad as domestics, construction workers or seamen---in order to earn money to send their children to school and ensure a better future for them. In the process, however, the lonely youngsters more often than not cannot hack it by themselves.

Note that Kian’s mother, Lorenza, had worked in the Middle East as a domestic for three years and hadn’t seen her son until she had to come home when he was killed. Kian's concern that night when the police accosted him was his test in class the next morning, and his ambition, ironically, was to become a policeman. He was an exception because he was not high on drugs, as the tests showed. All  too often, kids of OFW parents  live with grandparents who are too old to supervise their grandchildren’s activities. Thus, the drug problem is often coupled with teenage pregnancies, dropping out of school as well as activities that run afoul of the law.

Poverty is a basic reason for resorting to drugs, as the substance helps abate the sense of drift and hopelessness and the neglect of society. And to indulge in this prohibitive and prohibited substance, young people are often enticed to be drug couriers as well. 

But what about the drug lords?  Their problem is tied up with the politics of the area and the fact that selling one’s vote has become a political way of life in our country. Some politicians turn to the drug trade or allow it in order to accumulate funds they will use to buy votes come election time. In turn, people sell their votes due to the poverty of their station and as a form of revenge on their politicians---for the latter's neglect of their constituents throughout their terms. 

It seems that vote-buying becomes steeper and steeper as elections come.  To buy votes for the elections, politicos used to get funds from the DAP and PDAF of old, but since these lump-sum public funds have been outlawed by the Supreme Court, the politicos have to get them from other sources.

 As we have seen in the case of slain Mayor Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte and the Parojinog dynasty of Ozamiz City in Mindanao, they had to resort to the drug trade to accumulate funds with which to buy votes. Hand-in-hand with this practice is ensuring the perpetuation of the dynasty such as the Parojinogs’---something possible only through massive vote-buying and favors on select followers. 

This is where funds illegally raised from drug trafficking and the dynamics of local politics intersect.

In the recent slaying of Mayor Espinosa and the Parojinogs en masse, a police official named Jovie Espenido figured in both episodes. Now President Duterte has assigned this same police official to Iloilo City where Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog is said to be allegedly involved in drug trafficking---a charge that the mayor and his cousin, Senate Minority (LP) Leader Franklin Drilon, have vigorously denied.  

Where will this all end? Until we can produce a truly educated and economically independent populace, the cycle of boom and bust with regard to drugs and political dynasties won’t end.  It is a truism that a well-educated Filipino would undoubtedly manage to be economically---and politically---independent.

Last Aug. 3, 2017, Congress managed to pass an enlightened legislation, RA 10931, “The Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act,” to take effect in school-year 2018-2019. Under this new law, free tuition and other miscellaneous fees for students are guaranteed for some 112 State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) across the country. The Department of Budget and Management initially estimated that this new law would require P100 billion to put into operation, but skeptics feel that it would be come unsustainable over time.

This bill that guarantees free education in SUCs is our only hope to free many financially challenged among our people from the lack of education, which, in turn, spells fewer meaningful work opportunities. This is the sorry lot of the majority of our people. By contrast, a well-educated and economically independent populace, such as is found in the more developed countries, constitute the bulwark of stability there.  No other way to alleviate the plight of poorer Filipinos except to guarantee them free education in the SUCs.

If there are no sufficient funds to jump-start this new law, by all means, let's slash some of the generous “earnmarks” and “allocations” for members of Congress---euphemisms that used to be called "pork barrel" until the SC abolished it. To operationalize RA 10931 for SY 2018-2019 is a must if this country is to stabilize and progress economically and politically.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Lacson accuses Faeldon as having been “eaten by the system” but is there really a sustained way out of the corruption in Customs? Picture of Cardinal Tagle and a President Duterte listening intently, chin cupped in hand, speaks of the Holy Spirit in action.

President Duterte and Cardinal Tagle meet in the Palace to discuss the need for a summit on the drug problem
Resigned Customs chief Nicanor Faeldon and Senator Panfilo Lacson when they were still talking

The picture is not pretty at all. By some maneuverings within the administration, former Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon was forced to submit his resignation two weeks ago amid allegations of corruption in his one year in office. Isidro Lapeña was installed in his place. 

The woes inside the Bureau of Customs, however, are far from over despite the changing of the guard, as allegations and counter-allegations of wrong-doing flew thick and fast between resigned Commissioner Faeldon and the senator who provoked his resignation, Panfilo Lacson.

Lacson had accused Faeldon of receiving a P100 million “pasalubong,” the customary welcoming money when a  new chief comes in, labeling it as part of the “systemic corruption” in the BOC. Faeldon, asserted Lacson, instead of fighting the system, “was eaten up by the system.”


Faeldon, an ex-military man, however, is not one to take Lacson’s attack sitting down. He has accused the senator’s son and namesake, Panfilo Lacson Jr., of smuggling through the BOC billions of pesos worth of imported cement in 67 shipments, that led to huge loss of revenues for government. Faeldon asserted that the younger Lacson’s company, “Bonjourno,"  which he claims has a measly capitalization of P20,000, has been labeled by the Cement Manufacturers of the Philippines as the “alleged top smuggler of cement.”

Actually few would be surprised at the slinging and counter-slinging of mud between the resigned BOC Chief and the Senator who seeks to protect his son from charges of smuggling. Lacson is buoyed by moral support from his colleagues in the Senate, including Senate President Koko Pimentel.

These accusations and counter-accusations between Lacson and Faeldon remain to be investigated, but exactly in what forum hearings on these hot issues could be taken up remains a big question mark. 


What's fact is that the Customs Bureau has always been a hotbed of corruption in every administration. The cleanest administration of the BOC I can remember was that of Wigberto Tañada, but eventually word was out that Bobby had become ineffective---thanks to the mafia inside. 

I have long wondered how to rescue that crucial office from corruption, but every time I discuss it with knowledgeable persons, they would simply roll their eyes heavenward. It’s a given---Customs will always be corrupt. 


Many studies have been made about computerizing Customs transactions and payments in this computer age---so that direct personal dealings where the arreglohan takes place between the bureau's staff and its clients would be minimized. Moreover, there is the daunting fear that computers do leave paper trails---lest those indulging in shenanigans be caught. 

But, you guessed it, computerization has not been effected---as politicians have understandably objected to this arrangement.

 Another resource person I spoke with about the continuing corruption in Customs theorized that the best way is to PRIVATIZE that bureau and let it just pay the proper dues to government. But since that office is such a gold mine for funds for politicos running for office, it is doubtful whether those in power would allow this bureau to slip from their fingers. 

I have also wondered how the more advanced countries deal with their customs office, and I will try to look into this issue.


What do we make of the recent historic meeting between Cardinal Tagle and President Duterte---if not inspired by the Holy Spirit.  The murder of Kian de los Santos at the hands of two policemen--which has become the purgation of the nation---has to bear good fruit so that he did not die in vain. 

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, outgoing President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a very strong condemnation of the heinous murder of the 17-year old boy---as his position called for. The Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan was quoted in media as assailing President Duterte’s “selective brand of justice,” whereby “the official who was able to kill will be honored. The blame is on the dead victim.” The top prelate lamented further that “Corpses cannot explain or defend themselves from the accusations against them.” 


Kian's death roused the nation as few issues in contemporary times have (my FB page suffered an overload of entries, overwhelmingly very angry). The guilty police elements were purged, but the Holy Spirit was not satisfied, it seemed, as He moved to inspire Luis Cardinal Tagle to meet with President Duterte on the recent tragedy. 

Unlike Archbishop Soc who is head of all the Catholic bishops and clergy in the Philippines, Cardinal Tagle is not directly in the church hierarchy, and so he could speak his mind as a private citizen. Besides, he has a perpetual smile that sews up his chinky eyes and he could look very amiable indeed. 

That photo of the Cardinal and Mr. Duterte with the latter's jaw propped in his hands as he listened in rapt attention tells it all.


Church and State chose to meet on this drug/killing issue before it became a truly runaway problem. Cardinal Tagle was smiling and for once President Duterte wasn't snarling. Their thrust is to call a wide conference of the elements involved in this problem and look for earnest solutions; but before solutions could be found, the problem has to be defined in all its angles.

Included here are police abuses, triggered in part by President Duterte's loose bravado in the past, that mistook the culture of impunity for the rule of law. What is being pondered upon between Mr. Duterte and his eminent visitor, according to news, is a multi-sectoral summit on the drug problem, with all the stakeholders to discuss this gargantuan problem and look for solutions.


This is more typically the Pinoy approach to a problem---a meeting of minds and hearts, not the shooting of innocent 17-year olds. We Filipinos talk and gesticulate a lot. Let's all weigh in in this proposed summit on the drug problem---all stakeholders, and even the estambys' representatives ought to be invited. No holds barred, patience and tolerance ought to be the rule. 

Amid the national despair that we have fallen into as a people---owing to the dastardly deaths before Kian, but especially OF Kian---the Holy Spirit guided Cardinal Tagle to call on President Duterte and a new game is on.


Not a game of quota killings, but a way to truly eradicate or at least mitigate the effects of this menace in our midst---through a combination of the police force humbled by its inadequacy to handle human frailty, but willing to reform and learn; a bureaucracy that pledges to shun corruption (this is perhaps the toughest bill to fill); a President who reveals his soft side after all; civil leaders seeking redemption from their guilt over the menace gone berserk, and beating their breasts in a new resolve; parents advised to play their role with renewed sense of responsibility; and schools that have been less than vigilant with their wards, now more enlightened about their mission.

It will be a national mea culpa but with a resolve to rise from the destitution of spirit. Talking it over is the Filipino way of solving problems and now, after the shock of Kian's death has ebbed somewhat, we must resolve that our beloved country won't ever sink into a narco state, and we recognize that that resolve is in our power to fulfill. 

Each and every Filipino has this obligation to himself and his family, to get involved in this issue of winning the battle vs. the pernicious drugs. Invoking God's mercy and grace, let us work to triumph over the perfidy of drugs and corruption May God bless us all..