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, March 4, 2015

Despite public pressure P-Noy refuses to apologize for ill-fated Mamasapano operation, but public already holds him accountable. This administration seems on auto-pilot as P-Noy sits on crucial appointments and contracts, and is no show at events. It’s time like this that we should have parliamentary system---which operates on trust and where no-confidence vote could usher a new era---instead of a presidential system where lousy administration has to be endured because of fixed term.

Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles

Sorsogon Archbishop Arturo Bastes
Marbel, South Cotabato  Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez

President Aquino is under pressure to apologize for the Mamasapano tragedy, in much the same way that former President Macapagal Arroyo was prevailed upon by various people, including the Hyatt 10 Cabinet members, to say “I’m sorry” for her call to a Comelec commissioner to make sure her votes in the 2004 elections are protected. That call of PGMA, at best improper and inappropriate, was seized upon by her critics, among them this very same Hyatt 10, now P-Noy’s staunchest allies, to demonize Arroyo till the end of her term in June 2010.

Now P-Noy is in the same boat as a number of bishops have joined the clamor for him to resign on account of the death of 44 SAF commandoes, 18 MILF soldiers and three civilians in Mamasapano last Jan. 25---for which he is held, and rightly so, directly responsible. Aquino refuses to apologize and his Palace spokespersons justify it asserting that P-Noy was not to blame, for as President he had nothing to do with the “operational aspects” of the tragic operation; instead, he’s only concerned with “policy directives.”

In other words, the Palace is insisting that resigned PNP Chief Alan Purisima and relieved SAF Chief Getulio Napenas acted on their own  and should therefore take all the blame.


There’s probably no citizen around who’d dream that P-Noy would ever take the blame and apologize for the tragic SAF operation; in his mental state he has always deflected responsibility---and blame--- for every failure of his nearly five-year administration to underlings, never to himself. It's only normal people who can be persuaded to say “I’m sorry” and P-Noy certainly cannot be deemed normal.

To be fair, it must be tough for any president to apologize, and were P-Noy to do so his staff and allies would doubtless be divided on this issue. I recall former Representative and Governor Luis Villafuerte telling me after GMA’s apology to the nation in 2005 how he had tried to stop her from doing so, but he just couldn’t get through to her (maybe the Hyatt 10 surrounding GMA blocked that call).  But make that apology GMA certainly did and it took a lot of guts and humility to do so.


Indeed, we citizens just can’t see P-Noy saying “I’m sorry”---not for the Luneta hostage fiasco that saw seven Hongkong tourists and one disturbed former cop  killed, and not for the Mamasapano tragedy. Poor former President Joseph Estrada, ever the “pusong-mamon,”conveyed his apologies to the people of HK but never P-Noy. And instead of apologizing to the SAF widows who demand justice for their fallen heroes, he issued baffling statements that rendered them more hurt and perplexed, and left the nation boiling in rage.

But even if the President does not want to apologize and never will, the hearings in both chambers of Congress and in the videotape of the inquiry conducted by DILG Secretary Mar Roxas of the SAF behind closed doors last Jan. 26 and uploaded on the internet, caused people to come to the inevitable conclusion that P-Noy is directly responsible for Mamasapano and that Purisima and Napenas were just taking orders from him from the beginning.

As Manila Standard columnist Fr. Ranhillo Aquino put it, the Jan. 26 video was clearly "the 'smoking gun' and that there was indeed a cover-up emanating from P-Noy, and it establishes in no uncertain terms his direct hand in the operation from its inception.”


The Palace defense---that Napenas disobeyed P-Noy’s instructions to coordinate with the military--- is a very lame one, for there was also the order to coordinate on a “time-on-target, i.e., when the operation was already in full swing and therefore AFP units could no longer respond adequately because field men and assets cannot be mobilized at the snap of a finger---or in Napenas’ case, in a text message to the Army commander in the region.  

P-Noy botched the operation by wanting to play general and therefore he's responsible for lost lives---and should apologize to the bereaved families but he won’t.


The shocking blunders in Mamasapano---which unfortunately have put to shame our security forces--- have caused so much distrust among the people toward this administration, reinforced by many failures of governance in other aspects.  For instance, former Sen. Ernesto Maceda wrote in a recent column in Star about the vacancies in crucial government offices that include the chairmanships of the Commission on Audit, the Comelec (plus two commissioners there) and the Civil Service Commission, and a permanent secretary in the Department of Health. Only very recently did he fill up the vacant post of PNP-SAF commander with Chief Supt. Moro Virgilio Lazo. 

Maceda also quoted a Cabinet member as admitting that “so many papers are pending for months on the President’s desk” and that he has not released the list of recipients of the Malamapaya Fund and the President’s Social Fund, nor has he acted on pending contracts especially in the public-private partnership (PPP) projects."


It seems that government is on auto-pilot right now, and the President seems ill-disposed to buckling down to work. There are reports about frequent late nights out with the KKK buddies (he's often seen at Valle Verde 5), which makes you wonder what time he gets up mornings to work or keep appointments. 

Star columnist Babe Romualdez wrote that P-Noy failed to show up at the Joint Foreign Chambers' "Arangkada Forum" at Makati Shangri-la the other day, which is unfortunate as the JFC is the biggest coalition of foreign investors in the country and as Babe said, "it would have been a perfect opportunity for the President to reassure foreign businessmen that the situation is under control in light of the Jan. 25 Mamasapano debacle." Nang-indian si P-Noy.


The recent tragic events, plus the state of chaos in governance have made it more imperative now than ever to shift from a presidential to a parliamentary system. Under our presidential system, P-Noy has until June 30, 2016 to vacate his post, and perhaps 80% of our people right now would agree that 15 months more with him at the helm is much too long. Moreover, the PCOS machines that outgoing Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes ensured to put in place through a midnight deal one day before he retired, would make sure that P-Noy’s handpicked candidate in 2016 would win.

It seems like a dreadful dead-end indeed in our presidential system. This is the reason why a-building among thinking and concerned Filipinos is the forceful argument for a shift to the parliamentary system---where the administration in power, once it loses the trust and confidence of the people, could be replaced by a new government formed by another group of parliamentarians. If we had a parliamentary system the heightened discontent with the P-Noy administration would long ago have resulted in a no-confidence vote that would have ushered in another era inspiring of confidence and trust.


Trust is such a precious component in governance, and this is being severely tested and strained further these days, as the administration seeks to bamboozle Congress into passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) ASAP---despite its clearly unconstitutional provisions that would certainly be struck by the Supreme Court if the BBL were enacted.  

There are many eyebrow-raising provisions in the proposed law. For instance, there’s the proposed  grant of a state subsidy of P70 billion YEARLY that would be clear outside COA scrutiny;  the BBL proposes a COA-like entity for Bangsamoro, but some brave House legislators have already stressed that this staggering amount would again be a PDAF in the making for the 20 or so members of the proposed Bangsamoro parliament.  These and many other questionable aspects.


Congress shouldn’t cave in to the deadline imposed by Malacanang for passing the BBL,which is June 11, Congress’ sine die session, at the latest. Why the rush is obvious: P-Noy wants the BBL to be the crowning glory of his penultimate State of the Nation Address, even if eventually the BBL would get snagged in the Supreme Court (a number of former associate justices have spoken out strongly vs. unconstitutional provisions of the draft BBL). Columnists have also opined that he’s still moist-eyed about the Nobel Peace Prize.

Let’s all hope legislators of both chambers would hold their ground despite Palace pressure (and irresistible funds), and various lawyers’ associations would scrutinize the BBL line by line. It’s your moral duty to country and people, Attorneys. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

At its Lipa Assembly last Thursday, Feb. 26, the National Transformation Council (NTC) shifted emphasis and attention from faith and professional leaders to four representatives of humbler sectors; the large crowd listened to their stories about their tough plight. Should NTC come to assume its caretaker role, it would ensure that the marginalized's voice would figure first and foremost in governance, and "great bulk of financial resources would be channeled to improving lower levels of society"---something possible when governance does not involve hard-boiled politicians.


                Leaders from poorer sectors of Philippine society had their own gripping stories to tell.

The assembly held by the National Transformation Council (NTC) yesterday, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, in Lipa City, Batangas, was different from previous NTC assemblies in the sense that for the first time it was not its citizen-leaders and various faith-leaders affiliated with NTC who delivered the speeches. It was the humbler sectors that usually were not heard in any gathering. The four speakers came from the labor groups, the farmers’ group, the fisher-folk and the urban poor. 

Speaking on the theme "Dukha ang Pakinggan, Sa Pagbabagong Tunay," these sectoral leaders narrated how their constituencies felt neglected by various administrations after being used as "cannon fodder" in various rallies or propaganda campaigns that ushered change of administration. Sadly, once installed in power, past administrations conveniently forgot them. 

The marginalized sectors’ stories brought tears to many in the audience especially since the latter were already primed up by patriotic songs like “Pilipinas kong Mahal” and “Bayan Ko.”  I was among those whose make-up was messed up as I couldn't stop crying (mababaw naman talaga ang luha ko, in the first place). I felt that if the NTC could come into power, it would be the first time in a long while that the poor would really have a meaningful break--- instead of being hidden from papal view or being recipients of the conditional cash transfer that more often than not disappeared into handlers' pockets. 


Yesterday’s Lipa gathering provided thoughtful and provocative insights into what line of governance the NTC proposes if ever---a marked preferential option for the poor that's possible because its leaders are not hard-boiled politicos. Moreover, as Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa who hosted the giant gathering, put it, while 2015 has been declared by Pope Francis as the Universal Church’s “Year of Consecrated Life” for all religious, in view of the Bohol and Cebu killer earthquake of last year and super-typhoon Yolanda, the CBCP---with Pope Francis' approval---decided to make both celebration simultaneous. 

Yesterday the Lipa NTC's manifesto recalled the Pope's declaration in Rome after he arrived from Manila: "The main scope of my visit, and the motive for which I chose to go to the Philippines---this was the main reason---was to be able to express my closeness to our brothers and sisters who suffered the devastation of Typhoon Yolanda. I went to Tacloban, in the region most hit, where I paid homage to the faith and resilience of the local population." Viralled around the world was that unforgettable picture of Pope Francis in his Tacloban see-through raincoat, drenched like everyone else.


The "Year of the Consecrated Life" had to take somewhat of a backseat to the "Year of the Poor" mainly because we have so many poor around.  NTC's raison d'etre echoed the words of Francis: "I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center, which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures." 

Toward this end NTC faith leaders---Catholic and Protestant bishops and the Ulamas and Imams---"pray and struggle to bring to our people the possibility of a transformed society and a renewed leadership." To achieve this end, they said, "we have to listen to the poor" for after all, as Archbishop Arguelles put it, Jesus was not born in a palace like Herod's, but in a manger in shepherds' field. 

Or as Davao Archbishop emeritus Fernando Capalla put it yesterday, "This is the challenge to us as God's faithful, particularly at this time of grave trial and testing for our nation. We must let go of our comfort zones, go to the peripheries and find the poor, the powerless, the marginalized, the neglected, the persecuted, the afflicted and the forsaken." 

And what a story the poorer sectors had to tell. 


Timoteo A. Aranjuez has been a labor leader since 1959 and he recalled that while Marcos Labor Secretary Blas Ople sought to give workers a minimum wage, the martial law regime prohibited political demos. With the EDSA Revolution they regained those rights and employers and workers were together. Moreover, under the present Constitution, said Aranjuez, workers are supposed to enjoy security of tenure, living wages and a just share of the fruits of labor. But he asserts what's a well-know labor secret: that workers' security of tenure is jeopardized by some taipans' scheme of five-months work, five months no work (to enjoy continuous work one has to change one's family name, and the aim is obviously so that the employer does not have to get certain work conditions in place); and while workers received wage increase of P10 per day, fares of the MRT were raised two ways, neutralizing this increase. 

Aranjuez asserted that the Department of Labor belongs to the labor sector and the next secretary should come from the labor sector (this was widely applauded). He also noted that while 70-80 percent of the nation's wealth is controlled by only four families, the doctrine of St. Pope John Paul II is that labor is the creator of capital, not the instrument. This thinking, however, is clearly not shared by the capitalist sector.


Milandro Ramos, a Bulakeno who's president of the Association of Fishermen in that part of Luzon, notes that under RA 8550 the 15 km. shoreline became the property of the fisher-folk but this is far from being the case, for despite millions of kms. of shoreline there's no adequate housing for the fishing sector. It's a fact the fisher-folk constitutes one of the poorest sectors in the country. For instance, as Ramos pointed out, whenever there's a warning of a storm coming, "hindi na kami kakain" and their shanties are blown away.  

The representative of the urban settlers, Josefina Acedilla of Samar, is a resident of Taguig and a dynamic and irrepressible personality on stage. She sent the NTC crowd rollicking with laughter at her quips and jokes and at some point her statements reeked of doble entendre and faint sexual overtones that mercifully the religious folks in the assembly didn't seem to catch, or pretended not to. Acedilla confessed that it's the "maralitang taga-lungsod" who are always in the forefront of rallies and demos, but their lives are studded with problems too as life in the big city is tough. 


Life in the rural areas, though, is tougher, as Jerry de la Cerna of Davao Oriental, who represents the farmers' group, attested. A third-generation coconut farmer, Jerry became a priest in 1991 but he left the priesthood in order to pursue his advocacy, which was to stop illegal logging and illegal fishing. He stressed that the Philippines is the "spawning ground of the world," as fish of many many varieties come here to spawn; but because of failure to protect our seas from threats to our rich marine life, our country remains poor. 

On the other hand, Jerry points out that the coco levy imposed on coconut farmers during the martial law days has by now come up to a staggering P83 billion fund; moreover, while the Supreme Court already categorically declared the coco levy fund FOR THE COCONUT FARMERS in 2012, up to now this fund has remained intact and undistributed to them. The coco farmers remain among the poorest Filipinos and the coconut industry is moribund.  


De la Serna asked permission from the NTC-affiliated bishops for permission to go fasting for seven days in Lipa City and seven days in Cebu (he plans to survive only on coconut water and its meat) to beg God's help for the cause of the poor coconut farmers. I am not sure what the reaction of the bishops to his request was, but perhaps he and other affected coco-farmers' associations could ask the help of Senate President Franklin Drilon and former Sen. Edgardo Angara Sr. on how best to get hold of the coco levy funds for the farmers' benefit. 

Drilon and Angara were among the lawyer-partners in the ACCRA Law Office that Angara founded in the Marcos era, who crafted this coco levy fund scheme that the coco farmers considered so oppressive from the start. The least these powerful figures could do is to ensure IN CONSCIENCE that the SC decree is carried out now---to distribute the levy funds to the destitute coco farmers. 


From the above proceedings of the NTC Assembly in Lipa last Feb. 26, it's easily discernible that should the NTC be able to assume a care-taker role, prior to the writing of a new constitution for our country and parliamentary elections, it will be a NEW ERA for the marginalized sectors. 

As the NTC manifesto in Lipa put it: "The NTC will aim to have a new system of government where the lower levels, from the barangay to the municipality/city, province and region will have more power than the centralized, oppressive, power-hungry and greedy central national government presently holding sway throughout the whole archipelago. The great bulk of financial resources should be channeled to improve the lower levels of society. Paramount is the conviction that if the huge amount of taxpayers' money is used not for population control but instead for education/skills training and employment opportunities, the Philippines can prove to the world that population is the greatest asset of any country."

Monday, February 23, 2015

DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima accuses the National Transformation Council of trying to pull a coup d'etat and threatens its leaders with sedition for allegedly instigating a 'military-backed people-power uprising.' But she should realize that after the botched SAF operation, the AFP and PNP are so unhappy over embarrassing finger-pointing in public that they don't need any 'inciting' from civilian sector. Instead of threatening these patriotic NTC faith leaders Leila should listen to their admonitions.

Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla of Davao

Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa

The National Transformation Council (NTC) is composed of various leaders of the large nationwide faith community that includes Catholic bishops, Protestant pastors and ministers and Muslim imams and ulamas, as well as various professionals and civic leaders of many different citizens’ associations. It has been holding citizens’ assemblies since Aug. 27, 2014, kicking off in Lipa, Batangas, and hosted by Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, then on in Cebu City, Davao City, Angeles City, Butuan City, General Santos City and the latest again in Cebu City last Feb. 13, 2015 under the auspices of Ricardo Cardinal Vidal. in each assembly the call was sounded for President Aquino to step down and meaningful reforms to be ushered in.

I'm belaboring the point about the various NTC assemblies since Aug. 27 last year, for Justice Secretary Leila de Lima is now lambasting the NTC as allegedly “using the people’s grief to pervert a national catharsis," referring to the Mamasapano botched operation that resulted in the very tragic death of 44 SAF troopers, in addition to 18 MILF fighters and some civilians. De Lima now asserts that this “aggrupation of disgruntled GMA allies,”  has "crossed the line” in allegedly inciting the military to join its advocacy, so that she now says that the NTC “may be charged with sedition, rebellion or coup d’etat for instigating a military-backed people-power uprising.”


De Lima---yes, this is the same official who in a recent Senate hearing startled the nation by asserting that the PNP, being a civilian organization, does not have the chain of command that's operative in the military (!)---is once again confused about her dates and legal principles. The NTC began calling for people power way before the national tragedy of Mamasapano happened, and as any two-bit lawyer knows, calling on the people to withdraw support from a most unpopular president cannot be rebellion, but the exercise of freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed by the Constitution. 

The Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) led by Dante Jimenez sees this far clearer than the DOJ Secretary, and Jimenez laments that such threat from De Lima "further creates an atmosphere of anger among the people." He said the VACC, though not officially part of the NTC, "will challenge this threat of Malacanang before the Supreme Court."

As to inciting the military sector to rebel against the President, there is no evidence of the NTC doing that---unless of course, we see the military and police as part of the Filipino people, which they are and whom the NTC seeks to address. But listening to the Senate hearing this morning where AFP and PNP officials accuse and counter-accuse each other in the failed SAF operation and rescue, I think the Aquino administration is doing a splendid job of inciting both security forces to agree to a badly needed change of regime---even without help from disgusted private citizens.


Instead of deriding members of the NTC as coup-plotters, the voluble DOJ Secretary should praise them for their patriotism and love of country and listen to their admonition. For many of them have already achieved their mark and no longer need any personal embellishment, but because of love for country and alarm over the continuing destruction of institutions in this Aquino administration that should otherwise be the foundation of solid growth and progress, they continue to conduct forums to enlighten the people.

I’m talking, for instance, of 84-year old Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, the retired Archbishop of Cebu, who asked for P-Noy's resignation as early as August 2014. Or take 80-year old Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla of Davao, a man of deep learning and erudition who should just be enjoying the fruits of ripe retirement. Yet he chooses to shuttle between Davao and Manila because he cannot just watch the country be destroyed by incompetence and corruption. Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa is no surprise as a firebrand, for he is a true Batangueno, but take Zamboanga Archbishop Romulo de la Cruz of Zamboanga, who received his pallium of authority from the Pope only last September. De la Cruz has never been known to hesitate to speak out on vital issues, especially on Mindanao. 

These and the other archbishops associated with NTC are a true inspiration for its mass followers.


Or take youthful NTC spokespersons Atty./CPA Glenn Chiong of Biliran who has made the cause of clean and honest elections his own lifelong advocacy after having been cheated in the congressional fight in his province, thanks to the damned machine. Or lawyer-minister Greco Belgica who battled the DAP in the Supreme Court; Greco wants to serve in government but would not even dare to run as long as the PCOS machines are operative.

Leila de Lima with her warped legal theories cannot hold a candle to anyone of these outstanding NTC leaders. She makes heroes out of them by accusing them of fomenting a coup d'etat. 


Listening to resigned PNP Chief Alan Purisima and relieved PNP-SAF Commander Getulio Napenas trade accusations about over-all responsibility for the botched SAF operation that cost the lives of the 44 Fallen SAF and two dozen MILF combatants and one or two civilians was funny and painful at once. Funny because it was evident that both disgraced PNP leaders were trying to save their own necks by blaming each other; yet painful too because it made our PNP the laughing stock of the world, with the AFP as collateral damage.

Related to this tragic-comedy is that like so many other citizens, I found the idea of all these officers of both PNP and AFP commands TEXTING ONE ANOTHER about crucial developments that affected scores of lives revolting. Over the past month I have encountered fellow citizens who ask, why were all of them just using texts? Didn’t they have two-day radios? Whatever happened to the huge PNP and AFP budget?  Surely these officials know that texts can be delayed for as much as two hours because of some communication fluke. If there were no radios, the officers could have used their cell phones to call for more efficiency---INSTEAD OF TEXTING LIKE GIDDY HOUSEMAIDS. Was it the cost they were mindful of? With billions being spent by this government in fanciful items, what's the costs of cell phone calls in battle, really?).


At the Senate hearing this morning Gen. Alan Purisima asserted point-blank that the commander on the ground was responsible for the botched operation and he referred to Napenas. But queried by Sen. Francis Escudero as to who ordered Napenas to push the Mamasapano operation, he points to Purisima; but the latter, when confronted, denied it outright, saying that he had been suspended by then so how could he make such decisions. Actually his suspension was supposed to have been effected Dec. 4, yet Purisima was firing orders to Napenas up to the day of the operation, including the order to keep DILG Secretary Mar Roxas and PNP OIC Espina out of the loop regarding the SAF operation. 

Moreover, Purisima was seeking rescue for the embattled SAF troopers from his PMA class ‘81 classmate,Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, that very morning, and the latter found out about it only then and there. Time-on-target, it's called. 

Clearly Napenas is the fall-guy, but if Senate President Franklin Drilon would have it, Purisima should get the bigger blame as Napenas was merely obeying Purisima's orders up to Jan. 25. Purisima is Drilon's fall guy, but the ultimate responsibility for Mamasapano lies with P-Noy, as he hatched this operation with a suspended PNP chief and severed the line of communication with PNP OIC Leonardo Espina who could have effectively coordinated the massive operation with the AFP. Every senator knows P-Noy is to blame, but no one's saying it. The other two guys in this tight triumvirate, Purisima and Napenas, wouldn't be able to move one bit if the Commander-in-Chief---or whatever he's called in the PNP hierarchy, according to De Lima---did not authorize them.