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, February 22, 2017

That Joma Sison is urging Duterte to revive peace talks indicates that he & comrades must be feeling old, tired & anachronistic----good prospect for peace. Book of Genesis tells how God was pleased with His creations, but not for long, as man was not always good custodian---a timely reminder in our search for ways to use our incredible mineral wealth the way we ought to: equitably and with justice for all.



A pundit recently noted that even revolutionaries grow old. I'd add that perhaps they also feel anachronistic, that revolution has passed them by. 

This predicament seems to be true of my humanities classmate at UP Diliman in the early ‘60s, Jose Maria Sison, our longtime revolutionary on self-exile for decades now in Utrecht, The Netherlands, the roosting place for a number of Pinoy leftist leaders. Joma and his campus sweetheart then, Juliet de Lima, and I were classmates in various humanities subjects, along with many other colorful campus figures such as Lino Brocka, Behn Cervantes and Ishmael Bernal, who were to carve their names in drama and film, as well as Carolina Malay (who eventually became Mrs.Satur Ocampo) in journalism.

Our generation of UP students came under the tutelage of some of the greatest names in Philippine Literature---among them Francisco Arcellana and NVM Gonzalez,  dramatist Wilfredo Ma.Guerrero  and Josefina “JD” Constantino (who was better known as a fervent essayist and became an institution in the English Department, along with another legendary lady professor, Ching Dadufalza).  It was a fabulous generation at the UP then---both of professors and students. 


Joma Sison joined the English Department of the UP for a while after graduation, but he subsequently founded the Communist Party of the Philipines and eventually feeling the heat here, he soon left with Julie de Lima in the late ‘60s for the more hospitable shores of Utrecht; they have stayed there ever since, except for rare visits to Manila. Thus, when I read in PDI last Feb. 11 that Joma is advocating the resumption of the stalled (abrogated?) peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front, of which he was the chief political consultant, I concluded that---like all his contemporaries--- he must be feeling the merciless onslaught of age. He probably now longs for some peace and quiet and normalcy in life. 

Moreover, the lure of communism or even just socialism has passed, as some of the most rabid countries that had gone Communist in previous eras, such as Vietnam, and socialist countries in Europe, rival the most capitalistic of neighbors today.  Joma and company must feel kinda anachronistic where they are, in very prosperous Netherlands. 

It’s truly time to come home, Joma, before all your hair is gone, as otherwise we your classmates won’t recognize you anymore.


Sen. Loren Legarda also added her voice to the growing plea to President Duterte to resume the peace talks between the two panels, and the clamor is getting louder for good reason:  fellow Filipinos ought to stop killing one another and concentrate instead on building this nation of over a  hundred million into a just, equitable and humane society.

I throw my voice, too, to the growing clamor among fellow Filipinos to continue talks between the government and the Left. Let’s talk and wrangle with one another over terms of agreement, BUT LET'S ALSO STILL THE GUNS OF WAR that are slaying both AFP militia and leftist cadres in the remote areas--- the cream of our manhood on both sides---even as we sue for peace. Our folk in the rural areas should be serenading the ladies (nearly all Pinoys are good singers), dancing in the plaza and making love--not war.


Perhaps I have more right than many other people to advocate peace in our country for I have seen the sorrow and the suffering that war brings. In 1986, soon after Cory Aquino became President, my husband, then a brigade commander with rank of colonel and assigned in Cagayan, figured in an encounter with the NPAs just outside Tuguegarao. He survived the two-hour gun-battle, though badly wounded all over, but his deputy commander, Lt. Col. Alberto Sudiacal, perished with one gunshot wound in the forehead, leaving a wife and four young orphaned children.

A good number of soldiers were also slain in that encounter, and this was what prompted me later to found the “Alay sa Kawal Foundation” that until now comes to the aid of widows of slain AFP enlisted personnel.  Weeks after the ambush I ran into then NDF Chief Horacio “Boy” Morales and he apologized about the encounter that nearly snuffed my husband’s life. He looked like he really meant it.

What’s good is that the Duterte administration is open to resuming the peace talks with the Left, imposing a few conditions to make it happen. We have one of the longest-running revolutions in the world. It's time we stop killing fellow Filipinos and instead channel the many billions of pesos that go into armaments of war to the welfare of our people---a thriving economy, decent hospitals and quality schools.


The readings of last week’s series of daily mass in Catholic churches were all filled with stories from the Book of Genesis, regarding the fascinating epic of the creation of man and the universe.  The word “Genesis” was taken from the Latin Vulgate which St. Jerome---the only saint whose remains are buried next to the Sacred Spot where Christ is believed to have been born in Bethlehem--- translated from the original Greek. In the Book of Genesis God surveyed all the works in His Creation and was pleased.  He then placed man (personified by Adam) as the regent, the custodian of all His creations, so that he and his descendants---who would be as numerous as the stars and the sands of the shores--- were to partake of the bounty of creation.

As time went on, so goes the Book, God became very displeased with the way his stewards handled their responsibility toward nature, and He decided to destroy His creation. He ordered a holy man named Noah to build a super-ark where he was to place samples of all the animals in it, and then God sent the great floods that destroyed every living thing except those in Noah’s Ark. Afterwards, however, God promised never again to destroy the world in that manner, and he created the rainbow as symbol of that celestial vow. The descendants of Noah multiplied and took reign of all creation.


The Book of Genesis is good to recollect on, as our country is at a most significant crossroads on how to handle the incredible minerals that lie in the belly of our archipelago. After all the shouting, the question of what to do with this incredible mineral wealth boils down to this:  How do we make them work for the benefit of all Filipinos and not just for the rich and mighty, and the opportunistic?

Perhaps at the dawn of creation, the Lord had placed all these minerals beneath our earth to handle and enjoy, for as Star columnist Satur Ocampo noted, Philippine mineral wealth is estimated at US$840 billion (P41.9 trillion). Mining authorities stress that PH contains the third highest deposits of gold, fourth highest in copper, fifth in nickel and sixth in chromite. In fact, said Satur, of PH's 30-million hectare total land area, about nine million hectares have high mineral potentials.


That we have been blessed with so much mineral deposits is incontrovertible.  I recall some years back Cecile Alvarez and I interviewed Dr. Carlos “Caloy”  Arcilla, who obtained his doctorate degree in geology from the University of Chicago and taught there for about 10 years, and now heads the UP Institute of Geology. Dr. Arcilla was nearly tearful as he described to us the mineral wealth found in Surigao, how gold, silver and copper are layered generously there one on top of the other.

The question is, if we're so rich in mineral deposits, how come so many parts of our country remain so poor and undeveloped? How did other countries transition from poor to First World through the mining of their minerals?  

(to be continued)

Friday, February 3, 2017

Amnesty International (AI) is perceived by military/police as historically biased against them, but few would deny that AI’s report on “Oplan Tokhang” abuses has severely damaged PH---as 'Tokhang' is portrayed not as CRUSADE VS. DRUGS BUT TRANSACTIONAL, for the FUND of it. With Digong lifting ceasefire with Left, AFP can't share burden of anti-narcotics campaign with PNP. No scalawags please.

The campaign against illegal drugs that should be confined to 'Katok Pakiusap'  (Tagalog translation for Cebuano term 'Toktok hangyo' )  but which isn't followed by anti-drug units, as Amnesty International asserts in a searing report-indictment of President Duterte's war against illegal drugs. 

If you talk to military and police people, they’re liable to tell you that Amnesty International (AI)---the London-based human rights group that came out with a searing indictment of President Duterte’s seven-month war against illegal drugs---has had a long history of being anti-Philippine military/police--in other words, more left-leaning. 

Such assertion may be true, and yet it cannot be denied that a lot of its claims about abuses in the Duterte administration’s anti-narcotics campaign are very believable.  No incident has opened this realization more forcefully in recent memory than the brutal kidnap-for-ransom/murder of Korean executive Jee Ick Joo, where his widow paid P5million and still he was murdered inside the PNP camp itself---not far from PNP Chief Bato de la Rosa’s HQ and official residence.


The term “tokhang” came from the Cebuano term “toktok hangyo” which means knocking first before entering. Taking off from this monicker, the PNP drive against illegal drugs was supposed to be preceded by prior intelligence and verification of those involved, and subject to the police’s positive finding, arrest would be made.  In other words, surveillance before arrest.

“Oplan Toktok Hangyo,” however, ultimately was short-cut to “Oplan Tokhang” and that’s when the problem began. Its implementation soon became much-abused, with allegations of victims’ families, mainly from the ranks of the poor, that despite their coming across with funds, albeit far less than those demanded by PNP operatives, their kin were still summarily killed.


A retired military intelligence officer I know recently told me that the killings may have been abetted by the usual competition for results among operational units, with the usual “kanchawan” among them and the race to score the most hits. As this retired military opined, "nandiyan na ang binubugbog ni boss ang mga tauhan niya na magpakita ng gilas."

Thus, by the time AI’s report was published in the world press about alleged summary executions in PH that are being rewarded by the police organization--- allegedly P5,000 per drug user and P10,000 per drug pusher slain--- the bloody campaign had already claimed more than 7,100 victims. The AI report terms it PH’s “informal economy of death.”

The AI report may have damaged the Philippines’ reputation in this regard, perhaps irreparably, in the eyes of the world, so that the Duterte administration is now in consternation as to how to handle its fall-out, abate the killings that have escalated and solve the drug problem.


To be sure, President Duterte meant well in waging his brutal war against drugs, especially because the unlamented Noynoy Aquino administration had not done anything to curb its rise.  And as Mr. Duterte likes to boast, and rightfully, had he not arrived and tackled the bull by the horns, this country would have become a narco-state.

The problem, however, is that once funding of the campaign against drugs became synonymous in terms of body count---so that the profit angle seems to have blinded the eyes of some people in the police force---the payola appears to have become the prime motivation for their actions---instead of the common good and protecting the populace. INSTEAD OF A CRUSADE VS. THE EVIL OF DRUGS, AI PORTRAYS THE PNP DRIVE AS MAINLY TRANSACTIONAL---ADDICTS' BODIES FOR THE FUND OF IT. 

AI’s accusation that the PNP has used MONEY to motivate its people to kill those involved in drugs gained credence from testimonies of relatives of those slain.   


Now the anti-illegal drugs campaign has spun out of control, wracked by controversies among various sectors in the country and blistering criticism from foreign shores. What’s good, however, is that at least the Duterte administration has taken cognizance of the criticisms (having read the AI report in advance), and last week---even before the AI report came out publicly--- IT HAD  OFFICIALLY HALTED ALL ANTI-DRUG OPERATIONS, PENDING THE WEEDING OUT OF SCALAWAGS IN THE PNP'S RANKS. Recognizing that the PNP as an organization “is rotten to the core” Mr. Duterte wants to institute reforms.

His move is commendable, for even prior to the AI report hit our shores, the President apparently came to realize that if his anti-drug campaign is to become CREDIBLE, it has to be carried out by personnel who are credible and known for their integrity---not KFR mercenaries and criminal elements.  PROBLEM IS, HOW MANY SUCH PNP PERSONNEL ARE THERE? 


Two recent moves of Mr. Duterte, however, may not be the solution to the drug problem; on the contrary, these moves would expand and complicate it. He wants to call in the Armed Forces to arrest erring policemen, but this could only result in clashes between the two vital organizations. Besides, the AFP is already burdened with its peace-keeping role in the South. Moreover, THE PRESIDENT LIFTED TONIGHT THE CEASEFIRE AGREEMENT WITH THE LEFT---after a series of attacks by the NPA in the countryside.

As Mr. Duterte noted on TV, the breakdown of the peace talks between the government and the Left arose from the demand of the Left for the release of over 400 political prisoners---which he termed "UNACCEPTABLE.“ Obviously this development would call for more vigilance from the AFP, and thus it could not be actively involved in the anti-narcotics campaign.


Mr. Duterte’s other idea for handling the drug problem is to call the old Philippine Constabulary to be the lead agency of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). But the PC has been defunct for some time now, replaced by the PNP. Thus, as one columnist pointed out, there could be constitutional infirmities, because recalling the old PC to active duty would result in virtually two police forces.  Besides, even the old PC did not have such a great reputation---no anti-crime organization ever has, as this task constantly opens it to bribery.

The PDEA is the right agency to tackle the anti-illegal drug campaign, but it should be given enough personnel deputized from the PNP and properly screened, as well as a suitable budget to handle the campaign. Combating illegal drugs, however, cannot be the problem of the PDEA alone; rather, civic organizations, the churches, schools and other institutions have to be involved, especially in the rehabilitation of drug-addicts, if only to show the criminally-inclined elements that indeed, WE BELIEVE THAT THERE IS LIFE AFTER DRUG INVOLVEMENT, THAT THESE ADDICTS SHOULD NOT BE KILLED BUT REHABILITATED.  

Civic organizations can help put up and support drug rehab centers as well as livelihood training for those being weaned away from this disastrous preoccupation, while the various churches have to go into renewed spiritual formation of its followers and help put up rehab centers too, as some parishes have begun doing.  LGUs  have to go as well into alternative activities for today's listless, directionless youths---sports, cultural endeavors, informal schooling and skills training, etc.---to prevent idle minds from being the workshops of drug syndicates.

Combating illegal drugs is truly the fight of all Filipinos. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

I love Melania Trump’s blue-grey suit at Donald’ s inauguration, with its ultra-chic bias-cut overlapping bolero collar. Yugoslav-born new US First Lady to undoubtedly dictate fashion trends in America and the world, the way Jackie Kennedy did in early ‘60s. Barack Obama, who somersaulted from being a Chicago community organizer to White House, warns successor that he won’t be silent if America’s core values would be trampled upon.

US First Lady Melania Trump in gorgeous blue power-suit with exquisite bias cut collar. holding the Bible as husband Donald Trump takes his oath of office. 

There are a good number of things one can say about the American people, but what I admire most is their wholehearted dedication and militancy when it comes to defending their beliefs and rights. Take the mammoth crowds that converged and swelled in many American cities to protest the incoming regime of Donald Trump, the 45th US President, last Friday, with perhaps the biggest crowds assembled right in the heart of the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.---and in the dead of winter.

There were no estimates on the size of what has come to be called the "Women's March on Washington," but from media comparison with previous crowds it was well over 300,000.

News accounts also indicate that Donald Trump was sworn into office last Jan. 20 with the lowest acceptance rating in recent American history at 32%, and indeed the size of the protest crowds in various US cities supports this finding .


A parallel consideration was that most of those women marching vs. the Trump presidency were family people---wives and mothers with presumably small kids left in their homes. Consider further that unlike in our Filipino setting, where many of us have helpers or relatives we could leave our kids with, there are virtually none of those for US protesters and yet they filled that long narrow road in front of the National Mall in D.C. and in other cities, such as Chicago, LA, San Francisco, Detroit and others. 

Among the protest marchers in Austin, Texas was my niece Rochelle, daughter of my late brother Roger Olivares, who with her husband Justin Fleury, marched that day with their months-old baby girl, Sylvie, all bundled up for the winter, snugged close to her mom’s chest in a baby carrier. Could we do that here?


There were things I didn't like about the incoming President of the US, but there were also things I liked about the inaugural ceremonies. I just adored the gorgeous custom-made pale blue-grey power-suit worn by new US First Lady Melania Trump for husband Donald’s inaugural, as she held the Bible dating from Abraham Lincoln on which he took his oath before the US Chief Justice.

Like all political commentators I fight for what I say, alongside our male counterparts, but in terms of clothes and looking gorgeous, I am very much a woman and I loved the way the collar of Melania Trump’s suit was cut from two large bias pieces to overlap on each other. It was sartorial magnificence from Ralph Lauren.  

For the inaugural ball later that day, the Yugoslav (now Slovenia)-born former model stunned the fashion world when she wore a sleek off-the-shoulder cream colored dress with a thigh-high slit, “finished with a sculpted ruffle that cascaded down the front of the gown and cinched at the waist with a red ribbon."  That inaugural gown was designed by New York-based Herve Pierre who, accounts said, struck out on his own after having worked as creative director for famed Spanish label Carolina Herrera.   


Jacqueline Kennedy captures heart of French President Charles De Gaulle, prompting her husband, President Kennedy to say "I am the man who accompanied Jackie Kennedy to Paris"

It’s easy to see how former model Melania Trump will be dictating the fashion temperature not just for the US, but the world as well---the way the classy, inimitable US First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy did in the early ‘60s, when every woman (including this blogger) strove hard to look like her.  I remember how Jackie captivated French President Charles de Gaulle at the state banquet he hosted for US President John F. Kennedy and his lady in the glittering Hall of Mirrors in the grand palace of Versailles in the outskirts of Paris, where she wore a magnificent Balenciaga.  

So enthralled were the Parisians with the US First Lady, herself descended from French ancestors, that all President Kennedy  could say was, “I’m the man who accompanied Jackie Kennedy to Paris.” The Vassar and French-educated Jackie was credited with ushering the White House into a cultural renaissance, with culture historians still referring to the all-too-brief Kennedy reign as "Camelot."

Melania Trump promises to be as sensational-looking, albeit a bit wanting in culture and savoir-fair, so that our President Digong already admits to being "envious" of Donald Trump.

The Obamas taking a last look at the view from the White House

I also loved that photo of outgoing President Barrack Obama and wife Michelle looking out on Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House porch for the last time, just prior to their departure for the Trump oath-taking at the steps of the US Capitol.  The Obamas stood by the porch of what they had called home for eight years, arms around each other’s waist and their heads touching, perhaps whispering sweet-nothings. Sobra ang pagka sweet ng dalawang ito.

I also loved Barrack Obama’s farewell speech in his native Chicago just a few days before his second term ended, where he recalled the tough days at the White House and thanked the American people for their support for him. I must be truly getting on in years, for in the middle of Obama’s speech I found myself crying, feeling suddenly so sentimental about this boyish exiting President.  

That was quite ironic, for I was staunchly for Hillary Clinton in the bitter race between her and Obama for the Democratic primary in 2008. I cried buckets when Hillary made her concession speech in Washington D.C. after losing the nomination to Obama.  At that time, I just couldn’t believe that the former First Lady could lose to a guy whose best qualification for the toughest job in the world---being US President---was having been a community organizer in Chicago.

But to go back to Hillary Clinton, that was truly a class act she did---showing up for her bitter political adversary's inaugural, when the entire intelligence community of the US had been hammering about how Russia hacked the election returns in America where she was the protagonist and might have won had the anomaly not happened. 


The youthful first black President, who retired from the world’s toughest job at age 55, had a way of growing into the job---and on people. I especially like the way he warned his successor that he won’t keep silent if he finds American core values and rights being trampled upon by the new guy on the block (who's so much like our President Digong in that he says what’s on his mind without the seeming ability to bounce it first on his advisers).  As President Trump's regime is ushered in, the whole world is on tenterhooks as it tries to anticipate what he would say and do next.

Though Obama left a letter at the White House Oval Office for his successor---a time-honored tradition of outgoing US presidents to do---indicating doubtless some advice on how to survive the White House, Barack Obama made it clear---he won’t be silent if circumstances warrant that he speak out.  

As America undergoes not only a shift in leadership but also a generational gap between outgoing and incoming leaders, let’s pray that Trump’s presidency won’t be so disjointed as he leads the democratic world.