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, July 9, 2018

In a country where poverty and limited education exist, involvement of some politicos in drug trade is foregone conclusion. Bong Go's beautiful wreath lined up with those of prominent politicos in De Venecia sister's wake and his huge billboards along the highways going north are sure signs that he'll run for the Senate in 2019.

Friends and followers of slain Mayor Antonio Halili of Tanauan, Batangas, give him a hero's burial (photo from the Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Five local officials have already been killed in a most violent way---shot in cold blood mostly by riders in tandem---and the prevailing suspicion is that they were eliminated because of their involvement in the drug trade. Their families have staunchly denied the accusation; nevertheless, there are certain realities that must be looked into in these unfortunate incidents.

One is that mid-term elections are coming up next year and it's possible that these local politicians were eliminated by their opponents. That a number of local officials become victims of brutality prior to or during elections is a fact of life in the Philippines, as politics is extremely local and so much is at stake for each political family. Since time immemorial politics here has involved dynasties and the tendency is to consolidate forces to preserve dynastic rule in various areas for generations.


In recent weeks, however, a new phenomenon has surfaced which was just being whispered about in past elections, but which has now been elevated to a major factor, with the coming mid-term elections---mainly because President Duterte recently raised this specter. This is the possibility that politicos who were eliminated were linked to the drug trade. There is a supposed list held by the Palace of local officials involved in drug trafficking, and the popular belief is that those officials killed in recent weeks were among them---victims of the administration’s brutal campaign against drugs.

In fact, following the high-profile killings of Mayor Ferdinand Bote of Cabanatuan and Mayor Antonio Halili in Tanauan City, members of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) are now pressing for a dialogue with President Duterte, in an effort to understand what's going on in the so-called campaign against "narco-politicians" and the seeming culture of impunity and violence. 


The administration’s campaign against drugs is not bad per se---as it is obvious that this societal menace has proliferated in our nation especially with the inaction of the previous regime. It has seriously affected the peace and order situation in many parts of our country. At this point, however, despite the administration's efforts to eliminate it,  it seems impossible altogether for a number of reasons---the most significant of which is that it appears to be funding the election campaign of a good number of politicians. 

It's a chicken-and-egg situation. To win in this country, even in the littlest barangay, in many places politicians have to buy votes---in fact, in the latest barangay elections, many pols spent disproportionately huge funds to win. But the terrible fact seems to be that much of these funds may be coming from the drug trade flourishing in various municipalities across the country. 


In turn, the propensity of Filipino voters to sell their votes stems from the pervading poverty and poor political education of our people at the grassroots.  Extracting funds in return for their votes is the poor's revenge on their politicos who have been negligent over the years. In fact, politicians seek to raise funds to finance expensive election campaigns even at the barangay level. Because of these realities, a good number of politicians have turned to illegal ways of amassing campaign funds, and apparently, judging from Mr. Duterte's pronouncements, the most lucrative is the drug trade. 

Mr. Duterte is said to have a list of the politicos involved in this nefarious trade and the five killings in recent days are being regarded in some quarters as proof that his men are behind the slayings. This is why local politicians now clamor to dialog with the President---to clear themselves of involvement in the drug trade or have their names stricken off the presidential list of narco-politicians---lest they too fall victim to slayings. . 


The trouble, however, is that elimination via the anti-drug campaign could also be a way for some candidates to get rid of political rivals. It is indeed a worrisome thing any way one looks at it. We Filipinos can only long for and pray for the factors that will establish a strong and vibrant state we can truly be proud of---clean politics that greatly reduces poverty and raises the educational level of our people. 

Sadly, what we have at present is a lot of unmitigated poverty, a large mass of uneducated and poorly employed people totally dependent on unscrupulous politicians, whose only aim seems to be to get to power by hook or by crook and stay on top ad infinitum.  More by crook obviously, the way the drug war is flourishing. 

Presidential Assistant Bong Go (from ABS-CBN Photo)

Presidential confidential assistant Bong Go is rumored to be eyeing a Senate seat in the coming mid-term elections. At first it was impossible to think of such ambition from this super-loyal but very low-key aide of President Duterte---who has been with him for many years and is perhaps the closest to him. 

I've seen and observed politics in this country for many decades now. Years before Eggie Apostol, Letty Magsanoc and I set up the Philippine Daily Inquirer, I was recruited by the great Eggie A. to be a political writer for the black-and-white Mr/Ms. Magazine that she converted from an innocuous women's magazine full of recipes, baby care and advice to the love-lorn, into a political weapon against Ferdinand Marcos. It was the epitome of the powerful mosquito bite that grew epidemic. Since then I have known how to watch out for political signals. 


Three days ago, at the wake at Heritage Memorial Park for Ms. Aurora de Venecia San Jose, elder sister of former Speaker Jose de Venecia, lo and behold, Bong Go's beautiful flower bouquet was neatly displayed alongside the wreaths of the most prominent officials of the land. Moreover, from Pampanga all the way to the Ilocos billboards bearing Bong Go's huge photo may be seen.  

All these signs I take to mean that for sure it's a Go for Bong Go for senator in the mid-term elections of 2019. Whether he will win is another question, as recent surveys show him in the near bottom rung. Will President Duterte's campaign for him shoo him in?  

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

President Duterte is entitled to his opinion about God, but considering that he's Head of State of a deeply religious people, he would be well-advised to keep his rants to himself. Senate Minority Leader Drilon and former National Security Adviser/ex-DND Chief Norberto Gonzalez bat for closer scrutiny of Phil-Chinese relations in view of troubling realities.

President Duterte in an expansive mood---too expansive this time vs. God.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon complains about far lesser FDIs from China, compared to Vietnam's gain.

Former Defense Chief & National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzalez wants closer scrutiny of enormously increasing Chinese presence in PH

The Philippines’ relationship with China continues to be on the front burner these days. Notably, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and former National Security Adviser and former Defense Secretary Norberto B. Gonzalez have noted the lopsidedness of relations between our two countries and call for rectification measures.

For instance, Sen. Drilon pointed out that Vietnam and Malaysia have enjoyed far more benefits from China than the infinitely more accommodating PH. He stressed that Vietnam has been far more aggressive than we have been in dealing with China in the South China Sea issue, and yet Vietnam has secured foreign direct investments (FDIs) from China of US$2.1 billion, whereas PH only got a measly US$31 million. On the other hand, bilateral trade between China and PH resulted only in US$21.94B, whereas trade between Vietnam and China yielded US$71.85B.

In view of these lopsided realities, Drilon has called for a review of our diplomatic and trade relations with China, and rightly so. It seems that when one is too obliging, one is taken for granted---so true in the China Sea issue. 


Former National Security Adviser and former Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzalez also raised the alarm about China’s motives toward PH in a well-written paper circulated in social media, titled “The Nation Needs a Contingency Plan. A Chinese Invasion?”  Gonzalez echoes what the late Rep. Roilo Golez had been advocating up to his last day on earth. While being interviewed at ANC on this subject, Roy tragically collapsed---a great loss to our country! 

Like Golez, Gonzalez maintains that parts of PH territory in the China Sea “have been occupied, fortified and covered with facilities that are plainly military installations.” With these, he stressed, “China has erected forward operating bases in our territory which definitely pose a serious threat to our national security.”

These are valid claims, but what’s equally interesting is Gonzalez’s reading of President Duterte's public assertion that China’s President Xi Jinping would not allow him to be ousted from power.  Gonzalez cited the opinion of  some international security analysts who tied the President's statement to what appears to be China’s plan for "major intervention" in PH.


Norberto Gonzalez’s reference to major Chinese intervention has, in turn, given rise to his observation, shared by many in various parts of  this country--- that the Chinese have been leasing properties here to develop into economic zones, among others,  in Cagayan, Bataan and Palawan.

The interesting thing, however, is that while foreign developers of eco-zones normally bring only their technical people and hire locals as rank and file employees, the Chinese are different.  Observers have noticed that in various localities, Chinese lessors are bringing able-bodied people by the hundreds, instead of tapping the abundant domestic labor force, as other nationalities are doing. It has also been noticed that some condominiums in Metro Manila, especially in the less pricey areas, teem with Chinese tenants. 

Former National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzalez, in his paper, has advocated that Congress rush legislating a National ID system and its proper implementation.  This seems a wise imperative for Congress---asap please.


Predictably, many citizens are very upset over recent pronouncements by President Duterte attacking not only the Catholic Church and its bishops and priests, but also God Himself, calling Him “an idiot” and “stupid.” His latest attack appears to have been triggered by protests from the CBCP hierarchy over the unexplained murders of three priests in various localities.  Protests by Church hierarchy over these violent episodes may be justified,  as until now there is no clue to the dastardly slayings.

From excerpts published by the Inquirer, the President has been on attack mode against God and the Church over some time in various places, including in South Korea, before the Filipino community during his recent state visit.  His attacks were also aired in his native Davao City, in Sta Rosa, Laguna, in Cavite, Cebu, among other places.  

No other President has done this sort of thing before.  Mr. Duterte’s  angst, as he admitted openly, is said to have stemmed from his teen years, when he was allegedly fondled by a foreign priest in Davao City. That was a regrettable episode indeed, and there was a time when similar episodes surfaced to capture the citizens' attention---including psychologists and theologians.


Thus the episode involving what Duterte calls his “rapist” apparently is still very much part of his angst and it has now extended toward God whom he termed "an idiot." Sadly, his attacks are most divisive and unbecoming of a head of State. A former Philippine ambassador to a European country recently observed to me that not even Hitler brought his attacks against the Church to such level. 

The Church as an institution is not perfect---what human endeavor is?---but to attack it in the virulent manner that Mr. Duterte employed is absolutely no gain for him as well as for our country, as it brings the level of discourse to a new low. There is such a thing as good manners and right conduct for ordinary mortals but most especially for the Head of State. Mr. Duterte's rants could be the offshoot of the medicines he is taking and perhaps this should also be addressed.


Palace apologists insist that Duterte was just exercising freedom of speech when he cursed God---a laugh of a defense as there are limits to any freedom. He could rant and rave in private about his religious beliefs but as head of state, attacking in public the God of the people he serves and who elected him by an unprecedented margin is an absolutely no-no.

Centuries of involvement with the Church and Faith have made Filipinos a deeply religious people.  Their faith and love for God and Church is so rooted in their hearts and psyche, and while outward devotion to the Church may have waned somewhat in the younger generation as a result of modernism and foreign influences, still, it cannot be denied that the vast majority of Filipinos still revere God and the Church that represents Him on this earth.

Attacking them in such a virulent manner is a no-win situation for Mr. Duterte, and Palace apologists terming his tirade “freedom of speech” are desperately plumbing the depths of reason.  

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Various groups, most notably the security sector, express apprehension over certain clauses the MILF insists on being included in the BBL that's being hammered out by Congress. Duterte is right: peace negotiations with NDF should be held here and not in The Netherlands

Lt. Gen. Edilberto Adan (now retired), welcoming then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo upon her arrival from abroad e years back.

Over the past two Sunday segments of our “Radyo Balintataw” talk-show over dzRH, Cecile Guidote Alvarez and I concentrated on various aspects of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL)---the positive and the negative side of it---in an effort to help shed light on this most crucial legislation that’s expected to be passed by Congress in time for President Duterte’s “State of the Nation Address” on July 23.  

Two Sundays ago we had as guest Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado, OMI, who has spent many decades in Mindanao. Fr. Mercado is  quite optimistic that the passage of the BBL---due for reconciliation in the bicameral conference committee of Congress from July 9-13---would help address some of the historical injustices to the Bangsamoro people, and bring about peace and prosperity to the more impoverished areas of that huge island down south.


Unarguably, the proposed BBL---far from being the panacea for all of Mindanao’s ills---will have to reconcile many features to be raised between the Senate and the House. Earlier tonight over dzRH, we invited former PMA Superintendent and former Southern Command Chief Lt. Gen. Edilberto Adan,  (ret.)---PMA class 1972 and now trustee and co-chair of the committee on national security of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations---to share with the nation the apprehensions of the "security sector," the military and police---over certain moves that the Bangsamoro is pushing in the proposed BBL. 

For instance, Gen. Adan noted that there appears to be an absence of MILF renunciation of its avowed goal of independence and the establishment of an Islamic State. Moreover, he stressed that certain "repetitious" words and phrases such as "asymmetric relationship,"  "aspiration for self-governance" and "right to self-determination" suggest equality of rank between the Philippine government and the Bangsamoro---which cannot be allowed. 

In fact, Sen. Franklin Drilon is reportedly objecting to the "self-determination" clause in the BBL, and he rightly asserted that it could be taken to mean political independence for the dissident group. 


Just as sensitive, the term "normalization" as defined in the BBL's mother document, the "Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro" of October 2014, did not mandate disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. Moreover, it would seem that MILF armed groups would continue to co-exist with the AFP in the same 30 year-period prior to the end of the plebiscites on the BBL.  

There's huge worry too that actual decommissioning of MILF and MNLF armed elements would be quite tough. Recall that this issue was among the thorniest during the negotiations in Northern Ireland in the 1990s vis-a-vis the IRA.. 

These are just some of the nitty-gritty that would have to be threshed out in continuing negotiations between government and the Bangsamoro over the next many months. The common goal should be genuine peace and reconciliation in our beloved land, but it would seem from initial salvos that negotiations would be quite rocky. 


I don’t always agree with President Duterte’s views and policies, but in his latest advocacy---to hold the peace talks with the Communist Party in our country instead of in Utrecht, The Netherlands---I completely agree with him.

For years now the government has been conducting peace talks with the communist leaders in Europe, mainly in The Netherlands, which has been a most expensive undertaking for the government. But so far, nothing much has been achieved despite the frightful expenses involved, with support from some European governments. 

Moreover, these communist leaders have lived abroad for so long that they may be quite removed from the current reality back home. How can they speak for the broad masses of Filipinos if they have been merely luxuriating in the European way of life, courtesy of some foreign governments. Recall the term "steak commandos?" 


My classmate at the UP many decades ago, Jose Maria “Joma” Sison as well as a few other NDF elements who were contemporaries of ours have been living in The Netherlands for close to 50 years now. Obviously they are averse to coming home until conditions they seek to promote are imposed. If they are waiting for the country to come under Communist rule, however, I suspect that they would have to wait forever.

Communist insurgency in the Philippines is said to be the longest-running in the world---by now over five decades---and many lives have been lost on both sides.  The price the Filipino people are paying for peace is quite steep, yet it remains extremely doubtful if communism could be imposed here, as Filipinos are naturally averse to its doctrines, which run counter to our deep abiding faith in God.


What should happen is for both sides to focus on real reforms. On the government side, more efforts toward eradicating poverty principally by marshaling precious resources toward that end, instead of their being siphoned off to or squandered by politicos through corruption and flagrant spending.

On the side of the Communists, there is need to show genuine concern for the country and our people. They should recognize that instead of the revolution that they have been dreaming about for 50 years to succeed, what would be more meaningful would be to help eradicate poverty and social injustice. Peace and order is a vital ingredient here. 


The President's  concern for the poor seems genuine enough.  If he could just discard his erratic, ill-thought out and vengeful ways at times, he may be able to lift the country out of poverty and backwardness as he has substantial support across the social classes. 

Education is one sure way of eradicating poverty and the recently passed law allowing FREE EDUCATION AND TRAINING in state colleges and universities---if funded adequately by Congress---should help alleviate the extreme poverty that's luring some of the broad masses to the insurgents. 

Corollarily, there should be less extravagance on the part of government officials and definitely less corruption.