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

Monday, February 17, 2020

At our Radyo Balintataw weekly Sunday evening program, we tackled with CDO Rep. Rufus Rodriguez two crucial issues pending in Congress: the Visiting Forces Agreement that was unilaterally discarded by the President, and the fate of giant TV-radio network ABS-CBN




At the recent "Radyo Balintataw" program over nationwide dzRH, which Cecile Alvarez and I co-host every Sunday, 6-7pm., we invited 4th term representative of Cagayan de Oro Rufus Rodriguez as our guest. Rep. Rodriguez chairs the Constitutional Committee in the House and is also vice-chair of the House Committee on Justice, as well as a law professor in the San Sebastian College of Law.

Cecile and I focused on the two burning issues of the day: the recent, unilateral abrogation by President Duterte of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the franchise of media giant ABS-CBN, whose fate is now pending in the House of Representatives committee on franchises.

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At the moment there are only 180 days left in the House session,  to reconsider the status of the VFA between the US and the Philippines. This has prompted moves in both chambers of Congress to challenge the VFA issue---which goes to the very heart of the long-standing US-Philippine relations---before the Supreme Court, which has constitutional authority to review our treaties with foreign countries.

The move to raise the VFA issue to the SC has predictably drawn support from both chambers of Congress. Leading the move in the  Senate to raise this burning issue to the SC is Sen. Panfilo Lacson. In the House of Representatives, Deputy Speaker Johnny Pimentel  has filed a resolution urging the DFA not to abrogate our standing treaty with the US.

Not lost on political observers is the fact that this issue of the sudden proposed VFA abrogation came about in a moment of strong presidential pique. The President was enraged by the refusal of the US to renew the visa of his close friend and ally, Sen. Ronald "Bato" de la Rosa, on the grounds of the latter's less than desirable record on human rights.  Mr. Duterte may be credited for being a most loyal friend, but he certainly is acting less presidential than he should on this issue.

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On the other hand, as Rep. Rufus Rodriguez explained during our dzRH program last Sunday, the matter of franchises, which directly affects the fate of media giant ABS-CBN, is exclusive to the House of Representatives.

At the moment, as Rep. Rufus pointed out, there are already 13 members of the House who are for extending ABS-CBN's franchise and this number is expected to swell---a clear indication of the power and force of the media giant, among other considerations.

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Rufus Rodriguez stressed the particular interest of the Filipino people in these two burning issues of the day---the move of President Duterte to unilaterally terminate the VFA  and to close down media giant ABS-CBN.  The people's reaction to these two issues can be measured in the recent SWS survey.

As Rodriguez noted, according to the SWS survey, a whopping 93% of the Filipino people want to recover Mischief Reef, while a full 87% feel that the Philippines should assert its victory on this issue. This issue was embodied in the favorable ruling by the Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague during the administration of former President Benigno Aquino a few years back---which recognized  and continues to uphold our country's rightful position vs. China's claim to these islands in the West Philippine Sea.

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This large percentage of the Filipino people backing up our victory in the Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague, in turn, Rodriguez stressed, shows the large percentage of Filipinos' trust in America (78%), vs. 12% who are distrustful.

To the great frustration of many of our people, however, this sentiment appears to be ignored by the Duterte administration, in its pivot to our big aggressive neighbor to the North.  The administration's current closeness to China is being viewed as Mr. Duterte's protest over the US' refusal to renew the visa of his closest ally, Sen. Ronald "Bato" de la Rosa.

Recall that this US refusal on Sen. De la Rosa's visa renewal comes on the heels of allegation that the latter was a notorious human rights violator during his days as PNP Chief---when he launched a brutal crusade vs. alleged drug dealers, most of them minors.

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Rep. Rufus Rodriguez pointed out that the issue of the franchise renewal of the giant network ABS-CBN, lies within the domain of Congress and not of the Supreme Court,  but that a hearing has yet to be scheduled by the Committee on Legislative Franchise, which is headed by Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez. Rodriguez noted that the giant network has 11,000 employees and that its franchise expires by March 30 next year. 

This reality, Rodriguez said,  has prompted him to ask Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to start hearings on the ABS-CBN issue, perhaps in concurrence with the counterpart Senate committee headed by Sen. Grace Poe.

Very much involved in the Administration's battle against the giant network, the country's No. 1 radio-TV network,  is the constitutional provision on freedom of expression and of the press.  As Rep. Rufus Rodriguez pointed out, tremendous uncertainties spawned by a non-renewal of its franchise to operate would be very bad for the country in the eyes of the world. Moreover, Rufus stressed that the BIR has certified that the giant network has paid all its taxes.

So, what gives, other than immense presidential pique at this giant network?

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Coronavirus now in 27 countries around the world---and counting. The Duterte administration has to come down hard on those who allow Chinese tourists to enter our country indiscriminately during this crisis period.

Statistics from the New Coronavirus (NCov) are simply staggering, showing how tough it is--- and would continue to be---to control this new epidemic upon the world. In fact there is fear among scientists that this coronavirus could be fast reaching pandemic proportions that recall those scourges in the Middle Ages which slew thousands upon thousands of people all over the world.

 Starting as a virus in a market of wild animals and bird species in the city of Wuhan, capital of Hubei province in central China, the NCov has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO), due to the fact that there are now more than 27 countries around the world that have confirmed cases of the virus. This includes the Philippines, where one death was reported last week---a person who had been in direct contact with an ailing someone in Wuhan.

Soon after, a second case involving a Filipino surfaced, and today, the Inquirer reported of a 60-year old woman from Wuhan, who arrived in Cebu via Hongkong last Jan. 20 and went straight to Bohol. Two days later, she came down with fever  and colds and was admitted to a hospital there.

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The whirlwind development that ensued with the virus, in turn, prompted many governments to prohibit travel to and from China,  with the epicenter of the virus, Hubei province in Central China, in total lock-down of its more than 50 million inhabitants. Just the thought of feeding these 50 million people locked in Hubei daily is already a huge nightmare for the Chinese government.

Unfortunately, however, there's no  such thing as total isolation of the deadly virus, for Wuhan is only 175 kilometers southwest of the very large city of Shanghai, China's financial hub, and the latter city has already reported more than 200 cases, including one death.  As of today, Thursday, Feb 06. 2020, China has confirmed some 28,049 cases of the virus, with deaths nearing 500 and 3,850 reported to be severe. 

Wuhan alone is said to have some 25,000 people ill with NCov as of this day. 

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The NCov that's upon a broad part of the world, however, does not seem to have assumed pandemic status as yet at this point, for as of last Feb 04. some 15 countries around the world have tested negative. Russia was perhaps the first to close its long border with China. Other countries that tested negative of the NCov are the Czech Republic, Peru, Myanmar, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Austria, Mexico, New Zealand, Cyprus, Croatia, Switzerland, Greece, Denmark and Ireland. 

The Czech Republic has come up with a monofibre technology that could manufacture face masks that would limit the virus spread. This protective mask should be manufactured in bulk and scattered by governments around the world. 

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Our country is trying its best to cope with the deadly virus and one key to containing it is to follow government regulations strictly. It is troubling, however, that such cooperation does not happen too often. For one thing, the Duterte administration did dilly-dally a bit in shutting down travel to and from Wuhan, despite early pressures to do so as the virus became more menacing.

But even when the Philippine government had already ordered a shut-down of travel to and from Hubei province---the airlines that used to travel to China have been grounded--- the Inquirer today reported that Chinese tourists continue to stream into Boracay despite the ban on planes to and from China.   How some unscrupulous folks manage to get those tourists to defy the ban is the million $ question. 

The Duterte government should come down hard on errant travel agencies involved in the trafficking of Chinese tourists, as they are jeopardizing the Filipino people's health for the sake of more business. 

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What further aggravates matters for our country is that we host a tremendous lot of Chinese workers, young ones too and found mainly in the Philippine Offshore Gaming Offices (POGO). This makes it very tough for our government security to check these workers' movements in and out of our country. In addition, these Chinese workers frequently live in enclaves all over the metropolis that are shut off from the local authorities.

Recently there was news about Chinese women of ill-repute who come in and out of our country. It's easy to see that apart from the danger to our people's morals, they could also be harbingers of various diseases.

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The government just has to be strict about regulations affecting public welfare and come down hard on those who disobey our laws. Otherwise we'll reap ill winds and hell's to pay for our laxity. Awaiting the Duterte administration is the tough task of bringing home Filipinos mainly from China, where the virus epicenter is located. 

Planes have been mobilized to bring the Pinoys back from the stricken Chinese cities, and the plan is to quarantine them first in the Athletes' Village in "New Clark City," the recent site of the ASEAN SEAGAMES. Such mass evacuation will entail tremendous effort on the Duterte administration as well as enormous expenses, but all these would be well-worth it, as tens of thousands of Filipino lives are at stake. 

The least we citizens could all do is to cooperate with the government.  

                                               XXX

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Creation of the Department of Disaster Management, as proposed by Sen. Panfilo Lacson, is most sensible---in fact, ASAP PLEASE. In the light of continuous terrible abuses of our Filipino domestics in Kuwait, let's impose A TOTAL BAN vs. Kuwait and not just a partial ban, Secretary Bello.



Trust the ingenuity and resourcefulness of Filipinos in the face of disaster.  Take the ongoing quakes that continue to shake the towns around Taal Volcano since a few days ago. When news first burst in media about these quakes shooting up deadly magma and victimizing surrounding towns around the lake, which could possibly affect towns and cities as far away as Metro Manila, folks all rushed to stores to buy face masks to protect them from the deadly volcanic fumes. Pretty soon these stocks ran out and here is where the latent ingenuity of the Pinoy came shining through once again.

Women all over Metro Manila and environs searched their aparadors for old brassieres and even panties, cut them up and used them as improvised gas masks, or for the panties to at least filter out volcanic ash. In fact, news came that even some churches were  recommending using these bra cups. Photojournalist Mandy Navasero became the poster girl for the improvised gas mask.

Ah, Pinoys, we will never be helpless.

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Sen. Panfilo Lacson has made a most sensible and timely proposal: let's create a department dedicated primarily and exclusively to handling DISASTER MANAGEMENT.  It will be recalled that Lacson had directed the rehabilitation plan for communities affected by supertyphoon "Yolanda" in 2013. His idea is to create a permanent office under the Office of the President, that would handle IMMEDIATE AND SUSTAINED DISASTER RESPONSE.  

As he argues, right now the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) does not seem to be that effective, precisely because too many offices are involved---mainly chaired and composed of Cabinet secretaries who are not focused full-time on disaster and rehabilitation.

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I thoroughly agree with Sen. Lacson about the urgent need for A DEPARTMENT DEDICATED EXCLUSIVELY TO DISASTER MANAGEMENT.  At the rate our country is being hit by disasters that are natural, not political, in various forms every year, response has been helter-skelter. Recall that until now, the destruction of Marawi City has not yet been fully addressed and it's far from being rehabilitated. Recall too, that there have been a number of strong earthquakes that have rocked Mindanao in the past two months that have ruined buildings and homes. Even the havoc created by Yolanda nearly seven years ago has not yet been fully addressed.

Sen. Grace Poe supports Lacson's idea of a separate Disaster Management Department, as she noted that until now, relocation of families in danger zones from past calamities has not been fully implemented. She also noted---and I totally agree---that the NDRRMC is just a COORDINATING body which does not have sufficient powers to complete the job of rehabilitation. 

The two senators should file an urgent motion to create such a Department of Disaster Management.

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The Duterte administration has imposed a PARTIAL BAN on the deployment of Filpino maids to Kuwait. I say---and I'm sure a lot of our countrymen will agree with me---that we should have a TOTAL BAN on sending our Filipino women to that country to work as maids. Recall how a Filipino maid named Ofelia Dimapilis was mercilessly killed and frozen in a refrigerator FOR ONE WHOLE YEAR by her evil employer. While the employer was arrested and jailed, still, this was murder of a Filipino in the most gruesome way imaginable.

Then recall in very recent times a Filipino housemaid who jumped to her death from a tall building in Kuwait, to escape molestation by her employer. Then, just weeks ago, another Filipino maid named Jeanelyn Villavende came home in a box, with her skull cracked.

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Of all the Middle Eastern countries, Kuwait seems the most abusive of our women. The ban on deployment of our women to that country should not just be partial, but TOTAL  It is no longer just a mere matter of economics, but sheer national honor and dignity crying to high heavens for justice---not just for the housemaids who had died but for the entire Filipino people. 

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said the government is imposing a PARTIAL BAN which should serve as a "clear message" to the Kuwaiti authorities. I maintain that this ban is not good enough, Sec Bebot Bello, let's COMPLETELY STOP SENDING OUR WOMEN TO THAT AWFUL COUNTRY.  Better still, let us manage our economy well and eliminate corruption in government, so that we would be self-sufficient and not needing to sacrifice our women's honor and dignity at the altar of foreign labor. Let's train our women in dignified work and employment right here in our homeland.