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.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Did President Digong raise query on why illegal drugs find their way to PH from China? Another: why isn't it respecting in public statements recent Hague arbitral decision vs.its incursions in West PH Sea? China rates -36 in recent SWS survey of 1,200 Filipinos, which the infatuated President Digong should pay heed to. But there's also "blooming romance" between him and Russia's Putin, according to Standard. Infatuation, be it in love or war, can be dangerous, while romance a-blooming bears watching too.

Listening to President Duterte over the past days as he "pivots" (to use a popular word these days) to China and attacks the US, I'm reminded of the man who dumps his aging, unattractive partner for a serious infatuation with a seductive, ultra-generous young thing. The guy appears to be insanely in love with this younger woman, but the question is, how long would the infatuation last? Would he ultimately return to his older partner when the momentary thrill wears off? 

In fact the Inquirer photo today (Saturday, Oct. 22), showing President Digong and Chinese President Xi Jinping and other officials gazing at basketball superstar Yao Ming, their eyes clearly leveled only up to the giant athlete's elbows, seems to say it all about our leader's infatuation with China. Would disillusion with our northern giant neighbor eventually set in, throwing him back to good old USA's embrace?


One wonders if, during Mr. Duterte's state visit to Beijing, hard questions were asked. For instance, everyone knows that China has been the major source of illegal drugs for PH. Interestingly, it has now pledged US$9 billion to help in our development and, most significantly and ironically, in our acute need to rehabilitate perhaps millions of Filipinos who have been involved in illegal drug use. 

But we have to go to the basic question: has Mr. Duterte raised with China the issue of illegal drug trade carried out by Chinese nationals to PH, as an opposition member of the House of Representatives has stressed? One has only to see that some of the most prominent drug-traffickers in the National Bilibid Prison are of Chinese descent to realize this. 

Some years back, I was in the southern city of Guangzhou in China and I learned from our consul there that over a hundred Filipino drug mules were languishing in prisons there, awaiting final sentence. Was this issue taken up during Mr. Duterte's visit and did he plead for clemency for those who were mere innocent tools (or unwitting fools), as is customary in state visits? 


What about the issue of Scarborough and other islets in the West Philippine Sea? Was this discussed during the visit? While Mr. Duterte was there, an announcement came from the Chinese ministry that the Chinese are going to allow Filipino fishermen to fish in these disputed areas.  

The popular reaction in our country is that those waters---only 260 km. from the Zambales shores--- are OUR WATERS, THE TRADITIONAL FISHING GROUNDS OF OUR PEOPLE SINCE THE DAWN OF TIME. This was clearly spelled out in the stunning victory of PH vs. China in the decision of the UNCLOS-backed  Permanent Committee on Arbitration in The Hague, declaring Chinese incursions there illegal. The query in many minds: why are we accepting "permission" from China for use of our own waters? 


When China committed to fund some $24 billion worth of mega- project loans and services---proposed investments up to $15 billion and $9 billion worth of credit facilities---during Mr. Duterte's state visit to Beijing, he became quite euphoric and announced to the world our country's military and economic "separation" from the US, its ally for the past 50 years. In fact Mr. Duterte's embrace expansively plans to include another US rival, Russia. 

Thus, while he appears truly infatuated with our powerful neighbor to the north, the Manila Standard (Sunday, Oct. 23) already bannered the "Blooming Romance" between Vladimir Putin and Digong. Thus, in his very words: "...There are three of us against the world---China, Philippines and Russia. It's the only way." 


The President's pro-China stance was not unexpected since President Obama and the State Department had been ticking him on human rights violations and extra-judicial killings in PH, but it rippled across the world---especially in the light of the increasing rivalry between the US and China for dominance of the crucial sea lanes in this part of the world. 

As the "Daily Tribune" headlined, "Rody causes RP foreign policy confusion." As expected, his "goodbye to my friend (the US)" remark in China sent nations traditionally allied with the US, such as Japan, into a nervous fit. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to seek urgent clarification on Mr. Duterte's sudden turn-about when he visits Japan next month. 

On the other hand, the US is sending Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian affairs Daniel Russel to Manila this weekend to seek clarification on the government position. 


The Palace's strong favorable positions on China and Russia---and its announced "separation" from its traditional ally, have, of course, sent rattling ripples across the world, prompting attempts at clarifications by the Palace---yet again---of his ideas and utterances that should first have been carefully processed as these are not child's play. These are major policy statements he is making on behalf of the Filipino people. 

Thus, Fr. Eliseo Mercado of the Oblates in Mindanao was prompted to quip about the need to create a new bureau in the administration, to be named the "Department of Clarification." This bureau would surely turn out to be the busiest in Mr. Duterte's regime. 

Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario put the current dilemma for PH vis-a-vis the US succinctly: "The declared shift in foreign policy casting aside a longtime reliable ally to hastily embrace an aggressive neighbor that vehemently rejects international law is both unwise and incomprehensible." 

Infatuation with China, as I called it, but now also "a blooming romance" with Russia. 


Duterte's anti-US tirades have provoked those among our people who harbor anti-US sentiments, to come up with their own broadsides such as the US's longtime "bullying" as well as perennially sore issues such as the stiff visa requirements for Filipinos. Observation was made by resentful folks that while the US allows nationals of 38 COUNTRIES to enter the US WITHOUT VISAS, it has failed to grant such benefit to citizens of its long-time ally/friend, the Philippines. 

Getting a US visa can indeed be such a mortifying experience for ordinary Filipinos and there is a whole lot of  truth to accusations vs. the US. BUT MY WORRY IS THAT WE DON'T KNOW CHINA AT ALL and yet our President is opening our country to its full embrace. Recall that we have had running problems with China through the years as it asserted its hegemony over Asia. 

Interestingly, a recent SWS survey notes that Filipinos trust the US most and China least. The SWS survey conducted last Sept. 24-27 with 1,200 adult respondents on net trust rating of countries placed US at +66, Australia +55, Japan +34 and China at -36. The President should have reckoned with this failing grade of China before he even spoke up in Beijing and to the world about abandoning the US and embracing China asap.  


Moreover, he should realize that we have such a huge Fil-Am population that boosts up our economy from year to year, in remittances here said to be in the vicinity of $25 billion yearly. He should have reckoned with all these facts before making that sweeping "Goodbye, my friend (the US)." 

I am not a great lover of America---in fact I haven't been in the US in perhaps over two decades. But our ties with this longtime ally with whom we fought side by side in WWII cannot be severed just like that---because there are many huge implications and repercussions especially in the economic front. This is where Mr. Duterte needs so badly that SOUNDING BOARD OF IDEAS that this blog had earlier asked former President Ramos, who egged the then Davao mayor to run for President in the last elections, TO FORM ASAP.   

Infatuation, be it in love or in war, can be quite dizzying and dangerous. As for a "blooming romance," let's smell the flower first.  

Monday, October 17, 2016

"We have to listen twice as much as we speak" ---message of Davao Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla to old friend Digong Duterte, whose mother, Soledad, had once besought him: "Monsignor, help my son become a religious leader." Capalla pines for Digong who used to do "Bisita Obispo" every Holy Thursday. Current Archbishop Romulo Valles strong contender for CBCP prexy in July 2017, which may alter his current off-issues stance.

Davao Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla misses old friend Digong Duterte, whom his mother, Mrs. Soledad Duterte, had entrusted to his care soon after the Archbishop was installed on Nov. 28, 1996---20 years ago. In a recent conversation with this blogger, Capalla recalled the visit of Ms. Duterte where she told him, "Monsignor, can I ask you a favor? Can you help my son become a religious leader?" 

Apparently the then Mayor's mother had worried about the slew of killings in the southern city. 

Capalla stressed that Digong loved his mother very much and that "He would never contradict her." But now the old lady is gone and access to the President, once his good friend, has become very limited. 


Archbishop Capalla has reason to pine for old times. He recalled to me with a laugh how, every Holy Thursday, while the faithful would flock to the churches for the "Bisita Iglesia," Mayor Digong would instead come to see him at the Archbishop's Palace for a "Bisita Obispo," where they would chat about anything at all.

 At that time the Mayor would tell him, "When you speak as Bishop of Davao, I respect you." In fact, he would stress that "We should always remain as friends."

Now there is a yawning gap between them. Capalla recalls that the Digong he knew “was a very, very humble and respectful person .. I know he would really respect his mother and the church pero karon what he says about the church, (it’s) as if he does not know what it is all about.”"


Reading the MindaNews write-up on his sentiments, I called up Archbishop Capalla at his Davao residence, where he admitted that "“I am worried about Digong as a friend.”  Capalla, who turns 82 next month, opined that “I think (Digong) has a problem and we need to help him." 

He has asserted that his old friend is "in the course of self-destruction, without even knowing that he is ruining himself. I don’t know that he knows that, but because he is already there, we need to help him." How? "That’s a big question." 


Capalla's successor, Archbishop Romulo Valles, and his prelates are quiet on the raging issues about the new President, and the only voice heard is that of the retired Archbishop who strongly feels that "the Church cannot be stopped from preaching about morals."

But Archbishop Valles might not be able to sustain his seemingly detached stance. Currently also the CBCP vice-president, he stands a big chance to be elected the next CBCP President for a two -year renewable term, after current President Socrates Villegas, Archbishop of Dagupan-Lingayen, bows out in July 2017. Should he be elected then, Archbishop Valles may be thrust into a position where his current silence about criticisms of Duterte may not be tenable. 


Capalla was Auxiliary Bishop of Davao from 1975 to 1977, returned to the city as Bishop co-adjutor from 1994 to 1996 and Archbishop from 1996 until his retirement in 2012. On the other hand, Duterte was mayor for 22 years — from 1988 to 1998, 2001 to 2010 and 2013 to 2016.

In 2001 the Church in Davao under Capalla's leadership issued a pastoral letter titled "Thou Shalt Not Kill," which criticized the dreaded Davao Death Squad associated in the popular thinking with Mayor Duterte (it resurfaced as the "Prayer for Healing" in 2009 in the Manila Times). All the churches in Davao at that time bannered huge streamers in their facades vs. the killings, but now it seems that every one in the church hierarchy is quiet---except the Archbishop Emeritus. 


Capalla acknowledges that Duterte “really loves the people,” especially the poor. He said the people he's helping “are also suffering but they don’t mind. What they want is for him to listen to them so they could be helped. Sayang imong gibuhat na di nato malahutay (It would be a pity if what you’re doing can’t be sustained)."

As quoted by MindaNews, Capalla wishes to tell the President, "Listen. Listen. Listen. Digong, ang Ginoo naghatag kanatog duha ka dalunggan, usa ra baba (Digong, God gave us two ears and only one mouth)." Which means that we have "to listen twice as much as we speak.”


He continues: “The ears are important. But we should listen not only with our two ears but with the third ear OR THE HEART. Mao na akong message sa iya pero (That is my message to him but) will he accept that? Will he listen to that?”

“Listening is very, very important, even in a dialogue,” Capalla asserts, even though he cites the counsel of former President Joseph Estrada that "few words, few mistakes; no word, no mistake.” I cannot agree more: the virtue of meditation combines ardent speaking and patient listening. 


Capalla laments, however, that “It’s the reverse now. That’s why we are in trouble,” referring to Mr. Duterte’s expletive-laden broadsides and “I will kill you” pronouncements. His old friend, asserts the prelate, is making "colossal blunders."

“If he can only listen… listen to other people,” and not talk too much, earn friends instead of enemies, Duterte can become the “greatest President of the Philippines,” Capalla told MindaNews. 


Archbishop Capalla said his sentiment is shared by other friends of Duterte, but access to him has become limited since he won the presidency. Capalla had hoped he could talk with him last September 19 at the Bishops-Ulama Conference general assembly at Mergrande Ocean Resort, but while he confirmed attendance he didn’t show up.  

Archbishop Capalla, though retired, remains much sought -after as speaker. On Oct. 26 he travels to Laos for the "Global Forum on Moderation (Peace) where he will speak on his experience 20 years ago as co-founder of the Bishop-Ulama Conference with Dr. Mahid Motilan, the only Filipino with a doctorate degree in Islamic Theology from Cairo University in Egypt. 

This Nov. 17-19, Capalla will travel to Colombo, Sri Lanka, with Presidential Peace Adviser Jess Dureza at the invitation of the Sri Lankan government for a conference among Asean countries on Islam---with the aim of reviving the values of Islam.

Interestingly, retirement has not allowed this brilliant theologian and ex-primate of Davao City to retire, but his one big aim---to dialog and rekindle his friendship with his old friend Digong Duterte---seems still unattainable.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Spanish poet-dramatist Garcia Lorca’s immortal passage seems tailor-made for our topsy-turvy times to quote---as antidote to despair. FVR, now critical of his protégé Digong Duterte, should form a group respected by the latter, which could be his badly-needed sounding board for his volatile ideas and unprocessed sound-bytes.

Two years ago this time, I was having a marvelous time in Spain after I won free business-class round-trip tickets at a bazaar event, courtesy of Qatar Airways, and Facebook today reminded me of my post that time from Madrid.

I had posted a beautiful passage from the great Spanish poet and dramatist, Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936), which was scribbled on the wall of the stairway of a little pension in the Spanish capital, which I read as my son Conrad, daughter-in-law Myra and I huffed and puffed as we carried our luggage up to the third floor (no elevator, as with most European pensions).

Lorca had written: “Cuando la vida te presente razones para llorar, demuestrale que tienes mil y uno razones para reir” (trans: When life presents you reasons to cry, demonstrate to it that you have a thousand and one reasons to laugh). Can I add, to live and to love?


|Federico Garcia Lorca’s passage sat well with my FB readers, as attested by Fr. Chito Dimaranan, preacher and mentor of many writers, who commented as follows: “ I ripped this (passage) shamelessly from Belinda Olivares-Cunanan's wall (Muchas gracias!)."  Fr. Dimaranan then translated Lorca’s passage “roughly” into Filipino thus: "Sa pagkakataong ang buhay ay nagbibigay ng sanlaksang dahilan sa iyo para tumangis, ipamukha mo sa kanyang mayroon ka ring isang libo at isang dahilan upang hamalakhak at magalak.”

Fr. Dimaranan then dedicated those lines “to all those who have lost count of reasons for them to cry, but continue to find reasons to laugh, love, and live!”


Federico Garcia Lorca’s lines seem tailor-made for us to quote (muchas gracias, Fr. Chito Dimaranan, for the reminder) in these times when our world as Filipinos appears so topsy-turvy and we don’t know whether to laugh or cry or do both at what’s happening in our terribly shattered political world.

This afternoon, I was at the doctor’s office in St. Luke’s Hospital Global, when a guy walked in and asked the two receptionists, “Did you watch today’s hearings at the House of Representatives?” He was talking about the witnessing by Jaybee Sebastian, convicted drug lord-inmate at the National Bureau of Prisons, vs. former Justice Secretary and now Sen. Leila de Lima and her alleged intimacies with one  of the inmates, even as she allegedly was receiving generous amounts of LP campaign funds from drug lords. “What a country!” exclaimed this fellow, a mix of incredulity and despair ill-disguised in his voice.  

Indeed, what a country, and in the darkness we’re going through with all the exposes about the drug world and corruption in high places, there ought to be conscious effort to present a thousand and one reasons to laugh, love and live, as Federico Garcia Lorca had recommended. Such effort has to be heroic for even as it’s tough to appreciate what our nation is going through, WE CANNOT GIVE IN TO DESPAIR. 


Former President Fidel Ramos is one of those Filipinos who appear to be having a rough time reconciling themselves with the mouthful of excesses verbalized by President Duterte vs. prominent international personages and institutions---a predilection that’s now being attacked in various media outlets around the world. The worst attack so far has come from the French “Liberation” newspaper, which bannered the Philippine President as “a serial killer” and hit his attacks vs. President Obama, Pope Francis and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, among others.

In his column in a local broadsheet, FVR didn’t bother to hide his disappointment over the guy he had handpicked and encouraged to run for President, asserting that “we find our Team Philippines losing in the first 100 days of Du30”s administration---and losing badly.”  FVR lamented that Mr. Duterte got stuck in “unending controversies about extrajudicial killings of drug suspects” and his predilection “to resort to cuss-words and insults instead of civilized language.”

President Ramos must feel worse than most of us, as he had a direct hand in convincing the longtime Davao mayor to run for president last May. Moreover, in his long public life, FVR many times was on the verge of losing his temper, but somehow he always managed to just grit his teeth instead of exploding openly. Steady Eddie, they termed him---always measured in his speech. Which is probably why he's shocked at his protege's language.


There is indeed such a dichotomy between the way supporters of Duterte (who, by and large, is said to still enjoy a net satisfaction rating of +64%, which the Palace is cheering) continue to regard their guy with a great degree of idolatry I've not seen in my long years of covering politics, vs. the way much of the world by now view him with ill-concealed disgust. This is because both sides come from opposite ends of the human spectrum.

The Dutertards are happy that for the first time there’s a leader who has the guts to tackle head-on the problem of drugs which has affected some 90 % of our barangays, so that now they feel safer in the streets.

One evening, after attending a function at Tesoro’s Handicrafts in Makati, I couldn’t communicate to my driver who had parked somewhere---and probably fell asleep with a silent cellphone.  No one at home could come and pick me up---and all the other guests had gone. In my desperation I had to get into a taxi at nearly 10 pm. Mercifully the cabbie turned out to be an ex-Navy guy who was familiar with my late brother-in-law, former Navy Chief Admiral Carlito Cunanan. We chatted all the way to my place and he asserted that cabbies like him now feel a lot safer than before, when durugistas would just poke a pocket-knife in their side to demand money.


Problem is that abroad, especially in the more politically-developed countries, certain standards such as human rights are carved in stone, and the fact that over 3,000 people have been killed in the Duterte administration’s ferocious anti-drug war in his first 100 days, and his line about Hitler have spawned the perception of “serial killing.” One can imagine how accusation of his being a "psychopath," as Agot Isidro had the guts to assert, has gone viral around the world. As the head of the European Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines, Guenter Taus, put it, investors are asking if the anti-drug war "REDUCES THE RULE OF LAW" (emphasis BOC's).

Several things could be done to avert more catastrophe. FVR should get a group that President Digong respects, but who could tell him a thing or two about  how he can’t afford to further lose the respect of the world---as it’s going to gravely affect even our economic well-being.  This group could be Mr. Duterte's regular---and imperative---sounding board.

Then too, the Duterte fanatics should stop being too fanatic and get down to reality---and also tell him a thing or two, if they love their country. They should tell Mr. Duterte to, as Davao Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla put it, 'LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN."