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.

Friday, October 6, 2017

In his address before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Davao Chapter, President Duterte was caustic and angry one moment, and philosophical and musing the next. He invited Morales and Sereno to resign with him, next moment he stressed that it will have to be the army/PNP to cause him to resign or stay.

President Duterte applauding a number at the IBP Davao Chapter oath-taking last Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017

I stayed up late a few nights ago listening to a re-broadcast of President Duterte in a long rambling speech at the Davao SMX Convention Center, during the oath-taking of new members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Davao Chapter.  He ranted and raved in a monologue for what seemed like two hours, during which the lawyers about to take their oath were largely stony silent---not knowing how to react perhaps to some of the things he was saying.  Just stony silence, punctuated once in a rare while by some applause.

To be sure, Mr. Duterte had eloquent passages, such as when he quoted the saying, “I only pass through this world but once, so all the good I can do, let me do it now.” Also, the oft-quote from Ecclesiastes about a time to live and a time to die. At some point he mused that “If God is perfect, why is there so much imperfection.” And how “life is so incongruous by itself...but that it depends on you”  and “A thousand lies run everyday acquires the semblance of truth.”


But most of the time, the President was caustic and angry about how two or three policemen are being killed every day in the drug war, and how “people take so lightly the addiction that has now run into four million people involved.”  He said he would not take the drug war sitting down---“if you indulge in it, it will bring out the worst in me” and “I can match your insanity also.”

Mr. Duterte peppered his ramblings with the usual curses, which the broadcasters sought to soften by papering it over with some visual effects or  rendering some utterances garbled;  hence that night the studio technicians were the busiest folks in Davao City. 


What seemed to irritate the President most---quite understandably---was an earlier suggestion from Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and upheld  by IBP National President Abdiel den Elijah Fajardo, that Mr. Duterte should not be “onion-skinned.” It's interesting to note that the Ombudsman is the sister of Mr. Duterte’s "balae" (the father-in-law of Davao Mayor Sara Duterte). 

Thus, Morales' admonition to the President not to be "onion-skinned" must be  particularly irritating, considering that they are really just one family. Mr. Duterte vehemently objected to the allegations raised by Morales about possible bank accounts here and abroad owned by the Duterte family.


But Mr. Duterte’s arch-critic, Sen. Antonio Trillanes, had hurled the challenge to the Ombudsman to scrutinize those supposed accounts, and under the rules of her office, she was duty-bound to look into these allegations of hidden wealth. But the President stressed that he will not submit to the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman.

Mr. Duterte has admitted that he probably stored up some P40 million maximum in banks---“lifetime savings”---and he exhorts Land Bank in the process to come up with the right figures about his salaries over many years of public service, beginning with his 22 years as mayor of Davao.  He has accused the Ombudsman of fabricating evidence “illegally obtained,” in order to make it appear that he has hundreds of millions in banks. The accusations, said, he, “are pulling down and eroding his leadership,” “an attack on my honor,” adding that “What happened to (the late Chief Justice Renato) Corona is happening to me.”

The President stressed that all that’s being raised about hundreds of millions of pesos allegedly in his bank accounts are pure lies.


It was at this point that the President raised the proposition that the three of them RESIGN together, simultaneously---he, the Ombudsman and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.  He challenged the two highest women officials to go to Congress---“the three of us---and let us sign letters of resignation." Mr. Duterte stressed that the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) has denied releasing any documents about his funds; hence, he said, the figures being bandied around by Morales and her staff were pure fabrication.

Here Mr. Duterte seems to reserve his biggest ire for Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang, who, he asserted, has given the Filipino public the impression that the AMLC had shared pertinent documents about his alleged bank accounts, when, in fact, thundered Mr. Duterte, Carandang, under tremendous duress, later admitted that he got the figures only from media.


A while longer into the presidential monologue in the Davao SMX Convention, he retracted his earlier offer to the two most powerful women he was at odds with, to resign with him. “I will not resign,” he said categorically. But who will decide on the issue of the leadership of the country? Duterte said without hesitation: it will have to be the Police and the Armed Forces.

And to Deputy Ombudsman Carandang he had a parting shot: "Pag nagka-leche leche ang Pilipinas, uunahin kita (If something happens to the Philippines, I will make sure I’ll get you first).”  And as though for emphasis, Mr. Duterte said: Ilang pulis dito ang binimbang ko, ang ilan ay sinampal ko.

He did not spare the family that had owned the Inquirer for some 25 years.  Said the President: Any amount collected from government property should be surrendered to the government. "Kayo pala ang magnanakaw, i-surender na ninyo ang property na yan at gagawaan ko ng bahay iyon para sa mga mahihirap."

His parting shot to the Inquirer owners: You who have enjoyed the fat of the land, time to go.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

What turns youths studying law into brutes who maim and kill co-fratmen? Recalling short story by US author William Carlos Williams, “The Use of Force,” where doctor treating a child’s diphtheria transitions from “cool professional” to “animalistic assailant.” Was this what happened to Tau Gamma fratmen in Castillo case?

Hazing victim Horacio "Atio" Castillo III and the emblem of the fraternity he dreamt of joining

When I was entering the UP’s Liberal Arts College decades ago, the university was rocked by the death by hazing of a scion of a prominent family, as well as by wars between the Upsilon and Sigma Rho fraternities. That was my first exposure to the terrible reality of hazing.  Congress was up in arms and efforts were made to prevent its recurrence.

Since that time, however, and up to now, the evil of hazing, conducted in utmost secrecy under the iron-clad oath of “Omerta,”  has reared its ugly head from time to time---such as what happened to freshman Horacio “Atio” Tomas Castillo III of the UST Law fraternity, the “Aegis Juris” who died from violent hazing, and who had dreamt of being a lawyer. Unfortunately, however, the uproar and the national breast-beating subsides---until another victim dies.  

Police investigations reveal that Horacio Castillo died from a heart attack after severe beatings with thick wooden paddles on his body. At the funeral mass at the Santuario de San Antonio Church yesterday, the mass presider,  Fr. Winston Cabading, stressed that “A brotherhood that seeks to harm does not come from God, but from the devil.”  Calling on the young victim’s man’s parents and friends,  he begged them “not to be buried in darkness when we are filled with anger and hatred.” Fr. Cabading admitted, however, that to the question of the meaning of young “Atio” Castillo’s death, “There is no easy answer.”


When I was a literature student at the UP long ago, we studied a short story titled, “The Use of Force” by American author William Carlos Williams, which narrated in first-person how a doctor, treating a young  child of suspected diphtheria, sought to get some specimen from its mouth. When the child resisted, the struggle became rather ugly, with the doctor this time inserting a spoon into its mouth with more force than seemed needed and still the child refused to cooperate.  At that point, author Williams, himself a doctor, clearly portrayed how the doctor in the story (was it Williams himself?) transformed “from cool professional to animalistic assailant.”

In seeking to make sense of the various hazing episodes that resulted in unintended deaths, should we theorize that there is perhaps this same element, whereby, even among friends, there is transformation from being friends to being “animalistic assailants” who lose control of themselves.

This could be the case especially if the hazing rituals are conducted under the influence of liquor and very likely even drugs in isolated places like a remote beach resort---plus very little supervision from the frat's elders and the school.


Consider all the accidents from hazing:

* State-run military academies such as the elite Philippine Military  Academy in Baguio, the Philippine Marine Academy and the Philippine National Police Academy all had their past share of hazing victims. At PMA, plebe Monico de Guzman was believed to have died from “beat attack” upon seeking entrance in the boot camp. The premiere military academy continued with hazing in secrecy.

* In some secular schools, hazing continued to take place as well, and what focused national attention in February 1995 was the death of a neophyte of the Aquila Legis Fraternity at the Ateneo Law School named Lenny Villa. His mother carried a brave campaign against hazing from then on.  

* It should be noted, however, that brutal hazing occurs too in the Ivy League schools in the US. I read an account by a student of Dartmouth University who spoke not of physical brutality, but of being sadistically forced to imbibe excrement of all sorts during hazing.


The rash of deadly violence due to hazing prodded Congress to react in the '90s.  Following the huge uproar over the death of law student Lenny Villa in initiation rites, Sen. Joey Lina, then chair of the Senate Committee on Youth and Sports,  authored R.A. 8049, “An Act Regulating Hazing and other forms of initiation rites in Fraternities, Sororities and other organizations, and providing penalties thereof.”  Prior to the passage of R.A. 8049 what was operative on student organizations was the Revised Penal Code.

 As former Sen.Lina  recounted to Cecile Alvarez and myself during our dzRH program, “Radyo Balintataw” last Sunday, hazing is absolutely forbidden under Sec. 2 of RA 8049, the Anti-Hazing Law.  In fact, MERE PRESENCE at such forbidden rituals is enough to implicate a person as an accomplice to the crime. Punishment includes life imprisonment or reclusion perpetua;  reclusion temporal (17-20 years) and the lightest, 4 years and one day imprisonment for mere presence at such ritual.

The Supreme Court upheld circumstantial evidence as stiff in its landmark decision in Dungo vs. People of the Philippines 2015, raising  punishment to nine years.


Obviously, however, the current law punishing hazing is still deemed very weak, as physical violations continue to exist. There is now a clamor to enforce more safeguards in fraternity initiations, to ensure that physical violence is not resorted to, and elements of the community, the police, the fiscal’s office and the courts are enjoined to attend and monitor fraternity activities closely. Cecile Alvarez and I opined that officials of the school where the fraternity members are enrolled have to be present at initiation rites.

Morerover, I proposed more creative ways to undertake initiation rites such as for example, making neophytes dress like garbage collectors and actually sweep trash in the Luneta or by Manila Bay, or have them garbed in beggar’s clothes and actually beg by Quiapo Church, the begging proceeds to be donated for soup kitchens.

Any initiation ritual except violence which kills.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The question on everyone's mind, including Sen. J. V. Ejercito's: why can't PH protest in stronger terms the drug-trafficking from China? PH reputed to already becoming a drug-transshipment point for other continents



In a recent weekly radio program Cecile Alvarez and I conducted over dzRH we raised with six-termer representative and former National Security Adviser Roilo Golez that even as the administration wars on drugs---with a number of young people getting killed in the process---the bigger issue ought to be how to close the faucet on drugs from China and in our southern borders---before these drugs destroy our youth further. 

Last Saturday, Senator J. V. Ejercito went on record in the Inquirer as suspecting that "China is purposely turning a blind eye to shipments of illegal drugs to the Philippines." Sen. Ejercito likened our current situation to the Opium Wars in the 18th century, when China's Qing dynasty battled opium-trafficking by foreign traders, mostly British." Unfortunately, the drug situation appears to have progressed and knowledgeable officials now intimate that the Philippines is becoming a transshipment point in Asia and on to other continents.


Reports from US sources indicate that 70% of drugs into our country come from China, but there is also the production of the prohibited drug in Sabah, with repacking done in Mindanao. Reports further say that some Sulu leaders are involved as importers as well as "runners"---with a flourishing drug trade going on in places such as the National Penitentiary, through some gangs. 

Report about drug shipments through our porous southern backdoor gained credence when it will be recalled that earlier in the still on-going war in Marawi, so much drugs were captured by Philippine Army troopers from the retreating enemy (whatever happened to those captured drugs? Were they destroyed?). This was apparently how the war in the south was partly financed. 

And of course, how can we forget the whopping P6.4 billion worth of drugs that cleared the Bureau of Customs (BOC)? Until now nobody knows for sure who facilitated it. It looks like the BOC is beyond redemption. 


In his recent musing on this issue, President Duterte claimed that there are "malignant forces" out to sabotage his administration by attributing the recent killings of youths allegedly into drugs, to the police force which is directly under the Chief Executive. Mr. Duterte last Friday instructed PNP Director-General Bato de la Rosa to look into these "conspirators," opining that the series of murders of minors during police crackdowns on narcotics are being  done "intentionally," to disgrace his administration. 

To date there are said to be some 54 youths who have been killed under the supposed police anti-drug war---quite apart  from the more celebrated cases involving the murder of Kian de los Santos, 17, Carl Arnaiz, 19 and Reynaldo de Guzman, 14 (police claim that the DNA of this youth found floating in the river in Nueva Ecija does not match those of his supposed parents).  Yet Mr. Duterte thinks that all this could be a series of sabotage moves against his administration---to whip up vehement anger against it.


To be sure, in our murky politics these days, such allegation is not an impossible claim, but it does seem quite remote inasmuch as the President's opponents in the LP no longer control the state security forces. On the contrary, he appears to have developed a warm relationship with them in his 14-month presidency.

What may have greatly influenced all the recent killings could have been the directives from the President to the police in months past to exterminate drug-addicts, coupled with his assurance that the executing lawmen would get presidential pardon right away. Mr. Duterte could actually have been playing with fire in this regard. According to the Children's Legal Rights and Development Center, some 54 youths have already perished in the drug war, in addition to the three young people who were recently murdered. There is now so much public uproar over these killings.


The churches have come out denouncing the brutal campaign against drugs. Caloocan Bishop Virgilio David, in whose diocese the slaying of Kian de los Santos occurred, was quite emphatic in protesting the direction of the anti-drug campaign. Then too, in a recent uncharacteristically strong pastoral letter, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle  stressed that "We cannot allow the destruction of lives to become normal. We cannot govern the nation by killing. We cannot foster a humane and devout Filipino culture by killings."

The latest cleric to weigh in on recent killings was Archbishop Florentino Lavarias of the Archdiocese of San Fernando, Pampanga, who urged the faithful last Sept. 8, Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to pray for the poor as well as for officials and policemen under attack for the bloody war on drugs.


Complicating the problem is the fact that the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), an agency established by the Constitution to be imbued with sufficient independence, seems to be on the way to being emasculated by the Duterte administration, which treats it with ill-disguised contempt.  The administration has refused access of the CHR under Chair Chito Gascon, a P-Noy appointee, to records of recent slayings. The police argue that they need authority from the President---but at this point he doesn't seem disposed to granting it. 

This is contrary to the provisions of the Constitution that assure political independence to constitutional commissions such as the CHR.

One hopeful indication, though, that the Palace might be seeing the light regarding the country's serious drug problem is the statement of Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella---that the government is doing a "MAJOR RETHINKING" of its war on drugs, after the death of the three minors allegedly implicated in drugs. 


The Liberal Party came out with a statement backing up the CHR investigations: Said the LP: "if the government is serious about solving (the drug-related killings), then it should allow an independent, impartial body---the Commission on Human Rights---which is constitutionally mandated to conduct investigation of these killings, so as to be more credible to the public." 

During the Senate hearings on Kian de los Santos' murder, the PNP, probably reacting to public outrage, initially promised to turn over the records on Kian to the CHR, but to date Malacanang still has to give the go-signal. 

On the other hand, Senator Grace Poe is in the right direction in filing a resolution before the Senate seeking an investigation into the recent "gruesome deaths" of the three teenagers. and into the PNP modus operandi. This inquiry, especially into the workings of the PNP regarding drug control, is badly needed indeed.