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 3, 2016

In first three-hours of grueling five-hour SC session CJ Sereno grilled Comelec Commissioner Arthur Lim on 'sad plight' of foundlings like Grace Poe, alternately cajoling and charming the lawyer, who stood his ground politely but firmly about amending Constitution, so Poe could run for highest office. Sereno's and Leonen's pronouncements reinforce perception that P-Noy may have shifted support to Poe instead of to Mar. NaughtyToby Tiangco raised her foundling status in media, making it "justiciable."

Comelec Commissioner Arthur Lim before the SC for over five hours last Tuesday

Senator Grace Poe has aired her sentiment to media repeatedly: that should the Supreme Court sustain her disqualification (DQ) by the Comelec en banc from running for the presidency, she would be "very sad." Fortunately for Grace Poe, she has found an ally in the SC who appears to be bent on not making her sad at all. 

Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno consumed about three and a half hours of the total five hour-session last Tuesday, Feb. 2, devoted to the third oral session at the SC. That portion with CJ Sereno was most punishing to Comelec's appointed lawyer, Commissioner Arthur Lim, who had to be on his feet as well as be mentally agile for all of those hours, as Sereno resorted to various arguments to win public sympathy for foundlings in general, and candidate Poe in particular. 


The lady Chief Justice criticized public policies heretofore that she termed unjust and unkind to foundlings---presenting a string of countries that do not use the bloodline argument for determining citizenship or a combined employment of the jus soli and jus sanguinis arguments; she also cited that only 23 countries do not grant automatic citizenship in the world (PH included here). CJ Sereno alternately bullied the Comelec lawyer into tendering yes or no replies to what Lim termed "simple but actually very complex issues" or congratulating him when she got him to agree on a point; at other times she'd resort to gentle nagging.  

To Commissioner Lim's credit, he remained deferential and respectful all through the grueling session, acknowledging the supremacy of the Court in interpretations of law---but firmly holding his ground and unyielding on crucial points. 


Then Sereno pulled out from her well-stuffed bag of tricks a long list of public offices and public support and benefits that are closed to foundlings. "They cannot even operate a jeepney or tricycle, nor have the right to practice their profession or acquire a higher education," she perorated---before cajoling Lim "to look beyond the presidency" and ponder on the possible impact of the DQ of Poe on the entire foundling world.

The CJ also cited various laws and decrees over decades that she claims have given some kind of life to the common understanding that foundlings are not Filipino citizens. She cited provisions in the various Philippine constitutions as well as laws from the turn of the century to recent ones such as RA 9225, the Citizen Recantation and Re-Acquisition Act and Senate Bill 2130, the Dual Citizenship Act, that have gone beyond the iron-clad provisions of the 1987 Constitution on qualifications for the highest offices of the land. 


But to me as well as to many other citizens, just as worrisome as the impact of a perhaps forthcoming DQ of foundling Poe and her ilk is the grave disservice to the Constitution that the Chief Justice and whoever else in the SC would follow her, would be doing as interpreters of the law. This pertains to the possibility that perhaps due to political pressure, candidate Poe may be allowed to run for President even if the DQ grounds are clear. 

To my mind even though I am not a lawyer---and I assume, judging from reactions from media and citizens out there, various folks share my sentiment---the Constitution has stated in no uncertain terms--- understandable even to high school students---the provision of Sec. 2, Article VII on the "Executive Department" on qualifications of presidential candidates. Beclouding it would be to sow terrible confusion about the rule of law. 


This provision, stated in the negative for stronger emphasis, states in no uncertain terms the qualifications now being deliberated in continuing sessions of the SC. It reads in part: "No person may be elected President unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines...and a resident of the Philippines for at least ten years immediately preceding such election." There's also the sections in the basic charter that spell out conditions and characteristics of "Citizenship"---most relevant of which pertain to the definition of "Natural-born citizens: "those who are citizens of the Philippines from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect their Philippine citizenship." 

That the term "citizens... from birth" and not "at birth" was raised in the third SC hearing day was quite significant as it showed the framers of the Constitution's preoccupation with continuity of citizenship---not having stops and resumptions, i.e., loss and naturalization, etc. Any effort to twist the definition of "natural-born" could sow tremendous confusion and affect the credibility of the SC as the ultimate interpreter of the law. 


This early, some media observers already are opining about how they see the way the SC would rule on Sen. Poe's DQ case by the Comelec. Media have noted the seeming partiality of CJ Sereno and Justice Marvic Leonen who also took 90 minutes of interpellation of the opposing lawyer in the second round. The three other Aquino appointees, namely, Justices Bienvenido Reyes, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Francis Jardeleza have not actively participated as yet, while the sixth appointee of P-Noy, the latest, Justice Benjamin Caguioa, still has to make an appearance in the court. 

From what media can glean, the rest of the justices, led by Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, appear to lean toward sustaining the DQ by Comelec. Special mention must be made of Justice Carpio, who virtually rebutted much of CJ Sereno's points raised in her over three-hour interpellation. Carpio stressed after questioning Lim that it's not only foundlings who are being discriminated upon with regard to certain offices that are open only to natural-born citizens. He stressed that this prohibition applies to all naturalized citizens, and---this is most significant---that if there is any unfairness about it, this can be remedied by MERE LEGISLATION OF CONGRESS

Indeed it's time too, while this hullabaloo about Poe is going on, for Congress to look at some relief for naturalized citizens who may be suffering from the various forms of discrimination as noted by Carpiom who are far more in number than the foundlings.  


In the meantime, it does look to me that Elections 2016 is not for Grace Poe. What she and her horde of followers and fans could do after the 2016 elections is to work for constitutional amendment of Sec. 2, Article VII, the "Executive Department," to allow foundlings like her who are subsequently naturalized, to be able to run for President. 

In fact, Grace Poe should already be grateful that the Comelec wasn't even in a scrutinizing mood when she ran for senator in 2013, as otherwise she would have been DQ-ed even for that post. Without that Senate post, she would be just another foundling adopted by a prominent movie couple and living a comfortable life in the US as well as here. On the other hand, Sen. Poe should blame Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, Secretary-General of the opposition UNA party, for being so naughty as to raise in public not too long ago the issue of her being a foundling---in violation of Sec. 2, Art. VII---causing this issue to become "justiciable.".

Without Toby's naughtiness, who knows, baka nakalusot si Grace.  But then, what happens to the Constitution?

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile did not deliver promised bombshell for reasons known only to him. He labored, however, to give nation sequential texts from various personalities that reinforced his theory: that P-Noy was in the thick of planning and executing Mamasapano plot, together with suspended Gen. Purisima, with Director Napenas as fall guy. Senate divided over loyalty to P-Noy, as AFP and PNP are over Oplan Exodus.

Listening to the seven-hour hearing of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs chaired by Sen. Grace Poe last Tuesday, Jan. 26, on the SAF's "Oplan Exodus," I felt great sadness. At one point I could not help myself---I wept.  Having been a military wife for several decades it was quite painful for me to see officials of the two national security agencies of government---the PNP and the AFP---trade barbs and blame each other for the Mamasapano debacle before the entire nation.

I am sure that for many military officers and men, active and retired, as well as their families, the blame-game and public expose of security weaknesses and flaws proved to be a nightmare. I pitied especially the military as they learned of the SAF's venture into the lion’s den late in the day and when they were called to rescue the trapped men, details from the PNP were vastly incomplete. Yet the AFP officials had to bear much of the blame especially from Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, who had jurisdiction of both agencies for 17 years in the Marcos regime.

I also pitied the PNP officials, led by then acting PNP OIC Leonardo Espina, who were kept out of the loop on Mamasapano but who had to share the onus of blame and shame for the indefensible secret plot hatched by President Aquino and his cohort, suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima, and their fall-guy, SAF Chief Getulio Napenas.


Last Tuesday’s Senate hearing was called at the behest of Sen. Enrile who claimed to have new information on Mamasapano. The nation stood still that day, glued to radio and TV---with majority of senators present, as were top brass of the PNP and AFP, including officers just retired, who had played significant roles in that monumental debacle.

Media hyped the anticipated exposes of Enrile but when he stuck mostly to revelations of text messages exchanged through that fateful day, the public was disappointed. I presume that the tape supposedly of a conversation between a lawmaker and a PNP official on the debacle was keenly anticipated, and when it was not presented by JPE, folks began to ask if he was  daunted by the threat of Senate President Franklin Drilon that unauthorized use of tapes could be subject to penalty under the "Anti-Wire-Tapping Law." 

JPE might have asked himself if he’s prepared for another lawsuit that could return him to hospital arrest.


But Enrile nonetheless came very prepared. Instead of the bombshell tape, he revealed verbatim text messages culled from subpoenaed cellphones of major players in the Mamasapano drama, beginning with President Aquino.  He used the texts to establish not only the sequence of events, but also the role of the dramatis personae. Most important of all, the texts showed President Aquino’s lead role in the SAF operation on Marwan---where before it was only the narration of Napenas about how he and suspended PNP Gen. Alan Purisima were called to Bahay Pangarap on Jan. 9, 2015 to finalize details of the SAF operation.

The texts of various officials, as revealed by JPE, showed that P-Noy was on top of the SAF operation drawn up by Purisima and Napenas and that he approved it---even though P-Noy’s loyalists at the Senate, led by Senate Chief Franklin Drilon and including Senators Bam Aquino, Antonio Trillanes and Sonny Angara, exerted every effort to make Napenas the fall guy. Moreover, the texts revealed that the President knew quite early about the fate of the entrapped SAF commandoes---having been apprised by DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, who knew nothing about it previously, just prior to their flight to Zamboanga that early morning.

What was interesting was that once in the plane and on arrival in Zamboanga, the President’s cellphone quieted down and no reaction was obtained from him by text. As DILG Secretary Roxas noted, in response to a query from Enrile, everything seemed “normal” on the plane and in Zambo---although some media people who were with his party were later quoted as saying that P-Noy appeared quite stunned by what was happening to the SAF men.


The bigger drama at the Senate hearing involved the efforts of both PNP and AFP leaders to escape blame for the SAF debacle---recorded in texts as early as the first waking hours of that fateful day. The AFP officials, led by former Chief Gregorio Catapang, understandably sought to exculpate their branch of service from blame in a prepared presentation. 

They argued that they knew nothing about the on-going SAF operation until the PNP commandoes ran into deep trouble. The AFP officials stressed that they were hindered from rescuing by the lack of information from the SAF command as well as in the field on such details as troop positions and strength, civilian population density, etc.; besides, tanks couldn't venture into marshy terrain. 

At that point, many viewers began to wonder if all the excuses offered by the military were not simply politesse in lieu of outright admission of a stand-down order on the AFP---which its commanders uniformly denied. 

As PNP and AFP officials tossed blame to and fro like a ping-pong game, Enrile suddenly blurted out, “Kasi nakialam ang Presidente ninyo!” That reflex statement, followed minutes later with another scathing "Someone's lying out here," drew tense reactions from committee chair Grace Poe and Senate Chief Drilon. One could slice the tension. 


For decades the AFP and PNP have worked relatively well but the SAF operation in Mamasapano that fateful Jan. 25 a year ago sadly put these two armed services at odds with each other--- because, as JPE stressed, President Aquino chose to compartmentalize the operation (JPE kept calling it “compartmentation”). 

Why this operation was undertaken by the PNP’s Special Action Force in the marshy terrain of Mamasapano that was perhaps better suited to the Army’s infantry provokes more queries than answers.  Could it be because, as former SAF commander Napenas pointed out, the AFP "is compromised?” What exactly did that mean?

Did it have anything to do with, as Napenas also noted in response to a senator's query, the fact that US forces supplied training, equipment and personnel , as well as the bounty of $5 million for the head of Marwan, the Malaysian terrorist wanted for the Bali bombing of 2004, that killed many people, including some 200 Americans and Australians?


P-Noy is noted for his fierce loyalty to people he has known for years. This could be the reason Gen. Alan Purisima, who at that time was serving suspension from the Ombudsman on graft charges, was handpicked to carry out the mission planning and execution (not just the role of “facilitator” as he claimed about himself). On that fateful day, however, to add more weird details, Purisima was monitoring Oplan Exodus from his Nueva Ecija home by text! 

Interestingly, too, acting OIC PNP Chief Leonardo Espina, who replaced the suspended Purisima, was kept out of the loop despite his excellent reputation; the entire hearing must have been so painful for him.  But it was not only Espina who was shut out: Mar Roxas and Voltaire Gazmin, charged with the nation’s internal and external security, had no idea whatsoever of what was cooking at Bahay Pangarap, until the whole thing blew up in everyone’s faces. JPE went hyperbolic on this fact.


Mamasapano was the kind of plot that has practically no answers but all questions---and insane ones at that. As I listened to last Wednesday's Senate hearing unfold, I couldn’t help but think of the US plot to get international terrorist chief Osama Bin Laden somewhere in Pakistan a few years ago---one of the most daring feats ever carried out in the spy world. I imagine it must have taken many weeks of planning and very tight, clandestine coordination among various agencies of the US government. There was just no room for mistakes. Its success took the world's breath away!

Mamasapano, by contrast, seemed fated to suffer mistakes because it was so amateurishly planned and carried out by only three bumbling people.  Unfortunately  44 SAF lives were lost owing to their blunders and the memory of those heroic commandos who rode into the valley of death will haunt the nation for a long time. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The inevitable happened at SC's first hearing on Grace Poe's DQ as candidate for president: Justice Diosdado Peralta raised query that she could be the daughter of an Ilocano "or even an Ilonggo like me"---if DNA tests were to be run again. Thus, this issue that has been bruited about in whispers came to fore at SC, drawing faint murmurs and even snickers. Historic photo of opposition reunion in martial law years---with passing of Nap Rama, all of them now united in Great Beyond.

Yesterday, Tuesday, Jan. 19, the inevitable---and perhaps the unthinkable---happened at the Supreme Court during the hearing on several petitions to disqualify Sen. Grace Poe from running for President. Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, famous for his at times irrepressible sense of humor, tossed to Poe’s counsel, Alexander Poblador, a sensible question: why not just present findings of DNA tests run on the senator and her relatives which are 99.99% accurate, to end the issue of whether she's a natural-born Filipino or not? 

While the Constitution firmly stipulates that only natural-born Filipinos can run for representative, senator, Vice-President and President of the Philippines, local jurisprudence accepts that if a foundling can present a DNA-certified blood relationship to a natural-born Filipino, this issue becomes moot and academic.

Justice Peralta had penned what's known in SC records as the "Caballero vs. Comelec" case, that cancelled the certificate of candidacy of Mayor Rogelio Caballero of Uyugan, Batanes on the ground that he was a Canadian citizen and non-resident of the place when he filed his COC. At the SC hearing on Poe's DQ, Peralta, after stressing his authorship of that decision, averred that “I don’t believe there are no relatives of Ms. Poe that can be found." In fact, he insisted, that missing relation "may be an Ilocano or even an Ilonggo like myself.” 

At the mention of a possible Ilocano relation of Poe, the SC hall reverberated with audible murmurs as well as some snickers, for it has been whispered about in various circles for some time now that Grace Poe is secretly a child of the late President Ferdinand Marcos with a popular actress at that time.


In the Senate, in fact, it is a well-known joke so that Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Sen. Poe at times like to refer to each other in a sporting way as “Brod” and “Sis.” Recall that some weeks back, Bongbong challenged Poe in a joking manner to submit to a DNA test together, which the senadora simply deadma-ed. On the other hand, Poe went to some length to undergo a DNA test with some folks in Iloilo who may be related to her, but it proved negative. 

Word from her camp is that she continues to look for relatives who could provide that vital key to her candidacy.  But what if suddenly she turns around and accepts Bongbong's challenge and their DNA tests turn out positive? 

I suspect that Poe does not want to entertain that possibility because her being related to the late martial law dictator could dilute her present clean and well-scrubbed political image.

Interestingly, her adoptive mother, Susan Roces Poe, wife of FPJ, attended the SC hearing with her, and they stayed for over an hour, after which Grace excused herself to attend Senate session. Looking at the still attractive and well-coiffed Susan Roces sitting there and very serious in mien, a thought entered my mind: what if she and Grace underwent a DNA test and it turned out positive? It would only confirm what's being bruited about in speculations---that the senadora could be the daughter of Susan's sister, Rosemarie Sonora. 


Yesterday's hearing at the SC was long drawn out and exhaustive, where aside from the recurring debates on Poe's natural-born status or the lack of it, many details were brought out by the Justices on the second issue bedeviling her. This is the residency issue that should support her claim to having renounced her US citizenship at a certain time, in order to establish domicile here. 

There were a number of inconsistencies, however, in dates involving use of her American passport, which was especially explored by the very persistent Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro but which Poe's counsel, Alex Poblador, tried to heroically overturn. 


De Castro stressed, for instance, that the fact that the DSWD initiates the process to prove that a child is  a foundling proves that contrary to the argument of the Poe camp, THERE IS A PROCESS THAT SHE HAS TO UNDERGO to prove her natural-born status---that in fact "birthrate citizenship" does not apply in her case; rather, it is citizenship by law.

 In other words, what Justice De Castro was saying was that all the procedures being resorted to now in Poe's candidacy seem to contravene Sec. 2 of Article IV on "Citizenship," which says that "Natural-born citizens are those who are citizens of the Philippines from birth WITHOUT HAVING TO PERFORM ANY ACT TO ACQUIRE OR PERFECT THEIR PHILIPPINE CITIZENSHIP." (emphasis BOC's). Poe's lawyer Poblador, however, preferred to refer to it as "a series of incremental acts," and "an incremental process."

In the end it all boiled down to what was admitted by lawyer Poblador and the Poe camp:  that the inconsistencies in her record---her re-acquisition of PH citizenship through her oath of allegiance on July 7, 2006, her renunciation of her US citizenship on Oct. 20, 2010 but her continued use of her US passport up to July 2011, and the loss of her US citizenship in Dec. 2011, when the US Embassy in Manila issued a "certificate of loss of nationality of the US"---all constituted "honest mistakes." But such admission only seem to confuse the justices even more. 


Whatever it is, Poe is in a jam at the moment, judging from the way her ratings continue to slide down, doubtless due to the uncertainty of her qualifying for the presidential race. Financiers certainly could be hesitant in contributing more to her campaign. I saw Isabela Rep. Georgiddi Aggabao at the SC hearing yesterday and he stressed that a faction of the NPC is backing up Poe and of course, it hopes everything turns out right for her. 

But if the party supporting Grace Poe is quite worried about the result of the SC deliberations, it certainly is not showing it. The first SC session to hear all three private petitions seeking her DQ was held yesterday, Jan. 19, with Poe's lawyer Poblador taking the stand for a good three hours; the next one is scheduled for next Tuesday, Jan. 26. To kick off the SC session, her supporters held a mammoth, bouyant rally in front of the SC yesterday---jamming the entire area from Paco Park all the way to Padre Faura. 


Grace Poe's ratings may be going down where once she was neck-to-neck with Vice President Jejomar Binay (the latter now has a 7-point lead over Poe in the four-candidate race), but it seems she still has substantial funding. There were a lot of young students in her rally crowds, but there were also the usual hakot crowds with their children in tow. 

My fearless prediction, if the line of interpellation by the justices in yesterday's proceedings is any indication: the SC would thumb down Poe's candidacy. Unless, as rumor is going around, that the Palace is now shifting to Poe in view of Mar Roxas' unspectacular performance in surveys. Playing the Grace Poe card could complicate matters even in the SC. 


The photo below is quite historic as it presents in one picture all the leading opposition leaders during the martial law years under President Marcos, who were all imprisoned by the dictator at Fort Bonifacio after he declared martial law in 1972. 

The occasion shown below was the opposition leaders' very brief reunion when Ninoy Aquino was allowed a 36-hour furlough from prison to celebrate his wedding anniversary with wife Cory---an occasion obtained through the ministration of Jaime Cardinal Sin. Years later, these opposition leaders were to campaign under the Laban Party In the desire to participate in the April 7, 1978 elections for the Interim Batasan Pambansa called by Marcos, then under heavy pressure by the Americans to loosen up a bit on his martial rule.

This photo taken at Ninoy's Times St. residence shows, from left to right, Teddy Locsin Sr., publisher of the Philippine Free Press; lawyer Francisco "Soc "Rodrigo; Manila Times publisher and chief rallyist Joaquin "Chino" Roces; radio broadcaster Jose Mari Velez, Ninoy Aquino, journalist-lawyer Napoleon Rama; lawyer Jose Wright Diokno, later to become Secretary of Justice under President Cory Aquino, and the bearded Ramon Mitra of Palawan, who was to serve as IBP assemblyman and later a distinguished House Speaker.

The great opposition leaders of the martial law years---now all passed on to the Great Beyond.

This photo surfaced during the wake last week at the Santuario de San Antonio, of Nap Rama who died at the ripe old age of 92---the last to journey on to the Great Beyond in this historic group shown above. Nap Rama was a fearless and distinguished writer of the Philippine Free Press who also served as Floor Leader of the 50-member Constitutional Commission of 1986 that drew up our present Constitution. 

Though Nap Rama was much older than myself, I had the privilege to be his friend through the years that I was an active journalist, and we both were part of the "core group" around Speaker Jose de Venecia over the years. My profound condolences to his lovely widow, Paz "Lady" Ramos Rama and their children.