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.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

In this Easter Season of Grace and on eve of historic canonization of two Popes of 20th century, let's recall the Great Jubilee Year 2000 launched by John Paul II and his opening of holy doors of four patriarchal basilicas in Rome---in a Faith steeped in rich ancient tradition. Easter Vigil part of that great Church tradition. Costa Rica Ambassador to Holy See, in his book launched in Manila recently, testifies on miraculous healing of his seriously ill infant son and wife, through intercession of Padre Pio.

Blessed John Paul II reigned for 28 years, from Oct. 16, 1978 to April 02, 2005

In eager anticipation of the historic canonization of two popes of the 20th century this coming Sunday in Rome, I have been neck-deep into reading on Vatican II, the outstanding achievement of Blessed John XXIII's pontificate, and the biography of Blessed John Paul II, so lovingly written in fantastic fullness  by American writer George Weigel, acknowledged one of the world's leading authorities on the Catholic Church. In Volume II of Weigel's magnum opus, "The End and the Beginning," he dwelt in detail about how the Pontiff launched the Great Jubilee Year 2000 that ushered in the Third Millenium.  

When Karol Cardinal Wojtyla of Krakow was elected Pope on Oct. 16, 1978, then Primate of Poland Stefan Cardinal Wyszynksi told him that the Holy Spirit precisely chose Wojtyla to be God's instrument to lead the Church in the Third Millenium. I presume this assertion from his compatriot and former senior prelate encouraged John Paul II to make Holy Year 2000---the 2000th anniversary of Christ's incarnation--- especially meaningful and historic.


The Church is an ancient institution steeped in traditions and one of the most revered is the observance of Holy Year every 25 years. A bronze door at the extreme right of St. Peter's is kept closed throughout those 25 years, and only opened during Holy Year in solemn rites awash with indulgences. This practice of observing Holy Year dates from Feb. 22, 1300 during the reign of Pope Boniface VIII, who intended it to be commemorated every 100 years. 

But its observance became so popular that it was repeated with more frequency---so that now it's observed every 25 years (I was lucky to visit Rome and pass through that door in 1975 and again in 2000. Doubtless I won't be that lucky in 2025, but I already feel more than blessed to be able to mark those two Holy Years).  

Weigel wrote that the practice of opening Holy Doors at the three other major Roman basilicas (St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Walls) was began in 1499-1500, but John Paul II, already more than 21 years in the Papacy and beginning to suffer rather poor health, made sure that his marking the end of the Second Millenium and ushering in the Third Millenium ---the "Great Jubilee year 2000"--- would be a break from tradition. 

Hence, he opened the traditional Holy Door of St. Peter's during Christmas Eve of 1999, and then also opened the Holy Doors of the other three patriarchal basilicas in Rome within two weeks' time.

The transition from the Second to the Third Millenium was so special to JPII that he issued an encyclical just for it: the "Tertio Millennio Adveniente." In that encyclical he wrote, as quoted by Weigel, that "the Holy Door of the Jubilee of the Year 2000 should be symbolically wider than those of previous Jubilees, because humanity, upon reaching this goal, will leave behind not just a century but a millenium."

Reading through all these details of the glorious Pontificate of JPII that enabled me to vicariously live through various decades of Church history, thanks to George Weigel, I was inspired to soak in the rituals of Easter. Normally I attend mass only on Easter Sunday proper, but last night, Holy Saturday I decided to attend Easter Vigil at my parish church which began at 9 pm. until nearly midnight. It began  with a short procession by the priests, one of whom carried the tall Easter candle, around the church premises where they lighted a small fire in one corner using sticks and dried shrubs. Then the procession entered the darkened church where at some point the faithful was asked to light their candles---just the soft glow of candles.

The liturgy for Easter Vigil began with a proclamation recalling the Passover feast and how God freed the people of Israel from their slavery and led them dry-shod through the sea---"This is the night when the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin..." Then came seven readings from the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Exequiel, etc., beginning with the near oblation by Abraham of his only son Isaac, when God stopped him, happy in the thought that the patriarch was willing to please Him by sacrificing his son, and two readings from the New Testament.

Then came the "Gloria" which is very dramatic: the tall Paschal Candle lit as the faithful's light is extinguished, and ringing of Church bells as the purple Lenten drapery is pulled down from the altar statues. This is followed by the renewal of baptismal promises by the faithful and the liturgy for Easter, with the gospel reading recounting the encounter with the Risen Christ by the holy women.  

It's a ritual ancient and yet so contemporary: "Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega, all time belongs to him."


Last March 24, Philippine Ambassador to the Vatican and the Sovereign Order of Malta Mercedes Tuazon sponsored the launch of a book titled "A Spiritual Son is Born, Our story with Padre Pio of Pietrelcina," written by her Vatican colleague, Ambassador Fernando F. Sanchez Campos of Costa Rica, about the miraculous cure of the latter's infant son Fernando Felipe and his wife Milagro---through the intercession of St. Padre Pio.  Sanchez Campos journeyed to Manila for the Wack Wack Golf and Country Club launch, and its success was doubtless due to the popularity of the well-loved Saint from Pietrelcina, renowned for his powerful intercessions, the drawing power of guest of honor Cardinal Tagle, the gracious diplomat-author and the vast social circle of Mercy Tuason. 

In this season of grace and faith in the Risen Christ, I'm happy to present the edited synopsis to this book, billed as a "hymn of faith" and available at popular bookstores.  

"What does a man do when, at thirty-three years of age he's faced with the following: his firstborn, just hours after being born, is diagnosed with an atrial flutter (a heart condition where the heart beats at 220-240 a minute instead of the normal 130-140) that not even five electric shock treatments, seven long days in the neonatal intensive care and special medications could normalize the contractions of his heart muscle; his wife who, four days after her Caesarian delivery, began to have renal hemorrhage and respiratory problems, losing 70% of renal function in both kidneys; and he himself, on the verge of crisis in his political career because some people were trying to put an end to it---so much were they opposed to his ideas?

"Sunken deep into the abyss, completely broken down, he decides to make the sacrifice of Abraham when the latter immolates his son, Isaac, out of faith and obedience to Yahweh’s seemingly “illogical” command. Sustained only by the power of his faith, he gives everything up to God.

"But God comes to his aid. On September 23, 2007 evening, seven days after the birth of his son, through unexplainable circumstances a priest carrying a relic of Padre Pio, enters the neonatal intensive care unit at midnight, to pray to God for cure of little Fernando, through the intercession of the Capuchin saint. The same relic is also brought to the bedside of his wife, Mila. 

"The next day, to the surprise of the medical staff, the baby’s heartbeat begins to normalize and the mother gets better. A miracle takes place.

"In this book Ambassador Sánchez Campos relates the dramatic story of the miraculous healing of his son and wife thorough the powerful intercession of Padre Pio.  He describes the itinerary of faith, hope and love which he and his entire family went through as they are tried by God who, in his great wisdom and paternal love, makes them experience and share in a very vivid and tangible manner the Cross of his Son, Jesus Christ. And they do this by the hand of the Saint of Pietrelcina whom they had gotten to know more profoundly; in time they have become among the many thousands of his spiritual children spread throughout the world.

"The book includes a short biography of Padre Pio,  a chapter of verses, quotations and biblical passages which have reached Ambassador Sanches Campos in a providential manner and which have provided spiritual nourishment for him in this difficult journey. This is a conclusion which relates the event from the point of view of three people who lived through the experience: Mila, mother of little Fernando and wife of the author; Father Gabriel Corrales, the priest who brought the relic of Padre Pio to the sick baby and mother; and Archbishop José Rafael Quirós of San Jose, Costa Rica. 

"The epilogue is the story of the personal encounters of the family with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, and how these Roman Pontiffs have gotten to know of the miracle wrought by Padre Pio.

"The book appendix is a collection of prayers, novenas and meditations of Padre Pio, included with the hope of enriching the spiritual contribution and opportunities for meditation that it may offer to the reader.

"The book was originally written in Spanish and published in 2010, with a new edition in Spanish in 2012. It has been translated to Italian by  Angelo Cardinal Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in 2011 in Rome. For the English version, the book's foreword was written by H. E. Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila.

"With this story, the author wishes to ' “renew the faith and hope of those seeking and needing the mercy of God.” '

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Al Vitangcol: hustler and idealist rolled into one? One thing sure, he’s going through his own Calvary now. Is Ambassador Rychtar merely trying to save face with a deal that didn’t come through?

Former activist Fidel Nemenzo posted a reaction to my earlier blog on the case of Atty. Al Vitangcol, where I stated that I liked the latter’s straightforward answers at the hearings conducted by the House Electoral Reforms Committee chaired by former Makati Rep. Teddyboy Locsin in late May to early June 2010---apart from Vitangcol’s looking like a seminarian. Nemenzo posted: “I remember Al Vitangcol from college days. He did look (and acted) like a seminarian. Hard to imagine him metamorphosing into the hustler media is portraying him to be.”

Indeed this is the problem of the controversial GM of MRT-3.  A large part of media is indeed making him look like a "hustler” and leader of an extortion ring that allegedly tried to mulct $30 million from Czech company Inekon in the second half of 2012, when the DOTC was bidding out the purchase of additional trains. Is Vitangcol really the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde they’re portraying him to be: an idealistic technocrat (Namfrel volunteer, lecturer, author of three books) and corrupt bureaucrat-mulcter rolled into one?

People who have taken pains to examine his statements and actuations--- in other words, those who have gone beyond press releases dished out by a powerful propaganda machine apparently paying big bucks to paint Vitangcol as corruption personified---have opined that he's being pinned down as fall guy for some highly influential persons.

In this connection, he's being painted as a sleazy politico when, as he protested in a recent TV program, "I'm a technocrat, not a politician."


At a forum organized by a student group at De la Salle U in Manila where Vitangcol was the speaker, his former colleagues in the local IT world showed up to demonstrate, as one of them put it, that they don’t doubt his integrity at all, and to lend moral support to him.

Among them were former Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman, former Chief of Comelec's IT department Ernie del Rosario, former Comelec lawyer Melchor Magdamo  (who had denounced the ballot secrecy folder scam amounting to a whopping P700 million, and a few months ago also exposed the overprinting by the Comelec, through a private printer, of ballots way after the May 2013 elections), IT practitioners Lito Averia, who was recently appointed member of the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC), and Nelson Celis, who was president of the Philippine Computer Society in 1999 and again in 2009.

These distinguished IT experts represent large computer umbrella groups such as AES Watch and PCS, that have monitored various elections and decried electoral frauds.

A number of them who had their own run-in with their former offices, such as Lagman and Magdamo,  denouncing issues of fraud and integrity within the poll body, commiserated with Vitangcol who, they said, is undergoing his own Calvary now with the intense organized vilification against him. But they're solidly backing up his reputation of integrity.


PCS former prexy Nelson Celis pointed out that Atty. Vitangcol, who’s a UP-trained civil engineer, master’s degree holder in computer science from De la Salle U and certified forensics investigator, headed the forensics team that in June 2010 investigated and examined six PCOS machines recovered in a private house in Antipolo, still smoking from prolonged use (outside the precinct). Vitangcol, in his final report to former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and former Speaker Prospero Nograles, asserted that the extracted Hash Code of those examined machines (which is to the PCOS machine what finger-print and DNA are to humans---a unique identifying mark) did not match the Hash Code published in Comelec’s official website. Magka-iba.

Moreover, said Vitangcol, there was no evidence to prove existence of digital signatures in those machines, contrary to the claim of Smartmatic.


The forensics team under Vitangcol also found that the PCOS machines contained a console port which Smartmatic claimed was only a one-way output port. But very significantly, using a serial cable provided by the Smart technicians, the forensics guys were able to connect AN ORDINARY LAPTOP COMPUTER to the console port of a PCOS. To the surprise of everyone (now longer surprising, after IT experts have grown hoarse denouncing Smart’s many grave shortcomings), the serially connected laptop computer was able to ACCESS the operating system of the PCOS machine, in a NON-SECURE manner---meaning, WITHOUT ANY PASSWORD OR USERNAME REQUIRED (emphasis BOC’s)!

It clearly showed that the machines were perfectly open to hacking and being controlled from outside (which apparently happened in 2010 and again in 2013, leaving the outcome of those elections totally DISPUTABLE).

Why am I belaboring these findings of the forensics team headed by Vitangcol in 2010? Obvious, di ba?  Vitangcol is clearly that sophisticated and idealistic. Thus, it defies comprehension how and why he would suddenly be the RING-LEADER of the seemingly shady characters who sought to extort $30 million from Inekon in exchange for guaranteeing the contract for additional MRT-3 trains.


In his power-point presentation at De la Salle Vitangcol flatly asserted that he does not personally know the people the Czech Ambassador is linking him with in the alleged scam, but that he has dealt with them only on a professional basis. Neither has he authorized anyone to talk to the ambassador on his behalf.

Vitangcol also stressed that Inekon submitted a bid for extra trains way above the price offered by a wide range of other bidders from all over the world, but that nevertheless he forwarded its bid to Usec Perpetuo M. Lotilla, chair of the DOTC’s bids and awards committee, and Usec Rene Limcaoco who handles the rail sector of DOTC, “for appropriate actions.”


At the same time Vitangcol stressed the huge discrepancy between Inekon and the other bidders (China Dalian eventually won the bid in June of 2013), and later also reminded his superiors about “open competitive public bidding procedures as per RA 9184, the Government Procurement Reform Act.”

It should also be noted that there are two layers of decision-makers in that bidding process ABOVE Vitangcol---DOTC Secretary Joseph Abaya and the undersecretaries (Vitangcol holds rank of assistant secretary). Then there’s NEDA that approved a budget contract for $1.895 million per train that would bring in 48 additional trains instead of the 26 offered by Inekon.

Another relevant factor: even if he suddenly turned corrupt, away from his old  idealistic reputation, due to the dizzying prospect of getting part of $30 million in kickbacks, would Vitangcol be so brazen and audacious as to try to ram through a huge scam WITHIN SIX MONTHS after he was appointed to his office (on Jan. 2, 2012 by DOTC Secretary Mar Roxas)? This is his very first government job, but even veteran bureaucrats couldn’t be that bold in a six-month old job!


What am I driving at with all these facts? It’s that there's nothing in Vitangcol’s professional record to indicate he would suddenly turn corrupt. Even if the titillating   prospect of having a big slice of the $30 million extort fee could have corrupted him, he’s too intelligent not to realize that there are the real decision-makers above him---unless he’s fronting for Abaya. But that speculation cannot wash as Abaya treated him quite shabbily in late 2012---ordering Vitangcol to go on leave three consecutive times, slapping one order after another, allegedly so as not to influence the extortion investigation.

On the third order to go on leave, however, Vitangcol refused to obey and instead challenged  Abaya, through a lawyer, to just file charges against him, but until now there’s no charge. In fact, two weeks ago Abaya CLEARED him of all administrative charges, ahead of the NBI’s completion of its investigation. 

Secretary Abaya, an outstanding Annapolis graduate, seems quite inconsistent in his actuations toward his subordinate. 


As for Czech Ambassador Rychtar, Vitangcol pointed out a number of inconsistencies in envoy's statements to media, asserting that a lot of what he has said is pure hearsay that won’t stand in court (he plans to sue Rychtar). There’s also the letter that Inekon Chair Josef Husek wrote Vitangcol on July 16, 2012 where he sounded quite confident that he'd bag the contract and thanked the MRT-3 GM for a “fruitful and promisable (sic) discussion” in Manila. In that letter Husek announced the reduction of train unit price from Euro3.1 million each, to $3.05 million each and his plan to set up a “daughter company” for the separate maintenance contract (which a Filipino joint venture ultimately bagged). Husek also invited Vitangcol to visit Prague (“mabuti na lang hindi ko tinanggap,” he mused at the forum). 

When the deal failed to be consummated, Husek began echoing Rychtar’s line about the MRT-3 GM being the scam ringleader.

Folks who have followed the exchange between Rychtar and Vitangcol suspect that the envoy could have been promised the contract early on by some people close to the powers that be---only to lose it when Vitangcol discouraged the DOTC officials by highlighting the big discrepancy in price of the trains. They opine that Rychtar might have lost face with his government on this deal, so that now he has become quite irascible about Vitangcol and ayaw na pasaway. 

Paging Mareng Winnie.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Manny Pacquiao, give your adoring fans a break: don’t run for the Senate. Stay in the ring where you’re the greatest---the champ.

Manny Pacquiao regained his welterweight champion title earlier today after his celebrated bout with Timothy Bradley in Las Vegas, where he demolished the American boxer. Filipinos all around the world rejoice in his victory---even as we were all frightfully nervous at first whether our champ, defeated by Bradley in a controversial decision nearly two years ago, could truly rout  the black American boxer, or whether Bradley could truly usher Pacman to retirement, as he had bragged earlier. 

It turned out that the Kano boxer was no match for Manny’s inexhaustible energies and lightning speed, which twice nearly sent his opponent to the floor.

So, okay, Manny Pacquiao won decisively and sports analysts speak about his raring to go on to other fights in the next few years, as they note that the revitalized boxer shows that he indubitably still has the fire of a champ in his belly and his fists. Fine---so go on with those bouts that will become the stuff of legend.

What bothers me and doubtless many other observers, however,  is that even before his fight this morning began, Pacquiao was already talking about being “80% sure that I would run for the Senate” in the next elections.  


Can’t the champ just stay in the ring and win other bouts, other titles? Why does he have to run for the Senate that’s already filled with misfits---those who don’t have an iota of what legislating is all about. 

In the House Rep. Pacquiao was rarely seen and even more rarely heard. I recall when he arrived in the House session hall straight from the airport during the critical voting on the RH bill a year and a half ago. It was just after his disastrous defeat by boxer Juan Manuel Marquez  who knocked him out cold for two minutes. The Pinoy champ was meek and humble as a lamb as the cavernous Batasan rang out with a standing ovation and lusty cheers.

But now he admits to training his sights on the Senate, presumably without giving up the boxing titles to still conquer. That’s having his cake and eating it too. To stay on top of the boxing world, however, even as he remains as senator, he'd have to be out more often for training abroad. That's not fair to his constituents.  

No, Manny, give your adoring people a break: just stay in the ring where you’re the GREATEST, THE INCOMPARABLE CHAMP. Be the LEGEND you deserve to be, IN THE RING! Take on Marquez again, and yes, that dream bout with Floyd Mayweather. But stay in the ring and away from the Senate. 

That way you’ll teach a valuable lesson to all those delusional misfits who think being senator is just a walk in the park---as they undeservedly thrive on a name that rings a bell with the masses, or worse, buy their way through elections and recover gargantuan expenses through some fake NGOs.

We need real legislators, who'll put their brains and heart together for the welfare of our people via the laws they craft---to restructure society and the economy, to pull the poor Filipinos from the clutches of the poverty of centuries. Happily, Manny Pacquiao, your heart and your brains  are gloriously in the ring.  PLEASE STAY THERE. 


What the recent Supreme Court ruling that the RH Law is “not unconstitutional” succeeded in doing, among other things, is to spur more debates on various aspects of this issue, instead of slowing them down.  For instance, one of the favorite arguments of pro-RH groups is that the mortality rate among women in childbirth is high, and statistics furnished by said groups vary from 11 women dying per day due to childbirth- related causes, to as many as 15 daily. This is said to be due to the lack of access to reproductive health services.

I’ve been hearing the same argument since I began to be interested in the RH issue years back. The solution offered by pro-RH groups , however, to childbirth mortality seems to be to control the number of pregnancies with contraceptives. But in my simple mind, as well as to many others who have taken issue with that bill, wouldn't the better solution be to set up more hospitals and birthing clinics with basic equipment (such as ultrasound machines, so important), better-trained personnel and adequate pre-natal care, so as to reduce childbirth mortality? 

Women especially in the remotest rural areas often die of childbirth because sadly in this modern age, so many of them still give birth at home, often with only a comadrona attending. 

Hence, assuming that because of the RH Law, pregnancies would be controlled by various contraceptives and preventive devices, would this already guarantee that no woman would die of childbirth?  Obviously  not. Instead of pouring billions of pesos into contraceptives, many of which, as medical doctors against the RH law assert, are abortifacient (i.e., inducing abortion of a primary or secondary nature), perhaps the better option is to establish more clinics manned by adequately trained personnel.


Just as worrisome as the childbirth deaths among women is the fact that many of these contraceptives imported from abroad induce cancer and other related diseases. The SC justices had a full hearing on this aspect, and apparently they believed the medical arguments when they struck out use of abortifacient contraceptives.  

Obviously too, the Filipino public believes what it hears about the harmful side of contraceptives. The popular radio-TV program “Umagang Kay Ganda” ran a survey the following morning after the SC ruling was promulgated , and the results showed an overwhelming number against the RH Law (where are the “surveys” supposedly supporting the law’s high acceptability coming from?).

Another important point: if contraceptives manage to still elude the dragnet to be set up by anti-RH people in our courts, there would be an urgent need to beef up the cancer department at various hospitals. For as many doctors against the RH Law have argued, many contraceptives do induce this dreaded disease. 


This is really an event after my heart, so folks, if you're free, do go down to Aklan for this exciting summit and spread the word about it. Dubbed as the "Strategic Convergence of NGOs for Countryside Growth," this nationwide summit of NGOs is scheduled this April 21 at the Aklan State University in Banga, Aklan, with central theme of "New Vistas for NGOs."

This summit will be under the auspices of the Ben-Hur Z. Mobo Move Aklan Forward Foundation, Inc. (BHZMMAFFI), which was organized in 1987 to enshrine the idealism and vision of Ben-Hur Zabal Mobo, who faithfully served Aklan and its people as a youth leader, pro-poor lawyer, senior Provincial Board Member, V-Governor and Governor.

My good friend, former PNRC Gov. and veteran journalist Juan P. Dayang, who chairs BHZMMAFFI, says: "This coming Summit of NGOs aims to invite leaders and representatives of NGOs to converge and act together as an advocacy and mission-propelled movement---to help recast and re-invent vital sectors of Phil. society, so that they can set up a truly democratic and egalitarian polity." 

Invited to attend this Summit of NGOs are officers and members of foundations, organizations of professionals, different sectors of academe, humanitarian service groups, sectors engaged in volunteerism, reps of religious sectors promoting charitable and welfare services, and other civic groups. As we all know, PH is one of the most successful countries in the world for the harnessing of NGO power.

Tara na sa Aklan on April 21. it's a short bus and boat-ride to glorious Boracay after the Summit.