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

Monday, August 6, 2018

In aftermath of firing of Deputy Ombudsman Carandang, new Ombudsman Martires will be measured by same yardstick of arrogant independence that Conchita Morales displayed. Titimbangin si Martires nguni't kulang kaya?

In happier times, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and Deputy Melchor Arthur Carandang

Newly appointed Ombudsman Samuel Martires takes his oath of office before Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio
Aug. 06, 2018

The sacking of Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang by President Duterte, as conveyed in a 10-page decision by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea last July 30 will be watched for weeks, months and even years to come---for a good number of reasons. The Palace had objected to the disclosure by Carandang of bank records of the Duterte family, which it felt Senator Antonio Trillanes could use to accuse the President of plunder. Carandang had claimed that the figures were obtained from the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

Actually, sympathizers of the President are predictably rallying to his defense inasmuch as the release of the figures would be regarded as questionable from their perspective. As Presidential Legal Adviser Sal Panelo put it, "What is patently illegal is that Carandang created a prejudiced environment against a person he is investigating".There is some truth to this, no doubt.


For the moment, however, the legality or non-legality of Deputy Ombudsman Carandang's disclosure of the supposed wealth of the presidential family becomes less interesting---compared to the way he was dealt with by the Administration and implications for the Office of the Ombudsman in the long run.

 A major point at issue here is the harshness of the manner whereby Carandang was fired. According to Secretary Medialdea the dismissal order spells "accessory penalties" of cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, being barred from taking civil service examinations and perpetual disqualification from holding public office."  For a civil servant with lifelong service to the government, the forfeiture of retirement benefits is doubtless the harshest, as it deprives him of the nest egg he hopes to enjoy in the twilight of his life.


What's interesting was that the Palace clearly waited until Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales was safely retired two weeks ago, before firing Carandang. Actually ex-Ombudsman Morales already clashed with the Palace over her Deputy's dismissal by the Palace as early as last Feb. 1, but the fiercely independent and seemingly arrogant Morales simply refused to carry it out.

Morales argued with her signature arched-eyebrows that the President had no business firing Carandang, inasmuch as the Supreme Court had ruled as early as Jan. 28, 2014 that the provision of the "Ombudsman Act" of 1989 that gives the Office of the President disciplining powers over the government's watchdog deputies is UNCONSTITUTIONAL. As per that Act, only the Ombudsman can discipline his or her deputy, and she probably would have done so, except that the Palace couldn't wait for her retirement to cool off a bit in axing Deputy Carandang. .

As Morales insisted to media, "The Ombudsman will not allow herself to betray her sworn duty to uphold the Constitution by recognizing what is patently unconstitutional, as ordained by the Supreme Court." There were initial threats about impeaching Morales on this issue, but this was abandoned inasmuch as the feisty lady graft-buster remained popular and admired for her guts vis-a-vis Duterte.  While Morales was in the saddle, the Duterte administration kept its distance.


The Palace appointed 69-year old former Supreme Court Justice Samuel Martires last Monday as Morales' successor and all eyes are now on the poor man, who will be measured by standards set by the feisty lady. Would Martires enforce the President's order to kick out Carandang or would he have the guts to follow his gutsy predecessor on her avowal of independence for the office?

Recall that the Palace had already clashed with Ombudsman Morales when it ordered the 90-day suspension of her Deputy Ombudsman---on the issue of his supposedly irregular release of bank records of the Duterte family, allegedly in the billions, to the President's arch-critic,  Sen.Antonio Trillanes. The Palace feared that the information supposedly from AMLC would be used by Trillanes to charge Mr. Duterte with plunder.

Solicitor-General Jose Calida of quo warranto fame defended the validity of Carandang's dismissal resulting from this issue---arguing that the Constitution does not bar the President from disciplining a
deputy official. The Administration's rationale seemed to be that the authority TO HIRE also implies the  authority TO FIRE, but this is not upheld by recent decisions of the Supreme Court.

Some observers rue, however, that SC decisions are not cast in stone, and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque has already predicted confidently this reversal by the SC.. New Ombudsman Martires, however, seems to take the safe way out when he stressed that the sacking of Deputy Ombudsman Carandang "is a matter left to the courts to decide." .


President Duterte will retire on June 30, 2022, and until then, it is easy to predict that many legal skirmishes will still be fought by his officials in his name. With the retirement of the feisty Conchita Carpio Morales, aunt of the President's son-in-law, lawyer Maneses Carpio, last July 26, the ball is now in the court of new Ombudsman Martires whose association with Mr. Duterte appears to have come a long way.

Some observers don't give Mr. Martires the same allowance for impartiality that Carpio Morales displayed. For one,  Martires, a fraternity brod of President Duterte, who took his oath as Associate Justice on March 8, 2017---who also happened to be Mr. Duterte's very first appointee to the SC.  Justice Martires had previously occupied the post of Sandiganbayan for 10 years, starting in 2005, leaving a trail of controversial decisions.

 In 2012, he rendered the verdict clearing Marcos and Bobby Ongpin in the alleged Binondo Central Bank scam. News accounts also said that in April 2013,  Martires penned the Sandiganbayan resolution upholding the plea bargaining agreement struck between military comptroller Carlos Garcia and the Ombudsman.

The Filipino people are in for interesting times. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Digong's third SONA delivered at the 17th Congress would best be remembered for coup vs. Speaker Alvarez that installed GMA in his place. A pity that the coup buried some meaningful pronouncements by Duterte in a SONA sans expletives and verbal sling-shots at other leaders, such as toward VP Robredo last year.

Former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo plays out a new and more challenging role as the First Female Speaker of the House of Representatives. 

The 17th Congress of the Philippines will be remembered not for the surprisingly brief State of the Nation Address of President Duterte---but for the coup against Speaker Alvarez that took place over many hours at the Batasan last Monday. In a series of lightning moves by 184 members of the House of Representatives (out of a total membership of 234), who chose to install as their new leader former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, co-province-mate and co-PDP-Laban party-mate of President Duterte and his longtime ally, garnered only 48 votes while  12 representatives abstained. 

The Batasan audience sensed something big was going on when the appearance of the President in the cavernous session hall was delayed for over an hour---even though the giant screen inside the hall showed that he had already arrived. The audience realized something was afoot when a huge group of representatives milled around near the stage, discussing something still unclear to the vast SONA crowd at that time. Many in the audience, including the diplomats, grew more and more restless as still no SONA. I whiled away the time by chatting with a US Embassy political officer and a UNDP official.


Soon enough, I sensed that a coup vs. Speaker Alvarez was in progress and the buzz went around quickly that GMA was going to replace him. Still more waiting amid the raucous of voices and then GMA, who came in a an orange business suit and not in a Filipiniana outfit like most of us, obviously because she didn't have enough time to change outfits, went up the dais to sit at the Speaker's place---all by herself. By then great confusion reigned in the session hall. GMA tried the microphone, but no sound came out. The Alvarez camp had shut it out. 

Finally GMA decided to leave the dais and take her seat among her colleagues on the floor. More groups in a buzz, and after a long while a page came in and set up the Mace---the symbol of the House. 


President Duterte began the shortest speech among his three SONAs so far---which was cut short probably because he had already known what was happening in the House---which was the bigger story. Then Senate President Tito Sotto and by then still-Speaker Alvarez adjourned the session on behalf of their respective chambers. The buzz in the hall was that an arrangement was fashioned between the two protagonists for the Speakership that Alvarez would still get to preside over the House for the SONA---ONE LAST HURRAH FOR HIM.  

Soon after the reception for the guests, the President left by chopper back to the Palace. Then followed the climax of the day journeying quickly into late night---the viva voce voting for Speaker in the session hall, which was being very seriously taken. At that late hour, there was a quorum, which was in itself AN INCREDIBLE FACT IN A CHAMBER NOTORIOUS FOR ABSENCES. 


A big snag: the Alvarez camp, aside from turning off the power on the stage earlier, also did a good job of hiding the Mace---the symbol of House authority---so that it couldn't be produced for last Monday night's over-extended session and voting. Someone questioned whether voting without the Mace would be legal, but this argument was shot down by Camarines Sur's Rolando Andaya who likened the Mace to the policeman's chapa---even without it the policeman remains an officer of the law.  His explanation quieted the objectors and voting began fast and almost automatic---no complex explanations, just voting one by one, overwhelmingly for GMA. 

Buhay Rep. Joselito Atienza termed it "spontaneous combustion," though later reports said the plot was hatched earlier in Bonifacio Global City by a group led by Andaya. 


Lots of theories arose in the search for a rationale for Alvarez's ouster. Some pointed to his vigorous espousal of a "No-El" (no election) scenario---recently headlined by newspapers---which was said to have drawn flak toward the President inasmuch as Alvarez is considered one of his closest political allies and the latter would not do anything without Mr. Duterte's blessing. Perhaps it was there, but the whispered animosity of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte toward Alvarez---which was widely known in Davao---gathered more credence and showed the power of this young politician. Significantly, other politicians from Davao, such as Rep. Karlo Nograles and TonyBoy Floirendo were allied with Sara vs. Alvarez.

I spoke to Rep. Floirendo whose Tagum banana plantation became the object of Alvarez's ire after their two ladies quarreled over who gets to sit at which place of honor at the Bacolod Masskara Festival two years back. Floirendo, known to have been a major donor to Duterte's campaign, had few words of endearment for his fellow DavaoeƱo Alvarez. 

Another solon felt that Alvarez's espousal of same-sex marriage and divorce drew the ire of the Church.

Indeed, many possible reasons for Alvarez's unceremonious eviction. Everyone concedes, though, that the shake-up wouldn't have been possible without at least the tacit approval of Mr. Duterte.  At the session hall  after the voting, I managed to query new speaker GMA, looking quite tired, whether the coup vs. Alvarez had the approval of the President and she replied tartly and almost inaudibly, "Does it have to have his approval?"


Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was elected Speaker of the House tonight---a new phase in her long and distinguished political career. Former Senator and DENR Secretary Sonny Alvarez noted that In becoming Speaker after her nine year-presidency, GMA took the same path as John Quincy Adams in US history. After Adams finished his term as President of the US, he became a member of the US Congress---but as ordinary legislator and not as Speaker. Interesting new world for GMA. Great expectations from her colleagues. Congratulations, Mme. Speaker---the first Filipino woman to achieve this distinction in a predominantly man's world.

If the shift to federalism, as President Duterte is now campaigning furiously for, takes place, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo could conceivably become the first Prime Minister and the first Filipino woman to achieve this goal. Some commentators note that with Duterte shooting his mouth off frequently without thinking, GMA would be the perfect foil, as she is known as a meticulous plodder especially in the realm of economics and foreign investments. 

 At the moment the idea of GMA's return to the top is reaping a lot of favorable remarks, but her political enemies are also quite active in shooting it down. This petite woman, however, has fought many political battles over the decades and she appears to be in this new game to stay. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Pacquiao made Pinoys forget even for a brief moment the galloping inflation, high prices and Duterte's rant vs.God as we celebrated his stunning victory vs.Argentine champ Matthysee. OPAPP's Dureza quotes "moral hazard" (coined by World Bank) of giving livelihood to warriors abandoning arms but seemingly neglecting those who live peaceful but economically challenged lives.

Manny Pacquiao waits in corner for his opponent to rise, which he never did.

Indeed the Filipino people were united for perhaps one and a half hours last Sunday noon, as our champ Manny Pacquiao challenged Argentine champ Lucas Matthysee for the WBA Welterweight World Title in the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia---with no less than President Duterte and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad watching from the galllery. 

Frankly, I was quite nervous as Pacquiao at 39 is four years older as well as three centimeters shorter in height than his opponent---in a sport where age and arm’s reach could spell disaster on the short end. But Manny stuck to the legend he has created, with 20 more wins than the Argentinian, even though our hometown boy had 7 losses vs. Matthysee’s four.


As the boxing fight raged, I was speeding to Wack Wack Subdivision in Greenhills to attend the 87thbirthday celebration of my longtime friend Teresa V. Daza, and I knew that my driver, Rod, was watching the fight from the car TV even as we drove.  That he could bump someone else’s vehicle and we’d get into a fight worried me, but I couldn’t find the heart to stop him from watching intermittently, as I knew how much Pinoys had yearned for such a match---after the long disappearance of our champ from the ring.

After the luncheon for Tessie Daza I visited my ailing brother Danny Olivares in Marikina and this time I got to watch the replay---how Pacquiao’s lightning jab finally sent Matthysee half-kneeling on the floor----the third in the 7th round, though not quite a knock out. That punch by Pacquiao, though, was enough to TKO the Argentinian.


I have never been a boxing fan as I find this sport too brutal for my sensibilities, but I can understand why the Inquirer would banner that “Pacquiao victory unites nation anew.” Superficially, I agree. For one bright shining moment, in practically every home across the archipelago, Filipinos forgot their own wrestling with galloping inflation, high prices, maddening traffic in the metropolis, brutal killings of priests and drug addicts and many more, as they waited with bated breath for that one right-left punch that would cut short the Argentinian’s reign as welterweight king.


Just as interesting as the boxing fight between Pacquiao and Matthysee, though,  was President Duterte’s advice to Manny Pacquiao after that splendid victory. Along with Manny’s friends, the presidential wish is that the champ would retire to enjoy life and “rest on his laurels,” adding that he has already so much money, no problem.”  Manny retiring?  That looks like one for the books for one who has managed to win unprecedentedly in no less than eight different weight divisions. At age 39---he'll be 40 in December--- he's raring to take on anyone in the boxing world. 

But I agree with Mr. Duterte: Manny should quit while he's ahead and enjoy life: have fun with his family, smell the flowers and look at the blue sky more often.  After all, he is already one of the greatest boxers of all time---a legend unto himself with his 39 KOs in his 23-year boxing career. With his earnings from his spectacular boxing career that have run into billions of pesos, Manny could also make history by putting up a foundation that addresses the primary needs of his countrymen, e.g., providing education to the poorest of the poor, so that these citizens could be more productive and reduce the appalling poverty and unemployment levels. 

But no, he's quoted tonight as wanting to take on Floyd Mayweather once again!   His body may be that of a nearly 40-year old guy, but the spirit is that of a boxing ingenue who seem never to have tasted defeat..                 

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jess Dureza
My radio partner, Cecile Guidote Alvarez, and I had a most productive interview with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Chief Jesus “Jess” Dureza, aired last Sunday at 6pm. on "Radyo Balintataw" over nationwide dzRH.  Jess Dureza is a friend from way back and I hold that he is ideal to head OPAPP as he is naturally simpatico and approachable---not the abrasive and antagonistic type of public official. 

We all long for peace in our country, so that precious resources currently devoted to killing fellow Filipinos could instead lift them up from the poverty of centuries. The NPAs thrive on existing poverty and hopelessness to spread their gospel of violence, but as Secretary Dureza pointed out in our program, the dissidents "should help us win goodwill for them---because to integrate them into society would need a law to be passed." 


Stressing the importance of continuing cultural discussion and mediation, Peace Adviser Dureza noted that there are leftists who started as ideologues but who are now happily desirous of peaceful integration into society. He stressed, however,  that even if a ceasefire could be maintained on the collection of revolutionary tax, there are still those who would resort to this method, such as the 'violent extremists' "out of step with those desirous of peace."  

"The work for Peace is the work of a lifetime, and should be undertaken by all Filipinos who love their country," the OPAPP Chief stressed, adding that "you cannot have peace if you don't have it in your heart." In this I agree. Dureza also admitted that society really has to address anger and the angst in the hearts of some Filipinos. 

For instance, he recalled that his grandfather was beheaded by the Japanese and it took him a while to appease his anger over this horrible incident in his own heart.  My radio partner, RM Awardee for Theater Cecile Alvarez, also recalled that her own grandfather suffered the same fate, but that she lost her anger over the tragic episode once she started getting to know the Japanese students studying drama in the famed La Mama Theater in the US, where she enrolled in the Alvarezes' exile years in the US. 


At our dzRH program, Secretary Dureza spoke about the twin paradigm of Peace and Development, and prevailing complaints about lack of livelihood in certain areas, such as Sulu. He admitted that while giving livelihood to former dissident warriors could upset those who have remained peaceful, this is what the World Bank had coined as the "moral hazard." He also referred to the "peace lens" that's community-based and inclusive. 

Dureza stressed that President Duterte is committed to bringing about peace in the country. He also cited how the Chief Executive would often talk with some jest about how his mother Soledad, a known disciplinarian, would make her young son Rodrigo face the wall as punishment when he was naughty. That early, the President would tell his officials, "I was already united to Jesus." 

Did Secretary Dureza narrate this episode in Duterte's early years by way of negating the effect of the latter's controversial pronouncement about God being "stupid" some weeks back?