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, April 24, 2015

Election fever truly upon us as Maliksi takes over PCSO and Customs Commissioner Sevilla resigns owing to “political pressures.” Corrupt practices of departments run by P-Noy allies exposed by COA in the billions of pesos, hitting most impoverished sector---the farm folks. Lagman proposes combination of manual precinct vote and count, but electronic transmission to Comelec HQ using “official laptops.” PCOS costs P16B while proposed laptops would cost only P4B. No expensive (air-conditioned) warehousing of machines needed.

Various citizens across the nation are all talking about recent fast developments which  seem to impact on the coming elections.

Recently a close ally of President Aquino, former Cavite Gov. Ayong Maliksi, was assigned to head the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), which is considered among the agencies most milked during elections. The problem is that Maliksi had been involved in questionable cases in the past in the same agency, so that this prompted a media commentator to opine that appointing him to the PCSO is like turning the blood bank over to Count Dracula.

The reaction of many citizens to Maliksi’s appointment to PCSO was highly unfavorable, and was read as yet another ill-disguised attempt by the Aquino administration to ignore public opinion--- just to enable its candidates to win the coming elections so that they could  protect P-Noy from prosecution in the post-presidency.


Resigned Customs Commissioner John Philip Sevilla

Now comes the resignation of Cornell and Princeton University-educated Customs Commissioner John Philip Sevilla, owing to what he termed “political pressures” at this time, just a year away from the elections; this has hogged headlines anew. Sevilla was quoted in the Inquirer as saying that he had sought “to uphold the time-honored principle that public office is a public trust” and that he took those words seriously, promising that “there will be no politics or/and patronage system in the appointments in the Customs bureau.” . Unfortunately, said Sevilla, ahead of the 2016 elections, “Politics is in the atmosphere. I could feel strongly political factors are moving in the background.”

Appointed in Sevilla’s place is Bert Lina who had held the same post in Customs during the Arroyo years, but who was among top officials, termed the “Hyatt 10” and led by then (as now) Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, who resigned in the wake of supposed anomalies implicating President Arroyo in the elections of 2004. The Hyatt 10 group sought to force---unsuccessfully--- President Arroyo to resign in mid-2005.


Ironically, Finance Secretary Purisima had fulsome praises for outgoing Customs Chief John Philip Sevilla, who had been his longtime undersecretary in the Finance Department. The Inquirer cited Purisima’s testimony about how Sevilla had helped the bureau’s collection grow by 21 percent in the past four years, vs. only 5 percent in the pre-reform period, and how he made Customs “one of the most radically open, transparent and efficient agencies in government.”

The question that will doubtless come to mind among citizens who read Purisima’s glowing praises for resigned Customs Chief Sevilla is, what happened, then? As street lingo puts it, “Anyare?”  If Sevilla is efficient, honest, “with uncompromising courage and integrity,” why would he be forced to resign? Thus, Sevilla's outcry that there's just "too much politics" in Customs in the coming election months gains credence.

News reports assert that he was imposed the task of raising P3 billion in campaign funds from Customs which proved just too much for this technocrat. 

It also makes it tough for Bert Lina to come in at this time, for aside from the political demands of the election season, there’s the lingering issue hounding him about conflict of interest. Several former and present politicians have questioned whether Lina has truly divested from his transport and brokerage firm, the LGC Logistics. News reports said that current SEC records indicate that he remains LGC’s board chair.


Five years into its presidency and just a year from the elections,  the Aquino administration is being hounded by accusations of illegal and incompetent disbursements of funds in the billions--- by no less than the Commission on Audit. These accusations appear to be well-grounded on facts and the tragedy is that such gargantuan funds have been released without corresponding proper implementation of major projects that ought to impact on one of the most impoverished sectors of our society: the farming communities. No wonder our rural folk remain so poor that they all flock to Manila seeking life-desperate employment. .

According to COA the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), under Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes, has failed to fully implement two major development projects worth PP12.8 billion in several farming communities---despite the release of funds for these programs which included farm-to-market roads and bridges. Some projects have failed to undergo bidding, in violation of government laws, and in many instances were only partially completed. Yet, all funds have been released.


On the other hand, news reports quoted COA as asserting that the Department of Agriculture, headed by Aquino long-time ally and LP partymate Proceso Alcala, squandered more than P14.4 billion in year 2013, in questionable projects implemented despite violations of laws and regulations. If those projects were attempted in 2013, think of how much has been squandered by now---with the elections nearing.

The COA releases of data and documents linking Secretary Alcala, whom P-Noy has been defending all these years, to questionable projects came just a day after the Sandiganbayan convicted Oriental Mindoro Gov. Alfonso Umali, head of the League of Governors and another staunch ally of President Aquino, for up to 10 years in prison owing to graft-ridden projects. Umali is the first League of Governors prexy ever to be convicted.

P-Noy’s stout defenders always like to assert that he is “clean” and “honest,” and in fairness to him, no direct link has been established to involve him. But all these cases of graft and corruption in the billions of public funds involving his closest allies---Alcala, de los Reyes, Umali, etc---show that either P-Noy is incompetent and does not know what is happening around him, or he tolerates all the shenanigans to get his anointed candidates elected. .

By raising funds for the LP war chest, P-Noy could actually be buying insurance for himself against prosecution, owing to many constitutional violations of his administration. But he must also realize that with all the corruption that has gone unabated in his watch being revealed now by a COA that seems to have finally shed its timidity (!), his anointed stands little chance to win---unless of course, they resort to cheating.  


Which brings us directly to this topic and exploration of ways and means to avoid this periodic bane of Philippine elections.  

At a recent TV program hosted by Lynda Jumilla the representative of PPCRV seemed to be defending the Comelec representative, or was simply not tech-savvy. 

Former Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman’s proposal---a stand that seems to have been adopted by the entire local IT world---is to have a combination of manual elections and count, but electronic transmission of election results from the precincts. As per the IT people’s proposal, each precinct will be equipped with a big screen where the manual results would be flashed for everyone to see. At the end of the counting,representatives of the various political parties and citizens’ groups---or anyone really----can take photos of the total precinct results.


Gus Lagman proposes that during the counting of votes at the precinct level, an “OFFICIAL LAPTOP COMPUTER” should be designated to simultaneously send each vote to Comelec as it’s counted. Now, PPCRV argued in that same program hosted by Jumilla that this method can be manipulated if the actual vote is not sent through a laptop. This is true, but it can be answered easily by two ways. 

At the end of the counting,  data recorded in the “official Laptop” should be flashed on the screen so that citizens and party reps can check them against their own laptops. These results can then be compared with “Official Laptop” results.

This will make cheating difficult to do, but what’s good is that the system would have all the benefits of electronic counting, but it would be a lot cheaper---Smartmatic’s very flawed system costs P16 billion, whereas Gus Lagman’s proposal costs only P4 billion. Moreover, those government-acquired laptops could be donated to public schools after the elections---no expensive warehousing with air-conditioning, such as the old PCOS machines require, and which the government, not Smartmatic, shoulders. .

Corollary to this proposed system, the citizens’ arm and election watchdog, Namfrel, could be truly activated to devise a parallel system that’s virtually cheating-proof. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Napoles’ reclusion perpetua sentence may be harsh but the law is the law. What about some 200 politicians who profited from siphoning estimated P10-B PDAF to Napoles’ fake NGOs---their crime just as serious, but are they being investigated? PAO Chief Persida Acosta discloses that Iqbal and co-accused in 2003 Davao bombings were cleared, but failure of Aquino negotiators to be candid about this issue, Mamasapano and Iqbal’s nom de guerre sinks gov’t’s credibility. As elections near, BBL passage dimmer.

Janet Lim Napoles, who’ll go down in infamy as the person who lured perhaps as many as 200 members of both chambers of Congress to allegedly channel as much as P10 billion in pork barrel funds to fictitious NGOs, has been committed to 40 years imprisonment, known as reclusion perpetua. She now languishes with about 180 other inmates in the Women’s Correctional in Mandaluyong but not, however, on account of those siphoned funds. Rather it’s on account of having subjected her cousin and junior partner in her PDAF syndicate, Ben-Hur Luy  (who in the end felt entitlement to the same racket and devised his own schemes), to what Luy claims was illegal detention of three months, never mind if his "prison" was Janet's fancy penthouse in the Pacific Plaza Towers in Bonifacio Global City.


Many people, including Star’s columnist Bobbit Avila as well as this blogger, felt the sentence of life imprisonment for Janet was too harsh---especially since Luy's detention was only for three months and he himself was as cunning as Napoles. But lawyer-friends I talked to explained that as per our Revised Penal Code, illegal detention is most serious as it’s tantamount to kidnapping---the curtailment of one’s civil liberties. In fact, the Code’s Art. 267 provides that the penalty is reclusion perpetua to death if the detention lasts for more than five days. Since there is no death penalty in our jurisprudence, the Makati RTC judge had no choice but to impose reclusion perpetua on Napoles (so folks, if you’re thinking of kidnapping the object of your unrequited love, better think twice or three times!). Dura lex, sed lex.

In fact, Makati lawyer Dindo Donato argues that illegal detention might actually be considered more serious than the PDAF billions that Janet is accused of siphoning. But one thing going for her is that her case may still be appealed to the Supreme Court and as lawyers point out, good behavior could mitigate that harsh sentence.


A recent Inquirer editorial notes the lack of outrage or the timid reaction from the public about Napoles. My take is that for one thing, so many other issues have surfaced since Luy hit the headlines with the revelation about l’affaire Janet. But there are those of us who are upset now more because the list of Janet’s “Honorable” accomplices as furnished by COA and the DOJ seems to have been deliberately stopped after the prosecution of the three senators now detained at Camp Crame, who allegedly  siphoned off their PDAF to Napoles’ syndicate from 2007-2009.

It will be recalled that soon after revelation of the three senators’ crimes with their PDAF, DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima and then COA Chief Grace Pulido Tan (now retired) promised to reveal more names from the current administration (close presidential buddies of Napoles from the executive and legislative branches, no less), but nothing of that sort happened.

That promise was conveniently snowed under by many other issues---just one more instance of selective justice under the P-Noy administration.


If you ask me, those Honorables in Congress are far guiltier than Napoles because they already were wallowing in so much public funds as entitlements of their positions, and yet they succumbed to the lure of huge kickbacks from fake NGOs from Napoles and her accomplices.

A number of people in fact suspect that the court put away Napoles for life in order to make sure she doesn’t talk about her friends in high places. That list is long for it’s said to include President Noynoy who personally escorted her to Crame in the middle of the night, and Senate President Franklin Drilon who with his wife ere repeat guests at Janet’s lavish parties at her mother’s mausoleum in Heritage Memorial Park, as attested by photos in the internet.


The disclosure that the Muslim leader who has represented the MILF in these past three years in negotiations with the PH government had operated under the nom de guerre of Mohagher Iqbal may prove to be one of the last nails on the coffin of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that’s due for renewed consideration and voting in Congress in the next few weeks. Advocates of the BBL are making light of this issue of the alias of the MILF’s chief negotiator---what’s in a name, as they put it rhetorically, when anyway, so they argue, the government has always known  his real identity.

But the P-Noy administration must understand that it’s not just the names and aliases but the way this issue has been carried out with characteristic deception and lack of candor---STRIP-TEASE STYLE, I call it---that citizens are outraged about. This style of governance has caused the administration's credibility to plunge to all-time low and now, with elections months away, this reality could imperil years of peace negotiations with the MILF and the BBL that’s supposed to be the formula for lasting peace and stability in Muslim Mindanao.


To top it all, a few days ago the last nail may have been hammered into the BBL: news reports said that Mohagher Iqbal is actually Santucan Abbas, or Lubis Abbas, and that he was implicated, along with about 190 other MILF followers in the bombing of the Davao International Airport in March 2003 that killed dozens of people, and that of the Sasa Wharf there a few weeks after.

Horror of horrors, argue many citizens now  up in arms--- is the guy with whom the PH government negotiated and signed the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro early in 2014 with a lot of hoopla and panoply at Malacanang Palace, and who is now pressing for passage of the BBL, a notorious terrorist?  

PAO Chief Persida Acosta

While lawyers argue serious liabilities in the law that using a nom de guerre in official treatises entail, I have my own grave reservations about some aspects of the BBL that Congress will resume deliberating very soon. I too protest the lousy handling of issues related to this proposed organic act for Muslim Mindanao, as well as the Mamasapano botched operation and the identity crisis over Iqbal a.k.a.Lubis Abbas---all of which our peace negotiators muddled.  But there’s something that many media people are overlooking, deliberately or not, WHICH MUST BE STATED FOR THE SAKE OF THE TRUTH.

When reports surfaced that Iqbal was among the MILF people involved in the bombings in Davao in 2003 and that they were defended in court by the Chief of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), the straight-talking Persida Acosta, I checked details with her. I know PAO Chief Acosta as she and I had worked in defense of ex-PMA Cadet First Class Jeff Aldrin Cudia whom we both considered a victim of injustice and conspiracy inside that elite military educational institution (update on Cudia’s status for another blog).


Persida Acosta explained that she was assigned by then Justice Secretary Simeon Datumanong to take up the defense of Iqbal and the others involved in the Davao bombings case (inasmuch as the PAO is tasked with defending all Filipinos, she had also defended some alleged New People’s Army leaders in the past). Acosta confirmed that Iqbal signed his name as Lubis Abbas Mohagher Iqbal in various documents, but she also stressed that he and the other defendants were CLEARED in the Davao bombings and that in fact only two people are still on trial in that case.  

The disclosures by Acosta clearly indicate that the PH negotiating panel headed by Miriam Coronel Ferrer under the supervision of Peace Process Secretary Teresita Deles either chose not to reveal the true identity of Iqbal--- perhaps to keep his having been incriminated in the Davao bombings hush-hush---or they simply failed to do due diligence in their job.

Either way, the administration’s bunglings do not shore up its credibility and the possibility of BBL’s passage before P-Noy’s last SONA at the end of this July appears quite bleak. There’s talk that as usual, money is flowing in the House to ease its passage, but with elections 12 months away, many politicians may be scared to pass that law in the face of public outrage.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Would Mamasapano operation have succeeded if AFP’s elite Scout Rangers had handled it? Koko insists at this late stage that Bangsamoro should be for entire Mindanao region and not only for MILF, while a former congressional leader asserts that PH gov’t should have recruited Indonesia as mediator in BBL/MILF issue, since we’re having conflict with Malaysia on our Sabah claim. CDO Rep. Rufus Rodriguez promises that his ad hoc committee would delete at least eight provisions in the draft BBL while Senate has its own trimming to do. But can we hold the pols to their promise in an election year?

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, head of the House ad hoc committee on the BBL

A former ranking politician known for his savvy views recently opined to a group that he felt Malaysia should not have been the mediator between the Philippine government and the MILF, inasmuch as PH has outstanding issues with that country. One of them is our claim to Sabah which Malaysia has refused to recognize over decades. Moreover, Malaysians have direct business interests in this country. This veteran pol asserted that if there should be a mediator, it should be Indonesia. 

I agree. In fact many Filipinos are suspicious that Malaysia’s full backing for the MILF may stem from its interest in the tremendous wealth potential of Western Mindanao that’s covered by the Bangsamoro---among them oil and natural gas and minerals. 


Nearly three months after the Mamasapano tragedy debate is still going on in some quarters on whether the bloody encounter that resulted in the death of 67 Filipinos, including 44 PNP SAF elite commandos, could have been avoided with better coordination and a more studied approach. There are accusations from the MILF side that the government had failed to give proper notice to the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH)---as demanded by the peace agreement between government and the MILF signed with tremendous fanfare in Malacanang last year--- about its intention to get international terrorist Marwan. 

The government side failed to notify the CCCH obviously because it didn’t want to telegraph to the MILF its moves re the high-value target who had been staying in MILF-controlled territory for many months already. The triumvirate that carried out the SAF operation, namely, President Aquino, resigned PNP Chief Alan Purisima and sacked SAF Chief Getulio Napenas, felt they just couldn’t trust the MILF, and for that matter even the AFP. Purisima only told the Western Mindanao Command of the operation when the 45 SAF troopers, part of a larger force of nearly 400 that invaded Mamasapano, were already mired on the ground and fighting for their lives. Only one of these 45 lived to tell his tale.


I myself had wondered how detection of the invading SAF and the resultant bloody encounter could have been avoided with so large a number of PNP troopers assailing the wee hours of the morning. It turns out that I wasn’t the only one wondering. A report quoted a former AFP Scout Ranger as opining that the job of taking out Marwan should have been given to the Scout Rangers, who would have needed no more than twelve men,  and the chances of their success would have been far bigger than that of the 400 SAF. It would have involved, said the report, lightning insertion and extrication with perhaps one helicopter.

It’s now all in hindsight---Monday morning quarterbacking---but looking back, perhaps the Scout Rangers, who, together with the Special Forces are under the Special Operations Command of the AFP, would have done better, especially if the raid were made earlier than the Muslims’ 2 am. first prayer for the day.


Comparison of the botched Mamasapano operation is being made with the successful attack and slaying of then most wanted  international terrorist Osama Bin Laden, head of Al Qaeda, that was  carried out nearly two years ago in his compound in Abbottabad, northeast of Islamabad, Pakistan by a small group of US Navy Seals  in the dead of night. It was a most daring feat that astounded the world,  but records of that operation showed painstaking full-blown planning and deliberations of the Obama Cabinet and top military commanders for months.

Why President Aquino approved a raid by almost 400 police troopers---45 of them in the inner sanctum of Marwan and the rest on the periphery---no matter how elite they were---defies the imagination. Various media outdid one another in labeling that botched raid as the most amateurish one can imagine. This is not to mention the suspended status of P-Noy’s BFF and chief planner Purisima, the stand-down order that immobilized whatever help the AFP could muster at that late notification, the adherence to secrecy among three people, and the recourse to text-messaging throughout the operation when time was of utmost importance.

It was truly a black eye before the world.


Koko Pimentel was quoted in Standard recently as admonishing the Senate  not to make the BBL look like it’s catering too much to the MILF, and instead to make its provisions “neutral” so that it would make that armed group aware “that the proposed measure is not only for their group but for the entire Bangsamoro region in Mindanao.”  Pimentel’s admonition came after a World Bank report that stated that despite the passage of the BBL, peace and security in Western Mindanao cannot be guaranteed. How I wish Koko’s admonition came earlier when the Palace was still drafting that proposed law and debating it in Congress. At this point it may be a trifle too late to tilt this supposedly organic law to a more sensible and realistic direction--- given the tremendous pressure exerted by Malacanang to pass it. As one columnist put it, P-Noy is “obsessed” to pass it. Throw in the fact, too, that the legislators are approaching elections and may be extra susceptible to bribes this administration is wont to dish out. 


The citizens’ hope may lie in the opinion expressed recently by Cagayan de Oro  Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the House ad hoc committee on the BBL, who was quoted earlier as opining that at least eight provisions of the draft BBL would be deleted owing to their unconstitutional features. Let’s hope that Rep. Rodriguez, who was very thorough in his objection to the RH Bill two years ago, would really not be bamboozled  by the deadline imposed by the Palace: to pass the BBL BEFORE P-Noy's very last SONA  on the last Monday of this July.

For as former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban pointed out in his column recently, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio had “unflinchingly” declared unconstitutional not only the underlying “associative” concepts of the MOA-AD” of the Macapagal-Arroyo era, but quite significantly, also 36 of its specific provisions. Panganiban asserts that “shadows of (the MOA-AD) can be gleaned in the BBL.”

On the other hand, he noted that lawyer and now CJ Ma. Lourdes Sereno had participated in the controversy as counsel for Sen. Franklin Drilon, who was an intervenor in the MOA-AD.  Sereno’s 72-page memo detailed “constitutional violations (that) eroded the sovereignty of the Republic of the Philippines…split its national identity… (and) created a state within a state---a concept alien and antithetical to the one sovereign nation embodied in the Constitution.”


Thus these opinions of the High Magistrates could be dark portents for the BBL.  Over the Holy Week this blogger read (as penance for my sins!) the 99-page “Bangsamoro Basic Law”, which is House Bill No. 4994, sponsored by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and 16 other legislators. And right there I noted several features that, I’m sure, would be struck out by the Supreme Court if challenged legally. More about  the tough portions of the BBL next time.