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, November 21, 2014

Unrelieved congestion at Port of Manila (82,000 containers) shoots up prices of commodities as X'mas approaches. 200-year old Pedrosa mansion in Palo and 50 other old houses ordered bulldozed for "street widening"---little regard for Heritage.

I heard a TV personality last night airing complaints of Filipinos abroad, as to why their relatives in Manila have not yet received their balikbayan goodies they had sent early enough. A columnist in a Manila paper queried why, despite the prices of imported oil going down, the price of foodstuffs hasn’t come down. The answer to both these queries is simple: the congestion at the Port of Manila where all these shipped goods are forwarded, has not been alleviated. 

In my blog early last month, I wrote of the paralysis in the Port of Manila that's affecting the entire economy. The problem is that this has not been relieved but in fact it even worsened and magnified the urgency of a solution, as the Christmas Season is upon us.

There are presently some 82,000 containers (!) and no one seems to have a solution to getting these containers moving, other than President Aquino begging's for patience, patience, as his people try to seek solutions that haven’t come, But it’s four weeks to Christmas Day, when most of the goods in those container vans have to be under Christmas trees in homes or in windows of department stores. But they’re not. So prices of goods available will shoot up.


Some days ago, I saw an urgent suggestion in the newspaper from the private sector asking Malacanang to appoint a PIER CZAR to handle the frightening congestion, but Palace reaction was to simply turn it down. It's just like the traffic in Metro Manila about which everyone complains, but  no explanation is being given on what's being done to alleviate congestion---both at the pier and on Metro Manila’s streets.

In what’s supposed to be a season of grace and cheer, tempers are rising and the businessmen are pretty turned off by loss of their markets and the increased costs of unwanted, and oftentimes unpredicted storage. Unfortunately, more attention even at this point is being made to politics---destroying the administration’s perceived enemies or trying to beef up support for whoever would be the LPs' candidate---when there are more immediate problems such as the congestion at the Port of Manila and the horrendous traffic.

Mr. Aquino should know that soon he’ll begin to look like Mr. Scrooge, the spoiler of Christmas.


A few days ago, lawyer Ramon Acebedo Pedrosa, who had served for a long time as president of the Alay sa Kawal Foundation that yours truly had founded in 1986, to help widows and orphans of ordinary soldiers killed in action, called Star columnist Domini Torrevillas and myself to a meeting titled HELP! Within ten minutes of explanation by Ramon and his lawyer, retired Judge Marino Buban of Palo, Leyte, where the Pedrosas hail from, I realized why they claim that they have "a problem worse than Yolanda.'

The Pedrosas, which count a number of prominent citizens---aside from lawyer Ramon Pedrosa, there's banker Carlos Pedrosa; the deceased Ambassador Alberto Pedrosa, former husband of Star columnist Carmen Navarro Pedrosa; Msgr. Augusto Pedrosa of the Manila Archdiocese, and civic leaders Josefina P. Manahan and Lita P. Hidalgo---are all descended from Luisa Acebedo and Don Pio Pedrosa, who had made a name as a prominent Cabinet member in several administrations. 

Palo in Leyte figures prominently in the next two months as plans call for Pope Francis to plane into Tacloban Airport where he'll say mass right at the tarmac; from there he’ll be driven right away to the Archdiocese of Palo a few kms.away to meet with Yolanda-stricken families of Tacloban over lunch in the residence of Palo Archbishop John Du. Unfortunately there seems no plan to let the Pope see the famous tent cities of the homeless in Tacloban. 

Given this background, the plight of Palo becomes even more urgent: in fact it has given birth to the "Save Palo Movement.”


The Pedrosa ancestral house in Palo, Leyte before and after typhoon Yolanda

To put the plight of Palo in a nutshell:

There are about 300 old houses in the town center of Palo, along San Salvador St. and Don Pio Pedrosa Avenue, with some of them right in front of the Cathedral of Palo and the Archbishop’s residence. The oldest there is the 200-year old house that had belonged to the family of Luisa Noble Acebedo, who had married Pio Pedrosa.  Over past decades, as the large Pedrosa brood moved to Manila, the ground floor of the Pedrosa home was converted into a public library, paying no rent to the family.

The Pedrosa mansion played a distinct role in Palo’s history, for at one time or another it had played the role of municipio, jail, post office and municipal school. During the Revolution against Spain the mansion had served as headquarters of the Katipunan in Leyte. Upon landing at Red Beach, Palo, in October 1944, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, former President Sergio Osmena, his aide-de-camp Gen. Carlos P. Romulo and the liberating forces stayed in the Pedrosa mansion. For decades afterwards, the house has served as public library of Palo, free of charge.


The Pedrosa ancestral home before and after Yolanda

Then misfortune upon misfortune fell on the old homes: over a year ago Yolanda destroyed most of the prominent ones in that town center; the Pedrosa mansion, which boasted of typical Spanish architecture of 200 ago, was reduced to a mere shell (the old Palo Cathedral across was unroofed).. That’s how strong Yolanda was, but now, as the homeowners regard it, the "aftermath" could be far more damaging.  

Over the past years several notices from the DPWH have already been received by the owners of those iconic houses. The latest order came last month, which obviously sought to capitalize on the severity of the typhoon's damage---ordering them to demolish whatever was left by Yolanda in order to give way to "street-widening" that will ease up traffic congestion in that major thoroughfare.

If the homeowners refuse to cooperate, said the DPWH memos, it would bulldoze those houses and charge them for the labor and materials used, and make them answerable for their "obstinacy." The tenor of the orders seems worse than a throwback to the Marcos era. The homeowners lament that instead of helping them rebuild their homes, government chooses to make their lives more miserable by throwing them out into the streets. 


The Pedrosa ancestral house in Palo, Leyte in happier times

The Pedrosas have the support of fellow home-owners in Palo and they are determined to fight the demolition and street-widening. What makes the case interesting is that there are already two by-pass roads, one in the East and another in the West, with complete funds available, and in fact one bypass road is already finished. The concerned homeowners stress that with these bypasses there would be no need for the street widening as congestion would ease up in the town center; it would also decrease pressure on the old Bernard Bridge between Palo and Leyte, which is already showing "over-use fatigue." 

What amazes the homeowners is that despite the definite ease-up of traffic with the completion of these road bypasses, the DPWH still insists on the widening of San Salvador St., which means demolishing all those old homes, including the iconic Pedrosa mansion. This lead family in the crusade has written Dr. Maris Diokno of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines for help and she has communicated to DPWH her desire for a conference, reminding it of RA 1066, on the preservation of heritage structures. 

The Pedrosas, backed up by 583 petitioners, have also written to Leyte officials including former Gov. and now Mayor of Palo Matin Petilla and, more importantly, to President Aquino---but to date no response has been received from anyone of them.

So what gives? For the fund of it? 


My quarrel with custodians of our heritage is that they always come in too late---take a look at the protests over the DMCI building behind Rizal Monument, now that it's almost finished. I also recall the destruction of the magnificent bahay na bato of the Yaptinchays in Binan, Laguna, which was the setting of the beautiful movie based on Nick Joaquin’s play, "Portrait of the Artist as Filipino," starring two great actresses, Daisy Hontiveros-Avellana and Naty Crame Rogers, as the spinster sisters guarding their home. I was able to visit that Binan mansion some time after I saw both movie and play by Nick Joaquin and how I admired it---so huge that it covered a whole block. I never saw anything like it in all the country. 

But unfortunately the next thing I knew, it was demolished and gave way to a shopping complex . Perhaps the heirs didn't think it much fun to be hearing someone dragging a heavy ball with chains in the middle of the night (as stories abounded about the mansion), but a government agency tasked to preserve such historic places could have taken over. 

It is truly mournful that we Filipinos have so little sense of history. Manila used to be a charming city with such lovely landmarks, but they are all going or gone. Let’s help in the crusade to preserve the old houses of Palo, Leyte. Please write letters to Sec. Singson, Commissioner Diokno, even P-Noy.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

First it was Lipa, then Cebu City and on to Butuan City as National Transformation Council marches on, amid growing discontent and frustration with current governance. Former DND Secretary Norberto Gonzales decries problems borne by corrupted budget, e.g, a million cases clogging courts due to lack of lawyers. Three young NTC stars, models for Filipino youth: Greco Belgica who won the case vs. DAP in SC; former Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong who continues battling PCOS-machined elections, and religious leader/professor Christian Seneres, who advocates “judicial coup d’etat.”

The jampacked Butuan Assembly

First it was Lipa City last Aug. 27, hosted by Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles. Then it was Cebu City last Oct. 1, hosted by Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, and then last November 11 it was Butuan City in the Caraga region, hosted by Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos, with Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla, Archbishop of Zamboanga Romulo de la Cruz and other prelates and diocesan priests, Protestant Pastor Art Corpuz and imams from Mindanao joining some 2,000 citizens from all over the region.

From here on several assemblies are scheduled in Central and Southern Luzon, as well as in Davao City and a big one in Metro Manila and Northern Luzon, etc.


It’s not your typical hakot political rally where people are paid P300 per head, now here, gone in two hours---but the National Transformation Council (NTC) live and in action. NTC's assemblies draw big highly emotionally-charged crowds from various faith communities---led by archbishops and bishops, Protestant pastors and imams and ulamas from the Muslim sector, who lay down the spiritual and moral foundation for political action---as well as leaders and professionals of civil society who protest the Aquino administration’s incompetence and corruption. 

In the first three assemblies, a historic “Declaration” has been issued each time and signed by attendees, calling for President Aquino and his cohorts to step down in favor of other leaders who can do the job of governing far more competently and honestly. These twin issues of corruption and incompetence raised in each assembly are particularized to explore problems and solutions in the host region---the better to connect with the locals.


The NTC assemblies, reminiscent of past protest movements in Philippine history, are being stirred with INCREASING EMOTION in various places around the country. They add to the urgency of CHANGE in the current political landscape, where various national and local politicians are mired in charges and counter-charges of corruption---polluting the political atmosphere everywhere. The eagerness of ordinary citizens to attend these assemblies signals that people are truly seeking reform, not just of the corrupt and ineffective system and the bundle of politicos leading the nation, but also of the HEART AND MORAL FIBER of the nation.

Our people obviously are sick and ashamed of the political depravity which has become synonymous with our native land, and many have found in the NTC challenge the seeds of hope for a more MORAL and prosperous future that Filipinos failed to get under their political leaders---but which they more than fully deserve as a nation of HOLINESS AND HEROISM (to borrow a phrase from the National Prayer for the Apostolic Visit of Pope Francis).

In Butuan, a young tribal girl with a magnificent voice sang the EDSA Revolution’s anthem, “Bayan Ko,” provoking clenched fists once again and tears in many eyes. In Cebu City this blogger sat next to a woman leader from Mindanao who couldn’t stop crying throughout the NTC assembly led by Cardinal Vidal---she evidently felt a deep love for country, but also the pain of despondence and hopelessness over our lurid politics.


In its editorial last Nov. 14, the Daily Tribune noted that in the Lipa Declaration, “the issues raised were corruption and Noynoy’s defiance of the Supreme Court in its ruling on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as being unconstitutional.” In the Cebu Declaration, P-Noy was “again asked to relinquish the presidency as he was accused of selective justice in the pork barrel controversy, the failure to stem the rising extremism in the troubled parts of Mindanao, the lingering corrupt system of government and the use of a fraud-tainted automated election system.”

In Butuan City last Tuesday where 2,000 prayerful civic leaders from Caraga filled up the Big Daddy’s Hotel and Convention Center, the Butuan Declaration zeroed in on government negligence and incompetence in the wake of Yolanda’s first anniversary this month, the 7.2 magnitude earthquake of Oct. 15, 2013, that had destroyed centuries-old churches, public buildings and homes in Cebu and Bohol, and the killer floods that struck Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley last Dec. 4, 2012.

Butuan called for the NTC “to speed up its efforts to compel President Aquino to relinquish his position, so that the earnest work of national transformation could begin.” More than ever, said its Declaration, “we believe that peace and good governance in the country must begin in Mindanao” and I might add, that this is the land of promise envisioned many decades ago by the best-loved President of all, Ramon Magsaysay.


The Butuan Declaration also joined the suffering people of Eastern Visayas and the Calamianes in demanding “a full and accurate accounting of the money and other forms of assistance which the Aquino government has received from foreign governments, multilateral institutions and other donors, and how, where and when they were used for the benefit of the victims.”

It also expressed grave concern over the “cavalier way” this administration has treated the “Mindanao problem” and the fact that the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law now pending in Congress is not the fruit of honest and sincere consultations with our Muslim Brothers and their Christian friends and neighbors.” Butuan demanded a “creative approach to the Bangsamoro problem.”

The Butuan crowd also demanded a “solemn commitment from the Aquino regime…to put an end to monopolist activities which are trying to seize control of power distribution in Mindanao and beyond, through the use of political influence, intimidation and force”---as the NTC cast its lot with the millions of member-consumers of “AUTHENTIC ELECTRIC COOPERATIVES all over the country whose rights of ownership by virtue of their capital contribution are being ignored and violated by government officials…” 


One of the leaders of NTC from its inception, former National Security Adviser and later Defense Secretary Norberto B. Gonzales of the Arroyo administration, took the floor in Butuan for the first time in an NTC Assembly. He hurled the challenge to the Filipino people to launch a PEACEFUL REVOLUTION, NOT A VIOLENT ONE,” to enable the nation to break the chains of poverty and helplessness that has gripped it over many decades.

Gonzales stressed that “we cannot anymore remain poor”---citing the pitiful need for classrooms at every school opening, and the million cases clogging our courts, depriving justice to the common man, because there are not enough lawyers hired to serve in the judiciary. All these crying needs are with us even as “trillions are needed in the budget, the more to make available to corruption and robbery,” Gonzales said, adding that a REVOLUTIONARY GOVERNMENT is needed as the present system cannot contain all the problems of the country and, in fact, only serves as a “system of circumvention.”


NTC's youthful superstars Christian Seneres, Greco Belgica and Glenn Chong

In Butuan the three young stars of NTC were also present---who are models of idealism, service to God and country for our young people. These are Dr. Greco Belgica, who filed and won the first case against DAP in the Supreme Court; Atty. and former Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong, who was cheated in the 2013 congressional elections and who has since dedicated himself to exposing the evils of the PCOS-machined elections; he has also joined other civic leaders in opposing in the SC the intended purchase of 42,000 PCOS units by Comelec for 2016 at the cost of P16.4 billion. There's also religious leader and professor Christian Seneres, who advocates a “judicial coup d’etat by the SC”, just like what happened in Egypt where the Court dissolved the lower chamber of parliament.” Seneres argues that our High Court can do this by ruling vs. the 2013 senatorial winners who were proclaimed by Comelec with indecent  haste even before significant results of the PCOS elections were in. 

Among the gems of thought left by the Butuan NTC Assembly to the attendees was this passage from St. Augustine during the 5th century of the Common Era: “Without Justice what would the great empires be but teeming broods of robbers.” How very true. Let’s do away with this teeming brood in our midst.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

By bypassing Tacloban and instead heading for Guiuan, P-Noy abdicated the Yolanda 1st anniversary stage to Marcos/Romualdez clan, but he discombobulates local folks by disclosing plan to transfer its airport to Palo, just 10 minutes from downtown Tacloban. Transfer may be a concession to the loyal political dynasty ruling Leyte, but it’s an insane and costly proposition. Nonong Cruz rumored to replace Brillantes at Comelec.

Taclobanons have every right to feel aggrieved that President Aquino skipped a visit to their devastated city---the Ground Zero of Yolanda---and decided instead to visit Guiuan in Eastern Samar on the first anniversary of the super-typhoon’s devastation yesterday. Obviously P-Noy wanted to avoid a clash with the “People Surge” coalition in Tacloban, who were preparing a hot and noisy protest reception for him owing to government’s very timid and late response to the survival crisis in that part of the country. Obviously he also wanted to avoid sharing the stage with the Marcos/Romualdez families.

But courage is the hallmark of true leadership and how many leaders around the world have walked through history braving confrontations like what the Taclobanons had planned. That’s what P-Noy is leader for---in good times with photo-ops cavorting with world leaders, as well as in tough times when he should confront anger and seething discontent, as well as political angst.

P-Noy, however, backed off from the showdown and this tago-nang-tago impression of the top leader will not be easy to live down.

By leaving a vacuum P-Noy allowed the Marcoses and Romualdezes to usurp the stage and commiserate with the Taclobanons by themselves, with Imelda shedding familiar tears. This could reinforce Bongbong's phalanx, or should he decide not to run in 2016, it could throw him ineluctably into VP Binay's camp under the time-worn dictum, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."


As though to rub salt on wounds of Taclobanons, P-Noy also announced his plan, supposedly on the advice of JICA, to close down the airport in Tacloban City and transfer it to historic Palo, the landing site of General MacArthur in October 1944---but also just 10 minutes from downtown Tacloban. The argument allegedly is that Palo would not be vulnerable to storm surges and tsunamis. Taclobanons shoot this down, however, as plain rubbish, for much of Palo was also destroyed by Yolanda. In fact its cathedral was rendered roofless and among the prominent ancestral houses there, that of the Pedrosas was totally destroyed.

The question on everybody’s mind is, so why move the airport at such costly expense (P12 billion) to a  nearby location, if not to further alienate the Romualdezes---because P-Noy is an Aquino and they are Romualdez? This move is being interpreted as a further concession to the Loreto-Petilla dynasty which counts with the Mayor of Palo, Remedios Loreto Petilla, mother of Energy Secretary Jericho “Icot” Petilla and Leyte Gov. Leopoldo Domenico Petilla. 

But this doesn’t change the fact that the proposed move of the airport to Palo just 10 minutes away is downright insane and unsound. In the first place, he cannot finish it in his remaining one and a half years. 


Brothers Mayor Alfred Romualdez and Rep. Martin Romualdez are protesting P-Noy’s plan to transfer the airport, named after their forebear, the late former Speaker Daniel Z. Romualdez, and they insist that the P12 billion could be better utilized to help rebuild the lives of Yolanda survivors. The Romualdezes point out that Tacloban Airport was already operational 24 hours after the storm struck; in fact foreign assistance was coursed through it in the days after.

In view of P-Noy's disclosure, repair and rehab work on Tacloban's runway was suspended and travel to and from the capital will still be via Cebu. Because only light planes are allowed in that airport, the delay is already costing millions and millions in lost income to PAL and other airlines.

Another question: what happens to the Pope’s visit two months from now? there’s suspicion that one reason for wanting to close down the Tacloban airport may be that the administration actually does not want to encourage the Pope and foreign media to come to Tacloban (go to Guiuan instead?), so they don’t get to see the true state of rehabilitation there---the snail-pace of work and about a thousand families still living in tents. That’s not a remote possibility.

Speaking of Guiuan at the southern tip of Samar, the airport there where P-Noy landed yesterday is truly splendid and all-weather, including for super-typhoons. It was built by the Americans and as a young reporter for the Catholic newspaper then, the Sentinel, I had a chance to fly in and out from there. Taclobanons now argue that while their airport was shut down for commercial traffic after the storm, goods and people could also have been flown to Guiuan and then trucked across the San Juanico Bridge,  to helicopters on rescue missions to isolated towns. Apparently the dazed Cabinet members of P-Noy never thought of this contingency.


The quarrel over the airport highlights the perpetually percolating politics in Leyte. If you readers recall, last Thursday I wrote about speculation that one reason Health Secretary Enrique Ona was asked to go on leave was the desire of the ruling LP to put in place true-blue allies in vital social services such as DOH and DSWD---in preparation for cementing their continuing hold on Malacanang in 2016. This could certainly be true in the case of acting Health Secretary Janet Loreto Garin, who boasts of a “double-connection” to perhaps the most prominent dynastic clan in the Visayas, the Petilla-Loretos of Leyte--- even though Garin herself served as three-term representative from Iloilo.

Here’s why she’d would be a valuable political asset to the LPs in 2016:  Garin’s mother is a Petilla from Leyte, sister of former longtime Leyte Gov. Leopoldo Petilla, who in turn is the father of Energy Secretary Jericho “Icot” Petilla and current Governor Leopoldo Domenico Petilla. On the other hand, Janet’s father is a Loreto, brother of former Leyte Governor and now mayor of Palo Remedios Loreto Petilla, mother of Secretary Icot and Gov. Domenico Petilla. Another Loreto sister of Janet’s father is  former Leyte Rep. and now controversial mayor of Baybay City, Leyte’s second largest city, Carmen Loreto Cari, who until now has a running electoral battle with candidate Malot Galenzoga-Baligod.

If you were P-Noy, you’d really court this dynasty’s loyalty by transferring the airport to Palo, away from the Romualdezes.


Still on the political front: Comelec Chief Sixto Brillantes will retire this coming February and speculation has been that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima would succeed him. But recently another name is being bruited about which would make sense, as replacing the irreplaceable, fiercely loyal De Lima at DOJ would be truly tough for P-Noy. 

The latest name to emerge for the poll body’s chair is former GMA Defense Secretary and lawyer Avelino “Nonong” Cruz, who’s with the former Carpio Villaraza Cruz law office (partner Antonio Carpio was appointed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to the SC where he is now the most senior Associate Justice). A Nonong Cruz appointment would be highly significant as he’s closely identified with LP presumptive presidential candidate Mar Roxas for 2016.

As an aside, this reinforces anew the Sigma Rho fraternity which counts with Carpio and Cruz.


Recall that Cruz was chief lawyer of Roxas in his protest case against proclaimed winner Jejomar Binay in the 2010 vice-presidential race. In ensuing months, in the fierce rivalry for influence over P-Noy between the “Balay” and “Samar” factions (that persists to this day), Cruz is prominent in the Balay faction identified with Mar. Thus his appointment would doubtless be read as P-Noy’s earnestness to ensure the victory of Mar vs. presumed opposition candidate Binay.

The appointment of a new Comelec Chief is anticipated with bated breath by all politicos, especially because the two previous elections have demonstrated how crucial that office’s role is in this supreme political exercise---particularly vis-à-vis the controversy surrounding the much-derided PCOS machines, of which 42,000 units have been authorized by Brillantes for bidding before he bows out.