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, May 2, 2016

Utopians, led by former SC Justice Roberto Abad, pay mass tribute to their fallen colleague, CJ Renato Corona. Recall here the late Sen. Joker Arroyo’s defense of Corona in the Senate impeachment trial, where he sought to serve a stern warning on the dangers to constitutional government of a hitherto unknown animal: the ‘bill of attainder.’

Last night, May 1, I dropped in at the wake of former Chief Justice Renato Corona at the Heritage Memorial Park to condole with his family and hear my Sunday mass there too. There was a huge crowd that overflowed into the corridors of the memorial park hall, for aside from the many people from all walks of life who wanted to demonstrate their love and respect for the former SC Chief, it was also the night reserved for his fraternity brothers in the “Utopia,” one of the two major frats of the Ateneo College of Law.

Utopians from various generations of lawyers and law students came in several hundreds, all wearing white shirts with a black band in one arm, and they rendered songs and speeches hailing their fallen brother-in-arms.

It was a memorable night for CJ’s family. Saddened they were by his all-too-quick passing---as his daughter Carla Corona Castillo put it, “in a snap of the finger Dad was gone”---but they knew that in CJ’s fall from power  four years ago, he landed into the arms of the people. The outpouring of tribute to him at Heritage and in social media has been just awesome.
Someone noted that CJ Corona seems to have timed his passing on the eve of perhaps the most hotly-fought elections in our history. The buzz in his wake was: was this his way of campaigning for the opponents of the administration?


I listened to the speech of former Supreme Court Associated Justice Roberto Abad, who had served with Corona and retired just a few years ago. Praising his fellow Utopian generously, Abad, who was among the most respected of justices in the SC and at one time was a strong contender for CJ too, stressed that Corona was not tainted with corruption at all.

Justice Abad’s assertion was contrary to the point that the impeachment court of the Senate sought to establish---and succeeding in doing in May 2012, with the help of generous funds from a budget mechanism  introduced by Malacanang for the first time during Corona’s trial: the Disbursement Allocation Program (DAP), straight  from the desk of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.


The Senate booted out the CJ, who was earlier impeached by the House of Representatives on the issue of corruption. Those who knew Corona, such as his former colleague, Roberto Abad, knew about the decency of the man and how God-fearing he was. Corona’s major problem in his incumbency at the SC, as everyone knows, was that he ran afoul of the desire of the tenant in Malacanang to preserve Hacienda Luisita as his family’s fiefdom forever.

When the SC led by its Chief Justice rendered a stunning14-0 vote that ordered the re-distribution of the over 5,000 hectares of this Central Luzon hacienda to its tenants, Malacanang laid the blame squarely on the SC’s leader---Corona had to go by hook or by crook. It threw the entire power of the Palace vs. the Chief Justice in a manner hitherto unseen in the annals of this country, in a six-month proceeding billed as the “Trial of the Century.”


Below is a reprint of a blog I wrote on October 8, 2015, as a tribute to the late Sen. Joker Arroyo upon his passing. The quoted portion below showed the forthrightness and outspokenness of Joker Arroyo in defending what he perceived to be right: rallying to a man unjustly being persecuted for the collegial decision of an entire body. Joker, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. were the only three senators out of 23 who were not razzle-dazzled by fat bribes.  

Allow me to quote portions of my blog here:

“In the corruption that enveloped the Senate during the trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, where the votes of various senators were bought and paid for by taxpayers’ money without their consent, Sen. Joker Arroyo’s defense of the CJ stood out like an isolated beacon of light in the vast darkness. In his 20-miniuter speech he introduced a defense concept of Corona that was new to non-lawyers like myself---the “BILL OF ATTAINDER.” It made sense to us non-lawyers as he explained it, but by then it was too late. Money had gotten to many of the senators who went for the kill.

“As Joker Arroyo explained it, a “ ‘bill of attainder’ is a law passed by one (chamber of Congress) and approved by the other, CREATING AN OFFENSE WHERE THERE WAS NONE, INVENTING A CRIME OUT OF ACTIONS, WILLFUL OR NOT, THAT WERE INNOCENT WHEN THEY WERE PERFORMED. It is a legislative act of convicting an accused of acts that were not offenses in the very measure by which he is condemned--- through a vote instead of a trial on the basis of accusations taken as proof.” (emphasis BOC’s).

“Arroyo warned that the Senate “could be moving toward a bill of attainder” that would mock the Constitution---making a crime of something that was not such at the time of the supposed offense.


“Joker then stressed that “I cannot imagine removing a chief justice on account of a SALN.” The issue then under hot consideration for half a year in the Senate---it couldn’t have been a “debate” as there seemed almost only one side, which was, to condemn Corona for reasons other than his SALN--- was whether the Chief Magistrate paid the correct SALN. It was an issue that would have hounded the senators were they on trial themselves, for as anyone can guess, doubtless none of them paid the correct SALN. In fact, perhaps nobody ever did in this country---until that point when Corona was convicted ostensibly because of improperly-filed SALN.  From then on, officialdom began to fear this heretofore harmless animal.

“Ironically, conviction came despite the fact that the official who should have had the last say on the SALN issue, then Civil Service Commission Chair Francisco Duque, had issued a statement that appeared to back up Joker Arroyo’s near-solitary stand (only two other senators, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Ferdinand Marcos Jr., voted to acquit Corona).  Duque stated without equivocation THAT A FAULTY SALN COULD BE REMEDIED AND CORRECTED WITHIN A GIVEN PERIOD OF TIME. In other words, Duque argued indirectly---and it took a lot of guts for him to do so, even if he was protected by a seven-year constitutional tenure as CSC Chair---that Corona should not be convicted at all.


“But by then Chair Duque’s reminder was ignored, for the minds of most of the senators were already made up the week before; and we daily trial-goers could sense it. As Sen. Jinggoy Estrada later revealed, what sealed conviction of Corona were the many millions of pesos released to the senators through a memorandum of availability by then Appropriations Committee Chair Franklin Drilon, about another new animal--- the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).Thus, the velvet crimson robes the senators wore as impeachment judges didn't help many of them act nobly. 

“Recently the Supreme Court, acting on the petition of Philconsa, former National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzalez, former Budget Secretary Ben Diokno, former Sen.Franciscot Tatad and three Archbishops, ordered DBM Secretary Florencio Abad, said to be the brains behind the DAP, and President Aquino to explain their role in the lump sum appropriations under this new animal. 


“Joker Arroyo must have been aware of this recent happy development at the SC before he passed away, and he must have felt vindicated about his stand in that Senate Trial of the Century. In fact, as he condemned in his acquittal speech the “naked power” being used to convict the sitting Chief Justice on a non-existent crime when the so-called offense was committed, Arroyo noted its brazen similarity to 1972.  He warned that “IT IS DANGEROUS NOT TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT WHEN SOON WE SHALL STAND BEFORE THE LORD.” (emphasis BOC’s).

“Well, Joker is standing before the Lord now, and interestingly his words uttered in the hallowed halls of the Senate three years ago seem like a grim reminder to present-day politicos who seek to foist brazen acts of legal impunity. Never in the Supreme Court's history have so many acts of the Executive Branch been challenged as now. ..”


Ironically, this issue of the questionable or faulty SALN resurrects in the current electoral campaign, as netizens question why CJ Corona was convicted because of failure to declare his SALN properly, whereas  leading presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte apparently violated the same mechanism blatantly and appears ready to get away with it.

Another one of those ironies of history.

Monday, April 25, 2016

After last night's presidential debate, the internet becomes final battle-ground for 2016 elections. ABS-CBN accused by netizens of “Davileak” in episode involving simultaneous TV teaser as Mar expounded on his objection to 'contractualization.' The three debates have shown shared understanding of basic issues haunting our country, but difference will lie in how much effort and sincerity winner would demonstrate to solve them.

After last night’s televised presidential debate---the third and final in the series, held in Dagupan City---the internet has become the final battle-ground for the 2016 elections. Every issue is hot  and today’s exploding issue in the internet is the appearance of the teaser at the bottom of the TV screen last night, that quoted LP candidate Mar Roxas as stressing how he has battled giant enterprises. Nothing wrong with what he said, but the issue was that at the precise moment when he started explaining his stand on “contractualization,” a.k.a. “endo” or “5-5-5,”  a  viewer, quick on the draw, noted that the teaser appeared simultaneously with the start of Mar’s statement.

How, netizens now ask, how was the teaser’s typist able to foretell Roxas’ statement? The prevailing belief of many netizens is that ABS-CBN, which broadcast the debate, had gotten hold of advance material from Roxas who was, in turn, fed questions ahead.  Karen Davila, co-host of last night’s debate, became a prime suspect, with the netizens quickly labeling the episode as “Davileak.” Were there other such leaks?


This incident has raked up anew controversy over ABS-CBN’s alleged bias for the Aquinos and now for their candidate Mar Roxas---owing to the long history between the Lopezes and the Aquinos that traces to the turnover of the seized station in return for virtually nothing in the Cory presidency. This issue has been a sore point for citizens disenchanted with the current ruling regime, but it also shows how piping hot the political climate has become.

One reason is that thanks to the internet today’s netizens can freely offer their views and slug it out with those disagreeing with them, unlike in previous exercises when such opportunities were very limited.  I have covered elections since the controversial 1987 elections between Ferdinand Marcos and Cory Aquino that was marred by the walkout of Comelec computer programmers and fraudulent canvassing in the Batasan in favor of the strongman;  but I must say that the elections of 2016 promise to be quite unforgettable too.  More surprises before it's over?   Abangan.


After listening to last night’s debate I connected easily to a quotable quote posted by netizen Elgin Castillo Lazaro from Suzy Kassem, the Egyptian-American essayist, firm director and poet (who also goes by the name of Blue Panther 777). Says Suzy Kassem: “Elections are highly-publicized puppet shows. Many puppets in the show are handled by the same owner, and regardless of their different costumes and voices, their agenda is one and the same. The man with the most puppets in the show usually wins the audience” (emphasis BOC's).  

The puppets in last night’s debates were not the candidates, but rather, these were the various positions the candidates made on various issues raised, which tended more often to be similar, if not the same. They offered the same stand on the various issues---the conflict with China, contractualization, the hideous traffic, poverty and the appalling lack of health care for the poor and marginalized, the pathetic plight of our OFWs, etc.

The commonality of issues and solutions only meant that our country’s predicament is appreciated by all the candidates---but the big difference would be in the effort they'll put into solving all these problems.  Indeed, as Suzy Kassem put it, the man with the most puppets in the show usually wins the audience's vote, but the success or failure of the winner will only be evident at the end of his or her term. Thus we’ll see more puppets belonging to other candidates in the next elections, etc---a never-ending cycle until real and lasting solutions come up.  


The final debate was civil and polite compared to the two previous ones. Early in the debate Mar Roxas tried to pull the direction to allegations of VP Jejomar Binay’s corruption, which the latter sought to stop by citing a Tagalog saying: “Nagbibingi-bingihan or kaya naman nagbubulag-bulagan ang aking katunggali;  ilang beses ko nang hinarap ang issue na ito.” Mar wouldn’t give up the jab at his longtime rival, however, as he presented the Mar-Leni  team as “disente at marangal.”  Unfortunately, however, this team is so closely associated with the P-Noy administration that its various scandals and incompetence is that tandem’s task to defend.

On the other hand, Binay continued to project his fabled care for the poor and marginalized, as epitomized by the fact that, as he claimed, when he first ran in Makati many people there were surviving on “toyo at kalamansi only.” But it’s obvious that Binay has been humbled by the merciless accusations against him in the Senate committee dubbed as the “Yellow Ribbon Committee,” for nearly a year and a half, even though he has more bragging rights to hands-on executive experience than any of his rivals.

Meanwhile, folks expected a trashing of leading candidate Mayor Duterte (who jumped 12 points ahead of closest rival Grace Poe in the latest SWS survey) because of his jest-in-rape remarks, but nothing of the sort happened. Instead, there was a more contrite and even self-deprecating candidate who didn’t make offensive remarks about women. He made folks laugh at his hyperbolic proposal to jet-ski to the nearest island in the disputed West Philippine Sea and plant the PH flag there, to prevent Chinese incursions---never mind, he said, if he becomes a martyr in so doing.  

There’s something child-like about this notorious character that probably explains why he shoots up despite all the media canon-balls.


 Grace Poe appealed to the emotions of women supporters by assuring them of a caring and responsive government should she make it, but I find her views of perennial problems we natives have encountered in this country unappealing--- for the simple reason that the solutions she offers are those of her advisers rather than truly hers. This is because Poe left in 1991 and stayed away as US citizen until 2010----except for intermittent visits here on a balikbayan dual-citizen visa acquired in 2006---when she accepted the job of MTRCB Chief (she finally lost her US citizenship in 2012). 

I have always maintained that Sen. Poe has no business parachuting here from her prolonged stay in America and going for the jugular on the strength of being FPJ’s adoptive daughter---she should have started at a humbler post.  VP Binay might have meant to precisely dig at Poe’s parachuting here when he stressed that he is BFF---“Binay Filipino Forever.”

One sign of sincerity, though, is the fact that, as she admitted in the debate when pressed on this point, her husband, Neil Llamanzares, has renounced his US citizenship. Actually, Llamanzares took the first step: pledging loyalty to PH last April 7, before the Greenhills barangay chair in San Juan, Metro Manila. The final step would be his actual renunciation before a US consular official, which hasn't happened yet.   


And so election campaign 2016 lurches on to its last two weeks, highlighting many problems besetting our country and people. In the TV debates I found the plight of Perla so touching. Commuting for as long as six hours daily---or for 1/4 of her day---and suffering pay cuts as a result of being tardy, Perla arrives home from work to her children already asleep and all she can do is kiss them goodnight; chances are they’d still be asleep when she crawls out to go to work.This is the plight of perhaps millions of commuters crying to high heavens for relief. Roxas claimed that every month 12 wagons are added to the train system, but many of them have not run well. 

Then there’s Amina from Western Mindanao, who decried that until now her family lives in an evacuation center due to the continuous war there.  To her question as to who can bring genuine peace to the strife-torn island of promise, candidates Mar Roxas and Rodrigo Duterte replied, the BBL. In fact, Roxas promised that if he becomes president he'd fight for passage of that draft law that's being rejected by majority of Filipinos. Duterte, on the other hand, asserts the need to “correct historical injustice,” and that “Nothing will appease the Moro people than the BBL.” 

For VP Binay, however, poverty remains the root cause of strife and war, and  I would subscribe to this approach, as the BBL is most divisive.

Another problem highlighted by the debate is the proliferation of drugs. Mayor Duterte spoke of how drugs have reached the hinterlands, with agents of drug lords now selling the dreaded commodity even to farmers’ children, in exchange for pigs and carabaos!

Truly ours is a country awaiting rescue.  Let's vote wisely on May 09.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

PH gains new international notoriety thanks to Duterte’s callous remark about wanting to be “first” in the 1989 slay-rape of an Australian missionary, as various international and local media pounce on him. Equally tragic is seeming callousness of local folk who enjoy his jest-in-rape, an offshoot doubtless of their protest over P-Noy’s lackadaisical performance and no-show in crisis situations. Duterte's PDP-Laban finally apologizes for his 'failure to control his mouth,' but it remains to be seen how far damaged his candidacy would be.

By now our beloved Philippines has achieved international reputation for wild political free-for-all that's tough to match. Unfortunately, it's also a notoriety we probably won’t be able to live down for a while. The impression going around the world is that this seemingly progressive bastion of American-style democracy in Asia suddenly looks like one of those small, very backward countries in Africa---thanks in part to a warped sense of humor, machismo and entitlement embodied in crude, boastful one-liners of top presidential contender Rodrigo Duterte.

 Time Magazine just came out with an essay titled,“ Philippine Presidential Candidate Defends Remarks on Rape,” quoting Duterte as describing his jest-in-rape as “This is how men talk.” The Washington Post headlined the “Leading Philippine Presidential Contender” as saying: “Gang rape victim ‘so beautiful he wishes he had been first...’ " The Los Angeles Times also weighed in on the subject as did newspapers in Germany, Australia, France, the UK and Singapore, as well as the BBC and CNN. All came out with their own commentaries on this jest-in-rape controversy. 

Generous comparison with controversial US presidential candidate Donald Trump has become inevitable. 


The Australian Embassy, whose late citizen, lay missionary Jacqueline Hamill, was the victim of the gang-rape/slay in the Davao prison on August 15, 1989, put out a terse but straight to the point statement from Ambassador Amanda Gorely:  “Rape and murder should never become the subject of a joke. Violence against women and girls is unacceptable anytime, anywhere.” 

US Ambassador Philip Goldberg, sympathizing with his Aussie colleague, was quoted by CNN Philippines in a carefully worded statement stressing that "Any statements by anyone, anywhere, that either degrade women or trivialize issues so serious as rape or murder, are not ones that we condone."

Various human rights and women's organizations here and around the world also chorused vs. Duterte's unbelievably lamentable remarks.


What the controversial Davao leader said when first he viewed the body of the Australian female missionary who was raped and her throat slit by rioting prisoners in Davao---that he wished that as mayor he had first crack at her, given how beautiful the woman was--- was the height of moral depravity. And to think that he alluded to that incident twice in the current presidential campaign and many in his audience of men and women laughed with him---it is sad, so sad. 

 No wonder the world is in shock that such a man would be a candidate for the highest post in this predominantly Christian nation----and is actually dominating the surveys!. Such remark has absolutely no place in a civilized society dominated by the fear of God and a deep reverence for women. As a number of commentators here and abroad have stressed, something even remotely suggestive as that "jest" would have summarily cut the career of the person dishing it in any civilized setting. 

What disturbs right-thinking folks here, however, is that apparently the mayor has not reformed much in this regard----as viewed in photos showing him grabbing women and kissing them against their will. This attitude is very much a part of the sense of entitlement of public officials in this still very politically-feudal country of ours. A major daily prefers to call it in its editorial the droit du seigneur---the right of the lord.  


 Another thing I cannot understand is how the crowds listening to him saying that jest-in-rape could have snickered and enjoyed it. To paraphrase Vice President Jojo Binay, don’t these people have mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, etc.? This depraved sense of humor, however, is only part of the mystery of why some people would even take Duterte seriously as candidate for President.

 As one netizen put it quite vividly, quite upset: “In this political sortie as shown in this video, (Rodrigo Duterte) turned the case of a rape victim into a joke. He said that what he regrets about the case is that the rape victim is so beautiful, and he would have demanded, 'Dapat ang mayor ang mauna.' In another video, he told his story about molesting their housemaid and why he believes it is only venial sin, because 'maid lang siya.' This man is sick! And the culture of sexism he is creating is sickening! The crowds laugh at all his jokes which demean women, making themselves more and more like him. Think of all the women and girls in your life before you vote for Duterte. Think also of the men and boys as well, for you would not want them to become unto the image and likeness of Duterte.” 


To be sure, the reaction of Duterte’s adoring fans to his sick joke about the poor Australian missionary, whose only crime was to minister to the inmates of the Davao Penal Colony at that time, is very much a part of the strong protest reaction against the incumbent President and his lackadaisical attitude about everything, and his no-show in times of crises. 

Moreover, compared to his wimpy and colorless rivals, the contender from Davao appears to be the exact opposite: all fire and brimstone, swagger and braggadocio personified. The more he dishes out curses and gutter language, the more crowds flock to his rallies. 


But it's easy to see that Duterte doesn't have the material to be a good president---with his king-size ego he'll not be able to work with anyone and every week there would be hiring and firing in the Cabinet. What we can see from past events is that a Duterte presidency would produce a most unstable situation for the country.

Results of a psychiatric test conducted in 2000 on Davao's colorful politician by  psychologist Natividad Dayan, former President of the International Council of Psychologists, prior to the annulment of Duterte's first marriage, give an interesting image that could have a direct bearing on the future of this country, should he make it this May. The results read in part: "Destructive behavior, lack of self-discipline, poor capacity for objective judgment, lack of capacity for remorse, unable to reflect on the consequences of his actions." 

To be sure, that psychiatric assessment was made sixteen years ago, but it is evident from his current behavior that he hasn't changed much. The report should serve as serious food for thought for the electorate in the coming electoral exercise. 


Over the past days since the jest-in rape remark erupted, Duterte was stubborn and adamant against apologizing for it, even though he was well aware that he could lose votes. In fact he said he was prepared to lose in the elections rather than surrender something he felt deeply about. But later good sense and fear of losing in the elections appear to have gotten the better of the PDP-Laban under which he is running.  

Late night news quoted the PDP-Laban statement on Duterte's behalf which said: “I formally apologize to the Filipino people for my recent remarks in a rally. There was no intention of disrespecting our women and those who have been victims of this horrible crime. Sometimes my mouth can get the better of me.” 

Just how far his PDP-LABAN-issued apology would get him remains to be seen. The people have seen the worst of this man. How would this controversy affect his ratings and who stands to profit from his possible fall from grace. Abangan.