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, December 8, 2017

Duterte at Kapampangan Festival---refraining from cursing, he won audience’s hearts for his deep concern for young Filipino lives being savaged by drugs. Manotoc-Manglapus wedding overshadowed by the prominent grandfathers/political protagonists--Marcos & Manglapus

President Duterte in "Kapampangan Festival" with Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
Paoay newly-weds Mike Manotoc and the former Carina Manglapus, with baby Mia
Two lolos, erstwhile political rivals, dominate the wedding of their grandchildren 52 years later.
\The late Sen. Raul Manglapus, Ferdinand Marcos' rival in 1965 presidential elections; now their grandchildren are married. 

Former President and now Pampanga 2nd district Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo invited me to the “Kapampangan Festival” held yesterday, Dec. 07, at the Clark ASEAN Convention Center in Pampanga, for a fabulous culinary experience as only the Kapampangans can render. In celebration of the Foundation Day of Pampanga, chefs and restaurateurs from the CULINARYA PAMPANGA got together to prove to the visitors from various places that Pampanga is indeed the CULINARY CAPITAL OF THE PHILIPPINES. 

Yesterday's banquet of the best dishes of Pampanga was a total experience, complete with Pampango music rendered by a chorale group in beautiful native outfits and an exhibit of ethnic tapestries made from recycled materials.  
But the piece de resistance was President Rodrigo Duterte who came at 6pm. when he was scheduled to arrive at 3pm. Despite his tardiness several hundred Pampango natives and out-of-towners waited---to see and hear him in person, and they were not disappointed. That included this writer who, I must confess, has not been a Duterte believer.


The President was not his usual fire-breathing, cursing self;  instead, he spoke, it seems, straight from the heart, at times tearful and emotional---{“hindi naman ako talagang palamura.”)  I listened intently to his every word and in fact, after his speech my dzRH radio partner, Cecile Alvarez, and I sought to break through the PSG cordon on the stage, and we got through to him after jostling through the thick crowd of fans.

I told Mr. Duterte that I have not been a believer of his, but that “tonight, you spoke from the heart and it hit me right here,” I said, pointing to my own.  He looked pleased, probably chancing upon  my critical writings from time to time, and he took my hand for a mano-po.

Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who has been Mr. Duterte’s No. 1 patron and whom he addresses as “my boss,” was visibly elated over the success of his appearance at Clark ASEAN.


Discarding his prepared speech, Mr. Duterte extemporized in reasonably good English with a thick Visayan accent, about how “my people” ---soldiers and police--- are being ambushed at the rate of six to eight a day.  Getting emotional, he stressed that “I will hound (the enemies of state)---they can do their worst, threatening me;”  then he added, “I hold it as an article of faith that if there is no law and order in the countryside there can be no real peace.”

Before leaving that topic, he called on his former professor, NDF leader Jose Ma. Sison: “Why don’t you come home, para kayong mga seƱorito dyan (in the Netherlands).” He also stressed that he will stick “to my promise---no corruption---you better believe it, to my dying day.”


But Mr. Duterte reserved his utmost passion for his fixation: fighting the drug problem. He pledged to finish his war against drugs, stressing that he doesn’t give a damn “kung magka lache-leche ang bayan,” but he will clear the country of drugs. He avowed that “You (the drug lords) are reducing a number of my countrymen to the slavery of drugs,” stressing that he has already lost some 244 policemen in the drug fight that has “contaminated” 42% of our barangays. Then his stunning revelation:  9,000 police are also said to be involved in drugs.

As a parting shot, Mr. Duterte solemnly intoned to the crowd---so hushed that one could hear a pin drop—that he will fight this problem with all he has got.  Afterwards the audience rose to its feet to applaud him. It is obvious that he is so serious about this problem that he won’t budge an inch in this fight. 

It’s also obvious that had he not begun to tackle this menace by the horns, we would already be a narco-state by now. Like him or not, we ought to all be with him in this particular battle.


The wedding a few weeks back of Michael Ferdinand Manotoc and Carina Amelia Manglapus in a plush ceremony in Paoay, Ilocos Norte---grandchildren of two former political protagonists---was billed as a remake of the story of two feuding political families of Verona in Shakespeare’s immortal story of “Romeo and Juliet,” which saw the Capulet and the Montague families torn apart by feuds of generations.  But unlike the tragic tale in Verona where the lovers end up in the other life, the Paoay story has a happy ending.  

Michael Ferdinand Manotoc, the second of three sons of Irene Marcos Manotoc and husband Tommy, married Carina Amelia Manglapus, daughter of Francis and Lynn Manglapus, at the Spanish baroque church of San Agustin in Paoay. The couple has a beautiful 1 ½ year old daughter, Mia. 


There are many interesting facts about the union of Michael and Carina Amelia, whose acquaintance began some years back at a party given by Gina and Gabby Lopez of ABS-CBN. For one, the wedded couple are second cousins, their beauteous grandmothers---Carmen La”O Manotoc and Pacita La’O Manglapus, now both deceased---were sisters.

But the stranger part of the union of the two clans was how the respective pater familias---both long gone---still managed to overshadowed the recent grand wedding in Paoay.  I refer to the late President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, Mike Manotoc’s grandfather, and the late Senator Raul Sevilla Manglapus, Carina’s grandfather, who were contemporaries---and famous political adversaries. Marcos turned 100 this year while Manglapus’ 100th is next year.


Young as I was when these two politicians were at the apex of their careers, I I remember joining many thousands of other young people to attend the rally in Plaza Miranda of Senator Raul Manglapus, then running in the three-cornered presidential race that included re-electionist President Diosdado Macapagal and then Senate President Marcos. Marcos gained notoriety in his UP  days for being accused of murder of a political adversary,  as well as fame for topping the bar.

On the other hand, Manglapus was known as the champion collegiate orator at the Ateneo where he graduated summa cum laude. Marcos was a war hero, but  most of his medals were alleged to have been spurious, as researched by the late Rep. Boni Gillego;  whereas Manglapus was awarded one medal but it was real.


From the start of their political careers,  Marcos was the practical politician, seemingly willing to do anything (guns goons and gold) to gain power, while  Manglapus was a principled politician, a dreamer who advocated democratic reforms and often ended up losing. Marcos topped the 1959 senatorial elections, while Manglapus topped the 1961 senatorial elections.

Marcos believed in an authoritarian form of government for development whereas Manglapus believed in a decentralized democratic government. Marcos was accused of having amassed an incredible fortune while in power while Manglapus lost most of his wealth in politics, particularly during his years in exile in the US with his family.  

Imee Marcos Manotoc was quoted as saying that the Paoay wedding could presage the “unification of the two clans,” and indeed, the wedding party did look like fun, with Raul Manglapus' son, Francis, bussing the late dictator's wife, Imelda, after the ceremony. On the other hand, Bongbong Marcos was caught by the cameras shedding tears of joy at the union. 

But I have my doubts about Imee's "unification" prophesy, for the historical differences have run too deep in both clans.  

Monday, December 4, 2017

Ultimately, CJ Sereno's impeachment will rise or fall on these crucial questions: did her actions constitute "HIGH CRIMES" and "Culpable Violation of the Constitution?" Does the "alphabet soup" of RCAO a.k.a. JDO and Sereno's taking business-class trips abroad constitute impeachable offenses?

Dean Ma. Soledad Derequito Mawis of Lyceum College of Law and President of the Philippine Association of Law Schools
Figures of the hour: House justice committee chair Reynaldo Umali & Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno

House veterans suspect that the impeachment case vs. Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno would be put to a vote before the Christmas recess and trial will commence in the Senate in January. .As it approaches, tension in the House has begun to rise to boiling point.  

At the recent hearing of the Committee on Justice on CJ's  impeachment case, Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay, after much behind-the-scenes negotiations, was allowed to sit in the hearing, but not to interpellate the witnesses or participate actively. The grizzled legislator and legal luminary later complained in a statement to the media:   

“ After denying the Chief Justice’s right to have her counsel cross-examine the complainant (lawyer Larry Gadon) and his witnesses, and further barring representatives who are non-members of the committee from participating in its deliberations---which is contrary to established parliamentary practice---the Chair and Super-majority members are now actively monopolizing the proceedings in the so-called “impeachment committee.' ”


Rep. Lagman further stressed that the role of the House Committee on Justice is “to weigh the evidence, NOT TO GATHER EVIDENCE to plug the gaping loopholes in the Gadon impeachment complaint against (CJ) Sereno.” (emphasis mine). He noted further that Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has tasked the justice committee to “continue gathering evidence because the Chief Justice refuses to resign.”

Lagman found this practice highly questionable, for as he pointed out, "the committee’s duty is to determine probable cause principally based on the complaint and evidence adduced by Gadon---and not to build up the case for Gadon."  Lagman reminded his colleagues that  “THE COMMITTEE MUST ACT AS AN IMPARTIAL INVESTIGATOR, NOT AS AN INTREPID SLEUTH” (emphasis this blogger’s). ’

Thus, continued Lagman, "while Gadon is grinning at the sidelines, the committee members are the ones requesting for the appearance of invited witnesses to whom they instantly direct questions, instead of allowing Gadon to first initiate direct examination.” As Lagman pointed out, the accuser sits contentedly in the sidelines as the members of Congress dig up evidence for him. In other words, sinusuerte si Larry Gadon. 


This tendency of the justice committee to seek evidences to support the impeachment case brought by private lawyer Gadon against CJ Sereno is only one of the many peculiarities of this sensational case now pending in the House. 

Recall that the impeachment case brought against Chief Justice Corona by the House justice committee six years back  NEVER HAD A HEARING; instead, it was voted upon right away by the House membership and went straight to the Senate for trial.  The singular argument against CJ Corona, which was totally unfounded, was a defective SALN.

But as then Civil Service Commission Chair Francisco Duque had stressed to the Senate impeachment court, a defective SALN cannot be the basis for impeachment as this could be rectified. But as we know now, the CSC Chair’s admonition went unheeded as DAP funds went into operation to buy impeachment votes against CJ Corona.


Unlike the Corona case, the case against CJ Sereno is undergoing hearings on accusations against her, but effort seems to be more concerned about substantiating the very thin accusations that complainant Gadon raised before the justice committee. As Rep. Lagman noted, that committee seems engaged "in filling the blanks for the complainant."

To shed further light on the Sereno impeachment case now being deliberated in the House justice committee, my radio partner Cecile Alvarez and I invited to our Sunday, 6 pm. DZRH radio program, “Radyo Balintataw,” Atty. Ma. Soledad Dereguito Mawis, UP College of Law, class '88 and now Dean of the Lyceum University College of Law and current president of the Philippine Association of Law Schools (PALS), which is composed of some 120 member schools all over the country.


We questioned Dean Sol Mawis what to her appears as the basis for the impeachment of the Chief Justice that the House justice committee has been plotting. The lady dean noted, for instance,  the obvious dissension within the Sereno Supreme Court---beginning with Associate Justice Teresita de Castro’s testimony on alleged decisions of the CJ to depart from the consensus of the court on certain issues. 

For instance, Dean Mawis pointed out that the court had earlier passed a resolution creating the Regional Court Administrator's Office (RCAO).  The intention was to decentralize court administration functions over judges, with  RCAO  supposed to be based in Cebu for Region 7's easier administration. 

What happened was that CJ Sereno created instead a new office called the Judiciary Decentralized Office (JDO), with essentially the same function---virtually the same dog but with a different collar. It didn't sit well with her colleagues and Sereno has since rescinded that plan and the court reverted to RCAO. 

This particular controversy within the High Court, which I call the "alphabet soup issue," only shows the deep divisions and rifts within the court. But I wonder if this issue constitutes a "high crime" as envisioned by the Constitution framers. 


Pursuing this issue, we questioned Dean Mawis for the basis of the contemplated impeachment of CJ Sereno. She cited, among other things as stated in the Constitution, high crimes committed and culpable violation of the Constitution. Then she went into specifics, such as the accusation by Gadon et al. that Sereno would take business class with her staff whenever she would travel abroad. 

Dean Mawis pointed out that the charge against Sereno on this issue probably stems from an earlier ruling by President Duterte that all government officials and employees from hereon are to ride economy class on trips abroad. Mawis stressed, however, that this order comes from the Executive branch, but since  under the Constitution the three branches of government are co-equal, therefore Mr. Duterte's order cannot apply to the judicial branch. Frankly, I myself don't mind seeing my country's Chief Justice ride business-class as a recognition of her high stature, especially since virtually all the legislators take business-class abroad. . 

Ultimately, the issue of impeachment has to answer the questions: Do the CJ's actions involve High Crimes and has there been Culpable Violations of the Constitution? I don't think so and neither does Atty. Sol Mawis.  

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Challenge to Harry Roque: how to convince his boss to process thoughts and ideas first before articulating them in public. On CJ Sereno's impending impeachment in House, it's utterly reprehensible to deprive her of right to counsel---her inalienable right as Filipino under the Constitution

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque in consultation with President Duterte 
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Ma. Lourdes Sereno

Last Friday evening, Nov. 24, my longtime friend, business journalist Tony Lopez, founder of BizNews Asia, celebrated the 16th anniversary of his unsurpassed magazine as well as his 69th birthday at the EDSA Shangri-la Plaza Garden Ballroom. It drew many business and industry moguls, among them Ramon Ang of the flagship San Miguel Corporation, Tessie Sy-Coson of the SM/BDO empire, Helen Yuchengco-Dee of the RCBC Group and many others. Also attending the very successful event were a number of Cabinet members, among them controversial new presidential spokesman Harry Roque and Budget Secretary Ben Diokno.


Harry Roque was tapped to hand out the award trophies to the businessmen being honored, and he obliged folks’ requests for photos. I found Roque, a former human rights lawyer and UP law professor---quite affable despite his initial threat to throw hollow blocks at his boss’ critics and his seeming propensity to draw flak for his various moves.  While we were posing for photos, I managed to advise this controversial official to persuade his boss to subject his thoughts to some badly–needed processing first, before opening his mouth.

If Mr. Duterte's statements could thus be moderated, Roque’s difficulty would be considerably reduced, as it's the President's propensity to shoot off before processing his thoughts and pronouncements that invariably gets him into trouble---and his spokesperson in a furious bind. Unfortunately, judging from Harry Roque’s non-verbal comment on my observation (he just rolled his eyes upward), it seems impossible to even try to straight-jacket the President on his pronouncements.  

The problem with poorly processed presidential utterances is that foreign business prospects could be dampened, as the political picture here projects an unstable climate, to begin with. Mr. Duterte often does verbal political somersaulting---saying something outlandish and then reversing himself and with furious damage control afterwards.  Such impression of political instability is very harmful for business. 


Take the case of the situation in the metropolis and several recent developments. The MRT situation remains a mess, with a whole phalanx of officials from the Aquino administration charged by the Ombudsman for what seems clearly an anomalous situation there. As Buhay Party-list Rep. Joselito Atienza put it in our recent dzRH  “Radyo Balintataw,” it’s wrong trains for the existing tracks, or wrong tracks for the new trains. He follows this with a query: “Could you imagine a father buying a toy train for his son without even testing if the tracks fit?

That’s what happened to the MRT trains, except that that deal cost many billions now wasted. Meanwhile, these trains daily service around half a million people in Metro Manila who suffer daily Calvary because of periodic breakdowns. Passengers walking on the tracks to get back to the street is a frequent but pathetic sight. Once a compartment even disengaged and a female passenger even lost her arm.  So dangerous have those trains become.  

Their poor condition has become the butt of jokes---the Filipino way of coping indeed. At BizNews Asia’s Anniversary, guests at our table compared notes on how long it took them to EDSA Plaza. On my way there I saw incredibly long queues for trains at the Shaw Blvd. MRT station crossing. It is hard to see the silver lining here, as shutting down the MRT for repairs, as is being proposed, could bring even more monstrous problems. 


In the House of Representatives, the impeachment move against Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno appears to gain enough momentum. Should SC Associate Justice Teresita de Castro and reportedly also Justice Francis Jardaleza appear before the House to testify on the complaint against the CJ, this could clinch the move to impeach her. The trial in the Senate, however, would result in a big telenovela that would grip the nation anew and divide the people.  

There has been a move brewing for some time now to also impeach Ombudsman Conchita Morales, although this does not seem to gain as much support as the move vs. CJ Sereno. Some House members, however, are AGAINST impeaching the two women, and among them is Buhay Party-list Rep. Joselito Atienza. He maintains that the emotional costs to the nation of impeaching such high officials would be so great that it could be a “pyrrhic victory for either side.” No winners.  I agree.


CJ Lourdes Sereno is being accused of a number of impeachable offenses, which would be left to the impeachment  court---the Senate---to determine, should the House impeach move prevail. In this connection, court insiders note that there seems to be a big difference between the attitude of Supreme Court officers and personnel toward the late CJ Renato Corona, who was impeached and convicted in 2011, and toward CJ Sereno now. 

They point out that in the process of obtaining records and documents pertaining to supposed charges against the high magistrate on the carpet, it was far more difficult to obtain such records in the case of Corona, than it is now in the case of CJ Sereno.


This would seem to point out that the late CJ Corona was more popular with court personnel than the current chief. Be that as it may, I personally find it condemnable that CJ Sereno is being deprived by the House leadership of her constitutional right to counsel, in the prospect of an impeachment. 

The Constitution guarantees the right of every Filipino to counsel, and Lourdes Sereno should be no exception. With Justices de Castro and Jardeleza being bruited about as possibly appearing in the House to testify against Sereno, it would obviously be outright demeaning to the Chief Justice's office for her to directly cross-examine either or both of her colleagues on their testimonies against her, as her accusers are demanding.

LIke every Filipino, CJ Sereno should be given her constitutional right to be represented by counsel.