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.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Senate plans investigation into avalanche of undocumented Chinese workers who enter as “tourists.” Historic EDSA has become a grand canyon of huge unregulated commercial ads. Why, even Camp Aguinaldo’s perimeter fence along EDSA displays glamour ads! As Rappler put it, there's total anarchy in advertising! Contrast Metro Manila with the way Paris has preserved the city center that its artists have enshrined for generations.

Over the past two years I have been hearing from various people about how so many Chinese from the mainland have been renting middle-priced condominiums in various parts of Metro Manila, notably in Pasig and Makati. Like many others I have wondered what these Chinese people are doing here. Are they all tourists? If so, why the sudden surge and long-term lease of condos?

Then it began to be talked about that Chinese nationals are also found in other cities in this country, notably in industrial and investment zones.  


Now we hear from immigration sources that Chinese nationals are coming into the country in the tens of thousands and spreading out into the various eco-zones throughout our archipelago.  Rough estimate of Immigration is that there are at least two million such nationals here. 

Recent news from the Senate disclosed that many Chinese nationals have come in to work in online gambling in various parts of our country---many undocumented and unlicensed.  

Sen. Joel Villanueva, who has taken a strong stand against the illegal entry of Chinese, estimates that there could be some 119,000 such nationals who work in firms run by Pogos (Philippine offshore gaming operators).  It’s also easy to see collusion between unscrupulous immigration personnel and foreign entities.


The wonder of it all is that while Chinese nationals appear to be setting up businesses in the various eco-zones here, they are staffing those businesses with their nationals---instead of just providing for the top level of officialdom and hiring Filipino citizens for the lower echelons---as other foreign investors do. This means depriving jobs for Filipinos in the various eco-zones, as our investment laws clearly provide.

I wrote about this phenomenon months ago and I'm glad that Senators Joel Villanueva and Grace Poe are leading the urgent call for investigation by the proper Senate committee.  This issue was raised during the recent visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping, which was most successful except for this jarring avalanche of undocumented Chinese nationals here.


This has to be corrected early enough, before more economic opportunities that ought to be reserved for Filipino workers disappear and industries with nefarious consequences, such as on-line gambling among Filipinos, become totally unchecked.   

In a related issue, I subscribe to the OBJECTION of a good number of our countrymen to entrust the setting up and operation of the third Telco system to Chinese entrepreneurs.  It should be plainly obvious to our finance and industry officials that doing so could be a big security problem. To say the least, it would be plainly stupid, given precedents  in the immigration and labor sectors.


Like the millions who traverse EDSA daily, I suffer the horrendous traffic along in this major route, especially as Christmas shopping goes into a frenzy. Each time I am stuck in EDSA I do what millions do: gaze lazily at all the huge commercial advertisements on this major highway---which are getting more monstrous and claustrophobia-inducing by the day.

I admit that those huge ad billboards have a way of reducing the boredom of horrendous traffic, but I’m also just so aghast at the way these have bloomed when nobody seemed to be minding---bigger than life, each trying to outdo the other in monstrosity.  Some nearly cover entire building facades. It’s like the whole metropolis has gone mad and we’re inducing a kind of mass claustrophobia---hemmed in what may be termed the Grand Canyon of Advertisements.  


What got me recently upset, however, was the sight of several commercial billboards perched right inside the front perimeter fence of Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame, facing EDSA---advertising BEAUTY PRODUCTS---NOT SOLDIERS’ ACTIVITIES BUT PURELY COMMERCIAL ADS. 

Those billboards on the EDSA side of the military and police camps are the pits and if no one objects, the desecration would continue. I think of all the soldiers who have had to defend Camp Aguinaldo against various coup attempts. At the height of the campaign to recover Marawi, no one thought of putting up billboards extolling our fallen soldier-heroes. Now, with about three billboards advertising beauty products and probably more coming up, there’s no more dignity even along the military perimeter facing EDSA. 


Decades back I was part of a group that tried to fight the creeping monstrosity of ads. Led by professionals such as Teresa V. Daza of outdoor advertising,  our group lobbied with Congress to pass a law allocating the places to display those ads and restrict them to a certain acceptable size and distance---for the sake of common sense. It was admirable that that in those days, the group involved in outdoor advertising was itself lobbying for restrictions in ad size and placements.

But nothing much became of it and in no time gigantic billboards have covered the entire highway and are now invading other parts of Metro Manila. It's very much a part of the lawlessness and lack of discipline that pervades the metropolis and society.


Many countries have working regulations about outdoor advertising. China itself limits outdoor ads to a certain size, so that its highways are pleasant to travel by. One reason why Paris--the City of Light--has remained so beautiful is that its city center has remained intact through the decades and centuries---so that it still looks the same as the city-scapes painted by its famous artists a century ago. For one thing, Paris has no skyscrapers downtown and when the Tour Montparnasse threatened to spoil the view downtown, it raised such a howl that it was forced to be erected in the outskirts.  Now Paris has a lot of skyscrapers but not in the city center which is sacrosanct to the Parisians.


Ours is a society that seems to have no respect for rules and regulations, for sobriety and good sense.  Perhaps it all began with the monstrosity of a skyscraper built in the vicinity of the Rizal Park in the Luneta years back, dwarfing the statue of our national hero.  We registered our vociferous objection and some folks brought the issue to court, but construction still went on. Lamentable.

Nothing much was done about it and in no time huge billboards covered the entire EDSA and is now invading other parts of Metro Manila. It is very much a part of the atmosphere of lawlessness that pervades the metropolis and society.

EDSA has become one grand canyon of advertisements, and this appears to be just the precursor to the invasion of commercialism everywhere. It’s fast becoming a society that has no respect for rules and regulations, for sobriety and good sense. A pity.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Pragmatism is name of the game among nations. An American writer for Washington Post was killed and dismembered in Istanbul amid allegations that Saudi royalty had masterminded it. But no complaint from Trump as he's rejoicing over big cut in oil price from OPEC leader Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman 

Pragmatism is the name of the game among nations, whether it's our country, the United States or any country in Europe, Asia and everywhere else.

Take the case of the recent heinous murder of US citizen Jamal Khashoggi, a resident of  Saudi Arabia and a writer for the Washington Post. Khashoggi had been critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and last Oct. 2, the Post writer's body was found in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey---dismembered in a most heinous way.

The interesting thing is that while Saudi authorities said that 21 people had been taken into custody supposedly in connection with the dastardly crime, news reports cited the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as suggesting that the Saudi Crown Prince "may have known of the killing"---to put it diplomatically.


On the other side of the coin, Saudi Arabia sternly warned the US that criticism of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in connection with Khashoggi's murder is "a red line" not to be crossed---and that calls for the Crown Prince to be held accountable for his slaying "would not be tolerated."

In fact the Saudi Foreign Minister was quoted in BBC news as asserting: "In Saudi Arabia, our leadership is a red line. The custodian of the two holy mosques (King Salman and the Crown Prince) are a red line," and that "They represent every Saudi citizen and every Saudi citizen represents them. And we will not tolerate any discussion of anything that is disparaging toward our monarch or our crown prince."

The foreign minister admitted, however, that the murder of the US journalist was a "rogue operation" by intelligence officers. How these supposed murderers are to be dealt with by the Saudi government remains to be seen.


More interesting was the stance of US President Donald Trump, who earlier in his presidency had hosted the Saudi Crown Prince at the White House. Curiously, then Republican candidate Trump, while in the hustings, had threatened to ban Saudi oil from into the US, so that when the Crown Prince called on President Trump at the White House, it was heralded by media as "improving relations between Washington and Riyadh, particularly on security matters."

After news reports about the Khashoggi murder came out, however, President Trump, who was vacationing in his Florida Mar-a-Lago Club earlier this week, asserted that he was "essentially ignoring the killing of US citizen Kashoggi" because of what he said were  "MORE IMPORTANT US STRATEGIC INTERESTS" (emphasis this writer's).  The world doubtless read it as America's much-needed assurance of a steady supply of oil from Saudi Arabia.

That statement of the US President, however, did sound quite harsh for a society anchored on human dignity and the inalienable right of its citizens to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Just as amazing was that there seemed no public outrage over Trump's statement---unless the fuel situation in that country has become so worrisome that it could afford to be cold-blooded about the heinous slaying of an American citizen.


Just what are those "strategic US interests" that President Trump seeks to protect so assiduously anyway---despite the harm that had befallen an American citizen? He answered his own question: Saudi Arabia, the acknowledged leader of the OPEC, gave America and the world lower oil prices: "a big Tax Cut" ---from $82 it's now $52."   The US President publicly said "Thank you to Saudi Arabia," even as he coaxed that major oil producer to "let's go lower."

Under those circumstances, then, there would seem to be no room for condemnation of one US citizen's gruesome slaying by Saudi Arabia.


It's all pragmatic politics for the moment for the US President who leads what media terms "the largest, most transparent and timely market in the world." It's true that, as noted, the US has "less appetite for foreign oil in general," thanks to the shale boom in states such as Texas and North Dakota that caused US oil production to spike to record high late last year.

Still, however, the world's largest economy continues---and will continue---to need foreign oil imports: last December it imported 690,000 barrels a day of Saudi crude--- though down 32% from the previous year.

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, made the strategic decision last May to slash shipment of oil to the US. Its goal: to accelerate impact of OPEC's production cuts---by forcing down US stockpiles which constituted a major force to restrain oil prices at the time. The move to cut shipment was said to have paid off: the price of crude oil rose sharply to more than $60 per barrel!

In all the tug-of-war between big-time oil supplier and equally big-time oil-consumer, a heinous crime in Istanbul involving a US citizen---being attributed to Saudi royalty---mattered little.

Friday, November 16, 2018

If President Duterte is criticized for missing events in ASEAN meet in Singapore due to what Sal Panelo terms PRRD's "power naps," think of sleepless nights US President Trump is having from Melania's tantrums and Democrats' capture of House. A prelude to his impeachment?

Prior to the US mid-term elections last Nov.6, Republican President Donald Trump had been boasting of a “red wave” coming, whereas the Democrats were bragging about a “blue wave” to sweep America. Soon enough, however, general consensus on the US mid-term elections became clear, or so it seemed.  Thus, although the Democrats regained the House of Representatives for the first time in eight years, no blue wave seemed to have materialized.

A week later, however, the steady trickle of further gains in late results in some battle-ground states appeared to reveal a far more positive picture for the Democrats. A giant blue wave alright.

The Democrats picked up at least 32 seats in the House and are on course for four more, in addition to flipping seven governorships and eight state legislative chambers. 

On Monday night, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema won Arizonas Senate race, beating Martha McSally in a landmark victory to take the seat held by retiring Republican senator Jeff Flake.


Speaking of Sen. Flake, this outgoing Republican recently lashed out at party-mate President Trump, warning him and the "Grand Old Party" that if they tried to remove Special Counsel Robert Mueller---who's investigating allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 general elections that made Trump president in 2016--Flake would block any and all of Trump’s judicial nominees in the Senate. 

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a Trump appointee, was fired allegedly for looking too closely over the shoulders of Mueller as he scrutinized the supposed Russian intervention that caused the defeat of Trump rival Hillary Clinton. Can we imagine such independence akin to that demonstrated by Sen. Flake, in any of President Duterte’s party-mates here?


What the overall results in the nationwide mid-term elections of Donald Trump's presidency represent is the Democrats’ best mid-term performance since 1974---a vote which came in the wake of the infamous Watergate scandal that triggered the resignation of Richard Nixon.

Trump, who last week declared election night to have been a “tremendous success,” has since been reduced to making baseless allegations of vote fraud to explain knife-edge contests in key states such as Florida,  Mississippi and Arizona.

After securing a significant majority in the House, the Democrats have broken the Republican monopoly in Washington and secured the power to block the president’s legislative agenda as well as significant appointments of his ---principally through FILIBUSTERING, something not seen in the House of Representatives since 2013. 


That there’s huge trouble in the Trump White House is demonstrated by the way his mood has turned increasingly foul!  “He’s pissed--at practically everyone,"  a White House official said.   After the election disaster, another rock was thrown his way when First Lady Melania Trump publicly demanded that her husband's loyal backer, Mira Ricardel, who was personally chosen by National Security Adviser Jim Bolton to be his deputy, be fired.  Apparently, Ms. Ricardel drew the First Lady’s ire when she clashed with Melania’s staff about the seating arrangement inside the plane enroute to Melania's visit to Africa. 

Trump didn’t immediately react, but White House staffers were shocked that the message from Melania (who holds office in the East Wing) flew directly to the West Wing, thus breaking protocol. The President eventually said that Ms. Ricardel will be moved to another sector, but days later, Mira Ricardel voluntarily resigned---obviously to save her boss from further embarrassment and avert a huge domestic crisis in the White House.  Pundits commented that Melania proved who is the real power there. 


 In fact, the atmosphere in the White House these days is described as "bleak," and talk is that various top officials are preparing to exit ahead of the rumored "purges" by President Trump. CNN reported that George Conway, husband of White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway, has now become an outspoken critic of Trump---asserting that he'd "rather leave the US than vote for Trump again." Interestingly, House Republicans are said to plan to summon Conway. 

Another explosion: recall that CNN star reporter Jim Acosta was stripped of his press pass after a clash with Trump last week. CNN promptly sued Trump---stressing that Acosta's constitutional rights had been violated by the President, five members of the Administration and the Secret Service. 

Well, the latest is that a Federal judge ordered the Trump Administration to restore Acosta's WH press pass. Could we see a Philippine judge coming to the defense of a harassed reporter vs. the President?


As if things weren’t bad enough for Trump, his recent official trip to Paris to join other world leaders in celebrating the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War turned out to be a similar disaster.  During his European trip, he appeared to have been purposely isolated from other dignitaries---standing alone at times while other leaders exchanged pleasantries and chatted among themselves.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who hosted the gathering of world leaders in Paris, decried in his speech the new wave of nationalism, and everyone seemed to think that his words were aimed directly at the US President.   


To make matters worse especially on the home front, on his last day in Paris, Trump was prevented by his top aides and the Secret Service from visiting the vast American Cemetery in the once blood-soaked battlefields of Normandy in northern France, because the heavy rains were deemed unsafe for his helicopter to fly.

The irony, however, was that other top American officials with him were able to participate in the ceremonies there despite the weather. Could the Secret Service agents be trying to embarrass the President in so doing? Trump was fuming!


Soon after he got back to the US, Trump unleashed a barrage of tweets directed at President Macron and the French people in general.  He insulted Macron by mocking him for his dismal ratings in the French polls.

The French President fired back---asserting that Trump lacked the “common decency” in unleashing those barbs directed at the French ON THE VERY DAY OF THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE 2015 TERROR BOMBING IN PARIS THAT KILLED 130 PEOPLE.


There’s no easy way out for Trump’s funk, says CNN. The  imminent revelation of Robert Mueller’s findings on allegations of the 2016 US election shenanigans caused Attorney General Jeff Sessions his job. Trump didn’t like the way Sessions was too keen on the trail of those alleged shenanigans that could have caused Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (my candidate) to lose to Trump.   

Then there’s the blistering November 2018 loss in the mid-term elections , and prospect of indictments coming from the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives in the next few months. There’s also Trump’s own lawyer’s expected testimony against him as part of that official’s plea bargaining to save his own skin. And don’t forget the continuing legal troubles Trump has run into with women from the past.

All these are weighing on Mr. Trump right now, as the cloud over his head turns increasingly dark.