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.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Awright awready, Mr. Duterte, in 23 days you'll be the President of the Philippines, please be more secure now and build on our future, instead of being against all flags. On the 40th day of Chief Justice Renato Corona's passing to the bosom of the Lord, his martyrdom is eulogized by former Sen. Francisco Tatad at the NTC night during CJ's wake.

Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who hails from Mindanao, rightly observed that incoming President Rodrigo Duterte seems to be on the warpath against all flags. First, as Fr. Mercado noted, he went on a rampage against the Catholic Church, then vs.the media establishment, the UN agencies and now against the police and the AFP. Fr. Mercado ended his observation with a soft “cuidado” for the incoming Chief Executive.

Many of us are watching with bated breath as our President-elect basks in the limelight from the Malacanang of the South. Doubtless many find themselves agreeing on some points in his agenda but definitely against some of his attacks on institutions, as the colorful incoming Chief Executive goes through what columnist Randy David referred to as his “stream of consciousness technique” in his governance musings in Davao. Like Fr. Mercado I laud Duterte’s vow to combat crime and criminals, but I vehemently object to the vigilante-style fast becoming fashionable. 

News the other night was that over ten vigilante-style killings have already been recorded in the CAMANAVA region alone!


Incoming President Duterte’s musings have to be well thought-out, for while the stream of consciousness technique he copied from Irish author James Joyce was an instant hit with literature majors two generations ago, like Duterte Joyce was tough to read and tougher even to understand. But Joyce we could just throw into the wastebasket, Duterte we have to live with.

For close to 23 years as mayor of the third-largest city, he spoke very locally. But once he got elected  President , not only the entire nation but the world has become his stage, and he can’t be too candid and casual anymore---as otherwise he faces condemnation over controversial statements, or worse, he becomes the laughing stock, a screwball.

Note that because of Duterte’s advocacy of vigilante-style tackling of criminality, once sane leaders like Cebu City’s Mayor Tommy Osmena are now mouthing offering sizable bounty for criminals killed or wounded.  But as worried Filipinos argue, what if the wrong person got slain, can it just be written off as a "wrong mistake?"


It’s a pity that the incoming President has to polarize media, both formal and social, this early, when the better thing to do would be to gain their help and cooperation in solving the horrendous problems this nation faces. Thus, what has become national concern are the quarrels during Duterte’s press conferences, when what should be their substance are his programs for the future---how he plans to solve all the gargatuan problems he’s inheriting from P-Noy. What’s happening today is that his media bureau is tripping over, trying to explain or undo what their boss just said. Being in the shoes of Peter Lavina  or Sal Panelo has to be the most unenviable job right now. 

Mr. Duterte won the biggest plurality ever in the presidential race in this country, 16.6 million votes---enormous political capital. Thus, we should expect that this new President would  become more secure about himself and truly use his unprecedented popularity to serve the nation in positive ways and rally the people to unite, instead of causing this sharp polarization. 

A friend of mine rode a taxi recently and was startled to find the cabbie so angry with Mr. Duterte for disrespecting women, when, as he himself confessed, two months ago he was so gung-ho over the guy. Let’s hope Mr. Duterte would sober up and stop being so insecure about himself. Awright awready, you’re President now.


As we pause to remember today the 40th day of the passing of Chief Justice Renato Corona to the bosom of the Lord, allow me to reprint the beautiful eulogy delivered by former Sen. Francisco S. Tatad at the solemn wake held by the National Transformation Council, titled “God Knows  Him Well!” "Cardinal" Tatad goes"

“In this gathering of family and friends, we can only hope and try to console Tina Corona and children Carla, Francis, Charina and the entire Corona family, and indeed our own selves too, on the profound loss we all share upon the passing of Chief Justice Renato Corona.  But  we can add nothing to what the good Lord knows and has to say about our dear departed brother and friend Rene. God loved him in a special way, and he tried to correspond with all his imperfections and human weaknesses: so we pray, as we have prayed these last few days, that the good Lord will consider only his love and loyalty and not his human frailties. 

"He lived a simple Christian life devoted to the service of God, family and country.  Simplicity and humility were the first virtues that shone out of his noble character and attracted his brethren on the Court, as Justice Roberto Abad told us last Sunday. But I did not have to hear it from Justice Abad: these were precisely the same qualities I saw in him when he and his brother “Toti" started working with me at the Department of Public Information in the '70s. I have no doubt that aside from his humungous brain and devastatingly good looks, these too were among the first qualities that drew Tina to his bosom when she consented to become his blushing bride in a wedding ceremony where I was privileged to stand as “ninong.” 

Like the biblical Nathaniel, there was no guile in him. He took his faith seriously and tried to live it intensely.  This is why, as his former brethren would attest,  there never was a hint or breath of wrongdoing against him in the corridors of the High Court that has lately come into so much controversy and disrepute. He was a just man immersed in the love and holy fear of the Lord. On the shores of the Sea of Galilee, following the disciples’ miraculous catch of fish after that long empty night, our Lord asked his disciple Peter, “Simon, Son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, my Lord,” Peter answered. Three times our Lord asked him, and three times he answered, and on the third time he finally said, hurting a little bit, “Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you.” 

Our brother and friend Rene did not have to repeat those words; he tried to live them everyday in the service of God, family and country; he was the good and ever faithful servant. Now God has called him to His presence, and we mourn his passing, human as we are. But we know he is now looked after, so much better than when he was with us here, in a world where only love reigns and Death has lost its sting. Upon Lazarus’s death, Martha and then Mary told our Lord, one after the other, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” This moved our Lord  to tears, and moved him to raise his friend Lazarus from the dead after having been entombed for four days. 

Well, our Lord has never left Rene’s side from the moment he was baptized and incorporated into the assembly  of the people of God under our Lord Jesus Christ.  He  never left him even when his enemies tried to take away his basic human dignity and worth which he had received from birth. And still, like Lazarus, he died. Why is that?  Why?  Because our Lord, who has resurrected and conquered death,  wanted to tell him that his special earthly mission was over and that he could now enter into the eternal joy of His Presence where there is no more doubt nor darkness nor pain nor grief nor despair. 

The poet T. S. Eliot has a beautiful stanza in Little Gidding: 'We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.This is like dying, but death is more than this. It reaffirms our inextinguishable union with God. 

We begin with God, and we end with God. In philosophy, we call this our First and Last End. We are never to veer away from this. Sister Death, as Francis of Assisi calls her, interrupts our journey only to transport the good and faithful servant to another world where eye has not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for them that loved Him.  This is where we all hope to be reunited to all our loved ones after our earthly toil, and this is where we hope and pray our Lord has taken our dear departed brother and friend. 

God wants a handful of men of his own in every human activity, writes a great saint, so that the peace and glory of Christ may reign in the kingdom of Christ. And He placed Rene in the vineyard of the Judiciary` to fertilize and nourish the Tree of Justice with the truth and love of the law, honor and personal sacrifice, so that it may bear the most abundant fruits. This entailed giving himself completely and unconditionally to the work at hand, even at the risk of incurring the wrath of the ill-willed and the unjust.   In Thomas More’s time, this might  have earned him certain martyrdom—-he might have had to pay for it with his blood. But even martyrdom has changed its manners and dress—-as the infamous impeachment trial had shown,  they destroy your honor while sparing your life. But it is martyrdom nonetheless. 

But I have a sneaking suspicion that in this Rene found his “perfect joy.” What do I mean by perfect joy?  St. Francis of Assisi defines perfect joy as that which fills a pilgrim’s soul when after a long and terrible journey through wind and rain and snows and storms, he finally reaches his destination, hungry and tired, but finds his longed-for lodging already closed for the night; and instead of being welcomed with a bowl of soup, a hot bath and bed, he is driven away with curses and threats, and is forced to spend the rest of the evening in stormy weather outside.  In that situation, the pilgrim finds himself close to the suffering endured by Christ. He becomes another Christ—-alter Christus, if not Christ himself.

This was how I looked at Chief Justice Corona as he sat in that rigged impeachment court. No disciple is ever above his master. As our Lord drank the cup according to the Father’s will, so did our departed brother and friend drink his. He died embracing the Lord, and being embraced by Him in turn. In God’s grace, he lives, and will live on forever in the sweetest peace. God bless us all.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Vice President-elect Leni Robredo, woman of destiny and “the Cinderella of Philippine Politics,” as Press Secretary Sal Panelo terms her, comes into office with cloud of electoral fraud hounding her. Defeated rival Bongbong Marcos plans protest before SC converted into Presidential Electoral Tribunal---a long expensive process. 3.3 million under-vote phenomenon emerges, which some IT experts believe could only be ascribed to administration in power.

Far from being clean honest and credible, the recent elections are heavily suspected of being fraud-ridden, as far as majority of our people and our IT experts are concerned.  That more people believe the elections have been studded with cheating may be gleaned from a poll survey conducted soon after precincts closed by Net 25, the Iglesia ni Cristo radio-TV station. It found out that a full 97.7% of the public believed there was widespread cheating, while only 2.3% believed it was honest and credible.

In the aftermath of the May 9 elections, reports flooded media about voting machines in various places that were pre-loaded with shaded ballots even before voting. The provinces of Eastern Samar, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and Basilan are mentioned, among others. There was the banner story of Standard by ace reporter Christine F. Herrera about how some 30 consolidated counting servers (CCS) were airlifted to the Comelec National Technical Support Center in Sta. Rosa, Laguna under a thick veil of secrecy, shortly after 5 pm. of election day, ostensibly because these municipal and provincial canvassing machines failed to boot.


Christine Herrera’s report said that a group of IT experts hired by the Comelec, speaking on condition of anonymity, had alleged that these CCSs were out to rig results of the elections specially in four contested vote-rich provinces . It was noted that soon afterwards the votes of vice-presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos began to shrink while those of rival LP candidate Leni Robredo began to climb up mysteriously. 

Commenting on the controversy involving the CCS units in Sta. Rosa, a number of independent Filipino IT experts, sufficiently alarmed, argued that the only way to settle the allegation of the Comelec-hired IT group about these machines was to subject them to an independent forensic examination before the national canvassing in Congress began last Wednesday. The IT experts' proposal, however, was ignored by the leadership of both chambers of Congress which finished the canvassing in record time and proclaimed winners Rodrigo Duterte and Leni Robredo.


Many other factors contributed to the lack of credibility of the recent polls. For one, Comelec Chief Andres Bautista chose to defer action on the clamor of IT experts to open the electoral results to a systems audit, arguing that there is already a lawsuit vs. Smartmatic. so that this latter plea could wait. But what really proved CENTRAL TO THE ALLEGATIONS OF MASSIVE CHEATING was the unfortunate episode involving the Venezuelan  operations chief of Smartmatic, Marlon Garcia, who changed the command script of the Comelec’s transparency server on his own, without authorization from the poll body’s commissioners en banc, as RA 9369, the AES law, provides. 

Garcia argued that all he wanted to do was to rectify the absence of the correct alphabet letter “enye” in the list of candidates names. But that singular act of Garcia proved to all and sundry that our electoral system was entirely vulnerable to hacking from outside.  But other than the Comelec chief's attempt to minimize Garcia's alteration as merely “cosmetic,” the poll body ignored the Filipino IT experts' clamor for a full-blown investigation of this interference.


IT expert Prof. Edmundo "Toti" Casino argues that “If this issue is not heeded still, it will be the 4th election wherein foreigner contractor Smartmatic would have its technicians intervene directly in the Philippine election system during official counting."  Casino listed all four instances of Smartmatic’s intervention:

1)    in 2008 in Wao in changing results in the transmission as reported by AVANTE,  2) in 2010 on the changing of the 256 million registered voters in the Joint National Board of Canvassers, and  3)  in 2013 when the same Smartmatic technician, Marlon Garcia, appeared at the PPCRV premises in Pope Pius XII Center in Manila and made direct instruction to alter totals in their transparency server and match it with Comelec's central server and  now, 4) in 2016 where Garcia directly inserted a new script in the transparency server during an official transmission of election results.”  


This atmosphere of questionable poll results in the recent elections did not affect President-elect Rodrigo Duterte as he obtained a HUGE LANDSLIDE VOTE---a plurality of some 16.6 million votes, the biggest obtained by any Philippine president.  Duterte’s lead over his closest rival, LP’s Mar Roxas, amounted to 6.6 million votes.

But this was not the same case for Vice-President elect  Leni Robredo, because her vote margin over closest rival, Bongbong Marcos, was a hairline---only 263, 473 votes--- and over the weeks leading to the elections, Marcos had led in the surveys.  But as May 09 approached, the LP, convinced that Mar Roxas’ candidacy was not going to prosper vs. Duterte, apparently decided to throw everything it had to propel Leni Robredo---to ensure at least a foot in the door, so to speak. As news reports put it, the biggest advertising budget in tri-media, suspected to have been sourced from the Bottom-Up-Budgeting---was utilized for her candidacy---and it worked!


This is not to say, however, that Leni, who took her time to say yes to P-Noy's coaxing to run as VP, has no merit on her own.  In a conversation this blogger had with former Speaker Jose de Venecia a few weeks before the elections, JDV spoke of how the hitherto unknown Leni came in at first with little support from various crowds in Pangasinan where he and his wife, outgoing Rep. Gina de Venecia, had campaigned for the LP slate;  but as more and more people came to meet and talk to Leni, and heard her deliver her speeches, said Joe, they were won over.

One of the valid criticisms leveled at Leni Robredo was her inexperience in executive governance, considering that she would be one heartbeat away from the presidency (this reality is fearful but not hard to imagine, as President-elect Duterte is 71 years old and readily acknowledges that he's not in the peak of health;  reports say he has Buerger’s disease, which involves inflammation of the arteries). But as the voters got more exposed to Robredo, the simplicity, humility and intelligence of this lady lawyer grew on them.


It was argued by political pundits that soon to be ex-President Noynoy Aquino at some point realized that much as he depended on his friend Mar Roxas to look after him politically, his candidacy did not progress as Noynoy wanted it. Thus, as Roxas got left behind, the widow of the late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo grew in stature and she emerged as the child of destiny. In the words of Duterte’s Press Secretary, Leni is the “Cinderella of Philippine politics.”  

But the lack of credibility of the recent elections would continue to hound VP Leni Robredo, and Bongbong Marcos, eager to return the family to Malacanang, can be expected to capitalize on this uncertain atmosphere---in view of Leni's razor-thin electoral margin over him. Marcos has expressed determination to pursue his protest vs. his rival, perhaps if only to keep his name alive for a Palace run in the future. 


One issue Marcos will probably exploit is the phenomenon of the "under-vote issue"---that there are at least 3.3 million people in the recent elections who voted for a presidential candidate but not for the vice-presidential candidate; and much of this vote deficit comes from the Visayas and Mindanao where a lot of magic had taken place. How does one explain the "under-vote" phenomenon? Could it be that that many voters voted for their presidential candidate but refrained from voting for a vice-presidential candidate because they did not like anyone of the candidates?  Or could it be, as some IT experts now muse, that a lot of votes may have been shaved from Bongbong Marcos but were not filled up with the name of his major rival---as it's far easier to keep the vote blank than to write something in it. It's further reasoned that such hocus-focus can only be done by the administration in power as it controls the vote-counting machines. 

IT expert Maricor Mendoza-Akol, in fact, points out that from 6 pm.-6:10 pm. on Election Day, there was no transmission whatsoever throughout the country. What went on? There are questions and more questions being raised about the recent elections.

With the two top winners already proclaimed by Congress, Marcos will have to lodge his protest before the Supreme Court that will transform itself into the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, as provided by the Constitution. It is a fact, however, that electoral protests in this country are expensive and takes years to determine with finality.  Nevertheless, this fight between Robredo and Marcos on the new plane of the PET bears watching. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Nervousness about Rodrigo Duterte palpable even as his inaugural is just a month away, due to his recent attack on bishops/Church and statements that seem off-the-cuff rather than well-thought out. New Press Secretary/spokesperson Sal Panelo seeks to allay public apprehension by stressing that these statements could be “pang kampanya lang.” Duterte contemplates simple inaugural at Malacanang with only pika-pika fare. Even as House reps rally to battle-cry, "Change is coming," faint whispers in half-jest also admonish that "Abolition is coming."

Monday, May 23, 2016

Newly-appointed Presidential Spokesperson and Press Secretary Salvador Panelo poses with media women (left to right: Mandy Navasero, yours truly, Domini Torrevillas and Deedee Siytanco, with Saeed Daof.

Recently I was having a blow-dry at my favorite beauty parlor when a lady friend wailed into my cellphone, “Bel, ano ba ito? Why is the new President frightening all of us?” She then rattled off the “offer” made public by presumptive President-elect Rodrigo Duterte of four mass-based Cabinet posts to the Left. 

Amid the whirring of the hair-dryer I could barely hear my friend as she cited headlines about Duterte’s intention to bring back the death penalty, abolished since 2007, and she was plainly hysterical as she noted how he advocated death by hanging, describing vividly how the head would snap from the body!  She also noted that Duterte said he'd give law-enforcers permission to shoot-to-kill lawless elements, prompting human rights advocates here and around the world to discombobulate. 


“Ano ba ito? Dios ko!  my lady friend wailed. I agreed with her and we spoke about how even the usually mild-mannered come-backing Cebu Mayor Tommy Osmena seems to afflicted with the same sickness as the President-elect. Osmena raised eyebrows when he was recently quoted as offering to pay his police force a bounty of P50,000 for every criminal they kill, and P5,000 for every criminal they wound.

The Cebu mayor was quoted as saying that he would not suppress vigilantes, but my wailing lady friend and I agreed that vigilante-style executions are not the answer to criminality.  Instead it lies in strengthening the justice system where palakasan is reduced through the appointment of dedicated public servants in the judiciary, and properly equipping and motivating the police and security forces.
I sought to comfort my hysterical friend, opining that the President-elect should  have signified mere intention to submit these moves to exhaustive study and consultation first, rather than sounding so definitive about imposing them. There’s a whole world of difference between rushing headlong to implement a move and first subjecting it to study and deliberation---the way there is a difference between being a demagogue and being a statesman.  


I realize that those initial pronouncements were made to shock and awe, in true Duterte fashion, and that they caught on with the broad masses during the campaign--- garnering him the biggest plurality of 17 million votes, over 6 million more than his closest rival, LP’s Mar Roxas. Duterte must be reminded, however, that he is now the President-in-waiting and in a little more than a month he will be sworn in to rule over our country, God-permitting, for the next six years. Unfortunately Rody Duterte has not let up on the shock and awe tactic.

Today’s headlines screamed about how he hit the Catholic Church as “the most hypocritical institution” in the vilest language. He also brushed aside complaints from his long-time friend and patron, 64-year old Pastor Apollo Quiboloy---one of his biggest financiers, who lent him use of his private jet and other assets in his campaign---about his being shut out from negotiations regarding Duterte’s appointments. In this connection, however, perhaps it's timely to remind the good sect-leader that his kingdom-building ought to be geared toward the spiritual world.

Adding to the general unease is the oft-repeated threat of the incoming President that if he encounters an obstinate Congress, he would abolish it.


The nervousness of much of the population is evident, even as a sizable part of them is applauding loudly his seeming decisiveness and forcefulness, in stark contrast to the frightfully limp image of outgoing President Aquino. I had occasion last Saturday afternoon to air this sentiment on behalf of all those nervous about Digong to his new Press Secretary and Spokesperson, UP-trained lawyer Salvador Panelo, whom Cecile Guidote Alvarez and I were able to hijack for a 20-minute interview for her Sunday 6 pm. program, “Radyo Balintataw,” over dzRH.

The occasion was the victory celebration at the old Sampaguita Pictures compound of two first-cousins recently elected to the HouseL Christopher Vera Perez de Venecia, son of outgoing Rep. Gina de Venecia of Pangasinan’s 4th  district and former Speaker Joe de Venecia, and Edward Vera Perez Maceda, son of former Sen. Ernesto Maceda and Marichu Vera Perez Maceda.


Witty and quite approachable, and dressed in what he said would be de riguer attire in the Duterte administration (T-shirt and denim pants with cuts that expose the fabric's threads), Sal Panelo sought to calm public apprehension about his incoming boss’ remarks on vigilante justice---even as I noted that US President Barack, in his five-minute congratulatory call to the President-elect, sought to remind him about human rights. Panelo, whose wife is a famous endocrinologist, stressed that after all, Duterte is a lawyer and knows the limits of the law; he opined that doubtless those remarks were “pang-kampanya lang” and that Obama’s admonition “should be taken in context.”

Panelo also revealed that the incoming President is leaning toward a very simple inaugural at Malacanang Palace, not at the Luneta, with just pika-pika instead of a full-course banquet. This is laudable.

The incoming Press Secretary---who will have his own battle with the Commission on Appointments over his involvement as lawyer of the Ampatuan family during the investigation into the infamous massacre that ended in many media people slain--- narrated that he had been egging the Davao mayor to run for president as early as seven years ago. Panelo cited his incoming boss' opinion that only he can truly articulate Duterte's mind. If this is so, I expressed the hope that he as presidential spokesperson could help rein in his boss' often outlandish statements and subject them to intensive study and deliberation first---in other words, that Duterte can act more like a statesman than a campaigning politico.


Inside the House of Representatives, politicians from the 40-year old NUP, the NP and the NPC are now busy positioning themselves vis-à-vis the new administration and a new leader in the chamber---in the hope of getting juicy committee chairmanships.  Duterte’s anointed candidate for Speaker is Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez and as expected, there'll be a lot of shifting of party loyalty to support him. First to jump ship are some 80 out of the 116 LPs elected, who have opted to join Alvarez's “Coalition for Change” with the empirical blessing of outgoing Speaker Sonny Belmonte, soon to become the Minority Leader. Leading the pack of turncoats is the Visayan bloc led by Rep. Albee Benitez which originally went for Grace Poe. The Panay bloc originally supported VP Jejomar Binay but is now also supporting Alvarez.  

The NPC, which earlier backed up Grace Poe, has now allied with PDP-Laban, whose chair is Duterte himself.

And so the House politicians once again demonstrate that politics is essentially the survival of the fittest. But even as there is jockeying for posts amid the battle-cry, “Change is coming,” there are also faint whispers in the corridors of power that say in half-jest, “Abolition is coming!”