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.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Photos of "Haggle" at ASEAN@50 both amusing and ominous. EJK issue avoided by all the conferees, except that "crush ng bayan," Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, who was as brave as he's handsome. Digong was for the most part statesmanlike, except for verbal jab at Obama, his murder-at-age 16 spin and now his tirade vs.Trudeau.

US President Donald Trump at first couldn't handle the famous "Haggle", as he tried to grab the hand of Vietnamese Prime Nguyen Xuan Phuc, thus leaving President Duterte's hang hanging in the air. 

Finally, voila, Donald Trump caught the hang of it, grabs President Digong's right hand, to the great amusement of the Vietnamese PM at his right. It was apparently too complicated a maneuver for the US' Big Guy.

The 50th Anniversary of ASEAN, with President Duterte hosting this mega-milestone back to back with the 31st ASEAN Summit of Leaders that he chaired, is now history. Regional and world leaders who attended these twin events have all flown home with their happy memories of camaraderie and banquets, dazzling shows put up by our host people and conferences among political and business leaders, tea among the state leaders' spouses, etc.  

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and among the most amusing shots of ASEAN@50 was that of US President Trump trying to master the complications of the "Haggle."  First he grabbed the left hand of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc with both his hands, looking awfully confused---thereby leaving the right hand of Mr. Duterte hanging in the air. That was a fantastic shot of Trump in confusion, and to my mind, highly symbolic of the disconnect between the two presidents---despite media hyping about how famously they got along. 


But after the conferees get home and report to their constituents, what's there to remember? What are the summit issues that left strong impressions on the leaders and their aides?  What do the Filipino people remember of those historic back-to-back events, aside from the dazzling entertainment program for state dignitaries at the SMX they saw on TV?  No school the whole week, restricted ASEAN lanes and "locked-down" areas. Would that the metropolis would be that orderly forever!  

The most significant development within the back-to-back events is the way certain issues that have tremendous bearing on the life of nations and peoples have been skirted around---the biggest of them all the state of human rights in ASEAN. 


Before President Trump left for Asia, Republican Rep.Randy Hultgren of Illinois and Democrat Rep. James McGovern of Massachussetts wrote him to stress the need to take up the human rights issue with President Duterte. In addition, various rights groups,

Canadian PM invades a Jollibee outlet in Tondo to grab a hamburger, and is instantly rewarded by this photo op

Justin Trudeau takes a selfie with the Jollibee folks at lunch, showing that he really was the "Crush ng Bayan"

most notably Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, exerted pressure for concrete results. As he put it, "...surely someone from among the 20 world leaders at these summits can confront President (Rodrigo) Duterte about his horrific and unprecedented 'drug war killings." 

Because of the hyping, all eyes seemed focused on the one-on-one session between Messrs. Trump and Duterte, but unfortunately nothing like that was taken up between them.  Mr. Duterte relished with media the one sentence from the US President that to his mind referred to the rights issue in a rather oblique but approving manner. He quoted Trump's reported verdict:  "You are doing well." 


Mr. Duterte appears not to have elicited more specifics beyond this one-liner,  but this should not surprise anyone---for the US President is facing his own enormous problems back home and has even less moral authority to lecture to Mr. Duterte. Recall that very senior officials of the US intelligence agencies had testified before the US Congress and in media about the supposed manipulative role of Russia in the November 2016 US elections---which allegedly ensured the victory of Trump over Hillary Clinton. 

In addition, the less than a year old Trump administration has seen eleven very senior officials either fired or resigned--- including his chief strategist and communications director. Moreover, as Manila Times columnist Marlen Ronquillo pointed out in his "Sunday Stories," Mr. Trump's approval rating has plunged to an all-time low in the US of only 37%; in fact, only 40% of US voters say they will vote for him in a reelection. 

Deprived thus of any moral authority, the US President couldn't very well lecture Mr. Duterte on human rights or anything else. 


The other pressing issue expected to be raised at the ASEAN Summit is the crisis in Myanmar involving the minority Rohingya Muslims---more than 600,000 of whom have been reportedly forced to flee from Buddhist Myanmar to Bangladesh. The Rohingya crisis, dubbed Myanmar's "ethnic cleansing," where army elements are reported to have brutally cracked down and slain thousands, has been labelled by Human Rights Watch as "among the worst human rights catastrophes in Asia in years and demands concerted global action." 

Reports of brutal slayings of this tribal group by Myanmar's military have resulted in international pressure on the country's leader and foreign minister, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Au San Suu Kyi (she with the perpetual flower in her hair). The Rohingya crisis has threatened her rule, not to mention her celebrated peace prize.

All that seems possible at the moment from ASEAN, however, is a pledge from Suu Kyi's fellow leaders that they would prod the Myanmar military to help this ethnic group find its rightful place in the sun---a response that sounds so weak, and typically Asian.  


To the credit of Mr. Duterte, he behaved quite statesmanlike at the Summit and coped well with all the rigorous demands on his office and person by such this  huge PR milestone event---except in one or two occasions which, unfortunately, went viral. One was when he started pouncing on the absent Barack Obama for calling down Mr. Duterte's checkered record on human rights. The Philippine leader certainly dished it back to Obama, never mind if he is already ancien regime. 

The other instance was when Mr. Duterte admitted before foreign media that he had already killed someone by the time he was 16 years old---stabbing his protagonist to death. That remark was truly a sorry one which merely reinforced perceived notions about our leader.  


If there was a vote for "Crush ng Bayan" Canada's youthful, handsome and absolutely charming PM Justin Trudeau would win hands down. Son of the former Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau, he has a big constituency of Filipino immigrants in Canada.  This fact is important to note, as young Trudeau acted so much like he was campaigning in his backyard---pumping hands, kissing and holding up babies; then feeling suddenly hungry, he drops in at the first Jollibee he comes across. 

That sudden visit by the Canadian PM caused pandemonium among the resto staff and they all came out for a selfie with rock-star politico from across the seas. But being handsome and personable aren't Justin Trudeau's only attributes: of all the leaders who gathered in Manila for ASEAN@50 and the 31st ASEAN Summit, Trudeau was the only foreign leader who had the nerve and the verve to directly address Mr. Duterte on the EJK killings by the PNP. 

In return, the youthful Canadian PM reaped a mouthful of verbal attacks from Mr. Duterte at the close of the Summit. He told media that Trudeau's raising the human rights issue with him was "a personal and official insult" to him, stressing, as the Manila Standard reported, that he would only answer to a Filipino and not "any bullshit foreigner." 

From across the seas came Trudeau's posit: 

"As I mentioned to President Duterte, we are concerned with human rights, with the extrajudicial killings, and we impressed upon him the need for respect for the rule of law and as always, we offered Canada's support and help as a friend---to help move forward on what is the real challenge. This is the way we engage with the world. This is the way we always will."


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The “Field Marshal” of the ASEAN@50 celebration is a seasoned diplomat, but an even more seasoned events organizer and military-trained strategist---Ambassador Marciano “Jun” Paynor of PMA Class '71. Since the time of FVR he has walked Philippine presidents through their state visits abroad.

Ambassador Marciano "Jun" Paynor

In two or three days’ time will begin the “lock down” of areas of  the metropolis where 21 heads of state from three continents will converge for the 31st ASEAN SUMMIT in Manila---that also celebrates the 50th anniversary of the birth of the regional grouping in our part of the world.  

At 50 ASEAN is middle-aged and has all the agony and the ecstasy of glorious mid-life.  On hand to prevent this mid-life stage of the regional bloc from becoming a MIDLIFE CRISIS are the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police which will doubtless enforce the tightest security ever in the history of this country.

Consider, for instance, that Manila Bay would be a “No sail zone” and that the expressways will enforce a truck ban as all the foreign dignitaries will be flying in through Clark Airport. Consider too, that a lock-down of the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex would mean that personnel of all the establishments within it would also be locked in from Nov. 12-15.  For instance, personnel of station dzRH in the Manila Broadcasting Company beside the CCP will be sequestered in the building for three days---sleeping in portable bunk beds with food already brought inside. 

This blogger joins the entire Filipino people in wishing the ASEAN Summit in Manila huge success, and let us all pray that everything would work out smooth as silk and that all the leaders from all over the world would be safe here.


Fifty years ago Asian unity was just an ambitious glimmer in the eyes of five Asian foreign ministers with remarkable foresight and determination.  These were Narciso Ramos of the Philippines, Adam Malik of Indonesia, Thanat Khoman of Thailand, Tun Abdul Razak of Malaysia and S. Rajaratnam of Singapore. On Aug. 9, 1967, the Asean Declaration was signed in Bangkok by the heads of state of those five countries .

Today ASEAN has become a formidable regional bloc of ten countries that includes Brunei, former war-torn Cambodia and Vietnam, and Myanmar and Laos---with a combined population exceeding 650 million. ASEAN has turned out to be a real economic and political powerhouse regional bloc,  with a combined gross domestic product in 2015 of $2.5 trillion---making it the sixth largest economy in the world and the third largest in Asia. By now, 2017, that growth doubtless has leaped even more.  


Indication of its economic significance as a region is the fact that eleven leaders from East and South Asia (China, Japan and South Korea, as well as India), Europe (Russia) and North America (the US' Donald Trump and Canada's PM Justin Trudeau) are attending as dialogue partners. The Summit will also see world leaders Donald Tusk, President of the European Council and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterrez in attendance. .

Regional blocs demonstrate the old adage about strength in unity. In another part of the world, the EU bloc is demonstrating its strength in the current imbroglio between the monarchic faction in Spain and the separatist bloc in CataluƱa in the northern part of that country. What appears to have thwarted the separatists’ move---at least for the moment---is the fact that the biggest nations in the EU---France, Italy and Germany, threw their collective support for Spain and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, not with the rebel leader Carlos Puigdemont who has since sought refuge in Belgium. 

The major EU members threw their support for Spain's monarchic government after the disastrous exit of Britain (Brexit) a year ago. A new region-wide Catalan referendum toward the end of this month could be the make or break for the region. 


In the ASEAN@50 Summit, confronting the ten members and their dialogue partners is the erraticism of young North Korean Premier Kim-Jong-Un who likes to tell the world that his itchy fingers are on his nuclear bombs that can obliterate New York City. Then there is the continuing dispute between China and ASEAN countries, led by the Philippines, about their claims to the vast seas all around us, which China calls the South China Sea, but which we insist on calling the West Philippine Sea. 

Then there are the pesky human rights issues bedeviling so many ASEAN countries, including our own, that are related to the drug problem in the region, as well as the Rohingya ethnic minority in Myanmar that refuses to get off Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's back. . 


The host to this gigantic undertaking of ASEAN@50 is President Duterte, but behind the success of its mid-century celebration is its field marshal, no other than Ambassador Marciano “Jun” Paynor, who is calling the shots behind the scenes. Even generals and admirals as well as politicians and diplomats defer to Jun Paynor's judgment in handling the top events for the country in the next week.

Last August 2016, newly installed President Duterte appointed  Jun Paynor ambassador to the US, where he had served as Consul-General in San Francisco a few years back. But Paynor’s assumption of the ambassadorship to Washington had to be put on hold because of the ASEAN Summit---which is President Digong’s debut in international politics.  And with reason:  Paynor has been walking Philippine Presidents through their various state visits abroad since Fidel Ramos’ time, and through the presidencies of  Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Benigno Aquino III and now Rodrigo Duterte. IN 2015, he was head organizer of the APEC event in Manila.


The Baguio-born mild-mannered military officer-turned-diplomat was a member of the Philippine Military Academy’s Class of 1971, and for a while he was managing director of external and government relations for Ayala Corporation.  From the private sector he catapulted to the diplomatic world and became ambassador to Israel and Cyprus, with his wife Teresita and their three daughters joining him. 

It was in Jerusalem during Holy Year 2000 where he saw me and my husband off at the airport as our pilgrim group was leaving for Rome to continue our pilgrimage. I entrusted my two teenage sons to his care, as they awaited their separate flight to Rome. As we were leaving Israel that time the political situation was deteriorating with the “Intifada,” but Ambassador Paynor was  securely in charge of the Filipino community.

In this most significant event for the Philippines of ASEAN 50 we pray that everything would go well and it truly helps that someone various presidents have trusted is on top of the preparations: Marciano Paynor, Jr.---ambassador par excellence. God bless you, Jun Paynor, and God bless our country and nation.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A great plus for President Digong if he appoints Glenn Chong to the Comelec top post, as this would restore confidence in the poll body. The urban warfare that our marines---trained in jungle warfare---fought in Marawi exacted a high toll in their ranks---36 dead and 353 wounded. But the Marines delivered.

Scene of utter destruction in Marawi City, with the famous minaret in the background (photo by David Santos, CNN Phil.)

The post of Comelec Chair became vacant with the resignation of Chairman Andres Bautista, which was virtually forced on him as the only option---so that he does not face a bruising trial in the Senate and certain conviction, after being impeached by the House of Representatives. The question now is: who will assume the top Comelec post?  While a few names are being tossed around, one seems to be dominant, invoking confidence from various sectors: lawyer and former Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong.

Former Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong, whom IT experts are endorsing for Comelec Chair

It is highly significant that among those endorsing Glenn Chong are leading members of the Philippine IT profession and various associations connected with it. Among his most vocal endorsers are outstanding IT professionals such as Nelson Celis, Edmundo CasiƱo, past president of the Philippine Computer Society, Ernesto del Rosario, Leo Querubin and their respective IT groups. Another hearty endorser of Glenn Chong is the active citizens' group Tanggulang Demokrasya, led by civic leader Evelyn Kilayko and lawyer Dindo Donato as its general counsel.

Citizens from various walks of life who have heard the presentations of Glenn Chong have been impressed with his deep knowledge of the workings of our electoral system as well as the frauds that have infected it over time. I find the endorsement of leading IT practitioners most significant, however, since they know that Glenn Chong knows the business of elections like the back of his hand and cannot be fooled by professional cheaters inside the Comelec.


As for the reservation of Manila Times columnist Bobi Tiglao that he is a Liberal Party man, that does not hold water at all. While Glenn ran under the LP in 2007, he bolted it after the near-assassination of his father which was ascribed to LP elements. In 2010 he ran for reelection in his native Biliran under Lakas-NUCD, supporting presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro, but Glenn was cheated out of victory.  His defeat due to cheating, however, proved to be a blessing for the country, for since then Glenn has singularly campaigned for clean and honest elections, and has studied all the intricacies of electronic voting and counting, so that he could outwit the deeply embedded cheaters in the Comelec.

If President Duterte needs a vote of confidence in his administration, the best way is to recruit a young, idealistic and cheating-savvy guy like Glenn Chong to the Comelec where he could be expected to slay all the dragons there. Mr. Duterte, Glenn Chong is the best we have to clean out the Comelec. He will be a big plus to your administration. 


Earlier today my radio partner, Magsaysay Awardee for Theater Cecile Guidote Alvarez and I featured brave Marines in our weekly “Radyo Balintataw” over dzRH---to hear about their brave battles against ISIS terrorists who laid siege to the country’s Islamic City of Marawi.

In the retaking of Marawi, elements from the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines have been  involved---the Army, the PNP Special Action Forces, Marines from the Navy as well as the Air Force support system that has undertaken delivery of badly needed logistics and supplies and transporting the wounded to various military hospitals such as Camp Evangelista in Cagayan de Oro and in  Zamboanga as well as to V. Luna Hospital.   


The grand design of terrorist leaders Isnilon Hapilon, head of the Abu Sayyaf,  and the brothers Maute---to establish a Caliphate in Mindanao from where radical Islam could spread through Southeast Asia---had to be thwarted by the AFP with the ready support of the Filipino people. The bloody recapture effort of nearly five months---that had involved thousands of men and women of the AFP---meant logistics running to many billions of pesos that could have been put to more profitable ways for the Filipino people---such as battling the more persistent war against poverty.

 But the urgency of the moment was there, and Team AFP did not shirk from its bounden duty, even at the cost of hundreds of lives lost or wounded. The battle for Marawi, which began on May 23, took our fighting troops almost five months to finish, but it also exacted a heavy toll from them:  a total of 165 soldiers perished in the nearly five months of battle and scores wounded. Of this total death toll, 36 were from the three Marine battalions which also saw 353 of its soldiers wounded in action.  


In our dzRH interview, most interesting was the viewpoint offered by Marine 1st Lt. Cris Jay Billano, a graduate of the Naval Officer Candidate School of the Philippine Navy, in that the reconquest of Marawi proved quite tough as it involved URBAN WARFARE---something the Marine batallions were unaccustomed to, as they are trained primarily in JUNGLE WARFARE. The Marine Command had been involved in urban warfare only  once before---in the battle to defend Zamboanga City from some 200 MNLF warriors in 2013. 

Cecile Alvarez and I brought before the nation over dzRH fascinating stories of urban warfare from the Marines---this time not like in the movies but in actual battles where people lived or died. The battle for Marawi meant retaking house after house, building after building, shrine after shrine---and by the end of nearly five months of battle, the once beautiful idyllic city by Lake Lanao was utterly destroyed.

People in the construction and design business, led by world-renowned architect and urban planner Felino Palafox, estimate that it would cost no less than P50 billion to reconstruct Marawi. In fact the floating of a Marshall Plan type of bonds is being talked about to fund this most daunting, urgent job. 


Marine Sgt. Nestor Pulga narrated that in the nearly five-month battle,  at times  only a wall divided the warring troops, and the terrorists would bore holes into the walls just big enough to insert the nose of their rifles. At times the dividing line would be only some sack cloth or drapery and sorry na lang for the protagonist on the other side.

Sgt. Pulga narrated how in one building, the terrorists had dug into the basement, so that the marines climbed up to the second floor and tried to work their way down.  The enemy, however, started a fire to burn the upper floors, prompting the marines to jump out the windows, resulting in some broken bones.  

Marine Sgt. Richard Anding of the 10th Company Special Operation Platoon narrated how his group of 23 troopers went over the Mapanji Bridge, the first bridge over the Agus River in Marawi, by following on foot an advancing tank that was firing across at enemy positions. But being on the bridge also exposed the marines on both sides of the enemy lines.

The untold hardships and sacrifice of lives and limbs of Team AFP reaped enormous support from a grateful nation. As Marine Capt. Maria Rowena Dalmacio pointed out in our radio program, the troopers sounded an appeal for socks and blankets and citizens flooded the camps with these items. Mabuhay ang Team AFP!