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.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

P-Noy should remove 'legal pygmies'

The Philippine Star bannered the other day that President Aquino felt that the Supreme Court was “singling me out,” to which SC spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez defensively retorted that “We’re not anti-P-Noy.” P-Noy's latest tirade against the High Court, made in an ambush interview and obviously unprocessed, came under withering fire from analysts, who felt his accusation was beneath the dignity of a President. Pwede na if a Palace underling had said it, but not the President; iba ang dating pa siya, said an analyst.

Few would probably sympathize with P-Noy’s remarks, as it has been obvious for a while now that his legal problems lie not with a biased SC, but with what Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago calls his team of “legal pygmies” who keep presenting him with shoddy work that the high tribunal throws out. P-Noy should overhaul his staff, instead of whining "like a spoiled brat," as Star columnist Dick Pascual put it.

No similarities in EOs

P-Noy cited the setting up of the PCGG by his mother President Cory as an example of a presidential creation of a commission, arguing that if it was okay for the PCGG then, it should be a-okay for his Truth Commission. But what he fails to grasp is that the similarity between Cory’s EO 1 and his EO 1 ends coincidentally with their names. For as Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile pointed out, Cory’s E0 1 that created the PCGG with Jovito Salonga as its first chief, was not simply an executive order, because she had legislative power at the time. “She was Congress at the time,” said JPE.
Cory was to formalize days later the creation by edict of a revolutionary government, but the EDSA Revolution had effectively shut down all the Marcos institutions. 

If Cory was THE Congress IN 1986, neither was there a Supreme Court then.  Today President Noynoy has to contend with a Congress, some of whose members feel the Truth Commission should be legislated by them, and a pro-active SC that perhaps harbors some resentment toward the Executive (such as in the continuing brouhaha over the judicial budget that was slashed by the Palace).

The bigness of Cory Aquino

At this point let's go back in time for the benefit of the post-EDSA babies. Cory was sworn in as President late in the morning of Feb. 25, 1986 at Club Filipino by then jobless Senior Associate Justice Claudio Teehankee (whom she  appointed that April as the post-Edsa SC’s first Chief Justice). I was present at that historic occasion, as a sleepless reporter for the brand-new Inquirer then.  President Marcos, on the other hand, took his oath at the Palace balcony just an hour or so ahead of Cory, before his appointed---and also jobless--- Chief Justice Ramon Aquino (who made a name with his authoritative commentary on the Revised Penal Code which law students study until now).

It's a manifestation of the bigness of Cory Aquino that despite CJ Aquino's (no relation to Ninoy) swearing  in her bitter adversary, she later appointed his wife,  Carolina Griño Aquino, to the SC; to this day this retired lady jurist holds office in the SC, handling the continuing legal education program for judiciary personnel.

Coalition in the making

Earlier I wrote about the coalition being quietly worked out between Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrat elements closely identified with President Noynoy last May and the PDP-Laban chaired by Vice President Jejomar Binay. This is an interesting group to watch in the coming months, given VP Binay’s touted ambition to capture the Palace in 2016 (perhaps running with Kris Aquino, who had told media earlier that she plans to run for governor in the Aquinos’ home province of Tarlac in the 2013 mid-term elections).

The link of Lakas-CMD elements with P-Noy may stem from the identification of the late Ninoy Aquino with tenets of Christian Democracy in his evolution as a political figure. In his writings, Ninoy, who was a PDP-Laban adherent way before he became a Liberal, confessed that Christian Democracy had immensely shaped his thinking about his country's problems.
On the other hand, this group’s close links with P-Noy Aquino could attract EDSA elements who can’t quite identify with the exclusivist LP or the Gloria remnants in Lakas.

Sunshine after a long political winter

How LP leaders ambitioning as P-Noy's successor in 2016 would react to the growth of this loose coalition bears watching. For the moment the LP is enjoying the power it suddenly came into after its long political winter, with the election of Noynoy. LP stalwarts have a tight rein on the executive and the House, while in the Senate, the election of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile was a compromise to prevent open, bitter war between LP stalwarts Kiko Pangilinan and Franklin Drilon (Kris threw her support to Kiko which upset Drilon’s applecart, necessitating the last minute retention of JPE as Senate Chief). But to political outsiders, the LP has since appeared to be jealous of its hold on power, shutting out many non-LPs as well as NGOs from any power-sharing (not to mention the much-publicized power-struggles within the administration). As evidence, pundits like to point to the stranglehold of power by the Abads.

Unless the LPs open up soon, they may wake up to realize that VP Binay has run away with the flock.

A good ally

I had commented about the rapprochement between P-Noy and VP Binay lately, after they were off to a bumpy start in their political relationship earlier.  After much hemming and hawing Binay, who had set his sights earlier on the DILG portfolio which P-Noy gave to Jesse Robredo, finally settled for Housing Czar and presidential adviser on OFWs; and lately, the Coconut Palace was thrown in as his official residence-cum-office, plus P200 million in extra OVP funds from Noynoy’s unavailed pork barrel in his three years at the Senate. Noy is really courting Binay's support and it’s easy to see why. Binay completely surprised the nation when he suddenly overtook Mar Roxas and demonstrated his talent for national organization last May. P-Noy obviously realizes that the Veep is a good ally, but a tough opponent---so rein him in.

Tricycle party no more

Since his election to VP, Binay has been building up his mass base, as demonstrated by the presence of many governors and mayors at the oath-taking of PDP-Laban members administered by party prexy Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III early last month at Club Filipino. PDP is a tricycle party no more. Recently Binay was elected honorary chair of Pasang Masda, and he used the occasion to warn the hundreds of diesel jeepney operators that their existence has only a three-year timeline, as electric jeeps will have to come in to help solve the environmental pollution.

In addition, Binay made his debut on the international stage when the Centrist Asian Parties-Democrat International (formerly the Christian Democrat International), led by former Speaker Jose de Venecia, elected the VP as the CAP-DI vice-president at its huge Phnom Penh conference earlier this month. CAP-DI counts with over 89 political parties abroad.

Did-you-know Department:

• The Philippines is the second largest provider of seafarers in the world. Pinoy seamen number around 200,000 and help man practically every commercial vessel plying the seven seas, and annually remit to their homeland between $2 billion to $3 billion.

• What are the chances of a Palace motion for reconsideration of the SC’s ruling on EO 1, declaring the Truth Commission unconstitutional, as presidential legal adviser Edwin Lacierda contemplates on doing? Frankly, it’s super-slim, for the 1,600 page-SC decision is as thick as the new Oxford English Dictionary. Would the high magistrates be in the mood to revisit it in the post-holidays?  I doubt it.

• Her allies note that former President and now Pampanga 2nd District Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo continues to build up her Lakas-Kampi bloc in the House. Recently she swore in three party-list members.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Corona takes on Sigma Rho

Last night was the 73rd birthday celebration of former Speaker Jose de Venecia. As in the years when he was in power as Speaker for an unprecedented five terms, family and friends flocked to the Forbes Park residence of JDV and now Representative Gina de Venecia to celebrate with them. Among the early birds was former President Joseph Estrada who was once bitterly locked in the presidential elections of 1998 with JDV; today the two men are good friends.

Belmonte on the Ledac

At JDV’s party, I had a chance to chat very briefly with Speaker Feliciano Belmonte about reports (featured in this blog last Friday) that some senators were feeling listless and impatient over the Palace’s failure to submit the “common legislative agenda” (CLA) that should flesh out the President’s reform program in the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac). In the first place, I asked him, would the first Ledac meeting in the P-Noy administration, postponed last November, go through this January?

Belmonte seemed a wee bit irritated at this query, doubtless because he has gotten the same needling from House reporters. But he was more irritated by the senators’ reported impatience over the Palace’s failure to submit the CLA. “They have at least 25 bills pending in that chamber which they can act on,” he said, “Why don’t they do so instead of complaining of nothing to do?” I stressed that it’s traditional for Congress to receive the CLA early, in order to be able to prioritize its legislative program. Belmonte assured me that Ledac’s maiden session would push next month.

The CCT controversy

I had no chance to query him about the whopping P21 billion conditional cash transfer (CCT) funds that citizens are anxiously seeking proper monitoring of, as other guests cut in. We can only draw some comfort from Belmonte’s assurance in earlier media reports that he and the House would be doing its job of monitoring this gargantuan CCT fund, despite the complaint of Minority Leader Edcel Lagman and Deputy Minority Leader Milagros Magsaysay that there is no time-table as yet to operationalize the oversight committee that should fiscalize those funds, and even less for ensuring the opposition’s role in it.

Despite our brief chat I could say that I’ve seen Speaker Belmonte in a happier mood in past years than last night. It was as if this early he was already weighed down by problems in his chamber.

Rating this administration

At JDV’s party I sat with Climate Change Commissioner Heherson Alvarez, his wife Cecile, Joe Ladera Santos who chairs the Commission on the National Language and the three smart-looking daughters and a grand-daughter of noted ophthalmologist Dr. Ramon Batungbacal (a daughter of his, Karen, will become the bride of PDP-Laban Secretary-General Joey de Venecia III this Jan. 7). The topic on our half of the table predictably was the way this administration is handling things, as compared with previous ones.

Sonny Alvarez reminisced about how he had supported the late Speaker Ramon Mitra’s presidential bid against FVR, but soon after the latter won, he got a call from FVR himself, telling him, “Mr. Senator, let’s work together on your energy program.” FVR consulted him on a choice of Energy Secretary but his original suggestion turned it down as the fellow was earning about $80,000 a month in the US (it eventually fell to Del Lazaro). With FVR’s support, Alvarez convened the first international summit on climate change in Manila in 1995, with the late Pakistan PM Benazir Bhutto as keynote speaker.

Reaching out to rivals

Indeed I recall only too well how FVR reached out to political rivals Imelda Marcos and Eduardo Cojuangco. I was present when he graced the glittering dinner Monching Mitra tendered in his Ayala Heights home for visiting Malaysian PM Anwar Ibrahim and totally charmed Mitra’s wife Cecile. As JDV noted in our interview on his amnesty proposal last night, FVR reached out to the rightist rebels so that not a single coup attempt marred his six years in office; he and JDV also solved the MNLF problem by luring Nur Misuari to run as the administration candidate for governor in the first ARMM elections.

P-Noy could learn from FVR about how to win friends and influence people; sadly, however, his people have sold him the idea that everyone associated with GMA is the devil incarnate.

A strange thing happened in the last few days of the Christmas Season. Five members of the Morong 43 who were caught by the military in a raid in a resort place there 10 months ago on suspicion of their being alleged members of the New People’s Army, have refused to be released even after the Morong RTC had ordered them all to be set free. Recall that a few weeks back President Noynoy ordered the withdrawal of prosecution charges against them that were already lodged before the RTC, as pre-peace talks concession to NDF leader Luis Jalandoni who is visiting from the Netherlands.

It will be recalled that the military received P-Noy’s move in a very disciplined manner. It stressed that even as it stands by its judgment that the arrested health workers were really NPA members who were caught with explosives and firearms after many months of surveillance, it would obey the order of the Commander-in-Chief to set them free. But one could read between the lines of the various AFP spokespersons that they felt quite demoralized by the arbitrariness of P-Noy’s decision.

On the other hand, various leftist groups received his move with jubilation, stressing that it advanced the cause of peace.

Fearful for their lives

The refusal of the five members of the Morong 43 to walk to freedom and their insistence on remaining with their military custodians---doubtless because they were fearful for their lives outside--- complicates matters for the lawyers of the Morong 43, who had insisted that they were all health workers undergoing a seminar on community work. This was a totally unexpected turn of events.

Controversy regarding IBP Presidency

The fact that it was Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona himself who penned the recent decision barring senior ACCRA law office partner Rogelio Vinluan from seeking the presidency of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, after finding him and four other IBP officers guilty of grave professional misconduct during the hotly-contested IBP elections of 2009, is most interesting. The High Court, in a 8-2 vote with five abstentions, disqualified the five officers from ever seeking any national position in the IBP.

But that’s not the real meat of the issue. It’s that Vinluan, then IBP executive vice president, was accused of illegally intervening in those elections, in order to have his Sigma Rho frat brother, Elpidio Soriano, elected “by hook or by crook” despite his having lost the election to Manuel Maramba.

Rivals in the juidicary

In that decision, folks see the Batangueno CJ taking on this powerful and rather ruthless UP fraternity that, I suspect, he feels has given him problems even before he took over the Court’s helm. Sigma Rho is the fraternity of his key rival, Justice Antonio Carpio, and the law office from where the latter came from, referred to with some awe and fear in legal circles as “The Firm,” is led mainly by fratmen. Significantly, afterwards the CJ flew off to the US to visit his daughter and perhaps cool off.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Pinoys spending this season: P1.2-P1.5 billion daily transaction in ATM alone

A very Merry Christmas to all my readers.  May this beloved season of grace fill you and yours with the choicest of God’s blessings---joy, love, peace and lots of harmonious family and clan get-togethers that we Pinoys deeply relish.    

Buoyancy of Philippine economy

Commentators have spoken about how well the Philippine economy is doing, compared to those of many European countries and the US.  Among the indicators often cited are the rise in our international reserves, boosted mainly by the heavy flow of remittances from overseas Filipinos, and the strong stock market.

 Another handy index was the heavy shopping in the malls, and one reason for this was that folks were beguiled by the wide variety of goods flooding the markets, much of them imported from our Asian neighbors, including our fellow Asean countries and Asean's four partners, namely, Japan, Korea, China and Australia.

As business executive Fernando Peña, guesting in our year-end dzRH program, noted, goods from the Asean countries and our partners are now much cheaper, and this is due, as this pro-Noynoy business exec grudgingly admitted, to the fact that former President Arroyo signed the treaty last Jan. 1 which effectively reduced tariff duties from the region by 5 percent, especially on electronics.

A holiday spending spree

In fact, noted Fern Peña, such was the holidays spending spree that the DAILY withdrawals from ATMs alone during this holiday season amounted to a whopping P1.2 billion; this was expected to rise to even P1.5 billion daily as the shopping frenzy climaxed.

This is quite significant, considering that the ATM is the office workers’ and market vendors’ vehicle for business, and that this huge daily ATM transaction does not include business via credit cards and other forms of payments. So people have money and are spending and the retail business is brisk.

P-Noy's popularity remains high

As the SWS surveys indicate, the President’s popularity remains high at 79 percent, although it has taken a slight dip from his starting score. That popularity is sustained at the moment by symbols readily grasped by the man in the street, such as the abolition of the wang-wang, visible efforts to cut down on government expenses such as purchases of new vehicles and P-Noy’s meeting returning OFWs. The surveys showed the ordinary Filipinos' optimism about their economic well-being, with money in their pockets for Christmas. 

 Unfortunately, however, on other fronts things are not moving well, and this could dampen the euphoria and disillusion could set in even among the masa that P-Noy has courted assiduously, if certain situations are not addressed.

LEDAC still hasn't convened

For instance, senators are listless and rather bored after passing the 2011 budget, their only preoccupation before the holiday break being to focus on executive officials facing the Commission on Appointments. I’ve heard complaints from some of them that five months have passed since President Aquino took over and still he has failed to convene the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac).

Ledac was set originally for last month, but it was moved again to next month;  and until all its members finally sit down in the Malacanang State Dining Room for its maiden session under P-Noy, it’s hard to tell when this would transpire.

Ledac should meet at least once a quarter

Created in December 1992 by RA 7640, Ledac is a consultative and advisory body to the President who chairs it, and is attended by the Vice President, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House, select Cabinet officials led by the NEDA Director-General and the PMS Chief, select members of the two chambers of Congress and an LGU representative, among others. Under the law Ledac meets at least once every quarter, but may be convened as often as the President deems necessary.

FVR constantly convened LEDAC

Veteran palace reporters recall how President Fidel Ramos convened Ledac virtually every week, which may help explain the close cooperation between the executive and legislative branches and the economic progress of the country during his term. Since August 2002, President GMA convened  Ledac at least once a month, on every first Tuesday,  resulting in her getting  pretty much what she wanted in terms of economic bills.
P-Noy plans to convene Ledac next January yet. Obviously, until he became President by a fluke of history, he led a charmed life and still has to approximate the work ethic of FVR and GMA, who were notorious workaholics. There’s talk that the bachelor President cannot be disturbed before 10 am. or after 5 pm.

LEDAC crucial to government

Senators I’ve talked to point out that Ledac was designed to determine and recommend socio-economic development goals to the President, and integrate the legislative agenda as well as regional development plans with the national development plan. Ledac members recommend to the President and Congress sources of revenues and measures to reduce unnecessary expenditures in government---a function so critical to a cash-strapped government such as P-Noy's.

Most important function

But the most important of Ledac’s functions is the “common legislative agenda” (CLA) for both chambers of Congress, which sets down the President’s priority measures for her allies in Congress. The CLA is almost always the first agenda item in every Ledac meeting, but five months into the P-Noy administration, there is still no CLA.

 For instance, we have been hearing P-Noy talk a lot about the “private-public sector partnership” (PPSP) to jumpstart the economy especially in the countryside, now that the budgets of a number of major line departments  have been drastically cut. To promote P-Noy's reform agenda, especially his anti-poverty program, the PPSP has to be top priority in the CLA, but until now Congress has yet to see how the Executive plans to flesh  it out in terms of urgent legislation

  With no legislative agenda from P-Noy to take up and discuss, before the X'mas break the senators were said to have run out of jokes or chismis to regale one another with. They may be depending on Sen. Antonio Trillanes to perk up the sleepy chamber when they return next month.    

Importance of LGUs

If nothing much is happening in the Senate, the same can be said in the various local government leagues. Recall that GMA survived a number of attempts to oust her and one reason was her ardent cultivation of the LGUs’ support in her nine years as President. There was no week in those nine years that she wasn't in the provinces, exhorting the LGUs to get those local projects cranking. Few local execs could fool her with stats, as these were all in her computer.

 One can remember in the previous administration the likes of Bohol’s Gov. Erico Aumentado of the League of Governors, Eastern Samar Gov. Ben Evardone of ULAP, Mayor Ramon Guico of the Municipal Mayors’ League and Mandaluyong City Mayor Ben-hur Abalos of the City Mayors’ League, among the dynamic leaders who provided a counterbalance to treacherous executive officials and their Congress allies who sought to kick out GMA.

No evident leadership

One reason the LGU leagues are in the doldrums may be that P-Noy put his LP lieutenants in charge even if they don’t have the evident leadership. Or he hasn’t spent much time with the locals, as he and his Palace officials quickly got mired in various controversies or in  power-struggles among factions supporting him.    Thus reports of a revamp early next month in his official family (beginning with DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo?) are very much welcome.  

 For instance, LP Governor of Mindoro Oriental Alfonso “P.A.” Umali Jr. was elected president of the League of Governors but until now quorums can’t be mustered there. But the spark is missing even in non-LP leaders. Lakas Trece Martires Mayor Strike Revilla, brother of Sen. Bong Revilla, handily beat Palo, Leyte Mayor Matin Petilla, who was P-Noy’s candidate for president of the City Mayors’ League;  but so far nothing much has been happening in this League too.
On the regional level, things are not moving much either in some areas. For instance, LP Gov. Agustin Perdices of Negros Oriental was handpicked by P-Noy to chair the Region VII Development Council, instead of Cebu’s dynamic Governor Gwen Garcia, simply because Gwen went all out for Lakas presidential candidate Gibo Teodoro last May. But Perdices is old and ailing, so nothing much is moving in RDC VII.   

Ultimately, everything boils down to the top leadership, which still has to crank.      

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dolphy’s insulting scenes and P-Noy’s take on new bills

President Aquino and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas officials have justified the numerous errors appearing in the new bills, the legal tender of the Republic, by saying that “some degree of artistic license” was exercised by the designers in view of the “finite space” in the bills. But for thinking citizens, the answer to this is, why pack so much detail into those bills, to the point where design as well as accuracy have to be distorted?

Critics from various professions have lamented errors in the new bills, such as the exclusion of Batanes, one of the leading tourist spots in the Philippines, from the map, and the misplacement of equally prominent tourist spots such as the Tubbataha Reef and the Palawan Underground River.

Members of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines deplored the depiction of  the rare native blue-naped parrot’s beak in yellow instead of nature’s red (in keeping, daw, with the note’s yellow background) while its tail feathers were changed from yellow to green. On this issue of changing the parrot’s beak’s color, however, my take is that this may be just another case of simple pag-sisipsip to the Yellow President, instead of artistic license.  

Some degree of artistic license

The President said there was “some degree of artistic license” employed in manipulating geographic location details and drawings appearing in the new bills. But this is bound to cause confusion among the people, especially the youth.

Recall how two years ago, singer Martin Nievera was heavily castigated, and almost jailed for having exercised “artistic license” in his busty rendition of the National Anthem at the opening of a Manny Pacquiao boxing fight in Las Vegas, where Nievera let his ending notes soar to the stadium’s rafters. Since the singer’s unfortunate brush with conservative elements, legislators have compelled that the Anthem scrupulously hew to the traditional rendition, which can be ho-hum.

BSP officials have stressed that the designs used in those new bills were the product of three years’ research work and consultation with various authorities; but so was the impaired work that went into the “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” promo project of the Department of Tourism, which it was force to junk after it kicked so much public uproar. Unfortunately the BSP cannot withdraw those bills as it would be too expensive to do so.

Form of artistic license

The President justifies the errors in the six new denominations, such as moving Tubbataha Reef by some 400 kms. from the Philippine coastline and closer to Malaysia, and deleting Batanes from the map, as exercise of “artistic license.” Ngayon pwede na ang artistic license because he says so, but think that those notes are going to be around far longer than the memory of Nievera’s stirring rendition! Moreover, these are official notes of the Republic, not some mickey-mouse club.

My question is, why cram so many details in these official notes of the Republic, so that accuracy and correctness have to be sacrificed?  It’s a question of values and priorities. Kung pwede na kahit mali-mali, how can we teach our young people to strive for excellence and the correct way to do things? 

If pwede na characterizes the mentality of this administration, it’s no wonder its E0s get snagged in the Supreme Court.

Dolphy film desecrates the Eucharist

The 30-second teasers appearing in various TV channels about a forthcoming local film starring veteran comedian Dolphy, that shows the desecration of the Eucharist, comes at a very sad occasion---Christmas time, when the Christian world commemorates the birth anniversary of the Child Jesus in Bethlehem. In the belief of Catholics, who constitute the greater part of Christendom, the Eucharist, or the Sacred Host or Holy Communion, as it’s more popularly known, is the very same body of  the Christ born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago and who later hang on the Cross to redeem mankind.
Thus, when the movie titled “Father Jejemon,” which will be among the  entries to the Metro Manila Film Festival that ironically opens on Christmas Day, it will be a grave affront to the religious belief of Christians, especially Catholics. We must protest this insult, and the Film Festival itself must not allow the film to participate until rectification is done.

 Offensive to Catholic sensibilities

The movie teasers showed scenes that offend Catholic sensibilities, such as when the priest, played by Dolphy, accidentally drops a sacred host into the cleavage of a female communion receiver; or when it gets stuck in the denture of a senior citizen. Those scenes were designed clearly as comic props, but unfortunately they also make fun of and satirize a deep Catholic belief, in utter poor taste and disrespect to a religion.

In real life, when a priest drops the Host accidentally in the course of distributing it, the practice is for him to pick it up right away and partake of it himself. In some areas, until now they cover the actual ground on which the host had dropped. To receive the Eucharist, the faithful are encouraged to be in a state of grace.

 That’s how sacred the act of receiving Holy Communion is to Catholics. 

Why was the film approved?

The question is, why did the MTRCB, headed by Grace Poe Llamanzares, allow these scenes to pass in the film that’s going to be watched by this predominantly Catholic nation?  She was quoted in media as saying that the  MTRCB Board has called for a second review of the film, after the uproar its 30-second TV teasers have kicked up. But this raises a second question: why did it approve those teasers for general patronage and nationwide TV?
Moreover, the film producers, RVQ Productions, now say those two offensive scenes have been cut, but we all know that in the provinces cut portions are oftentimes restored and shown to the public.

The MTRCB Board, led by Llamanzares, should account for this incredibly poor lapse in judgment. No wonder Standard columnist Emil Jurado has called for its abolition for being “useless.”

 Angry callers

Former MTRCB Chief Manuel Morato was besieged by angry callers and texters after followers of healing priest Fr. Fernando Suarez circulated texts about these insulting scenes. Morato, who served as censors chief in President Cory’s time, opined to me that there is a presidential decree, P.D. 1986, which prohibits any show of disrespect to any religion. He stressed that during his term at MCRTB’s helm they observed this practice, and this could now be invoked by those who are affected by this film, as the P.D. remains part of the law of the land.

This is one Marcosian PD that I certainly agree with, for we ought to respect all religions even if we do not adhere to their teachings, and not make fun of  religious beliefs. The producers of this film are lucky they are not in a closed Muslim society, for they would never come out alive with such an insulting film.  

Disappointed over Dolphy

Frankly I’m quite disappointed with the multi-awarded Dolphy.  I used to assiduously follow his comedies in the past, especially the radio-TV series “John en Marsha,” that he did with the equally great Nida Blanca in the ‘60s. I admired his incredible sense of timing that gave his wise cracks their inimitable impact. How he could have consented to such offensive scenes in “Fr. Jejemon” when, by his own admission, he could be meeting his Maker any time, is sad, truly sad.

As Fr. Suarez put it so well, “The King of Comedy should not insult the King of Kings.” 

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Gifts Congress members gave to one another; Binay/Kris in 2016 vs. Bongbong Marcos?

What did the members of Congress give one another in this season of gift-giving?

We recently got an insight about this from Cebu City Rep. Cutie del Mar, who was elected to the congressional seat her father, former Rep. Raul del Mar, vacated last May. I shared a table with Cutie and UE Law Dean Amado Valdez and his wife Nellie at the breakfast that neophyte Pangasinan Rep. Gina de Venecia, who also was elected to the seat her husband, five-term Speaker Joe de Venecia, vacated last May, tendered in commemoration of the 6th death anniversary of their daughter, KC de Venecia, yesterday.

Unusual Christmas gifts

As expected, many representatives gave away products from their province or region, such as dried mangoes from Cutie herself and Carcar chicharon from Cebu Rep. Eddie Gullas. Perhaps in keeping with the times, a good number of politicos stuck to giving pastries and goodies, but a party-list
representative from the north surprised colleagues when he gave away big baskets laden with imported goodies. Neophyte Rep. Monique Lagdameo hewed to the goodies-from-one’s-district principle by giving away gift baskets from her constituency, Rustan’s Supermarket on Ayala Avenue.

Undoubtedly the most unique gift to House members came from Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao, who had customized replicas of his World Boxing Council champ’s belt made in green leather, each with the name of his “esteemed colleague” at the back of the buckle.

Christmas gift list rundown

Here’s what other representatives and senators gave their Congress colleagues:

Speaker Sonny Belmonte: Ham and cheese
Cebu City Rep. Tommy Osmena: Flash cards with the names of his colleagues printed on them   
Rep. Bongbong Marcos, Ilocos Norte: sea salt in a big see-through glass jar
Sen. Kiko Pangilinan: Sans rival without rival (each year, he gives the same giftg, made by Sharon?)
Sen. Chiz Escudero: What else but cheez curls galore
Sen. Bong Revilla and Rep. Lani Mercado: Umbrellas
Rep. Imelda Marcos: Mini X’mas trees
Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo: Shawls from Adora
San Juan Rep. JV Ejercito: Modernistic Nativity scene on kapiz
Pangasinan Rep. Kimi Cojuangco: Personalized cakes
Rep. Freddie Tinga: Reusable bags
Makati Rep. Abbey Binay: Potted pink poinsettias.

Kris as governor

During the necrological services for the late President Cory Aquino last September 2009, former US Ambassador Kristie Kenny was reported to have said, after listening to Kris Aquino as she held the Manila Cathedral crowd in the palm of her hand in an interminable speech, that the nation was watching a future president. Yesterday, Kenny’s prediction may have taken a first foothold when media reported the plan of presidential sister Kris to start her political career in the province where her father had decades ago launched his own political career---in their home province of Tarlac.

Kris reportedly plans to run for governor of the populous province in the local elections of 2013, in the same way that Ninoy did. It is said that of all the children of Cory and Ninoy Aquino, Kris is most like her father. Now she’s aping his political footsteps.

VP in 2016?

Political pundits speculate that she will thereafter run as the vice-presidential candidate of Vice President Jejomar Binay, who expected to take a crack at the presidency in 2016. Then, in 2022, some pundits opine, Kris will then run for the biggest prize of all---Malacanang. Thus, they calculate, it will be an 18-year uninterrupted reign of the Aquinos.

The game plan

For those about to suffer heart attacks or fainting spells at the very least from reading this item, here’s how it will work, according to some political speculators. Where last August there were rumblings of a
falling out between President Noynoy and VP Binay because of the latter’s dissatisfaction with having failed to get the Interior and Local Governments portfolio (that went to former Mayor Jesse Robredo), now everything is patched up between them, so much so that the Veep is now talking about sweeping Malacanang in 2016.

The speculation is that it will be with P-Noy’s blessing, especially if Jojo Binay gives him his full cooperation in the next six years, and not try to launch any coup d’etat against him, and if his kid sister would be Binay’s runningmate.

Binay's 2016 run

In fact, some pundits note that a merger between Lakas-CMD elements close to P-Noy and the old PDP-Laban, which is chaired by VP Binay, is being worked out, in preparation for the bigger event of Binay’s 2016 run. I wouldn’t be surprised at this development at all, for last May there was a real collusion between some Aquino forces which deserted Mar Roxas, and the Binay forces, which deserted candidate Joseph Estrada. If you believe the pundits, Binay really worked hard to make LP candidate Noynoy win through fair or foul means.

A natural choice

If Kris Aquino is serious about running for higher office, her choice would naturally be VP Binay, not only because he’s the father of a guy she’s being linked with romantically. This will stem from the realization that Jojo Binay won’t be another Noli de Castro, who was content with being a symbolic figure of power in his time.

Binay has always demonstrated that he knows how to wield true power and this the local politicians know only too well, judging from the way governos and mayors all flocked to the oath-taking of PDP Laban in Club Filipino late last month, which surprised a lot of pundits as it was standing room only. Besides local pols, PDP has a good hold on NGOs and those who are not elected.

On the international stage

Binay is now also acting out his VP status to the full on the international stage. Earlier this month he was recently elected vice president of the Centrist Asian Parties Democratic International at its huge gathering in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Moving his PDP-Laban into this centrist group means that it will have the backing of 89 political parties around the world.

Binay/Kris vs. Bongbong Marcos?

It may be a trifle too early to speculate how a Binay/Kris Aquino tandem would impact on the elections five years away, but one can hardly help it, especially since at the opposite end will predictably run Bongbong Marcos, who will feel he has the right to the Restoration. Moreover, how will the rise of the PDP Laban impact on the Liberal Party which doubtless feels it is the chosen political race? Read it next here.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Judge Villarosa of Makati RTC should inhibit himself in Revillame case

The Supreme Court decision to acquit the group of Hubert Webb leaves a trail of happiness, sadness, bitterness, perplexity, doubt and a whole gamut of other emotions. The High Court’s majority absolved Webb et al because of a “lingering doubt” about the “confused” and "incoherent" testimony of star witness Jessica Alfaro in the grizzly murders of nearly 20 years ago.
I can only feel real pain for my friend Lauro Vizconde who has obviously not recovered from the murders of his beloved wife and two daughters, despite the long passage of time. One can see this pain in the innermost depths of his eyes when one talks to him. Yet, I can imagine the unspeakable joy of the Webbs this Christmas season, as they are a whole family again. Such is life.

Why did this case take so long?

But two questions will linger long after this SC decision fades from the headlines. One is, why did this case of three brutal murders take so long (in June 2011 it will be 20 years) to resolve? This is one area that our justice system really has to work hard on---how to speed up cases. Webb et al. spent 15 long years in prison, only to walk out free men by a technicality. The next question is, if Webb et al. did not commit those murders, who did? There must be people walking around who should be behind bars forever. The brutal murders cry to high heavens for justice.

Comelec replacements

The buzz in the grapevine is that among those being considered to replace resigned Comelec Chair Jose Melo is another justice who’s retiring mid-year next year---Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo Nachura.

In the SC Nachura, a former congressman and solicitor-general, has exhibited a lot of independence. For instance, despite his vigorous defense of winning candidate Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the congressional canvassing in 2004 against FPJ, he voted to uphold the constitutionality of the Truth Commission that proposes to investigate the scams under the Arroyo administration.
One thing good about Nachura is that he knows the ins and outs of election laws, so that tricky election lawyers and wily insiders in the Comelec cannot spin him around like a top. But he may be just a wee bit too old for the top post in the poll body that will demand a lot of vigor and energy for the incumbent to be effective.

Question of impartiality

The lawyers of TV5 host Willie Revillame are absolutely right in demanding that Makati City Regional Trial Court Presiding Judge Joselito Villarosa inhibit himself from the copyright infringement case filled by ABS-CBN network against Revillame and TV5. Revillame’s lawyers fear that Villarosa cannot be impartial in his judgment of the case, as documents prove that he got his appointment as RTC Judge (albeit in San Jose City) in 2004 through then chief presidential legal counsel Joe Nathan Tenefrancia.

Since then Tenefrancia has become a partner of the CVC Law Firm, better known in legal circles as “The Firm,” which is now representing ABS-CBN in its nearly half a billion peso-law suit against Revillame. It is no secret in the legal community that “The Firm” is extremely well-connected, as its top honchos had served in the Ramos and Arroyo administrations and reportedly made sure their people were assigned to various salas and as fiscals in the DOJ.

Given the kind of power-play The Firm is used to,and the high-stakes game between the two networks, Judge Villarosa should inhibit himself and raffle this case off to someone else.

Ratings problems for ABS-CBN

Revillame’s program doubtless is giving ABS-CBN ratings problems in the 6:30 pm. time slot occupied by “Radyo Patrol,” so much so that ABS-CBN had to throw its top-notch broadcasters into that news program, namely, Noli de Castro, Korina Sanchez and Ted Failon. But eating up a huge chunk of audience “Willing Willie” does, and one reason may be the recruitment of ex-Noynoy girlfriend Shalani Soledad as Revillame’s co-host. It’s a master-stroke said to be his idea entirely.

Shalani in person

Last Monday my husband and I happened to ride with Shalani Soledad on the same plane from Guangzhou, China, where my husband had his regular cancer treatment. While waiting for our bags in Naia 3, I chatted with Shalani. With no make-up at all and dressed in jeans and sweaters, she’s indeed prettier in person, tall and svelte, with finely-chiseled porcelain features. Shalani recalled that I had written about her twice and thanked me for them. I had quoted in this blog TeddyBoy Locsin’s hyperbolic remark about how Shalani in her yellow terno at P-Noy’s Luneta inaugural was the “most elegant woman I have ever seen." No doubt, the gal has class.

Shalani confessed to this writer that she’s getting used to the klieg lights and is now more comfortable with huge audiences; but her combination of demure shyness and increasing ease is, I think, what clicks with the crowds (especially the men-folk) who simply go gaga when she comes on stage.

Pilipinas kay Ganda

Our beautiful country (or “Pilipinas Kay Ganda,” as an advertising promo that the Department of Tourism threw out a few weeks ago billed it) needs international promotions badly, as two Filipino tourists came to realize recently. Thus it’s a pity that the DOT has such a minuscule budget of P1.4 billion. If we are to adequately compete with other countries that are advertising heavily in the international media networks, we have to spend.

My son Conrad and his wife Myra last month joined a group tour of Turkey organized by Turkish Airlines and the glossy, proudly all-Pinoy but international-standard travel magazine called “Travelife.” After Turkey the two flew on to neighboring Greece for another week of vacation-cum-belated honeymoon, and at the Athens airport lounge they came upon this glossy magazine called “2 Board,” which labels itself as the “Official Athens International Airport Magazine.”

The magazine published a contest where readers from all over the world may cast their vote (deadline last month) for seven winners from among 28 world finalists, in what was billed the “New 7 Wonders of Nature” competition. The Athens airport magazine devoted generous pages with gorgeous photos to the finalists that included such renowned wonders as the Grand Canyon of the USA, the Iguazu Falls of Argentina-Brazil, the Black Forest of Germany, Mt. Vesuvius of Italy, the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, Kilimanjaro of Tanzania, the Table Mountain of South Africa and Halong Bay of Vietnam.

Mistakenly labeled from China

Conrad and Myra were happy to discover that among these 28 finalist wonders was our own Puerto Princesa’s 8.2 km. “Underground River.” The Athens magazine touted it as “reputed to be the world’s longest navigable underground river,” part of the larger Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that “boasts lush forests, immaculate sandy beaches, unspoiled natural beauty and the bizarrely-named Cleopatra’s Needle mountain peak.”
Conrad felt a little aggrieved that the photo of the Underground River was much smaller compared to the other world wonders, but it was good enough that our entry was included. But woe of woes! It was wrongly listed under China and in fact was the only entry of that country. Paging DOT Secretary Bertie Lim. Let’s get on with your promo, but this time please do it right.

Confusion over shortcuts

But before anything else, Mr. Secretary, can we get our country’s name right? Two major newspapers are in conflict in referring to the abbreviation of Philippines---you know, like those of the USA or UK. One paper shortcuts it to “Ph” while the other one terms it “Phl.” Now, if those two giant media outlets can’t get the Philippines’ abbreviated name right, what foreigner can? In the first place, though, why change RP, which for so long has stood for “Republic of the Philippines,” to Ph or Phl? As they say, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Peace talks have to be balanced with AFP’s and Judiciary’s stability

President Aquino’s recent order to the Department of Justice to withdraw the charges filed in court against 43 health workers---labelled by media the  “Morong 43”--- cannot but have a demoralizing effect on the Armed Forces of the Philippines, no matter how brave a face the AFP puts up. In fact, it is easy to see that P-Noy’s move would have a far-reaching effect not only on  the AFP, but also on the justice system in this country.

Instead of interfering with the justice system by ordering the DOJ to withdraw charges already filed against the health workers before the Regional Trial Court in Morong, what P-Noy should have done was to call for the speedier resolution of their case before the court. But by the same token, he says that the charges of violation of human rights and torture counter-filed against the military by the detained Morong 43 before the Commission on Human Rights stays.

Doubtless the question in some military minds now is, why the double standard of the President?

Arrested for possession of firearms and grenades

The Morong health workers were arrested by the military last February 6, nearly a year ago, on six charges of illegal possession of firearms and grenades and violations of the Comelec gun ban during the election period.  The AFP Command hailed the arrests and in fact decorated the commanders of the two units that handled the capture, namely, the 202nd Infantry Brigade and the 16th Infantry Battalion.

The question is, just how will the soldiers and officers feel now, after risking their lives in the arrests?  The withdrawal of charges against the Morong 43 is doubtless causing confusion now within the AFP ranks.

On the other hand, can the President just order the dropping of charges already filed in court? How will this move impact on our justice system?  

Pressure from the NDF

Okay, so the President is acceding to pressure from visiting NDF leader Luis Jalandoni for the Morong 43’s release, in order to enhance the atmosphere for the peace talks between the NDF and the Philippine government, that’s scheduled informally to begin next month. In other words, as Justice Secretary Leila de Lima put it, all in the name of “national interest.” A number of politicians, including Sen. Joker Arroyo, have called for their release before Christmas.

But it will be recalled that in response to earlier calls for the Morong 43’s release, Secretary De Lima said that this would not be possible as charges against them have already been filed before the court. Now she explains that this matter was taken up in the Cabinet which obviously endorsed it, and--- just as significant---that no objections were posed by the AFP and the PNP.  She also stressed that the basis for dropping the charges is that the arrest warrants used by the military were “defective,” and that the motion would be filed by tomorrow, so that the Morong 43 could be home for Christmas.

The question is, why only now, after nearly a year, are these warrants being deemed as defective?   

Condition for peace

As Secretary De Lima admitted, the pressure from the Left to release the Morong 43, as some sort of condition to resume the peace talks, played a major role in the dropping of charges against them. But the DOJ Chief also admitted that she couldn’t tell what would happen if the RTC judge handling the Morong 43 case would refuse to have it withdrawn because he thinks it was a pretty strong case.

If it’s a tough situation for the DOJ, it was doubtless even tougher for the AFP to take that perplexing, if astounding, move by its Commander-in-Chief in stride, and it sought to put up a brave front.

Brig. Gen. Jose Mabanta, the AFP spokesperson, readily expressed the military’s support in the interest of “transparency, accountability and confidence in government.” He said the withdrawal of charges against the Morong 43 constitutes a “minor set-back” for the AFP and sought to strike the positive by stressing that the service should learn its lesson by doing a better job of handling arrests in the future.

Arrest was legal

But in trying to explain the Commander-in-Chief’s move, Gen. Mabanta caused further confusion as he sought to balance the rank and file military’s feared disgruntlement over that move. He said that even if technicalities or “non-substantive grounds” should cause the dropping of charges against the health workers, this does not remove the fact that they were caught with illegal explosives and firearms last February.  He stressed that the AFP’s arrest move was legitimate.

In the light of this assertion, the natural question that crops up is, so why is the dropping of charges being hustled up to the jeopardy of the armed services and the justice system?

United in the desire for peace

I think the Filipino people are united with the President in their desire that the peace talks, which were stalled in November 2004, resume and progress, so that lasting peace would descend on our country. Jalandoni’s visit after years of absence is a most welcome sign of progress on that front. But that desire for lasting peace has to be balanced with what could be a greater harm---the demoralization and subsequent unrest within the ranks of the military, and the confusion within the judicial system.

To get the stalled peace talks started, perhaps as a chalked-up achievement of this administration, P-Noy’s legal advisers obviously gave him (again!) the wrong counsel---to please the Left by releasing the Morong 43 ahead of the court’s decision. That advice is again infirmed.

 It would have been far better if the President reasoned out to Jalandoni et al. that much as he wants nothing more than to get the talks started, there is also a judicial process he has to respect and uphold, because it is stipulated in the Constitution and the laws of the land.

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Archbishop Cruz is right: P-Noy should get “able” advisers

gloria macapagal arroyo state of the nation addressWe citizens are witnessing an unprecedented adversarial relationship between the President and the Supreme Court and the problem is that some officials are exacerbating the situation. Solicitor General Anselmo Cadiz, obviously buttering up to the appointing power, remarked that the High Court’s 10-5 vote against EO 1 setting up the Philippine Truth Commission is “payment of gratitude” by appointees of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the Court.

That remark may be expected of politicians, and we have seen both the majority and the minority in Congress taking partisan snipes at this recent SC vote--- either praising it to high heavens or damning it. But we don’t expect the above remark about a “payment of gratitude” from the Solicitor General, who is part of the President’s official family in the justice department. Cadiz could have confined his criticism of the SC decision to its legal merits or the lack of them, but he chose a low-level, thoroughly unprofessional remark that was not even accurate. 

Balance of power

Cadiz is correct in that the ten justices who voted the Truth Commission unconstitutional were GMA appointees; but what about the four justices out of the five who voted it constitutional? Justices Antonio Carpio, Conchita Carpio Morales, Antonio Eduardo Nachura and Roberto Abad were GMA appointees as well, the only P-Noy appointee in the minority group being  new Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno.

In fact, Justice Nachura was a former congressman from Samar who, I remember very well, was a stout GMA defender during the congressional canvassing of returns of the 2004 presidential elections, where she ran against FPJ.  Yet Nachura, who retires next year together with consistent GMA oppositionist jurist Conchita Carpio Morales, voted in favor of the  Truth Commission that would investigate and prosecute GMA.

If this GMA appointee’s vote was not payback, it stands to reason too that the vote of the ten justices striking down the Truth Commission couldn’t have been “payback” to GMA, as SolGen Cadiz alleges. They must have seen some legal infirmities that caused them to thumb it down.

Judges' protest pay cut

Citizens are mulling what’s going on between the President and the SC---the way the Court had struck down EO 1 setting up the Truth Commission, and earlier, EO 2 that sought to remove all so-called “midnight appointees” of the former President. Before these, the SC had ruled for a status quo ante on the House impeachment case against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

Nowadays too, the judiciary is upset about the alleged slash in its budget, which Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., chair of an Appropriations subcommittee that handles the judiciary’s budget, has denied. Andaya was quoted as saying that, in fact, last year’s budget of P13.3 billion was increased by one billion pesos this year, but the judges are not mollified.

Wearing black arm bands the other day, four big judges’ associations are mulling a march on Malacanang to protest what they insist is the alleged cut in their pay, or at the very least, they plan to go on mass leave.

Budget cuts in the face of massive CCT allocations

Frankly I cannot recall such a spirited dispute over the judicial budget in past decades. In fact, the Constitution guarantees immediate transfer of the judicial funds from the Treasury to the judiciary as a way of ensuring the latter’s independence. But in the light of such developments as the gargantuan (P21 billion) budget of this government’s Conditional Cash Transfer even without the needed infrastructure to support it, it’s easy to see that the alleged judiciary budget slash would demoralize members of the bench across the nation.

 Strong pressure to bear down on Comelec

Another predictable area of conflict could be the Comelec.  There’s strong public pressure for the SC to finally crack the whip on the Comelec for its continued defiance of the SC’s order to disclose to citizens’ poll-watch agencies the 21 documents, beginning with the source codes, that had a direct bearing on last May’s automated elections. Although the Comelec is a constitutional body independent of the executive branch, an SC crack down on it could again be read as part of the confrontation between P-Noy, the principal beneficiary of the recent elections, and the High Court.

Corona's influence

Is the head-on clash between the Palace and the SC due to the earlier declaration by candidate Noynoy that he would not recognize then Associate Justice Renato Corona if he were appointed SC Chief by outgoing President Arroyo? President-elect Noynoy was subsequently prevailed upon by cooler legal heads to tone down his attacks on Corona, but it was evident from his  snub of the SC Chief at his inaugural ceremony that P-Noy was far from warming up to this magistrate not his choice.

So, is it all stemming from petty snub and lack of chemistry?  Doubtless, there’s that element, as jurists are only human. But I doubt if Corona could have influenced the nine other magistrates in the Truth Commission case and EO 2, to just get personal on P-Noy. They’re not robots there.

 Rather, I agree with the diagnosis of Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz, a non-GMA admirer, that the malaise ailing the adversarial P-Noy-SC relationship stems from the incompetence of P-Noy’s people. Cruz advised him to get “able” advisers, not the lightweight group that constantly presents him with constitutionally infirm EOs.  

Fewer avenues for accountability

That the President’s allies continue to be spooked by the lady  representative from Pampanga is amusing. After the Truth Commission was shot down by the SC, his allies were all wringing their hands and lamenting that, to quote a leftist leader, there are now “fewer avenues to make Arroyo accountable.

Fewer avenues? But the government has the DOJ which is headed by the independent and no-nonsense Leila de Lima, the office of the Ombudsman, the NBI, the PNP and a host of other agencies that could build up really strong evidence against any corruption. Under the weight of such evidence, even a pussy-footing Ombudsman cannot but be provoked to move.

But the problem is that the agencies of this government were encouraged by presidential advisers to merely depend on poor former CJ Hilario Davide and his three commissioners to get to the bottom of corruption allegations against GMA.

Full of media sound and fury
A former ranking judiciary official known for his anti-GMA sentiment, disclosed to this writer many months ago, while the grand Senate hearings on the Arroyo issues were going on two years ago, that the problem with those cases was that they were all full of media sound and fury, but legally signifying nothing much that can stand in court. 

Clearly, with the Truth Commission failing to get off the ground, the P-Noy government has to depend on the diligent work of its prosecution agencies if it’s to render credible its campaign promise to combat corruption in the past ---and when it rears its ugly head in this administration.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Neighbors with smaller populations beat us to Asian Games gold

I was quite critical of Manila Mayor Fred Lim’s handling of the Luneta hostage-taking crisis, but recently I admired the firmness with which he dealt with the recalcitrant Kuliglig drivers. He knew it would be a big political cost to him, but Lim told the Kuliglig drivers in no uncertain terms that they are off-limits to the city’s main thoroughfares, and he saw to it that the police enforce his executive order.

The Luneta confrontation turned unpleasant but the message was driven home: off limits to the Kuligligs in the main streets. One or two drivers tried to return to Roxas Blvd., but they soon disappeared. Lim exercised political will.

Perils of pedicabs

Those motorized pedicabs cannot be allowed in the main thoroughfares of the city as they further clog already choked major vehicular arteries and present major traffic and environmental hazards. In our national highways, things are not much better: tricycles are allied to ply those highways, and  have caused many an accident especially at night and in bad weather, as they oftentimes don’t even have headlights.

These motorized vehicles are being accommodated in the side-streets and the highways because these present opportunities for their operators to earn a living; moreover, local politicians do not have the will to get them off main thoroughfares because these operators command votes. But our economic planners should aim for the ultimate phase-out of these pedicabs and tricycles and instead offer more meaningful economic opportunities for our citizens, alongside with training in skills.

 Perks of a large population

In the radio interview Cecile Alvarez and I had with Paranaque Rep. Roilo Golez on the Sunday that Manny Pacquiao beat the lights out of boxer Antonio Margarito, Golez, who was himself a champion boxer in his Annapolis days, opined that a Pacquiao could only be possible because we have a deep population bench (the pro-life Golez is one of the leading advocates in the House against the RH bill). The problem is, our deep population bench does not support our search for winners in other sports categories, often because politics, not qualification, is the determinant factor.

As my former Inquirer colleague, Al S. Mendoza, now a sports columnist for the Manila Standard Today, argued, in the recent Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, the Philippines with its over 90 million people only got a measly three gold medals and landed 19th among the 26 competing countries; whereas other countries with far smaller populations beat us to the golds.

Tourists disguised as athletes

Never mind host country China’s running away with 196 golds, as it has 1.2 billion people to choose its top athletes from. But Al Mendoza’s right: look at Malaysia with only 15 million people, yet it bagged 9 golds, Hongkong with perhaps two million garnering 8 golds and Singapore with six million people with four golds. As Al pointed out, the only Southeast Asian neighbor we beat was Vietnam, which got only one gold.

 He noted that our golds came from boxing, bowling and billiards, but as he reasoned well, in the coming London Olympics in 2012 only boxing will be in the calendar. Thus, we are looking at another wallop in 2012---“finishing as cellar-dwellers if not rock-bottom,” as Al puts it.

A nation with over 90 million normally should assure the world that there is a wide bench of topnotch athletes to choose from or at least nurture over time. But we are not doing this?  After every major international sports event we go into breast-beating over what went wrong, and resolve to improve our sports development program, but our scores have not improved.  As Al Mendoza put it, our problem is that we have “tourists disguising themselves as athletes.”

Mammoth budget for CCT

In an earlier column I quoted Sen. Joker Arroyo as stressing that the gargantuan P21 billion budget of the Department of Social Welfare and Development for the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program, was adopted by the Aquino administration from its predecessor with P11 billion more funding.  Sen. Arroyo deplored, however, that this new P21 billion CCT is far bigger than the budgets of other line departments that are proven vehicles of growth.

He pointed out that the administrative cost of the CCT alone, which will involve the hiring of over 4,000 new employees of the DSWD, is P4 billion; but this P4 billion alone is bigger than the budgets of the Department of Tourism (P1.5 billion), of Trade (P2.5 billion) and even of  the Department of Public Works & Highways, the prime mover in the countryside.

Recently President Aquino was quoted as lamenting that only 61 percent of the population enjoys electricity, which means that 39 percent remains in the dark, so that this problem has to be addressed by the Department of Energy. But Energy’s budget for 2011 is only P1.4 billion---a pittance compared to the CCT budget of Dinky Soliman’s DSWD.
Payback time for allies?

The gargantuan CCT budget rammed through by Aquino allies in both chambers of Congress has come under fire from critics for a number of reasons. For one thing, as Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has stressed, the CCT budget has more than doubled even as planning and infrastructure are not yet in place. Critics are saying it’s pay-back time for administration friends, but a big loss to the country.
Why the rush to corner all of the P21 billion for the CCT, when the spadework and infrastructure are still incomplete? The CCT program could have first retained  the Arroyo administration’s P10 billion budget, and instead use the additional P11 billion to push a bigger budget for, say, better promotions for DOT, so it could bring in the 3.3 million target tourists, or more countryside projects of the DPWH, or laying out the DOE’s electricity in the 39 percent darkened regions.

More uses for the CCT

Or the P11 billion added to the CCT could put in more toilets for the very poor. Bagong Henerasyon Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy was recently quoted as stressing that 17 million Filipinos still do not have access to safe water, while 25 percent do not have “individual type of sanitation facilities.” In fact, she opined that “Every single day, probably 10 million citizens defecate in the open, with serious consequences to the health, dignity and human development.”

The irony is that the lack of adequate infrastructure and trained monitoring for the whopping P21 billion CCT seem to guarantee that it would just end up as local pork barrel or in the pocket of officials. Whereas, if the P11 billion new funds were channeled to more light, safe water, toilets and public works projects, these expenditures could be more adequately monitored;  and more importantly, they could generate jobs, which is the best and most meaningful way to lift people from poverty. 

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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wikileaks’ Julius Assange: hero or heel?

In recent days a publicity bomb called “Wikileaks” was detonated upon the world and various governments reeled from its fall-out. They were reacting to the seemingly uncontrolled revelation on the internet of some 250,000 diplomatic cables about foreign leaders supposedly coming from top-secret classified files of  the US State Department. For instance, there were allegations about the corruption in the Russian government and PM Vladimir Putin’s row with his Cabinet; about former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi accepting kickbacks from energy deals with Russia; about Argentina awash with drug money, etc.

Virtually every government is worried about what could come out, given the State Department’s international scope. It’s not difficult to see that the P-Noy administration is on alert for its own turn at the international fountain of leaks. The US government is naturally extremely embarrassed by all the Wiki leaks and US Congress leaders seek to prosecute under the Espionage Act its founder---a 39-year old Australian citizen with a reputation even as a teen-ager as a hacking genius, whom the State Department brands as a “anarchist undermining the international system.”  He has also been called by media a “moral ideologue,”  “the champion of openness” and a “control freak.”

Conspiracy theories abound

All kinds of theories now surround l’affaire Assange, and the latest is that it’s a conspiracy between the US and its ally Israel, which the US calls preposterous. But Assange, some of whose servers are said to be housed in a bomb-proof shelter in Sweden but who is believed to be hiding in Britain at the moment, promises not to confine his detonations to governments. Prior to the governments, Wiki was said to have leaked some 400,000 US documents on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, courtesy of a US Army private. Assange’s next target, he said in a recent interview with Forbes Magazine, will be big business, e.g., huge banks and the pharmaceutical industry.

Interpol's most wanted    

With the international damage Assange has inflicted, he has joined the Interpol’s list of most wanted. Wiki’s systems servers are also backing out one after the other, as governments apply the heat. On a personal note, Assange is being hounded in Sweden for alleged sex crimes raised by two women.

But even if Wiki folds up, it probably won’t spell the end for the cause that Assange has espoused; for doubtless, many smaller Wikis will rise up, all dedicated to the untrammeled flow of information good or evil on on the internet, after the astounding (mis)adventure that the “Robin Hood of Hacking” began. More than anything it reveals the terrifying and unstoppable power of cyberspace. 

Lacson still on the run

In a recent release to media Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he will continue “to evade the long arm of the law until justice is served.” The former PNP and Anti-Organized Crime Chief in the Estrada years has been accused of allegedly masterminding the double murders of publicist Salvador Dacer and his driver, Emmanuel Corbito, in 2000, and he has been on the run since last year, when key government witness Cezar Mancao surfaced to implicate him.

Lacson wants the Department of Justice’s arrest warrant to be lifted first before he surfaces, arguing to DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima that “evidence is right under your nose” and that she should order a reinvestigation with him as a free man, not in jail. Lacson was referring to the fact that his former aides Michael Ray Aquino and Reynaldo Oximoso had questioned Mancao’s testimony, while another former aide, Glenn Dumlao, had earlier exonerated him. But De Lima is standing pat on the arrest warrant, and wants Lacson to surrender first before her office considers his reinvestigation plea.

Fugitive for years

But as some lawyers stress, Lacson wants the legal process tailored to his needs, not the other way around. He has been a fugitive from the law for over a year now, and in the eyes of the public he who runs away is guilty. Lacson should now surrender and get the best lawyers in the country to defend him, especially since his former aides have supported him. That’s how the system works.  If he feared that he would get a raw deal in the Arroyo administration, given his support for candidate Noynoy Aquino, he should get a fair treatment now. Why does he still refuse to come out?

De Lima is again showing her tough mettle in her no-nonsense and independent stance. No wonder she is the most admired member of P-Noy’s Cabinet.

 Reconciling the budget

Members of the House and Senate will seek to reconcile the two versions of the 2011 budget of P1.6 trillion in bicameral conference committee early next week, so that P-Noy could sign the budget law before the Dec. 14 Christmas recess. It’s conceded to pass with little revision, including the controversial P21 billion conditional cash transfer (CCT) for the poorest of the poor, because of the administration allies’ numerical superiority in Congress. But during the Senate deliberations, a few senators, including two allies of P-Noy, namely, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Ralph Recto, masterfully showed up huge cracks in the CCT budget.

The senators painted a bloated and excessive CCT that has little structural and technical planning and support to justify the more than 100 percent increase from the Arroyo regime. Sen. Miriam Santiago wisely noted that a P15 billion CCT budget could be justified but not P21 billion. Thus the likelihood of its becoming a gargantuan pork barrel for local officials is virtually a given.

Funding for DSWD's training program

In the first place, as the senators pointed out, some P4 billion of the P21 billion, or 19 percent, will go to hiring and training over 4,000 new employees of the DSWD, thus bloating the bureaucracy even further and leaving only P17 billion for the program itself. Moreover, the list of new beneficiaries still has to be drawn up, yet the huge CCT budget was already allowed, eating away from the budgets of critical institutions like the PGH (a P100 million cut), the UP (another P100 million cut), and as Sen. Joker Arroyo pointed out, even from the Public Works, which is the prime mover of the countryside. In fact, Arroyo stressed that the P4 billion administrative cost alone in the CCT budget is far bigger than the budget of the Department of Tourism, or of Trade, which are “vehicles of growth and development.”

Sen. Recto was flabbergasted when DSWD Secretary Corazon Soliman admitted that the P500 monthly assist per family would be given via the ATM. Many citizens are flabbergasted too: some of the poorest Filipinos are the fisherfolk families who live in the coastal areas; do they have ATM there?  

Can Dinky handle all this money?

Obviously, given the unresolved doubts in people’s minds about the Code NGO and its Peace Bonds project which Dinky Soliman had a major hand in putting together in the early months of the Arroyo administration, and whose P10 billion interest payments the taxpayers would be assuming pretty soon, Deputy Palace spokesperson Abigail Valte sought to dispel persistent questions about Soliman’s ability to handle the gargantuan CCT budget. Said Valte: “There is no reason to doubt the integrity of Secretary Soliman.” 

But such assurances don’t wash, especially since talks persist that after Dinky left the Code-NGO, her husband Hector stayed on in the organization. Moreover, I recall that after she resigned as DSWD Secretary in July 2005 and became one of the pillars of the so-called “Hyatt 10” that called for GMA’s resignation, a news item came out that Soliman left DSWD with an accountability of P24 million. I raised this query in the Inquirer column I was writing then, but I got no reply whatsoever from Dinky or even a letter to the editor.

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