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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Most influential with P-Noy: Purisima and Mar

Few political pundits are giving the new Palace Communications Group --- the most ambitious media projection conceived in any administration--- much chance for success. This is because human nature is often jealous of its turf. As envisioned, the three Cabinet-rank officials in this team, namely, Ricky Carandang, Sonny Coloma and Edwin Lacierda, (a fourth official, Manolo Quezon formerly of the Inquirer and ABS-CBN, serves as Carandang’s deputy)---all successful media practitioners----have divided the task of government projection among themselves: Carandang would take care of crafting P-Noy’s messages, while Coloma would run the various government media agencies; Lacierda would probably convey the messages as crafted by Carandang’s office.





*   *   *


On paper the delineation of duties and roles is clear and they are co-equal. But in actual practice, these members of the Palace Media Trinity are bound to clash at some point. Perhaps a subaltern would stray outside his territory and commits a gaffe; then finger-pointing begins and instead of “messaging,” there might be a frequent need for “massaging” angry egos, and damage-control. How often this had happened in past administrations, even without this three-headed monster set-up.

On top of this complex set-up, the spokesperson in every line department is being given a more active role ---19 such spokespersons at last count---compared to the past administration. They will explain their offices’ role at their level, before all the info is tied up by the upstairs team into a coherent message.





*   *   *


But this hitherto most peculiar set-up and the scarce chances of success being credited to the Palace communications team may just spur the three professionals at its helm to exert more effort to harmonize and avoid the pitfalls that critics are raring for them to commit. The bottom line is that Aquino strategists, who had earlier fleshed out one of the most remarkably successful PR marketing in the history of political campaigning , have now carefully studied the failure of Aquino's predecessor to shape public opinion; the Media Trinity is determined to avoid those pitfalls. But in this complex set-up that the Aquino administration has conceived to tackle the separated problems of “messaging” and “media operations” may lie its own destruction, if it doesn’t watch out.

By the way, the buzz in banking circles is that the people considered most influential with P-Noy are not the imaging guys, but Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and one who’s not even elected and has no post at all---Mar Roxas.



*   *   *


Last Monday’s SONA was business-like, devoid of frills; more like a grocery list of immediately implementable moves than a marching call to greatness and vision for the next six years, as a new administration’s first SONA should be. Each listener practically had his wish-list of items he wanted to hear but did not, e.g., some clue to the fate of the Reproductive Health Bill, the Freedom of Information Act, Charter Change, etc.

P-Noy’s expressed desires, however, showed his priorities, e.g., pushing for the Whistle Blowers’ Bill and strengthening the Witness Protection Program, in order to strengthen the prosecution cases against GMA. On the other hand, he argued, moving out some camps and consolidating them into Camp Aguinaldo, the premier camp, would free those lands for lease-rent, to increase revenues for badly-needed modernization of the AFP. He also pushed for the resumption of peace initiatives with the MILF after the Ramadan, and with the CPP-NPA-NDF by declaring government’s readiness to declare a unilateral ceasefire if the other side is ready to present proposals for peace.



*   *   *


Earlier I had written that Camp Aguinaldo cannot be leased as there appears to have been an understanding that it would revert to the Ortigases the moment the military leaves it. It appears now that the plan is for the other camps to be consolidated into Aguinaldo, so that some 155 hectares of the vacated camps (22 hectares from the Navy, 30 has. From Villamor Air Base and 103 has in Fort Bonifacio) could be leased to business corporations for huge amounts of money. But some senators raised the need for congressional action on such lease. I’d also question the wisdom of putting the various armed services into one camp, from the standpoint of security.





*   *   *


Apparently the idea of moving the services into Camp Aguinaldo is to replicate somewhat the US Pentagon, which is the home of the US Depatment of Defense, the Departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But unlike the Pentagon, whose 14 hectare, five-sided building is built on huge sprawling grounds in Arlington, Virginia, Camp Aguinaldo is squeezed in between heavily populated residential areas, a market and shopping areas. The environs are so tight and traffic so bad that if there’s an attack more serious than that which Gregorio Honasan launched in August 1987, the units inside have little space to maneuver. I should know, for I lived there for 25 years and was witness to the various coup d’etats there. It should also be noted that despite the impenetrability of the Pentagon, a hijacked civilian airline attacked its west wing on Sept. 11, 2001, killing 189 people.



*   *   *


On the eve of the SONA Cecile Alvarez and I had as guest former UP President and Kalayaan College President Jose V. Abueva, now also a new columnist for the “Bohol Chronicle” in his home province. Dr. Abueva’s SONA wish list included, to no one’s surprise, that P-Noy push for “policy and institutional changes in our Constitution by asking Congress to act on this idea.” He opined that there is no need for a commission or a referendum to consult the people on whether they want charter change or not, as this has been over-studied in various groups in the past, notably by the commission that Abueva headed in the GMA years; moreover, he argued, P-Noy’s legitimacy and high popular trust will make his initiative to change the Constitution via a Con-Con welcome and “least subject to suspicion.”



*   *   *


Abueva stressed the significance that while P-Noy’s mother caused the drawing up of the Constitition, so that it’s popularly known as the “Cory Constitution,” her son could leave as a “major legacy” the correction of basic flaws in that charter. He rattled off among the flaws the too-short House terms, the need to elect senators regionally instead of nationally (which is too expensive), bloc-voting for the two highest officials, as in the US, urgent review of the party-list concept, and the strengthening of party affiliations to make ruling parties accountable in a parliamentary system. He proposed that the people’s referendum on a new charter, a necessary step under the current Constitution, be made to coincide with the 2013 mid-term elections.

I have always recognized the urgent need to restructure our governmental set-up through Charter Change, but as I told Dr. Abueva, I doubt if P-Noy would even advocate it now. The SONA proved me right, but we can always keep the hope that one day he would see the light in this regard.



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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Poverty stats and glitz at the SONA

My husband and I were in Negros Occidental last Monday to deliver the second half of the P500,000 feeding program funds allocated by the SSS to each of its commissioners. July is “Nutrition Month” and my husband earlier chose to give the first P250,000 to the Erda Technical-Vocational High School in the depressed area of Pandacan in Manila, where it would feed about 50 malnourished students for the next ten months. 

The  other P250,000 SSS donation he turned over to the Pulupandan Elementary School, about an hours’ drive from Bacolod City, where he had gone to school 62 years ago.  It will feed the 200 most malnourished among the school’s 900,000 students, with snacks daily five days a week (e.g., chicken macaroni with bread, or chicken arroz caldo ) and a lunch meal on the last day of the month, for six and a half months. The feeding program for Pulupandan can be appreciated in the light of the fact that Negros Occidental has the highest incidence of malnutrition in the country, with 44 percent of the kids from five years to 19 years old quite malnourished, vs. the national average of 33 percent.




*   *   *



With my mind still full from the statistics on Negros poverty and hunger, we returned to Bacolod in time to watch the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Noynoy Aquino from our hotel room.  Malnutrition statistics and watching the SONA were not a good combination, for I found myself reacting negatively to the glitzy parade of Congress members and their guests in their expensive ternos and baubles, as they tried to keep in step with the bevy of celebrities elected in the 15th Congress.

 It was quite amusing that ABS-CBN TV host Tina Monzon-Palma and guest panelists TeddyBoy Locsin and Teddy Pe had to interrupt their serious discussions on the nation’s problems repeatedly, and like the entire nation, indulged in a who-who  game as the elegant lady members of Congress and guests sashayed into the cavernous lobby. I learned later that media termed the passage to the session hall the “fashion lane” where all the media cameras assembled to capture the ladies in their beautiful and expensive ternos and the men in their elegant and expensive barongs, as they paraded down the cat-walk.  Show-biz na show-biz ang dating. It reminded me of the annual Oscar night in Hollywood.  Thank God Kris was in the US that day, for she would have raised the level of glitz even more without trying.




*   *   *


  Many of the ladies were easily identifiable as they were celebrities-turned representatives, such as the irridescent Rep. Lucy Torres Gomez of Ormoc City, actress Rep. Lani Mercado Revilla of Cavite and Rep. Imelda Marcos of Ilocos Norte in flaming KBL red, as well as the spouses of new congressmen such as Jinky Pacquiao, wife of Saranggani Rep. Manny Pacquiao, and of VIP officials such as Audrey Zubiri, wife of Sen. Miguel Zubiri.  The media lost no time trying to identify the famous couturiers behind the dazzling fashion creations.




*   *   *


After the inauguration of President Noynoy last June 30 at the Luneta, which I viewed on TV, I wrote in this blog that it was doubtless the most elegant inauguration I had witnessed in 25 years of column-writing, as many lady officials as well as guests came in their gorgeous ternos and jewelry for that morning’s slice of history, unlike in past inaugurals where they came in suits or simple native dress and only the members of the presidential family were in ternos. The same can be said of P-Noy’s first SONA last Monday. I have been attending SONAs faithfully over the past 25 years and I must say that this one outranked them all in glamor and hoopla. If P-Noy accomplishes nothing in his six years, he’d be remembered for the elegance and glitziness of state events. 




*   *   *


I wasn’t the only one quite shocked at the fashion show last Monday.  The former National Treasurer under President Estrada’s regime, Public Administration professor Leonor “Liling” Magtolis-Briones, has denounced as “scandalous and immoral” the way some lady representatives and their VIP guests dressed up “as though to compete with celebrities for public adulation---in a country where a third of the population live below the poverty line.” Prof. Briones noted that many of the ladies there didn’t want to be upstaged by Lucy and Lani, and so they turned the SONA event into a “huge fashion show.” But did it reflect the true state of the nation, she queried, adding that “Para tayong nasa ibang planeta (it’s as if we were in another planet). She stressed that 33 percent of the population or roughly 27 million Filipinos are considered “poor,” living on incomes below P6,300 for a family of five.




*   *   *


Watching the members of the diplomatic corps, who looked quite bored as they couldn’t understand the SONA that was delivered by P-Noy entirely in Filipino, I wondered what they thought from their ringside view of the dazzling fashion show of celebrities in their stunning ternos? P-Noy announced in his SONA the invitation to foreign partners to come in, and Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima is due to fly to the US to raise at least another $200 million, part of an intended borrowing of P766.4 billion to finance infrastructure spending.  Looking at the parade of expensive ternos that afternoon, don’t doubt if the ambassadors are tempted to think that, in the unforgettable words of the late Bacolod Mayor Ray Dizon, “ours is a rich country pretending to be poor.”



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Monday, July 26, 2010

Can P-Noy shield mega-projects from corruption?

President Noynoy’s first SONA raised problems that he said his three weeks in office had discovered in the Arroyo administration, such as the alleged fiscal mismanagement, excesses of rice importations last year, GMA’s lavish spendings on her district and the extravangance of the MWSS board. But because the media had hyped these “horror tales,” by the time he raised them, they had lost much of their sting.

Unlike his mother’s SONAs that loved to indulge in lofty, over-arching thoughts, P-Noy’s was sans frills and business-like, addressing “his boss,” the people, entirely in Filipino. In the first part devoted to alleged sins of the past regime, Aquino disclosed that so little was left of the P1.3 trillion national budget for this year; but this left listeners confused about whether this meant little money actually left in the national coffers, or was it because certain sums were already “obligated” (set aside but not yet disbursed) by the old regime to cover such items as funding for GMA’s public works projects, and salaries for bureaucratic offices and even congressional porks for the first regular session of the 15th Congress?

In the next few days pundits would be mining the SONA for political nuggets. But one thing that struck me was P-Noy’s plan to launch mega-infrastructure projects on joint private-public partnerships, such as a road network from Manila all the way to Cagayan Valley. He also spoke of plans to transfer military camps in the metropolis and lease their lands for added revenues. But I seem to recall a stipulation that Camp Aguinaldo is to revert to its original owners, the Ortigases, who would develop its vast lands themselves, in case the military moves out. Then too, I hope P-Noy’s government can control the vast corruption that has always haunted mega-projects in past regimes. More on the SONA.



* * *


Before the nationwide automated elections recede into the distant past, allow me to bring up salient points in the committee report on the electoral fraud hearings conducted by the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms. Recall how the nation hang in tight suspense four days before the elections, when Comelec and Smartmatic announced they would recall, reconfigure and redeploy all 76,000 plus compact flash cards nationwide because of inexcusably defective configuration. Smartmatic immediately owned up to the mistake and said it would make the appropriate delivery of the corrected cards nationwide, in time for the elections.

Many citizens and organizations such as the CBCP panicked at the possible failure to do so, but that problem proved to be only the beginning of a post-mortem marked by glaring defects in the automation election system (AES) put in place by the Automation Law, RA 9369. When the election results began to trickle in within hours after the polls closed and were finished in many places the following day, it seemed that the AES was worth it after all, as cheating was minimized.



* * *


But within days after the elections complaints of irregularities surfaced from House members, prompting Speaker Prospero Nograles to call public hearings. Committee chair Teodoro Locsin, who had sponsored RA 9369 assiduously for two years, conducted ten hearings and led an ocular inspection of the Smartmatic Cabuyao office, assisted by Reps. Mat Defensor, Pedro Romualdo and Rufus Rodriguez. The long-drawn out hearings often tested the patience of both presiding officers and complainants, and the most colorful instance was when Locsin released unprintable expletives against the Smartmatic guys for deluding him into believing that the AES was fraud-proof.

Among the common complaints that surfaced were Comelec’s decision to discard the board of election inspectors’ digital signatures and the use of infra-red lamps, two security measures embodied in the Automation Law; the discrepancies between time and date stamps in audit logs that showed voting outside voting hours and before or after May 10 (as manifested in ballots from some precincts in Manila, now the subject of Joselito Atienza’s protest against Alfredo Lim), the poor quality of ballot paper, and many other failings of the AES.



* * *


But more interesting than the oral testimonies was the section of Locsin’s report on “observations, conclusions and recommendations.” He concluded that on the national level the automation wasn’t really material as the winning presidential candidate’s lead “was so wide as to defy defeat in any kind of election, be it manual or automated…” He noted the observation of some experts that for automated cheating to affect the presidential race, enormous amounts of talent, manpower and organization similar to Smartmatic’s operations must be mounted. But he conceded that “Automation’s advantage clearly figured in the tighter VP race” in that there was less to complain about (he concluded too early that none of the losing national candidates filed a protest;” a week later Mar Roxas filed to open the votes in his bailiwicks that showed phenomenal abundance of null votes).

Locsin opined that cheating was easier to resort to at the local level (one of the most remarkable cases was the mass defeat of former Gov. Ace Barbers’ entire line-up), but this claim would surely be disputed by anti e-fraud groups who believe that with the right resources it could be pulled at the national level too. Locsin admitted, however, that in e-fraud “speed merely made cheating too fast to see, pre-shaded ballots impossible to distinguish from legitimately shaded ballots, and the rest of the electoral process concealed by technology from the public eye.”



* * *


But the more serious part of his report was his assigning blame for the electoral mess unmistakably on the doorstep of Comelec, to which Smartmatic admitted having turned over “everything it knew about how to conduct the AES.” He cited some decisions made, such as Executive-Director Jose Tolentino’s “curious” unilateral decision, without authorization from the Comelec en banc, to order the distribution of 20 blank CF cards and two burners per province, which were “enough to make a difference in the outcome of local elections at the hands of unscrupulous election officials on the ground.”

Locsin conceded that since the technology, skill, manpower, organizational and financial requirements already exist in the Comelec, “the further danger is that these admittedly sporadic automated or automated-related anomalies could be perpetrated and institutionalized nationwide by the unwise appointment of, say, an automated election cheat to government departments with nationwide reach involved in elections.” He cited as examples the DILG, DECS and DND, as well as impending vacancies in the Comelec and the Advisory Council of the Automation Law. This is aggravated by the fact that Comelec is “accountable to no one and frequently doesn’t bother to answer anyone who is not asking them the question on national TV and radio.”



* * *


Locsin recommends that before resorting to fully automated elections once again, all the loopholes in the PCOS and the process “should be firmly plugged by either the current provider or another more assiduous provider.” Otherwise, a reversion to manual elections with “heightened vigilance” by PPCRV and Namfrel “would probably yield more credible and accurate results.” Citing Comelec Director Jose Tolentino’s opinion that the problem is not automation but the people running it, Locsin noted that “the same people whose perennial and persistent misconduct of manual elections prompted the conversion (by Congress) to automation in the first place” are still running Comelec despite periodic changes of Commissioners over the years and the leadership of well-meaning chairmen such as (Chair Jose Melo).

I agree with TeddyBoy. The question is, how do we overhaul Comelec and throw out embedded personnel who manipulate elections every time?



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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Poverty in the City


Tomorrow afternoon, in his first State of the Nation Address, President Aquino is expected to tackle, among other issues, the poverty in this country and how the nation can go beyond his campaign slogan of “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” Media reported yesterday that he will talk about a couple of “shockers” and “landmines” in the way his predecessor, now Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, had allegedly mishandled the budget during her watch. But beyond the “bombas,” the people also expect to hear from the new President concrete steps on how he hopes to feed the people, put permanent roofs over their heads and give them jobs---in other words, to spell out the roadmap of economic and political recovery in the next six years. Listen as Dr. Jose V. Abueva, former UP President and now Kalayaan College President, discuss the essence of a SONA and hopes for charter change as P-Noy’s legacy, with Cecile Alvarez and me in our regular program tonight at 8 pm. over dzRH.

* * *


This columnist has had her own close encounters with poverty in so many different ways over the years. Much of my experience stems from my longtime volunteer work with Erda Foundation, which was set up in 1974 by the Rev. Fr. Pierre Tritz, S.J. The French-born but naturalized Filipino priest will celebrate his 96th birthday this coming September, with the distinction of being perhaps the oldest living and still working Jesuit in the world.

Tritz set up Erda Foundation to help children in very poor families across the country remain in school or return after having dropped out, by giving them support such as their school materials, transportation expenses, and uniforms. In addition, social workers keep track of the students’ families, to help spot problems that could affect the kids’ attendance in school. Every year Erda helps nearly 30,000 schoolchildren from the elementary and secondary levels from becoming drop-out statistics.

In the early ‘90s, Tritz set up Erda Technical-Vocational High School to help prepare train young people from very poor families in various skills, so that they could cash in on the advent of industrialization. Erda Tech provides its students full scholarship, as well as transportation assistance on a need-basis, but one of our persistent problems has been hunger in the school. It used to puzzle school authorities that so many students would be rushed to the school clinic with fainting spells, until they realized that the kids were hungry. It turned out that in very poor families, children would alternate in eating breakfast---me today, you tomorrow, and so on. It’s hard to believe, but true.

* * *


Board members campaigned for donations of foodstuffs (among the consistent donors was my sister-in-law, noted interior designer Sonia Santiago-Olivares, who regularly sent a sack of rice). A feeding program was begun for those in need which helped reduce incidents of fainting. Last schoolyear, Erda Tech formally started what it calls a “Lunch of Love,” with 50 needy students accommodated daily. My husband, as SSS chair, had donated P250,000 to this program and this year, as outgoing chair, he again gave the same amount (each member of the SSS Commission is given half a million pesos to donate to feeding programs of schools of his choice). The turnover last Friday morning was witnessed by Erda President Tritz, school principal Jane Natividad and other school officials, SSS VP for public affairs and special events Marisu Bugante, as well as the 50 student-beneficiaries and some parents (the other half of Chairman Cunanan’s feeding donation will be turned over tomorrow, Monday, to the Pulupandan Elementary School in Negros Occidental, which he once attended).

* * *


Principal Natividad, who had served as Grade School principal at the uppity Xavier School in Greenhills until deputized by Xavier President Fr. Johnny Go, who also chairs Erda Foundation, spoke of the tremendous impact of the “Lunch of Love.” It reduced absenteeism. It cut the drop-out rate of 47 two years ago to only 17 last schoolyear, tardiness from 100 to only 10 and repeaters from 34 to just five. Because the students didn’t have to worry about having baon, they could focus on their studies.

A mother of a student beneficiary, Ms. Reynalda Iguiron, was asked to give a few remarks. With tears she confessed how tough it is for her kids to cope with even just having a baon in school especially since their father had met an accident at the NLEX and couldn’t work. Whenever she could, she’d give P20 each to her children, from which they had to get their transportation and food money. Many times, however, there was no money, or at times the food money had to be used to buy school needs, e.g., to replace a lost ballpen. This meant enduring hunger pains throughout the day. If there was no baon, her kids didn’t want to attend school; “nahihiya,” she said. Reynalda was profuse with thanks to SSS for Erda’s “Lunch of Love” as now her one child in that program was assured of a meal in school. We called for her son, Salvador Maynard Iguiron, a second-year student, afterwards and he looked quite neat and snappy in his uniform. One could not tell of the intense struggle within his family to meet daily needs.

Many civic organizations such as the Rotary Club, Jaycees and Lions are always looking for worthy projects to adopt. I would strongly recommend a similar feeding program in public schools in the depressed areas. This is an investment in the future of our young people. I’d also recommend that they stop giving wooden or plastic plaques to guest speakers as these are absolutely useless. It’s better to pool the money for such tokens and after three months, they’ll have a substantial amount to donate to feed hungry students.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Pinay nominated as California’s Chief Justice


The first regular session of the 15th Congress opens in the House of Representatives and the Senate on Monday morning with the election of their new set of officers. The excitement in the Senate race for the presidency far outweighs that of the House Speakership. At this moment, former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile is said to have the numbers, especially after key Liberals Franklin Drilon and Ralph Recto dumped their earlier candidate, Sen. Francis Pangilinan, in favor of Enrile, and the group of Sen. Edgardo Angara is expected to deliver its swing vote to the hardy old Cagayano. But Pangilinan vowed to keep fighting and is expected to keep wooing his fellow Liberals. On the other hand, the camp of Sen. Manny Villar, earlier thought to be a strong candidate vs. Pangilinan, appears mollified by Enrile’s reported move to “archive” the C-5 issue, and seems ready to back up the latter.

Compromise seemed to have worked out in the Senate, and it looks like it appealed even to President Noynoy who doubtless wanted to avoid being caught in the earlier intramurals between his two close allies, Drilon and Pangilinan. Rather than offend either of them, Aquino might have really pushed for Enrile.

* * *


Independence from Malacanang is another favorite concept in the Senate and here Pangilinan’s manifest closeness to the Aquino family could have been a negative; in fact when Kris Aquino’s preference for Kiko leaked out two weeks ago, this must have scared the daylights out of a number of senators. By contrast, the astute Enrile has mastered the art of being independent when he has to be and then suddenly looking and sounding like a defender of the Malacanang tenant the next moment. He had enough practice with this talent with former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and can easily adapt to Noynoy Aquino, whose spokesperson said the Palace hopes for a “friendly” Senate Chief.

* * *


By contrast to the excitement in the Senate, the House race seems staid and predictable with the mass defections of Lakas-Kampi to the LP. Lakas stalwart Edcel Lagman of Albay was once touted as a formidable challenger to QC Rep. Sonny Belmonte for the speakership, given the numerical superiority right after the elections of Lakas-Kampi; in fact, there was talk of him willing to go into term-sharing with Quezon’s Danny Suarez. Recently, however, Lagman eloquently summed up his predicament to this columnist: “What was once a genuine aspiration has now become an ‘Impossible Dream.’ “ But he vowed that “we will keep on fighting,” and this means alongside such senior party stalwarts as Gloria Arroyo, Rodolfo Albano and Simeon Datumanong. Edcel automatically becomes the Minority Leader and an industrious and articulate one, and though the House opposition will be a small one, it will have some of the veteran members, as well as the most knowledgeable ones, including Rep. Macapagal-Arroyo who will have her own legislative agenda.

* * *


Some corrections:

· The nine-member Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) ruled that the revision of the 75 percent of precincts covered by Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III’s protest and the counter-protest of Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri should continue, despite the lack of adequate evidence of spurious ballots and the far larger recovery of votes by Koko’s camp, mainly from Maguindanao. I earlier said that seven senators had voted to continue the revision, but the fact is that only five senators did; the sixth, Sen. Pia Cayetano, concurred with the dissenting SET Chair, Justice Antonio Carpio, that the revision should be discontinued at this point, obviously in recognition of the victory of Pimentel. The two other justices in SET, Presbitero Velasco and Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, voted with the five senators to continue, even though this may mean that Pimentel’s protest would be overtaken by the 2013 elections and become moot and academic.

· I had written earlier that Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima also heads the Monetary Board; actually it’s BSP Gov. Amado Tetangco heads it and Purisima is a member.

· Earlier I had said that new BIR Chief Kim Jacinto-Henares was the valedictorian of Ateneo Law Class ’85. Actually the valedictorian was Edward Serapio, former President Estrada’s lawyer who headed his Muslim Foundation, with the late Miguel Vasquez as salutatorian. Kim was said to be in the top 5 percent of the class. Serapio and three other classmates, namely, Lisa Araneta-Marcos, wife of new Sen. Bongbong Marcos, Paquito Ochoa and Joseph Tan, formed a law office (Ochoa, Noynoy’ s Executive Secretary, is on leave) and the prediction in legal circles is that this office with the acronym ‘MOST,’ will be the most influential in the Noynoy administration, replacing “The Firm.”

* * *


The Filipina Women’s Network in America, which aims to double the number of Filipina women leaders in the US by 2012, was given a huge boost recently with recent news that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will name 3rd District Court of Appeals Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye, whose bloodline is as Filipino as yours and mine, as the next Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. The nomination of Cantil-Sakauye, 50, will have to be voted upon in November, but if she succeeds she’ll be the first Asian-American to lead the state’s judiciary, giving its highest court a female majority for the first time in its history. Tani is a Sacramento native who rose through the trial court, serving in its municipal court until Schwarzenegger named her to the Court of Appeals in Sacramento and now to the State Supreme Court.

* * *


This attractive Filipino-descended jurist is relatively unknown outside US judicial circles, but already the press in California has paid notice to her remarkable background as the success of the American dream for minorities, especially coming after the triumphant nomination two years ago of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina in the US Federal Supreme Court. Coming from humble roots, Justice Cantil-Sakauye’s Filipina mother worked as a farm worker. Her Filipino-Portuguese father, born in Hawaii, had worked in sugar cane and pineapple plantations there, alongside thousands of Filipinos coming from the Philippine Islands in the last 100 years, before moving to Sacramento where he met his future wife at a soda fountain and raised two boys and two girls.

* * *


By dint of hard work and thriftiness, virtues that many millions of Filipinos cherish back home in the Philippines, the Cantil family in the US managed to educate its children. Tani waited on tables while enrolled at University of California in Davis law school; while looking for a job after graduation, said a news report, Tani honed her skills as a blackjack dealer in the gambling capital of Reno, Nevada --- but not for long. Although the Public Defender’s Office would not hire her because she was too young, she followed the advice of an Asian-American officer at the Sacramento District Attorney’s Office and applied there, and “From then on, her legal career was off and running.” The CJ nominee is married to a Sacramento police lieutenant named Mark Sakauye and has two children, and among her known advocacies are issues affecting minorities in America, the struggles that “people of color faced.”

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Conflict of interest in Abad situation

The public outcry about the sudden public emergence of the family of LP Campaign Manager and new Budget Secretary Florencio Abad does not stem from the fact that they come from a small but beautiful province with a voting population of 10,000. Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez exploited that angle, arguing that while there are two Abads in the Cabinet and another Abad who will sit behind his Secretary during Cabinet meetings, the huge island of Mindanao only has one representative in the Cabinet---Neda Director-General Cayetano Paderanga, who hails from tiny Camiguin.

It’s not even that the Abads are not qualified for the Cabinet posts they occupy, for they lost no time reminding the public that they all are qualified. Rather, the protests about the multiple appointments of the Abads stem from the fact that all of them are thrust suddenly into positions that can have enormous influence on the national allocation and spending, and which could involve conflicts of interest.

* * *


Budget Secretary Abad’s daughter Julia Abad Parker is the director-general of the Presidential Management Staff, a very powerful office that has a lot of say on how the President's P1 billion pork barrel will be spent. In addition, her husband, Andrew Parker, is a senior rural development economist for the Philippine office of the World Bank, a major multi-lateral lender to RP. A second child of Abad, Luis, is the chief of staff of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, who also heads the Monetary Board. Abad’s wife, Rep. Henedina Abad, has been assured by incoming Speaker Feliciano Belmonte that she will be the senior vice-chair of the very powerful House Committee on Appropriations, which will be chaired by Cavite Rep.Joseph Abaya.

* * *


Henedina Abad will use one of the three vice-chair entitlements of the LP as dominant party in the Appropriations committee. To be sure, there are about 20 vice-chairs in this “mother committee” for which representatives claw one another to get. But imagine the situation where the wife of the Budget Secretary sits in the committee that will hear out and dissect the national budget prepared by her husband. It's easy to see the possible danger to the check and balance between the two departments of government zealously guarded by the framers of the constitution, and perhaps embodied in a sentence in Sec. 25 of Art. VI on the “Legislative Department” that reads “The form, content, and manner of preparation of the budget shall be prescribed by law.” Even if the conflict of interest could be more in the mind, why does Rep. Abad not get another committee? The administration would benefit from the moral superiority of such move.

* * *


To be sure, the Singsons outnumber the Abads in government, for at latest count there are 13 of them! But the difference is that there’s only one Cabinet member among them, former Maynilad Manager and now DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson. The rest of the Singsons were elected in the last elections, among them Gov. Chavit Singson of Ilocos Sur; his son, second-term First District Rep. Ronald Singson of that province; newly elected Second District Rep. Eric Singson, Jr., who replaced his father, former Rep. Eric Singson Sr., Chavit’s second cousin; Mayor Geraldine Singson of Cawayan, Ilocos Sur, Chavit’s youngest sister, and Vigan Mayor Eva Marie Singson Medina, daughter of Chavit’s oldest brother Evaristo.

* * *


Some media argue that new Customs Chief Angelito A. Alvarez (known in business circles as AAA) should be allowed to continue in that job despite the scandal that surfaced soon after his appointment, showing that he and his fellow club member had cheated in their golf scores. But there’s a group just as vocal in asking President Aquino to let Alvarez, who was formerly connected with the Lina Group, to be returned to the private sector.


The annual six-day Mango Tee golf tournament sponsored last February by the posh Ayala Alabang Golf & Country Club saw Alvarez and flight buddy Paul de la Cruz, a former SGV executive who became finance officer of the Razon-owned ICTSI, declared champions of Class C, after having come out with almost perfect scores for the two days that they played in. Tournament rules hold that if one’s ball lands within 18 inches of the hole, it’s a “gimme,” i.e., no extra stroke is needed to drive it in. And since golf is won by having the most minimal strokes, they saved some and their scores astounded everyone, since Class C members are not known particularly for their prowess.

* * *


The Club’s golf committee decided to investigate, first the four caddies who had serviced Alvarez and De la Cruz and their two guests, and then the players themselves. The fact-finding took six months, during which it was learned from the caddies that the flight members had manipulated their scores to make it appear that they scored remarkably well within the 18-inch radius, even if this was not the case. The caddies were fired for having allowed this serious irregularity, while Alvarez and De la Cruz were suspended from playing in the course for six months and are barred from participating in the tournaments for five years. De la Cruz also resigned from Group 515 within the Club, and was terminated by ICTSI, whose membership card he had used in the tournament. It must be noted that terminations of jobs were made in the private sector, but ironically, Alvarez is being retained by President Aquino at Customs, despite the serious cloud over his integrity and honesty.

A booklet on golf etiquette declared that “Honesty is not just something that we practice in life for the sake of convenience. As in pregnancy, there are no degrees of honesty. One cannot be half pregnant and half honest…Cheating, on the other hand, is defined as the deliberate intent to deceive. It is by no means an oversight, an accident, or a simple misunderstanding of the Rules. Thus, a charge of cheating is very serious and must be dealt with sternly.” Amen.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Senate Electoral Tribunal acted along partisan lines


A week ago media reported the creation of a new palace communications team with several high-powered, veteran media personalities at the helm. From all appearances it’s the most elaborate media set-up in any administration since Edsa. The team is expected to handle various facets of the presidential communication needs, presumably to better connect the President with the people. It’s obvious that the Aquino administration aims to prevent the alienation that the Arroyo administration had suffered, largely due to its failure to counter scandals through a more effective “messaging” and more efficacious use of government media facilities.


After this new team was formed, a friend texted me, “I don’t know why there is much ado about the formation of a palace communications group. Why, is the Palace in crisis?” Indeed, the media team’s launch was preceded by a crisis: Memo No. 1 that sought to declare vacant all top posts in government corporations. Soon after, there was the media leakage about how the newly appointed Customs chief had cheated in a prestigious golf tournament and is barred from playing in the club course for six months.

The current controversy over President Aquino’s “personal” opinion about detained Sen. Antonio Trillanes III is the most recent crisis in the Palace and swift action is demanded from his media team. The way he tends to be so candid about sensitive issues, without giving them much thought first, I can imagine that his media team would be busier doing damage-control than projecting his cultivated image.

* * *


The latest imbroglio happened when P-Noy ordered Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to review the coup charge against Sen. Trillanes, now pending before the Makati RTC, because he felt the rebel officer’s action didn’t qualify under the requirements of a coup d’etat, as defined by the Revised Penal Code (assaulting a hotel, he said, did not seem to fall under the specs of a coup). But P-Noy was careful to stress that he was voicing his personal opinion.

My immediate reaction was that there’s no such thing as a “personal opinion” when it comes from the President. Sen. Joker Arroyo put it very well when he opined that “every word of the President, formal or informal, is a statement of policy” and thus “cannot be classified as a personal opinion. The President is President every second of the day.” One might add that because of P-Noy’s limited contribution to substantive thinking in Congress, his pronouncements now as President, especially on sensitive matters, have to be constantly checked out by his lawyers and the media team, while he’s learning the ropes of the presidency.

* * *


P-Noy’s pronouncement on the pending coup d’etat case was read by some of his former Senate colleagues as interference with the civilian and military courts. Some questioned its timing: was it timed to line up Trillanes’ vote for Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, P-Noy’s candidate in the fierce Senate Presidency fight against Manny Villar?

I worry about the confusion that his “narrow” interpretation, as my former Inquirer colleague Amando Doronila termed it, of what constitutes a coup d’etat could create among the military. In July 2003 the vast majority of the soldiers treated Trillanes’ Oakwood caper as exactly that---a caper. Would they still regard it as such if the Commander-in-Chief says that the punishment meted to the rebel leader was “unjust?” Confusion in concepts and principles is the worst enemy of the military.

* * *


The protests of LP VP candidate Mar Roxas against Vice President Jejomar Binay and former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza against Mayor Fred Lim have grabbed the limelight, whereas the three-year old protest filed by lawyer Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III against Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri has been almost forgotten. But now it has moved to center-stage. After the May 2007 mid-term elections, Zubiri was proclaimed the 12th senator, and Pimentel came in as the losing No. 13. Koko filed a protest with the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) on July 30 that year, questioning the results from 2,658 precincts in seven provinces all in Mindanao. Two weeks later Zubiri filed his counter-protest, identifying a much larger base of 73,265 precincts, mainly in Luzon, but including also the 2,658 precincts questioned by Koko.

* * *


Following SET rules, the protagonists were made to identify 25 percent of the precincts they regard as the most suspicious, as their “pilot precincts” to undergo “revision,” i.e., opening of the ballots. Koko identified 664 precincts mainly in Maguindanao, while Zubiri identified 18, 316 precincts scattered across Luzon. On June 17, 2008, nearly a year after Koko filed his case, the SET declared that the election in certain pilot areas he had designated “was characterized by proven irregularities” and he had “prima facie valid cause for action.” And since there was reasonable ground to believe that the official results for the 12th senatorial slot could be affected, the SET ordered that the revisions in Pimentel’s remaining 75 percent contested areas be continued .

On June 25, 2008, Pimentel filed a motion to dismiss his opponent’s “sham counter-protest” but the SET denied it, thus paving the way for revision in Zubiri’s pilot precincts, which took six months to finish. Based on findings, said the SET, Zubiri also has a “prima facie valid cause to pursue his counter-protest,” and last June 4, the SET ordered the revision of his 75 percent remaining precincts.

* * *


Senior Associate SC Justice Antonio Carpio, who chairs the SET, dissented from the majority opinion of seven senator-members and Sen. Pia Cayetano concurred with him. Carpio argued that the majority did not support with evidence its claim that more than 50 percent of the revised ballots were spurious; he cited as example that spurious ballots constituted a mere 2.2 percent of total contested ballots in the Metropolis and Batangas and Bulacan, and other areas reflected similar minuscule findings. Carpio argued that SET rules allowed the tribunal to dismiss “baseless” protests and that the results of the initial revision of the 25 percent pilot precincts of Zubiri disclosed that his “net recovery of votes” does not justify the continuance of the expanded revision, as this could take more than six years.

* * *


Carpio’s arguments about the projected insignificant votes and the length of time needed for the entire revision of Zubiri’s contested precincts are the very arguments Koko latches on.. Koko said he was able to “recover” 257,401 votes from revisions of his 2,658 protested precincts, whereas Zubiri only has a maximum projected net recovery of 45,742 votes from his contested 70,607 precincts. He also expressed fear that since SET took almost three years to examine the ballots in his pilot precincts and those of Zubiri, it would take infinitely longer to process the 75 percent. By then, argues Koko, his chance to occupy the Senate seat he claims to have won would be overtaken by the 2013 elections. I can see Koko’s point. The SET clearly acted along partisan lines, which is unjust.

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Violin prodigy conquers setbacks


As I said earlier, my columns will appear here every Tuesday and Friday, with the latest political developments, an analysis of various events and other items of interest to my readers. But in between, when time permits, I’ll write on matters that I know will catch your fancy---perhaps stories on the triumph of the human spirit, humorous stories, significant passages from other writers, some poetry and even letters to this writer.

Today I write about our own Filipino violin prodigy, Joaquin “Chino” Sebastian Gutierrez, now 20, who triumphed over serious setbacks and bounced back by dint of his enormous God-given talent, intense personal discipline, faith in God and his persistence no matter if his horizon was hazy. Chino is a role model for all of us in handling setbacks in our own lives, but most especially he’s a model for our youths.

Four years ago, he thought his career was over, and as his mother put it in the radio interview Cecile Alvarez and I did on their family last night, “maraming iyakan.” Earlier Chino was studying in a high school in Munich, Germany, while at the same time taking up violin lessons under the renowned pedagogue Professor Jans Ellerman who saw in the teenage boy the makings of an international violin star. He was able to study in Munich under a scholarship program worked out by three people: the late Foreign Secretary Blas Ople, former German ambassador to Manila Herbert Jess and our ambassador then to Berlin, Jose Abeto Zaide.

It was renowned Filipino violinist/conductor Oscar Yatco who heard Chino play when he was about 11; he said he wanted to introduce the boy to someone, but he had to come to Germany. That someone was Prof. Ellerman, who had taught at Juilliard School of Music in New York for 25 years and was known as the teacher of the big stars in the violin world. Ellerman was quite impressed that Chino chose to play for him a Bach piece full of angst and not the usual Paganini with all the fireworks that young violinists resort to, to impress. He agreed to take the young boy under his tutelage; but first Chino had to compete at the Hochschule fur Musik und Theater, the prestigious German music academy in Munich, for one slot that was open. Had he failed to get it he would have had to return to Manila.

* * *


Chino bagged that slot for the pre-college level and was to receive his violin training at Hochschule and his academic training at a regular high school there. Because of his tender age then, Ellerman insisted that his parents move to Munich too (no foster parent was willing to take the responsibility of rearing him). It took the family two years to move. Secretary Ople, a distinguished man of letters, worked it out so that Chino’s father, Lamberto, a computer man, would be employed by the Philippine Embassy as a local-hire expert. It worked well for nearly three years, with the boy soaring to incredible heights---despite the fact that at some point his mother Bambi had to go home owing to multiple illnesses.

Early in his first year in Munich. Chino represented his high school in a math competition, beating those of other schools in Bavaria until he became the state champion; a Pinoy beating the Germans in math! As Bambi noted, since he had just arrived in Munich then, Chino’s champion math skills were obviously honed during his Philippine Science High School stint. He also continued his studies under Professor Ellerman until he was primed to compete in a most prestigious international competition in Freiburg, Germany, where no Filipino artist had competed in a long time.

* * *


Unfortunately, something happened to change all this. New Philippine ambassador Delia Domingo Albert, perhaps unaware of the special arrangement mentioned above, terminated the local-hire status of Lamberto. With his residence permit cancelled, the father could run into immigration problems, but he also badly wanted to shepherd his son through that international competition for which he had trained so hard and so long. This conflict disturbed Chino immensely and Ellerman, seeing his inability to concentrate at that point, advised the boy not to join the competition any longer, to avoid the stigma of losing.

With a heavy heart the Gutierrezes returned to Manila. For the next three years Chino had no training in violin here (his early teachers had already taught him all they knew when he left for Germany). But the boy did not lose heart. He kept on repeating the lessons Ellerman had taught him even though, as Bambi pointed out, he didn’t know where he was headed and whether there was any future for him in music. He also picked up his math and taught at the Philippine Science High School and at the UP to keep busy. Only once did he concertize in those years here. At some point he got a scholarship for a small but well-known music school in Upstate New York called “Bard College,” but the training they gave there did not suit what he had in mind for a lifetime career.

* * *


But as they say, when God closes one door, He opens another. In Chino’s case, He has opened two and even perhaps three doors, and he now has the luxury of choosing which one would suit his career. Last February he auditioned at the renowned Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, Maryland, which is affiliated with Johns Hopkins University and he successfully landed a full scholarship, with the privilege to train with the renowned pedagogue Danchenko.

Then, a few weeks ago, Chino traveled to Europe all by himself, to audition in two schools, one in Vienna, whose results he is still awaiting, and in the Hochschule in Munich, where he was enrolled some years back. Chino recalled in our radio interview that the Hochschule audition was the toughest, for it consisted of three rounds; the second round involved each contestant playing two instruments, the first one of his choice and the second always the piano. In the case of Chino, who had been formally handling the violin since he was seven, he had never played the piano in his life! But since he wanted the audition so badly, he took a crash course in piano with Dean Borromeo formerly of the UP Conservatory of Music several mornings a week for about five weeks. At home the Gutierrezes had no piano and Chino had to content himself with practicing on a Yamaha keyboard and only occasionally on a baby grand. Chino had to reorient his thinking from violin to piano, two very different instrumentsm, constantly asking Dean Borromeo, “how do pianists think?”

* * *


The first round in Munich involved the violin and he played Vieuxtemps Concerto No. 5 and Schumann’s Sonata no. 1, passing it with flying colors (had he failed that one, it would have meant no Hochschule). For the second round he played on the piano of his five-weeks crash course Bach Invention No. 1 and Beethoven’s Sonata in G major, Op. 42. The third round was both written and oral, featuring theory, hearing, etc. What made his parents in Manila worry was that he was also all alone in Munich, unlike the other contestants who had their own big alalay group. While preparing for the auditions he had to do his meals, iron his clothes, prepare ten sets of his music for the members of the jury, etc. But earlier adversities had toughened him up; buong-buo ang loob, said Bambi proudly.

* * *


Chino admitted over radio that the audition was “”medyo nakakakaba,” but he hurdled all three rounds and is now ready for a bachelor’s degree at the Hochschule. Buong-buo ang loob, said the mother proudly. The Gutierrezes are praying hard---and helping them are Chino’s biggest fans, the Carmelites of Gilmore---that he make the right choice between Peabody with its full scholarship, and Hochschule, which is not free and the German standard of living is quite high. But Munich seems to be where his heart is.

We asked him what a young person needs to succeed and he said, “Sipag at tiyaga.” Cecile added “Galing at talino” and Chino agreed (it sounded like we were back in the election campaign with the slogans). He also added “family support,” admitting that his mom, who doesn’t play any instrument but is very musical and intuitive, has been his biggest supporter.

This time Chino is into competition for the international stage, fully aware that he has a lot of catching up with other world talents to do. In the music world so many years lost is so many years lost. But this young virtuoso is focused, driven and super-talented, a genius. Let’s watch him. Above all, let’s help support him with financial help. Call Lamberto Gutierrez at 0917-5970-946. Pls. reproduce this article and send to all your friends.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Dynamic Duo


Congratulations to Meralco. The entire metropolis was out of power starting midnight of Tuesday, as Basyang began whip-lashing it with powerful winds and rains until the wee hours of Wednesday; but by afternoon some areas already managed to get back their power. We were sustained by a generator for two nights, but by mid-morning yesterday, Thursday, power was back in our household, though some other areas still had to get theirs as this column was being written. By and large Meralco was efficient.

* * *


I failed to inquire if the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Hotel, the venue for the French Embassy’s Bastille Day reception last Wednesday evening, was on generators or Meralco power. Because the weather had vastly improved or people wanted to escape the heat of their powerless homes, the usually well-attended annual French reception was exceptionally deluged that night, so that the Sofitel Tent ran out of food and wines!

But I cannot also help but note that the fare served at this year’s Bastille Day reception was not the usual bountiful feast for which the French Embassy was famous in past years. Doubtless they were commiserating with the Euro-Zone’s various economies that are in dire straits. Though the French economy is faring better than those of the “PIIGS”countries (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain), its budget deficit has to be carefully watched; moreover, French banks are heavily exposed in the current Greek financial meltdown.

As for the Spaniards, their glorious victory in the World Cup in Johannesburg is desperately-needed adrenalin for a worrisome economy, whose deficit jumped to more than 11 percent of GDP last year; as Time Magazine pointed out, if private indebtedness was thrown in, then Spain’s total debt rises to 232 percent of GDP---higher than Greece’s. Indeed our budget deficit of 4 percent of GDP looks angelic compared to those in the Euro-Zone.

* * *


President Aquino properly scolded Pagasa for predicting wrongly that Basyang would hit Northern Luzon, but it should be noted that even the US Joint Typhoon Weather System was also off-track, though not as bad as Pag-Asa. I recall that Pagasa had a couple of off-mark forecasts in recent years. Most notable was Ondoy of Sept. 26, 2009, which dumped the heaviest rains in Metro Manila in 180 years! From time to time Nature playfully throws off the scientists, but unfortunately, Pagasa Chief Prisco Nilo always gets it in the neck for those aberrations.

I interviewed this low-key bureaucrat soon after Ondoy. I find him quite hard-working and dedicated, and we should be thankful that he’s sticking around, when his more visible and voluble colleague, Nathaniel Cruz, had already gone to Australia for an infinitely better-paying job. The Standard pointed out that in Pagasa, Cruz was receiving P910, 000 a year in salary and allowances; whereas in Australia he gets the equivalent of between P1.9 million and P2.8 million annually.

Low salaries have afflicted the weather bureau for years, causing such brain-drain that now only 14 forecasters remain. We can no longer debate the aching need to upgrade the salaries of our technical people.

* * *


In addition, Pagasa needs new and better equipment and upgrading of existing ones, if the agency is to be at par with its counterparts abroad. Various foreign governments, notably the Japanese government, have been helping in the upgrading program, but we Filipinos have to be more self-reliant. Our country also has to continuously invest in the training of Pagasa personnel in the advanced sciences in reputable centers abroad, which could be part of an aggressive government-to-government program.

I like new DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo’s idea of equipping local government units with forecasting facilities; this could be especially pushed in typhoon-belt areas such as the Bicol and Eastern Visayan provinces. LGUs could negotiate loans for these facilities in proper bidding, or funds could be sourced from the pork barrel funds of House members. They should move away from superfluous projects (after all, how many basketball courts, drying pavements and waiting sheds can an area use every year?) or graft projects disguised as foundations, in order to keep their communities safer with typhoon-coping facilities. Such investments would push community self-reliance and involvement.

* * *


President Noynoy’s appointments register pluses and minuses. One plus is Loretta Pargas-Rosales as chair of the Commission on Human Rights. Our country is one of the few in the world with a constitutionally-created agency to investigate “all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights.” Because of notoriety of the Philippines in this field in the Marcos and later the Arroyo regime, the CHR has been the cynosure of world attention. Etta is not a lawyer but a foreign service graduate of the UP (under the Constitution majority of the CHR’s five members must be lawyers), but her performance in the House in her three terms as Akbayan representative had created an impact that assures that the CHR will make a strong stabilizing presence in society.

* * *


This fact, however, may be a problem, for Etta will find herself working with another high-powered lady, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, and the perception in some quarters, perhaps including some sectors of the military, could be that their new partnership would be too militant for comfort. De Lima at times has a tendency to shoot her mouth off without proper thought, seemingly for the benefit of the activist crowd. For instance, a day after two activists were slain in Masbate and Nueva Ecija, she readily pinned it on the military. I trust that Etta Rosales, daughter of an Annapolis-trained Navy commodore and steeped in mass movements of various stripes and hues, and in civil society and LGU involvements, could be more balanced in her role as CHR chair.

* * *


The appointment of three-term party-list Rep. Joel Villanueva, son of religious leader Eddie Villanueva, who was a rival of LP candidate Noynoy Aquino for the presidency, as director-general of TESDA merits mixed reviews. In the House Joel, as representative of the Citizens’ Battle against Corruption (CIBAC), ran on a platform of integrity and was minority representative in the Commission on Appointments and active in the impeachment hearings vs. GMA. His battlecry, if real, should serve him in good stead in Tesda where top officials have always faced corruption charges. But I’m not sure Joel has enough experience to grasp the strategic role that Tesda should play in developing the manpower requirements of the country in an industrializing economy. Properly pushed, Tesda could empower the poorer youths with the training and development needed to become productive citizens in such an economy.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Gutierrez will hang tough


There’s tremendous pressure on Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez to resign or face impeachment because the Aquino administration feels she’s been too soft on the alleged “sins” of past Arroyo administration, owing to her closeness to the former First Couple. The belief is that prosecuting the former President, a key Aquino campaign promise, won’t prosper while Gutierrez is there. Pressure has heightened since former Agriculture Secretary Cito Lorenzo recently returned from self-imposed exile; the common thinking is that he’d turn state witness against his former subordinate, Joc-Joc Bolante and their boss Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, but that Gutierrez would wobble on this issue; hence the pressure to make her resign. Those who know her, however, say she’s a tough cookie and resigning is not in her vocabulary.

* * *


The new administration seems to bank more on possible impeachment, but as veteran lawmakers note, getting the necessary 96 votes to throw it to the Senate may be out of the question, especially if the key issue is the fertilizer fund from which so many legislators benefitted in 2007 to the tune of at least P5 million each. In a gathering with media women months back, Gutierrez stressed that one reason the fertilizer scam case took a long while to investigate was because her people had to go to each and every province and city to verify facts.

Besides, as Rep. Edcel Lagman noted, the one-year ban on repeat impeachments may still be operative (recall that former Senate President Jovito Salonga led a bi-partisan group last year to impeach her, but the move was defeated by the Lakas majority). Lakas has since been so decimated by defections, but the presence of Rep. Macapagal Arroyo could serve as a rallying point to thwart the impeachment move. GMA’s influence cannot be underestimated at this point.

* * *


What may be more effective is the move of President Noy to set up the Truth Commission to be headed by former Chief Justice Hilario Davide, whose task will be to seek solid evidence on various allegations of corruption in the Arroyo regime. If it succeeds in gathering such evidence, the popular thinking is that the Ombudsman would have no choice but to prosecute GMA and her husband.

About two years ago, this journalist had a discussion with a former high-ranking jurist on the fate of GMA in the post-presidency. He opined quite strongly that with the kind of evidence that surfaced in different congressional hearings on the various scandals, they proved quite effective in the court of public opinion, as evidenced by her unprecedented unpopularity; in the eyes of many sectors GMA was already convicted. But in the court of law, where evidence has to be beyond reasonable doubt, he said, those cases won’t stand---she won’t go to jail. The question is, is there hard evidence that the Davide Commission feret out?

* * *


Despite the admonition of Sen. Tito Sotto that among serious golfers cheating one’s score is a “mortal sin,” the Aquino administration seems to be stone-walling the cheating scandal that hounds new Customs Bureau Chief Angelito Alvarez. Alvarez and his flight partners were caught manipulating their scores during the prestigious “Mango Tee” tournament at the Ayala Alabang Golf & Country Club a few months ago. They were suspended from playing there for six months and barred from participating in the tournament for the next five years. The strictness of standards in self-scoring in tournaments is what makes this sport known as a “gentleman’s game.”

There are people who feel the cheating issue is a light matter that wouldn’t affect Alvarez’s performance at Customs, but many more feel strongly that P-Noy should remove him since that post’s principal requisites are integrity, credibility and honesty; besides, the LP candidate’s entire campaign was anchored on those virtues. The good book put it well: if one can’t be trusted in small things, one can’t be trusted in big things. Apparently Ricky Razon is more decisive. Reports say that the guy who won second place at the tournament, who was in Alvarez’s flight and is his friend, was Razon’s CFO in ICTSI, but his boss immediately fired him when news of the cheating surfaced.

* * *


There are a number of interesting new officials in the new administration. The central figure is Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, who headed the legal team of then LP candidate for Mayor Sonny Belmonte since 2001; in 2003 Belmonte appointed him QC administrator, strengthening especially the financial and delivery aspects of governance. An Ateneo law graduate (class ’85), Ochoa practiced law in the Marcos Ochoa Serapio Tan law firm where the Marcos is Sen. Bongbong’s wife, Lisa Araneta Marcos, and the Serapio is Eduardo Serapio, who is remembered as the lawyer of the Muslim Scholarship Foundation of former President Joseph Estrada that was run by his late brother-in-law, former UP Public Administration Dean Raul de Guzman. Today’s betting is that this law office (from which Ochoa is on leave) would replace The Firm as the most influential in the Noynoy administration.

Another prominent member of Ateneo Law Class ’85, in fact its valedictorian, is BIR Commissioner Kim Jacinto-Henares, whose classmate-husband, Danby Henares, is one of the sons of irrepressible economist-writer-radioman Larry Henares. Kim had served with BIR Chief Guillermo Parayno as his deputy, so she knows the ropes.

* * *


Louie Barcelon-Locsin sought to lose her grief in New York’s myriad charms after the elections, after having been cheated in the Makati congressional elections. Louie, whose husband, former Rep. Teodoro Locsin, conducted several weeks of hearings after the elections on fraud cases in his committee on suffrage and electoral reforms, went to bed a winner, only to wake up next day a loser---a measly 240 votes came in the “wee small hours of the morning” to defeat her. To the credit of the Locsins, TeddyBoy’s hearings, which I assiduously covered for the Inquirer, heard just about every complainant’s story, but not Louie’s.

Former Speaker Jose de Venecia also has yet to recover from the fact that in San Juan, Metro Manila, his son Joey III ran under the banner of former President Estrada but got zero! This column will feature salient points of Locsin’s committee report which does not recommend automation for our future elections unless…

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