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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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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