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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.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Strength & weakness of P-Noy: his trust in just a few people

There is something about the way President Aquino utilizes the services of his Cabinet members that doubtless doesn’t sit well with some of them, if only they could come out openly about it. Much has been said about how P-Noy can only trust those closest to him, but it’s said to be wreaking havoc on the morale of these officials.

Damper on morale

Recall that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, easily the star of the Cabinet because of her high-profile role in several cases, said a few weeks back that the thought of resigning had crossed her mind after much of the recommendations of her Incident-Investigative Result Committee (IIRC) was sidelined by a two-member review panel in the Palace and P-Noy upheld its findings. P-Noy later absolved Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno in a much-criticized move to protect his longtime buddy and former PNP Chief Jesus Verzosa, even as he approved the filing of administrative charges against another loyalist, Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim that led to the latter’s emotional outburst on TV.

In a Senate hearing some weeks back, some senators complained to Civil Service Chair Francisco Duque about the demoralization hitting the civil service because of EO No. 2, which had authorized the mass  lay-off of what this administration terms the “midnight appointments” of former President Macapagal Arroyo. A senator asked Duque if he was aware of this demoralization and whether he was doing something about it. Duque, in a fit of admirable candor, admitted that indeed he made his recommendations but they were just not followed.

Changes in the VFA

Now comes the reconstitution of the old Visiting Forces Agreement Commission (VFA-Com) into the Presidential Commission on the VFA. Since its inception in February 1998 and Senate ratification in May 1999, the incumbent Secretary of Foreign Affairs has always chaired this Commission and under him is the Executive Director. Thus, aside from Secretary Domingo Siazon who negotiated the VFA with US Ambassador Thomas Hubbard, among those who had served as chair were Former Vice President Tito Guingona, the late Blas Ople, Delia Domingo Albert and for some time now, Secretary Alberto Romulo. Very recently, however, in a reorganization move, P-Noy appointed Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa as chair, and Romulo was relegated to vice-chair together with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

Involvement of Romulo

Like a good soldier, Romulo has kept quiet about the new arrangement;  in fact, there’s talk that he himself had asked P-Noy to be allowed to serve VFA-COM in a lesser capacity, and this is the reason the DFA is not getting involved in preparations for the new round of talks. But what bothers me is that the task of chairing the VFA Com can be very demanding, and Ochoa, whose previous experience before his appointment as Cabinet primus inter pares was as administrator of Quezon City Hall, might not only not have the time, given his taxing Palace post;  he may also lack the background for the extremely sensitive nuances of RP-US relations.

An observer pointed out, however, that one reason for Ochoa’s appointment could be to facilitate greater cooperation and coordination within the various offices of the government during the renegations. Moreover, Ochoa has direct access to P-Noy like no other official has, save perhaps for Rico Puno.

This seems to be both the strength and the weakness of President Aquino, a personality trait which also stems from his lack of executive experience: the fact that he can’t seem to trust anyone except two or three people.

Factions in the Palace

Talking of P-Noy’s close allies, former ABS-CBN News Director Maria Ressa, in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal that, rumors have it, led to her estrangement from the giant network, talked of several big groupings within P-Noy’s camp, the Balay Group led by his former runningmate, Mar Roxas and the LP stalwarts, which used to meet in Mar’s Araneta Center home, and the Samar Group which count ES Ochoa and Secretary Puno. But actually insiders speak of at least six or seven groupings that have emerged as the power fulcrum shifted from Lubao to Concepcion, Tarlac.

The original Tarlac group

There’s the original Tarlac group that ushered Noynoy to the House of Representatives in 1998; at times they’re referred to as the “Times St.” group, to distinguish them from the later LP group of Mar Roxas, Serge Osmena, etc. Then there’s the group of his four influential sisters, led by Ballsy, whose approval, reports say, is sought on all but all presidential appointments, which also includes power wielder Maria Montelibano. Then there’s Noynoy’s Classmates at the Ateneo who have all emerged from the woodwork, reminiscent of Erap’s classmates, and Friends such as Puno and Sen. Francis Escudero. To this group too, belongs an exclusive sub-group called “CESO,” short for “Classmates of Executive Secretary Ochoa.” There’s also the Hyatt 10 whose members were returned either to the Cabinet or to GOCCs, as well as the group of Presidential Uncle Peping Cojuangco and his wife Tingting, with their own satellites.

But apart from all these groupings, there’s the Yellow Forces led by Vice President Jejomar Binay, who, sources note, has always been yellow even when he was supposed to be running with candidate Erap.

The inevitable friction among all these satellite groups revolving within P-Noy’s universe makes fascinating copy but it’s also nightmarish for governance.

JDV travels around the world

Former Speaker Joe de Venecia seems to have more speaking engagements around the world now than when he was the longest-ruling House Chief in local history. In recent weeks he was in Central America, delivering speeches in San Salvador and Panama City before flying to Indonesia and Malaysia. I had always known about JDV’s fantastic sphere of influence among world leaders, but even he got the surprise of his life while being toured by former Panama President Martin Torrijos in the Panama Canal, the long (80 kms.) narrow man-made canal that links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the two American continents.

JDV and wife Gina, now the representative of Pangasinan’s 4th District, were sitting in the viewing platform with their hosts, watching the parade of ships from all corners of the globe through the Panama Canal, when suddenly, the De Venecia couple heard screams of “JDV, JDV” and at times “Di Binisya, Di Binisya,” from the passing ships. Apparently some Pinoys on a ship’s bow recognized him and word spread quickly among the ships, so that all the Pinoys stood on the side of the ships, to wave and shout his name; the De Venecias were thrilled and they waved back frantically. Naturally, their hosts were terribly impressed with this sideshow!

JDVwas still bubbling about that episode when I ran into him at the Indian Ambassador’s reception. I quipped that it indicates how, like the proverbial prophet, JDV is better appreciated away from his homeland, and unarguably, Filipino seafarers dominate the world maritime industry.

Mellor-Bolipata Exhibit

My artist-niece, Ivee Olivares-Mellor, daughter of my brother Luis Olivares Jr., and his late wife Rosario Barretto Olivares, launched last Saturday, together with her artist-cousin, Plet Bolipata, of the famed Bolipata family of writers, musicians and artists, an exhibit of their most recent paintings at the Boston Gallery, 72 Boston St., Cubao, Q.C. Their two-man show will run until Nov. 11, 2010. Ivee was educated in fine arts in the UK and has her home in Chichester, two hours by train from London. Plet, daughter of the late lawyer Ric Bolipata and Dits Corpus-Bolipata of Zambales, is the sister of famed violinist-professor Coke Bolipata and the Bolipata family runs a successful center for the arts in their hometown in that province. Ivee and Plet, who have been holding periodic shows in various art forms and media here over the years, have also done illustrations for famed authors' works either singly or in collaboration with each other here and abroad. One of Ivee's better known illustrations was on "The King and the Royal Trees" by Paul Aird. Boston Gallery’s no.is 722-9205.

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