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.

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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