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.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wikileaks’ Julius Assange: hero or heel?

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

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

Conspiracy theories abound

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

Interpol's most wanted    

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

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

Lacson still on the run

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

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

Fugitive for years

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

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

 Reconciling the budget

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

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

Funding for DSWD's training program

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

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

Can Dinky handle all this money?

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

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

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