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.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

"Military wives have to be stable" - Lt. Gen. Jaime de los Santos AFP (ret.)

At the recent wake for my late husband, Lt. Gen. and Ambassador Thelmo Y. Cunanan, my family arranged a makeshift gallery in one corner of the hall, that showed photos and mementoes of his 52 years of service to country.  Thirty-six of those years were spent in the military, starting with his one year training at PMA and four years at West Point, all the way to commanding the brigades in Cagayan Valley and Laguna, the National Capital Region, the Visayas Command, Southern Command in Mindanao (at that time a unified command), as well as many years of  service in the Defense Department.

The 16 other years since his military retirement in 1994  were spent as ambassador to then war-torn Cambodia, as President & CEO of the PNOC Group and finally as SSS Chairman, with brief stints in between as executive officer under Joe Concepcion of the Namfrel monitoring group to Indonesia’s first post-Suharto elections and as chief again of the Philippine humanitarian mission of doctors and nurses to Timorese refugees at the border of East and West Timor.

Reliving the Cory years

Tonight, Sunday,  at 8 pm. over dzRH, my radio partner Cecile Alvarez graciously featured edited speeches of three retired and one active military officers delivered at the military’s necrological rites for Gen. Cunanan last Friday, Jan. 21. Among the eulogists  were his last aide-de-camp before retirement, Lt. Col. Erwin de Asis, PMA Class ’87, now stationed in Isabela,  Brig. Generals (ret.) Gregorio Fajardo and Nagamora Lomodag, and Lt. Gen. (ret.) and former Army Chief Jaime de los Santos. The three general-rank retired officers and then Lt. Erwin de Asis were all with then Col. Cunanan in defending beleaguered Camp Aguinaldo in the most serious mutiny against President Cory Aquino in December 1-3, 1989. To the many dozens in the audience at the wake, including my children and myself, these former and active officers' accounts of that fateful event of over 22 years ago remained gripping as ever, making the black and white photographs of those days in our improvised gallery at Heritage Park even more meaningful. 

Please re-live those days with us over dzRH tonight.

Testimonials of bravery

The retired officers testified how then Col. Cunanan’s 202nd Brigade, consisting of three battalions with over a thousand men from Laguna, suffered a lot of casualties, first from the accidental strafing by friendly PAF F-5 combat planes at White Plains, and then from the heavy firefight on the night of Dec. 2 when rebel forces led mainly by misguided elements from the Marine Corps attacked, preceded by a terrifyingly huge LVT that rammed the Santolan gate of Camp Aguinaldo. 

The PAF pilots earlier mistook the moving column of Col. Cunanan for the rebels and fired at them three times;  when it was over and dead government soldiers lay on the road behind the camp, media swarmed over Col. Cunanan, who naturally was so angry over what happened. The media, sowing intrigue as ever, asked him whether he would now jump to the rebel side.  As the officers testified at the wake, he replied that the mistaken strafing did not change the equation:  Cory Aquino was the duly-elected President and the constitutional government had to be protected at all cost; he was determined to do so.

Magnificent show of leadership

As the officers testified, Col. Cunanan rightly judged that the forces on the Aguinaldo Grandstand would bear the brunt of the night attack by the rebels, and he prepositioned his men all around it.  The officers admitted that many of their men were dead scared, but seeing their top commander personally directing the fire shamed them from scampering away. Col. Lomodag recalled a soldier saying, “How on earth can I run away when my brigade commander is here with us? Hindi nga siya natatakot mamatay sa laban, ako pa kaya?”

The terrifying LVT first hit Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo’s statue across the Santolan gate, and as  Lomodag recalled, the grandstand forces began firing at it. Col. Cunanan first asked for a 57-RR cannon attack on the LVT which proved futile; hence he ordered  Lomodag’s artillery man to “bore-sight” it with a 105 Howitzer which hit the tank  directly, setting it on fire and killing most of those inside (including the rebel brother of the soldier who fired that shot).  That demoralized the rebels and after a  chase around the camp they gave up, leaving only the Makati rebels to be addressed (by the controversial return-to-barracks order). 
Weeks later various forces  claimed victory for knocking out the LVT; after all, as the saying goes, victory has many fathers, but defeat is an orphan. But to this day now Brig. Gen. (ret.) Lomodag, a renowned artillery officer during his time, remains certain it was his handpicked soldier who slammed it dead. 

Not a single defector

Retired Brig. Gen. Greg Fajardo, then the 202 Brigade’s intelligence officer, stressed at the wake that it was a hallmark of Col. Cunanan’s leadership that not a single one of his officers moved to the rebel side in that most disastrous coup attempt of December 1989.  As an Inquirer columnist I joined the media lunch-cum-briefing summoned by  NCRDC Commander Brig. Gen. Rodolfo Biazon two days after that successful defense of Aguinaldo. One of the points he stressed was the heroism of a number of people during the fierce fighting, including his “mistah,” who refused his repeated calls to go down to the basement of the grandstand at its height. Gen.  Biazon recalled my husband's retort:  “How can I direct the fire-fight if I don't stay on top of the grandstand?” 

The last brigade standing

At the wake for Gen. Cunanan at the Heritage Memorial Park, former Senator and now Rep. Biazon, looking at the coup photos in our “gallery,” recalled to me how in those desperate hours before the rebel attack, he summoned three brigades to come to Aguinaldo’s defense: namely, Cunanan’s 202nd Brigade from Laguna/Quezon, and two others from Northern and Central Luzon.  Biazon graciously acknowledged, however, that he could only be sure of the loyalty to the government of his “mistah” from Laguna.  “I knew Thelmo would not waver,” said Biazon. 
My husband’s forces, rushing to Manila in a six-kilometer convoy from Laguna that included even a commandeered bakery delivery truck, became the main force to protect the seat of the military government in Aguinaldo. It is no secret that had that convoy faltered, Cory Aquino’s government would have fallen.

It may sound immodest of me as his widow to point this fact here, but the testimonies came from various officers who were with him in those days. I stress these points here not just to praise my husband, as he had enough of that in recent days, but because there appears to be continuing confusion in the military since then over adherence to the Constitution and duly-constituted authority.

Salute to Military Wives

Lt. Gen. Jaime de los Santos (ret.), then the battalion commander of the troops in Magdalena, Laguna and part of the six-km. convoy to rescue Aguinaldo, spoke of Col. Cunanan’s competence and character, and how he “raised soldiery to a higher level” as a constitutional officer and advocate of democratic processes.  But at some point Jimmy also paid tribute to the wives of military officers and soldiers, and how they have to comport themselves under tremendous pressure. “Military wives,” said Jimmy, “are  trained to maintain their grace and stability as well as their beauty under the most difficult of circumstances," and I say that this pertained to his pretty wife Lulu, my co-alumna at the old Holy Ghost College (now the College of the Holy Spirit) as much as to other lovely partners of officers.

Pressure from all sides

I smiled as I listened to him praising military wives under pressure, for I remember those days of December 1989 only too well, such as, for instance, when then AFP Chief of Staff Renato de Villa called me up in the  “secret” hiding place where I had moved my children to from Aguinaldo (my husband dropped by the Inquirer the day before the mutiny broke out, to warn me about something dangerous to happen, and ordered us to get out of the camp right away). De Villa asked me if I had heard from my husband and replying negative, I asked why he was looking for him. He said he was worried as "Thelmo's forces are too close to the enemy lines."  How was a wife supposed to take that?
 That long night of the fire-fight that resulted in the decommissioning of the LVT, I would call from time to time the inner sanctum of the DND where a lady friend was working, to inquire about what was happening---ever the journalist but this time also the wife terribly sick with worry. Finally, after a few calls my friend shouted to me to get off the line as they needed it;  I lit a candle at the family altar of the “secret” house where I was staying and I prayed the rosary repeatedly for my husband and his men.  Later I learned that the 202nd Brigade had suffered 21 men killed and 20 wounded.

Security for a young officer

Military wives never stop worrying for their husbands---in fact we worry even for other wives' husbands. One evening when I was weekending at my husband’s camp near Lake Caliraya in the late ‘80s, a junior officer dropped in to confer with him. The young man was to cross the mountains that same night with only his driver in their army jeep, and return to his camp near the border of Quezon, an NPA-infested area then. As the commander's wife I was frightfully worried for his safety, but when I asked my husband to have an armored personnel carrier (APC) accompany this officer’s jeep to safety, they both laughed---in the field those details seemed ridiculous. But my husband, perhaps to ensure that we would have a nice weekend, acceded to the “order ni Mrs” and an APC rolled out with the officer's jeep.

 At the wake for Gen. Cunanan, this officer dropped in and we had a good laugh over that night’s episode in the mountains over 20 years ago.  He is Gen. Generoso Senga (ret.), who later was appointed AFP Chief of Staff by President Macapagal Arroyo, and who remained loyal to the constitutional government despite enormous pleadings from coup plotters in February 2006.

Not all officers are corrupt

Nowadays,   generals’ wives appear to be collectively maligned as being as "corrupt" as their husbands.  In the first place, not all generals were or are corrupt, and that goes for their wives as well (the corruption appears to be limited to certain cabals, and this has to be dealt with). Then, too, the sacrifices military wives endure for country and people by being "both father and mother to their children," as Jimmy de los Santos put it, so that their husbands could do their job of defending the country never make headlines, but they are very real. Take it from this one. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Salustiano Mariño's senseless death

The bomb that was planted by still unknown terrorists inside a passenger bus yesterday afternoon in Makati, killing five people and wounding over a dozen others, stunned the nation. But it hit my family in a very direct way, just as we were preparing for the 9th day of our novena for my husband who passed away last Jan. 16th,  Feast of the Sto. Nino.


I was in Makati early yesterday afternoon, attending the inauguration of my distinguished friend, Architect and Urban Planner Felino “Jun” Palafox, the first in his field to head the prestigious “Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) at the Manila Peninsula. After a fast lunch there, I ran up to the Conservatory of the Pen to sit in at the Makati Rotary meeting where I had  arranged for the brilliant young Jesuit, Fr. Johnny Go, president of Xavier School to address the Rotarians. He spoke about the interconnectivity between uppity-up Xavier and the Erda Technical-Vocational High School for very poor students in low-end Pandacan, Manila, run by Erda Foundation where Fr. Johnny serves as chair. He told them how Xavier faculty volunteers are helping to upgrade teaching standards at Erda Tech and how Xavier students' families assist in some material needs of the Erda students. The Rotarians came out quite inspired by Fr. Johnny's talk

Our family driver Jerry Mariño was somewhere in the area at that time, and when he fetched me, he noted  the horrible traffic and how some areas were being cordoned off by the police. At home we were all glued to TV reports about the deadly bomb that had just ripped through a bus. Jerry was among those listening intently. Little did he realize, until he got a phone call early this morning, that his father, Salustiano Mariño, was one of the four fatalities in that bombing!


It was particularly painful for my family as we had just buried my husband, the late Lt. Gen. and Ambassador Thelmo Y. Cunanan, last Saturday at the Heritage Memorial Park. Jerry was one of those who had taken care of my husband over the many weeks and months of his long illness. Jerry's “expertise” was to give my husband gentle massages in the legs and hands as he battled the last throes of a raging metastasized prostate cancer. In the many nights in Medical City that he and I spent taking care of Gen. Cunanan, Jerry would go without sleep often, as my husband kept calling him all the time to help assuage  his body pains with the touch of his hands; but finally, after over a week straight Jerry himself was downed by flu and had to be replaced.  Mercifully, through all the many nights my husband was confined in hospitals in Pasig and in China where we brought him for treatment, God sustained my physical and spiritual strength, although I lost quite a lot of pounds.


Bombing victim Salustiano Mariño, who was just in his early ‘50s, drove a rented FX taxi for a living, and yesterday was rest day due to the vehicle's color-coding.  He went to Makati to follow up some papers and he ended up riddled with bomb shrapnels on his way home to Pasig.  We grieve for Mr. Mariño because, unlike my husband who at nearly 73, had a full life and distinguished career and saw his three children happily married, Mr. Mariño was so young and had only briefly gotten to enjoy his seven-month old granddaughter from Jerry, whose family lives in Romblon.  

This evening, as we attend the 9th day mass for Gen. Cunanan celebrated by Rev. Fr. Steve Penetrante, the dedicated chaplain of the Army Service Command that includes Fort Bonifacio General Hospital and of Libingan ng Mga Bayani, we will also be praying for the soul of Mr. Mariño. His death and those of the other victims in that  bus explosion were so senseless and we can only hope and pray that the terrorism  would in turn be stopped in its tracks, so that we Filipinos need not cower in fear for our lives. The President and his Cabinet have to move decisively.


It will be quite a while before our relatives and friends would forget the music-filled funeral mass and the pomp and pageantry of the military funeral that brought Gen. Cunanan to his final resting place in Heritage Memorial Park last Saturday. Many said the ceremony  was really and truly beautiful, beginning with the homily by the charismatic Fr. Jerry Orbos, SVD. and the religious and love songs that leading stars of the Philippine opera world sang throughout the mass. As I mentioned in my earlier blog, my former editor-in-chief, Letty Jimenez Magsanoc, was instrumental, together with popular Bulletin lifestyle columnist Deedee Siytangco and her entrepreneur-daughter Sandy Masigan, in getting the super-busy Fr. Jerry to cancel his appointments that morning to officiate at the mass.

I also requested my good friend, soprano Karla Patricia Gutierrez, the indefatigable president of the Philippine Opera Company (POC) to put together a funeral repertoire for my husband that people would long remember. With only a day and a half’s time, she got tenor Nolyn Cabahug (who happily has recovered from an earlier serious ailment), his daughter, soprano Marian Cabahug, young tenor Ervin Lumauag  and POC scholars Camille  Tecson and Bryan Corea. They sang songs that reduced our guests to tears, even as they glorified God for these artists' talents: the "Ave Maria" and "Amazing Grace," sung by Marian; "You’ll Never Walk Alone" and "Hindi Kita Malilimutan," by Nolyn;  "Climb Every Mountain" (from Sound of Music) and “Dust in the Wind” sung by Karla;  Pie Jesu by Bryan and Camille; "Impossible Dream" by Bryan, and my two special requests for that ``mass, "Panis Angelicus" (Bread of Angels) sung by Nolyn, and “Light of  a Million Mornings,” sung by Ervin who also rendered Malotte's version of the "Our Father." If you haven't heard "Light of a Million Mornings," you're missing half of your life. 

Over the past few days much had been written about Gen. Cunanan’s military achievements, specially how he helped rescue beseiged Camp Aguinaldo in the desperate moments of the most critical coup against President Cory. But few know about his love for music which is rather rare for military men. After we were married, he brought to our home stuff he had acquired during his cadet days at West Point, among them vinyl  records of Bing Crosby (with his immortal “Bells of St. Mary” and what I insist is still the best version of “White Christmas” ever) Perry Como and the young men's heart-throb in that era, Joni James, some operas as well as orchestral works of various composers, especially Antonio Vivaldi with his cymbals and trumpets. 

Music was among the interests we shared. Over the long years, especially as we got older and had more time together, my husband and I followed all kinds of music events in various places: from the jazz concerts organized by Chona Ampil and her band’s stints in InterCon Hotel, to concerts of the Angelos, led by tenor George Sison Tagle (our answer to the Il Divo), religious music at San Agustin and the Las Pinas Church, performances at Araneta Coliseum such as those of Andy Williams and Dionne Warwick, musicals such as Miss Saigon and Cats, and opera productions and symphony concerts here and abroad.  We would also catch free music events in Paco Park or at the Rizal Park, munching on peanuts or something on the grass. Gen. Cunanan had an excellent collection of Frank Sinatra and other "oldies but goodies,"  but the only genre his city mouse-wife did not share was his love for cowboy music.


Two years ago, on our last evening in Rome after winding up our private pilgrimage on the 2000th birth anniversary of St. Paul,  we heard an elegant mass in St. Peter's Basilica, behind Bernini’s Baldacchino, complete with full organ music. Later we caught Guiseppe Verdi’s La Traviata at a little church on the Via Nazionale. During the intermission Gen. Cunanan went out to the church garden to smoke a cigar, bundled up in a light overcoat, woolen scarf and beret to tackle the late autumn Roman cold in mid-November. He came back quite queazy, for he found himself smoking with two pretty young things clad only in their spaghetti-strapped gowns. 

The Philippine Opera Company was dear to my husband and we followed all its productions, from “La Boheme” to the unforgettable “Master Class” performance of actress Cherry Gil as Maria Callas, to the POC’s “Harana” featuring the best-loved native airs of various regions. A few years back POC put up Mozart’s “Magic Flute” as a special Christmas treat for youngsters as the operetta has a lot of fantasy characters and beautiful costumes; POC needed sponsorship for one afternoon’s show and Gen. Cunanan not only came across with it,  but also watched the show himself,  only to be saddened that not enough youngsters were invited to watch it. He felt there should have been closer coordination between our public schools and companies such as POC in artistic productions and the National Commission for Culture & the Arts. What a waste of effort and talents to put up such an excellent show before a near-empty house, he said.  

I promised Karla Gutierrez that as a token of my family's gratitude for POC's mini-concert at my husband's funeral, we would help in its scholarship program.

Do you have a comment?

Email Bel Cunanan at


Monday, January 24, 2011

Two letters from abroad on my late husband

Yesterday, we buried my dear husband, Lt. Gen (ret.) and Ambassador Thelmo Y. Cunanan at the Heritage Memorial Park in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig, with all the pomp and pageantry as only the military could accord.

Yesterday was also our 45th wedding anniversary. Months back, before his health took a turn for the worse, we had plans of doing something different to celebrate that milestone. I wanted to host an intimate and romantic dinner for friends and relatives in the beautiful "Balay Negrense" in Silay City, Negros Occidental, to celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary. My husband, then already on hormone therapy for his prostate cancer, loved the idea, and in a visit to Bacolod City some time back, I talked to my dear friend, Balay’s curator, Negros Cultural Foundation’s indefatigable president and civic leader Lynn Gamboa, about my idea. Lynn got quite excited and said she’ll help me put it together---the candlelight dinner would be on the second floor of that antique mansion and our guests from Manila could all be accomodated in Silay's inns. But God changed our plan.

Upon learning about our 45th wedding anniversary yesterday, many friends and relatives became even more grieving; but I told them not to, for I had all those years. Even if I live to be 100, I joked, I would have enough memories to sustain me.

Memories of 45 years

Over the next week or so, I shall ask for the indulgence and even the forbearance of you dear readers, for my heart is very full at the moment. I’d like to share some memories of those 45 years that came rushing over the past few days as we went through the necrological services sponsored by the military and the three civilian offices he had served in, as well as recollections of our relatives and friends here and abroad.

I shall be writing about some highlights of his 36 years in the military and his sixteen years of service to country as a civilian official after his military retirement: as ambassador to war-torn Cambodia (President Ramos said he needed a general to re-open the embassy in Phnom Penh after nearly three decades of its having been closed owing to the war there), as president and CEO of the Philippine National Oil Company, and finally as Chair of the Social Security Commission.

Watchdog missions to East Timor

In between those civilian jobs there were the watchdog mission to the first crucial elections in the post-Suharto Indonesia and the mercy mission to refugees fleeing from East Timor to West, organized by Cardinal Sin and Cory Aquino, that he headed.

And of course, there’s our growing family as our three children have married and two of them have their own children.

Sympathies from everywhere

It was most heartwarming for his family that officialdom from five administrations and friends and relatives we hadn’t seen or heard from for years,  as well as the simple folk he had crossed paths with or who had served under him all came to pay tribute.

I shall also comment on the beautiful funeral mass, our send-off on his journey to his Father in Heaven. It will be a mass our friends and relatives will  long remember, for it combined the incredible gift of homily about love and forgiveness by the charismatic Fr. Jerry Orbos, SVD, and classic religious and love songs (including our favorite, “Light of a Million Mornings”) rendered by some of the country's   leading tenors and sopranos. Special thanks to my former editor-in-chief at Inquirer, Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, who helped persuade the super-busy Fr. Jerry to rearrange his morning to be able to say the funeral mass. I told Letty that if there's anyone who could coax Fr. Jerry, it's her as he is her columnist. A million thanks too to the dedicated president of the Philippine Opera Company, the lovely Karla Gutierrez, for putting the “mass concert” together in a day and a half’s time!

                                                     Letter from a West Point roommate

For the moment, as we take a rest from the critical days of caring for him at Medical City where he passed away, and the five days of the wake and burial, allow me to reprint here two letters from US-based friends.

The first is from his classmate and roommate at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York,  Bill Seltz, which was read at the military’s necrological service for Gen. Cunanan last Friday by another West Pointer, Roger Luis, the best man at our wedding.

 In his piece, titled “A message from a West Point classmate,” Bill wrote: “Thelmo came into my life on July 3, 1957, when we met at West Point in New Cadet Company. It was there, in the Old South Area, that the Class of 1961 began its journey. From the beginning, Ty – that is how most of us knew him – got Beast Barracks awards, because he had already been a cadet for a year at PMA before entering West Point.

"We plebes grumbled at that time that it was so unfair: Thelmo was always well prepared; could assemble weapons in a flash, and dress in a minute. In fact, from that time and forever, he always reminded me about the superiority of PMA over its US counterpart.

“In September, 1957, we both joined Company A-2 and graduated four years later. This week, upon hearing about Thelmo’s passing, our A-2 mates and others have been in regular contact, reviewing memories from Cadet days, and contacts with Ty made over the years. A few days ago, the biography of Thelmo, written eloquently by his son, Buddy, (and published in the Manila Times---BOC) was placed at the West Point site.

“All of us knew pieces of his career, but the depth of Thelmo’s many contributions to his country was new to most of us. Among our A-2 graduates two made General, and Ty bore the higher rank. Flowers from Company A-2 and the Class of 1961 were sent there to honor Thelmo.

“While at West Point, Thelmo met my family, and later we met Belinda and her beautiful family. The family connection led to Thelmo and I becoming co-uncles (Bill’s sister, Elizabeth, later married Thelmo’s elder brother, Carlito Cunanan, a graduate of the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, who rose to the rank of admiral and became Philippine Navy Chief---BOC). From classmate to roommate to co-Uncle; that has been a blessed way to be linked to Thelmo.

50th Reunion at West Point

“This summer, the Class of 1961 will gather to celebrate our 50th Reunion . In anticipation, Thelmo submitted all necessary particulars for our class photo and history album, expecting – perhaps hoping – to come. In my last phone call with him in the Fall, he alluded to an illness, but he was, as in all our communications, upbeat and positive. While in the Cadet Chapel, at West Point , during our reunion, Thelmo’s name will be read aloud as he is publicly acknowledged by his classmates.

“The class motto is “Sixty One; Second to None”. Thelmo truly has fulfilled that motto, for he is first in the hearts of his classmates, his extended family and his country.

“Company A-2 and the West Point Class of 1961 are very proud of Thelmo “Ty” Cunanan.

Letter from widow of hero Evelio Javier

The second letter was recently emailed by Precious Lotilla-Javier, widow of our Philippine hero for democracy, former Gov. Evelio Javier, whose body was riddled with bullets by a political warlord's henchmen as he defended and protected Cory Aquino's ballots in his native Antique.  Precious recalled what Evelio, Sally Perez and I did in helping to make Cory Aquino win over Ferdinand Marcos. While Precious never met my husband because she was already living in the US at that time, her testimony now is very much a tribute to him---for he allowed and even encouraged his journalist-wife in those turbulent times to run around the country and help shore up with my typewriter and later my computer our democratic institutions, which he himself defended in various instances at grave risk to his own life.

Wrote Precious Javier:

“I will never forget how you were always with us during happy times, sad times, difficult times. Thank you for that article on Evelio’s last Christmas. You, Sally and Evelio were running around doing your political rounds to save the country from a dictator a few days before Christmas 1985. You observed how Evelio was depressed. He would write me about the same feelings that Christmas. Also, in his last letter that Christmas he said:  “I will love you forever.” I think at that time he knew he was going to go soon.

“I have your articles on Evelio’s 1984 campaign. You were with us in the plane that took his remains to Antique. And of course, the articles you wrote.

“I share your grief. I felt your pain as I read the bad publicity and villification of General Cunanan months ago. Having gone through the same experience, I prayed for both of you that you would be given grace, comfort and strength to bear such undeserved heartbreak, which came so sadly in the twilight of his long and distinguished career.

“Bel, my thoughts, my love and my prayers are with you and your family. I pray that God will grant your husband his much deserved rest in His bosom-- where there is no sickness, pain or heartbreak.  I pray that you and your family will be given comfort and strength to go through these sad and difficult times."

Email Bel Cunanan at
Do you have a comment?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Excited about JPII’s beatification on May 1

You’re darn right: I’m terribly excited about the late Pope John Paul II’s coming beatification on May 1 this year. Last Wednesday this on-line column was the first to intimate the green light accorded to JPII’s beatification by his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, but at that time it was just whispers emanating from the Vatican’s loggia and the date the Church authorities there were talking about was Oct. 16th, the anniversary of JPII’s ascension to St. Peter’s throne; but this time they have set it on May 1, which is doubly significant for the late much-loved Pontiff: it is the anniversary of his recognition of authority to the Divine Mercy congregation, which was founded by his Polish compatriot, Sr. Faustina Kowalska. The late Pope was said to be quite devotee to this nun whom he raised to the altar of the saints a few years ago.  

By the way, did you know that the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in the Philippines is found in Marilao, Bulacan?  My husband and I visited it not too long ago and it’s worth a visit indeed.

"Blessed and worthy"

Commentators have noted the speed with which JPII is being raised to the altar of the blessed. There is some truth to this, as no other candidate for sainthood has achieved this record in the Church. Come May 1, when he shall have been declared “blessed’ and his life is worthy of emulation by all Christians, it will only be six years since JPII's death in April 2005, after years of battling Parkinson's disease. But frankly it does not surprise me, for as the millions assembled in St. Peter’s Square that cold spring morning of his funeral witnessed, they repeatedly roared their demand to JPII’s successor, then Cardinal Ratzinger, who had worked very closely with the late Pope for more than 20 years and who officiated his funeral mass that morning. The cry of  “Santo Subito” kept reverberating throughout the cavernous square all through  the funeral ceremony, while thousands raised placards with the same message---- “Immediate Sainthood" for John Paul The Great.

In Rome for the Pope's burial

I remember that event only too well, for my husband and I were there with the five million others, as were my radio partner, Cecile Alvarez, and then Presidential Management Staff (PMS) Chief Cerge Remonde. My husband, then SSS Chair, was part of the official five-member Philippine delegation of President Macapagal Arroyo, that also included Gina de Venecia, then wife of Speaker Jose de Venecia, and then Philippine Ambassador to the Vatican Nida Vera.  They sat in the right side of the cavernous Square that was blocked off for the presidents, prime ministers, kings and queens and other dazzling dignitaries from around the world. My husband served as GMA’s aide-de-camp by force of circumstances, as not even her aide nor presidential liaison Marciano Paynor could enter that VIP section.

"Santo Subito"

Cecile, Cerge and I sat in the “balcony” overlooking that VIP section and we could see all those placards that said “Santo Subito.” We had a fabulous view of the mammoth throngs and at that solemn moment when JPII’s casket was being lifted and borne by the uniformed pall-bearers, we joined the lusty cry for JPII---“Santo Subito. Santo Subito.”  When the pall-bearers stopped in front of the main door of St. Peter’s Basilica and turned around, to give the world one last chance to see JPII’s coffin and say goodbye, the cry came like incessant waves of the ocean, seemingly unstoppable. And the myriad placards began waving like crazy.

By that time we Pinoys in the balcony began shouting, “John Paul II, we love you. John Paul II, we love you.”  And the whole balcony echoed and others sitting with us urged us to go on until we were all hoarse. GMA looked up and recognized the voices and smiled. Someone in the VIP asked her if those hoarse voices were Polish, and she said, “No, they’re Filipinos.” The little nun next to me was praying and smiled. Only later did I know that she was Mother Nirmahla, the successor to Mother Teresa of the Missionary Sisters of Charity.    

The unexplained miracle of the healing of a French nun of Parkinson’s disease, the same illness that had stricken the beloved Pontiff, only gave the raison d’etre to the Vatican to speed up the beatification, as the crowds demanded that beautiful spring morning in St. Peter’s Square.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

John Paul II's Beatification gets green light

Here’s some electrifying news---a big scoop for this online column's readers as well as for the legions upon legions of devotees of the late Pope John Paul II, unarguably one of the most popular popes and perhaps the longest-reigning (27 years) in the history of the Catholic Church.

A good family friend of ours, Fr. Jose Quilong-Quilong, S.J., of Cebu, who holds a high-ranking position in the Jesuit Curia in Rome, has just forwarded the news that the Vatican has given the “Green Light” to the beatification of JPII--- the step just before sainthood in the Church.

The reliable Vatican observer

Fr. Joe, who will soon leave Rome for re-assignment to Manila, where he was designated incoming rector of the Loyola House of Studies, the biggest Jesuit community in the Philippine Province, cited as the source of this exciting news one of global Catholicism's most prominent chroniclers, Rocco Palmo. In turn, Palmo based his report on a “reliable Vatican observer,” Andrea Tornielli of the Rome newspaper “Il Giornale.

I am extremely excited by this news of Pope John Paul II’s forthcoming beatification which surprises no one, inasmuch as my husband and I were with the small party led by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo which attended the funeral in Rome of this so loved Pope in April 2005. That funeral, attended by five million people and doubtless the largest such crowd in Vatican history, will remain one of my most cherished memories.

The Church Whisperer

But before I quote the full report of Rocco Palmo, allow me to establish his credentials. Like this on-line columnist, Palmo is a “blogger” who has held court as the "Church Whisperer" since 2004, when, in his words, his blog was launched with an audience of three. As successful blogs go, “Church Whisperer” has grown since by nothing but word of mouth, and in his words, it’s “kept alive throughout thanks solely to reader support.” 

A former US correspondent for the London-based international Catholic weekly The Tablet, Palmo's served as a church analyst for The New York Times, Associated Press, BBC, NBC, National Public Radio, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and a host of other print and broadcast outlets worldwide.  A native of Philadelphia, Rocco Palmo attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science.

Herewith is Rocco Palmo’s blog report, as taken from http://whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com, dated Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011, and titled “Beato Subito: JPII Beatification Gets Green Light.”

”In a development that promises to spark intense reactions across the ecclesial spectrum, Italian reports this morning declare that, nearly six years since his last hospitalization began, Pope John Paul II's path to beatification has cleared its final hurdle.

“Under the headline, "The cardinals OK the miracle, Wojtyla will be beatified," the most reliable of vaticanisti -- Andrea Tornielli of Il Giornale -- revealed that the cardinal-members of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints voted yesterday to affirm the finding of the dicastery's medical board that no natural explanation could be found for the healing of a French nun from Parkinson's disease, the same condition which ravaged the Polish Pope in the final act of his monumental 27-year reign.

“With the miracle approved, all that remains is for Pope Benedict to accept the conclusion -- something which would normally take place in a routine private audience with the prefect of the Congregation, Cardinal Angelo Amato, which could occur within days. Preparations would then begin in earnest for what will inevitably end up being the Vatican's biggest gathering since the late pontiff's 2005 funeral, which drew 5 million people to Rome; according to Tornielli, the formal beatification rites could take place in the fall, with 16 October -- the anniversary of John Paul's 1978 election (and, conveniently, a Sunday this year) -- cited as the most likely date (though the latest reports from Rome indicate that the date is a done deal already: May 1, 2011 is the big event---BOC).

Waiving the traditional five-year rule

“Thanks in part to the waiving of the traditional "five-year rule" to open the cause on the part of the then newly-elected Benedict XVI, the process bringing the church's greatest saintmaker in history to the penultimate step to sainthood in his own right has reached the milestone with a speed matched by but one other figure: Mother Teresa of Calcutta -- of course, celebrated in life as a saint -- who was raised to the altars by John Paul six years after her 1997 death, but whose required miracle for canonization remains pending.

"As other high-profile processes go, it took the cause of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina -- a figure whose devotion among Italians has been measured as surpassing that of Jesus Himself -- 32 years to reach his 2000 beatification; the founder of Opus Dei, now St Jose Maria Escriva, was beatified 17 years after his 1997 death. In earlier times, two exceedingly-popular, eventually-canonized figures of the first half of the 20th century, the Italian virgin-martyr Maria Goretti and the French Carmelite mystic Therese of Lisieux (the beloved "Little Flower") were respectively beatified 45 and 27 years after they died.

Wojtyla Miracle

“All that said, indications over the last month that the medical examination of the Wojtyla miracle had cleared the scrutiny of the sainthood office -- a probe that comes complete with the traditional "Devil's Advocate" -- have, in some quarters, seen a renewed focus on controversial aspects of John Paul's pontificate.

“Albeit dwarfed by his enduring worldwide cult, exponents of a protest have focused on what the late Pope knew about matters ranging from the Vatican Bank's handling of the l1982 Banco Ambrosiano scandal to the sexual abuse crisis that erupted over the course of his three decades as the 264th Roman pontiff. In particular, the latter thread has drawn an outcry in light of John Paul's prominent favor for the late founder of the Legionaries of Christ Mexican Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, a serial abuser who was removed from ministry after an investigation opened by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the months before John Paul's death. Under Benedict XVI, Maciel's extensive history of sexual and financial misconduct -- which included his fathering of at least one child and, in the Holy See's posthumous judgment "at times constitute[d] real crimes" -- saw the Legion placed under an Apostolic Visitation and then given a papally-appointed overseer with broad powers, who recently ordered all traces of the disgraced founder to be purged from the community's public life.
Karol Wojtyla's 'odor of sanctity'

"While the miracle phase completes the beatification process, any overpowering concerns about John Paul's biography would have seen the cause halted at the point of the positio -- the extensive study of a candidate's life conducted by the postulator. B16's declaration of his predecessor's heroic virtue in December 2009 (alongside that of Pope Pius XII) signaled the current pontiff's acceptance of the report's conclusion that Karol Wojtyla had emitted the "odor of sanctity" in life, laying any questions to rest and allowing the process to continue on to the investigation of the reported cure.

When will JPII's feast be?

“One question that does remain open is the matter of selecting a feast day for the reported Blessed-in-waiting. As the 2 April anniversary of John Paul's death often falls within Holy Week or the Octave of Easter -- and, as such, would see the feast frequently wiped off the calendar -- it's more than likely that a different date would at least be considered, much as Blessed John XXIII is commemorated on 11 October (the opening-date of Vatican II) and Blessed John Henry Newman is now celebrated two days earlier, on the anniversary of his 1845 reception into the Catholic fold.

“Even for a Pope, however, it's important to recall that -- at least, according to the classic ecclesial understanding of things -- beatification designates a figure for veneration solely in their local church, a devotion which is only supposed to extend to the wider communion on the blessed's elevation to sainthood.

“Then again, having broken the rules as a matter of habit in life, perhaps John Paul's defying convention anew might just be the most fitting thing of all.”

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mar Roxas won't be suitable as Executive Secretary

 Media is rife with speculation that losing vice-presidential candidate and former senator Mar Roxas would soon be appointed Executive Secretary in place of Paquito Ochoa. It has been confirmed by the President in an ambush interview recently that Roxas will be his “chief troubleshooter” in an administration that’s getting more memorable for its fiascos than anything else; lately, however, a major newspaper bannered that Mar would be the ES.

More suitable as Trade Secretary

I’ve been asked about this rumor a number of times, to which I reply that Mar would be better suited in his old job in the Macapagal Arroyo administration as Trade Secretary than as ES. While the brainy Mar would be an infinite improvement over the current bumbling Palace officials, I reasoned that the job of ES entails absorbing the blows for the President---a shock absorber no less--- and dealing with all manner of politicians incessantly out to bag concessions from the Palace. Mar wouldn’t be suitable in those roles because of perceptions about his elistist background that would never go away, no matter how he tried.

A good job

On the other hand, Mar did very well as Trade Secretary, nursing the budding IT and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry, so that it has now come to full bloom. But if he retains national ambitions, Mar could go after the Agriculture portfolio which is grassroots-based.

I recall that Monching Mitra told me long ago that he wanted to remain as DA Secretary in the Cory administration, as he knew what that job could do for his presidential ambition. But President Cory needed an old political pro to run the House of Representatives, and persuaded him to run in Palawan instead, with the assurance that he’ll get the Speakership. Mitra was a darned good Speaker, with the House passing a number of landmark legislations; but alas, fortune didn’t smile at him, but at an old soldier from West Point in the 1992 elections.

Wedding of the season

The wedding of the season has to be the union of Joey de Venecia III, son of former Speaker Jose de Venecia, and lady achiever Karen Viaplana Batungbacal, daughter of famed ophthalmologist Dr. Ramon Batungbacal at the NBC Tent in Fort Bonifacio Global last Friday evening. Joey III is remembered as the ZTE whistle-blower who came within a hair’s breath of the magic 12 in the recent senatorial elections. Few, however, know that Karen is the CEO of JP Morgan Chase in the Philippines. As her new father-in-law proudly pointed out at the reception, Joey failed to make it to the Senate, but in politics, it’s always addition and Karen has under her employ 12,000 people!

A star-studded wedding

The afternoon wedding ceremony held in the Tent gardens was studded with political friends of the groom’s father, including prominent leaders from overseas who served as the inter-faith sponsors, among them a Muslim, a Buddhist, and several Christians. The dinner inside the Tent drew politicians from various political hues and administrations, including two ex-Presidents, Joseph Estrada and Fidel Ramos, and VP Jejomar Binay, who chairs the PDP-Laban party of which Joey III is the Secretary-General.

It was totally in character with JDV that after the wedding ceremony he called the small political group that included Joey III, to remind them that he was calling a meeting of local and visiting VIPs after the reception. Joey protested, “Dad, it’s my wedding night.” Well, okay, retorted JDV, tomorrow morning then.

A tricycle party no more

At the reception I chatted briefly with former Sen. Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr. who once headed the PDP-Laban, and Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, the current party president, and they confirmed what I had written here earlier---that the PDP-Laban is a tricycle party no more. Nene said his old party is growing by leaps and bounds under Binay’s chairmanship, stressing that the renewed interest among among the politicians is due to the fact that Binay is one heart-beat away and everyone is sure he will be a candidate in the next presidential elections. And don’t forget, said Nene, his eyes twinkling, that Jojo is “masang-masa” beginning with his color.

The Pimentels also stressed that P-Noy and Binay are getting along fine, and in fact, this columnist confirmed that “binitbit ni P-Noy si Binay” to the turnover ceremonies for new Navy Chief Alexander Pama.

As I said earlier, the President realizes that it’s better to have VP Binay as his friend and ally rather than as a protagonist.

Just one venue

By the way, it was such a good idea for the newly-wed De Venecia couple to have both the inter-faith wedding ceremony and the dinner in the same venue, as the guests didn’t have to cross town anymore just to attend one or the other function. That night the couple’s thoughtfulness averted what could have been terrible traffic in Makati, and the guests were so relaxed.

Upsetting the Iglesia ni Kristo

The grapevine is rife with talk about how President Noynoy ran into trouble with the powerful Iglesia ni Kristo some time back. It seems that the INK was quite upset that many of its members found themselves jobless with the mass lay-offs of GMA appointees. The new INK Supremo sent his No. 2 man to the Palace to find out how this could be remedied and a top Palace official telephoned P-Noy who was at that time in his car, to inform him about the presence of the No. 2 INK official and consult him on what to do.

But P-Noy reportedly told him he had to handle the matter himself, as he was busy with some other pressing matter. The story goes that the ranking INK official was quite displeased with the inattention; but the Supremo was even more furious and telegraphed his feelings to the Palace, which is now making the necessary amends. One of the recent INK appointees is former Secretary of Justice Artemio Tuquero in the Erap administration, who was named to the Judicial and Bar Council.

Did-you-know Department:

Former Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez of the Arroyo administration has recovered from his health problems and is busy putting together a book on his life and career. This promises to be most interesting as it will cover virtually the entire post-war period when Gonzalez, one of the legal luminaries of his time, began as a human rights lawyer and later, in the early days of the formation of the opposition to Marcos, became chief counsel of the UNIDO, headed by Salvador Laurel.

Gonzalez also ran under Laban, together with the likes of opposition stalwarts Ninoy Aquino and Ramon Mitra, in that memorable election of 1978, where the entire slate was wiped out by the KBL machinery, Incarcerated in Fort Bonifacio later, he was appointed Tanodbayan by Cory, and then ran for representative from Iloilo for several terms. As presiding officer at the House he was instrumental to a large extent in saving Chief Justice Hilario Davide from impeachment by the House.

In his forthcoming book Gonzalez promises to reveal many details hitherto unknown about burning issues through the years and prominent personalities.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

For better or for worse, an intact CCT

A Happy New Year to all my readers who have faithfully followed my own version of the “Long March” from the old newspaper which I helped the iconic Eggie Apostol found in early December 1985, to this current on-line column that I run several times weekly.  May this Year of the Metal Rabbit bring us all many choice blessings.  

Staying home for New Year's Eve

Last New Year’s Eve was one of the rare times in my 45 years of married life that my husband and I stayed home, instead of joining his side of the family up to midnight and rushing over to my side until the wee hours of New Year morning. Our children sauntered out on thei rown, but the two of us decided to stay in what we thought was the “safest” part of our house, our book-lined library, with our old dog Bear. Due to my husband’s ailing condition, we prepared for the horrible din and smoke of New Year’s Eve by sealing the door and windows of that room with tape. 

But was I imagining it or was it real?  There was considerably less of the firecrackers and the smoke, compared to past years.  At about 11:30 pm. Bear began to get awfully frightened, as in past years, and climbed on to my husband’s sofa-bed, but mercifully it didn’t have to stay frightened long enough, for soon the din and smoke began to thin out.

Less fireworks than last year?

Was it the fear of aggravating the horrible climate conditions around the world that helped frighten people into not investing in too much paputok?  Many of us saw the terrible photos of people in Manhattan dragging their luggage across thick snows on pavements, or working their way through blinding blizzards in the US East Coast and in Europe, where airports had to close down.  Or did the government’s campaign against the paputok work, or was it that people didn’t want to spend on things that pollute the environment?  Or was it all of the above? 

To be sure, many still got burned or lost some fingers, but thank God there was so much less of those and the noise and pollution this time. And mercifully, we didn’t hear any shots from fired pistols in the camp.

Biggest budget in history

Last Dec. 27 P-Noy signed RA 1014, the General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2011 amounting to P1.645 trillion. It was the biggest budget so far in our history (P20 billion more than last year’s), and the first to be signed within the year it was filed in many years---thus doing away with a reenacted budget.  This is also the first time in many years that the budget was left virtually intact as the President submitted it to Congress, despite the valiant effort of the small minority in the House, led by Representatives Edcel Lagman and Milagros Magsaysay,  to install some protective mechanism for  the gargantuan conditional cash transfer (CCT), and the equally valiant objections by Senators Joker Arroyo and Edgardo Angara to this item and some vetoed provisions.  
Mention must be made too of Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s efforts to derail the CCT express train by questioning the sanity of doubling the CCT now---when the more sensible thing to do was to first build more classrooms for the pupils from the beneficiary families, and strengthen the maternal care facilities for the beneficiary mothers.  

An awesome responsibility

But the GAA was passed nearly intact and in record time, showing P-Noy’s solid control of Congress;  but it also establishes the fact that henceforth, he will be responsible for how the country will operate under this budget---no one else to blame.
It’s an awesome responsibility and at this point we can only hope and pray for the best for our country.

Despite its speedy passage, there continues to be a lot of apprehensions expressed not just by ordinary citizens but also by members of Congress themselves, principally on the P21.9 billion conditional cash transfer (CCT) that will be entrusted into the hands of Secretary Dinky Soliman  for better or for worse.  This gargantuan fund was put together by taking big amounts of foreign funds intended originally for various line departments to move and develop especially the countryside. Hospitals and state colleges suffered 50 percent cuts in their budget, and news reports said that even the MMDA’s budget was slashed in half---while Dinky got her P21.9 billion intact.  Sobra ang lakas.  

Vast allocation of doleouts

 What frightens the opposition is the vast scope of the CCT’s allocation of P17 billion in actual dole-outs of P1,500 per registered family beginning this month---17 regions of the country, 80 provinces, 672 municipalities and 61 key cities---with so little preparation to put it into operation.  The list of beneficiaries is only now being expanded, targeting some 2.5 million families from GMA’s original one million beneficiaries. 

According to Soliman, every quarter some 300,000 new indigent families will be added, but the problem is that the DSWD is only now hiring the new staff of social workers who will have to be trained first, in order for them to process the new beneficiaries. The target to finish the hiring of new staff is this April or May.

So much money lying around

The valid apprehension is that there will be so much money lying around from the CCT, with very few checks and balances, as Lagman et al wanted to impose. Consider the following, to cite a few examples:  P566.36 million allocated to produce “advocacy materials, booklets for household beneficiaries, and manuals related to the program;” P21707 million as “capital outlay,” P1.62 billion for the training and salaries of the 1,891 personnel, and P715 million for “allowances.” 

If the beneficiaries are the poorest of the poor, why would they need such a huge outlay for booklets and manuals?  Then too, P172 million is set aside for the services of the Land Bank that would include the cost of the ATM cards to be distributed to the beneficiaries. But the real poorest of the poor are in the coastal areas, or in the coconut regions, where there are no ATMs. 

Moreover, because the DSWD will have to work with the local officials and bureaucracy to hurry up the list of additional beneficiaries, some of the P17 billion dole-out  could end up as campaign funds of local officials in the 2013 mid-term elections, or to recruit their followers and voters, not necessarily the poorest of the poor.  
Possible failures of CCT

The legislators have their own apprehensions. For instance, Sen. Edgardo Angara cited some valid concerns about the possible failures of the CCT, such as the social unrest and instability that could ensue if it’s not properly handled.  What the veteran senator, who has chaired the Senate finance committee a number of times in his long career, is saying is that there is just too much expectation about the CCT but too little preparation.  
Then too, he noted that some developed countries in Europe are now facing big debts and huge deficits because of these “entitlements” and “give-aways”  which the government “cannot take back.”  In the meantime, Angara stressed, these dole-outs are far bigger than the “productivity-enahncing items” that should continue to stimulate and sustain growth.  

Waiting for the development blueprint

To Angara the potential disaster in the CCT program could only be addressed if the government’s call for more “public-private partnerships” would prosper. But the private investors won’t be so dumb as to come in blindly. They are waiting for the blueprint for development from Ledac and the Cabinet, both of which are still not functioning into the sixth month of P-Noy’s rule.  The Cabinet meets only in clusters and occasionally, while the Ledac has not met at all. 

The time for practice government is over. It’s to get real now. 

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