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, February 28, 2011

Jojo Binay & Mar Roxas--- rivals again

Last Sunday, Feb. 20, at the elegant wedding in the Tagaytay Highlands chapel of  lawyer Katrina San Jose to lawyer-to-be Melquiades Marcus Valdez, son of UE Law Dean Amado Valdez and wife Nelita Natividad valdez, Vice President Jejomar Binay, one of the principal sponsors, had just arrived from his mercy-mission to Beijing and was understandably flushed with victory.  He had just won a reprieve from the impending death sentence by lethal injection of three Filipinos who had languished in Chinese jails for acting as “drug mules.”  While waiting for the wedding ceremony officiated by Fr. Joaquin Bernas to begin, I grabbed a seat beside Binay and he told me that China’s stay of the Pinoy's execution was “historical” and “unprecedented.” 

Binay clearly was walking on cloud nine that foggy afternoon, and more so after the other 72 Filipinos accused of the same crime in China were also granted a two-year reprieve in death row.
                                  Clutched from death’s jaws

Binay had travelled to China carrying the third of three letters that President Aquino had written to the Chinese authorities seeking clemency for the three condemned Filipinos. It was widely bruited about in the local media that the Binay mission would aim to seek to reduce the Chinese death sentence to commutation, or life sentence. But obviously there couldn't be much expectation about this, and Binay is himself very cautious about raising hopes on the subject. But from the way he sounded in our impromptu interview he felt it was victory enough to be able to stay the execution.

To the Filipino people, it mattered little whether it was reprieve or commutation; what mattered was that at the moment their compatriots were clutched from death’s jaws.  

                                 Factors that helped Binay

 Binay said he saw three top-ranking Chinese officials, most notably the President of the Supreme People’s Court, the equivalent of our Chief Justice. The VP was careful to stress that no concession was given by the Chinese beyond the stay of execution, but for him it was sweet victory enough, considering, he stressed, that the Chinese didn’t heed a similar appeal of the British Prime Minister himself two years back or the Japanese government in recent months---their nationals were executed.  
So, what helped your mission, aside from your personal charm, I quipped, drawing a smile from VP Binay (I had known him from our street-marching days following the assassination of Ninoy Aquino).  Many reasons, he said. One was the traditional friendship between our two peoples that goes back a few thousand years. Another is that China,very conscious of the power play in the region, saw the reprieve as a way to draw the Philippines closer to itself and away from its key rival in the region, the US.  Some pundits have remarked that it was also a way for China to soften up after it came pounding on our heads for the botched Luneta rescue of a busload of Chinese tourists from Hongkong, that resulted in the death of many of them.

                                      That Plus Factor

I’d put in the extra factor of Binay’s personality itself. His dark plebian looks and humble beginnings on the wrong side of the Pasay tracks belie an astute mind and puts anyone talking with him off guard and at ease. There are also reports that in the course of his long talk with top Chinese politburo members, the VP hinted about his flirtations with leftist militancy in his early youth days. From then on the Chinese politburo guys warmed up to him.

                                       Boosting Binay’s stock

Whatever moved the Chinese to stay the execution and whether that reprieve would be reduced to life sentence no one can say for sure;  but one thing sure is that it boosted the stock of the VP as he climbs into the magic ring with his sights fixed toward capturing Malacanang. An indication of P-Noy’s increased confidence in his VP is the fact that this week Binay was again off to the troubled Arab countries to assess the plight of our OFWs there.

 By contrast, the mercy mission of Noynoy Aquino’s defeated running mate in the last elections, Mar Roxas, is being deemed as a dismal failure, through no fault of his, but because the situation he walked into was already booby-trapped from the beginningIt was a PR disaster waiting to happen.  

                                  Mar Roxas’ Tough Mission to Taipei   
At about the same time that VP Binay was being sent to China to beg for mercy for three Filipino drug mules, Mar Roxas was dispatched to Taipei to assuage the Taiwanese authorities’ anger over the decision of the Philippine government to extradite 14 Taiwanese nationals accused of credit-card scams---not to Taipei but to Beijing.  Why Mar was chosen for this mission remains unclear. Some said he asked for this touchy assignment, after his rival Binay had scored a victory in Beijing (the old political rivalry still?).  Others say that P-Noy wanted to prepare Mar for his big role in his government come this May, when he will be appointed officially as his “troubleshooter.”

 At any rate, Mar went to Taipei as P-Noy’s “troubleshooter sans official status,” and wags say this is where the trouble was rooted; our relations with Taipei are already “unofficial,” considering our One-China policy, yet we maintain an official office there, the MECO, and about 80,000 Filipinos are working in Taiwan. Now we send an “unofficial official” to appease Taiwan's ruffled feelings.  As social commentator Patricia Ilagan put it in her email: “A kolorum rep was sent to a kolorum state."

              Taiwanese insulted by nationals’ deportation to China

In Taipei, as Mar himself later was to describe his encounter, the Taiwanese authorities, led by President Ma, were “very angry” over the deportation of the 14 Taiwanese nationals to Beijing. They considered the RP act an insult to them, even though this is obviously only for political consumption of the world:  as everyone knows, Taiwanese capital and investments flows to Beijing in massive quantities and their citizens fly in and out of China everyday . 

Philippine justice authorites obviously convinced P-Noy that the Taiwanese nationals ought to be deported to China under what is being touted by RP authorities as a “cross-strait agreement between China and Taiwan” governing criminal and judicial proceedings between those two states. Our DOJ was able to convince P-Noy that since the credit card scam involving the 14 Taiwanese, plus 10 Chinese nationals, was committed in China, it was right and correct that our immigration authorities deport the Taiwanese, who had legal passports, to China.

Perhaps there is ground for this act under international laws, but in geopolitical reality the Taiwanese officials would predictably kick over the deportation of their nationals to China. Napahiya sila, given the fierce political rivalry between the giant continent and its rich former province across the straits.

                     Taiwanese President seethes with anger

Along comes the pedigreed Wharton-educated technocrat Mar Roxas into this sticky assignment and he promptly reaps the whirlwind. Taiwanese President Ma gave him the withering look and cold shoulder from beginning to end in all of eight or so hours.  President Ma is a graduate of the New York University and Harvard University, and speaks perfect English all the time, to both locals and foreigners. But to show his displeasure to Roxas, reports said President Ma chose to address him entirely in Chinese, with an interpreter, forcing Roxas to respond through an interpreter too---thus tying his hands and his tongue.

Now the Taiwanese government threatens to revoke the approval of the contract of some 3,000 Filipino workers monthly allowed into Taiwan. This could impact greatly on our economy.

                         P-Noy Government bungling victimizes Mar

 The whole meeting between Ma and Mar was caught on Taiwanese television, but a friend of mine who saw portions of it said Ma’s looks could kill.  Mar behaved like the pedigreed intellectual that he is, but that’s all he could do. Moreover, through the marathon encounter he was served only biscuits and tea, and reports said later he and his companions chose to eat in a roadside eatery afterwards.
Talagang binastos si Mar, which he didn’t deserve at all. In fact, wise guys are saying that perhaps VP Binay, who grew up in the seamy side of Pasay and  Makati, should have been sent to Taipei where he could have traded blow for blow with the angry Taiwanese official.  Wharton economist Mar has had too little exposure to the rough and tumble of negotiations.

                        Warning to Pinoys: don’t act as drug mules

I ended up my impromptu interview of Binay with a suggestion that he send a strong message to our people not to allow themselves to be used as drug mules anywhere. In Guangzhou (formerly Canton), where my late husband had sought treatment for his metastasized prostate cancer for several months, our consular officials there told me that there are over a hundred Filipinos in jail there, many of them accused of drug trafficking.  This activity gets people into deep trouble, and next time perhaps Binay won’t be lucky again to bail them out of death’s jaws.  

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Those four longest days into night of Feb. 22-25, 1986

The memory of those four days in Edsa burns in my mind as vividly today as it did 25 years ago.
Since the assasination of Ninoy Aquino in August of 1983, I had been a political reporter for the black and white Mr. & Ms. Magazine that the intrepid Eugenia Duran Apostol, who later rightly won the coveted Magsaysay Award for courageous journalism, quickly converted from a rather innocuous women’s magazine filled with parenting, advice on human sexuality and successful marriage, and kitchen recipes, into the vanguard of the Philippine “mosquito press,” together with the "We Forum" of Joe Burgos. 
In December 1985, when Ferdinand Marcos announced a snap election, Eggie spun off the magazine into first a weekly, then a daily that became the Philippine Daily Inquirer. I was a political reporter for the Inquirer, covering the political opposition, when the Edsa  Revolution broke out on Feb. 22, 1986. 
Events-choked February 1986

That week in February 1986 had been choked with events. On Feb. 11, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, Western Visayas opposition leader and former Antique Gov. Evelio Javier was brutally murdered in the plaza of San Jose, Antique, by henchmen of his political opponent,  while guarding the ballots of Corazon Aquino in the snap election the week earlier. Clasped in his hand was a blood-soaked rosary.  
Evelio’s remains were flown to Manila and met by huge throngs, and at his wake at the Baclaran Church, so many ambassadors from European nations showed up in defiance of Marcos.  On the way to the Ateneo University where his remains would lie in state for one day, crowds stood weeping in the streets---a mini-reprise of Ninoy’s funeral 2 ½ years ago.
Earlier the canvassing of snap votes at the Batasan Pambansa was predictably skewered by Marcos leaders and opposition candidate Cory Aquino took to the streets, to launch the first of an intended series of boycott rallies against products of Marcos cronies at the Luneta. That Luneta rally remains unmatched in crowd attendance until now.
Through the succeeding days rumors swept the city of impending arrests of opposition political leaders, media, militant church and business leaders and the left. The term “Oplan Mad Dog” was whispered about, said to be launched by Marcos’ AFPChief, Fabian Ver---just like in the days before martial law was declared in 1972.  Rumors said the arrested personalities would all be dumped in Carballo Island off Corregidor.  
Cory asked Eggie to send me to Cebu

My particular narrative about Edsa 1 properly begins on the evening of Monday, Feb. 17, 1986 at the Loyola House of Studies chapel. It was the last day of the wake and Evelio was to be flown for burial in his beloved Antique the next morning.
That evening Cory came to the Loyola wake. Finding Eggie Apostol and myself there, she told Eggie that she should send me to Cebu City on Saturday, Feb. 22 as she would be bringing the boycott rally there. Eggie quickly agreed.
At 5 am. of Tuesday, Feb. 18, I was aboard a tiny single-engine plane bound for Antique, for Evelio’s funeral, piloted by the late famed Irish-American  humanities professor Fr. James Donelan, S.J., with Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, S.J., later to be the Ateneo University President, beside him;  I sat behind the two prominent Jesuits. Our plane flew very low, hugging the coastline of little islands along the way.  I was dreadfully afraid inside the plane, but my fear was subsumed totally to my desire to bid farewell to my dear friend Evelio.
Fr. Donelan, bless his Irish humor, sensed my great anxiety and he joked that should the plane go down, either he or Fr. Nebres should be able to give me a quick absolution.  It was small comfort on the return to Manila,  as dark was fast creeping at the horizon’s edge. 
Besides, what was initially just a nagging fear of tiny planes became a neurosis, after then opposition leader John Osmena, taxiing after us into the dirt-patch passing off as a  runway in San Jose’s little airport clearing, said I had to be crazy to ride Fr. Donelan's little “tutubi.”    (Osmena brought a twin-engine plane from Cebu).  
AP's Mike Suarez breaks news re mutiny in Aguinaldo
Saturday Feb. 22 seemed like another typical opposition day I would cover for Mr. & Ms. Arriving in Cebu early that afternoon I checked into Magellan Hotel near Fuente Osmena, the rally site. Then the phone rang and Mike Suarez of Associated Press, whom I had ran into at the lobby, said, “Bel, have you heard? Enrile and Ramos just broke away from Marcos and are holed up at Camp Aguinaldo.” They decided to break away after some of Enrile’s boys were arrested earlier that day.
My heart pounded as I wondered where my husband, who had served at the Defense Department under Enrile for more than a decade by then, was. I tried to reach him by phone at his Camp Aguinaldo office, but couldn’t.  
After a quick shower I ran to Fuente Osmena pondering how I could share this very sensitive information with Cory and the other leaders.  A huge crowd had already blocked the streets all around and the stage filled up fast. Cory and her running mate, Doy Laurel, arrived with the local big guns and took their seats at the foot of the stage.
When the rally began, I realized from the boycott speeches  that no one had any idea what was going on in Manila. I agonized about  how best to approach Cory amid the rally.  
Operation Mad Dog
I caught a glimpse of John Osmena in the back of the stage and informed him about the news from Manila. Quick as ever, he promptly tied it to the rumor of arrests and Carballo Island. “Eton na ang ‘Operation Mad Dog, eto na” he kept saying, adding, “Sabihin mo na ki Cory.”  But before I could do so, the rally ended and she was hustled off stage.
I verified that Cory would be staying at the residence of Norberto Quisumbing of Norkis, and after the rally I grabbed a cab and headed there.  I found her in the living room all by herself, looking relaxed and she smiled at me.  
But before I could report on the Manila happening, she queried me about  how the wedding reception for Judy Roxas’ daughter, Ria, held a few days earlier at the gardens of Bahay na Puti in Cubao, had gone. Cory was ninang at the wedding, but chose not to go to the reception.
I recounted how Ms. Gretchen Oppen Cojuangco, wife of Eduardo Cojuangco, had asked for a Coke at the reception, but since the Roxas household was on boycott of Marcos cronies’ products, in support of Cory’s boycott crusade, there was no Coke. Ms. Cojuangco asked an aide to buy a big bottle from the corner store and defiantly put it on top of the table.
                                         Cory more fascinated about Coke story
Since Cory got quite engrossed with that Coke story, I forgot all about the Manila happening--- until Assemblyman Ramon Mitra walked in. I rushed to him and related what was happening in Manila and his first query was, did you tell Cory. I said, not yet, and he barked, “Ano pa ang hiniintay mo.”  I told her about the breakaway in Manila, and she listened, saying, “A ganoon.” But the full import apparently did not sink in yet, as she asked me to return to the Coke episode and Gretchen. To her it was far more fascinating than “Mad Dog.”
Soon the other opposition leaders arrived and went into a caucus with Cory in the terrace. They included Cebu Assemblymen Antonio Cuenco and Raul del Mar, Cagayan de Oro Assemblyman Homobono Adaza, who had earlier fought the canvassing at the Batasan, Peping Cojuangco, Aquilino Pimentel and John Osmena.   At about 6 pm. Cory called up Enrile and she assured him and his group of her prayers.

                                      Opposition's assessment tentative that night
If the import of the news from Manila didn’t sink into Cory’s mind right away, the other leaders were equally tentative in their assessment at that stage. Nobody could tell how the Enrile-Ramos mutiny would play out.  Besides, most of them probably had zero trust in the enforcers of martial law. Cory’s Ninoy had been incarcerated by the military for over seven years, while Mitra, Pimentel, Adaza and others had their own bouts in prison. 
At that time opposition leaders in Davao like Chito Ayala and Lito Lorenzana were seriously studying the idea of setting up a revolutionary government there. That night in Cebu Mitra raised the possibility of the opposition’s staking it out with the Davaoenos.
I must confess that as a journalist with just over 2 ½ years of covering the opposition’s formation, I was intrigued---and frightened--- by the prospect of a revolutionary government. It sounded romantic, but it could also spell war and violence.
Just like Sound of Music
As the night wore on there was need for more news about developments in Manila. I volunteered to go with Cebu educator Manny Go and Bono Adaza to the former’s residence, so we could link up with Aguinaldo.  That meant crossing Camp Lapu-Lapu, a prospect which got Adaza quite nervous about not making it back to the Quisumbing house. I suggested that he lie on the floor of the car as we crossed the camp.
From the Inquirer newsroom, I picked up news about tens of thousands of people massing in Edsa, but in that age of landlines and no cell phones as yet, Camp Aquinaldo was not accessible, or, I thought,  too busy seeking to defend itself.  
The immediate concern of the opposition leaders in Cebu that night was to secure Cory from Gen. Fabian Ver’s soldiers, in case they’d come for her. It was whispered around that a US warship had anchored in the bay, ready to spirit her out if trouble came. But ultimately It was decided that the safest place in the city to hide her was the Carmelite Convent downtown.  I was thrilled: it was just like in "Sound of Music."
Cory leaves for convent under cover of darkness
Under cover of darkness at about ten o’clock, Cory rode out in a car with daughter Ballsy, her brother Peping, and Cuenco and his wife Nancy, to a warm welcome from the nuns.
Unknown to the Cebu nuns, Cardinal Sin had ordered their Manila sisters in the Gilmore monastery to pray before the exposed Blessed Sacrament all night on their knees, with their arms outstretched. Don’t get up until I tell you to stop, Sin barked at them.  To this day the aging nuns remember that episode so vividly.
To throw off any possibility of Ver’s soldiers trailing Cory’s group, the mestizo Miguel Perez Rubio (whom some journalists mistook for an American CIA agent), educator Manny Go and others, including myself, sat around the open terrace taking in wine and peanuts as though we were in a party and not in a swirling revolution! We enjoyed that part---playing decoy while getting drunk.
It was also decided that the major opposition leaders be secured, so that if Ver’s soldiers came hunting, they wouldn’t all be bagged together. It fell on John Osmena, as he’s  local (and later Cory's OIC appointee as Cebu City Mayor), to hide them one by one in different private homes, while we media trooped back to Magellan Hotel, where we gathered in the lobby to await developments. The sense of history hang pungently in the air.

                                         Foreign Media complain about no story
After some time, however, the hordes of foreign media began to complain that they had no stories, and no leaders to talk to.  You have to realize it’s morning where we come from, they argued irritably.
Thus, in the middle of the night I called up Osmena and suggested that he fetch Mitra and Pimentel from wherever he had hidden them, so they could brief the media. But perhaps the two leaders were already too tired or scared of giving Cory's whereabouts away, for they could only muster one lousy paragraph that said nothing much. Monching and Nene were not at their journalistic best that sleepless night.
For the media in Magellan it was a long night of vigil, full of tension and anxiety, but also a lot of humor and camaraderie. But all of us were fully aware that history was unfolding and it was a great time to be eyewitnesses to it.   

                                        Cory flies back to Manila amid great tension
The next morning, Sunday, Feb. 23,  Cory, surrounded by the opposition leaders, held a brief press conference at Magellan, reiterating her support for the embattled group of Enrile and AFP Acting Chief Fidel Ramos in Camp Crame and urging the people to protect them.  
Then she boarded a small Ayala two-engine plane for Manila and as it disappeared into the clouds, there was a flurry of anxious questions on everyone’s mind and unspoken prayers in our hearts. Would her tiny plane be shot down in the skies by Marcos’ planes? Would Cory be able to land at the airport? Would she be arrested upon arrival?
Good luck, Cory, God bless you, was the prayer that sprang from my heart as I watched her plane engulfed by clouds.  I boarded a PAL plane later that day, together with Tony Cuenco, Bono Adaza and other opposition leaders. The following day, Feb. 24, at 4 pm. Cory, who had gone straight to her sister’s house in Wack Wack from the airport the day before, showed up at Edsa, near the POEA office, to manifest support for the mutineers at Crame.  Thus, it was not true, as the RamBoys were to assert falsely for years and years, that Cory was never at EDSA.  I was eyewitness to her presence there.
By next morning, Feb. 25, she was sworn in as President at Club Filipino, surrounded by her family and opposition leaders and the media.
Interestingly, two hours earlier, Ferdinand Marcos was also being sworn in as “reelectionist” President, only to be spirited to Hawaii by a US plane later that day. Thus, Philippine history turned a new chapter with the beginning of the reign of  the first EDSA President

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Jun Palafox: let’s prepare for possible double crisis from Middle East

Architect Felino “Jun” Palafox, who was recently inaugurated as the new president of the prestigious professional organization, “Managment Association of the Philippines,” shared with this blog the apprehension of MAP members such as Mayo Lopez of Asian Institute of Management, about the fast-deteriorating political situation in the Middle East and North Africa.  Palafox and MAP members rightly feel that our government as well as the private sector should address asap potentially gargantuan problems such as the need to ensure our oil supply mainly from the Middle East, as well as the evacuation of displaced Filipino workers there and their re-entry into the labor force here.

Palafox stressed that we should prepare for “unwanted scenarios” arising from the current Middle East and North African turmoil, adding that the "worst-case scenario" in these times could be worse for us than the 1973 oil crisis in the Middle East, as this time it could affect both our oil supply and the Filipino labor supply in that region.  He called for “strategy for action, emergency, preparedness and an urgently-needed crisis management plan.”

Worst-case scenario planning needed

Jun Palafox is absolutely right: we should be prepared for the looming worst-case scenario in the Arab world.  President Noynoy should summon asap the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) and the National Security Council so that our top leaders can seek ways  to put us ten steps ahead of what could happen, as the Arab peoples' hunger for democratic reforms clashes with traditional power institutions in the current troubled regions of the world. 
 But why isn’t P-Noy convening these agencies?  Last November the Palace announced that the Ledac would be convened anytime, but then this was postponed to January;  February is almost over and yet no Ledac meeting. When will Ledac meet? When will P-Noy call the National Security Council?

Pressure to resign

There’s tremendous pressure on Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez to resign in order to save the prosecution system from further deterioration and the nation from further being rent apart by acrimonious exchanges. But I doubt if she would resign; I see her instead as digging in and fighting her way through an impeachment like the toughie that she is. 
From statements she issued at the Senate hearings and to media, she seems quite convinced that the plea bargain her prosecutors struck with Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia was the best they could get for the government, given the sloppy and inadequate work that she has accused her predecessor, Simeon Marcelo, of having laid down in earlier years on the Garcia plunder case.

When Gutierrez confronted Marcelo with this accusation of sloppy work, his reply was that he felt that the letter Clarita Garcia had written the US immigration about the source of the monies her family was trying to smuggle into the US would suffice as evidence of plunder. But Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile shot down that argument by saying that under Philippine court rules a spouse cannot be made to testify against his or her spouse and that this applied in the case of the Garcias.

Plea bargain issues 

Merci Gutierrez has been accused of going easy on issues against the Arroyos and the fact that she was the classmate of former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo in the Ateneo law school does not help disabuse that perception. I remember writing in my Inquirer column when her name was being floated for Ombudsman that Gutierrez would find it hard to be independent of the Arroyos   (I was pushing instead for Davao Rep. Douglas Cagas, whom I thought would be more independent).  But in the plea bargain agreement case, I sympathize with her judgment that it was better to accept Gen. Garcia’s admission of direct bribery, which entails a lesser amount of money surrendered but also a lower form of punishment, than to push for plunder, in view of the weak evidence against him, i.e., the letter of his wife to the US authorities.  
But of course, with the testimonies offered by retired Lt. Col. George Rabusa against high-ranking AFP officers, Gutierrez was prevailed upon to agree to review the plea bargain agreement. This is only sensible.

Rabusa's testimonies

Speaking of Rabusa, his testimonies fell flat in the light of the revelation of the ignominy he pulled. Consider this: the night before he testified at the Senate, where he pinned down his former superior, the late AFP Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes with corruption charges, he even had the temerity to take dinner at the Reyes’ home, being served personally by Ms. Tessie Reyes, and warn the general about a very damaging testimony against him. Rabusa even accepted a P10,000 pabaon that night from the Reyeses, only for them to wake up the following morning to find that he was to accuse his former superior of having pocketed P50 million in tax-payers’ money as pabaon from the AFP, and a monthly take of P5 million from AFP suppliers! 

Lowest form of scum

It’s a free country and whistle-blowers have their uses; but their testimonies must be made on solid ground.  In my book, to accept the Reyeses’ good will, only to betray Angelo Reyes the following morning, has to be the lowest form of scum.   Then too, that morning, Reyes was supposed to appear only as a resource person at the Blue Ribbon committee hearing on the Garcia plea-bargaining agreement; but suddenly, thanks to Sen. Jinggoy Estrada and committee chair Sen. Teofisto Guingona III who allowed it, Reyes found himself on the carpet, pinned down on the charge of accepting the P50 million pabaon from the AFP.  

There was no preparation for him for the brutal confrontation with Rabusa.
In this regard, whatever happened to the regulation set down by the Puno Supreme Court when it adjudged the issue of executive privilege some years back, following Romulo Neri’s refusal to appear before the Senate. The High Court ruled that this privilege could be disregarded, but the rules of engagement have to be clearly defined; and one rule was that the witness was to be furnished the subject of the inquiry and its parameters, so that he or she could, in turn, prepare for his or her own defense.  In Reyes’ case, these rules were totally ignored.

Faulty testimony

On another front, what happens now to the claim made by COA Auditor Heidi Mendoza before the Senate committee that an unidentified Filipino military official picked up a $5 million UN check from the Philippine Mission offices in New York City, but that the funds subsequently disappeared in the AFP corruption mill? Many Filipinos hearing this disclosure doubtless felt sick that the corruption ring had acquired an nternational dimension, as the $5 million check was intended to refund expenses for the Pinoy peace-keeping forces in Timor. The whistle-blower's allegation was that it was diverted to a slush fund that made illegal payments to the AFP top brass in the early Arroyo years.

But last week a story appeared in the Manila Standard (not surprisingly, it was not picked up by the larger newspapers) citing the UN Department of Peace-keeping Operations' avowal that its records indicate that “there was no contingent-owned payment of $5 million made to the Philippine government.”  The UN office also stressed that all reimbursements made to the Philippine government for that year were remitted to Philippine bank accounts.

Obviously the UN won’t issue a disclaimer it cannot support.  What does that make of Heidi's claim about the $5 million check?

                      Allegations without sufficient evidence   

  The problem with the Senate Blue Ribbon hearings was that allegations of corruption were allowed to fly thick and fast from disgraced characters like Rabusa (who was separated from the service in 2007 owing to plunder himself), or the glorified COA auditor Mendoza, never mind if these allegations were unsupported by hard evidence.  Couple these with the stifling arrogance displayed by Sen. Antonio Trillanes toward Reyes and you have a formula for causing even sound minds to snap.

The ultimate cruelty was that during the hearings Trillanes insinuated that Reyes was the powerful figure behind the corruptions of Maj. Gen. Garcia, but after Reyes committed suicide Trillanes, perhaps guilt-stricken, changed his tune and said, no, it wasn't Reyes, it was someone else, hinting at GMA. The fact that he could change his stand just like that, in utter disregard for a man's reputation, shows that he ought not to be taken seriously.   

Speaking of Trillanes, few know that he came to see first-hand the corruption in the military as he spent his best service years in the Navy’s office of the comptroller; moreover it was widely known in AFP circles that his mother was a longtime dealer of supplies for that branch of service. But Trillanes’ knowledge was limited to this smallest branch of the AFP,  and he hardly knew about the broader picture of the entire military.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

In matters of intellect, Angie jousted; but in those affecting his heart he simply gave up

Sorry folks, this blogger wasn’t able to write here since last Jan. 30 for a good number of reasons, including adjusting to my new status as a widow and looking after health problems in the family, including bringing two grandchildren to the doctor for respiratory problems as the weather became unstable (my grandson, Christopher, had to be hospitalized on Dr. Pamela Caedo's orders).  Moreover, so many events, among them some national and earth-shaking ones, took place one after the other.

                              A nation shocked & stunned

Like the entire nation, I was shocked and stunned by the suicide of the former AFP Chief, Defense Chief and Cabinet member in various other posts, General Angelo Tomas Reyes. We in Alay sa Kawal Foundation knew Angie Reyes since he was a colonel heading the AFP’s Civil Relations Service (CRS). I had founded the Alay sa Kawal in late 1987 together with a group of professionals led by banker Ed Espiritu (who later became Ambassador to the Court of St. James) and lawyer-civic leader Ramon Pedrosa as a civilian response to the "New Military" in the early Cory years. Among the things we did in earlier years  was to conduct fellowships with soldiers in the field, including bringing veteran entertainers to the frontlines;  Angie Reyes coordinated some of those activities (today, owing to fund limitations, Alay sa Kawal confines itself only to its primary program of financial assistance to widows and orphans of ordinary soldiers killed in action).

A few years later, Reyes served as one of the brigade commanders in Mindanao of my husband, when the latter was commander of the entire island.  I remember joining my husband in a visit entirely by land of nearly 25 days to various camps all over Mindanao, which doesn’t seem possible anymore for commanders to do in these more troubled times; among those we visited was Reyes’ 602nd Brigade in northeastern Mindanao; and over lunch that he served, he managed to expound to his commander on his views on democracy from the grassroots.  

                          Angie's wit and super-confidence               

 Years later, in the GMA administration Angie, as Defense Secretary,  joined a benefit golf tournament for Alay sa Kawal, with the new President as the star player. Reyes was dressed in one of those signature golf outfits and when I commented on his natty looks, he cracked, “When you’re a lousy golfer, you compensate by looking good on the fairways.”  That was Angie, always with a glib retort, super-confident but often also seemingly arrogant that people are rubbed the wrong way.

A voracious reader, he used his intellect to prepare for his jousts.  I recall that when he was leaving for the US to meet with his defense counterpart, US Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, he told media that he had boned up on the latter’s biography, and even showed us the book he had just finished.  I also recall joining  media women at a dinner meeting when he just assumed the post of Energy Chief. We were quite impressed that though only two weeks in that post, he already was so well-informed on the subject of alternative energy. 

                               Matters of the Heart

In matters of the intellect Reyes had little difficulty absorbing topics, but obviously not in matters that directly hit him, such as protecting his mother, Purificacion, whom media has termed “the big love of his life,” and his wife Tessie and their five sons from getting hurt by the accusations against him.  He was glib in his retort on matters of intellect, being one of the brightest stars in the Estrada and Arroyo administrations, but in matters tugging at the heart, such as whether he received P50 million in “pabaon money,” which implied corruption that could hit his family, he couldn’t find the right words.  A knight used to verbal tussles, it was no irony perhaps that he chose to end his own life via his very vulnerable spot---his heart.

I was aware of his legendary love for his mother whom, as accounts say, he would visit very regularly and take out to dinner. When he was being grilled in the media about the white mansion he had built in a Fort Bonifacio subdivision years back, Reyes said his mother, a retired teacher, had helped him with a loan.  He could probably have gone on interminably in the recent congressional hearings on AFP corruption, but when his courteous request for a chance to defend his reputation was arrogantly denied by the Sen. Antonio Trillanes with that remark, “You have no reputation to defend,” Reyes retreated like a cowed lion. When he saw that his family was going to be dragged across the nation’s TV screens too, he decided to end it all at Loyola Memorial Park, splattering his blood all over the tomb of his beloved mother.

                                    Shared Pain

I could understand the pain the Reyes family was going through at the hands of insensitive and arrogant senators, for we had gone through the same determined shaming of a fine former AFP officer and civil servant, my husband, months back.  It’s not the matter of being summoned before the Senate that people resent---it’s the shameless intent not to get all the facts, but to shame and dishonor a public servant, using some accommodating media as a willing tool, before the facts are all in, or never mind if the facts are distorted. 
Unjust treatment from Senate              
I refer to the time when my late husband, at that time SSS Chair,  and several SSS Commissioners, were depicted by the Senate Finance Committee as having  illegally pocketed corporate benefits in several private corporations where they represented the SSS Commission.    It is important to stress that SSS Commissioners, led by their chair, do not enjoy salaries, unlike the SSS rank and file officers led by the president; to compensate for their being non-salaried, the long-standing practice has been for the Commissioners to sit in blue-chip private corporation boards where the SSS has equity investments, where they can draw benefits as directors.  Other GOCCs have similar practices, with their board members sitting in various private boards.

The picture painted by the Senate committee, however, was that they were all generically voracious and rapacious people, when the root of the problem was the failure of the executive and legislative branches of government to define the boundaries of what constitutes a just and equitable sharing of these directors'  benefits  between the government firm and its representative.  I had argued publicly that there ought to be a clear-cut policy of the State on this issue, in place of the current ad-hoc and arbitrary arrangements practised by various GOCCs.
  Now there's a pending bill on such policy in the Senate, but along the way, over the months, many innocent people's reputations were first tarnished, to the pain of their families. 
Distortions by Senate Committee

My husband was already ill with prostate cancer when the Senate finance committee hearings began in August, and he begged off from attending them owing to his confinement at Medical City.  But he wrote the committee a formal explanation of his side and furnished the media the correct figures on both incomes and sharing arrangement with the pension firm where such was applicable. But the next day the stories would again appear as distorted as ever.
As this went on for many weeks, the health of my husband took a turn for the worse. Despite all the remedies we sought here and in Guangzhou and his doctors' hopeful prognosis  that his disease could be managed for a good number of months more,  he just went down the slope fast, hurt by the unfair treatment he got from the Senate committee and the media. He died last Jan. 16.  

Despite running fever and pains

 One of the worst attacks came from the BIR last November, which said that my husband had failed to declare his income taxes for years 2005 up to 2007.  Luckily, the day the story was fed to the media, a TV reporter called me up in Guangzhou’s Fuda Cancer Hospital, to get my husband’s side. At that time he was running a high fever and suffered severe pains, but I insisted that he type out on the computer even just a paragraph to correct the erroneous allegation. I argued that a good name was the most precious gift we could bequeath to our children. 

My husband was forced to get up and he wrote a paragraph which stressed that up to 2008 we had always jointly declared our income statements, based on taxes withheld (W-2) by the Inquirer in my case, and by the private corporations  in which he represented the SSS. Even with just a cursory look the BIR would have found our joint statements, but at that point it seemed more intent on embarrassing and humiliating, rather than unearthing the facts.    

Our son in Manila dashed off his dad’s statement to the tri-media while our daughter in Tokyo circulated it among the professional groups and associations whose opinion we valued.  We succeeded in getting some publicity for that denial statement, and those who were fair and unbiased appreciated our family efforts to clear my husband’s name. 
Angie goes by the Bushido code

As I saw the same harassing pattern being repeated in Angelo Reyes' case months later, I had hoped he would treat it as just another knight’s intellectual joust. But unfortunately he treated it as a question of honor akin to the Bushido’s Code. As he put two days in a moving interview two days before he took his own life, "...honor above all else. Pride goes with it, self-respect, sense of legacy, ...self esteem." Deprived of all these, he felt the only way was to resolve it with a bullet straight through his heart.

Meantime, as the nation reels from that terrible tragedy, can we expect, as the headline put it, a “kinder, gentler Senate” duly chastised from its ill motives?  Let’s pray for the Senate's enlightenment. 
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