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.  

                                                      For reactions, pls email me at:

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