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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, 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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