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.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Rising criminality

One problem this administration has to address pronto is the rising criminality, especially in Metro Manila.  Two weeks ago, a lady named Mina, who lives in a respectable and well-guarded subdivision in Quezon City, became a recent victim. In the middle of the night, thieves broke into her home. Mina, hearing noises, went out of her bedroom and ran smack into one of them in the corridor; the thief brutally broke the bones of her beautiful face with numerous blows that she now needs to have them reconstructed!  Paging President Aquino.

Merci as underdog

As the resumption of the Senate session on May 9 nears, more attention is focused on the coming trial of impeached Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.  But at the outset, it must be pointed out that Malacanang’s most recent move against Merci, the firing of her deputy ombudsman Emilio Gonzalez III, is being regarded by a growing number of political analysts as further persecution of the lady official ( I had earlier tagged the move against Gonzalez as a warning to Merci supporters in that office).  It's good for the Palace to remember that in this country, underdogs get the sympathy of the people.

How long will trial last?

Just how long the trial of Merci will last is now the favorite question. A popular crystal-ball gazer speculated that it could last so long that it might be overtaken by  Merci’s retirement in 2012.  On the other hand, a legislator recently opined to this blogger that the House erred in submitting six articles of impeachment to the Senate, because he maintains that the result could well be that people would lose interest in the long-playing trial toward the end.  After all, he reasoned, the one on trial is not the President of the Philippines, unlike in former President Joseph Estrada’s case, but just the Ombudsman. I agree.  

Paaralang bayan with Daza

Recently Cecile Alvarez and I conducted one of our usual paaralang bayan over dzRH (heard 8 pm. Sundays), this time on the entire impeachment process with Deputy Speaker Raul Daza, one of the House legal luminaries, as our teacher, and he opined that the Senate trial could well last until Christmas. He based his calculation on the fact that in the trial of President Estrada (where he was one of Erap’s three major lawyers), there were only two articles of Impeachment and had there been no walkout by the House prosecutors in mid-January, 2000,  perhaps Erap’s trial might have lasted up to March or April that year. But this time, with the six articles vs. Merci, said Daza, the trial could really drag on for much longer; besides, he insists that a walkout of the prosecutors won’t happen again.

House prosecutors to be elected at plenary

In our dzRH paaralang bayan, many details were revealed by Deputy Speaker Daza which were largely unknown to the public. He noted, for instance, that our Constitution provides for 31 “impeachable” officials (namely, the President, Vice President, 15 justices of the Supreme Court, and ten members of four  constitutional commissions: i.e., the three members of the Civil Service Commission, the seven Comelec members, three members of the Commission on Audit and the Ombudsman. In the US, from where our impeachment system was copied, the field of officials impeachable by the US Congress is far wider, not only because it’s a far bigger country, but also because it includes even judges of the circuit court of appeals and district court judges across the US. Daza stressed that these judges are actually impeachable by the US Congress impeachment---that's how serious the business of being judge is over there!

Daza also noted that the eleven prosecutors from the House (called “managers” in the US system) have to be elected by the entire plenary in May, when Congress resumes session, and not just appointed by, say, the Speaker.  As in the US, the Philippine Senate has the power to convict an impeached official by a 2/3 vote or 16 votes, noted Daza, who added that former US President Bill Clinton failed to be convicted by the US Senate in 1998, for while majority of the US senators voted against him, they failed to muster the required 2/3 vote (the Democrats voted nearly solid for him).

PCSO moved out to PICC

In earlier weeks I had followed the series written by former PCSO Chair Manuel Morato in People’s Journal about how the PCSO, now chaired by Margie Juico, had packed up the PCSO and moved it to the PICC, its new home, on the argument that the Quezon Institute (QI) complex’s West Wing was structurally a condemned site. Morato had earlier objected to the PCSO’s vacating the QI premises that it had occupied for dozens of years, including during his own tenure as chairman and later director, arguing that it was safe and so accessible to the very poor whom the government charity agency seeks to serve.  But Juico obviously didn’t listen and moved the PCSO out of the QI just the same, abrogating its contract with the Philippine Tuberculosis Society, Inc. (PTSI).

Damage to a heritage site

Perhaps the PCSO’s decision to relocate is arguable, given the age of the building, but what would be impossible to justify is Morato's allegation, if true, that Juico’s people had damaged the PCSO offices and vandalized the premises.  Morato, in the March 28, 2011 issue of the Journal, wrote an eyewitness account of how he spent two hours looking at the “vandalized and cannibalized” surroundings of the 12,000 sq.m. former PCSO offices at QI, complete with photos and witnessed by many other people who made the ocular inspection with him.  He alleges that Juico ordered the destruction---a most serious charge that ought to be looked into by the PTSI  which owns the QI complex, and government investigating agencies.

 Morato laments that the old majestic pre-war heritage building built by renowned architect Juan Nakpil, which used to be a landmark in QC, has been destroyed, including the personal penthouse of President Manuel L. Quezon atop the old PCSO offices.  All the cannibalized parts, he alleges, are now in a San Marcelino, Manila, warehouse as well as in Camp Aguinaldo.

To convince P-Noy that old site not worth it? 

Morato asserts that the PTSI is going to sue PCSO for damages to the QI building, and well it should, if it’s true that Juico had indeed ordered the destruction. He alleges that she carried out this destruction in order to convince President Aquino that the QI premises are no longer worth occupying, thus justifying the PCSO’s hasty transfer to PCCI. But equally serious, Morato further alleges that this wanton destruction was also resorted to by Juico in order to pave the way for Ayala Land, Inc. to purchase this prime real estate property in QC for a song and “enable her to act as broker as well.”  
Morato has sued Juico in the Supreme Court, which is how such disputes ought to be settled. But I grieve most especially for the destruction of the once-stately heritage building that was the old QI.  He points out that as per a MOA signed in 1996 between PCSO and the PTSI, the building’s owner, in case the PCSO does vacate the QI premises, all fixed improvements must be left to the PTSI.  Morato also stressed that the Quezon Institute Hospital is a compulsory beneficiary of the PCSO inasmuch as President Quezon founded this agency to precisely support TB patients of the hospital. Now much of what has historical as well as monetary value in the QI premises has been destroyed.

 Frankly, even just for the sake of the preservation of our heritage buildings, of which we have already so few as a nation, I cannot imagine why any group would resort to destructive moves vs. the once-majestic QI of Juan Nakpil. The citizens await PCSO chair Margie Juico's explanation as well as that of investigative agencies.

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