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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bong and Bong vs Binay and Jinggoy; what happens to Mar and Gibo?

Every time a session of the House ends, there’s speculation about a change of leadership. In that chamber there’s talk brewing (which was already mentioned in media) about a revamp in the forthcoming second session of the 15th Congress, which opens on July 25, targeting Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte.

 From what I gather, there’s some disgruntlement as the pork barrel promised by Belmonte as a reward for all the collective pressures the representatives applied on  Ombudsman Merci Gutierrez, to force her to resign, has not materialized yet. Grapevine talk also says that some House members find Belmonte too tight even with everyday funds, e.g., in House-sponsored caucuses the reps  complain that the food is always not enough.

I would think all these moves on the Speaker's part indicate excellent husbanding of public funds, but obviously the mind-set in the House is different. But if there’s a revamp, who’s going to take Belmonte's place?  The name reverberating is that of two-term Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya, the chair of the powerful House appropriations committee and Secretary-General of the Liberal Party. Again, it seems to be an LP design for party originals to obtain a stranglehold on power at all levels, and precisely, one of Belmonte’s “sins” is that he was a former Lakas stalwart before turning LP during the campaign of P-Noy last year. 
But Belmonte is not expected to give up without a fight. His biggest ace is still his family's control of the influential Philippine Star. The next few weeks bear watching.


Bongga was the word for the 25th wedding anniversary last Saturday evening of Lakas President and Senator Bong Revilla and his wife, Cavite Rep. Lani Mercado-Revilla.  And why not? It has been argued by movie commentators that when a showbiz couple lasts for 25 years, that calls for a celebration. Indeed. Moreover, Revilla is being eyed as Lakas' bet in the 2016 elections.

As befits a political event, Bong's silver wedding anniversary was a star-studded cast, and the interesting thing was that most of the original ninongs and ninangs were still around, such as President and Mrs. Fidel Ramos, former Speaker Jose de Venecia and his congresswoman-lady, Gina de V., former Sen. Ernie Maceda and industrialist Ramon Ang, among others (superstar Manny Pacquiao was candle sponsor). The couple's exchange of vows was held at the Shrine of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in Pasay City while the grand reception was held at the Sofitel Westin Harbour Tent at the CCP Complex.

The presidential elections are still a good five years away, but already, matunog na matunog na ang pangalan ni Bong Revilla ngayon, as Lakas-kampi-CMD---the 30 or so members of the House who have stuck it out with Lakas after a sizable chunk of other  members, led by Cebu Deputy Speaker Pabling Garcia and Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino, abandoned the party and formed the  National Union Party (NUP) and allied themselves with the LP---starts casting about for a winnable presidential candidate.  Revilla is optimistic he can make it, for as he argues, if fellow actor Joseph Estrada succeeded in getting himself elected president, why can’t he?
Already political pundits are talking about a “Bong-Bong” tandem:  Bong Revilla and Bongbong Marcos of the revived KBL, or vice-versa, while on the opposite side, being eyed are VP Jojo Binay, who chairs the very much resuscitated PDP-Laban, with Sen. Jinggoy Estrada of the PMP as his running-mate. 

Recall that Jinggoy's father, former President Erap, chose Binay as his running-mate last May 2010, but despite talk that Binay actually abandoned him towards the end and supported LP candidate Noynoy instead, Erap has chosen to be pragmatic for Jinggoy's sake---i.e., to ignore all such treachery talk and continue to maintain close links with Binay, who's showing amazing political strength (he launches tomorrow his book, "Reinventing Makati: A Vision of VP Jejomar Binay, which he's offering as a "road map" to LGUs; but then, a comparison is well nigh impossible, as none of the other LGUs has even 1/8 of the resources Binay could marshal for two decades in the country's financial center). 

On the other hand, Jinggoy, also an actor, is considered Revilla's best friend, but for political ambition, they could conceivably take other running-mates. 

As you readers can see, politicians think differently from you and me.

Bong-Bong vs. Binay-Estrada. How do you like that? By the way, mention of "Bong" and "Bong-Bong" tempts me to digress to a riotous Erap joke during his campaign: Erap supposedly went to confession and the priest, before absolving him, asked him to recite the "Hail Holy Queen" as his penance. Erap told him he had already forgotten that prayer. Alright, said the priest, how about the "Angelus?" Erap said cheerfully, "Oh good, Father, that's easy:  "bong-bong-bong!"
The question folks are asking, however, is what happens to the LPs? Would Mar Roxas be viable for 2016?  Some people are crossing out Mar as too elitist, as they note that 2016 would still be very much the battle of the show-biz and/or masa candidates. But could there ever be room for victory for brainy, competent but also, alas, pedigreed pols like perhaps Mar and Gibo?

Presidential aunt-in-law Margarita”Tingting” Cojuangco has defied her nephew-in-law, President Aquino, by making herself available as candidate for  vice-governor and running mate of Pax Mangudadatu in the coming ARMM elections, which, at this writing, is still up in the air.

Tingting’s candidacy splits wide open the rumored rift in the Cojuangco family.  Recall that months back, a ruckus was raised when she was summarily terminated as president of the National Defense College, an appointment from former President GMA, without as much as a sweet little TY note;  this drew a stiff  protest from her husband, P-Noy’s uncle Peping Cojuangco. The sudden termination came after Tingting declared publicly that P-Noy's plan to postpone the ARMM elections was unconstitutional.
People have questioned whether Tingting is qualified to run as ARMM vice-governor. Why not? She not only maintains a house in that region, she is also a Muslim scholar and has been working in that part of Mindanao for decades now. I know Tingting, however, in another capacity: her lack of physical fear, which probably qualifies her best for the post she's running for.
 During the visit to Basilan of candidate Cory Aquino toward the tail-end of the snap election campaign, some of us journalists (I was then a political reporter for the black-and-white Mr. & Ms. Magazine of press icon Eggie Apostol) decided to go ahead of Cory and cross the straits between Basilan and Zamboanga City aboard a fairly large speedboat, together with some award-winning foreign journalists. Suddenly the straits became terribly rough and big waves threatened to engulf our boat. We all sank to the floor of the boat, dreadfully frightened, especially after a multi-awarded American photo-journalist recalled how he lost family members on a speedboat, whose peculiarity is that it could just plunge straight to the bottom of the sea.
 But where was Tingting?  While many of us women journalists, by then dirty with the oil that had spilled all over the floor due to the boat's rocking in the waves, cowered in fear, Tingting sat in the swivel seat across from the captain, laughing and enjoying the wind that blew her long hair away. No trace of fright whatsoever.

On another occasion, former Cagayan de Oro Assemblyman Homobono Adaza recalled to me how they were aboard a single-engine plane lost somewhere in bad weather in Mindanao, just barely flying over coconut trees. The plane was turning upside down and the pilot was trying to control it as he desperately searched for a clearing to land in. Adaza confessed that he was very frightened, but Tingting was so calm and was directing the pilot until a clearing was found and they were able to land.
I don’t doubt at all that that woman would not flinch at warlords in the area in an election, or when she gets to the capitol.
 P-Noy has been pushing for the postponement of the ARMM elections scheduled for  Aug. 9, on the ground that he wants to install “reforms” there first; his idea is to first appoint OICs in the five posts that should be up for election in the five provinces. But as many Muslim and Christian leaders of Mindanao have argued, reforms can’t be undertaken at a snap of the finger; it takes time. In the meantime, postponing the elections in ARMM would be very divisive because the people there want to choose their own leaders and run their own affairs, instead of being managed again from “Imperial Manila.”

As legal luminaries have pointed out, postponement of the ARMM elections can only achieved legally by amending the ARMM Organic Act, but this cannot be done by a simple legislation with just majority vote of both chambers. Amending an organic act requires 2/3 vote of both chambers of Congress, voting separately, and ratification by the people affected in a plebiscite. Both of these targets seem unattainable at the moment, which means that even if the simple legislation is passed by a rubber-stamp Congress, it would undboutedly still be challenged before the Supreme Court. And right it should be.

The Senate chair of the committee on local governments, Bongbong Marcos, is against postponement, but talk is rife in that chamber that if he continues with that posture, he might be replaced by Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, a dyed-in-the-wool LP, just to push postponement (and also to disable Bong Bong for 2016?). 

 The LPs are really out to recover lost ground, and how! 

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Friday, May 27, 2011

House proposal for RH bill plebiscite in 2013: sign of desire for “cooling down period”

A number of people have endorsed the appointment of Gen. Danilo Lim as National Security Adviser.  I submit, however, that it would be a mistake if President Noynoy makes this appointment, for a number of reasons.
In this year-old administration, the over-arching aim as far as the AFP is concerned should be to forge unity among its various factions. It’s no secret that Gen. Lim heads one important and influential faction within the military,but it's also well-known that he has been at odds with the leadership of various administrations within the AFP---  mainly on the issue of what his group claims as corruption in the upper strata of leadership. There’s some truth to that, as the recent exposes of Col. George Rabusa have shown, but it’s also a two-way claim:  there are also officers outside Lim's group who feel that his people have not been above reproach too, especially with regard to questionable backers funding their rebellious activities in the past.

Danny Lim, a West Pointer like my late husband, may be a charismatic figure especially for the younger officers; but he has exhibited such a rebellious streak and has been too controversial to be a unifier and stabilizer.  What's needed as military adviser to the President is a mature retired officer truly conversant with all facets of military affairs, who can be a source of sound and sober advice affecting the entire AFP establishment.   

At the wake for the late National Artist Alejandro Roces the other evening, we were joined at our table by former Sen. Santanina Rasul, and we asked her about her stand on the Palace plan to postpone the elections in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao. Sen. Rasul said there shouldn’t be any postponement and here she’s only the latest among prominent Mindanao leaders (which include former Sen. Nene Pimentel and Fr. Eliseo "Jun" Mercado of Notre Dame University) to take this stand vs. postponement.

The Palace has certified the ARMM election postponement bill as urgent and the House passed HB 4641, but time seems to be running out for Senate action, as the chair of the  committee on local governments himself, Sen. Bongbong Marcos, appears negative to it;  a number of leaders have also said they would challenge before the Supreme Court the constitutionality of a postponement. I hope P-Noy does not push this idea as political costs to him would be high.


A side issue is whether to automate the ARMM elections or not, assuming they're a go. At a seminar sponsored last May 26 by a citizens’ group called Tanggulang Demokrasya(Tan Dem) on the seriously flawed May 10, 2010 automated election system (AES),  Tan Dem took an unequivocal stand against both postponement of the ARMM elections and the use of the "highly-defective" PCOS machines in that region. This stand was firmed up after IT expert Edmundo "Toti" Casino made a power-point presentation of the litany of deficiencies of the AES during the  May 10 elections, and it was stressed that at stake in the elections in the five ARMM provinces are only five positions. Thus, why the need to automate? Indeed, why?
More on the proceedings of this seminar in future blogs.  
The debates in the House and in the media on the RH bill issue have lately become so divisive and contentious, so that more and more thinking people feel there ought to be a cooling-down period. 

For instance, a friend close to the Archdiocese of Manila deplored a recent newspaper headline that stated that the Archbishop of Manila is the fourth-largest depositor in the Bank of the Philippine Islands, and that his huge fortune should be spent on the poor. Actually that was not an honest claim, said the caller, for the Archbishop of Manila, represented by the person of Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, does not “own” that bank deposit; it’s the Archdiocese that does, and it should not surprise anyone that it's substantial, as the Archdiocese is the largest in the country.  

The inference that the Archdiocese is not moving toward solving the problems of poverty is not fair either, stressed the caller, for the Archdiocese maintains vast feeding programs, parochial schools that provide free education, technical skills centers and many other charitable projects and institutions.

Many people now seem to realize that pushing the RH bill at this point may not be in the best interest of the nation.  A few days ago Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Joker Arroyo talked about hammering out a “compromise” version if and when the House's consolidated version gets to the Senate. That sounds to me like these two leaders want to get the heat off this issue for a while.
Then another development turned up in the House. After listening to all the increasingly acrimonious debates and feeling the intense heat of it all, a representative made the startling proposal: let's shelve all discussions of the RH bill and instead just subject it to a plebiscite to be held simultaneous with the 2013 mid-term elections. Lawyers in the chamber quickly opined that while this proposal would have the desired cooling-down effect, it will not be legally feasible; besides, once the campaign period starts, this issue could well be forgotten.
The intensity of the debates is convincing a growing number of people that there is actually no need to legislate an RH law, and I count myself in this group. As this blog has argued endlessly, if the purpose is to trim down the population rate, the latest figures from the US CIA Fact Book indicate a 1.9 percent birth rate for RP--- a long way from the 2.6 percent in the ‘60s, except that the populace is just all squeezed into the mega-cities like sardines.

Moreover, all kinds of birth control devices are available in drug stores and supermarkets everywhere and very cheap too. And if there are still those like 37-year old Salve Paa and her husband among us (featured front-page by the Inquirer two days ago as having produced twelve children in their 27 years together), I daresay they are increasingly the exception than the rule nowadays.

A side question to the Salve Paa story: would her having used condoms or tubal ligation to limit her children to, say, four instead of twelve have resulted in a better life for her and her family? It doesn't seem likely, as their P5,000 joint monthly income would hardly have improved, given their lack of skills and work opportunities. 
 Besides, I argue that NGOs who feel quite passionate about pushing certain methods of birth control are free to campaign at the grassroots and to seek the permission of various schools and parents’ organizations about sex education, just as members of the Catholic Church ought to campaign for natural birth control, according to their staunch belief, and conduct their own sex education.
But to enact a law that plays up the various complexities of this highly controversial issue and enforce it on an entire nation is bound to hurt sensibilities, owing to the coercive nature of certain provisions. As in the ARMM election postponement, the political costs are too much, as we can already see at this juncture.

Moreover, as Leyte staunch anti-RH Rep. Sergio Apostol explained to this blogger, the current bill appears to be duplicating features of a Marcos decree, PD 79. Rep. Apostol suggested that it might be worth while for the House to revisit that PD and what it achieved and failed to achieve, which might negate the need for a new---and divisive---law. 

I did a little research and found out that PD 79 was enacted ironically enough on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, 1972, apparently to put more teeth into RA 6365 that was passed by the still-existent Congress on Aug. 15, 1971, ironically enough again, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. RA 6365 sought to establish a "National Policy on Population, creating the Commission on Population, and for other purposes."

The Marcos PD, riding on the dictator's newly-minted martial law powers, directed PopCom to institutionalize the national family planning program and bring down the burgeoning birth rate at that time.  It provided for the dispensation and administration "of acceptable methods of contraception to all citizens of the Philippines desirous of spacing, limiting or preventing pregnancies."

For help on the population issue Marcos ran to the US-AID, which was only too glad to help. After pouring huge amounts of money to get the program going, it did help lower the birth rate indeed, but poverty in the country worsened, so that by the end of the Marcos rule in 1986, RP's preeminence as second only to Japan 20 years earlier had been eroded---mainly because of the crony capitalism and corruption prevalent during that long unlamented era.  Moreover, the population program ran afoul after some segments of society began to complain about a quota system and incentives for the new recruits.  

As a research paper put it, "the women became victims of a program  that was to assist them" and “efforts were criticized for treating (them) as program targets and not as individuals capable of making choices.”  Family planning users were quoted as complaining of having IUDs inserted without prior knowledge and inadequate information and follow-up on oral contraceptives. 

These criticisms in the late '70s were to hound the program in later years, but some anti-RH advocates now are expressing the same fear:  that the women needing maternal and health care would just be faceless figures for a quota system and "incentives" churned out by the multi-billion international pharmaceutical industry.  


Reliable sources say there'll be a changing of the guards at the      Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO), the office that seeks to  effect smooth relations between the Palace and Congress regarding   legislative matters. Sources indicate that current PLLO Chief Tony Roman, the former Lakas Bataan representative, will be assigned as ambassador to a foreign country, and the incoming Chief will be former Rep. Manuel Mamba of Cagayan, an original LP. 

 The LPs are truly consolidating their power base everywhere.

     Just when many folks are wondering when certain appointments to Cabinet posts would cease to be on “acting" status since it’s almost a year since P-Noy came to power, now comes news from P-Noy that Acting Secretaries Jesse Robredo of DILG and Ramon Paje of DENR would become "permanent." On the other hand, defeated LP senatorial candidate Nereus Acosta will reportedly become the Presidential Adviser on Climate Change, not DENR Secretary, as earlier speculated. 

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Score card on RH bill and ARMM elections postponement

The Judicial and Bar Council starts deliberations tomorrow on recommendations to the President for the two vacancies this June in the Supreme Court, with the retirement of Justices Eduardo Nachura and Conchita Carpio-Morales. Believe it or not, for a list that should not exceed ten recommendees (five per post max), the JBC is said to have 33 names on its initial list! Said to be moving heaven and earth to fill the forthcoming vacancies is the powerful law firm, which reportedly dreams of controlling the high court even if the Chief Justice is not counted in its league.


Around the time that the scandal involving IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn hit international news, the “discovery” of leniency toward convicted former governor Antonio Leviste hit the local papers too.  The contrast was not lost on many.

They note how police authorities yanked Strauss-Kahn out of an Air France plane at Kennedy Airport in New York, and threw him for four nights into Hikers Island, reputed to be one of the largest and harshest jail complexes in the US, after he was accused of sexually assaulting a Guinea-born chambermaid in a plush NY hotel.  62-year old Strauss-Kahn was handpicked by then newly-elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy to head the IMF years back, and before his arrest, opinion surveys in France rated him most likely to challenge and win over Sarkozy in next year’s presidential elections. But with the accusation (which stuck this time), kinalaboso siya and he was thrown into one of the most notorious jails in the US; after posting a whopping $1 million bail, he awaits trial but cannot even stay in the posh NY apartment of his wife, as neighbors refuse to see his shadow there.


By contrast, the picture of a charmed life for Leviste, convicted of six to 12 years in prison for the murder of his longtime aide emerged: he was apprehended while “sleeping out” in his Makati condo.  Reports note how all this time he has been free to come in and out of the maximum security compound where he lives in a comfortable hut separate from other convicts. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima ordered a panel to investigate the circumstances surrounding Leviste, but of course, it has long been public knowledge that the penitentiary has maintained a different standard for VIP prisoners.   

Such is the great divide between the American and the RP penal systems.  


Last Thursday I noted that the pro-RH bill campaign appears to be losing steam. This is borne out by the on-going online survey by Philippine Star showing the anti-RH side gaining 2/3 of the vote vs. the pro, while in the ABS-CBN survey the anti is also gaining, though not with as wide a margin. But it’s in the House of Representatives where the fight is most interesting.

Consider these facts: while Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and Majority Leader Neptali Gonzalez Jr. are both pro-RH, four of the six Deputy Speakers are anti-RH, namely, Arnulfo  Fuentebella, NPC; Raul Daza, LP;  Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, LP; Pablo Garcia, Lakas breakaway group NUP; Lorenzo Tanada III, LP, and Jesus Crispin Remulla, NP.  Of the three LP Deputy Speakers, Daza and Climaco-Salazar are anti-RH and only Tanada is pro-RH.


On the other hand, the passionate sponsor of the RH bill, Minority Leader Edcel Lagman, may have a hard time getting most of his party-mates in Lakas-Kampi on his side, as former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her two sons, Reps. Mikey and Dato Arroyo, are anti-RH, as are Deputy Minority Leaders Amelita “Girlie” Villarosa and Mitos Magsaysay, and senior party leaders such as Reps. Sergio Apostol,  Erico Aumentado and Martin Romualdez.

From the above, it’s obvious that because House members are all divided over the RH bill, there can’t be a party vote for any one group.  Each according to his conscience.


What’s becoming clear, too, at this point is that pro-RH advocates are running out of time. With only nine sessions days left in the First Regular Session of the 15th Congress(ending sine die on June 8) and at least 41 representatives lined up to interpellate Lagman (each easily taking an hour on the floor), there just won’t be enough time for all of them. For instance, this Tuesday, Rep. Pabling Garcia of Cebu is scheduled to interpellate the sponsor, and reports say he could take well over two hours. 

Veteran members opine that August would be devoted to the budget hearings, hence the earliest the debates on the RH sponsorship could be taken up would be in September; that doesn’t even include the period of amendments, which could be more madugo. In fact, Rep. Apostol, who's listed as 37th among the interpellators of Lagman, opines that by December of this year, the sponsorship might not even be finished. By mid-2012 it would be too close to the 2013 elections and few legislators would want to cross swords with priests in pulpits across the nation.


To defuse the tension over the RH bill, House members have taken to bantering and the joke is, “daanin na lang natin sa boxing.” World boxing and anti-RH champ Manny Pacquiao has already taken on Lagman, but that camp also has two other boxers: Paranaque’s Roilo Golez, a champ boxer at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis where  his name emblazoned in its gym wall no less, and Northern Samar’s Raul Daza, who chose boxing as his PE at the UP and acquired a license from the Games and Amusements Board to be a boxing manager prior to his entry into politics. The anti-RH guys have asked Lagman to name his own champs even for two-round bouts each, but so far no takers.

Cebu neophyte Rep. Cutie del Mar has another solution that’s bound to get the approval of Cebu’s retired Ricardo Cardinal Vidal: daanin na lang natin sa sayawan, na pwede rin fund-raising for a worthy cause.


 Another tagilid bill being pushed by the Administration in Congress is the postponement of the ARMM elections scheduled under the ARMM Organic Act for Aug. 9. Most leaders of note, Muslims such as Dr. Dalumabi Lao Bula of Marawi, as well as Christians such as Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado of the Oblates' Notre Dame University, are against postponing these elections that will involve choosing only five positions---namely, the ARMM governor, vice-governor and three provincial members of the regional legislative council---on the ground that it’s illegal and unconstitutional. But President Noy and his advisers are ignoring the majority opinion and instead seek to synchronize the ARMM elections with the mid-term national elections in May 2013. 


The problem with postponement, as former Sen. Nene Pimentel argues quite forcefully tonight at 8 o’clock in the dzRH paaralang bayan that Cecile Alvarez and I co-host, is that this is against the ARMM Organic Act (RA 6734) he himself authored in August 1989.  Pimentel opines that even if Congress could pass a new law despite the lack of material time, it would be challenged as unconstitutional before the Supreme Court by Muslim leaders themselves. Already, former Tawi-Tawi Gov. Almarin Tillah has vowed to do so, and he has strong grounds for winning the case.

As Pimentel stressed in our program (don’t fail to catch it tonight), both the ARMM Organic Act that he authored in the Cory era, and its amendment in 2001 (RA 9054), were ratified by the people of ARMM in separate plebiscites. Moreover, as Sen. Francis Escudero, current chair of the Senate justice and human rights committee, has stressed, the very act of postponing the ARMM elections this August would already constitute an amendment of the Organic Act. Thus, argues Escudero, by that  law’s special nature granting political regional autonomy, unlike others that grant only administrative autonomy, amending the Organic Act requires a 2/3 vote of both chambers of Congress, voting separately, AND a plebiscite.  But the advocates of postponement seek to amend the Organic Act through an ordinary legislation (i.e., a simple majority vote), and WITHOUT the corresponding plebiscite.


The curiosity is WHY this Administration seeks to violate the law.  Its leaders say ARMM badly needs reforms, but as Fr. Eliseo Mercado put it, how can reforms be effected in the 22 months between the supposed elections this August and May 2013, when it’s in the nature of reforms to work slowly. Moreover, for Malacanang to impose handpicked OICs is a sure formula for unrest in ARMM. Or is the P11 billion annual budget for ARMM or P33 billion in three years the coveted icing on the cake?

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Sotto is right: divisive RH bill is totally unnecessary

Thursday, May 19, 2011

News reports speak of caving-in ceilings and lousy toilets at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, but those are only minor problems. 

Returning last Sunday from a coverage of the beatification ceremonies for the late Pope John Paul II for dzRH, I heard the captain of the Thai Airways plane announce that our arrival would be delayed due to “heavy traffic” over NAIA. We kept hovering over the airport for some 15 minutes or more, which left me worried about collisions in mid-air and wasting precious aviation fuel.

My instincts told me it was not “heavy traffic” but the fact that the premier airport of this developing nation aspiring to First World status has its three passenger terminals all clustered in one area, but it  boasts of only one runway. Hence, planes have to wait unusually long for one another to land or take off.  My suspicion was confirmed when we saw the short immigration line and only one baggage carousel engaged.  

The airport “traffic” worsens every time the President takes off or lands---then commercial planes have to wait perhaps half an hour or more. But the problem with NAIA is that that part of town is so congested that expropriating land for a second runway would cost gargantuan amounts.


The sensible thing would have been for the government long ago to muster political will to make the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark the country's premier international airport and hub of commercial air travel. The conversion of Clark Airport has been mulled by various administrations, since its facilities and land area are far superior to NAIA.  But transfer is not that easy as the major problem is the lack of inter-connectivity between Clark and Manila, which will take years and gargantuan capitalization to put up and perfect.

Regular commuter trains and airport buses will be needed to transport passengers efficiently and inexpensively to and from Manila to Clark, not to mention adequate airport hotel facilities there. One has to only experience the daily horrendous traffic on EDSA to realize that in their present condition Metro Manila's roads cannot get passengers to Clark on time (it's tough enough to get to Makati on time for office). By contrast, in all the major cities of Europe and America, and Asian cities like Tokyo and HK, passengers can get to the airports fast and cheaper via trains or airport buses. For instance, Tokyo's Narita Airport is as far as Clark is to Manila, but its limousine buses  can get you to the city's downtown in one hour and 10 minutes. 


Speaking of Metro Manila’s roads, the authorities really have to crack down on reckless bus drivers.  We all sympathized with the family of journalist and communications professor Chit Estella-Simbulan, who recently died in a vehicular accident along Commonwealth Avenue, the “killer highway.”  A family friend, Federico “Kit” Faustino, a former executive of SEIPI, the association of multi-national electronics manufacturers, miraculously survived with just broken ribs and bruises in an accident on Aurora Blvd., QC., a few days ago, that left his Nissan Patrol a total wreck.  Seeking to avoid another vehicle that was going to bump him, Kit crashed into a traffic light, and his jeep turned turtle. Talking of lightning striking twice, just a day earlier his brother Frank Faustino’s car was plowed by another vehicle and though injured, he luckily also survived.

The authorities have to do something about killer drivers before more lives are lost and  people injured.


The Palace has appealed to the bishops to “cool it” with regard to the RH bill. But who started the “heating up” in the first place? Was it not President Noynoy when he said in various forums that he’s willing to be excommunicated if only to push it? Reports from the grapevine say the bishops reached the end of their rope, so to speak, two weeks ago when P-Noy kept a group of them, led by a very high-ranking prelate, waiting for him at the Palace for two hours for the appointed dialogue (long delays are getting to be a habit with P-Noy: reports said he also kept a group of generals waiting interminably the other day to take their oath of office).

Once the much-delayed dialogue commenced, however, the President would dash out every half hour to smoke his cigarette. The bishops doubtless felt he was not serious enough and after two attempts they called it off.  


P-Noy now seems to be cooling down the situation. Despite the appeal of his House leaders he has refused to certify the RH bill as urgent, and in fact, at last Wednesday's LEDAC meeting in Malacanang, it was ranked only 19th in the list of priorities.  The RH bill seems to be losing steam in Congress. With at least 41 anti-RH members signing up to interpelate its passionate sponsor, Minority Leader Edcel Lagman, and only about nine session days to go, assuming each interpellator takes at least an hour, there's little chance of the bill squeezing through even just the period of sponsorship. 

The senators said they will seek to feel the pulse of the public on this issue, but it’s a reality that the Senate President would have a big influence on them, and here Senate Chief Juan Ponce Enrile is playing his cards well. On the issue of the postponement of the ARMM elections, he is going along with the Palace in seeking to justify coinciding the ARMM elections with the May 13, 2013 mid-term national and local elections. But on the RH issue he's definitely opposed.

One factor may be that his wife Cristina was once Philippine Ambassador to the Vatican and close to the Church; but he was also quoted by Star columnist Bobbit Avila as saying, “As far as I’m concerned, I am not ready to tinker with anything that is an act of God.” In fact Enrile is said to be filing his own version of the RH issue which will be quite far from that being pushed in Congress.


Everyone is weighing in on the RH issue and this blogger, even before I was fired by the Inquirer last year for my political views, has been writing against it, mainly from the standpoint that it places too much emphasis on “controlling” population growth instead of doing something about misplaced economic priorities that's causing a lot of poverty. I’ve said endlessly that “overpopulation” is only in the mega-cities that are bursting at the seams because there’s little opportunity for gainful employment in the undeveloped rural areas.

At this juncture some senators, among them Majority Leader Vicente Sotto, have pointed out the utter lack of need for such a highly controversial legislation.  I agree completely. 

Why pass an RH law compelling the use of means to control the population artificially, when these means are already available everywhere to everyone who wants to use them?  Why the need to legislate a bill that will compel even those who have objections based on religious beliefs to push sex education at a certain level, or health workers to push the use of artificial means of birth control against their religious convictions?  

There's absolutely nothing at the moment to prevent NGOs or church groups to push for artificial or natural birth control means or proper sex education at the grassroots level. But it becomes entirely different if a law is passed advocating one school of thought--- it's the coercive aspect of the bill that riles up so many anti-RH people. Why get into something that divides the nation so bitterly?

 Instead of government spending an estimated P310 billion on buying artificial means of control, why not set up meaningful livelihood projects that would train adolescent out-of-school girls in gainful employment, so that they don’t marry too young?  Population gallops because there’s no alternative to copulation especially for idle young people.


Sen. Joker Arroyo fears that appointing defeated VP candidate Mar Roxas as P-Noy’s Chief of Staff would cause an inevitable clash with the job of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, and people tend to agree, considering that Arroyo was in the same  snake pit in the early Cory months. Since the start media have been playing up the “rivalry” between the “Balay” and "Samar” factions, and Mar's appointment has heightened it. 

This makes me laugh a bit, for internecine rivalries in Malacanang can only happen in a vacuum of leadership at the top. In former President GMA’s time, rivalries were  unheard of, as there was no question that she was the boss. Thoroughly computer-savvy, GMA knew every little detail of what was going on in the country, and no one could put anything past her.  But our President now, who's earning the reputation of keeping VIPs and VIP issues waiting for hours on end, is obviously not on top of things---which is why his officials end up at counterpoint.  


In an inevitable rivalry, ES Ochoa is expendable, as he’s just a factotum.  The bigger worry with the entry of Mar would be VP Jojo Binay.  The latter was gracious enough to say that Mar is welcome; but they had fought bitterly in May 2010 for the VP race and they could end up racing again for Malacanang in 2016. So far, Mar has kept a low profile, but Binay is really and truly all over the place. 

For instance, he was the only national official to drop in at the wake of executed China drug mule Sally Ordinario in Cagayan.  Binay’s communications people are heard phoning various radio programs daily about his stand on many issues. His party, the PDP-Laban, is being revitalized as his machinery for the presidency.  If Mar Roxas goes high profile in his Palace job, expect the inevitable with VP Binay.  

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Leila de Lima would make an effective Ombudsman

Friday, May 13, 2011

Paris---The beauty of the Internet is that one gets updated on developments back home, even while one is on the go abroad. I must confess that it was with great disappointment that I received the news of the resignation of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez last week; for I had looked forward to a battle royale in the Senate starting last Monday, when Congress returned from its recess.

There’s a lot of speculation about why Merci resigned. Her public statement said she did not want to further divert the attention of the nation from more crucial problems facing it, which would happen if the Senate impeachment trial becomes protracted. That may well be true---the trial would be terribly divisive and I imagine that the last thing the Ombudsman would want is to be the cause of so much divisiveness.

 But of course, there’s also the speculation that she might have counted her votes in the Senate and realized that being acquitted is a very iffy thing---given the relentless hammer and tongs campaign President Aquino has conducted against her over the many weeks. Some reports say that former President Macapagal Arroyo had something to do with Gutierrez's sudden resignation---that the former persuaded her to resign so as not to ventilate further issues that are best left muddled. 


Some of us may never fully know what triggered that resignation, but one thing is clear: I’ve never seen an occupant of Malacanang conduct himself in the manner Mr. Aquino did vis-à-vis the Ombudsman---making her conviction by the Senate the subject of commencement addresses in the two most prestigious educational institutions as well as before top professional organizations. Certain Palace insiders have admitted to their confidants that nothing has preoccupied P-Noy more than this matter---in fact there has been nothing else but this OBSESSION. 

At any rate, I wish Merci Gutierrez well and pray that she would enjoy the peace of mind and tranquility of soul that can only come from a clear conscience.


The Judicial and Bar Council has opened the nomination for the Ombudsman’s post and has set the its deadline for this Monday, May 16---exactly one week before the JBC sits down to deliberate on the nominees. This is a most crucial post, but given the mindset of the current administration, this could also be a most distorted post---an instrument not for curbing corruption and restoring good governance, but for wreaking wrathful vengeance on this administration's perceived enemies.

I’m glad that Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago has slammed the appointment of retiring Supreme Court Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales as incoming Ombudsman. This is only right, for Carpio-Morales has been too open against the past administration, in fact too vociferously so, and too identified with the anti-Arroyo bloc in the SC and in the legal circles, to make an effective Ombudsman. We need in that post someone who is not only independent in thinking, but who can also approach the problem of corruption, be it past or present, with equanimity and the cold eye of impartiality. This cannot be the case with Justice Carpio-Morales.

There's also the move of the whistle-blowers' group to nominate former Solicitor-General Francisco Chavez for that post. The problem with Chavez is that he also operates from the spirit of hatred and anger against GMA and her officials; thus, he won't have even a modicum of objectivity in handling graft cases levelled against them. Moreover, he himself faces still unresolved charges of misconduct from the Alabang village where he dwells, and has a huge propensity to grandstand.


Justice Secretary Leila de Lima was nominated by Assistant State Prosecutor Romeo Sensor, who said she would be the best person to fill that post. I agree with Sensor and actually had thought about her even before he came out openly with his nomination. De Lima has exhibited a good deal of independence in the nine months or so that she has occupied Justice and what’s good is that she has not been associated with P-Noy in the past, the way the Liberals in the Cabinet are. In fact she was appointed by former President GMA to the Commission on Human Rights where she exhibited relative independence and credibility.

If the President is smart he'd appoint De Lima as Ombudsman. But the bigger problem is that she has repeatedly said she's not interested in the post, and that she'd be able to achieve more in her present post of Justice Secretary (it's well-known in legal circles that this lady's burning ambition is to become a justice of the Supreme Court someday, and aspire to become the first lady SC Chief, given her age; which means maglalaban sila ni Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, who was appointed early in the P-Noy administration). In refusing the Ombudsman's post, De Lima is like Gibo Teodoro: they both realize that that's a thankless, no-win kind of job.


Our little group consisting of my son Conrad, daughter-in-law Myra, family friend Nena Cruz and I leave Europe for home tomorrow, after covering the beatification of Pope John Paul II, via our port of entry---Paris, with a side-trip to Lourdes. It has been physically a most hectic trip as we tried to cram many activities into just a little over two weeks, but it has also been most rewarding spiritually and culturally. I have tried to bring the sights and sounds of JPII’s glorious beatification for my dzRH listeners and readers of this blog, which left us with hearts full at the privilege of being able to attend this once-in-a-lifetime event, along with many other Filipinos in Rome.

But there are also many things one cannot convey fully. One is the pressure Filipino pilgrims feel with the strength of the euro (P62 to one euro!), making each expenditure a real pain in the neck. Our rule was no shopping and walk, walk, walk as much as possible, to avoid riding taxis; we’d also bring along sandwiches fashioned from the delicious baguette (which the Pinoys call the kili-kili bread for obvious reasons) and jambon de Paris while touring the attractions. There's also the tightness of security measures everywhere that breeds a lot of unease and apprehension in tourists, after the execution of Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden by US Navy commandoes and the bloody first reprisal in Pakistan by militant suicide bombers the other day that left hundreds either dead or wounded.


Despite all the unsettling concerns of tourists, however, Paris is as beautiful as ever in the late spring that’s fast entering into a hot summer. Tour operators note that France is the world’s topnotcher in tourism, drawing about 80 million tourists a year, with the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Louvre Museum as Paris’ top attractions. But this season there has been a sizable dip in arrivals which they ascribe to the continuing financial crisis on the continent (in Greece and Portugal), even as the euro continues to surge over the dollar, and tensions over the deteriorating situation in Pakistan and the continuing turmoil in Syria as well as in Libya, where NATO has been shoring up the rebels against Col. Khaddafi. 


But there are ways to cope with the insecurities, and one way is to lose one's self in the cultural environment of Paris. In this visit I had more time to enjoy the Louvre after years of having been away, and to relish the way “Le Pyramide,” the complex inter-linked steel structure sheathed in tinted reflective glass that distinguished Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei built in the middle of the Louvre courtyard in 1989, during the regime of former Prime Minister Francois Mitterrand.

The "Pyramid," like the Eiffel Tower 100 years ahead, was regarded as a "monstrosity" and met with widespread criticism from conservatives. But pretty soon the public began to see that the idea was  to provide more ventilation and light and extra exhibition space in the quadrangle of palaces housing the world’s most renowned museum, where before these palaces were dingy and stuffy and definitely claustrophobic. It's I.M.Pei's stroke of genius that all one sees on the surface of the Louvre quadrangle are the three pyramidal structures, one 71-feet structure and and two smaller ones. But underneath, the entire quadrangle was dug up entirely and access to the four palaces was provided by escalators and stairways, and infinitely more space (650,000 sq. ft.) was added for information and ticket counters and extra exhibition displays. 


If the French live and breathe culture and the arts, it's because they are exposed to it at a very early age. For instance, the gigantic Louvre Museum, unarguably the world’s greatest museum, is open to all those below 18 years of age FREE of CHARGE. The aim obviously is to get them started early, and one encounters groups of little nursery-age toddlers and swarms of young students here, side by side with wide-eyed tourists.

Moreover, tomorrow, Saturday, May 14, from 6 pm. to midnight, the Louvre’s permanent collection will take part in the program of the Ministry of Culture and Communication, under Minister Frederic Mitterrand, called “La Nuit Europeenne des Musees” (The European Night of the Museums”). This program, now on its 7th round, calls for hundreds of museums all over France, including the Louvre, to open their doors FOR FREE to all those who want to come in and view their exhibits and programs for six hours on an appointed day. Other museums in Europe copy this enticing format, but of course, nothing compares with the Louvre, so that it's easy to imagine the stampede tomorrow evening when the Louvre opens its doors for free until midnight. Unfortunately, by then we should be well on our way back to Asia.

(Next: Camera-totting, euro-dishing rich Chinese have replaced Japanese tourists in Venice, Paris and everywhere).

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