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.

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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