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, July 31, 2011

Why doesn’t P-Noy just leave the prosecution of graft in the past administration---and in his own turf---to the dynamic duo of Morales and De Lima, and the electoral fraud to the Comelec?

The legal spokesperson of former President Arroyo, Atty. Raul Lambino, recently expressed the fear in the media that his client would no longer get a fair trial in the courts of law, in view of the “massive trial by publicity against her” in various exposes of “alleged whistle-blowers under the supervision of top government officials.” Lambino stressed, “There is a day of reckoning, but the rule of the law, due process and rights of the accused must prevail.”

He was obviously referring to the noisy lawyering that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has been doing for the group of Police Senior Supt. Rafael Santiago, such as acting as their personal witness as they broke their story exclusively to the Inquirer on their alleged break-in at the Batasan in January-February of 2005, in order to deliver fake election returns allegedly on behalf of GMA. De Lima also liberally quoted Santiago’s allegation that former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo funded his group, even though the whistle-blower himself admitted he only heard this claim from another source.

Lambino must have been referring also to Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes who stressed to media that Santiago’s group was, as the Inquirer put it, “the one he had been seeking when he was pursuing the election protests of (Fernando) Poe and runningmate Sen. Loren Legarda.”


Now De Lima and Brillantes have stated that they will conduct a formal inquiry into allegations of fraud in the 2004 and 2007 elections. But how can this be impartial when they have already lent credence to the story of Santiago’s group EVEN BEFORE it has executed its affidavits (its  members are taking their sweet time in accomplishing it---nauna na ang storya sa media!);  in fact they didn't even sign their statements released to DOJ and media. 

In so doing, De Lima and Brillantes are obviously following the script of Malacanang's left-wing Presidential Political Adviser Ronald Llamas, who finally emerged from the shadows yesterday on the cases. Llamas has marshaled his leftist party-list attack dogs in the House to file charges against Arroyo officials.  As Lambino put it, all these stories of fraud and corruption swirling in the media are under the SUPERVISION of top government officials.


Given these circumstances, what kind of impartial inquiry can the citizens expect? Can the lawyers of the DOJ go against Boss De Lima? Can the lawyers of Comelec go against Chair Brillantes? Given the direct intervention of Malacanang in the accusations against P-Noy’s predecessor, can De Lima and Brillantes go against P-Noy and Llamas?

There is the rightful clamor of citizens for the truth to surface in the elections under question, in order to put all the accusations of fraud behind us as a nation. But under the above circumstances, wouldn’t any inquiry be just a moro-moro, at the expense of the constitutional human rights of the accused to a fair hearing in court?  What's going on is a scandalous trial by publicity.


There is outright condemnation of Arroyo and other officials of the past administration, judging from media statements of ranking Aquino officials, even without a formal inquiry and while still bereft of sworn statements by so-called witnesses.  On the other hand, there is the tremendous double standard of the Aquino administration.

For example, P-Noy, in no less than his SONA, accused the past administration of Pagcor of spending P1 billion in coffee, which at first blush looks mind-boggling (except that a more honest picture would have been to state that it was for a ten year period in 13 casinos where the high-end Figaro Coffee Shop catered to an average of 25,000 patrons daily). Yet, nothing was heard from the Palace about the accusation by House Deputy Minority Leader Danilo Suarez that Pagcor lost P400 million in three different casinos to a foreign gambling syndicate in just one week last May 2011---in P-Noy's first year in office. In addition, said Suarez, the members of the syndicate, who are holding Malaysian and Chinese passports, were allowed to post bail and can no longer be located to account for their theft. 

Citizens are also questioning why retired Gen. Gaudencio Pangilinan, Jr., a friend of the President, was appointed head of the Bureau of Corrections when he was accused by AFP former budget officer George Rabusa of amassing many millions in military funds while serving as executive assistant to the late Chief of Staff General Arturo Enrile. Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda was quoted as saying that Pangilinan should be given the benefit of the doubt until proved guilty; yet Gen. Angelo Reyes, who was generally regarded as instrumental in the swing of the military to GMA at Edsa 2, was persecuted for Rabusa's very same allegations, until he was led to commit suicide.


Citizens doubtless have followed the media blitz of SPO Santiago in the supposed Batasan break-ins from January to February 2005, but to them certain points just don’t wash. To begin with, former Speaker Jose de Venecia and then Majority Leader (later to succeed JDV as Speaker) Prospero Nograles have denied in the media any break-in into the House, as attested by close-circuit TV and the House Chief Security.  JDV was on record as having asked the House Security to investigate the allegation  of a break-in when a news-magazine first wrote about it in 2005; no breach was established.

But assuming that, as Santiago claimed, his group was able to break into the Batasan at night on first try, on the pretext that there was a bomb threat, how were they able to pull the second, third and fourth break-ins without arousing suspicion? Would the “bomb threat” have worked subsequently?


In law it is important to establish the credibility of the witness.  Santiago’s group is not credible because, as Comelec Chief Brillantes himself was quoted in ABS-CBN, they approached him when he was lawyer of Sen. Loren Legarda, FPJ's runningmate, in her protest case against Lakas VP candidate Noli de Castro, to sell its video tapes to Loren's camp as evidence. Brilliantes said he turned down the offer because it was too expensive. Legarda recently attested to this offer but said she refused it outright, as she “didn’t see why I have to buy evidence.” 

I recall that this group also tried to peddle its fraud wares to another ranking official three years later, but he also nixed it as “suspicious.”  Obviously the Palace bought this “evidence” that it’s now peddling to the people via the media.


This fraud-for-sale story is reminiscent of the many complaints from defeated local candidates that surfaced in weeks of hearings held by the House Committee on Suffrage and Election Laws in the 14th Congress, chaired by former Rep. TeddyBoy Locsin, after the 2010 elections. The losers recounted how they were propositioned by various manipulators to fork out certain amounts (some running into millions) in exchange for sure victory, but which they all turned down.

I recall election lawyer Romulo Macalintal’s reaction at that time---that these losers deserve to lose because they did not entrap or expose the syndicates who approached them. Perhaps Sen. Legarda and lawyer Brillantes should have exposed the fraud-peddling of the Santiago group late in 2004.


With regard to the claim of SPO Santiago’s group that Comelec manipulators faked 6,000 election returns (ERs) in favor of GMA and the police unit facilitated the exchange in the Batasan break-ins, it is good to remember that in the protest case filed by FPJ against GMA, he questioned the ERs in 40 provinces while in ten provinces the ballots would have had to be re-counted---except that FPJ died in December 2004. Subsequently, the Supreme Court denied the petition of FPJ’s widow, Susan Roces, for a recount on the ground that she couldn’t substitute for him.

With the sudden death of FPJ in December 2004, would the Arroyo camp have taken pains and risked all to fake 6,000 ERs and have it smuggled into the Batasan in the middle of the night in January to February 2005, given the huge unlikelihood that there would be a recount? 

But even assuming that following Santiago’s fantastic tale, a recount was undertaken, surely hot-shot election lawyers such as Leila de Lima (FPJ’s lawyer) and Sixto Brilliantes (Loren’s lawyer) would have noticed the discrepancy between the fakes and the genuine ones, as they were holding ONE of the six or seven copies of the ERs as the dominant opposition party. Surely such fake ERs would never have passed undetected before their eagle eyes and they would have screamed to the world had the fraud been attempted. 

All these are questions that seasoned lawyers would be asking in a trial in a court of law, but of course in the mass media it's trial by publicity. 


The problem with this administration is that it’s totally obsessed with putting GMA behind bars for whatever reason--graft or electoral fraud, or both---with the help of all-too friendly media. But my unsolicited advice to P-Noy, now that he has appointed his very own Ombudsman, is, why doesn’t he just leave the prosecution of graft in the past administration---as well as in his own turf---to the dynamic duo of Conchita Carpio Morales and Leila de Lima and the courts, and the tall tales of electoral fraud to the Comelec, so that they can be more independent and credible? With Morales as the “pitbull against graft,” P-Noy should now attend to the pressing problem of solving poverty and hunger and getting those crucial PPP projects started to move the economy. And yes, the growing unrest in Hacienda Luisita.


Catch our dzRH show tonight at 8 pm., as Cecile Alvarez and I dissect the SONA of P-Noy with the irrepressible veteran journalist Tony Lopez. 

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lupita Aquino Kashiwahara sorely missed at SONA

President Aquino’s communications strategists targeted reaching the masa in this second SONA, so that his 53-minute address was tailored for the TV and radio audience instead of the members of Congress assembled in their full regalia in the cavernous Session Hall of the House. To begin with, he spoke entirely in Pilipino, but he often deserted the lofty discourse of a Balagtas for the idiom and lingo of the man in the street. 

To those of us who were there, it was so noticeable that the volume of P-Noy’s address was toned down to sound conversational on TV and radio;  but at times some parts couldn’t be understood by his audience, especially since he spoke at a pace oftentimes a bit fast, and toward the end of his sentences he would lower his voice to the point where it was almost inaudible. So much so that it lulled some representatives and guests, including some very prominent ones, into intermittent sleep and their seatmates had to nudge them to wake them up. 


The Inquirer counted 45 applauses, but if its reporter was awake himself, he would have realized that much of the applause came from a barong-clad "pala" group in the Third Gallery South, not far from where Communications Undersecretary Manolo Quezon was directing things inside the communications booth, instead of from members of Congress. Without this automatic-applause group at the upper gallery, the reception to P-Noy's SONA would have been far colder, as evidently some members of Congress couldn’t hear or understand what he was saying; or, as a gallery spectator mused, it could be a protest of some representatives over the delay in the release of their pork barrel (but with the budget for 2012 already submitted, expect the releases to be stepped up).  

Interestingly, even the 80 plus LPs did not react as enthusiastically as they should, and even P-Noy’s praise for the postponement of the ARMM elections. that was rammed down by Congress, merited no applause.


This blogger has been a veteran of SONAs since President Cory Aquino delivered her first one in 1987, and frankly, I’ve never seen such a tepid crowd in the plenary hall.  Last Monday was one time when I felt that presidential aunt Lupita Aquino-Kashiwahara was sorely missed---she could have coached P-Noy to be a more effective speaker. I recall how Lupita would rehearse President Macapagal Arroyo right in that cavernous hall the night before the SONA, in order to familiarize her with the audio-visual demands of the place; and one result was that she would get resounding applause from the  almighty Lakas Party, including a couple of standing ovations to GMA's periodic cadences.


Last Monday I joined a group of mixed political persuasions at the House and even the most rabid of P-Noy’s admirers found, to their surprise, the audience quite cold, owing perhaps to the above factors. But then, perhaps in the political calculus of his advisers and strategists, who cares for the response of Congress when he was addressing over TV and radio the masses that had lodged him in Malacanang in the first place?  Doubtless in their thinking, the fickle members of Congress could turn against him any time, but he has to keep cultivating his rock-base, the masses, who largely remain glued with him until now. Sound strategy for someone with a thin record of achievement, in the first place.  


P-Noy’s easy conversational tone was geared for TV and radio, and only when he spoke of his one obsession---to prosecute the alleged corruption in the past administration---did he, as a friend of mine said, “project the fire in his belly.”  P-Noy resorted to images understandable by the common folk, such as the colorful "wang-wang” that he cleverly appropriated to refer generically to all sorts of anomalies in government, and street idioms such as “kanya-kanyang diskarte,” “chop-chop,” "bokya ang boto ng mga hindi kaalyado,” and “Hindi pwedeng ‘Oks lang’” in referring to undesirable aspects of our political life. He also rode on the image of folks crowding one another in the LRT and MRT, by admonishing, “Tama na ang unahan, tama na ang tulakan, tama na ang lamangan…”


As Dean Amado Valdez put it in his TV analysis last Monday, P-Noy offered “common solutions to the common problems faced by the common tao.” The President identified his constituents---"ang mga tsuper, mga guro, ang estudyanteng pauwi pa lang mula sa kalse, ang  mga pulis, sundalo, kaminero at bumbero…” For their easier comprehension he recruited folksy anecdotes such as the apocryphal story of the Marines defending the Spratlys with coconut tree trunks painted black (obviously meant to win him support from the AFP), and the reference to ARMM anomalies involving malversed funds that otherwise should have helped   "isang batang tumawid sa ghost bridge, para pumasok sa ghost school, kung saan tuturuan siya ng ghost teacher."   


But while his SONA read more like a club report in its myriad little details, including the Filipino invention of an anti-dengue device, it offered no vision of where he wants to lead the nation in the next five years---no road-map to the future or a legislative agenda; moreover, it left out huge-impact issues such as the future of peace talks in Mindanao, how to push the much-touted PPP program and yes, HOW TO RESOLVE Hacienda Luisita.  Instead P-Noy asked the people to invest a lot of faith in his  litany of promises, beginning with lifting the poorest of the poor from the bondage of poverty.

This the administration proposes to do by seeking from Congress a 59 percent increase in the 2012 P1.816 trillion budget for the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program, run by the DSWD, over and above its already staggering P23 billion funding for 2011.  The CCT, which proposes to benefit 3 million families by 2012, compared to 1.3 million families in 2011,  is denounced left and right for encouraging a “dole-out mentality” and leaving so much room for manipulation of its gargantuan funds by officials with little credibility, at a time of tight government resources and the cut-back of 20 percent by other line departments. 


In fact, Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tanada III, a close ally of P-Noy, questioned the authenticity of the DSWD's listing of poor families, when he noted that among his constituents listed for the CCT were those with several members gainfully employed since 2008---and therefore no longer qualifying under this program. How many more such families are there, while the truly poorest of the poor are being left out because of a faulty or rushed listing system?  

I personally question the claim that the CCT can truly lift families out of poverty, as it’s just a pantawid or palliative. Investing the huge amounts in solid programs such as honest-to-goodness health care down to the barangay level, which is so sorely lacking, and constructing more classrooms to boost spending and jobs in the countryside would be far better solutions than the CCT. Above all, the poorest of the poor need JOBS and more JOBS, but this President is too busy witch-hunting for criminals in the past administration, when he should be hunting for JOBS for the poor.



  • The lovely young lady solon from Lanao, Fatima Aliah Dimaporo, who showed up at the SONA in traditional Muslim get-up and headdress, was introduced to P-Noy  and fellow representatives swear that she caught the 51-year old bachelor President 's eye, except that he seemed shy on how to go about cultivating her friendship.  Onlookers quickly spun images of a Muslim bride for P-Noy and how it would serve as the grand solution to the centuries-old secessionist movement in the South. Aliah, for her turn, seemed excited about meeting P-Noy and when asked what has happened to the Bulacan mayor she used to date steadily, she replied with a fetching smile, “I don’t know…”

  • P-Noy dropped what’s considered the “biggest bombshell” at the SONA when he cited the P1 billion Pagcor reportedly spent on coffee in the past administration. He estimated that placing the cost of one cup of coffee at P100 each, it would look like 10 million coffee cups were consumed by the gambling agency. PNoy’s disclosure made for shocking soundbites indeed, but he was being less than ingenuous on this matter and there was definitely quite a bit of malice in its handling in the SONA. 

    For what he failed to state was that this amount represented the coffee consumption of Pagcor's high-roller gaming customers over a period of ten years in its 13 casinos around the country. Pagcor insiders stress that the consumers among the average 25,000 daily casino customers paid for their coffee and cakes with chips and in turn Pagcor paid the concessionaire of the high-end “Figaro Coffee Shop." Columnist Ramon Tulfo, who, I would hazard, knows the inside of  casinos, estimates that each player downs about five to six cups in a given stay.   

    Thus, considering that Figaro sells its coffee commercially at P70 to P80 per cup in its coffee shops in, say, Makati, the P1 billion cited by P-Noy seems less staggering than at first blush. But of course, had P-Noy taken pains to explain even some of these details, it would have detracted from the impact of his huge "bomba" at the SONA. 

    What's worth investigating, however, is the report that the coffee concessionaire at Pagcor has ties with its former chair, Efraim Genuino. These ties he seems at a loss to explain.

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

P-Noy uses pork to whip his followers into line, in the best trapo tradition

The Manila Standard Today’s story last Friday about how President Aquino and his henchmen are using pork barrel allocations to punish even his own House allies who failed to vote according to Palace directives is quite disturbing.  It indicates how much of a trapo P-Noy is, contrary to the reformist image he tried to project in the campaign; but as the newspaper pointed out, the ones he really punishes are the constituents of those representatives who are deprived of the benefits of pork barrel.


Recall that on the eve of the voting on the fate of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez in the House Committee on Justice, it was widely rumored that the Palace will withhold pork barrel releases to those who did not obey its certified directive to impeach her. The story by excellent journalist Christine Herrera said that 14 of the 30-member minority have yet to receive their pork as they voted negative both on the impeachment of Gutierrez and the postponement of the elections in ARMM, so crucial to the administration’s control of that region.

The Herrera story said a total of 17 representatives got zero pork, while those who voted negative on either of the two issues received only half a year’s pork.  One of those who got zero pork was Navotas Rep.Toby Tiangco who voted no to both issues, whereas, the 81-member LP and their allies who voted a solid yes to both got their full pork. 
 As P-Noy’s State of the Nation Address this Monday is eagerly awaited, so are the pork releases. The popular question nowadays in the corridors of the House is, “Wala pa bang tawag mula sa Malacanang.”


One of the items that have become guessing game in the SONA is P-Noy’s marching order on the RH bill---is he going to go easy on it, thus signaling its continued relegation to the backburner, or is he going to trumpet the clarion call to calendar it right away.  For House members, how this issue will be handled in the SONA may presage the fate of pork barrel releases to those who have had none so far, or the rest of it for those who got only half a year's allocation. They’re all watching and waiting.

But if P-Noy were more attuned to realpolitik, he would avoid a head-on confrontation at the moment with the bishops who were truly hurt by the PCSO accusations about their “Pajeros”--- which turned out to be even second-hand vehicles in some cases. As an observer put it, if he plays hard ball on the RH issue, this would probably be read as a declaration of war on the bishops---in which case P-Noy may be on the losing end.  For after that infamous shaming session at the Senate, courtesy of Margie Juico, the bishops became united as never before in the local church’s history.  The popular belief is that they were subjected to humiliation in order to weaken their position on the RH bill, and this has galvanized prelates and flock to fight it even more.


I have long argued on this issue of the RH bill that the Philippines is not “over-populated”---it’s our cities that are bursting at the seams, and this is due to the absence of gainful opportunities for employment in the rural countryside.  I have seen this reality in 28 years of going around as a journalist, as well as with my late husband in his 36 years in active military service and in the SSS later---one could drive through various regions for long stretches without seeing a substantial cluster of people. Where is the "over-population?" I would muse.

But recently, I confirmed this belief in the interview Cecile Alvarez and I had with the multi-awarded Director-General of the Philippine Export Zone Authority (PEZA), Lilia de Lima (catch it tomorrow night, Sunday, at 8 pm. on dzRH, if you want or need a feel-good session), and again at the Ateneo University’s special academic convocation last Thursday, where she received the coveted government service award.


De Lima (who’s often asked how she’s related to the “other De Lima---Leila,” likes to say she’s the “original De Lima” and her niece is the “upgraded version”) was recently also voted “Man of the Year” by the Management Association of the Philippines---the first woman to receive this honor from this male bastion. Appointed by President Fidel Ramos as the first “D-G”  (in true military tradition, FVR simply calls her “General”) of the newly created PEZA in 1995, following the enactment of the PEZA law sponsored principally by then Sen. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Lilia was subsequently re-appointed by President Erap, twice by President Macapagal Arroyo and now by President Noynoy Aquino. The only official in government to enjoy such sweeping trust from four Presidents, De Lima has anchored her reputation on "absolute honesty and integrity" which has also been inculcated in her nearly 500-member work force.

Over the last 16 years that De Lima has led PEZA, it has established 246 economic zones that included 152 IT Parks, 13 Agro-Industrial Parks and a number of Tourism Economic Zones and, Medical Tourism Zones. All told, there are some 2,479 multinational and some Filipino companies in those eco-zones, that account for 80 percent of our total exports and 87 percent of our manufactures (which include the “cerbo-mechanism,” the most sensitive part of the Airbuses and Boeings, manufactured in the Baguio eco-zone,  and 50 to 60 percent of all cell-phone chips in the world).

The beauty of PEZA is that four years after its creation from the original Export Processing Zone Authority,  the current PEZA zones were developed with no public funds/loans for their construction, operation and upkeep---all were developed, operated and maintained by private developers.


But how does the RH bill tie in? De Lima stressed in our interview (don’t miss it tomorrow night, Sunday, at 8 on dzRH) that wherever PEZA sets up shop the locality’s standard of living is automatically upgraded and people’s lives improve dramatically.

Take the West Cebu Industrial Park in Balamban, Cebu, which hosts the Tuneishi Heavy Industries Cebu that makes huge freight ships in partnership with the Aboitiz Group. Once Balamban was a sleepy 6th class municipality, but today it hosts the third-largest shipbuilder in Asia and this has triggered many allied industries as well. Balamban has grown by leaps and bounds and townsfolk who had left earlier to find better jobs in other parts of Cebu have returned. On the other hand, in IT Parks around the country, middle and high-end subdivisions have mushroomed that cater to young and well-paid IT workers.


I studied the Philippine map where PEZA’s 246 eco-zones are located and it’s no coincidence that these are in the most developed areas of the country---the heaviest concentration in the NCR and Southern Luzon areas, with a few in Bulacan, La Union and Cebu, and a smattering in Bukidnon, Davao, Tarlac, Camarines and the Negroses.

If only there were eco-zones in Mindoro, Quezon and the Visayas such as the big islands of Panay and Samar as well as in all of Mindanao, especially the ARMM area,  and in the Bicol area, poverty would be greatly alleviated and people won’t have to flock to Metro Manila. 
Indeed, if there were more eco-zones in the poorer provinces, the current 1.9 percent population growth rate would go down further WITHOUT ANY NEED to pass this RH bill that has so badly divided our people. For with economic development they WOULD CEASE TO BE MERE BABY FACTORIES, as slum families often are. Instead, they would be WORKING IN FACTORIES to raise their families in decent standards as God wants them to do.


Like other citizens I am shocked at the exhibit put up by a Filipino artist on the third floor of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, where he liberally adorned statues of Jesus Christ and a cross with used condoms, and a painted the face of Christ with a Mickey Mouse mask and a penis for a nose. Being a UP graduate, I am quite tolerant of “artistic expression,” and should the artist have exhibited his works in a private gallery, I would consider it perfectly within his right.  But the venue was the CCP, which is operated with taxpayers’ money and its officials should have been more sensitive to the sensibilities of a segment of the population that would be shocked and offended by the exhibit displays. CCP officials led by Chair Emily Abrera better have a good explanation as to why this was allowed.

Had the exhibit been offensive to Muslim sensibility I would have protested just as vigorously--- even as I praise, in contrast, MMDA Chair Francis Tolentino for authorizing the removal of the offensive series of billboards in the Guadalupe Bridge area, at the initiative of Mandaluyong Mayor Ben-Hur Abalos, that showed a successive hunk of male bodies clad only in the briefest of briefs. To begin with, Bench Corporation, which is supposed to be selling clothes, loves to just display, not clothes, but an abundance of flesh all the time, often in a series of very suggestive poses;  but the briefs ad was poorest in taste, making the city look like a gigantic PlayGirl magazine.  

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

With all the attacks on GMA fiercely crowding one another out daily in the front pages of broadsheets, impression is of a nation in total disarray

Various personalities, including former Comelec Chief Benjamin Abalos, have warned P-Noy’s administration about taking up the offer of former ARMM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan and former Maguindanao election supervisor Lintang Bedol to testify against former President Macapagal Arroyo on alleged frauds committed by her officials in the 2004 and 2007 elections, lest these boomerang on the current administration.

Zaldy Ampatuan has suddenly offered to testify on alleged frauds in Maguindanao, obviously in the hope that the P-Noy administration would allow him to turn state witness against his own father and brother, Andal Ampatuan Sr. and Jr. on their role in the horrible massacres in 2009; obviously he hopes that by doing this, he himself could go scot free on these mass murders.

Bedol, on the other hand, has surfaced after four years of hiding and is said to have submitted an affidavit to the Comelec en banc on how he was allegedly instructed by GMA and her husband Mike Arroyo to ensure the former administration’s senatorial candidates’ victory in Maguindanao.  


To this blogger, the timing of these two former officials now singing the same tune---that elections in that part of Mindanao were rigged to favor administration candidates---is suspect, and the warning about going slow on their proffered testimonies should be heeded by the P-Noy administration.  Indeed, as Justice Secretary Leila de Lima pointed out, Ampatuan, in offering to testify against his kin, goes against the grain of deepest human relations, while in Bedol’s case, why is he talking only now? 


To begin with, as election lawyer Romulo Macalintal pointed out, anything Bedol says now about the 2004 elections may be useless, as there is a five-year prescription period for the filing of charges against election offenses; thus, prosecuting GMA for alleged frauds in the 2004 elections can no longer be entertained by the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (which is the entire Supreme Court).  Any new inquiry into electoral frauds in Maguinanao would have to focus on the 2007 senatorial elections, but as Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes said, the poll body cannot touch on these as they are under the jurisdiction of the Senate Electoral Tribunal. He said the Comelec’s jurisdiction pertains only to election offenses.

In the light of these conditions, the surfacing of Bedol and the offer of Zaldy Ampatuan to rat on alleged election frauds in ARMM in exchange for turning state witness in the gruesome massacres in Maguindanao, cannot but be held suspect by disinterested observers. That these two happenings broke out in the media less than two weeks before President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address is now being read in many quarters as merely part of the crescendo-ing cacophony of noises to buttress P-Noy’s claim that he is fulfilling his campaign pledge to war against corruption. But that war appears to recognize only malfeasance in the previous administration, not the KKK in his own administration.


The pursuit of corruption in the old GMA era will predictably be the meat of his SONA, or as a pundit put it, the demolition of GMA will be “P-Noy’s flagship program” on Monday.  Note that there’s hardly anything in the front-pages of the broadsheets except different stories about the alleged corrupt acts of GMA and her family. 
The strawberry on the cake seems to be DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima’s musing, which seems to be part of the harassment campaign, that she’s “thinking” of placing GMA on the immigration watchlist since she is “now subject of several investigations.” I’m frankly shocked at this musing of De Lima, for not even in the bad old days of Erap did this country get to that point of putting him on the watchlist. It took Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to bring De Lima back from her fantasies, as JPE stressed that “There is no crime. There is no accused. Just talk.”


The problem, however, is that one, all these simultaneous attacks on GMA and her family that are being given full-play in Aquino-friendly media daily give the impression of a nation in total disarray---parang ang gulo-gulo ng bayan.  Second, many people are getting tired of all the attacks on GMA as nothing much is being said of P-Noy’s vision as well as programs. There is a point of satiation with all these attacks even in people who have the least liking for GMA, or even a slight revulsion of her, for more than persecuting her, they want to hear how P-Noy will solve the glaring problems of the nation, such as the deepening poverty.

A friend of mine related the other night how her college student son, enrolled at the Ateneo, suddenly remarked one morning after looking at the broadsheets, “Doesn’t this government  have anything else to do but train its attacks on GMA? Why does it keep looking back instead of moving this country forward?”  In fact, the popular notion is that these attacks are a smokescreen for a do-nothing government, or as GMA’s lawyer, Raul Lambino, defined SONA: “State of No Accomplishment.” 
Stinging still are the words of admonition from Lingayen Archbishop Socrates Villegas to the President: a leader bereft of vision is committing “treachery” to his people. Hearken to your mother’s friend, Mr. President.


The old but newly-surfaced allegations of Zaldy Ampatuan and Lintang Bedol about poll frauds in Maguindanao have prompted renewed calls for an inquiry once again into the 2004 presidential and 2007 senatorial elections in Maguindanao and ARMM. As if on cue, there is agitation in this direction in the House of Representatives and Sen. Chiz Escudero has filed a joint resolution for Congress to set up his version of a truth commission to look into these newly-surfaced allegations. So far  Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Speaker Sonny Belmonte have resisted the calls for a new inquiry and this is wise, as few can see what new aspects it would bring about. The immediately foreseeable reaction is to again divert Congress’ attention from deep economic problems and urgent reforms, including those that should be put in  place for the coming 2013 elections.  


Recall that after the Garci tapes expose, investigation was conducted ad nauseum by both chambers of Congress in 2005.  Then too, the CBCP had their own investigation into the results of the 2004 elections, as conducted by a committee composed of the most virulent arch-critics of GMA, namely, Bishops Yniguez, Tobias and Labayen. Their conclusion as furnished to the CBCP was that GMA won not by 1.2 million votes as her camp claimed, but only by 600,000 votes over FPJ.

Then too, as election lawyer Romulo Macalintal repeatedly stressed at that time, the electoral protest filed by Senator and FPJ’s vice presidential candidate in 2004, Loren Legarda, against GMA’s VP candidate, Noli de Castro (whom Macalintal represented) involved the opening of ballots at precinct level in mutually agreed upon areas across the nation, and the PET ruled that no significant cheating was seen. Macalintal stressed at that time that the ballots re-opened in that  protest case were the very same ballots used in the presidential contest.

Recall, too, that toward the end of the 2004 presidential campaign, FPJ significantly faltered due to serious financial difficulties and health problems, and he failed to show up in many significant rallies around the country. All these doubtless must have affected his votes, in addition to the cheating that went on in various levels. Toward the end of the campaign, the SWS survey placed GMA at 9 points ahead of FPJ. 


The question is, when does the nation put to rest the issue of who won in 2004?  Must it be raked up every time someone makes an accusation of fraud for whatever end he serves? When do we put a closure once and for all? GMA was  proclaimed winner of the 2004 race by Congress as the national canvassing board, and she finished that term last June 30, 2010;  on the other hand, FPJ is gone.

It will be recalled that in the United States, the US Supreme Court had to step in with its landmark decision that effectively resolved the bitterly contested 2000 presidential elections in favor of George W. Bush over rival Al Gore. It was perhaps the closest results in recent history---271 electoral for Bush vs. 266 for Gore.  The swing state was Florida where the elections were bitterly marred for weeks by disputes over the legitimacy of Bush’s victory, after the resort to manual recount was done in a number of counties, in view of the extremely minuscule 0.5 percent margin for Bush in the total automated recount.  There were also the problems of delayed overseas absentee voting, allegations of fraud in some places and fear that manual recount could delay the submission of results within the mandated time limit set up by the state.  

The US Supreme Court under Chief Justice William Rehnquist finally had to step in and halt the Florida recount;  and in a per curiam decision it also ruled that the state supreme court’s method for recounting ballots was a violation of the Equal Protestion Clause of the 14th Amendment. 

The US President had to be inaugurated on the third Monday of January and the Florida disputes that threatened to drag on were endangering this proclamation. What followed the US Supreme Court’s decision was beautiful statesmanship as Gore conceded immediately and Bush went on to his inauguration.


In this country, we cannot afford to keep looking back for clearly, even the electoral system is in bad need of re-examination amid the innumerable flaws of  the May 2010 automated electoral system and reforms needed for the 2013 and 2016 elections. This is not to say that electoral frauds of the past should  be swept under the rug---by no means;  but we should not entertain every allegation of fraud that’s not backed up by substantive documents and evidence---which is, as Enrile put it, all talk.

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