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.

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.

    For comments/reactions, pls. email: