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 10, 2011

Reader suggests change from Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to “Yellow Ribbon Committee”

The six bishops from hinterland dioceses were recently quoted as saying they are ready to return the cash donations from PCSO that were used to obtain the vehicles for their dioceses. This is a good position and they should pursue it in order to clear their names. After all, they have stressed repeatedly that “our consciences are clear” and they believe their appeal for help from PCSO was valid, since the vehicles were used to carry out their dioceses’ mission of helping poor and indigenous communities.  

Returning those vehicles is itself much debated these days both among the clerics and their flock, as some have argued that the act could be constituted as an admission of guilt. I belong to those who believe those vehicles should be returned inasmuch as there has been so much distortion about them.


The distortion stemmed from PCSO’s very loose accusation that the six bishops received Pajeros when there isn’t a single Pajero in the donated list at all. It’s obvious that the PCSO couldn’t have given out SIX Pajeros to the SIX bishops from the P6.9 million total PCSO fund donated, as reported in the media; instead, most of the vehicles were 4x4 pick-ups  suitable for rough terrain, two of them second-hand and one over 10 years old.

 Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, who was accused of having received a vehicle but has denied it outright, has posed the query to PCSO as to its “real motive” in suddenly attacking the bishops. My theory is that the PCSO had wanted to zero in on the intelligence funds used by the previous Uriarte board, but it needed to focus first on the bishops' "Pajeros" in order to capture media attention; the public uproar would then bag an inquiry by the all-too willing Senate Blue Ribbon Committee controlled by the LP clique, which was fed data in advance by the PCSO during committe chair Teofisto Guingona III's secret visit to its offices last week (a reader of this blog suggests that the Blue Ribbon Commitee be renamed “Yellow Ribbon Committee” for its extreme bias at last week’s hearing. That's got to be one of the wittiest ideas in recent memory).  

The PCSO’s ultimate goal obviously was to focus on GMA’s alleged manipulation of that agency’s intel funds (my hunch is that this administration would file a case vs. GMA on this issue in the Ombudsman's office before the SONA on July 25);  but first, the sudden detonation from out of the blue of the shocking Pajero story about the bishops, never mind its inaccuracy and if their names would be maligned in the process. This was highly immoral.

 Thus, returning the cash donations from PCSO would be, as Star columnist Dick Pascual put it so well, "not an admission of wrongdoing, but an expression of disgust."  


Cecile Alvarez and I feature in our regular show tonight at 8:00 over dzRH (666 on the AM band)  Fr. Jerome Marquez, SVD, parish priest of the Sacred Church in Kamuning, Q.C., in the diocese of Cubao, and a canon lawyer trained at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and Fr. Melvin Castro of the Tarlac Diocese, who also serves as executive secretary of the CBCP’s Family and Life Commission. They will talk about the difficult role of bishops in the hinterlands and their own frank and candid views on the current controversy involving these bishops and PCSO. Tonight 8 pm. on dzRH. 


Bishop and CBCP spokesperson Broderick Pabillo recently opined: “What kind of presidency does President Noynoy hope to offer this country if he cannot even make his own family relinquish its stranglehold on properties that, in the first place, were acquired through government resources?”

My comment is, it's true that government resources were used way back in 1958 to enable the family of Don Jose Cojuangco, the President’s grandfather, to acquire Hacienda Luisita from the Tabacalera Co. Its loans came from the GSIS and a big American bank, the Manufacturers Trust Co.,  which was backed by the sovereign guarantee of the Philippine government. The generous loans and guarantee,  however, came with the stipulation that the over 6,000 has. of Luisita were to be distributed to the farmers AFTER 10 years.


But the distribution was never carried out; instead, the Cojuangco family resorted to various maneuvers in the courts to prevent it, and when Cory Aquino became President, the Cojuangcos succeeded in evading the full force of RA 6657, the CARP Law of 1988, ironically touted as the centerpiece of the Cory administration. This was done by going into a stock distribution option (SDO) in 1989---one of the very few feudal estates in the country allowed to take this course of action under Sec. 31 of RA 6657. Over the next 20 years the Hacienda fought various attempts to effect the just distribution of the land and today the problem persists, with the Supreme Court last Wednesday ordering a new "referendum" to determine whether the 6,296 original farmers want a piece of the land or some 18,804.32 Luisita shares of stocks.

 It's easy to see why even the Church would express fear that the management could again manipulate results to favor SDO, from which beneficiary farmers had complained in the past that they got such minuscule returns (last August 2010 the farmers junked a family-pushed  referendum). But as various opinion-makers have pointed out, P-Noy, who is said to have divested his interests in Luisita (the only existing gauge of this, as the Palace spokesman said, is his recent Statement of Assets and Liabilities), should once and for all be decisive about this 43 year-old problem and surprise the nation by convincing his family to distribute the land NOW. After all, they already made quite a pile in various commercial conversions of the huge estate.


 Will P-Noy play for history?
The problem is that from all indications, the Cojuangcos of Luisita are not united. It’s no secret that P-Noy and his uncle Peping Cojuangco and aunt Tingting  have drifted apart over a number of issues. This included the summary removal of Tingting from her GMA-appointed government post early in this new administration, and the postponement of the ARMM elections which P-Noy took a direct hand to push in Congress. Tingting, who had prepared to run for vice-governor in the elections this August 8, openly denounced the postponement  as unconstitutional and reportedly has signed up in a lawsuit against it before the Supreme Court.   

The open rift within the Cojuangco clan is said to have affected most especially P-Noy’s big sister, Ballsy Aquino-Cruz, who’s getting squeezed between her brother and uncle.


In Luisita; the farmers are said to have grown quite restive over the new referendum ordered by the SC and they now insist they want land instead of stock papers. The current tension  has evoked memories again of the clash between the farmers provoked by the Left and security forces backed up by the military in November 2004, that resulted in seven dead and scores wounded.

At the moment it’s hard to see how the Hacienda’s disposition problem would be solved, given the North Pole chill within the family; but pundits are not dismissing the possibility that P-Noy might still pull a miracle and, suddenly, proclaim at the SONA that all Hacienda lands will be distributed to its tenant-farmers. Watch his ratings shoot up meteorically.


Last July 7 the SC voted  6-4 in a decision penned by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco to revoke the SDO operating in  the Hacienda since 1989. But the problem was that in the same breath, the SC also ordered the holding of a referendum to determine whether the farmers would opt to acquire land or shares of stock.  It was a most puzzling decision, for if the SC was revoking the SDO, it should go without saying that the farmers can no longer choose it as an option. Yet the SC said the farmers can still do so. 

It should be noted that in a separate opinion during the deliberation Chief Justice Renato Corona maintained that Sec. 31 of the CARP Law which allowed stock distribution was unconstitutional; SC spokesman Midas Marquez explained later that the CJ “is of the position that land reform means giving of land, not stocks.”


Viewed against the realities of the day, however, this SC decision becomes quite understandable. It obviously wanted to ensure that it isn’t a GMA court, as critics have opined; but at the same time, it obviously  didn’t  want to displease the Cojuangco family which had successfully sought a TRO against  the 2005 decision of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council to revoke the stock option and order the redistribution of Hacienda’s lands, following the November 2004 violence there.

SC insiders note that the swing vote was the studious Associate Justice Teresita de Castro, for in the tightness of the vote, whichever side she swung to would have become the majority. Had she voted with the four others who rejected the stock option and wanted outright land distribution, the equation today would have been different and there would be great rejoicing among the farmers.              
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