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, August 31, 2011

Let Miriam go to the ICC where hopefully she could knock the lights out of an accused Khadafi



News reports say Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago will leave soon for abroad to campaign for her election as one of the 18 jurists of the International Criminal Court (ICC), after the Philippine government has nominated her. The ICC is the permanent tribunal founded by the Rome Statute in 2002 to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.


It’s interesting that Santiago hasn’t even left yet, but already many commentators seem to be missing her---as though her election to the ICC is already a fait accompli. But who wouldn’t miss Miriam? Who can ever replace that unforgettable accent in the halls of the Senate, the sharp analytical legal mind, the razor-edged tongue and the acerbic wit that no one among her peers---not even Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile--- would challenge for fear of being reduced to the ridiculous? Who can ever make assertions like what she just did---that few senators bother to perform in executive sessions because these are not “telegenic” (actually she should be the last person to complain about senators' propensity for telegenic public sessions, for no one uses the TV cameras in the chamber the way she does).

When Miriam swings into action on the Senate floor, she’s like a wayward bus---no one can be sure where and whom it would hit and all her colleagues scamper out of harm’s way as it careens forth.


I recall when she was nominated by President Arroyo earlier to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the 1945 court that serves as the primary judicial organ of the UN---whose main functions are to settle legal disputes among member states and provide advisory opinions on legal questions from international organs and agencies and the UN General Assembly. I was among those who poised objections in the media to that nomination, arguing that with that wayward bus-like stance she displays in the Senate, Miriam could just be a nuisance in the staid ICJ in The Hague, where silver-haired ex-Chief Justices from various countries sit as jurists. Perhaps the appointing UN powers harkened to our collective objections and she failed to get that ICJ appointment.


But now, with the prospect that deposed  Moammar Khadafi could be added to the string of African despots to be tried by the ICC, I think President Aquino did the right thing in nominating Miriam. Let's hope the wayward bus hits Khadafi right smack on target.


I was actually surprised to read last weekend the still-unclassified July 2, 2009 memo to the US State Department, as leaked by the notorious “WikiLeaks” (a.k.a. the “online whistle-blower”) of Julius Assange, containing former US Ambassador to Manila Kristie Kenny’s rather unflattering opinion of former President Cory Aquino. Kenny was quoted opining in that memo that the late Philippine icon of democracy was “only a partial icon of morality” and that Cory’s credibility as a moral crusader was “tarnished when she was seen with disgraced former President Estrada in protest movements against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo---even after she had supported then Vice President Arroyo’s successful second People Power revolt in 2001 that ousted Estrada.”

President Cory Aquino
The Wikileaks-released State Department memo from Kenny noted Cory Aquino’s falling-out with Arroyo that continued after the latter moved to distribute Hacienda Luisita to its workers. Kenny also stressed that Cory leaves behind “an incomplete transition to democratic governance” and that her moral leadership “never fully compensated for her weak leadership style.” She also cited the numerous coup attempts and the flawed Constitution Cory had tasked to be drawn up reportedly in "extreme haste."


Kenny’s assertions surprised me because in the weeks after President Cory’s death last August, 2009, I would see Kenny continually sporting a yellow ribbon on her lapel. In fact, once, at a social function, feigning shock I teased her on whether the yellow ribbon was her political statement--- support for then still-undeclared but already very much in the running presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino. I queried  whether the US Ambassador is allowed to endorse a presidential candidate in the host country. Kenny riposted that it was not in support of Noynoy but out of sentiment for Cory Aquino that she was openly displaying the yellow ribbon. 

Now comes all the unflattering opinions on Cory that Kenny had cabled to the US State Department. I can only surmise  that even as she was fond of the late icon of democracy, Kenny was also confronting the truth of what she had come to fully grasp at that time. As renowned author Theodore White put it, "it's time to peel away the old legends." Kenny obviously realized that it was one thing for Cory to strive to advocate leadership, but  quite another to actually exercise it efficiently.

In that sense Cory reflected the Filipino people's predicament in post-Edsa: while we realized the need for real substantive reforms after we ousted the dictator through People Power, it was quite another thing for us to make our democracy really work; that it proved far easier to oust the dictator than to make institutions of government function efficiently. 


Reports say that in the recent week President Noynoy treated House legislators from various political groups to fine dining in Malacanang and the assumption is that these affairs were goal-targeted. Obviously P-Noy is no different from other presidents before him in using the vast persuasive powers of office to sway Congress members  to vote for his legislative agenda.

There are two prominent items in this agenda. One is the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program, which proposes to raise by a whopping 89 PERCENT next year’s allocation for the CCT---from the current P23 billion to P39 billion. Many legislators from various parties, including some of P-Noy’s allies, are objecting to this eye-popping amount, given the lack of accompanying infrastructure such as needed schools and health centers, the faulty listing of beneficiaries and the near-impossibility of monitoring how much of the allocation actually goes to the poorest of the poor families and how much to the pockets of implementers down the line. P-Noy's other pet program is the RH bill.


Veteran House insiders concede, however, that while there are outspoken critics of both pending items, the voting could change once the President summons them to the Palace--- with projects and perhaps fat envelops on hand. Which is deplorable, for in both the CCT and the RH issues, there are far better alternatives. 
Instead of huge dole-outs for the poorest folk which are being manipulated by unscrupulous supervisors of CCT, for instance, it’s infinitely better to use the many billions to fortify the skills training of Tesda for out-of-school youths who can fill the requirements of industrialization at  lower levels. Tesda chapters should be set up in various regions. But sadly, in the P1.8 trillion budget for 2012, huge cuts were even made in Tesda's budget. In fact education spending is at its lowest under P-Noy's administration---while CCT wants nearly P50 billion for 2012!

There is also a crying need for “real social services,” including barangay health centers adequately equipped with medicines and health personnel. When illness strikes the very poor, kawawa sila talaga; they don’t know where to go as many centers only give out paracetamol. 



A few weeks back, a priest named Fr. Cecilio L. Magsino wrote to a newspaper about how a small group of university students visited patients at the old National Orthopedic Hospital in Banawe, Q.C. (now the Philippine Orthopedic Center); they were appalled at the “inhuman” conditions they saw there. There was one immobile patient whose diaper could be changed only once a week. A nurse spoke about continually recycling gloves and patients’ tubes. The ward was stiflingly hot with poor ventilation and stench nauseating; toilets were not flushing and floors were unclean.

The Philippine Orthopedic Center is not an isolated case. With the deluge of dengue patients in many government hospitals around the country---and the threat of bird flu once again---health financial resources are frightfully strained. Given this reality, the P39 billion for largely unmonitored CCT is just terrible.


As for the RH bill, the problem is not over-population of the country, for the birth rate has been steadily going down---it now hovers at 2 percent or even 1.9 percent. The real problem is that big cities like Metro Manila are bursting at the seams because there’s little opportunity for gainful work in the provinces. Much of our countryside is deserted because nothing moves there---no infrastructure program and no jobs. Let's not throw all that good money into abortion-inducing contraceptives for the poor. Let's give them jobs in the countryside.

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