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, August 14, 2011

Moro rebs' participation in 2013 ARMM elections could be enticing to SC justices who'll decide on legality of postponement and synchronization

Since Tourism Secretary Bertie Lim resigned late last week, names have been cropping up for the post, among them former Akbayan candidate Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and former LP candidate Rufino Rozzano Biazon. But why appoint a neophyte to this very crucial dollar-earning post when there are former DOT Secretaries Ace Durano and Dick Gordon to choose from?  These two former officials moved the DOT quite successfully and they know the ropes better than anyone. 

On the Customs front, there's talk about appointing Elizabeth Lee of the prominent automotive family as BOC Chief, to replace the controversial Angelito Alvarez. But Lee would be like a babe in the woods there, paiikutan lang ng mga tulisan doon. By the way, there's persistent talk circulating about 2,000 container vans having disappeared from customs. The latest is that those were loaded with ARMS. What's the truth there?


President Aquino seems to be merely reacting to various stimuli, giving the impression of being so laid-back, compared to other leaders. Take the controversy regarding the blasphemous art exhibit that was no art at all at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. When it hit the media two weeks ago, Palace spokesperson Abigail Valte quickly said  the Palace was keeping a “hands-off” policy on that issue and P-Noy couldn’t be bothered. 

But as the controversy escalated, with various legislators saying their piece and different groups attacking the exhibit, in came Imelda Marcos, who, claiming right of eminent domain, summoned the CCP board and virtually ordered it to shut down that offensive exhibit as it didn’t conform to the true, the good and the beautiful. Only then did P-Noy find his voice and he joined the condemnation, correctly arguing that a state-run facility should respect the sensibilities of people of whatever denomination or creed.

 But he refused to fire CCP officials, who had dug in kapit-tuko, a la Margie Juico in the Pajero issue with the bishops.


On the issue of the high prices of fuel, P-Noy was again beaten to the draw by Vice President Jejomar Binay. On the eve of his departure for a two-week study in Harvard,  VP Binay managed to appeal to the oil companies for a bigger rollback in their oil prices than the P1.89 per liter gasoline price and P1.87 per liter diesel fuel they are offering.  He  also held a dialogue with some 300 leaders of various transport groups at his Coconut Palace office, urging them to explore alternative fuels even as he also offered them, as chair of the Pag-Ibig board of trustees, memberships in that Fund.  Mabilis talaga gumalaw si Binay.


The problem with P-Noy is not that he’s slow-witted, but that in the year and two months he has been in office, he has remained too obsessed with prosecuting the Arroyos as his personal and official crusade, so that all other considerations have taken a back seat.  This blog is not the only one that has been saying this; P-Noy’s own economics classmates at the Ateneo have said as much and yesterday,  former President Ramos was also quoted as stressing that the innumerable investigations into Arroyo-era anomalies are driving away investors and giving the country a bad image. 

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this blog stresses that the President now has an Ombudsman after his own heart and a Justice Secretary who is a-go-go (too a-go-go at times), so that he should leave the prosecution tasks to them now and turn to the serious economic and political problems our country faces. 

The other day an American friend who is a big-time professional chef based in Oman flew into town and he told me that the “Saudization” going on in Saudi Arabia, whereby the authorities there are now giving priority to their own people in jobs in an effort to cut back on ballooning deficits, is jeopardizing the jobs of foreign nationals there, among them our OFWs. He opined that the protectionism will spread to other countries in the Arab world.


I ran into former POEA Chief and later Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas at a gathering recently and I queried her about this problem. She recalled that in her stint as the first POEA Chief in the early ‘80s she already saw this “Saudization” coming, and of course, now it’s a reality. We have two million Filipinos in Saudi Arabia, said Pat, and while we enjoy such good standing in that country, so that Pinoys would be the last foreign workers to be given their walking papers by the Saudis, still, it’s an eventuality we have to prepare for---how to contain their mass return.  

This means we'll need jobs and more jobs, and to produce them we have to move infrastructure programs in the countryside. But as the senators found to their dismay, there’s over P1.12 trillion in undisbursed funds in the Treasury, which explains perhaps the infrastructure standstill in the countryside. Moreover, not a single private-public partnership (PPP) project has been awarded until now.

It's time to move those projects that will generate jobs, Mr. President, and entrust the prosecution of graft cases to your Ombudsman who’s looking for over 100 capable lawyers to help her.


The Supreme Court held last Tuesday the first of perhaps a series of hearings on the postponement of the ARMM elections originally scheduled for last Aug. 8, and their synchronization with the national elections in 2013. The next  hearing is this Tuesday.  At that first hearing three eminent legal personalities argued for the opposition to postponement, namely, former UP Law Dean Pacifico Agabin, House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman and former Senator Aquilino Pimentel; this Tuesday it will be Solicitor-General Joel Cadiz defend RA 10153, which legislated postponement and synchronization.  

I was wrapped in attention listening to the opposing lawyers (especially since I'm on  their side), as they centered their arguments mainly on two central points: that the two chambers of Congress passed RA 10153 without the necessary 2/3 “super-majority” vote of each chamber, voting separately (in the House it was 60 votes short!), and the required plebiscite in the five ARMM provinces to ratify the amendment rescheduling the elections. 


I found Agabin and Lagman quite studious in their presentations and they skillfully met the queries from the justices on the six or seven laws that were enacted---and amended ---to govern ARMM in its one and a half decades of existence. As they pointed out, only one law, RA 9054, which set the “higher quantum of majority,” was duly ratified by the people of ARMM and therefore can qualify as legal and constitutional.  

Sen. Pimentel, who spoke last, didn’t have to be as studious as his two colleagues, and in fact he quipped that “I feel like the person beating a dead horse.”  Instead, he chose to argue from a practical standpoint: e.g., that the police and AFP would have such a tough time dismantling the warlords if the ARMM elections were synchronized with the national elections in 2013. At one point, Pimentel even accused the administration of “maliciously devising” the postponement of the ARMM elections in order to hand-pick OICs in place of those whose terms are ending on Sept. 30.


From the questions from the SC justices I thought they were rather convinced about the unconstitutionality of RA 10153. But a recent development could affect the magistrates: the recent revelation attributed to House Muslim leaders such as Sulu Rep. Tupay Loong, that postponement was a “key factor” in the secret Tokyo meeting between President Aquino and MILF Chair Murad Ebrahim. Why? Because, argued the Muslim leaders, it would allow Moro rebel leaders to run in the synchronized ARMM polls in 2013. In other words, the inference is that peace with the Muslim rebels has a better chance if they are able to run in 2013.

Indeed, such disclosure, albeit piece-meal and akin to a strip-tease treatment of the implications of that Tokyo secret meeting, gives the impression that peace in Mindanao totally hinges on the participation of the Moro rebels in the electoral process. In fact, Rep. Lagman, keen as ever, anticipated this train of thought in his query at the SC hearing: are MILF partisans being appointed as OICs? 


This idea of ending the strife in Mindanao by coaxing Moro rebels to engage in the parliamentary struggle, instead of taking up arms against the State could be quite an enticing an idea to the SC justices---just like the entry of former NDF Chief Satur Ocampo two decades ago electrified the nation wary of the "reds." 

Not that such rebel participation would be easy to comprehend.  Until now what the Tokyo meeting has succeeded in doing is to stir a lot of controversy over what the MILF and even the MNLF interpret as the “Moro sub-state” and how government interprets it. In the media, Lagman pointedly asked for clarification from P-Noy on this concept, while some P-Noy’s allies, such as party-list Rep. Angelo Palmones, are plainly wary of its implications. The other day former President Estrada, who had adopted a mailed-fist policy in Muslim Mindanao in his time, termed the “sub-state” concept rehashed hogwash.  

But it's also distinctly possible that participation in the ARMM political process by moro rebels could have been thrown in just to buy legal acceptance for the postponement of the ARMM elections. It could well be that the real reason could be the Liberal Party's long-range plan to take total political control of that vital region in the South, that has helped determined the outcome of elections over the past 60 years (In the 2010 elections the LPs had no political structure in Mindanao whatsoever, and were totally dependent on other parties helping P-Noy. Now they have this prospect of total control of ARMM). 

Yet this sub-argument could be enough to make the SC justices sit up--- and give the election postponement their legal imprimatur. Clever, real clever.

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