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, September 18, 2011

SC’s TRO on ARMM latest encounter between Palace and SC; ERDA’s Fr. Pierre Tritz celebrates 97th birthday and going strong

That the Supreme Court, voting 8-4, issued last week a TRO against the President’s appointment of OICs in the ARMM region came as no surprise to me. I had followed the two long hearings the SC conducted on the challenge to RA 10153, the law passed by Congress seeking to postpone the August 2011 elections in ARMM and to synchronize them with the 2013 national and local elections. While the Court did not rule outright on RA 10153’s constitutionality, it stopped President Aquino from appointing OICs in place of elected ARMM officials ending their term this Sept. 30.

The TRO came after the Office of the President had advertised extensively for interested parties to apply for the various elected regional and local positions in ARMM and its five provinces. Had the TRO not been issued, the OP would have indeed appointed those OICs. But now the SC says that until the legal issues are resolved by the Court, the elected officials stay put.  

The TRO is being read as the latest encounter in the running battle between the two branches of government  since P-Noy’s assumption.Very much a part of that battle is the Palace's decision to withhold the unspent budget of the judiciary for judicial appointments. Under the Constitution the judiciary is guaranteed full fiscal autonomy; hence this fiscal tightening by the Palace is being viewed quite darkly by sensible senators such as Juan Ponce Enrile and Joker Arroyo, as well as by constitutionalists. 


The Star headlined recently that Comelec feels that the ARMM elections are “in limbo” because of this TRO. I’m tempted to ask at this point: but who created that "limbo" situation in the first place? Wasn't it the Palace, which pressured its allies in Congress push for postponement of the ARMM elections even without going through the requisites of amendments to the Organic Act that had created ARMM in the early '90s? Those unfulfilled requisites were: a vote of 2/3 of both chambers voting separately (the House vote was 60 votes away from 2/3), and a plebiscite in ARMM to approve or disapprove that  amendment.


In the two extensive hearings on RA 10153, most of the SC justices were openly sympathetic to the arguments of opposing parties, namely, former UP Law Dean Pacifico Agabin, House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman and former Sen. Nene Pimentel, on these  missing requisites. Thus, to me and doubtless to many others who sat through those hearings, what proved surprising---more than the TRO---was that Justices Antonio Carpio and Ma. Lourdes Sereno would be among the four who voted against the TRO.

I especially thought Carpio was vehemently against RA 10153 as he pointedly lectured Solicitor-General Joel Cadiz that it directly disregarded the ARMM people’s autonomy, as enshrined in the Organic Act for ARMM, or RA 6734, as amended by RA 7054. Yet Carpio voted against stopping P-Noy from appointing OICs to what he  himself felt was the “least defensible option”---postponing the ARMM elections without the legal requisites.


In legal and political circles, the popular conclusion is that the Liberal Party is behind postponement of the ARMM elections, so that it could install Palace-appointed OICs who would allow the party to better control the outcome of the 2013 and 2016 elections for its presumptive candidate, Trade Secretary Mar Roxas. It's no coincidence that those who challenged RA 10153 were Lakas minority leader Edcel Lagman and Nene Pimentel of PDP-Laban. The latter supposedly remains allied with P-Noy but its top honcho , VP Jejomar Binay, has just announced his "intention to become 'A ' President."

The speculation now is that with the LP pushing for Roxas for 2016, his top legal adviser, former Defense Chief Avelino “Nonong” Cruz, may have asked his former law partner in “The Firm,” Justice Carpio, to vote against the SC’s TRO despite his strong stand against the perceived abuse of ARMM autonomy by RA 10153.


Tomorrow, Sept. 19, Fr. Pierre Tritz, S.J., founder and President of ERDA Foundation, celebrates his 97th birthday with a 6:30 am. mass at the Hospital of the Infant Jesus in Laon-Laan St., Sampaloc, Manila, where he has been chaplain for a long time now (to save on living quarters rental). The ERDA family, led by its board chair, Fr. Johnny Go, President of Xavier School in Greenhills, celebrated Tritz’s birthday last Friday, where the birthday boy, still ramrod-straight and ruddy-cheeked, enjoyed reminding all that he continues to be perhaps the oldest living Jesuit in the world; but if that doesn’t hold true, he says he’s certainly the 'oldest working' Jesuit in the Philippines, if not in the world. Tritz also pointed out with a sparkle in his eyes that renowned Magsaysay Awardee James B. Reuter is five years his junior in this most exclusive club of Jesuits above 90.

At the party I chatted with the Infant Jesus Hospital’s founder, Dr. Rolando Songco, who continues to look after Fr. Tritz. Songco, himself 86 and still tirelessly attending to patients, said that except for an occasional memory drift, Tritz remains healthy and strong.


I have the privilege of working with Fr. Tritz at ERDA since the mid-70s, after I was innocently invited to a lugawan to raise funds for its scholarship program for poorest of the poor schoolchildren by my friend from UPSCA days, Susan Sulit. Since then I---like many other ERDA volunteers---have been hooked by the enigmatic personality of this French-born, naturalized-Filipino priest (who was administered the citizenship oath by Ferdinand Marcos, together with 20 other foreign-born Jesuits in 1974) and the cause he has espoused all these decades---the education of poor Filipino street-children.

In the late 40’s, after China was overrun by the Communists, Tritz, along with other missionaries who had worked there for years, had to flee; after some months in the US he was shipped by the Jesuit Order to the Philippines while it shopped for another Asian assignment for him. He got stuck and while teaching psychology at the Ateneo and the Araneta University he began looking into the then---as now---dismal statistics on school drop-outs here, caused by grinding poverty and social factors. 


Fr. Johnny Go of Xavier School

In 1974 he put up ERDA Foundation which yearly supports close to 30,000 schoolchildren in various levels--- preventing them from becoming drop-out stats. In the early ‘90s, anticipating the country’s need for young people trained in industrial skills, Tritz contemplated setting up a high school that would combine academic studies with technical-vocational training that would help prepare the poorest students for immediate employment after high school. Thus was born the five-year ERDA Technical-Vocational High School (ERDA Tech) in Pandacan (way ahead of today’s K-12 program) where yearly, over 600 students are trained, all free of tuition, in skills such as electrical, automotive, baking and drafting.

In recent years, the entry of the brilliant and dynamic Fr. Johnny Go as ERDA chair has facilitated the infusion of talent, resources and direction from the elite Jesuit-run Xavier School in Greenhills to the Pandacan school. The interaction has been rewarding and enriching--- Xavier personnel Jane Natividad and Mark Magsalin have joined ERDA-Tech as its principal and assistant principal, respectively, while a number of Xavier faculty do volunteer teaching in English, Math, etc. at Pandacan. 

On the other hand, the Xavier Parents’ Auxiliary helps look after the needs of ERDA Tech students, especially since they found out, for instance, that some students from very poor families couldn’t attend school together as they have to rotate use of only one pair of shoes; or a good number would have fainting spells in mid-morning because they go to school without breakfast.


It all started with the selflessness of a ramrod-straight priest with his French aquiline nose and big heart, an awardee of the French Legion of Honor medal. If you folks want to help Tritz’s students win a ticket to tomorrow’s bright future, invest in an ERDA scholarship---it costs only P30,000 for the entire year. I have profiles of the ten poorest and can email them to you. Or you can call ERDA Tech today at tel. 564-1857, or the office of Fr. Tritz, tel. 732-3198.

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