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, November 27, 2011

P-Noy bats for “just compensation” for family on Luisita. What’s the truth about GMA’s condition?

from interaksyon.com

Since the Supreme Court’s recent stunning order to Hacienda Luisita to implement full distribution of the nearly 5,000 hectares remaining of its lands to its tenant farmers, many questions have since been raised.
For instance, President Aquino, reacting to the ruling, was quoted opining yesterday that his family would obey it, and this was lauded all around. But at the same time he stressed that even though he has minimal holdings in Luisita, he feels there should be “just compensation” to  Cojuangco family.
The problem observers can see on this issue is that the contract signed back in 1958 by the Cojuangcos to acquire this estate from its Tabacalera owners--- which was made possible through loans from the Manufacturers Hanover Trust that was backed by sovereign guarantee of the Republic of the Philippines, and from GSIS---stated that after ten years the Cojuangcos were to turn over the lands to the farmers.  No mention of compensation to them, as perhaps the assumption is that after ten years they would have worked the lands enough to reward themselves richly.


Indeed, after 53 years of having held the estate through a series of running battles with various courts since the late ‘60s and moves by the Cory Aquino administration’s various agencies such as the DOJ, the PARC, etc., the family is presumed to have already made a lot of money from Luisita---especially from the conversion of a large portion into commercial use, as evidenced by the P1.3 billion that the SC is now ordering the Cojuangcos to pay the farmers.
The resistance of the Cojuangcos and other landed families around the country to land reform doubtless stems from the fact that their huge tracts of land are of more immense value if fully converted into industrial estates. This is especially true for Luisita as it’s in the heart of Central Luzon. But the contract that this family signed with the Philippine government in 1958 stipulated that after ten years the lands would revert to the farmer-tenants. Today, 2011, after a 53-year history of earlier triumphs in large-scale operation and development, but also a series of bloody confrontations and socio-political agitations by militant elements, the High Court has stepped in with its unanimous decision---a rarity for a Court that lately has become famous for contentiousness among its members---to enforce that 1958 original contract on behalf of the tenant-farmers. It’s a much-delayed triumph of justice for them.


Luisita’s biggest problem is not having to carry out the SC’s full distribution order---it’s financial.  There’s the issue of the P2 billion loan to Luisita from San Miguel Corporation not too long ago that Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino referred to yesterday. The speculation is that SMC lent this sum even if there is the possibility that Luisita may not be able to pay, so that the Ph flagship corporation could take over the estate under certain terms.  Now, with the SC decision on full distribution of the lands there, how does the SMC expect to get paid?  It’s also being argued now that since the farmers had nothing to do with the loan of management, they should not be party to the repayment to SMC.
The Central Azucarera de Tarlac, a sister company of Luisita, is also for all practical purposes deep in financial woes. Its financial statements in recent years indicate P2 billion receivables from sister companies which are also in no position to pay. In addition, the Central’s machinery is old and obsolete in many parts.


As expected, the Supreme Court has been under immense criticism from Aquino partisans because of certain decisions it has been making lately, notably the TRO on the DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima’s and doubtless its recent Luisita ruling.  Critics of the High Court like to refer to its rulings that, in their view, reflect the majority magistrates’ gratitude to the appointing power---former President Macapagal Arroyo. Critics constantly begrudge the fact that she “packed the court” with her people. But what’s lost in this simplistic argument is the fact in nine years of rule, it was inevitable that GMA got to appoint the majority; in fact in P-Noy’s year and a half in office, he already has appointed three justices, namely, Ma. Lourdes Sereno, Bienvenido Reyes and Estella Perlas-Bernabe (assuming all goes well, in his remaining four and a half years he will have just one more chance to appoint an SC justice).
Critics who see only SC rulings that seem to have favored GMA are being selective. They forget that the SC lifted its TRO on the prosecution of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, which, in turn, paved the way for the House Committee on Justice to push her impeachment in the House (she would have faced certain conviction by the Senate had she not resigned earlier).  Then there was the issue of the unconstitutionality of the postponement of the ARRM elections, which was well-argued in the SC; but its  final majority vote allowed that postponement to 2013 and gave P-Noy the prerogative to appoint OICs in the various regional posts after the Sept. 30, 2011 lapse of the elected officials' term.


from daylife.com

What do we make out of St. Luke’s Hospital orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mario Ver’s recent testimony before Pasay RTC Judge Jesus Mupas that GMA is on the way to recovery and can be allowed to be discharged from the hospital as an out-patient.  Dr. Ver admitted that among the things she’s suffering from is a “weak neck.” I must admit that I'm among those taken aback by this testimony, for like millions in this country and around the world, I saw how thin and emaciated she looked with her Minerva vest and neck and head support at the airport last Nov. 15, when she and her husband sought to leave for Singapore but were prevented by immigration. The TV film clips spoke a thousand words.
In days following that airport melee, GMA's attending physician, Dr. Juliet Cervantes, told media that she was put on IV fluids as she couldn’t eat even as she was suffering from diarrhea and was on antibiotics. Then last week I ran into a former GMA Cabinet member who related that when he visited GMA in her hospital suite, she was in a wheelchair, but when she tried to get up, she would have fallen to the floor had not someone caught her.


Now comes Dr. Ver saying she’s okay and on the way to recovery. Questions are being raised by citizens. For instance, how does Dr. Ver's statement jibe with those of his colleagues that GMA’s bone illness could reach a point of irreversibility if treatment is further delayed. Was he pressured by the hospital to give a bright prognosis so the prosecutors can now move with their plan to detain her at the Southern Police District jail?  This query assumes that the prestigious St. Luke’s Hospital is going along with the P-Noy administration---something I’m not ready to acquiesce to, despite the fact that a member of the fiercely-anti GMA “Hyatt 10” sits as director in the hospital’s board. There’s also talk going on that GMA's doctors apparently committed a mistake in one of her three spine operations, necessitating intervention by a US-based doctor to whom all her records had to be sent. 

A source in GMA's camp I talked to recently on this issue said that one factor that has not been inputed is the fact that renowned healer Fr. Fernando Suarez has repeatedly been to GMA's bedside in recent weeks. In addition, there's the huge prayer brigade mobilized by her friends. Could Fr. Suarez and heavenly intervention have done what the docs failed to do?

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Supreme Court’s junking of Luisita stock deal acquires significance beyond its decision, in light of GMA’s arrest and running tiff between the Executive and Judicial branches; continuing SC hearings on joint panel and Circular 41

The recent Supreme Court ruling ordering full distribution of Luisita's lands to its farmer-tenants will inevitably be viewed beyond the contents of its stunning unanimous decision. 

First, some political pundits will view it against the backdrop of the running battle between the  Arroyo camp and the Cojuangco-Aquino family. That battle  began when former President Cory Aquino showed up in Malacanang in the evening of July 7, 2005 and asked then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to step down amid all the talk that she had cheated FPJ in the 2004 elections.  GMA unhesitatingly rejected Cory's demand and showed her the door. Six years later the running battle culminated in the politically-charged filing of a case against GMA by the Comelec, which some media accused of acting on orders of the Palace. This was swiftly followed by GMA's subsequent arrest on orders of the Pasay RTC .

Pro-poor elements of society would hail the SC's recent ruling junking the Luisita stock option as a triumph of long-sought justice for the farmers ----a landmark measure of the Court's preferential option for the poor. But the re are pundits who would doubtless also view it as yet another milestone in the running tension-filled relations between the SC, its majority widely regarded as tilting toward GMA, and the executive branch headed by P-Noy.


In its unanimous decision (the exception being Justice Antonio Carpio who abstained)  the SC ordered the distribution of the 4,915.75 hectares of Luisita to the original 6,296 farmer-worker beneficiaries. It set aside and recalled an earlier option it had approved and granted to the original farmers on July 8, 2011, to acquire ownership of the land OR REMAIN as stockholders of Luisita. According to no less than Chief Justice Renato Corona, this option was UNCONSTITUTIONAL.
Moreover, according to Justice Presbitero Velasco, the ponente of this decision, the stock option would not give the farmers control over the agricultural lands.  This opinion was upheld by five other Justices.

The Court also ordered Luisita to pay the farmers the over P 1.333 billion it had earned from selling the 500 hectares that had been converted into a commercial area many years back. This includes the P80.5 million Luisita had received from the Arroyo government for the 80 hectares that became part of the Subic–Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) project (that came with three expressway exits within Luisita constructed by BCDA FOR FREE to the Cojuangcos).  However, from this P1.333 billion that the SC ordered the family to pay the farmers, the miniscule 3 percent (P 39 Million) that it had paid as stock dividend to the farmers shall be deducted.


Another point stressed in the recent SC ruling was Chief Justice Corona’s position that the price of the land to be distributed to the farmers (which they  will pay for from monies received from Luisita) should be based on the fair market value of the land IN NOVEMBER 1989. 
What’s the significance of this date? This was when more than 90 percent of the plantation’s over 6,000 workers opted in a referendum to accept shares of stock offered to them by the then newly-incorporated Hacienda Luisita Inc., instead of land, during Cory Aquino's term. 

This original referendum of 1989  (not to be confused with the referendum ordered by the SC last July 2011 when it revoked the SDO of 1989 even as it also allowed the original farmers to choose stock shares) was roundly criticized by radical elements as a moro-moro intended to free Luisita from the clutches of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, which was, ironically enough, the centerpiece of the Cory administration. But obviously the thinking of the Chief Justice in this recent SC decision pushing for full land distribution in Luisita is that if its stock distribution option was illegal, as he opines, then the basis for re-appraisal of its lands' fair market value has to be that of  November 1989. This is quite common in eminent domain issues.

Interestingly, Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, P-Noy’s first appointee to the High Court, opposed Corona’s opinion, asserting that land price should be pegged at the market value of 2006. None of the Justices, however, supported  Sereno’s opinion. The Tribune carried a juicy inside-story about the alleged open quarrel between her and other justices on this issue, that deteriorated into name-calling. 
The Cojuangco family would doubtless avail of a motion for reconsideration of this SC decision, although the unanimous vote of the magistrates promises little hope for that motion. How the SC ruling would translate into successful implementation, enough to change the feudal character of that part of Luzon, and impact on political events bear close monitoring. Abangan.


In my earlier blog, I termed the SC’s ruling on the constitutionality of the joint DOJ-Comelec panel that investigated allegations of electoral fraud involving GMA in 2007 as the “game-changer.” My reasoning was that should the SC rule that panel unconstitutional, then the electoral sabotage case filed against GMA in the Pasay RTC and its subsequent speedier-than-lightning arrest order would all be nullified. The SC held an en banc session last Tuesday, Nov. 22,  on this issue, but instead of a TRO against the panel, it first scheduled oral arguments for Nov. 29 before coming to a decision. This is perhaps better so that it could not be said that the SC  acted with undue haste, as is being alleged about its Nov. 15 TR0 of the DOJ's watch-list order on GMA.


The SC also held oral arguments last Tuesday on the constitutionality of DOJ’s Circular No. 41, which became the basis for that watch-list order on GMA. Secretary Leila de Lima defied the SC’s TRO, resulting in the airport melee of Nov. 15 and stirring controversy not just in legal circles but in the entire country. In the absence of legal eagle Estelito Mendoza (who had speaking engagements in UP), a less high-profile lawyer, Anacleto Diaz, appeared for the GMA camp in a grueling three hour session which saw him battle wits with Justice Antonio Carpio on the issue of the right to travel. Diaz maintained that this right is absolute within the limiting parameters dictated by the Constitution. He displayed mastery of language, fine diction and a well-modulated voice, and legal prowess. 
It was only later that I came to learn of the solid standing in the legal community of Anacleto Diaz (UP Law class of '74), who's a nephew of the late Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals and later Dean of the Ateneo Law School, Pompeyo Diaz, who was himself a towering figure in the ‘60s and ‘70s.


GMA’ s plight and how this administration has handled it has divided the nation---more than at any time in recent memory. One has only to take a look at the major newspapers’ opinion pages to realize this deep cleavage. 
Lawyers continue to debate the validity and grave consequences to the nation of the DOJ defiance of the SC's TRO.  The military/AFP are quietly discussing who should be obeyed in a legal order of the SC ---the Palace or the SC which the Constitution deems the final arbiter in matters of law. Citizens are divided: those who hate GMA and are happy that “justice has been served” as De Lima put it, and the sympathetic who feel that P-Noy has been heartless toward GMA and decry how his subaltern’s defiance of the SC brought us to the brink of a constitutional crisis. 
Even the medical community is divided, with some doctors opining that GMA’s illness is not life-threatening and is treatable in this country; on the other hand, St. Luke’s doctors have stressed that there's no expertise here for the metabolic bone biopsy she needs. Columnist Winnie Monsod cited a remark by St. Luke’s President Jose Ledesma at a forum that it was after an operation of GMA (she had three spinal operations) that doctors there found a complicating factor that led them to advice treatment abroad. To the ordinary citizen, however, any spinal operation is grave and serious.

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polbits @yahoo.com

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tomorrow’s SC en banc session could produce the real game-changer---the declaration of the DOJ-Comelec’s joint investigating panel as unconstitutional. Will this happen? Abangan

Judge Mupas
Last Friday afternoon, Palace Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, in his seemingly interminable press conference to help dribble the Supreme Court’s TRO while waiting for Pasay RTC Judge Jesus Mupas’ arrest warrant for former President Macapagal Arroyo, told media that the electoral fraud case filed before that court earlier that day was the “game changer.” In a way it was, for at that point Lacierda didn’t have to justify the Palace’s defiance of the TRO in inane arguments such as, that one condition of the SC remained unmet by the Arroyo camp.  As though it was the Palace’s concern to make sure that that condition of the SC was met!
The real game-changer, however, is what could transpire tomorrow morning (Nov. 22) at the High Court's regular en banc session, when it takes up the “very urgent motion” filed by the Arroyo camp. The motion seeks to have SC declare as unconstitutional the joint panel of the DOJ-Comelec that investigated the alleged electoral frauds committed by  Arroyo in the 2007 elections. 

Sol. Gen. Joel Cadiz
This en banc session should not be confused with the hearing the SC will hold also tomorrow (it's going to be a frightfully busy day for the justices) at 1:30 pm. Tomorrow afternoon will feature oral arguments by both government, led by Solicitor-General Joel Cadiz, and the Arroyo camp, led by legal eagle Estelito Mendoza, on the constitutionality of DOJ's Circular No. 41, which became the basis of Secretary Leila de Lima's order to put GMA in the watch-list order. De Lima's action in turn was what the SC struck down with its TRO last Tuesday which the feisty Secretary, however, defied---preventing the Arroyos from leaving for Singapore.  



Why do I call the SC's ruling on the DOJ-Comelec joint panel the game-changer in the running battle between the administration and GMA's camp?

Comelec Chairman Brillantes

To begin with, this panel’s investigations became the basis for the electoral sabotage case against GMA, former Comelec Chief Benjamin Abalos and former Maguindanao election supervisor Lintang Bedol, which the Comelec hammered out in a rush en banc session at 7:30 am. last Friday. Chair Sixto Brillantes and four Commissioners signed the charge resolution while two other Commissioners refused to sign as they claimed it was just given to them that morning and they hadn’t read it yet. Media rumors swirled that the poll body Chief was compelled to check out of a hospital the evening before, so he could preside at that rush session.

Ampatuan Sr.

The joint DOJ-Comelec case was based on the testimony of former Maguindanao election official Norrie Unas who claimed he had “overheard” GMA telling the then governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., “O, 12-zero tayo sa Maguindanao, ha?”  (But snorted a prominent opposition figure, hearing of Unas’ claim, “But don’t all of us politicians order our leaders---na i-zero ang kalaban?”).


That celebrated Comelec case---a three-page resolution accompanied by eight folders each as thick as a fat telephone directory that took several men to carry---was filed at noon Friday at the Pasay RTC. Judge Jesus Mupas of Branch No. 112, to whom it was “raffled” electronically, after perusing the case with remarkable speed of just an hour, concluded that there was “probable cause” and promptly issued the arrest warrant against GMA and the other co-accused at 3 pm. that day.  For this judge,it was all obviously within a day's work.

Two hours later, officers of the Southern Police District in Fort Bonifacio  served it on GMA at her hospital suite and the following day her mug-shots and fingerprints were taken, which effectively began the judicial process of her case. A newspaper today showed a detention cell being prepared for when GMA is ordered to leave her St. Luke’s Hospital confinement.

What's the significance of tomorrow’s SC en banc on Arroyo's “very urgent motion” to have the DOJ-Comelec joint panel held unconstitutional? Should such a decision happen, it means that the electoral sabotage case filed by the Comelec before the Pasay RTC and the subsequent arrest warrant from  super speed-reader Judge Mupas would all be rendered MEANINGLESS, as the investigating panel that built up this Comelec case would no longer have any justification for its existence.
From what I gather, the main argument of GMA's lawyers in their urgent petition is that Comelec is a constitutional body (i.e., established by express provision of the Constitution) and therefore it should  be independent and has no business partnering with an agency of the Executive branch such as  the DOJ.  On the other hand, government lawyers argue that under RA 9369, Comelec is allowed to undertake investigative work together with executive agencies.


I asked veteran lawyers just when the SC could hand down its ruling on this “game-changer” issue and they said it depends on how quick the SC finishes its closed-door deliberations. Should it rule that the joint panel is unconstitutional, GMA would go free and could finally seek that treatment abroad which she was frustrated from getting since last October when she first applied for it, and highlighted by the defiance of the SC TRO last Tuesday up to Friday. Reports from St. Luke’s indicate, indicate, however, that her health is quite unstable now following the terrible stresses she underwent, so that a trip abroad, even if allowed, might not be an option at the moment. 


Comm. Rene Sarmiento
News reports cited Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, one of the five signatories to the case filed at Pasay RTC, speaking of the distinct possibility that the SC would rule the joint panel as unconstitutional;  should that happen, he said, the Comelec would be forced to conduct investigation on the electoral fraud charge by itself, but that it wouldn’t be starting from zero as certain affidavits have been filed already. 

For Comelec to go into investigation by itself would definitely mean that more time would be needed to put this electoral fraud case against GMA together.  But Sarmiento's assurance is reassuring, as it means that in this aspect Comelec will respect due process. 

But what are the chances of the SC ruling the joint panel unconstitutional? Some lawyers I spoke to said the SC could go either way. Another said it's a long shot for the GMA camp.

Sec. De Lima
 But the nagging query still, following the DOJ’s unbelievable defiance of the SC's TRO last Tuesday up to Friday is: assuming the SC indeed comes to an unconstitutionality decision, what if the grandstanding Secretary De Lima again decides to obstruct this latest one and posts truncheon-wielding police around the hospital, like what she did at the airport last Tuesday? 
I queried a veteran legal luminary and his quick reply: "a  eh, gulo na yan talaga." Let’s hope that De Lima would uphold the SC decision whatever it may be, for the good of the country we all love.


Tomorrow’s en banc session by the SC will be closely monitored especially by lawyers all around the country who are now all recovering from their shock at the DOJ’s defiance of the High Court’s TRO ruling---that brought us to the brink of a constitutional crisis. More and more lawyers’ groups are speaking out against the DOJ’s move, among them the Philconsa that’s dominated by lawyers, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and various law school deans as well as legal writers such as Star’s Joe Sison. 
This is doubtless because they realize that the SC is the ultimate bastion of our rights and if its legal and moral authority is eroded, then the nation suffers.  Where will the citizens go for final redress of grievances? 

As Cito Beltran argues very well in his Star column today, this is the same SC that protects the ordinary citizens---by means of the TRO--- from unjust taxes of the BIR, or oppressive toll fees by Tollway operators,  or impositions of the Meralco and Telecom companies, etc. Continues Cito: “Now is the time when our courage will be tried and our institutions tested. Will the Supreme Court punish Secretary (Leila) de Lima as they should and do they have courage enough to discover if our institutions are strong and true enough to overcome political bravado and animosity. We will learn in a matter of days.”  

Well-spoken, Cito, your old man Louie would have been proud of you for standing up to your beliefs.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Judicial processes railroaded today to counter the SC’s TRO; Police/AFP unclear about whose orders to follow. Damage to our institutions by the recent events may be incalculable.

The last few days from Tuesday, Nov. 15 to today have been just dizzying for us ordinary citizens in view of the rush, and I mean rush, of developments surrounding former President Macapagal Arroyo and her attempts to leave for medical treatment abroad.  With the warrant for her arrest for electoral sabotage served at her St. Luke’s Hospital suite in Taguig, it would seem that GMA lost in the running battle between her and the P-Noy administration. But the biggest loss, to my mind, involved two institutions crucial to the nation's life.


One is the Supreme Court whose authority was eroded somewhat when the Aquino administration, acting through Leila de Lima, defiantly ignored its TRO.  As a citizen, like many other Filipinos, I was sorry to see our highest court (not for nothing is it so elegantly referred to in the native tongue as the “Kataas-taasang Hukuman) trampled upon by De Lima, who came to earn the moniker “Super Supreme Court” when she ordered the police agencies at NAIA (armed with truncheons) to stop the Arroyos from leaving last Tuesday all the way to today. It showed the High Court helpless before the arrogance of this   official, who has the President's unwavering support----triggering a potential constitutional crisis.

Sen. Edgardo Angara sought to put the clash between the Palace and the SC in perspective by asserting that the order of the SC should have prevailed over that of the lowly Pasay RTC. Yet, interestingly, so many legal minds that for years have absorbed and internalized the supremacy of the High Court found themselves quibbling when confronted by the DOJ's defiance of the SC’s TRO---simply because they harbor  grudges against GMA, or see her as evil personified, or are protecting an appointment or angling for a job from this administration. Sadly the DOJ's defiance of the SC has sowed confusion among law students and practitioners.


Another institution severely affected was the PNP/AFP. When the SC's TRO  was ignored by the DOJ, citizens felt secure that the traditional majesty of the SC's decision would be upheld by the police agencies. But certain police/AFP sectors were quick to issue statements that their loyalty would be to their Commander-in-Chief who happened to be at loggerheads with the SC. It’s easy to see how this clash between the two co-equal branches of government has left the rank and file of the two primary security forces terribly confused as to what should be the ultimate source of power---the Constitution.

As UP Vice President and Public Administration professor Prospero de Vera pointed out tonight in a TV show, the damage to our institutions may be incalculable at this point.


Now we know why the Aquino administration defied the Supreme Court’s TRO that was handed down not only once, but twice, the latest being this noon.  P-Noy's officials were waiting for the arrest warrant to be served by the Pasay RTC and the blocking forces against the TRO worked like clockwork.
This morning at 7:30 Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes convened the poll body’s six other members en banc, to rush them into signing the Comelec resolution charging Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, former Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. and former Comelec supervisor Lintang Bedol of sabotage of the 2007 elections (the charge, based on the testimony of sole witness Unas Norrie that he “overheard” GMA giving instructions to cheat to the co-accused in Malacanang, which was quickly denied by Andal Ampatuan; but by then the arrest clock had  already begun to tick away.   


Obviously the Comelec was under instructions to file that case today, to negate the oft-repeated accusation that GMA could not be put on the watch-list as not a single case had been filed against her. The hot-pandesal resolution was signed by five of the seven members as two commissioners, namely, Armando Velasco and Lucenito Tagle, refused to sign it, claiming that they hadn’t read the case. 

The three-page resolution was accompanied by eight stacks of voluminous evidence documents, each as thick as a fat telephone directory, and given to them only this morning (who really among the five other commissioners had read it, no kidding now? The latest Comelec appointee, Commissioner Gus Lagman, shocked his devoted fans by being among the five signatories. Gus, did you really get to read the many volumes?). Thank God the two other commissioners were not afraid to admit their inability to read the case.


Rumor divulged by a Comelec insider was that Chair Brillantes was ordered by the Palace to leave his hospital confinement last night to preside over the en banc this morning, to hammer out that resolution that was rushed to the Pasay City RTC. Earlier today, because of all the swirling talk he was forced to admit to media that he was indeed confined yesterday to get some rest, on advice of his doctors;  but he asserted that he voluntarily left the hospital yesterday afternoon.  Coincidence?
Along with this electoral fraud charge which is non-bailable, came the Comelec petition to put GMA on the hold-departure order (HDO), which is expected to  supersede the SC's TRO;  but that would take time to get, as filing does not come with automatic HDO. Hence, the obvious rush to secure an arrest warrant instead from Pasay RTC Judge Jesus Mupas who, by the way, as Kabayan Noli de Castro noted, had been at the receiving end of reprimands from the SC, ironically enough, for the slowness of his decisions in other cases. 


This latest clash provokes so many questions. DOJ Chief Leila de Lima said there’s nothing “unusual” about the lightning-speed of the case (the entire process from its filing at the Pasay RTC to Judge Mupas’ issuance of the warrant took only half a day! Mupas' "arrest-express" shoots beyond the roof of even the Guinness Book). De Lima said that apparently Mupas was able to establish “probable cause” from the perusal of the documents submitted by Comelec-DOJ. Under the rules of court the judge is given five days to determine probable cause in a case filed, obviously so that he or she could really study the case; but Mupas took only an hour or two to peruse the volumes of documents. He takes the cake as the world's supr-speed reader!  

GMA's legal spokesperson, Raul Lambino, also complained that their camp was not given enough time to file its counter-affidavit to this case.  Mike Arroyo’s lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, buttressed his claim, stressing that while even in  very minor cases such as jaywalking the accused would be given at least ten days to give his side, in this electoral fraud charge which is non-bailable and carries life imprisonment, the Comelec-DOJ could not even extend the deadline to the Arroyo camp. 

It’s obvious that the "arrest-express" had to be rushed to nullify the SC’s TRO and that the DOJ's defiance of the TRO last Tuesday, which resulted in that airport melee, and the continuing frustration of the re-stated TRO were simply following the Palace script to jail Arroyo before Christmas.

 The cases against GMA will predictably be a grand battle among some of the best legal minds. But perhaps the most difficult part for the Arroyos to bear at this time, with the Christmas season approaching, is the realization that her arrest could now dash all hopes for her medical treatment. St. Luke's Hospital  had advised her to get it abroad as it acknowledged that it doesn't have the facility here treat her rare bone disease. Her doctors were quoted as saying that her health has deteriorated with all the stress she has undergone and that if the disease remains untreated, at some point it becomes irreversible.  

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

De Lima defies SC TRO order and insists her watch-list order is still in effect. Melee erupts at airport and stressed-out tearful GMA had to be rushed back to St. Luke’s ---all these on nationwide TV, just when Hillary Clinton is in town and on eve of Bali Summit of Asean leaders which P-Noy is attending. Nothing could be more politically incorrect for P-Noy than that airport scene!

It was with a sense of unreality and disbelief that I watched over TV the airport melee that ensued last night (Tuesday) when the Arroyos sought to leave on the last commercial flight to Singapore. Their attempted flight came in the wake of the TRO issued hours earlier by the Supreme Court en banc, which voted 8-5 to restrain the watch-list order (WLO) issued by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima against the Arroyos. The SC also set oral arguments on Circular 41 and other related matters for Nov. 22

The former First Couple had gone through the airline ticket  counter and were issued boarding passes, but at immigration they were stopped on orders of De Lima. House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman later recounted on TV to airport reporters that when he demanded from officials of the Bureau of Immigration to see this order, they could not show anything; whereas the lawyers of GMA were armed with a certified true copy of the SC TRO order and the receipt of the P2 million bond sought by the SC from the Arroyos as one of three conditions in its TRO ruling. Lagman went on to recount that a little later the BI officials themselves "disappeared."

At some point, GMA was seen wiping away tears, looking quite thin and wan, flabby muscles of her arms exposed to the cameras; soon the ambulance she came to the airport in whisked her back to St. Luke’s Hospital where she had earlier been checked up for travel. GMA was hardly the picture of one who had just won her round of the bitter, long-running battle with the P-Noy administration, but as an ABS-CBN commentator wryly put it, “As we know, Filipinos always sympathize with the underdog.” Coming from that TV network that was a mouthful.


The BIGGER LOSER in this round is definitely President Aquino, for while his subaltern De Lima succeeded in further harassing the Arroyos he looked quite cruel in this regard, as his excuse for restraining their desire to travel for medical reasons was removed by the SC’s TRO, yet his people still chose to restrict GMA’s travel. He looks quite indecisive and immature on this issue, as though his feisty Justice Chief seems to be making all the big decisions and he just goes along with it. Definitely this administration looks so vindictive. 

Atty. Ferdinand Topacio, one of the Arroyos' lawyers, put it quite right when he said in a TV program this morning that P-Noy would have appeared big and magnanimous had he told De Lima to respect the SC decision and allow the Arroyos to leave for Singapore last night (Topacio cited how US presidential candidate Al Gore in 2000 chose to bow to the decision of the US Federal Supreme Court to recognize rival George Bush as the winner, despite the many complaints and allegations of fraud surrounding the then bitterly contested presidential elections). But no, clueless P-Noy left everything to De Lima and this power-obsessed latter official chose to defy the SC.
What the implications are on the rule of law as embodied by the SC will be analyzed by political pundits and legal luminaries for a long time, but De Lima's defiant move--- which is being backed to the hilt by the unthinking Palace---will have a chilling effect on ordinary citizens. If the rule of law was disregarded in the case of the former president and incumbent congresswoman, how would the ordinary people fare against the powers that be?  


Nothing, however, could be more disastrous politically for P-Noy than last night's  airport melee, that was shown over national TV just when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in town overnight for the 60th anniversary of the RP-US Defense Treaty. Unconfirmed reports say Clinton was feted at the Palace last night, but doubtless she was briefed by US Embassy officials on what went on at the airport and she must have seen late night TV clips of the melee.

It will be remembered that Hillary was GMA’s guest early last year and despite being bamboozled by the media to make  unflattering statements about GMA, Hillary parried it and in fact came out with the opposite about her. Now she sees GMA being sped back by ambulance to the hospital, because she was refused passage by immigration people  DESPITE THE SC ORDER allowing it through a TRO.


The airport crisis also comes at the worst time for P-Noy, for this afternoon he leaves for the ASEAN Summit in Bali, that will count President Obama among the attendees. It will be recalled that the ASEAN state of Myanmar, long ruled by a junta of generals, had had a long battle with that fragile-looking opposition leader with the perpetual flower in her hair, Aung San Suu Kyi. She was kept on house arrest for many years, but never was she subjected to anything near the rough treatment GMA got at the airport from P-Noy’s officials. In fact, Myanmar has recently been winning plaudits abroad for its reforms and increased respect for human rights and it’s now vying to host next year’s ASEAN Summit. 

Last night's airport scene could make P-Noy look like he’s vying to replace Myanmar's generals as ASEAN’s bad boy.


After that airport crisis De Lima was on TV explaining that her WLO would remain in effect until she received the copy of the SC decision on the TRO which was handed down after 5 pm. yesterday. But her stand is silly inasmuch as Court official spokesperson and administrator Midas Marquez had already  officially announced the SC TRO decision yesterday afternoon. How more official can that announcement get? 

In fact, while the melee over which order should be enforced, the SC's TRO or DOJ’s WLO, was going on, Midas appealed for reason, pleading that DOJ respect the SC’s decision and that the TRO is INSTANTLY ENFORCEABLE. 

Obviously De Lima was trying to stall the Arroyos’ departure in the hope of being able to secure a hold-order from the court, after she rushed the filing of the very first case against former President Macapagal Arroyo last Monday afternoon (an electoral fraud case). However, a hold order does not come automatically with filing of a charge case---it has to be applied for by the filing agency (the DOJ in this case) and the court has to grant it expressly. This the Arroyos’ lawyers knew, which is why they probably advised their clients to leave for Singapore last night on the strength of the SC’s TRO. 
The feisty Secretary is now skating on very thin ice in the face of her defiance of the SC. Arroyo lawyers said they are filing disbarment proceedings against her for contempt of a lawful order of the SC. She ought to be disbarred for teaching Filipinos to disobey the SC, but the bigger worry is how this nation is being brought closer to a constitutional crisis in the standoff between the SC and the Executive.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

After the Dominican Republic’s Foreign Minister denies talk of Arroyo plea for sanctuary, De Lima is unrepentant about her rumor-mongering; Gabby Singson and Totit Olivares share their love experience in caring for their departed spouses over dzRH, as part of our Undas commemoration

For days Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Palace Spokesperson Abigail Valte kept alive the rumor that former President Macapagal Arroyo has sought asylum in the Dominican Republic. But after no less than that Carribean country’s Foreign Minister denied this rumor, De Lima was forced to admit she did not have any proof to support this claim. 
Now she says she’s trying to verify two other countries that could provide it. Pressed for details by the media, which had suffered a kuryente in the Dominican float, she was then quoted as saying “I don’t need to produce any evidence at this point. But it’s my duty to verify these information (sic).” Sure it’s her duty to verify such information, but to float it without any basis is irresponsible rumor-mongering and  gives this government a black-eye as purveyor of rumors and gossips.    


Would Leila apologize for it? Not on any one’s word. She was appointed Chair of the Human Rights Commission by GMA, where she was eager to stress that “human dignity and the rights of individuals will always need to be safeguarded against violations of the State, armed opposition groups and private sectors…we draw strength from our shared convictions and the common realization that human rights must be respected, protected and fulfilled everywhere in order to achieve true peace, prosperity and lasting peace.” Now, ironically, she’s violating the Arroyos’ human rights to please her boss and be able to continue bagging headlines for 2013. 


Like other Filipinos I’ve argued that Christian compassion dictates that GMA should be allowed treatment abroad, as her rare metabolic bone illness does not offer any holistic treatment here.  St. Luke’s Hospital, which has already operated on her three times, is the first to acknowledge this.   
Frankly I find ridiculous the argument that the Arroyos would not come back if allowed to leave for abroad;  they are both quite ill (Mike Arroyo has his own heart problem) and permanent refuge in another country would even be more difficult in their condition. There's no comfort like what Ph offers. Besides, if GMA and Mike Arroyo were to really flee for good, there are ways to get back at them---the government is not as helpless as Solicitor-General Cadiz is trying to impress the Supreme Court about, to forestall a TRO.

 As Sen. Ed Angara, who has joined other senators in arguing to let GMA seek treatment abroad for humanitarian reasons, noted, the world is a global village and nowhere can the Arroyos attempt to hide if they wanted to. Besides, they'll reap international opprobrium for it. Government could also cancel their passports and even sequester their properties here. 

No, I believe GMA would want to clear her maligned name. Helping that resolve is the fact that despite P-Noy 's  having been in the saddle for a year and a half now, his people haven't gone beyond “preliminary investigation” in her cases.  P-Noy's allies are quite upset over this turtle pace of the cases, but  for GMA's lawyers, this  is indication that those cases are rather weak. It’s this administration that’s seeing shadows.     


In closing this year’s observance of All Souls’/All Saints’ Day I decided, in the absence of my radio partner Cecile Alvarez (who was in Paris attending a Unesco conference), to depart from our customary “Paaralang Bayan,” on dzRH every Sunday at 8 pm. Last Nov. 6, I requested two men who lost their spouses in recent months to prolonged illness to share with our nationwide audience the transforming fulfillment they had experienced in being given the grace to care for their loved one.
 Former Central Bank Gov. Gabby Singson and my elder brother Luis “Totit” Olivares, Jr. had been married to their spouses for many years and I thought they lived so well that part of the marriage vows (which sadly doesn’t seem to hold meaning in many cases these days) that says…”in sickness and in health..till death do us part.” I also invited marriage counselor Neomi Tanedo Olivares, wife of my brother Danny Olivares, to put our “Undas” observance in the perspective of our culture and spiritual life.


Gabby Singson’s late wife, the vivacious and gracious Moonyeen Retizos-Singson, was diagnosed with 4th stage colon cancer in July 2003;  but with expert medical treatment in Singapore and with the loving support of her husband, their three children and relatives and friends, she was able to courageously battle the Big C for eight years, passing away last July 13, 2011.
Gabby and Moonyeen were an office romance (where else, but at the Central Bank) and they were married for almost 49 years. In our sharing he spoke of his fears as her condition deteriorated; with some amusement he recalled what she told him just ten days before she died, after their joint nightly prayers, "Papa, mas takot ka pa sa akin. Don't be as I am not afraid." Besides, said Moonyeen, “We’ve had a good life together.” 
The venerable CB governor, who was instrumental in instilling crucial reforms in the banking system in his 43 years in government service, said that after his wife became ill he rejected any appointment to be able to take care of her and enjoy their years together. They did a lot of travel abroad which they loved, and the family developed a property in Calauan, Laguna into a resort with huts and pools, primarily to enable her to enjoy the clean air and get some exercise.  Today, this place, called "Field of Faith" and run by the Singson's only daughter, Carissa Mabasa, is popular for spirititual retreats and conferences. 
With her passing, Gabby confessed that he found hardest adjusting to her not being around, missing especially her perpetual sense of humor. Two hours or so after she passed away, he received a condolence text from former Ateneo President Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, then in Spain on his 33-day pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Gabby’s first impulse was, “I’ll tell Moonyeen about it,”  then he realized, “Ay, wala na pala si Moonyeen.” 
 His parting shot to our audience: “You never realize how much you love your wife until she’s gone and then you find yourself asking, did I do enough for her?” I’m sure Moonyeen had no doubt whatsoever about her husband’s devotion.


Totit Olivares, a graduate of the Ateneo University and Fordham University in New York, was a legend in wifely devotion in our family as he would unfailingly accompany his wife to her dialysis treatment over five years, until she was stricken with a heart attack that confined her to the ICU for 17 days and she passed away last August 2010. Rosario “Nena” Barreto-Olivares was a beauty and brains combination, graduating as summa cum laude in accounting and topping the board exams. 
In her 17 days at the ICU he and their six children, majority of whom live in various parts of the world, camped out in the visitors’ lounge next to it, taking turns to watch over her; but accepting the reality of her passing proved difficult for everyone, especially since the couple was due to mark their 50th wedding anniversary in June this year. Totit recalled how hard he prayed to God to just let them enjoy Nena for a little while more; finally, it was down to one request: to be able to celebrate that Golden Wedding. But it was not meant to be. 
Seeing his family quite distraught over his wife's passing, he decided last May to invite his children and their spouses and kids, to join him on a pilgrimage to St. Padre Pio in Pietrelcina, Italy, to whom he and Nena had a big devotion. That experience seemed to erase all the bitterness and grief from everyone, and they happily travelled around Italy, timing it so that they wound it up on June 10, the couple’s 50th anniversary. He had specified to his children to arrange dinner that evening in a “very romantic place” and their choice was a small hotel with home-cooked food on Lake Como, just outside Milan. With the beautiful moon coming out after a rainy day they gathered around the dinner table by candlelight, with the photo of Nena smiling at them.  


Tune in tonight at 8 pm. as Cecile and I host another “Paaralang Bayan,” with computer expert Jun Estrella discussing the shortcomings of the May 2010 automated elections and Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez speaking for the poll body. Former Biliran Rep. Glen Chong, who has a pending electoral protest with the House Electoral Tribunal, corroborates Estrella’s assertions.

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