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, January 22, 2012

Why the sudden firing of NBI Director Gatdula when De Lima admits that DOJ panel’s findings were “not yet conclusive?” With Senate trial underway, this move most impolitic. Recall Miriam‘s admission in October 2005 that she was kicked out of Cory’s Cabinet due to her unfavorable opinion on Luisita stock option. Where is Miriam these days, by the way?

NBI Director Magtanggol Gatdula

The summary firing of NBI Director Magtanggol Gatdula shocked many people inasmuch as it seemed like a rush job again, like many other undertakings of this administration (such as the hurriedly prepared arrest-order by speed-reader Pasay Judge Jesus Mupas vs. GMA and the rush listing of CJ Corona’s alleged ill-gotten properties by the Land Registration Authority that’s being disputed as shot through with holes). I note that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima herself admitted that the findings of the DOJ panel investigating the extortion case allegedly involving Gatdula were “not yet conclusive;” in fact, she was quoted as saying his case will still be subject to preliminary investigation. Gatdula protests that he never even got a copy of the complaint, much less was his side heard.
In view of De Lima’s disclosure, the correct thing for P-Noy to have done was to encourage Gatdula to take a longer leave of absence or even suspend him pending investigation---BUT NOT OUTRIGHT REMOVAL.  How precipitate this recent move seems, compared to the way P-Noy allowed a number of cases involving his close buddies to drag on before he moved against them--- such as that of Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez on the widespread smuggling in Customs, or DILG Undersecretary Rico Puno in the Luneta HK tourists shooting. In the case of the latter two, P-Noy’s trust certainly took a long time to wear off, whereas Gatdula just simply “lost my trust.”
The sacked NBI Director vows to fight back, and this could be costly for P-Noy, considering the following Gatdula has and more significantly, the popular perception that he's “tao ni Ping Lacson.” The timing of his firing while the Senate impeachment trial is in full swing is most impolitic, to say the least.
The Hacienda Luisita case is all over the media, especially since today is the 25th anniversary of the Mendiola Massacre that resulted in the death of 13 of the farmer demonstrators who were at the Palace gates during President Cory’s time, to press for genuine land reform;  39 of them sustained gunshot wounds and 20 had minor injuries. This anniversary observance was brought into sharper focus as the farmers in Luisita called on the Supreme Court to enforce its unanimous decision of last Nov. 22, 2011 to re-distribute the remaining lands of this biggest feudal estate. CJ Renato Corona, in turn, drew that SC decision into sharper focus when he asserted that it was what triggered the President’s order to the subservient House of Representatives to impeach him.
Over the internet the 25th anniversary of the Mendiola Massacre recalled another aspect of the Luisita controversy, the stock distribution option (SDO) that the Cory administration pushed the Hacienda’s farmers to accept in lieu of outright land distribution.  It will be recalled that negotiations between the Magsaysay administration and the Cojuangco family had led its successor Garcia administration to finance that family's buy-out of the Hacienda from Tabacalera with a fat loan from GSIS, plus Philippine sovereign guarantee for a huge dollar loan from Manufacturer’s Hannover Trust in 1958. 

But the government stipulation was that after 10 years (1968) the Cojuangcos were to turn over the lands to the farmer-tillers.  This, however, was frustrated by the SDO pushed by the Cory administration and legal machinations in various agencies of government over the next four decades by her family.
Recently an item that had originally been featured in Philippine  Star is being recalled under the heading, “What Miriam told Cory about Luisita.”  It goes thus:  

“On October 3, 2005, about a year after the November 16, 2004 Luisita massacre (where seven people were killed in a clash with Hacienda’s security forces), Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago told the Philippine Star that Luisita was one of the reasons why President Cory Aquino removed her as Secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in 1989.
‘ “I made the mistake of telling the press that I thought that President (Cory) Aquino should inhibit herself as chair of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) which would make the final decision on the stock option,” Santiago said. “She did, but as a result I got kicked out of the Cabinet, presumably for insubordination.”
“Santiago also called Luisita’s SDO unconstitutional in the October 3, 2005 report. “The general rule is for land to be taken away from the landlord and given to the farmers. Why should there be an arbitrary exception for the Cojuangco hacienda,” she said. ‘ “
Good question, Senadora Miriam. Today the SC has the option to take away that "exception" but CJ Corona is paying the ultimate price for leading it.


News reports today said that President Noynoy is asking CJ Corona to explain the discrepancies “between (Corona’s) statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) and as reflected in his declared properties.” Asserting that CJ's defense team could be resorting to “squid tactics” on this issue, P-Noy was quoted by Star as saying “What is being asked is, ‘Did you file the SALN? Did you disclose it publicly? He (CJ) can only say: ‘I filed on this date and it came out in this newspaper’ in meeting the public disclosure requirement of the Constitution.” ‘
P-Noy’s prosecutor-allies have succeeded in forcing public disclosure of CJ Corona’s SALN through a subpoena issued by the Senate trial court to the SC Clerk of Court.  All the SC justices’ SALNs have been withheld from public scrutiny for the past 23 continuous years by the High Court, through an en banc resolution issued during the term of  the late SC Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan in 1989, and followed all the way to the Corona Court.  Since last Wednesday, when the subpoena took effect, Corona’s  SALN has become open season in the internet, in gross violation of rules of the Senate trial court against UNAUTHORIZED disclosure to the public (two House prosecutors were seen taking cell-phone pictures of it and are prime suspect of this violation).


Now that Corona’s controversial SALN has been made public and P-Noy has challenged him to justify the discrepancies there, it behooves P-Noy, too, to comment on his own net worth, based on his SALN. As shown in Corona's SALNs from 2002, when he entered the SC as associate justice, the CJ's net worth increased pretty steadily in small increments until 2010, when it increased by 57.5 % over his 2009 worth. The explanation of his defense team for the increase is that CJ sold property, and the prosecutors will be on the look-out for this.

On the other hand, P-Noy should explain why his net worth maintained a small but very steady increase every year since 1998, when he became a member of the House for nine years and for three years as senator; but suddenly it registered a whopping 250% increase in 2010, when he became President with his government salary of P820,000 a year. 

The behavior of the two top officials' net worth is quite easy to see and compare in the following two charts: 


The question that  comes to mind is: what accounts for the whopping 250%  leap in P-Noy's net worth?  Some folks I checked out his chart with opined that perhaps it was due to inheritance from his late mother Cory, who passed away in August of 2009. Or perhaps it could have been his divestment of his share of Hacienda Luisita to, reportedly, one of his siblings, although someone else argued how it could have been from Luisita when that estate has been badly ailing financially, especially in the last few years?  Or could this increase have come from considerable campaign contributions that were unspent during his  candidacy in 2010 (because there was just too much of them)?

Then the next question is, did the President pay the correct taxes on either or all of these financial developments that favored him?
P-Noy should explain the gargantuan jump in his net worth, just as CJ will be made to explain his own increase in net worth when he was appointed to the helm of the High Court.  

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