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, February 12, 2012

A coup d’etat against Enrile will not sit well with the Filipino people, as it's generally accepted that JPE has been quite fair and even-handed. If JPE is ousted, then it’s a signal that fair and just trial is being abandoned. Would Senators Lapid and Escudero be able to vote independently, considering favors from Aquinos?

Sentaor Juan Ponce Enrile

Nothing seems to shake the single-mindedness of the Aquino administration toward getting Chief Justice Renato Corona convicted---not the 6.9 earthquake that hit Central Visayas a few days ago and where life continues to be miserable for millions of people bereft of power and clean water; the deterioration of the peace and order situation in the metropolis; the rise of the price of gasoline and essentials and the unabated rise in hunger statistics.

Tesda, the agency tasked with training unskilled youths should hardly have been the venue for President Aquino to speak about the CJ’s alleged dollar accounts---it would have been more proper had he spelled out his plans to generate more jobs for the skilled workers Tesda seeks to train. But the President lost no time at Tesda to attack the Supreme Court’s recent TRO (in a vote of 8 vs. 5) against opening Corona’s alleged foreign currency deposits and to challenge him to authorize their disclosure. 

In so doing P-Noy at the same time stone-walled the continuing challenge aired by many citizens ever since the SALN became a hot issue, for him to also disclose the 55 percent increase within a year (2010) of his own SALN and explain his various property under-valuations in it.


Secretary Edwin Lacierda

After the SC TRO-ed the disclosure of foreign currency accounts last Thursday, Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda attacked that ruling as a “brazen effort to derail the (impeachment) proceedings,” and then went on to openly incite the senators to assert their “prerogatives” against the SC. These are indeed lamentable times for the rule of law, as the Palace’s occupant and sycophants around him continue to assail decisions of the High Court. Never in the history of this country have we seen such attacks on the SC by Malacanang. I recall how in GMA’s time, there were bitter defeats she had to swallow from the SC, such as its rulings that GMA's  Proclamation No. 1017, that put the country under emergency rule during an attempted coup, and the MOA on Ancestral Domain were unconstitutional. But each time her administration bowed to SC's will.

Here we see Lacierda openly inciting the senators to disobey the SC's TRO against foreign account disclosures. Reports also indicate that since last Friday senators have been getting follow-up calls from Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa about P-Noy’s utmost desire that they defy it. 

Senator Lito Lapid
 But the campaign to woo senators doesn’t end there. Reports indicate that presidential sister Kris Aquino, who is No. 51 in ABS-CBN’s list of prominent stockholders, granted Sen. Lito Lapid a program of his own in the network (quite apart, of course, from the assistance the DFA is giving his wife who was apprehended with a huge amount of dollars in her possession while entering the US). This new program is being heavily advertised in the network. The question is, how can Sen. Lapid vote independently given this naked bribery offer from Kris? 


Dr. Evelina Escudero Ph.D
from philstar.com
Then too, Dr. Evelina Escudero, Ph.D, mother of Sen. Francis Escudero, was recently appointed by P-Noy as member of the 12-member exclusive club that is the UP Board of Regents (BOR), the UP Systems’ highest decision-making body. Dr. Escudero, who obtained her doctoral degree in education philosophy from the UP, has been a home economics faculty member, apart from being quite active as head of the College of Home Economics Alumni Association and the UP Alumni Association. 

P-Noy’s critics tend to look down at the sudden prominence of the "lowly" UP Home Economics College in the BOR, but it can be argued that Dr. Escudero has a large constituency. The HE College, aside from being the training ground for all those who want to be good housewives or get into the food business, is also where a lot of those who fail the stiff UPCAT exams at UP (including children of prominent politicians) first gain a toehold, thanks to the exercise of presidential prerogative by UP Presidents.

But the main issue at this point is the TIMING of Dr. Escudero’s appointment, JUST WHEN THE SENATE TRIAL IS IN FULL SWING AND HER SON IS A SENATOR-JUDGE. A prominent member of the BOR, Engr. Manuel Albarracin of Phinma Corporation was due to finish his term at the BOR this July, but the Palace can’t wait. Albarracin was notified that he is being asked to step down, and soon enough Dr. Escudero was appointed. Albarracin is a big loss to the UP Engineering alumni, for thanks to his efforts, the College of Engineering has raised the biggest funds among all the UP colleges, and was able to successfully finance many projects. 

The question is, like Sen. Lapid, can Sen. Chiz overlook the appointment of his mother to the BOR come voting time in the Senate?


Like many other interesting moves of the Palace these days (such as reports over the weekend of buy-off offers of P100 million to each senator to defy the SC TRO), the appointment of Dr. Escudero and Sen. Lito Lapid’s new TV program on ABS-CBN courtesy of Kris Aquino smack of an UTTER LACK OF DELICADEZA. When you come down to it, they constitute BRIBERY of senator-judges and they indicate the Palace's sense of desperation about the possible outcome of CJ Corona’s trial. The way it’s dangling different delectable candy sticks to the senators in exchange for their crucial votes, it shows that after all the shaming and bludgeoning that CJ and his family have been subjected to---with the help of the yellow media and mobilization of just about all agencies of government---the Palace STILL REMAINS UNSURE THAT IT CAN CONVICT CJ. Therefore it has to resort to BRIBERY in various forms.


Let’s take a look at the 29-page petition filed by the Philippine Savings Bank with the Supreme Court to stop the Senate from opening alleged foreign currency deposits of CJ Corona. As was pointed out in the hearing by PS Bank President Pascual Garcia III in his staunch opposition to such disclosure, RA 6426, the Foreign Currency Deposits  (FCD) Law, passed in April 1974 at the height of the martial law regime (just two days after April Fools’ Day), imposed far stricter requirements for disclosure of foreign currency deposits than what RA 1405, the Bank Secrecy Act, that governs local currency deposits allows. 

The FCD Law requires written authorization from the depositor for a foreign currency account to be disclosed, and it allows NO EXCEPTIONS. In fact, as Atty. Rita Linda V. Jimeno (Karen J's equally good-looking mom) argues in her Standard column, the FCD Law provides "an absolute prohibition against the 'examination or looking into of such deposits by any person, government official, bureau or office, whether judicial, administrative or legislative...' " By contrast, the Bank Secrecy Act provides five conditions where disclosure may be permitted, which includes the requirements of impeachment.


Thus, while the prosecution won permission from the Senate court to disclose local bank accounts of CJ Corona in PS Bank and BPI, the SC, not quite unexpectedly, issued last Thursday a TRO against what the prosecution wanted to do, ----which was to force open alleged foreign currency deposits of Corona. In doing so, the SC was quite mindful of its own ruling in “Salvacion vs. BSP" which was the ONE AND ONLY TIME SINCE 1974 that a foreign currency account was “garnished” or attached. This was to compensate the family of the  12-year old Filipina rape victim of a foreign national here, who had no other means to compensate save his foreign deposits here. That SC decision was THE ONLY EXCEPTION SINCE THE LAW'S ENACTMENT IN 1974.

PS Bank President Garcia argued that at peril in such unauthorized disclosures would be the welfare of the 1.6 million foreign currency depositors nationwide, and the banking system itself. Garcia, the longest-serving PSB prexy, has become a huge hero for standing up for  supremacy of the law even at the risk of being cited by the Senate in contempt. By contrast, it's the senators allied with P-Noy who want to trampled upon the law. 



Fr. Joaquin Bernas
Fr.Ranhilio Aquino
Tomorrow, Monday, Feb. 13, the Senate Court will hold a caucus to decide how to react to the SC TRO on the FCDU Law. Pro-administration senators are trying to bully the chamber into rejecting the TRO, with outright encouragement of the President and his co-horts, as those senators try to coerce their colleagues to believe that the Senate court is superior to any other court in the country in the task of conducting an impeachment. Various constitutional experts such as Fr. Joaquin Bernas, Fr. Ranhilio Aquino and Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago have exhorted the Senate to respect the law and the SC’s TRO. In fact, Christian Monsod, who was part of the Constitutional Commission of 1986, argued that the Senate impeachment court was not “infallible” and that the SC was merely doing its constitutional duty to “interpret the law” when it issued the TRO. The President of the CBCP, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, also joined the chorus of voices in urging the senators to respect the TRO. 

Last Thursday Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile also advised his colleagues to respect the SC ruling, but rebellious elements among them are out for blood---never mind if they tear up the chamber on this issue. Some dark clouds forebode that there could be a coup against JPE if he persists in his stand to respect the SC's TRO.  JPE has been judged by the nation as having been fair in his handling of this most difficult trial, and any attempt to oust him would not sit well with the Filipino people.

Tomorrow's Senate session will be quite pivotal in the annals of this impeachment trial.

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